Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail

If you are a fan of Jack Nicholson you will love vintage Jack in this 1973 film. He’s very young and handsome. And all the traits that make him uniquely famous dance across the screen. The story line is a little slow. The footage of America in the 70’s, however, is interesting throughout.

The Last Detail is a 1973 American comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby, from a screenplay by Robert Towne, based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan. The film stars Jack NicholsonOtis YoungRandy QuaidClifton James, and Carol Kane. It follows two career sailors assigned to escort a young emotionally withdrawn recruit from their Virginia base to Portsmouth Naval Prison in Maine.

The Last Detail was theatrically released in the United States by Columbia Pictures on December 12, 1973. The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Nicholson and Quaid, as well as Towne’s screenplay. It was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, three Academy Awards, and four British Academy Film Awards (winning two).


No groceries nearby

We will soon be hearing about food deserts (once again) due to three grocery stores vacating a segment of the city. The latest to close is the Wal-Mart in Brooklyn Center.

Walmart’s decision to leave, another blow to a neighborhood with a large Black population,  comes on the heels of Aldi closing a store in North Minneapolis and a nearby Walgreens closing shortly afterwards.The Brooklyn Center location, which has been in operation since 2012, is one of 10 stores nationwide the retail giant is closing, according to USA TODAY.

Sahan Journal

A shopper asks:

“Why are they closing a Walmart in a Black neighborhood?” Kennedy said as she loaded rolls of paper towels and laundry detergent into her minivan.

She works in a group home close to Walmart and shops there for the low prices and wide array of products.

“I bring them here, it’s closer to the home and reasonable,” Kennedy said.

The Sahan Journal did not cover the reasons for the departure from this location but other news sources did.

Brooklyn Center police said Walmart made 6,177 calls for services in the last five years. That’s double the number of calls compared to surrounding businesses like Super 8 and Cub Foods with 3,270 and 3,038 calls, respectively. All three businesses top the city’s list for calls for services.

For further context, police say just six miles away, the Walmart in Brooklyn Park had 1,679 calls for services in the last five years.


City officials vow to fill the anchor store with another merchandiser. But wouldn’t it make more sense if the municipality focused on public safety and let the stores focus on business?

Justify the supply

This comment confirms that it us still difficult to evaluate providers of public goods services. Why are there not more indicators? Why is the analysis kept under wraps? Where is the clearinghouse of market process that ruffles through the producers and shows the market who is getting business done?

Because without these feedback loops it is too tempting, as the Rev references, for people to privatize public funding.

Spring by Christina Rossetti

Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?
Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death.

Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap, put forth their shoots;
Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.

There is no time like Spring,
When life's alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track,--
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack,--
Before the daisy grows a common flower,
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour.

There is no time like Spring,
Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die,--
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bough,
Strong on the wing:
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) is remembered as one of the Pre-Raphaelites – a group of 19th century artists and writers who took inspiration from works of art produced in the Middle Ages. Her brother, the painter Dante Gabriel, was one of the most prominent of this group.

Public goods prices are up

Private goods prices are down.

Does this mean that analysis has focused on half the market while the other half runs unattended?

Plz show me the need

The Dem trifecta in Minnesota’s state offices is leading to a flurry of bills being passed. The latest is free school lunch for all k-12 students. A well-posed media shot of the Governor being body-embraced by a cluster of elementary school kids is as tart as an artificial sweetener.

We know the school kids aren’t banging down the doors for a bureaucratic response to their midday meal, so who’s asking for this culinary delight? The neediest kids were already receiving free breakfast and lunch at their public schools. From what I can follow on social media, the desireability of universal provision of food will first off not necessitate the requirement of some to ‘ask’ for a meal through the paperwork. And secondly, it will catch the kids whose parents fail to fill out the paperwork.

MN is a pretty well-off state. The poverty rate for children is 12%. From personal experience, I can attest that well over 12% of school kids are receiving free and reduced lunch. In other words, there was already a largesse to feeding the kids. Yet- to look at the celebration in St. Paul one would think this is a breakthrough of some sort.

Some politicians are asking for the ground rules on when and how the government should take from some and give to others. A new legislator, Walter Hudson, from an NW exurban area posted this recently.

It seems like a legitimate question.

Although everyone can feel good about putting food in the mouths of babes, if those babes don’t need the food more than some other babes need mental health assistance, housing, or some other basic need, then the tradeoffs determined by politicians are failing the system.

There’s a deeper answer to Hudson’s question. Where in the interlinked transactions of public dollars flowing to private citizens can we identify comparative needs? Where do we see the production value of public dollars invested?

Food for thought

To cap off coverage from the trip to London, here are a few of the culinary treats we had in London.

High tea at Fortnum and Mason

Fortnum and Mason, a department store in Piccadilly, is like a fancy wedding cake with decorations at every level. Prim and proper is exactly how you feel once you’ve reached the fourth floor, up a double staircase with gorgeous dark wood banisters. The piano player may already be laying fingertips onto the ivories, depending on when you arrive for afternoon tea or how long you’ve lingered enjoying the treats. A skeleton holder of stacked plates filled with goodies will arrive at your table. The sandwiches each have their own delicate flavor. The scones are best with tea. The aroma of the libation is so sweet you wonder if every other tea will pale into a substandard replacement from now forward. Caution- the bill is not for the faint of heart.

