A new mood at the airport

It started on the cab ride. It might have been because our driver found out that I had lived in Ethiopia for three years. He was eager to fill us in on his birthplace right by the magnificent rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. And then we heard about his immigration to the US when he was eighteen and his marriage and the new twins that were added to his brood of three to make a household of seven.

I admit I encouraged the conversation by recalling sites we had seen in Dire Dawa, Harrar, and a memorable trout fishing trip in the Bali Mountains. He was delighted by my renditions of tenastiling and endeminau. He told us he had taken his kin back home to show them from where they came. His daughter Abigail was not impressed. She missed her toys.

But it wasn’t just him. People seem to enjoy talking to each other again. The Delta worker at the check-in counter was all smiles. And the guy in front of me to get food had a strategizing session with the restaurant worker about what size beer he could down and still comfortably make it to his gate. From the eye gestures it seemed as if te only had to cross the corridor. He settled on a small draft.

Sure- it’s late afternoon on a Saturday and the passenger levels are low. But if this is an outcome of the post-covid world, I’ll take it. Let’s put an end to brief electronic messages and enjoy the spontaneity and warmth of human conversation.

Woods covered in Snow

On our walk this evening, we stopped and stared at three deer in the woods edging the trail. The encounter reminded me of Robert Frost’s poem.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

U presidents and privatizing public dollars

So many dust-ups in the education business seem to be about an employee’s level of dedication to the public interest since their wages are paid by public dollars. The strongest union in the state of Minnesota protects school teachers from being asked too much from the public.

Now it is the president of the University of Minnesota, Joan Gabel, who has been forced to forgo a lucrative board position:

Even though Gabel has a five-year contract with the UMN, which is a private agreement for wages in return for labor, she does not own the cloat necessary to pick up a cool $130K as a board member. That influence still is in the hands of the public. And the public said no to the side gig.

It happens the other way around too. Teachers find themselves working amongst the public when they teach in front of the classroom. Their position is a private contract that gives clear instructions on what is to be taught in the curriculum. Yet some teachers cross all sorts of lines working in personal views on history, the family, or gender.

The point of all this is that there is not one clear-cut private transaction and one clear-cut public transaction. The private incentives among public employees work in the same way as in the private market. People are always juggling a mix of both personal reward and dedication to groups of interests.

Housing trouble amongst the rich and famous

Settling on a price for unusual real estate is not an easy matter. This fact is helping a widowed Princess avoid being evicted. Her residence, an Italian Villa that was built in 1570, has been in the princess’s husband’s family since 1620. But it isn’t the longevity of its title lineage that makes it special. It comes from an era when painters used walls and ceilings as their canvases. This property boasts a rare and rather racy mural by Caravaggio.

So how exactly does a listing agent prepare a comparable property analysis for a blend of structure and art? This real estate agent (the princess was a realtor for the rich and famous prior to title aquisition) has a solid strategy. Ask high. No takers. She gets to enjoy the fine art for that much longer.

The villa’s sale was meant to resolve an inheritance dispute between Princess Rita and her three stepsons. But the court has put the property up for auction five times, failing to find a buyer even as the asking price has fallen from €471 million ($546 million) to €145 million ($157.5 million).

In the latest development, the judge handling the case has issued a 60-day eviction notice requiring Princess Rita leave the property. The decision came down on the heels of the most recent auction attempt, which took place on January 12 via the online auction site Fallco Aste.

Princess Rita is “stunned” by the court’s decision and plans to appeal the ruling, she told Reuters.

Stunned or not, you can’t say the rules don’t apply to the rich!

Trust a quote for today

A strong and stable family structure and durable social institutions cannot be legislated into existence the way a government can create a central bank or an army. A thriving civil society depends on a people’s habits, customs, and ethics attributes that can be shaped only indirectly through conscious political action and must otherwise be nourished through an increased awareness and respect for culture.

Trust by Frank Fukuyama.

Sensitivity about investor owned property

The Minneapolis Fed posted a thoughtful article about investor owned properties across the Twin Cities metro. Investor-owned homes ebb and flow in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. The long and the short of it is that investor owned homes represents a small percent of the total housing stock. Prior to the recession it amounted to 1.9% of homes and has been stable at 3.3-3.4% for the past eight years.

It’s funny how the story changes. The recession of 2009 pushed so many homeowners out of their properties that vacant and abandoned properties were an issue. Cities aggressively tracked down banks (for they were holding most of the paper through foreclosures) to enforce newly created vacant property rules. Investors bought homes that no one else wanted or was maintaining.

Some people infer a nefarious angle to the larger percentage of investor-owned rentals in low-income areas. Isn’t it logical that when people cannot afford to buy a home they partner with an investor so they may still enjoy the benefits of single-family living? Also- people who are new to an area often rent until they find their way around a new city.

The portion of rentals in a neighborhood is a number to keep an eye on, but there are many others. What type of household formations are accommodated in the neighborhood? Are there enough extra hours for the residents to participate in civic activities? Are transportation options safe and provide the proper connections? The performance of core services affects the quality of a neighborhood to a greater degree than the percentage of investor owners.

Practical Policy

With a 17 Billion dollar surplus piling up in the Minnesota coffers, there will be a lot of public spending in the next few years. The message coming from the Governor’s office is a commitment to make Minnesota the best place to raise a family. This is actually what this state is known for and is near and dear to Minnesotans. Often young people will go explore the rest of the country after college and then return home once it’s time to raise their families.

There is a segment (a set, a group) of Minnesotans whose kids are not doing so well. In fact, they are scoring lower on standardized tests than their compatriots in Mississippi. One can quibble about whether these evaluations are a reflection on the state given how long these kids have been in our school systems. Or one can make excuses for the effects of Covid lockdowns, second language struggles, and general distractions from joy-riding friends. But one thing is for sure- a lot of people are not happy about it.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say the majority of Minnesotans want these kids to do well. There is pride in not only school performance but public school performance. Most people support public schools. So there should be no problem dumping a whole bunch of cash into the schools, right? Well, no. The Minneapolis school district, educator principal for this group of children already receives $4,610 (35%) more per child than the average MN student. Putting more money into institutions that are failing to perform seems a fool’s errand.

If you ask teachers what their biggest impediment is in the classroom they will often say disruptions. Their instruction time is spent on a few instead of teaching to the crowd. Others say the disruption originates around attendance issues: either showing up late or not at all. And lastly, they express the set backs from issues of disruptive behavior.

Instead of funneling dollars through a massive bureaucracy (trickle down doesn’t work so well) why not pay the kids directly to show up and sit still for a few hours every day? Make it worth their while. Let’s say $50 is paid out every other week. That would only be $900/kid which seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers seen above. Maybe they could even cluster and have special events based on who’s pulling in the best attendance records. Make it fun- kids like fun!

The average Minnesotan wants to see these kids succeed. Kids will respond to incentives. Who knows, maybe the people will even pay more, and give more of themselves and their resources if they see a glimmer of success.

I’ll tell thee everything I can

by Lewis Carroll

I'll tell thee everything I can;

There's little to relate,

I saw an aged, aged man,

A-sitting on a gate.

"Who are you, aged man?" I said.

"And how is it you live?"

And his answer trickled through my head

Like water through a sieve.



He said, "I look for butterflies

That sleep among the wheat;

I make them into mutton-pies,

And sell them in the street.

I sell them unto men," he said,

"Who sail on stormy seas;

And that's the way I get my bread

A trifle, if you please."



But I was thinking of a plan

To dye one's whiskers green,

And always use so large a fan

That they could not be seen.

So, having no reply to give

To what the old man said,

I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!"

And thumped him on the head.



His accents mild took up the tale;

He said, "I go my ways,

And when I find a mountain-rill,

I set it in a blaze;

And thence they make a stuff they call

Rowland's Macassar Oil

Yet twopence-halfpenny is all

They give me for my toil."



But I was thinking of a way

To feed one's self on batter,

And so go on from day to day

Getting a little fatter.

I shook him well from side to side,

Until his face was blue,

"Come, tell me how you live," I cried,

"And what it is you do!"



He said, "I hunt for haddocks' eyes

Among the heather bright,

And work them into waistcoat-buttons

In the silent night.

And these I do not sell for gold

Or coin of silvery shine,

But for a copper halfpenny,

And that will purchase nine.



"I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,

Or set limed twigs for crabs;

I sometimes search the grassy knolls

For wheels of hansom-cabs.

And that's the way" (he gave a wink)

"By which I get my wealth

And very gladly will I drink

Your honor's noble health."



I heard him then, for I had just

Completed my design

To keep the Menai bridge from rust

By boiling it in wine.

I thanked him much for telling me

The way he got his wealth,

But chiefly for his wish that he

Might drink my noble health.



And now, if e'er by chance I put

My fingers into glue,

Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot

Into a left-hand shoe,

Or if I drop upon my toe

A very heavy weight,

I weep, for it reminds me so

Of that old man I used to know

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow,

Whose hair was whiter than the snow,

Whose face was very like a crow,

With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,

Who seemed distracted with his woe,

Who rocked his body to and fro,

And muttered mumblingly and low,

As if his mouth were full of dough,

Who snorted like a buffalo

That summer evening long ago,

A-sitting on a gate.

501(c)3’s span the gamut

There is an International Owl Center in a small about two and a half hours SE of the Twin Cities. It’s a beautiful rural area where mounding bluffs eventually fall into the Mississippi River to the east. Houston is a town of under 1000 residents and yet it is home to this organization dedicated to making the world a better place for owls. According to Trip Advisors, the center is the #1 attraction in town.

Owls are not easy to spot. On a winter walk in a park reserve nearby I noticed a couple’s gaze focused overhead on the canopy along the path. As my dog and I pulled up I followed their line of site and noticed what looked like an egg-shaped pillow perched on a branch. A fluff of feathers noticeable only by the size of the clomp. I’ve also heard them call, but then doubt what I heard and in which direction the sound originated.

It was through an MPR article that I found out about the owl experts. The Owl Prowl, an event where they take a group in search of the owls, caught my eye. Being led out into the woods seems like the best way to learn how to spot the creatures. Standing still in the cold during the two-hour outing would be totally worth it to spot the Eastern Screech-Owl or Barred Owl or the stately Great Horned. Unfortunately, it is completely sold out for the early part of the year.

There are simply so many worthy 501(c)3’s. It seems like there should be a better way to find out about them and what they do, and how efficiently they do it. These folks aren’t some big endowment holding funds for a rich patron. The organization is engaged in the work and interacting with the public and providing services to wildlife. It even used its resources to raise money for the children of Ukraine. Last year, artwork from Ukrainian children entered in their art contest was auctioned off. Over $250K was raised and sent to Unicef to provide relief in the war-torn country.

Move over Wordle- now there’s Housle

A new guessing game has burst on the small handheld screen and it is called Housle:

Much like the widely popular game Wordle, Housle gives players six tries to predict the asking price of any house currently listed in the United States. Every day, a new listing appears on the Housle website as players are given just one photo for their first guess.

With each wrong answer, new photos and details are revealed about the home, including its location, square footage, or number of bedrooms and bathrooms. After each guess, players are told if their answers are higher or lower than the listing price. To win, users must guess within five per cent of the home’s asking price.

I gave it a whirl and the first property it showed was a handsome modern structure set on an ample greenspace. After one wrong guess and an note that I was low, I was given this prompt:

An inside shot of a modern home looking out onto green grass is not a lot of new information. The location is very helpful- Buckinghamshire UK. But still, we’re missing a lot here. And for that reason, I don’t think this game will evolve in the same manner as Wordle.

As with many things, the word game is contained by very tight restrictions. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet. The solution must be an English word. Once you’ve guessed the position of one letter the use of the space for another letter is eliminated drastically paring down the solution set.

In the house guessing game the price may have eight or nine digits (or more). It’s not like the TV game The Price is Right where the contestant is rewarded with an acknowledgment when the right number is placed in the correct one’s ten’s hundred’s…space saver. There are simply too many permutations of the numbers. And that’s assuming you have a general grasp of the real estate market revealed in the photo.

HBO’s The White Lotus and a lesson learned

My guilty viewing pleasure of late has been the White Lotus mini series. During each of the two seasons, a group of guests arrives at an exclusive vacation destination. Throughout their stay, they either discover something about themselves or their intimate partners through interactions with other guests and the local staff. Of course there is a lot of bad behavior which makes the show entertaining.

But I am happy to report there was also a philosophy lesson snuck into season 2 episode five. It was one of those teaching moments, where the meaning was crystal clear in all but a few words. Two former college roommates bring their wives to the Sicilian resort. One of the two, Ethan the tech nerd, has recently made a boatload of money from the sale of a business. Cam is a money guy.

Cam is also a little loose on his commitment to a monogamous relationship with his wife Daphne. Ethan fears that Cam has set his sites on his wife. So over dinner, he accuses Cam of mimetic desires. (I’ve been wanting to understand mimetic desires and now Ethan lays it all out.) He explains that Cam has always held him in high regard and has wanted to be part of his prestige. So whenever Ethan would mention that he liked a girl in college, Cam would get busy and date her.

Mimetic desire: “Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.” Rene Girard

As a side note, Jennifer Coolidge also gave a wonderful acceptance speech for the recent award she won at the 2023 Golden Globe awards. She portrays a wealthy heiress who appears in both seasons. She offers another lesson, I suppose, about success and timing.

Solutions offered to honor MLK

Melvin Carter is the young, dynamic mayor of St. Paul. Overall he has faired better in the public eye than other political leaders. The city of St. Paul however is endlessly struggling with increasing property taxes and decreasing core services such as snow removal.

The Rondo area of St. Paul was a predominantly African American neighborhood that was lost to the installation of I94 which runs between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some property owners relocated to other areas of the cities. For instance, I know of one family who moved to Brooklyn Center as homeowners.

The viability of programs such as this always falters. But is it better to offer and campaign for a specific solution? I think so. It’s a reminder to people to make the effort to become a homeowner (and there already are so many programs available to make that happen). It’s a reminder that Melvin Carter’s family has taken this route and derived benefits from it. It’s an aspirational path that may just knock through some barricades- real or imagined.

Listen! to your favorite poetry

List provied by: YuHansung’s Coffee

3 years ago (edited)1: Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach read by Eileen Atkins 0:06 2: W.H. Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts read by Jodie Foster 2:13 3: John Berryman, Henry’s Confession read by Gary Sinise 3:41 4: Elizabeth Bishop, Filling Station read by Glenn Close 4:55 5: William Blake, The Tyger read by Helem Mirren 6:48 6: Gwendolyn Brooks, We Real Cool read by Morgan Freeman 8:23 7: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways read by Helen Mirren 9:08 8: Robert Burns, To a Mouse read by Billy Connolly 10:18 9: George Gordon, Lord Byron, I would I were a careless child read by Robert Sean Leonard 12:29 10: Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky  read by Eileen Atkins 15:17 11: Geoffrey Chaucer, The General Prologue read by Lynn Redgrave 16:48 12: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan read by Robert Sean Leonard 19:31 13: Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge read by Sam Waterston 22:13 14: e.e. cummings, if everything happens that can’t be done read by Eileen Atkins 25:17 15: Emily Dickinson, 1263 (There is no Frigate like a Book) read by Glenn Close 26:41 16: John Donne, Song (Go and catch a falling star) read by John Lithgow 27:14 17: T.S. Eliot, Rhapsody on a Windy Night read by Morgan Freeman 28:28 18: Robert Frost, Birches read by John Lithgow 32:01 19: William S. Gilbert, Love Unrequited, or The Nightmare Song read by John Lithgow 35:40 20: Allen Ginsberg, A Supermarket in California read by Gary Sinise 39:16 21: Robert Herrick, The Beggar to Mab, The Fairy Queen read by Billy Connolly 41:48 22: Gerald Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty read by Kathy Bates 43:09 23: A.E. Housman, When I Was One and Twenty read by Robert Sean Leonard 44:02 24: Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues read by Morgan Freeman 44:57 25: Randall Jarrell, Death of a Ball Turret Gunner read by Gary Sinise 46:42 26: Ben Jonson, Inviting a Friend to Supper read by Robert Sean Leonard 47:19 27: John Keats, To Autumn read by Lynn Redgrave 49:52 28: Philip Larkin, Days read by Susan Sarandon 52:00 29: Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat read by Billy Connolly 52:39 30: H.W. Longfellow, A Psalm of Life read by John Lithgow 54:10 31: Robert Lowell, The Public Garden read by Billy Conolly 55:58 32: Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress read by John Lithgow 57:39 33: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Love is Not All read by Jodie Foster 1:00:00 34: Marianne Moore, Poetry read by Kathy Bates 1:01:07 35: Ogden Nash, No Doctor’s Today, Thank You read by John Lithgow 1:02:55 36: Dorothy Parker, Afternoon read by Glenn Close 1:04:29 37: Edgar Allen Poe, Annabel Lee read by Sam Waterston 1:05:27 38: Ezra Pound, The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter read by Jodie Foster 1:07:50 39: Christina Rosetti, Up-Hill read by Helen Mirren 1:09:43 40: Carl Sandburg, Chicago read by Gary Sinise 1:10:56 41: Shakespeare, Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun read by Lynn Redgrave 1:13:04 42: Percy Bysshe Shelley, To a Skylark read by Glenn Close 1:14:28 43: Edmund Spenser, Sonnet 75 (One day I wrote her name upon the strand) read by Susan Sarandon 1:18:55 44: Gertrude Stein, If I Told Him read by Kathy Bates 1:20:00 45: Wallace Stevens, The Emperor of Ice-Cream read by Kathy Bates 1:24:28 46: Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night read by Susan Sarandon 1:25:25 47: Walt Whitman, There was a Child went Forth read by Sam Waterston 1:26:44 48: William Carlos Williams, The Red Wheelbarrow read by Jodie Foster 1:31:38 49: William Wordsworth, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud read by Helen Mirren 1:32:06 50: William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree read by Eileen Atkins 1:33:25 You are welcome 😀

And now it’s gas ranges

The method politicians use to select the most egregious offenders of societal woe must be an interesting process. How in heavens did gas ranges make it to the top of the list? Even the left-leaning commentators I follow are cracking jokes and posting pictures of their gas ranges which they refuse to relinquish. People who like to cook on gas find electric far inferior.

And health consequences, the automatic shut-down-the-objections-because-you-can’t-possibly-want-to-kill-the-children justification is offered up as the reason? This is particularly hard to swallow when there is an active movement in getting marijuana legalized in MN. It’s OK for kids to ingest smoke into their lungs but running a low flame on occasion in a kitchen will surely cause their health to suffer.

At least in days of yore, there was some notable complaint coming from the populace, some parent had lost a child, and some movement like mothers against drunk drivers, to initiate a formal response. Now politicians just PFA (pluck from air as a teacher used to say) the action of their ambition. This will lead to nothing but cynicism.

To be credible and supported (ie not circumvented) the public must fear that some degree of harm is at hand. With all the mixed messaging during Covid, I’m not sure a note from the doctors is going to be enough anymore. Also- there must be a display of buy-in from the people pushing it down the ranks to the general population. As this tweet infers, there’s a sense that corruption is at hand when leaders don’t do as they say.

Behind Her Eyes- Netflix Series Review

Psychological thrillers are almost too creepy for me. And this one is no exception. Like a train wreck, however, something says not to look away. It’s hard to say too much without giving away spoilers. The actors were believable and alluring. The story is twisted in more than one sense.

In retrospect, the series also has a lot to say about addictions of various types, unhealthy interest in the affairs of others, and obsessions.

The impact of social discomfort

The following passage is from Hayek on Hayek, an autobiographical dialogue.

Qi: What is it about you that makes you feel comfortable with the British?

HAYEK: The strength of certain social conventions which make people understand what your needs are at the moment without mentioning them.

Qi: Can you give us an example?

HAYEK: The way you break off a conversation. You don’t say, “Oh, I’m sorry; I’m in a hurry.” You become slightly inattentive and evidently concerned with something else; you don’t need a word. Your partner will break off the conversation because he realizes without your saying so that you really want to do something else. No word need to be said about it. That’s in respect for the indirect indication that I don’t want to continue at the moment.

Qi: How would that differ in the United States? More direct?

HAYEK: Either he might force himself to listen too attentively, as if he were attentive, or he might just break off saying, “Oh, I beg your pardon, but I am in a hurry.” That would never happen–I can’t say never happen-but that is not the British way of doing it.

Qi: How does it differ from the Austrian?

HAYEK: There would be an effusion of polite expressions explaining that you are frightfully sorry, but in the present moment you can’t do it. You would talk at great length about it, while no word would be said about it in England at all.

In just a few words, the author of A Road to Surfdom contrasts the norms of three different cultures. He says he’s most at home amongst the British because he does not have to explain himself. He is understood.

Perhaps this comes across as trivial, but it is not. The implications of social traits and standards can have immediate financial consequences. Say a couple goes to a jewelry store to buy an engagement ring. Should the person behind the counter misread their prospect and act too haughty, or too economical, the couple could become offended and walk out. The shop looses a sale. Or say a very bright student tours a potential university. At every question, she is cut off and talked over. The school loses an excellent scholar.

What’s tricky about these judgments and rejections is the person behind the counter or leading the tour never receives the feedback. People simply walk away from these situations. They politely decline to interact. So the offenders of social rules never are brought up to speed, they are simply left behind.

Puzzling

Holidays are usually a time when we pull a 1500-piece puzzle out of the closet. There’s always someone who wants to jump in and help. Everyone has a preferred method to solving the picture of a Van Gogh or a photograph of a flower garden. Usually, the edge pieces are collected as they are easily identified by their smooth side. Those go together pretty easily. The next step is simply to group by color and try each one.

The interior sections are much more tricky. Sometimes you think you’ve matched the color but find out later that the underside of a shoe was really the shadow of a pot. The colors aren’t what they seem. Textures betray the eye. So grouping can only go so far. At that point, you have to let go of the images and focus solely on the patterns of the edges. Do they go in or out? Are they fat or just bitty things? And every once in a while your brain clicks- I’ve seen that before.

Grouping, and grouping some more based on more attributes, all contributes to solving the puzzle. Instead of getting persuaded by the golds and blues appearing out of some dream state, keep what makes the shards the same and what makes them different top of your mind. Then click- the edges are joined.

Because roads are boring

This researcher with the Institute of Economic Studies has some interesting findings. When he and his colleague looked into road quality across cities, they found that the quality of road repair was not tied to the wealth of the neighborhood.

This indicates that the cities do a uniform job in maintaining the roads and are not subject to capture from a particular group. A bureaucracy that works fairly. I speculate that this is because there is nothing particularly intriguing about asphalt. The potential social media controversies or any other profile-rising awareness is simply not going to be generated by the extent of millwork overlays in a year.

Now if there were only more indicators for consistency in city services, then it would be easier to spot the politicians who are simply going after political intreague instead of routine work.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs 
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, 
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind, 
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow, 
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens

Here’s a guy thinking on the margin

For those of you out of our news broadcasting area, we’ve had record snowfall so far this winter. Over a Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, a storm dropped 17 inches of the white stuff (a bit more than 40 centimeters for those of you in the rest of the world). The total for the year recorded at MSP Airport is 45.5″ or 115 centimeters. It’s beautiful and all when it coats the bushes and trees with a fairytale-like mantel. It also needs to be shoveled off of roads, driveways, and sidewalks and that’s when you find out that it is not as light as powder sugar but quite heavy.

Not everyone is physically able to handle the task. This has a community effect as everyone uses the sidewalks and alleys. In the more densely populated areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul digging out of a storm is quite a project. Cars get stuck, plows try to get around them, cars get stuck more and on it goes. But on many a block, there is a neighbor with a large sturdy snow blower ($1500) who enjoys running the monster up and back across driveways and the like making short work of the daunting task.

In steps a Twitter suggestion from the Fat Culkin Brother.

Tap the joy a certain set of guys (and gals!) feel in this type of community work. Give them a few extra resources and let them live the good life. Maybe even throw them a recognition event along with all the other folks who volunteer for their city.

Find a way to encourage labor that otherwise is idle.

It’s such a low-hanging fruit that others popped online to tell of how it has worked elsewhere.

WordPress asked a question

What colleges have you attended?

I received a BA with a double major in Mathematics and French from St. Olaf College. I completed an MBA in Finance from the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.


This question is easy to answer. But have you ever noticed that asking good questions is challenging? At a conference or a talk there is often an opportunity for audience members to ask a question of the speaker. And at every event there are at least a couple of who queue up to the mike and drone on and on, their opinions drop like lead pipes clattering on the floor. Finally the moderator interrupts and requests a question in lieu of a speach.

I used to chuckle at these folks until I tried to formulate a sensible question myself. It’s not so easy!

Now and again I think I’m onto something interesting enough to be worth the audience’s time. Then a debate springs up in my head as to how much background information needed to be sure the query is taken in the right context. A frightful insecurity rises up that there is not be enough time to explain and thus one of two problematic situations arise. The first is that I too would ramble on and on, and the second is to have the presenter unable to make heads or tails of my request.

It’s so much easier to listen!

When you call wolf

For the past twenty years, the Minnesota Department of Health has tried to get homeowners interested in testing and mitigating for radon. They purport that this gas is present at excessive levels in more than 40% of Minnesota homes putting lives in danger due to its tie to lung cancer.

Influence Media, a local news aggregator, reported today via his newsletter:

Since January 1st, 2014 a more extensive disclosure law has been required upon the sale of a home. In addition to the seller of the property having to disclose any information regarding radon tests, a two page add on provides statistical information implying the severity of radon effects.

Following the passage of the law, testing for radon ($150) became standard at time-of-sale. It also became the expectation for the seller to install a mitigation system ($1500-$2000) should the results fall above the measure set by the Health Dept. A mitigation industry blossomed from these new rules. This was followed a few years later by a licensing requirement for the mitigation contractors, the standard package of fees, and continuing education. Builders are also required to install a passive mitigation system in all new builds.

After all these years of constructing a new set of norms, nearly forty percent of buyers are not convinced. Why?

On the face of it, the numbers don’t make sense. If forty percent of homes in the state were filling the resident’s lungs with deadly gas, wouldn’t there be more deaths due to lung cancer? The American Cancer Society reports that lung cancer deaths were reduced by 29% between 1991 to 2017. I wrote a breakdown of the of the effect of lung cancer in Minnesota in a piece about radon a few years ago.

The other indication that this issue may be more about bureaucratic capture than health threats is the disinterest in the topic among researchers and academics. It seems on life and death issues there would be ongoing research, yet none is presented. In fact, the academic connection between radon and single family homes (as opposed to industrial settings) is opaque.

Health and personal safety are two top priorities for almost everyone. Keeping resources steered toward mitigating the greatest offenders is the path to improving lives.

First work example of 2023

The flurries started around 10am today. From the size of the flakes streaming past my window, it was clear that we were in for a lot of snow in a bit of time. When inches of white stuff blanket the countryside the plow trucks do their best to shovel it off the roads- but they can only cover so much ground in so many hours.

Intersections and on-off ramps are particularly prone to snow build-up as car wheels shove it this way and that while making their turns. At an entrance to a well-used freeway, the dark grey car spun out unable to maintain the traction it needed to get through slush.

Enter the just-in-time workers for the public good. Half a dozen motorists pull over, grab the shovels they keep in their vehicles next to the extra emergency blankets and flashlights, and dig out the drifted-over ramp entrance. No one hired them. No one will pay them. This is a spontaneous response to a need with beneficial outcomes to the first motorist and all the ones back-up behind him.

These types of workers were out in force today. Here’s a thank you from another Twitter user.

Dangerous weather fosters community solidarity. People show up to help!

What else tips the scales and turns a wage paid worker into a volunteer?

Structures

The possibility of forming structures by a process of replication gives those elements that have the capacity for doing so better chances of multiplying. Those elements will be preferably selected for multiplication that are capable of forming into more complex structures, and the increase of their members will lead to the formation of still more such structures. Such a model, once it has appeared, becomes as definite a constituent of the order of the world as any material object. In the structures of interaction, the patterns of activities of groups are determined by practices transmitted by individuals of one generation to those of the next; and these orders preserve their general character only by constant change (adaptation).

Appendix C, The Fatal Conceit– Hayek

Testudo Formations

In ancient Rome, the legionnaires had a special maneuver to protect troops during an assault. When under attack soldiers drew in close and used their shields to the front of the group, to the sides, and to cover their heads. It is called the Testudo Formation, inspired from the latin word for turtle.

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Plutarch describes this formation as used by Mark Antony during his invasion of Parthia in 36 BC:

Then the shield-bearers wheeled round and enclosed the light-armed troops within their ranks, dropped down to one knee, and held their shields out as a defensive barrier. The men behind them held their shields over the heads of the first rank, while the third rank did the same for the second rank. The resulting shape, which is a remarkable sight, looks very like a roof, and is the surest protection against arrows, which just glance off it.[3]

Wiki

If you read Asterix and Obelix books as a kid you probably remember graphic representations that looked something like:

Once in this formation, the legionnaires must act as one. They walk together, hold the shields together, and plan their course of action together. As soon as the individuals behind all those shields act individually, the testudo fails to preserve the group. And just like on the fields of battle, formations are being formed and disolved all the time.

When you think about it, this aptly describes an economic phenomenon. When people take economic action to change their odds of a bad thing happening to them, when they coordinate with others for self-preservation, then they are engaging in a testudo formation. Everyone behind the sheilds benefits from the collaboration. Everyone outside the armored cloaking is either an advisory or left to fend for themselves.

Economic action to the outside of the legionnaires is competitive and follows the private market rules. Everything from within is public and follows public market principles.

This is important because the analysis thus far tried to follow the cause instead of the group. For instance, if you advocate for clean energy, advocates tell us to always choose renewables instead of fossil fuel, a gas instead of coal, etc. This evalutaion of priorities is to be honored by developping countries or western countries alike. But what we see is that this aspirational ordering does not hold up consistently in each market.

Due to the war in Ukraine, the European energy market is suffering from a lack of Russian oil. Instead of pursuing clean energy of any form, policymakers are choosing to revert to coal. Their testudo formation is battling other adversaries. Some of these are internal. This isn’t bad or good. It is simply a reality. But it is understanding where the testudo formations are occurring which allows for a proper analysis of the economic tradeoffs.

Nationalism and funding in China

Susan Shirk, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego, says something interesting in this WSJ podcast. The discussion is undoubtedly a result of her new book, Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise. I have been following the power struggle for the South China Seas from outlets, in particular via Walter Russel Mead’s articles, also in the WSJ. China has been pushing the limits of its authority with the seeming intent of antagonizing its neighbors.

My perception is that an international power play would come from the very top, Xi Jinping. But Dr. Shirk indicates other government agencies inflamed nationalist sentiment and initiated a build-up in the struggle over the South China Sea (6:45min). Lower-level bureaucracies such as the “Fishery Bureau, Coast Guard, Marine surveillance… started pursuing the defense of China’s claims in the South China Sea, and as far as I can tell, the main objective was to get bigger budgets for themselves.”

Economic pressures contribute to dynamism in government agencies as well as the private sector. The various maritime agencies compete against each other for resources and will adjust the levers at their disposal to extract sources of revenue. If nationalism provokes a supply of public funding, then it is a good they have an interest in producing.

Is Jazz Hopeful?

I didn’t use to think so. I thought jazz was heavy and sorrowful and sad. Singing the blues was what it was about. When Billie Holliday wasn’t singing the blues she was warbling Goodmorning Heartache. Ella Fitzgerald croons about her time spent in regret in Cry Me a River. And then Nina Simone’s rendition of Sinner Man is haunting but quite the opposite of cheerful.

Maybe the crackly recordings added to an unsatisfactory listening experience. Because it certainly wasn’t the quality of the voices. Heavens. The remastered versions of their performances show off the extraordinary voices which made them famous.

It wasn’t too many months ago that I was running the search on my car radio hoping desperately for a break from earworm pop and classical MPR when I stumbled on Jazz 88.5 FM. It made my day- a real DJ was selecting and talking about the cuts he or she had chosen. Some are performers themselves and give insights into their preferences. But most of all the music was joyful and upbeat.

The station operates in conjuntion with the Minneapolis Public Schools. From its website:

Listener-Driven Jazz, Roots, News and Traffic

MINNESOTA’S JAZZ STATION

Jazz88 is the Twin Cities’ source for jazz & roots music, MnDOT traffic, and BBC World News.  Jazz88 is one of the highest-rated full-time jazz stations in the nation and an Ampers Station of the Year recipient.  A self-supporting service of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), Jazz88 receives nearly half of our annual revenue from individual listeners.  Your gift supports the radio and digital services, live events, and our hands-on educational program.

Gary Becker and Self-Protection

I recently became aware of the University of Chicago’s price theory class which has been posted on You Tube. What a wealthy world we live in. A life long learners paradise!

In this clip from the class, Gary Becker talks about the concept of self-protection.

He says that self-protection is defined as people taking action to change the odds of a bad event happening.

This concept is at the core of so many neighborhood arrangements. People take the time to report loitering around a school to increase the odds preditors will be prevented from preying on the kids. People take the time to go to city council meetings to have traffic signs installed to increase the odds of improved street safety. People take the time to report food issues at a restaurant to reduce the odds of people getting sick while being served.

This type of spontaneous and voluntary contribution is the work people do on behalf of their various communities. It is not individual work as it does not matter which individual does it, only that one individual in the group steps up when an event happens to them. Their efforts are externalized across the group as they do not personally receive payment but gain through enhanced community services.

MN fiction landscape

My family and I started talking about Minnesota fiction over the holiday weekend. Among the writers who came to mind were William Kent Krueger, Lief Enger, and Lorna Landvik, Tim O’Brien. What they all have in common is there ability to put you in the geography of our state. They all are able to pluck you from where ever you are in the world and put you right down into the heart of the Minnesota landscape.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is nestled in the crook of where the Minnesota River meets the Mississippi. A journey along the confluence of these two waterways is the backdrop for much of William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land. You will feel what it means to be out in the elements as a band of youths flee an American Indian boarding school. During a summer on the run, the kids join up with a variety of Minnesotans trying to get by during the waning years of the depression.

Lief Enger’s Peace Like a River is worth every moment you devote to passing your eyes over his pages. His story will trick you. On the journey, he will show you a part of the country closer to Fargo than to Minneapolis. A landscape filled with lakes and hence settled by the Finns and the Swedes and the Norwegian- all looking for fjords but settling, instead, on grassy banks overlooking hundreds of acres of sky-blue waters. Fair warning there is more than a dollop of religion between the lines of Enger’s narrative. His writing is poetic. It creates an atmosphere that is representative of the people and places he describes.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Lorna Landvik’s Patty Jane’s House of Curl. It’s a homey read full of housewife wisdom. But it is set down the sidewalks and through the streets of everyday Minneapolis. The landmarks reorientate you to the city if you’ve been away. The nature and seasonal fluctuations of the north country are there to embrace you.

Tim O’Brien may not seem from this part of the country as he has spent most of the last quarter century in Texas, a long three-day drive from Minnesota. He is also best known for writing about the Vietnam experience, in particular in the fictional book The Things They Carried. But he was raised in southern Minnesota and graduated from Macalester College in St Paul. He penned a book I loved called In the Lake of the Woods.

Following an unsuccessful bid for United State Senate, the protagonist and his wife escape to where every Minnesotan escapes: up north. The boundary waters area of the state is remote and beautiful and remote. When his wife goes missing, there is a tumbling of memories and flashbacks scrolling through his thoughts. But is he telling the reader the whole truth?

There are many famous, perhaps more famous, authors with Minnesota ties. But if you want to visit the land of ten thousand lakes wothout making the journey, I suggest you start here. You can float down the great waterways, stroll the tree lined streets of the city, feel the vast open farmland to the northwest and get lost in the Boundary Waters. Why wait?

Plates and patterns

Part of every holiday season is bringing people together for meals. And in honor of traditions of food and drink many will set a beautiful table with dinner plates and salad bowls and serving platters and special salt and pepper shakers.

My maternal grandmother found a certain status in British china. Every self-respecting woman (yes- that type of sexism) must have eight place settings to be ready for life. Every time she gifted me another round of dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate, cup and saucer she would count off, “That’s number 5.” She must have been reminding herself of what was left of her obligation to my household wares.

Every place setting was part of the set of china. Each setting had the same number of pieces. But what made them a set was the pattern, Evesham Gold by Royal Worchester. If you have a set of things that each have similar components, then what makes them interesting is their pattern.

How Mancur Olson talks about groups

Mancur Olson is known mostly for his first book published in 1965, The Logic of Collective Action, Public Goods and a Theory of Groups. An overly simplified version of his theory is to show that collective action becomes more and more difficult as group sizes grow. Here’s a portion of his analysis taken from Chapter One.

There are two things to determine in finding out whether there is any presumption that a given group will voluntarily provide itself with a collective good. First, the optimal amount of the collective good for each individual to buy, if he is to buy any, must be discovered; this is given when Fi(dV./dT) = dC/dT . Second, it must be determined whether any member or members of the group would find at that the individual optimum that the benefit to the group from the collective good exceeded the total cost by more than it exceeded the member’s own benefit from that collective good; that is, whether Fi > C/V.

The argument may be stated yet more simply by saying that, if at any level of purchase of the collective good, the gain to the group exceeds the total cost by more than it exceeds the gain to any individual, then there is a presumption that the collective good will be provided, for then the gain to the individual exceeds the total cost of providing the collective good to the group.

It’s a very individualistic point of view. If the participant in the collective extracts enough then they will agree to pay accordingly. There are metered goods for which this slicing and dicing of inputs and smattering out the expenses based on individual consumption works quite well. The provision of clean drinking water through most municipalities in the US follows a similar model.

But instead of thinking about the breadwinning individual as the only participant in the payment scheme, shouldn’t we think of every household as a group? Whether the service is brought to one or ten members, doesn’t that change the gist of the analysis? On the individual level of analysis, one individual could claim that she is paying a disproportionate about of the infrastructure costs. She is bearing the entire load of one home whereas the home in which an extended family enjoys the benefits of clean water across more beneficiaries.

Olson’s way of equating payment for the public good to an immediate withdrawal of a benefit seems different than how it is thought about with the delivery of a service such as clean water. The head of household is anticipating potable water for everyone in their home. And even beyond their residence as it is necessary to be able to drink from the tap at schools and in other public venues. Water is such a basic public good that, as opposed to a fee for service immediate exchange, the expectation by the individuals who pay the water bill is for everyone in their community to access drinking water.

The feel of this group seems more in line with how groups are broken down by Hayek, as I wrote about yesterday. His basic building block group was the assembly of folks who interact face to face. A group, not a bunch of individuals. Through a city or community, there is a desire for core services, such as water, to be accessible by everyone whether they are the ones earning a wage and writing the check for the water bill or not.

Three levels of moral beliefs

The explanation of the levels of moral beliefs starts at 13:00-15:20

Criticism of free markets, or capitalism more generally, is the system’s negligence toward altruism and social support services. In this video Hayek broaches the subject by delineating three levels of moral beliefs. At the most intimate level their exists rules of the game for the small person-to-person society. “We act by people that we know and are served by people that we know.”

He goes on to say that at the next level we have a society that operates under norms and moral traditions. The extended order of human cooperation is due to upholding personal property rights and the organization of the family. At the third level, moral beliefs are aspirational. People who dwell here are working at changing tradition to advance a new set of rules that will better satisfy man’s instincts.

These three sets of standards come into constant conflict. This is true in part because they are carried out in various fashions. The first is inate and spontaneous. The second lives on through traditions. And the third set of moral standards are intellectually determined.

New movies vs. old ones

After feeling like I wasted two hours of my life watching the (supposedly) highly-rated Bullet Train on Friday night, I returned to an old franchise friend Mission Impossible. Mission Impossible 3 starring Tom Cruise was made twenty-two years ago, yet it was better on so many fronts than Bullet Train.

Japan’s bullet train is a cool vehicle, but that’s it. The producers don’t try to capitalize on any other geographic features of the surrounding countryside. The complete opposite is true in MI3. The last part of the film is all shot in Shanghai. If you’ve been following the development of this city, you will recognize the age of the film as it has since been developed even further than illustrated. But the producers do a cool job of street-level visuals of the older parts of town. This, of course, is while Cruise does all sorts of acrobatics and tricks through the streets and rooftops.

In MI3 the storyline has some subtleties, some twists, and some intrigue. Can’t find any of that in BT. There’s sloppy violence. I think it’s meant to be funny- but falls gruesomely short. And maybe I’m old fashion, but I expect the stras in an action-adventure film to be dashing, debonaire, or at least a little good-looking. Brad Pitt is a handsome man, except here where he takes on a hobo-type package. Again- not funny.

I want glamour and Cruise pull that off in spades. If you don’t believe me have a look at him here promoting his latest film, Tom Gun Maverick.

Vikes make history

The biggest news in the Twin Cities today happened at US Bank Stadium.

MINNEAPOLIS — The 2022 Minnesota Vikings might be the most entertaining team of all time.

They were down 33-0 at halftime on Saturday.

Read that again: they were down 33-0 AT HALFTIME.

But they didn’t roll over and stop fighting. Instead, Kevin O’Connell’s team — which has shown a flair for the dramatic all season — pulled off the biggest comeback in NFL history, scoring 36 second-halfpoints and beating the Colts, 39-36, in overtime to clinch their first NFC North title since 2017. With the win, they move to 11-3 and hold onto the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Sports Illustrated

The numbers weren’t on the purple team’s side at half time.

And that’s why it is important to remember that numbers are reflective of what has happened in the past. They are only a guide to the future.

Hostages- by Anne Perry

I take delight in the short story. They are just the right length for a long hot bath, or one sitting on a lazy morning when you push every other demand on your life out of your mind. Over forty pages you can be introduced to the most brilliant writer- who, chances are, you’ve never heard of before.

Or at least I’d never heard of Anne Perry before coming across this story in a compilation by Ed McBain called Transgressions. Bookended between pieces by Donald Westlake (Grifters) and Joyce Carol Oates was this new crime fiction writer, prolific yet unknown to me (and with a very dark background which I’ll leave you to investigate).

The novella takes place in Ireland which earns it the first star on my scoring system. Interesting locations matter. The author pulls off intrigue and tension- which is to be expected. It is the genre. But what is impressive, the coup de grace is the transformation of the characters in the story. The meek become strong, and the powerful are cut short. That’s not an easy trick.

Hats off to Anne Perry.

Pay attention to the children

I’m not a fan of the ‘cost-burdened’ framing used when discussing housing. The resulting claims just don’t sync with the other indicators. For instance, Minnesota Compass, a research organization funded by the Wilder Foundation claims that one quarter of Minnesotans ‘pay too much for housing.’ This doesn’t square with personal experience. One in four Minnesotans cannot pay their bills, purchase cars, or pay for groceries? That’s bunk.

If you want to talk about houses, talk about houses. Why does everything need to be framed with respect to income?

I’m interested in whether there are enough physical buildings to provide shelter for each breathing body who finds themselves within the state’s boundaries. The census lists the number of units to be 2,517,248 as of July 2021, which is up 31,690 units from the 2020 Decennial census. Of course, not all of those units may be in use. Some may be vacant or second homes.

According to the 2021 census, the number of households in the state is 2,281,033. So on the face of things, it appears there are enough shelters for the residents.

But that brings up the issue of whether the physical structures are the right kind for the width and breadth of the households that are housed there. If every building is meant to accommodate a large extended family yet the population numbers denote all single individuals wanting to live independently, then there is a serious mismatch. This makes it necessary to know how many dwellings there are and what type of households they most comfortably accommodate.

And then of course one must acknowledge that the state of Minnesota is the fourteenth largest in this big USA territory. This may mean that there is a lack of structures in Worthington (down by the Iowa border) to house agricultural workers even though there is an abundance of well-built craftsman bungalows up in the mining country. So already it is clear that a more specific accounting of houses is necessary to keep on top of this issue of housing.

But what must be our most pressing concern? Who needs help today? (And not the quarter of the cost-burdened gobbly gook.) The public attention on this issue goes to the homeless with children. The estimates vary but single parents with kids need to be settled today. Not tomorrow. Those kids need to be lined up with a school district community that is dedicated to making it so worth the parent’s while to stay put, that they don’t move for the twelve remaining years necessary to get those children through the k-12 education. Those are the numbers that need the public attention.

The story of Christmas Lights

It was about marketing:

Over at the Edison shop, Johnson saw an opportunity. Setting up a tree by the street-side window of his parlor, Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and strung them together around it, and placed the trunk on a revolving pedestal, all powered by a generator. Then he called a reporter. “At the rear of the beautiful parlors, was a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect,” wrote W.A. Croffut, a veteran writer for the Detroit Post and Tribune. “It was brilliantly lighted with…eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red and blue….One can hardly imagine anything prettier.” The lights drew a crowd as passers-by stopped to peer at the glowing marvel. Johnson turned his stunt into a tradition; he also pioneered the practice of doing more each year: An 1884 New York Times article counted 120 bulbs on his dazzling tree.

Johnson’s lights were indeed ahead of their time—electricity was not yet routinely available—and they weren’t cheap. A string of 16 vaguely flame-shaped bulbs sitting in brass sockets the size of shot glasses sold for a pricey $12 (about $350 in today’s money) in 1900. But in 1894 President Cleveland put electric lights on the White House tree, and by 1914, a 16-foot string cost just $1.75. By the 1930s, colored bulbs and cones were everywhere.

Today an estimated 150 million light sets are sold in America each year, adding to the tangled millions stuffed into boxes each January. They light 80 million homes and consume 6 percent of the nation’s electrical load each December. And though the contagious joy of these lights has been co-opted orange at Halloween and red at Valentine’s Day, it all started with Johnson’s miracle on 36th Street.

Smithsonian Magazine

Weekend report on Real Estate

It was a busy work weekend. I have several new buyers starting out who are anxious to start reviewing choices. Inventory remains low so we keep the parameters a little loose to get into more neighborhoods to test out how they feel. One party also visited with a builder. The pace at the model home was light but not lifeless. Another family was finalizing choices while we found out about the few lots which were left in the neighborhood.

My open house today ran from 11-1pm (trying to get ahead of the Vikings game at noon). The property is a fair-sized one-level-living twin home in a development of eighteen similar homes. There was steady traffic starting at 11:20. All but one couple were late middle aged couples at various stages of getting ready to let go of their twenty-year family home. Common sense says do it. And most of them will get around to it.

If in these closing weeks of 2022 there are families sitting talking to builder reps and couples lining up to transition to one-level living, then we’ll be in good shape for 2023. These shifts will free up properties of new buyers, drawing them out of their apartment.

Poem in Thanks

By Thomas Lux
Lord Whoever, thank you for this air I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch in the woods, the wood for fire, 
the light- both lamp and the natural stuff
of leaf-back, fern, and wing.
For the piano, the shovel
for ashes, the moth-gnawed
blankets, the stone-cold water
stone-cold: thank you.
Thank you, Lord, coming for
to carry me here- where I'll gnash
it out, Lord, where I'll calm
and work, Lord, thank you
for the goddamn birds singing!

The cost of maintenance

As mentioned yesterday, regular maintenace is necessary to keep up on the friendly agreements we all like to benefit from. I think the saying goes: Fredom isn’t free.

Unfortunately, lots of people at the top don’t want to think about it. It’s more interesting to be the first to the top of the mountain, not the sherpa keeping food stocked at base camp. For a more precise cost to such obtuse thinking look no further than the US invasion of Iraq.

Mark Danner writes:

Three years and eight months after the Irag war began, the secretary of defense and his allies see in Irag not one war but two. One is the Real Irag War – the “outright success” that only very few would deny, the war in which American forces were “greeted as liberators,” according to the famous prediction of Vice President Dick Cheney, which he doggedly insists was in fact proved true: “true within the context of the battle against the Saddam Hussein regime and his forces. That went very quickly.” It is “within this context” that the former secretary of defense and the vice president see America’s current war in Iraq as in fact comprising a brief, dramatic, and “enormously successful” war of a few weeks’ duration leading to a decisive victory, and then . .. what? Well, whatever we are in now: a Phase Two, a “postwar phase” (as Bob Woodward sometimes calls it) that has lasted three and a half years and continues. In the first, successful, Real Iraq War, 140 Americans died. In the postwar phase, 2,700 Americans have died – and counting. What is happening now in Iraq is not in fact a war at all but a phase, a non-war, something unnamed, unconceptualized – unplanned.

Iraq-The War of the Imagination

Men of action like actionable things. Keeping up the place isn’t a thing. But it’s costly: 2700 lives if someone is counting. Whether housekeepers or peacekeepers, gardeners ot garrison- name these jobs and give them their value.

Westminister Town Hall welcomes Chris Blattman

There’s a beautiful church on the edge of downtown Minneapolis called Westminister Presbyterian. The nave is more of a square than a rectangle and the ornate stained glass windows are all around. It was built over a century ago and wraps you in old world craftsmanship.

I don’t attend service here but I do take advantage of their Town Hall forums which take place through the fall. It must have been five years ago when David Brooks made an appearance that filled all the chairs and pews. Minneapolis is often forgotten on book tours and such- some stay away from the nasty weather. But Chris Blattman, an economist from the University of Chicago, said today that he feels most at home in our state. He was raised in Ottawa and there is something familiar about the north country.

Blattman is on a book tour for his new release Why We Fight. Before he provided an overview of his thesis, he elucidated that for the most part people don’t fight. A detent is preferred so all sides may reap the rewards of a peace dividend. War is nothing but an expense. But under roughly five circumstances, an often erroneous calculation ignites a war.

The first part of the talk focused on global conflicts especially Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Large-scale events are often easy to refer to because people have read about recent events, know the leaders, and a bit of the history.

A local Ukranian band opened up the talk.

Blattman also spoke about his work in reducing local violence in neighborhoods. He has extensive experience in Columbia both with gangs who commit violence and those who hold the peace. This last one is a maintenance type of work. You keep up on balancing out the little power struggles, cool down the hot heads and monitor for possible failures in the system. If you think about it maintenance is a part of most social commitments.

After speaking for about twenty-five minutes, questions on index cards were passed to the front. The very last one was practical. What does he suggest the audience can do to fight violence? (A real issue in present-day Minneapolis). He said to work at the margin. Step in and do small things. Do maintenance.

$17.6 Billion

That is the latest projected budget surplus for the state of MN. Part of the swelling in the coffers is due to a failure of the past legislature to pass spending bills. A tax refund effort failed to pass as well. That leaves a whole lot of spending in the hands of the latest conglomeration of politicians.

Tax surpluses are going to happen. And it is always more comfortable to be on the excess side of the ledger from an operating standpoint. But it seems like there should be an automatic release of funds after a certain percentage of excess is reached. Our constituents are in a better position keeping those funds in hand and putting them to work than having them tied up at the capital in some budget battle.

If politicians feel they can provide a better product or service with those funds, then they should be able to show us how and where that has occurred in the system.

New construction improves a neighborhood w/out price increase to entry rentals.

This is so obvious to anyone who watches real estate or is in a real estate-related industry. Renewal of a nook of a city due to capital improvements helps- not hurts- everyone down the line.

When I was in a planning session, I was taken aback when a person of just these qualifications was nodding her head that new development hurt affordable housing. If this person, who I thought well of, had this view, what was I missing?

A Theory of Baselines

I think what happens is standards are elevated and in that process, those on the lower end of the scale continue to feel left out. Real estate development and change happen slowly, over three, five, and even ten years to transform an area.

In the fifties, skid row was where affordable housing was located. Then the sixties brought about urban renewal, including bulldozing all these decrepit buildings. Without much research, I can guarantee that the housing provided to people today is far better than that in the 50s. Yet it is a far cry from standard mainstream housing.

With all public goods, there must be a baseline to measure progress. Otherwise, those who are not achieving in school or housing or health will always feel worse off than the average. But are they better off than yesteryear?

Debunking the Public and the Private

How can it be that back in 1985 Tyler Cowen debunked the definitions of public and private goods in a paper, PUBLIC GOODS DEFINITIONS AND THEIR INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT: A CRITIQUE OF PUBLIC GOODS THEORY, written while at Harvard? That was, let’s see, thirty-seven years ago. And yet the old lighthouse is still being pulled out as an example of a public good.

He quite easily shows how every good may be excluded and hence economic goods do not sort by this idea of all of this being a public good and all of that being a private good.

As we shall later argue; “publicness” and “privateness” should not be considered per se attributes of economic goods. The purpose of this paper is to tinker with the definition of public goods and show that nearly every good can be classified as either public or private depending upon the institutional framework surrounding the good and the conditions of the good’s production.’

He goes on to show how within the shades of useage of a good. A park may start out open to all but then be taken over by a select group whether they be hoodlums or elitest. But maybe more importantly he points out that all goods are subject to resource constraints. A ballistic missile can only shield one set of citizens.

Traditional public goods such as national defense can be turned into private goods by a similar twist. Even if a nation’s entire nuclear umbrella may rightfully be considered a public good, a single anti-ballistic missile is far less public, for it can only service a limited number of individuals in a limited manner.*

I am taken aback that I am just coming across this now.

Disjointed arguments about wages

A minimum wage is likely to be a topic of political banter for the foreseeable future. In Minneapolis, small businesses must pay an employee a minimum of $13.50/hr and for large organizations (more than 100 employees) the minimum is $15/hr. One tweet that went rolling by made the claim that a living wage should be enough to pay for housing. The possibility of these numbers working out is well beyond reality in a large urban area, but let’s still consider its feasibility.

Consider a household with a couple and a high school senior. If each of these individuals were meant to earn enough to pay a mortgage or rent and then they each could secure a dwelling. Does it really make sense that everyone who wants some type of employment for money is tied to a job that supports a house? Because we certainly do not have the number of units. The US Census reports that we have just over 2.5 million housing units available to us in Minnesota.

Yet the labor force in the state is quite a bit larger than that. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, as of October 2022, there are about 3,073 million workers out bringing in a paycheck. There is enough of a shortage of housing without turning another half a million people out to look for their own place.

The spectrum of wages in the private labor market represents payment for a spectrum of skills, dedication, and commitment. The well-intended people who want a living wage for folks are really talking about a certain set of individuals. Those people are ones who, through no fault of their own, are trying to support a family on just one job. This is an unfortunate situation that does deserve support. Not only for insufficient dollars but also the insufficient hours one parent can provide in other support services.

The poverty rate in Minnesota runs around 9%. People in this category will be well served by a variety of aides necessary to boost them back into a stream of the functioning community. And then in turn the rest of the community is better off. But the solution isn’t achieved by warping the system. It is done by additional aid, provided with respect and dignity, in times of need.

The comfort of the human voice

Many schools are known for their athletics. There’s money in it. The teams bring in revenue from ticket sales at games and in exchange for their viewing rights. My alma mater is known for its choir. The St. Olaf Choir is a frequent world traveler, bringing the beauty of the human voice to places near and far.

This year’s Christmas Concert performance, Promise of Peace, was performed at Orchestra Hall. It’s a beautiful venue with spectacular acoustics. But it’s the voices of 500 choir members who perform which make the event memorable.

Beautiful Savior is a favorite. Have a listen.

Can you paint a thought?

By John Ford

Can you paint a thought? or number
Every fancy in a slumber?
Can you count soft minutes roving
From a dial's point by moving?
Can you grasp a sigh? or lastly,
Rob a virgin's honour chastly?
No, O no; yet you may
Sooner do both that and this,
This and that, and never miss,
Then by any praise display
Beauty's beauty, such a glory
As beyond all fate, all story,
All arms, all arts,
All loves, all hearts,
Greater then those, or they,
Do, shall, and must obey.

John Ford (1586 – c. 1639) was an English playwright and poet of the Jacobean and Caroline eras

For the love of books

I won’t be able to remember where I picked up a 1948 edition of *The Philosophy of Being* by Henri Reynard, but I’m glad I did. Maybe not so much for the material contained within as much as the previous owner who clearly cherished this volume.

A book plate announces the owner to be Lucille Ryan. A ticket stub from 1948, wedged in between pages 32 and 33 indicates an early purchase of a book which is now difficult to find.

“We study not for the mere pleasure of developing our minds, but for the sake of Him Who is Truth.”

Her earnest underlining throughout the philosophical teachings of St Thomas by Rev Renard come in various inks. There are papers folded and an index card left inserted within the pages. This book was loved.

I did a quick google search for Lucille to no avail. But learning more about a philosopher who is still cherished today at Creighton University adds to the pleasure of expanding my mind. I see that there is a Renard lecture series.

And on it goes- the quest to know more than before.

Snow MN Style

The first big snowfall of the season brings a sense of delight and dread. The white flakes make all the Christmas lights sparkle a bit brighter. Walking in the light fluffy stuff is playful. And the thought of sledding and crosscountry skiing rekindels found memories and enrgizes new ambitions.

But man the roads were bad. One car was stranded on the center median, perpendicular to the flow of traffic, little tires spinning freely above the surface of the road. Another cluster of vehicles was bunched up on an incline unable to gain enough traction to make the climb. One SUV was simply sitting in the left-hand lane with hazards flashing.

Winter driving rules are simple: Go slow. Stay alert. Don’t follow the sand trucks or the plows.

Which public? What purpose?

The New York Times ran an article the other day about access to public lands: It’s Public Land. But the Public Can’t Reach It. Hunters out west in Wyoming are using an app called OnX to locate public lands. The controversy arises when access to the prime hunting acreages is blocked as the parcel is surrounded by private ranches.

This leads to the question of whether something is public if it is beyond their reach. But first, what does it mean to be public land. According to the NYT:

Especially around the fact that public land — by definition owned by all Americans — is not always publicly accessible.

Is it realistic that every park and open space is considered a public amenity to every person on US soil? It doesn’t seem like nearly a precise enough description of what is truly at work.

There are 30 million acres of public land in Montana

The sheer geographic distance can keep a US citizen from enjoying Half Dome in Yosemite or the Reflecting Pool on the Mall in DC, but there are other impediments to obtaining full use of a federal, state or city property. If a gang of pill pushers are dealing at the base of some statue or drunks are sprawled out across every park bench, then the function of the park is transformed. And a more general public is discouraged from entering.

Neighbors can also use local authorities and rules to keep people out as the private ranchers do in the NYT story. The hunters are threatened with a civil lawsuit for having stair-stepped their way onto Elk Mountain. There will be pressure for the use of the land and thus difficult to deter the public from venturing out. As the rancher finds out:

However, he couldn’t keep the public out, for interspersed within his property lay 27 parcels — 11,000 acres in total, an area the size of several airports — owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the State of Wyoming.

Power to energize collective action

There are a lot of well-spoken words in this podcast. The eloquent banter is reason enough to listen. But there’s more. The view into a variety of angles of a group within a group’s past, present, and future accomplishments are illuminated. The light shows fine variations in interpretations and perceptions.

Glenn comes in strong around the 19-minute mark. I like how he frames the issues because the template he presents could be superimposed over other groups. Feminists made claim to be the power players for all women. Some bureaucrats make the claim of saving lives through regulation. The information feedback loops are not coming from the group but from people more interested in harnessing self-aggrandizement.

And the explanation of how a citizen can be an active part of more than one collective action project, without being disloyal to either, is an important observation. One can be observant of history and yet move forward with the work of today. In fact, all the speakers are much more in tune with how to forge new paths for better outcomes than being tied down by a burdensome past.

I tried to capture an excerpt by having my phone transcribe the audio. There are a lot of gaps! But hopefully there is enough to give you a taste of their conversation.

The construction of collective goods in the welfare state or in or on behalf of defending the country against external threat people are called based upon the earth and connection to the country. We are American with meaning black Americans in the 21st-century, the descendants of those who had been enslaved and labored to become fully equal citizens there’s a story there I want my children. Among other stories, I don’t want that to be the final word. I don’t want that to be their defining will close adequate to the task at hand that we wear lightly not that we wear as a shroud that we wear with the ability to take it off and to stand outside but I don’t think yet even now in the year 2022 we can afford to give up the leverage and the power that Robert Woodson has leveraged on more than one occasion of getting people together, work on behalf of collective goals, like raising our children, maintaining order in our communities, and doing honor to the sacrifices of our ancestors.

An attempt at an excerpt using an iPhone recorder

Maps are information Rich

These population maps are from Jonathan Schroeder who is a cartographer with the Minnesota Population Center.

First, Twin Cities. The big boom around central Minneapolis is impressive, but the outskirts still grew more. In between, it’s interesting to see that more neighborhoods grew than declined.

That wasn’t the case in the 90s, when most of the established neighborhoods lost population.

Nor was it the case in the 00s…

It was only suddenly in the last decade that neighborhoods grew *all over the place*, and central Minneapolis was distinctly the biggest pocket of growth.

I started this series last month to showcase @nhgis data (centers of population & time series) for #NACIS2022, but I was only able to give a glimpse in my talk. Sharing now while Twitter lasts!

Originally tweeted by Jonathan Schroeder (@j_p_schroeder) on November 18, 2022.

How Labor Hours can add up to Value

Someone once said the value of a product was linked to the number of labor hours that went into its production. But then a whole bunch of people said no, no, no that’s not how it works. Can both views be correct under differing circumstances?

There are circumstances where a certain number of work hours are needed to pull off an event. Years ago the Junior League of Minneapolis opened up a showcase house in a tony area of the city for an annual fundraiser. A friend was involved so she’d recruit a bunch of college friends to help fill the volunteer shifts needed to support the three-day event. Tickets were sold to the public. The public got to traipse through a well-appointed property and imagine what it would be like to live there.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that builds homes for people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. It was founded in the mid-70s and brought along by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn. Volunteers at all levels of the trades donate their labor to the project. A slew of community members also pitch-in and paint or doo site clean-up. The soon-to-be homeowners are also expected to build sweat equity. This contribution isn’t measured by their skill level or their education level but by a set number of hours.

The various branches of the US Armed forces will finance a young person’s college education. There are the academies of course like West Point and Annapolis. But there is also an ROTC program where you matriculate at one of the many colleges across the country where the program is offered. In exchange, the graduate commits to several years of employment with the military. The repayment does not depend on the specific rank or ability of the serviceman. It simply is paid in time.

It seems that in creating value for community endeavors, people simply need to show up. In these circumstances, whether the participants are paid as an attorney or a painter in the private market, the work they do in this sphere is not priced out that way. A positive outcome, or the capacity for a successful project, is based on the reliability of the number of hours that can be filled. So maybe there’s some truth to both philosophies after all.

Emily Dickinson talks of snow

It sifts from Leaden Sieves -

It powders all the Wood.

It fills with Alabaster Wool

The Wrinkles of the Road -



It makes an even Face

Of Mountain, and of Plain -

Unbroken Forehead from the East

Unto the East again -



It reaches to the Fence -

It wraps it Rail by Rail

Till it is lost in Fleeces -

It deals Celestial Vail



To Stump, and Stack - and Stem -

A Summer’s empty Room -

Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,

Recordless, but for them -



It Ruffles Wrists of Posts

As Ankles of a Queen -

Then stills it’s Artisans - like Ghosts -

Denying they have been -

Cicero and levels of obligation

I’m dabbling in the Selected Works of Cicero. This Roman was a gifted writer, statesman, lawyer, and orator from the first century BC. In his practical guide to how to live a good life, I like this quote:

But the field in which a man’s obligations are most liable to confusion is friendship. For if, on a friend’s behalf, you omit to do all that you properly could, that is to fail in an obligation; yet if you help him in some improper fashion, then that too is failure. However, this whole problem is governed by a short and simple rule. Apparent advantages for oneself, such as political success, wealth, sensual gratifica-tion, and so on, must never be given preference over friendship. On the other hand no man of integrity will, for the sake of a friend, act against his own country, or his honour, or his oath.

A Practical Code of Behavior: On Duties III, Cicero

In this short passage, he makes clear that the ties of friendship demand a preference for cooperative behavior versus extractive action. If you allow your friend to fail then you have failed. One is not to internalize “political success, wealth, sensual gratification” at the expense of friends. In this space of friendship, the interactions are reciprocal, carried out with loyalties over long periods of time.

However- other relations may supersede the obligation of friendship, and those are loyalties to ‘his own country, or his honour, or his oath.’ This leads us to understand that Cicero speaks of multiple public obligations. The ties to friends may compete with ties to the state or to one’s allegiance to another cause. From an inward-facing perspective, the relations are communal in nature, yet as an outward-looking collective, voila, the groups compete.

The competitive nature of private actors is understood. But when people come together with a common interest, that grouping also competes.

Forum Romanum. Somewhere in there is Cicero’s house.

It makes more sense on Platters

Yesterday in the NYT Ross Douthat makes the case for ineffective altruism. Prompted by the recent demise of, what a new follow on Twitter amusingly called the bushied hair young man, Douthat compares the utilitarian goals of the EA folks to other philanthropists in his region of the US.

Now that it seems the bushied hair young man had less than honest intentions in aligning himself with the EA movement and used their goodwill as a cover for his very selfish motives in the creation of his crypto space, it’s easy to see where some would question who the objectives of these do-givers.

Part of Bankman-Fried’s fame lay in his proselytizing for a particular theory of philanthropic moralism — effective altruism, or E.A., an ideology with special appeal in Silicon Valley that’s reshaped the landscape of getting and giving in the past several years.

People who came into a bunch of money through technology are given a seemingly analytical means of redistributing some of their good fortunes to those in need of malaria nets and clean water. And these are worthwhile philanthropic activities. But cynicism can creep in.

The global perspective implied by E.A. analysis can create a Mrs. Jellyby temptation, where “telescopic philanthropy” aimed at distant populations is easier than taking on obligations to your actual neighbors and communities. (Picture effective altruists sitting around in a San Francisco skyscraper calculating how to relieve suffering halfway around the world while the city decays beneath them.) 

Douthat talks a lot about the value of the various types of donations he uses in his article. The Harkness family were heirs to a great fortune which they distributed to three main causes in the early twentieth century. They supported the fine arts, health care, and educational institutions. Certainly, all these fields provide public goods where positive outcomes can be measured over generations.

No doubt an especially zealous analyst could trace the benefits of Harkness’s medical donations in positive “utiles” for people treated for disease over the past century. But the most visible monuments to his philanthropy are beautiful buildings, libraries, dormitories and the like, in cities and college towns across the Northeast — some connected to art for art’s sake, others connected to his interest in the proper formation of educated elites.

But then one family member is thought to be eccentric to have directed most of her good fortune to the ballet. How inefficient of her! Or was it? If this woman had devoted her life to ballet, had seen how devotion to a fine art builds confidence in young dancers, and witnessed the benefits of a community of performers, it makes perfect sense that she would direct resources to this tight-knit group. Perhaps she did not have talent or time, why wouldn’t she make use of the fact that she had money?

And perhaps it does make sense that the youthful somewhat transient super-rich from Silicon Valley would prefer to support causes in exotic destinations than the homeless they drive past on the way to work. If they acknowledge the raggedy guy on the corner, then they may feel they have to donate their time and do something for him or her. Perhaps they should join the city council. But they don’t have time for that. They don’t even have time to have their own family. So sending greenbacks across the globe is a better fit for their resources.

Who’s to say why the Harkens selected their passions. But there is probably a story there that created a need they wished to fill. If you divvy out each of these philanthropic pursuits to occur in a platter of social activity the demand and calculation of value do make sense. The resource transfer is useful to a greater public. Except for bushied hair guy. He was internalizing it all for himself.

Intelligence for me but not for thee

It’s fun to hear about Hayek’s life in this interview from 1978 with Armen Alchian. For instance, A young Hayek almost ended up accepting employment as a dishwasher when he arrived in New York for a research assistant job. His prospective employer had asked his university not to disturb him. On the eve of Hayek’s debut in suds and china, the university professor had resurfaced and was in touch

But the beginning of this segment is hilarious. Alchian inquires after Vera C Smith, as she apparently was Hayek’s student. He asks about her relationship with another economist Frederick Lutz, concerning their romance in particular. Had Hayek played matchmaker. Furthermore, Alchian notes, that Vera must have been quite attractive as a younger woman (yikes). Hayek confirms but qualifies her beauty by saying she wasn’t very ‘female’ as she was very bright- “She had too much male intelligence!” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Sigh- there was a time three decades or more ago when I would have found this depressing. Times are changing.

Real Estate Reporting

I feel bad for journalists who write about real estate. It must be so boring. Prices are going up. Prices are going down. Prices are going up a lot. Prices are going down a lot. In an effort to help invigorate their job, here are a few other aspects to real estate they could look into.

  1. The number of prospect buyers bidding on a property.
  2. The number of homes buyers consider beofre making a purchase.
  3. The amount of financing concessions being provided by sellers.
  4. Which party is getting priority pic on closing date.
  5. Is an inspection being performed.
  6. Amount, if any, of concessions following inspection.
  7. Which area in the local markets is performing the best.
  8. Is there a drop in activity as a certain ring suburbs- say the third tier subrubs.
  9. What type of activity versus inventory are second homes commanding.
  10. Cash versus financed buyers.
  11. Generational differences between structure preferences.
  12. Demand for townhomes versus single family versus townhome.
  13. The price spread between new construction and existing.

I could go on but I think you get the picture. There’s so much more interesting data to consider in real estate than aggregate prices across a country of 313mil people.

Wrong products in wrong markets

Our book club, NoDueDate, has been reading the historical novel Red Plenty, written by Francis Spufford. With well-documented historical references (which the reader can follow in the Notes at the end) the author details how a planned economy painfully fails its participants.

The following exchange occurs at the first business lunch between Chekuskin, a middle man between business and the black market, and a business executive. He’s explaining how his services may come in handy. But the naive Stepovoi points to the Soviet’s central Plan to verify his firm’s goods are all in the pipeline.

‘You’re right, you’re quite right. Indeed they do have to give you the goods. But when, that’s the question, isn’t it? You want them now, toot sweet, because your line is waiting; but why should they care? They’ve got a whole fistful of purchase orders to fill, this time of year, and why should they care about yours? What makes you so special that they should want to serve you first, or at least, serve you soon?’
‘You do?’ said Stepovoi.
‘Correct, old son. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Red Plenty, Chapter- Favours 1964

What Chekuskin illuminates in this brief conversation is that the terms of delivery are at least as important as having access to the goods. A manufacturer is hard-pressed to meet the Plan’s production goals if not adequately supplied with the inputs necessary to run their lines. Yet the bureaucracy has little incentive to respond promptly, to bow to the producers. The power to give and take lies within their books. The firms are at their mercy.

Some goods respond well to a network of supervision. Products that can cause bodily harm, such as drugs, benefit from bureaucratic supervision to ensure their safe consumption (the degree to which is of course always under debate!). People want to know the bridges they drive their cars across won’t collapse and that the food we eat at restaurants won’t give us food poisoning. These types of goods and services interface with the public to a degree that makes a bureaucratic overlay advantageous to the enjoyment of the products.

The widgets needed in the manufacturing example given in Spufford’s story are at the opposite end of the public versus private function gradient. The fixer, Chekuskin, is successful because the products he pushes here and there are completely interchangeable. They are not enhanced by a social overlay. They are fungible. And that is why they are ideal for a capitalist pricing system. Let the price procured from a dynamic trading system of all the suppliers and all the buyers at any point in time, and the resource will gravitate to where it is needed most.

Some goods tend toward the private, and some towards the public. But when they are forced into the wrong market, corruption inevitably occurs to allow an interface with a shadow market.

Predicting the Tip

Over twenty years ago, Malcolm Gladwell became famous for elucidating tipping point scenarios. He showed us how trends become the rage, how neighborhoods fall to the criminals, and how suicides fester amongst the youth. He identifies some of the players who accelerate changes in social behavior: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. But he doesn’t come up with social indicators which would serve as signals for an up-and-coming tip.

Could there be the equivalent of a canary in a coal mine to prompt some warning? Last Wednesday the market thought FTX, the crypto giant, to be solvent. Ho hum, another day in the money. By Friday, bankruptcy proceedings eliminated large financial obligations. There’s a tip for you.

Is part of the problem that we wish not to see the signs? A neighborhood can be ignored as uninteresting, perhaps a little lower class, but fine for some. Some years go by and snarly graffiti, an assortment of tattered garbage spewing about and a gaggle of baggy clothed people around a bus stop trading something, make you turn your car around and drive right out of the area. You can’t nail down the date, but the neighborhood tipped right out of mainstream acceptable.

With so much on the line, whether billions managed by kids less than a decade into adulthood, or acres of real estate deemed unacceptable as affordable housing, you would think a set theory could ferret out some helpful indicators to warn of an impending tip.

The Sins of your Network

Raj Chetty of Havard University has done lots of research showing how a child’s outcome in life patterns after their parents and their neighborhood. He is not the first to note the effects between parents and their offspring. James S. Coleman also gained fame from tracking the human capital a parent bestows upon a child. This transference of resources more often than not germinates into flourishings of success throughout the child’s life.

What about in the other direction? If a person is corrupted in some way, do those flaws tie back to the parents? I don’t think I need research or data to make the claim that a kid from a tougher neighborhood has a harder time securing that first job. Employers will think twice before taking responsibility for an employee whose father, brother, or uncle has been in trouble with the law.

And then there are assumptions made when you turn over a whole bunch of your money to a perceived financial wiz kid. What portion of that decision was influenced by the fact that his parents are both attorneys with one of the most reputable universities in the world? Certainly, it must have played a part in calculated decisions to do business with a mere fledgling of a business person. The thought process goes something like, ‘they’d never let their own kid do something completely illegal, would they?’

No matter the exact portion of the impact on each of these economic actions: to hire, to invest. The point is that there is some numerical representation that pegs this social impact.

Round the Wicket?

I was right down to the minute as I sailed into city chambers for our park’s commission meeting. Thinking it was going to be a sleepy November meeting, I was surprised to glide past a crowd seated on the standard upholstered blue chairs in the audience. Our city tends to over-deliver on parks and trails, so there is little controversy to draw a crowd to the assembly.

Present in the audience were activists in action. The representative for the group told us there’s a need for a cricket pitch in our city. And the arguments which followed were all worthy. A growing group of Asian residents was interested in a sport from their home country. It was their passion. Neighboring cities had put the necessary fields, so as a matter of pride it would be nice to play on some home turf. There were fields for baseball, soccer, and football, there’s no good reason to exclude cricket.

Cricket in Minnesota? It had never occured to me before. Our state does indeed have a Minnesota Cricket Association with, according to our presenter, several hunderd members. And as reported here, private individuals have gone to great length and expense to build up the infrastructure for the sport.

It is so easy to forget how many different activities and interests are present in a community, among people who live nearby. Here is an organized and engaged group who have claims to the public field– as do the Little Leaguers and Youth Football Associations. Wouldn’t it be nice though to have a little more information on all these different sets of people? What kind of numbers are we talking about for the people who devote their time, energy, and resources toward soccer, pickleball, or cricket? How many labor hours churn through to support the activities?

It just seems like, for analysis purposes, it would be handy to have a handle on the set of people who desire the use of a good for a certain function.

Only the Animals- Movie Review

This movie is such an interesting melange. I was a little concerned in the beginning that it was one of those french films that is just a little too off for my tastes. The excellent Laure Calamy kept me engaged with her oh-so-typical french expressions and mannerisms. So charming. The tale starts from her perspective. And then we see it retold three more times from other vantage points, a technique that forces the viewer to confront how naturally narcissistic we all are.

The other actors do a superb job. There’s depth to the dimwitted farmer who misses his mother. There is grit and passion in the cuckolded husband who seeks love in the wrong places. There is a cruel frivolousness to the wealthy woman out for a fling. And then to keep us all alert, the frames cut over to West Africa where another crew of actors plays their parts.

It’s a little dark, and a little creepy in parts– but rich in affairs of the heart. And you’ll never guess the ending.

To sleep or not to sleep-

Sleep is an important part of a healthy way of life. Yet some people find it difficult to fall into slumber. In the sixties, people turned to sleeping pills until they got hooked on them. Today people with dark-circled eyes seek help at Sleep Centers. Some are prescribed a sleep apnea machine. Does this look restful?

If you’ve raised a child you know something about bedtime. There are lots of activities involved. There’s walking to sleep, rocking to sleep, singing softly to sleep. There is equipment involved like mechanical swings. They sometimes do the trick! And accessories like a swaddle wrap that hugs the baby tight and securely. Or environmental enhancers like block-out shades which extinguish any peep of sunlight. Don’t forget noise machines.

I personally relied repitition and routine. Give the signals, and then go through with the motions. Let them play in a nice warm bath- then PJs and bed! And the routine changes over the years. When they are young it’s holding and rocking. Then it’s bedtime stories and lights out. As the years go on, the mom job is to check that the phones are put away and the homework isn’t left until the last minute.

If you think through all the efforts put towards your kid’s night sleep, how many comparable attempts are made by adults before they go hook themselves up to what looks like a medieval torture tool?

I don’t think it would be helpful to try to swaddle oneself up into a man-size cocoon, but a few weeks of yoga relaxation techniques might be worth a go. Warm baths and clean sheets can make anyone content enough to drift off into a sweet slumber. A client told me that gold is the preferred wall color for a restful night. Not sure how much it contributes, but the color seems to make me happy.

I mean how many things have people tried on their own before they run in for a professional cure to their sleepless nights?

Feedback from the people

The talk leading into this election was very favorable for the Republicans. Down ballots challenges were expected to be successful in at least two races. To be sure, this would have been unusual as Democrats have filled those seats consistently for decades. And the results were in fact very close. (MPR)

Despite all the turmoil over the past several years the incumbent party was given the benefit of the doubt and supported by the majority. This seems to have taken everyone by surprise. Several messages were voiced loud and clear by the electorate. And the threat of losing prompted a lot of promises. Time will tell if the action follows the words.

Dewey knew how it worked

But while associated, behavior is, as we have already noted, a universal Law, the fact of association does not of itself make a society. This demands, as we have also seen, perception of the consequences of a joint activity and of the distinctive share of each element in producing it. Such perception creates a common interest; that is concern on the part of each in the joint action and in the contribution of each of its members to it. Then there exists something truly social and not merely associative.

But it is absurd to suppose that a society does away with the traits of its own constituents so that it can be set over against them. It can only be set over against the traits which they and their like present in some other combination. A molecule of oxygen in water may act in certain respects differently than it would in some other chemical union. But as a constituent of water it acts as water does as long as water is water. The only intelligible distinction which can be drawn is between the behaviors of oxygen in its different relations, and between those of water in its relations to various conditions, not between that of water and the oxygen which is conjoined with hydrogen in water.

The Public and its Problems, John Dewey (pg 188)

We are each part of at least a few, and sometimes many, associational relationships. Each one is distinct from the others. There may be competition for labor and resources between the associational obligations, even though, within the group, each agent’s actions are associational in nature.

Why we work without pay and give without immediate exchange

To date, one of the most viewed posts on this site is The Crafter, The Contributor and The Covid Tracker. The three examples show how people are willing to devote their labor to causes and groups which they value.

Similarly, we are prompted to give resources in the same manner. Advertisements from all sorts of worthy enterprises show up in the mail. This calendar has been floating up and down through the mail in my home inbox. A convenience return envelope is provided at the seam. Which begs the question: When do people feel compelled to donate to an organization?

More than likely regular donors have a personal connection to the non-profit or public service provider. Perhaps their family members were firefighters and thus there is an inside knowledge of the vital need for a capable response to, in this case, a raging fire. These networks of individuals extending out and away from an organization also have a sense of the character of the people who are involved in such missions, their intent, and their dependability.

It just so happens we had a terrible drought in Minnesota this past summer. Un-irrigated lawns are brittle and brown. My dog Pépé loves hunting through the dry broken stalks of grass. He posed on our walk yesterday at the edge of a corn field.

The wind was incredible today gusting up to thirty miles an hour. Its blustery force lifted top soil right off the harvested fields creating a silty thickness in the air. Bits of hay swirled all around. When a white pickup stormed up behind me on the two-lane country road I eased over to the shoulder and slowed to make it easy to pass. A half a mile along on scenic county road 35 I caught up to an firetruck running its flashing lights.

Only a few more wide turns in the road and the object of concern revealed itself. A thick grey cloud of smoke pealed away from, what at first, seemed like a homesite. Another curve brought a new perspective. The dancing flames were feeding off tall dried grass in the acreage between the asphalt road and a smattering of buildings. Two fire trucks had already arrived. A few of the firefighters, geared up in protective wear, were busy with their equipment. The wind was fanning the mounting flames.

The road led me past the grass fire. At least four more fire trucks passed me as I drove on. Needless to say, I’ll be sending in my donation to the local fire department, staffed by community workers who show up when needed on a windy day.

Podcast Review- Hannah Arendt: Between Worlds

I’ve really enjoyed this podcast series hosted by Samantha Rose Hill. Often a philosopher’s material is difficult to get one’s head around, especially on first readings. A podcast can provide overviews that enlighten you enough to know whether you want to further invest in its understanding. Hill is well-versed in the material. She speaks clearly, and consistently, and references back to where you can look further in the author’s work,

But it is the structure of the episodes that adds so much to the material. Hill brings in a variety of specialists from different disciplines to talk through how Arendt plays in their corner of the world. This makes the material so much more valuable. By coming at the topics from all angles, by shining lights in various crevices of thought, fine differences enhance the understanding of sometimes difficult conceptual applications.

Here are a few topics in the series.

Say it with me- Real Estate is local

The best-known idiom in the real estate market is Location, Location, Location. As the phrase implies, where the building is situated has an outsized impact on the value of the parcel. Fifth Ave will command higher rent than Main St, USA.

Another adage bestowed on new buyers is to buy the smallest house on the block. A close relative to Location, Location, Location, this bit of advice recommends that being the most modest amongst your neighbors will buoy up the value of your home. Simply being in proximity of the stronger, the better, the more elevated will bode well for your acquisition.

What national companies like Open Door are discovering is that understanding the fine shades of difference between locations is more difficult than one would think. It’s not so easy to see the 5th Avenues, the Main Streets and the posh versus the modest, when seen from afar.

And that leads to an asymmetry of information which puts any outsider to a costly disadvantage.

Some #’s on Catalytic Converters

A few posts ago I used the example of a catalytic converter to distinguish between the use of an object and its function. This automotive accessory is used to remove particulates from emissions from the combustion exhaust. In 1975 it became a mandatory car feature and hence functioned as a political solution to pollution reduction.

Recently catalytic converters have been the target of local criminals who brazenly remove them from cars left out at night. Through a network exchange the stolen item is easily traded for cash. Fortunately there’s been a recent ‘takedown’ of nationwide catalytic converter theft ring included seizures in Minnesota.

The DOJ announced the successful operation on Wednesday, saying it is seeking the forfeiture of $545 million in the case, as well as the arrest and charging of 21 people from five states in connection with the scheme.

Bring me the News

The network across states allowed a teenager in the Twins Cities to swipe the apparatus, sell it to a fence who passed it along to “a trio of family members who ran an unlicensed business from their home in Sacramento, California, buying stolen catalytic converters from thieves and shipping them to an auto shop in New Jersey for processing.”

The number that I think would be interesting to know is how much the kid on the street is getting for breaking the law. What type of gain is needed for a youth to be tempted into illegal activity? All they give us is:

RXMechanic reports the scrap value of more valuable catalytic converters ranging from $300 and $1,500, with the DOJ saying that depending on the vehicle and the state, they can fetch around $1,000 on the black market.

The market price for youth conversion to criminal activity seems like a useful number. What share of that would be necessary to keep the kid on the right side of the law through some type of employment? Many argue that the lack of policing and consequences for illegal activity has also encouraged theft. But how do we know without keeping track of these numbers?

When a catalytic converter functions as unfettered cash to an urban teen, what is the buyout to preserve the innocence of youth?

Who pays to verify?

Twitter is all a fluster about the new management’s impending rule that one will have to pay to have a blue check next to their name. The blue checks have been a status symbol. To have a check means you’ve arrived at being someone recognizable. To get a check you need to get checked out, and verified that you’re not some Russian bot.

Stephen King says he is having nothing of it. The highlighted tweet has now accumulated half a million likes. The blue check fee is now floating out at $8/mo. Mr. King has not left Twitter yet. So you can see, the situation is still in flux.

But who should pay to verify? Who should be the watchdog of group action? There are government agencies such as the attorney general and the state auditor. I bring those two up in particular as it appears they will both be voted out of office next week. Is someone who received a salary for a surveillance job as good as someone who takes a private hit due to group member’s action?

Many groups self-regulate through an associational process. First off the keenest view of the situation is seen by those who stand shoulder to shoulder in the same environment. Their judgment of the legitimacy of a complaint is going to be more reliable. Their ability to get the right information to the right people is more probable.

But the most significant incentive is the maintenance of the reputation of the profession to the outside world. A degradation of stature would be internalized by each member. Thus the expense of voluntary surveillance of one’s group is borne out of the risk of loss should a ne’re-do-well drag the team into the mud.

I believe this supports Musk’s instincts to charge those who play to pay.

Why do Dems keep saying they did *everything* right?

The extent of the fraud in Feeding our Future is truly shocking. Not one state employee visited the sites which purported to be feeding thousands and thousands of underserved kids. As this reporter states, it didn’t even take a site visit to uncover fictious addresses.

The lack of interest in the missing $250 mil by a certain party is a testament to its ability to control the narrative. Otherwise, surely reasonable people would have to admit the complete disinterest in where all these funds were going is extremely suspicious.

Was it the attorney general’s responsibility to find a legal means to stop the disbursement of funds? Was it the state auditor’s responsibility to review the number? Was it the state demographers’ responsibility that the number of kids being fed far exceeds the number of kids of this grouping in the state?

Are Minnesotans going to buy the story that *all is well* in the North Star State?

OMG! Give it to Goodwill

There’s a debate in our household about hanging onto stuff. My husband feels that the stacks of clothing on the shelf in the walk-in closet may be useful one day. A pair of jeans is useful, for someone. But I argue that the dozen or so new pairs of pants purchased in the past decade leave the old ones out of date and ill-fitting. And thus the function of the neglected garment has changed. An old pair of Dockers no longer serves as the vehicle to looking business casual appropriate. It now serves as clutter, or dare I say garbage.

The use of an object is different than its function. If I can separate him from a few of his items, they then become a donation to Goodwill. They may serve as a tax deduction. And when Goodwill processes them and sells them they become income for the non-profit. The flow of ownership changes in this scenario is driven by the positive values at each trade. But functions can have negative values too. Clothing may be too torn, dirty, or tattered. Then the Goodwill would bare the expense of disposing of them (although this may not be the best example as I’ve heard there is a market for rags).

So to review, an object or good can have a use or several uses. A bench can be sat on, lied on, and stood on. Perhaps a skateboarder could even use it as a prop. In that case, the function of the bench is a skateboarder’s sliding support. Notice what happened. By focusing on the function, we’ve denoted a group of people who would use the object in this fashion. Now having skateboarders transform public spaces into skateparks is not always welcome. So we have another group of people who feel a loss by the transformation of a public space.

Voila! Tagging a function to an object delineates groups of people who trade for its use, depending on how its value affects them. We are shown the marketplace.

use, function, design, and lower crime

When I was out walking the pup today, I was thinking about things in terms of use, function, and design. Take for instance a park bench. You can sit on it, stand on it, or lie down across it. But its function, when used as a seat on a beautiful fall afternoon, is to enjoy the oranges and reds of the fall foliage. It may also function as a platform if there was a concert in the park and one wanted to see it over people’s heads. Lastly, it may function as a place to take a rest, especially for the homeless.

Now think about a catalytic converter. Its use is to reduce airborne pollutants produced by gas fueled vehicles, that could be harmful to people and the environment. In 1975 its function was a decisive step toward a cleaner environement as it enabled compliance with the EPA’s new mandates. Today, as the tweet below indicates, its function is currency for youth who have learned how to remove and trade them.

When the public surrounding a park decided to discourage the homeless from sleeping on park benches, they tackled the issue with design. And came up with this.

Isn’t it the function which determines an objects value? A bottled beverage at the check out at a grocery store may run you $2.25 even though right down the aisle you could grab a six pak for $4.59. The function of the first one is a refreshment.

The function of the stolen catalytic converters is a fungible commodity. I think Rev Christopher is asking for an economic design that would break up the market so that his youth would no longer have incentives to carjack and steal. Who’s up for the challenge?

Books with Maps

I love books with maps. This one is on the inside cover of Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig. He writes about settlers in Montana at the end of the nineteenth century. Scotts were partial to the state as its vast, remote beauty reminded them of home. At the center of the tale is a reluctant school teacher who, out of necessity, accepts the position of corraling the kids into an atmosphere of education, and plays out all the ways in which the education system reaches into family life. It’s a lovely book by a poetic writer.

The mastery of Hannah Arendt

I came across this documentary when I searched for Vita Activa. My aim was to find more discourse on Arendt’s philosophical concept of action. The title of this documentary is woefully misleading as throughout the whole two-hour show not once is this phrase mentioned. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film. I did. Arendt is someone I’ll keep after.

Quotes from her writings are laced throughout the movie but seem a little like window dressing for the story of the twentieth-century Jewish experience. That alongside her romantic experiences takes precedence over a comprehensive overview of her thought and how the mechanics of it fit together. This was where I was hoping to learn about Vita Activa. Now I will be forced to read The Human Condition when I thought I could watch a film instead!

One reviewer of her capstone work made my day on Good Reads. Here are comments from Andrew:

Also, she seems to intuit that her ideas are complex and not immediately penetrable; some of the concepts in the first chapters that leave you scratching your head she knowingly addresses in more detail later on, without calling too much attention to the repetition and further elaboration. It’s as if she knew you wouldn’t have any idea what she was talking about the first time and wanted to inconspicuously help you, avoiding any embarrassment on your part.

Goodreads

Undoubtedly she learned this skill to avoid any disturbance of intellectual hierarchy in her circle of peers. Props to Andrew.

Who knew? Sherlock in MN

Minnesotans are known for having an affinity for books, book fairs, bookstores, and well-equipped libraries. Hennepin County Library system ranks up in the top ten of the many lists proclaiming the largest collections or circulation numbers. As does the University of Minnesota’s library. But who knew that the U held the ‘the world’s largest gathering of material related to Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?’

The Collections consist of over 60,000 items including books, journals, and a wide variety of other forms through which the transformation of the Holmes character from the printed page to a cultural icon can be traced.

Please note: The collection itself is housed in our secure underground storage area and is generally not available for viewing on a tour. If you are interested in seeing particular items from the Sherlock Holmes Collections please consult the online catalog or other finding aids to locate particular items of interest.

University of MN Libraries

The story behind how this came to be is spelled out in an article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine. As with many good collections it started with a few passionate people.

“But you have to go back to 1948,” he says, to a now legendary lunch of five faculty members, all deans or department heads, all deep Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, at Coffman Union’s Campus Club.

Then there was an addition to the collection here, and the coup of a very valuable collection in 1978.

The next domino was landing eccentric Santa Fe collector John Bennett Shaw’s massive Holmes collection. Unlike Hench, Shaw was a Holmes completist—rare posters, license plates, street signs. After the U landed Shaw’s stash in the ’90s, the floodgates opened.

All of this is located in the sub-basement of the Andersen Library on the U of MN Twin Cities campus. After nearly eighty years of collecting and maintaining the collection, you might even say it’s turning into an institution.

Minneapolis downtown library

Hayek said there were groups

I was recently reminded of this quote from Friedrich Hayek. He describes how our actions are ruled by two different spheres of order. The manner of our obligations to our children does not extend past the front doors of our house. An acceptable reprimand in a workplace between boss and employee may be considered uncaring in a network of friends.

Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once. [italics original]

The Fatal Conceit (page 18)

The value we create through our network of friends or commitments to associational fellowship operates in a different sphere from the unfettered obligations of commerce.

When I went to my copy of the book I started reading from the top of the page. Before Hayek gets to acknowledging that the two spheres of activity must work together or they will crush each other, he depicts a bunch of different players other than individuals.

Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order.

The Fatal Conceit (page 18)

The simplistic model portrays the selfish man using the capitalist system to maximize his interest in a zero-sum game. The state watches the public good and provides products and services to that end. But Hayek suggests that economic players can be groupings established through solidarity and altruism. These are abundant and overlapping.

Think of a formal grouping that provides public services to its members, such as a teacher’s union. When the union negotiates it is acting in a competitive ego-centric way against the public. It is a private player. Yet ever member of the union shares equally in the spoils of the union’s efforts and hence obtains a public good. It is the manner of the activity defined by the boundaries of the group which makes a wage increase public or private.

This morphing of the nature of a good through action within defined boundaries presents challenges to an accurate accounting of the whole system.

Today’s walk on a windy fall day.

Why we’ll need more liberal arts people

The last twenty years have been good to tech nerds. When the floppy-looking Bill Gates came out with the personal computer many people might have thought it was a one-off success. Meanwhile, the smart money left engineering, got an MBA and a job in finance. It was the 90s and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Fast forward fifteen years and money was multiplying faster than starter yeast for Amish friendship bread in Silicon Valley. Apps, games, and whatever else they do with code were the gold that the smart techs were mining. And mining with a moral superiority that what they were bringing into existence was changing every facet of the economy. Those were glory days for math majors and engineers.

Mathematical techniques also became central in economic papers. Fancy statistics and linear regression models are used to demonstrate relationships between parties and their use of resources. Fast forward to the last five years and there’s this amazing mix of massive amounts of data, computers that can handle it in a timely manner, and mathematical tools to replicate theories.

But you don’t have people educated in the classics to help parse all the people represented in the data. Even recently I saw an analysis of real estate by zip code – zip code! I encourage you to drive the parameter of an area in your city identified by zip code. Do you see consistency in the properties which would suggest similar set? In my experience urban neighborhoods are not delineated by zip code or census track.

Going forward, the methods used to sort groups to obtain useful insights could be aided more by liberal arts majors than math majors.

From Minnesota Twitter

I happened to catch media-personality Jason DeRusha’s post in time to listen to former Governor Pawlenty take over his three-hour time slot on talk radio. The two-term governor seemed to be having a good time interviewing and surprising people across the airwaves. I don’t see how anyone can say that the political nuance of an interviewer doesn’t make a difference.


My latest favorite Twitter follow is a Reverand out of North Minneapolis. He calls it the way he sees it, pulling no political punches. Here’s an example of calling out the bread-and-butter politicians.


And in local sports, the Timberwolves basketball season got underway with a win a couple of nights ago. Fans are in that hopeful stage of the season, excited about the potential of a winning record. We’ve had some amazing talent come through the Target Center, but have fallen short on team dynamics. Maybe this is the year? Viking football superstar Dalvin Cook and friend in costume were on the floor- wish I could afford those tickets!

Curious about books

I picked up this roman at a sale some time ago. I was, and still am, intrigued by the little note tacked onto the first endsheet. The enscriptions reads “Vente les 25 et 26 Janvier 1928, Hotel ? salle 8…” The penmanship is exquisite.

There is no doubt that this was a mass-produced book, part of a series of popular books. And I have looked into books enough to know that most do not garner any type of monetary extravagance. But I do like this book. The pages are cut to different sizes, the binding looks primitive and the marbling on the cover is a sign of a book of yesteryear. The drawings are also delightful.

And I suppose that is the reason we like to collect things, whether objects or ideas- because they delight us.

Building booms have their own timeline

Local urban geographer Bill Lindeke does a nice job describing how a building boom finally came to fruition along the first light rail line in Minneapolis. When the Blue Line went in eighteen years ago, there were heightened expectations that new construction would line up along this aging railway corridor from downtown Minneapolis out to the airport. But it took time.

That was 18 years ago. And ever since, for the most part, the pace of transit-oriented development has seemed glacial. According to Metropolitan Council studies, more than 12,000 new apartments have been built along the Blue Line since its opening. But if you glance at a map, the vast majority of this construction has been downtown, or else subsidized in some way. For most interstitial stops along Hiawatha, south of downtown, there’s been very little new housing construction. Even the rosiest development booster would have to admit it’s been a slow climb.   

MinnPost

What I remember from selling single-family homes is there was an increased interest in those within a handful of blocks from a rail stop. The houses along there are modest for the most part, and the prices ran with the metro average, so younger people latched onto the opportunity for great access to downtown Minneapolis. No need to drive to work and pay exorbitant parking. No need to drive to your favorite ballgame or watering hole. Just hop on the rail line!

The premium in the sales prices of these homes could easily have been verified by anyone with an excel program. With proper splicing of access to various public amenities, regression analysis can parse down the amounts paid for all sorts of public amenities. Improved access to transit is certainly on most consumer’s minds. Still, the price push wasn’t enough for new construction.

“It really boils down to rent levels in every neighborhood,” Sweeney said. “Historically, rents in (Longfellow) were too low to justify much new construction. Few projects worked here (and so) while there were a few things built 10 years ago, you didn’t see a large boom. But area rents have grown, which allows new construction to be feasible.”

Sweeney is the developer who has put up two new apartment buildings along the Blue Line in recent years. Policymakers and pundits want to theorize about housing solutions, but people like Sweeney and the investors who support his group are the ones who have to be able to make the numbers work. A bonus for transit infrastucture is just one component of price.

Another valid issue discussed in the article is the various timeline for the pace or even appearance of new construction in older areas. The story tells of a tipping point for this neighborhood. Still to be discussed is a more thorough overview of the neighborhood components that green light building.

A Gentleman in Moscow – book review

I can’t recommend this book enough. It is beautifully written- throughout. It has a lovely and entertaining storyline. There are many layers to it yet you don’t have to live in each one. Choose! It’s part of the book.

If you like to learn about history but not through school books, you will come away with an education. There are references to Rousseau and Montaigne, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy yet not in a pedantic way.

Mostly it is about a gentleman who is dedicated to his ideals, the love of his country, and the devotion to his friends and heritage.

Live and Let Live?

Restrictions on how and what is built where is an ongoing conversation in any city planning department. Too many rules limit the number of available dwellings, pushing prices to new heights. Too few rules might infringe on the use and enjoyment neighbors are promised when they acquire their homes.

In Japan, teeny tiny apartments are being built to allow more people access to the hot areas of town. These micro apartments are smaller than a ten-by-ten-foot room which is considered a small bedroom in our neck of the woods.

With its high property prices and the world’s most populous metropolitan area, Tokyo has long been known for small accommodations. But these new apartments — known as three-tatami rooms, based on how many standard Japanese floor mats would cover the living space — are pushing the boundaries of normal living.

NTY

The article mentions that these units are not at the bottom of the market. They are stylish and new. They are attracting a younger set of renters who see themselves in a higher-end neighborhood and have yet to experience a larger apartment, and thus (perhaps) don’t feel the loss of space. It’s the match of neighborhood amenties, quality of interior finishes and price that make these small spaces work.

And they are situated near trendy locations in central Tokyo like Harajuku, Nakameguro and Shibuya, which are generally quite expensive, with luxury boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Most of the buildings are close to subway stations — the top priority for many young people.

Over two-thirds of the buildings’ residents are people in their 20s, who in Japan earn on average about $17,000 to $20,000 a year, according to government data. (Wages in Tokyo are on the higher end.) 

On the other extreme of the housing restriction stories, is the conclusion of a longtime feud between a Marin County (CA) man and local regulators. He’s being evicted, in part, for operating a creative sustainable toilet that has been in use for the past fifty years.

…, he’s built a sanctuary to showcase his ideas about environmental sustainability: the Shower Tower, the Worm Palace (crucial to his composting toilet), the Tea Cave (where he has stored more than 50,000 pounds of rare, aged tea), the Tea Pagoda (where he’s hosted tea ceremonies for friends and dignitaries for more than 40 years) and so many more.

He calls it The Last Resort and he never had permission to build any of it. “I’ve been a scofflaw all my life,” said Mr. Hoffman, 78. “I have to recognize that.”

NYT

The battle between this outsider artist and the government has been going on for more than a couple of decades. Ten years ago the NYT ran a similar piece. He has a contingent of supporters and recently had a shot at maintaining the property through a historical designation. But now his eviction seems imminent. Meanwhile, new construction in the San Fransisco Bay area is being stymied by regulation-induced high prices.

This brings up the point that in some areas of the country the use of an outhouse is completely acceptable. On large acreage properties in the wide open plains, there’s no harm done in digging a hole and erectly a one-stall shack with a bench and a door with a half moon. The value or harm of regulations that allow super-small apartments or unstructured sewage disposal is entirely dependent on the group structures and commitments of nearby neighbors.

The essence of things

The rational man model is has been under attack for a while. Many have noted that what is rational becomes as slushy as ski hill in spring. Instead of shuffling all things non-rational (according to whom?) to a field of behavioral interpretation, let’s think about the essence of a transaction.

The marketplace is made up of trades. One individual or party commits labor or resources (or both) in exchange for something of value, often money. Where that settles is called the price. At that fixed point in time, at least two parties were able to come together and voluntarily agree to an exchange. The price is interesting because when people and parties repeat these activities more frequently when they can look to a history of price to feel reassured that they aren’t getting duped. Being called a fool is a significant deterrent to economic activity.

So it seems to me once there is a consistent (or statistically significant as the mathematicians like to say) price, there is a market.

Markets refer to the grouping of people or parties who are able to participate in these deals. Before you think that is anyone who chooses to stroll into the central open air market in Marrakesh, consider that not everyone can get to town. And even some of the richest citizens of the world- US women- as early as forty years ago, did not have their own bank accounts, were not on the title of the homes where they raised their children, and had no personal wealth. Barriers to markets are eveywhere in many forms.

But back to the essence of a transaction. If you are lucky to travel abroad to that exotic marketplace with covered stalls and trays piled high with brightly colored spices, you will find that as a foreigner, the price to you is not the same as the price to the countryman. A tourist will pay a surcharge if you are deemed rich enough. When you buy girl scout cookies the surcharge is a donation to scouting programs. A purchaser of organic fruits and vegetables once expressed the surcharge as a tax he willingly paid to support the farmer’s efforts. The price for the spices in the market, the cookies, or the fruits is made up of two essences: the private market one and the social surcharge.

What about the other way around. Say you hire a kid from a disadvantaged family. He doesn’t show up on time, you have to smooth things over with your customers due to some communication problems, and you’ve got to devote more time than usual to training. This employment arrangement also has two essences. The primary essence may still be to perform a job for a wage. Yet the secondary essence is done presumably to lend a hand to someone who might otherwise fall to the wayside and is accounted for in the loss of the extra time necessary to manage the employee. The second essence is social.

I’ll stand by the claim that each and every transaction has two essences. Sure- some are hard to distinguish because the product or service at hand is so well suited to the private market. And some transactions are mostly provided through public intermediaries due to the heavy social implications endogenous to the trade. There are no market failures. But that’s for another post.

MN Election Update

With four weeks to go until election day, the campaign ads are becoming increasingly frequent. What is different this year is that every level of office, down to the Secretary of State (an administrative position), is coming up with the funds to run TV ads. And then there are counter ads. And the news media jumping in to evaluate whether the ad and counter ads are accurate.

A television ad produced by an independent expenditure group takes aim at Republican Kim Crockett in her bid to defeat Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon.

The ad makes some truthful claims about Crockett’s stand on a couple of key election issues but also significantly misleads viewers by claiming she “proudly calls herself your ‘election denier-in-chief.’”

The ad starts with a narrator promoting Simon, saying “Secretary of State Steve Simon makes it his job to defend democracy.” That’s followed up with audio from Simon himself saying, “I have pledged to do everything to always protect the freedom to vote.”

The ad then quickly pivots to attacking Crockett, including a grainy black-and-white video of her speaking at a forum in June.

“Kim Crockett proudly calls herself your ‘election denier-in-chief,’” the ad says, with the last part of the quote making it appear Crockett is calling herself that nickname.

……

Because this ad includes a mix of misleading and out-of-context material along with truthful claims, it gets a “C” on the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS “Truth Test.”

KSTP

The state auditor’s race is also getting more play on the local public affairs program, Almanac, as several DFL candidates have refused to participate in long-held debates. This position is in place to enable an outside audit of various forms of government. Ryan Wilson is the GOP challenger and Julie Blaha is the DFL incumbent. There is some question as to whether she should have stepped in and audited the disbursal of $250 million in federal funds in the Feeding our Future fraud scandal.

But by far the biggest race in terms of ad expenditures is the competition for the seat held by congresswoman Angie Craig (DFL) in Minnesota District 2. This is the second challenge by Tyler Kistner who narrowly lost the race two years ago. During the Vikings game or the news, there are sometimes three ad installments per commercial break. Angie is back-roading in a Jeep looking down to earth and Tyler shows off his beautiful young family. The race is often cited among the top ten most competitive races in the country.

Perhaps energy generated from this political tete-a-tete is stirring up the rest- but whatever the reason Minnesotans are getting an earful about each contest from the Minnesota Governor to the Minnesota Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the State Auditor, and even on down to the County Attorneys. Tradition has it that a last-minute bombshell always explodes in the weeks leading up to November 8th. I can only imagine what that will be.

On the Mall in DC

Forests

A fall that follows a long hot summer produces the most spectacular blaze orange and crimson colors amongst the tree canopies. There’s no escaping its beauty. Old elms arch over city streets littering the sidewalks with reds, yellows, and amber. Scallop-edged crowns of maples, oaks, and birches bunch up along the freeways. It’s a time of year when you don’t have to go looking for nature, as it has already found you.

My grandmother used to love taking walks in the woods. Perhaps it is because she grew up on the wide open prairie, plowed under into farmland. The woods held all sorts of delights, mystery, and adventure. She’d have us kicking through the leaves looking for mushrooms. In the spring the trillium was the first to bloom and later, under very special circumstances, we may find a Jack-in-the-Pauper. Follow a trail after a chipmunk and you may look up to see a doe, frozen in its tracks, hoping you’ll not notice it amongst a stand of popular.

I think my grandmother would have enjoyed this poem by Mary Oliver.

How I Go Into the Woods

by Mary Oliver

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone,
with not a single friend,
for they are all smilers and talkers
and therefore unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree.
I have my ways of praying,
as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone
I can become invisible.
I can sit on the top of a dune
as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned.
I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me,
I must love you very much.

Changing Intermediaries

There was a time when concerns about the future of communities arose when changing preferences shifted people’s activities. When the lanes were no longer booked on Thursday evenings for leagues and bowling balls were being sold at garage sales, predictions of cultural decline became fodder for those who watch such things.

But about the same time, church basements were seeing a lot less of the ladies who know how to fill the fifty-cup aluminum coffee maker. As new generations come through communities, their preferences change. The inclinations to be supportive of a community or devote time to causes or charitable endeavors do go up in smoke in some sort of generational existential crisis. They simply find new marletplaces.

The volunteer firefighter model is on its way out. Half a century ago perhaps as much as a third of the firefighters were volunteers. Becoming part of the force was a competitive process. It was a position that held prestige. The men would hang out at the station house in shifts waiting for the next deadly blaze. Now most firehouses are staffed by paid employees or transitioning to such an arrangement.

2nd St and 5th Ave Minneapolis

One could speculate that why men don’t want to pile in and hang out in the cramped quarters of an aging firehouse. But I think it is a mistake to assume the men of today lack an impulse for civic duty. They are most probably exerting efforts elsewhere in their family or work structures. Many workplaces now offer opportunities to partner with non-profits. Many non-profits offer opportunities to become involved.

Environmental Initiative is an intermediary which is driven by a desire to improve the environment.

Currently, it is estimated that 25% of passenger vehicles cause 90% of vehicle air pollution. Older cars often have outdated or broken emission controls and exhaust equipment. By partnering with garages to repair broken emissions systems, Environmental Initiative is cleaning up some of the highest polluting cars on the road while reducing barriers to reliable transportation. 

Partner garages provide low- or no-cost repairs to emission control systems. This allows car owners to reduce their car’s emissions and prioritize paying for other repairs necessary for the safety and drivability of their car.

This type of interface between people who have skilled labor, and most probably some idle time, and those who voluntarily support a cause, like pollution control, is an excellent matching game. There is an arbitrage opportunity between the former group which loses little by helping and the latter group which will be vigilant to the appropriate disbursement of reimbursements.

Rush Hour – Movie Review

This 1998 Jackie Chan comedy is packed with good stuff. I’m not sure if I lost a lot of time getting to know the masterful Chan or if the serious lack of jest and comedy in today’s world makes him all the more valuable, but I really liked this movie. It is funny and smart and strong.

Within moments of the opening scenes, there is a flurry of completely inappropriate word choices. Wokeness be damned! Both actors (Chris Tucker is an excellent sidekick) are gifted in comedic gestures and facial expressions which simply amplify the use of cancellable verbal offenses. It’s so delightful.

Chan is endearing as he draws a laugh through self-deprecation and physical faux pas– but don’t let his warm-up show fool you. His use of trips and slaps and fake punches is there to set the bubbly laughter adrift in his audience. Once everyone is relaxed and ready to let go of a noisy guffaw, giggle or snicker, then Jackie Chan will show off his real moves. And they won’t let you forget the strength of this martial arts performer.

He also holds the film together with a credible yet not wholly predictable plot and lively scenes across neighborhoods, Burroughs, and architecturally interesting buildings. I loved the clips from pre-China Hong Kong.

A lack of Voice

Long (long) time host of the Twin Cities public affairs show, Almanac, is quite upset about the Governor’s lack of interest in a televised debate. Something about tradition and, ummmm, hearing the voice of our leaders, seems to strike a cord.

The twitter population seems to agree.

Will the political strategy to keep his voice quite be an asset, or play as a liability? All will be revealed in November.

Update on AI pricing of Homes

Speaking of this last unit, Zillow bought it for $700K in Nov 2021, and withdrew the listing at $625K last month. Then they sold it to Opendoor for $354K. I haven’t pulled comps, but it’s not hard to imagine a fat discount that’ll look good on paper for Opendoor in the future.

And here’s a piece I wrote about their exit. Their failure wasn’t about market conditions, but strategy. In other words, this wasn’t about them foreseeing the future and knowing the market would change due to rates being at 7%.

Originally tweeted by Ryan Lundquist (@SacAppraiser) on October 5, 2022.

What happened to the US Post Office debate?

This is a rather fancy post office.

There was a time when the demise of the US Postal system was all but certain. Typically criticized for being poorly run and expensive, it was thought that private competitors like UPS and FedEx would take over transporting packages, and electronic means would replace printed letters. Surely there has been a reduction in the number of personal letters (which is truly a shame) but advertisers still choose the postal service as a way to get into consumers’ households.

When I’ve gone into our local branch to purchase stamps or mail a package there are more frequently than not a few people in line. Some are clearly running a business from home and have a stack of packages needing attention. I suppose people stop in for items needing to be tracked. And then there are passport services too. I personally like the custom stamps. (Perhaps this is a hangover from stamp collecting as a child.)

Back when there was talk of starting to close down some of the branch locations, contention flared at the suggestion that their post office would be the one to close. Buildings of all shapes, sizes and styles dot the entire US. In a way, the structures reflect the character of the neighborhood. The only compromise that was reached, that I can think of nearby, was a reduction in the overall space that zipcode’s branch occupied in the building. A religious community took over the back of that structure. They administered Covid shots during the pandemic.

As I’ve proposed here at home-economic, some goods are more naturally considered public and some private. Postal delivery service appears to fall in the first category. Whether people feel the public should have access to reliable and secure delivery of letters and parcels, or- they are nostalgic for the discovery of a crisp white envelope in their post box, for the time being, the US Postal Service is still a going concern.

Of Our New Day

We were in Northfield this afternoon for parent’s weekend at St. Olaf College. After lunch at the Reunion on Main Street and a walk along the nature trail behind Skogland, we went to listen to the Family Music Performance. The freshmen male choir, directed by Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, formed a half moon on the risers first, and they did not disappoint. I had several friends in choir back so many years ago now, that these new fresh faces simply met their level of excellence.

Having no expectations for the St Olaf Band, however, led to a delightful sense of discovering something exceptional. The variety of instruments and tones and tempos! Well, listen for yourself.

Have you lost that feeling?

It’s hard to extrapolate feelings out of numbers. Novelists have the luxury (and the skill) to fine-tune phrasing in a way that demonstrates how the same scene can in fact be different. Take this passage for example:

Yes, that was it-the change was there. Before the war at a luncheon party like this people would have said precisely the same things but they would have sounded different, because in those days they were accompanied by a sort of humming noise, not articulate, but musical, exciting, which changed the value of the words themselves. Could one set that humming noise to words?

Virginia Wolf- A Room of One’s Own

But when you see numbers, tabulated-out in sales figures of Rolex sales, income disparities between adjacent countries, or tallies of police arrests- you don’t feel anything. Of all the inputs that go into economic analysis- resources, labor, utilities, transport, and so on, there is no mention of an emotional quantifier.

Yet isn’t at least a portion of why people buy a Rolex due to a feeling? A luxury good makes one stand up a little straighter and beam a little brighter. A luxury good encourages others to treat you with a little more attention. A luxury good may be the ticket to gain entry into a new network of associates. There’s a swarming effect to luxury goods where people are drawn to the aura of the wealthy establishment. At least Kim Kardashian has a billion reasons to think so.

And then there is the opposite effect. The feeling of neglect and secondary status is always in the mix when economic results are released and compared to a strong neighbor. The numbers may divvy out the details of who stands where with what, but the gnawing feeling of being two steps back and half a year behind comes to the surface in casual conversation. “Oh- they are just so brash down there!” Implying, of course, a certain nobility in lower production, further justifying complacency.

Analysis of the cost of policing goes into rows and columns as easily as any set of numbers. But the emotion of seeing your middle school buddy handcuffed and walked out of school doesn’t show up in any way in the numerical representation. How many officers are needed in a community that has memories of one type of public safety is going to be different from another. The expense to leverage community participation in crime-solving is also going to vary. Like groups need to be compared to like groups.

And similarly, when solutions are presented and discussed, time and time again by people outside a community, especially those with elitist inklings, eye-rolling follows disjointed analogies.

The mayor of Minneapolis is Jacob Frey. Keith Ellison is MN’s Attorney General. Also pictured is St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

How to heat a house

The measure used when transacting in wood is called a cord- or 128 cubic feet.

Up north (as we call any rural community vaguely north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro) it is common for homeowners to heat their homes with wood. There are stoves built to burn the split logs slowly and maximize efficiency. Sometimes the black cast iron fireboxes are in the lower level of the dwelling, or sometimes out in the yard with a venting system drawing the hot air into the home.

No matter what or where, there’s a lot of work involved. Fallen wood in a forest may be there for the taking but the labor involved in sawing the timber into eighteen-inch lengths and splitting it into manageable widths is persistent labor. Then there is the hauling and stacking. It will make a Lumber Jack (or Jill) out of you.

The backup system in most homes is baseboard electric. Often people use some combination of the two, loading up the fire before bed and then counting on the baseboards to kick in toward dawn. The remote nature of rural living makes it difficult for utility companies to run natural gas lines along all the roadside ditches. Natural gas is the most prevalent form of fuel for homes in the metro. It is also the most economical, whereas electric heat is the most expensive. Propane is a less common option and has its own set of drawbacks.

It would be wonderful if battery technology was advanced enough to capture and store energy off solar panels. The energy would flow right through the existing baseboard network. But in a part of the world where the temps can run below freezing for several weeks at a time, it simply isn’t possible to rely on solar energy. As populations grow, gas lines are appearing in populated areas. Splitting wood is a young man’s game and when given the option, most consumers are ready to convert to gas.

A sliver from *To Sir Henry Wotton*

Be thou thine owne home, and in thy selfe dwell;
Inne any where, continuance maketh hell.
And seeing the snaile, which every where doth rome,
Carrying his owne house still, still is at home,
Follow (for he is easie pac’d) this snaile,
Bee thine owne Palace, or the world’s thy gaole.
And in the worlds sea, do not like corke sleepe
Upon the waters face; nor in the deepe
Sinke like a lead without a line: but as
Fishes glide, leaving no print where they passe,
Nor making sound; so closely thy course goe,
Let men dispute, whether thou breathe, or no.

John Donne

Update on the housing market

As one can imagine the sharp increase in mortgage interest rates is having an effect on the housing market. For the average buyers who have between 5-20% to invest as a down payment, their monthly obligation has probably increased by about 20%. Yes- that’s a lot. Hence the decline in mortgage loan applications.

So far, however, the change has only resulted in a deceleration in the number of buyers but not in the price of housing. For the past couple of years, buyer demand has outstripped inventory causing virtually every sale to garner between three to twenty offers. This is not hyperbole. The steady jump in the cost of housing is verification of a sellers’ market.

A few months ago, a fresh listing would still attract a strong first buyer, one who perhaps even wrote an offer above the list price in an effort to pre-empt the market. As news gets out that the market is shifting, buyers are starting to slow down and finally we are seeing inventory staying on the market more than a few days. This has advantages.

For the time being the new dynamics are attracting a new set of buyers who never were interested in the rat race of competing for a home. Making a decision within hours of viewing a home, foregoing an inspection, or offering non-refundable earnest money is not for everyone. Today’s buyers have the leisure of coming back through for a second showing, of looking into possible home improvements, of lining two options up side-by-side to see which one they prefer.

I expect this will be the status quo through the holidays. Thanksgiving to Christmas is always a slower time as many people are tied up with family obligations. Come early 2023, we’ll see how the interest rate environment is impacting price.

Serendipity and the creation of books

The ‘Withdrawn from Hennepin County Library’ sticker on its cover is a dead giveaway that I must have picked up Encounters by publisher George Braziller at a library sale. The short format tales of interactions with authors are fun and informative. Braziller’s small independent publishing house brought Orhan Pamuk’s The White Castle to an American audience- this book I can highly recommend. But I also enjoyed the stories of books coming together as a deroulement of chance encounters. In this example, an artist is paired with a poet.

Will Barnet

One of the magical aspects of publishing is the serendipitous way by which books are created. I learned this important lesson while working The World in a Frame. The book brought together two strands of George Braziller’s publishing program-literature and art-and was created on the heels of several books that Braziller had published in the mid-1980s,

The year 1986 marked the centenary of Emily Dickinson’s death. To mark the occasion, Braziller published a short introduction to her poetry, Emily Dickinson: Lives of a Poet by Christopher Benfey-then an up-and coming and now a formidable and well-established scholar. Benfey’s book offered an overview of Dickinson’s life, a well-crafted synthesis of the main themes in her poetry, and a thoughtful selection of her most well-known and loved verses.

Soon after the Dickinson volume was published, I visited Will Barnet, a well-known American artist, in his studio in the National Arts Club building in New York. While looking at his paintings, I noted that his work evoked nineteenth-century New England, which was not surprising in that Will had grown up in Massachusetts. Will, in turn, mentioned that he loved the poetry of Emily Dickinson and would like to have a copy of the Benfey book. The next day, I sent him a copy. A few weeks later, he called to let me know that he had created a series of drawings inspired by Dickinson’s poetry.

Back to his studio I went to look at the drawings. They were extraordinary.

Encounters, by George Braziller

Lately, I’ve been listening to Econ Talk on my daily three-mile walks which correspond conveniently to the duration of one episode. This one caught my eye today Janine Barchas on the Lost Books of Jane Austen and I was not disappointed. If you enjoy books, Jane Austen and a knowledgeable acedemic with a pleasant timbre you will find the hour well spent.

It was her explanation of how she fell into writing the book that I loved the most. Experience has taught me that many of life’s best outcomes occur haphazardly. And this seems to have created the interesting research she presents here. An antithesis, I know, from the advocates of- Plan your day! Schedule your every move! Make a ten-year plan! Some things come about when they are meant to be.

Regional trail system connecting through Wayzata

Econ or Poli-Sci?

I recently saw this quote on Twitter: Economics is the study of human behavior under constraints. This makes sense to me if the individual and the clusters of individuals operate under maximum freedom. But the reality is that virtually all people have some sort of, or many layers of, political structures also setting constraints. Where econ stops, and where poli-sci begins is deviding line to consider.

For instance, if you were trying to figure out the choice parameters for automobiles in the Amish community you may come to the conclusion that they don’t have a preference as you cannot come up with any data. Yet the political constraint of only being allowed to drive a horse and buggy is the political constraint which explains the lack of opinion. Complete exclusions from some choices are entirely political and hence do not provide economic insights through the actor’s behaviors.

Gorgeous blooms are still to be seen at the Lyndale Rose Garden in Minneapolis