The India Club restaurant is tough to find. The number over the unassuming door is 143 on the busy Strand. Two flights of narrow steps will lead you to an unassuming entrance to a lovely rectangular dining room. The space is tight. The tables are small. The atmosphere is gigantic. The evening we went for dinner all the tables were edged shoulder to shoulder with a younger vibrant crowd. The noise was that comfortable hum of humans enjoying their evening. Most importantly, the curry was rich in flavor.

Cubana Restaurant Waterloo is located in a space that looks convincingly like worn unattended buildings which I imagine to be in Havana. The place is unique. Several levels create private spaces for folks to enjoy their meal and their company. The wait staff looked the part and were effusively attentive (did I say good-looking?). The pulled pork gave off a rich smokey vibe. It is as delicious. The plantains too- which is surprising because I usually steer around them. Not this time. You have to take the whole place in while you clear your plate!

Newton’s resting spot in Westminster Abbey. His visage taken from a death mask.

—Letter to Henry Oldenburg (18 Nov 1676). In H. W. Turnbull (ed.), The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, 1676-1687 (1960), Vol. 2, 182.

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Standing at the Sky’s Edge- Theater Review

Just a mile or so down the banks of the Thames from Shakespeare’s Globe theater is the modular National Theater. The 1127 seats of its Oliver stage were filled last night for the performance of Standing at the Sky’s Edge. And it is no surprise. The performance was outstanging.

I knew it was a production full of music but did not anticipate the number and sheer quality of fantastic voices. There are solos, there are duets, and there are full troupe choruses to remarkable ends. The orchestra/band is elevated, making for an excellent view from our balcony seats. And the performers were adept at switching up the genre from melodic to rock and role with an electric guitar solo.

Here’s a bit from the Guardian:

But it blooms into a glorious love letter indeed, revealing a big, booming heart and astonishing sound. Hawley’s music and lyrics stand front and centre of the production, characters often making first entrances through song and occasionally breaking out of a scene to perform a number, microphone in hand, as if at a gig.

The cast is uniformly strong and their singing outstanding. Faith Omole’s voice has the deep, rich timbre of Amy Winehouse’s while Maimuna Memon’s songs blast with emotion. Ensemble numbers bring shivers. Feet tap, spines tingle. We find ourselves swaying in our seats. Together with its lovely movement, the show becomes unstoppably winning, ineffably exuberant.

Step out of the theater and take in this wonderful view from the South Bank over to the lit dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Don’t doubt Schumpeter

According to Schumpeter, the “gale of creative destruction” describes the “process of industrial mutation that continuously revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one” (Capitalism,Socialism and Democracy)


In the City of London, the remains of Roman walls juxtapose modern high rises. The destructive forces of the great fire of 1666 and the Blitz opened up windows into archiology of the ancient past. This was followed, over many generations by an energetic rebuilding.

The results of the ancient side-by-side with the modern are quite spectacular.

Thoughts about morals and markets

Most objections to markets of private goods are that, in their exuberance, they roll on by some social concerns. The industrious plant pollutes; the labor market does not support all families; the tech firm runs the table to accelerate advancements in their field. It’s thought that markets allow the power of the purse to trample on the wants of the people.

So– the people make rules.

And that is where you see the counterarguments to the objection to markets. Even though we don’t think about it, marketplaces are formed by rules. Markets are a combination of people taking action, the objects in trade, and the marketplace where it all occurs.

New rules mean a new marketplace. And in that new marketplace, with either informal norms or formal rules around the social concerns mentioned above, a new set of prices evolve. In a bubbling and ever-unfolding process, the markets renew to the will of the consumers.

The morals of some groups will keep their marketplaces at arm’s length. The Amish live a lifestyle that remains separate from mainstream America. Some people will never buy crypto or derivatives as their uncertainty about the products gives rise to a fear of being duped.  Others may only allow family members to care for their children.

But the argument that the combination of people, with all their human inclinations, along with the variety of goods and services they wish to voluntarily exchange, and the meeting place where buyers and sellers are brought together is inherently a moral abyss seems unsubstantiated.

The living room

How are memories illusive and vivid at the same time? An image of the room. Scented air through the window. A beep at a distance for the gardener to open the gate. Reading. Evening fires in a hearth. Classical music from a turn table. Count the instruments says a voice.

Can you picture it? I ask my brother. Yes, absolutely.

Markets missed and recovered

If you were to ask people what disappoints them about markets they would say that markets carry out their business without feeling, that they focus on pecuniary profits in the short run and forget about the little guy.

It’s true. The beauty of unfetter trade is based on the ability of unrelated people to transact without forethought to social obligation. That is the feature which makes them powerful elevating nearly all of humanity to some higher level than a century ago. So what kind of quandry are we in if the secret power is the not so secret downfall?

No quandary, just a shift. Pecuniary markets handle private goods in a fine fashion. There are markets for goods carrying a varying degree of social innuendo. Here you pay to belong. You exit when you want out. You give of your time and money to foster the nurturing of the social objective. It is still through discovery and evaluation of choices that consumers choose their municipalities, their school districts, their transit option.

People are disappointed when they look for the public market amongst private goods. It’s not there. So they cry foul!

For example, the job market spans a wide range of pay from part-time coffee pourers to financial wizards a la Warren Buffet. Clocking in at a Starbucks three mornings a week might be just what a retiree wants. The money makes it worth getting up a little earlier. But they are really interested in the job to get out of the house and interact with various people in a pleasant setting. One might even go as far as to say having this minimal low stress obligation is good for their health.

It wouldn’t work well if the only employment option was a latte mixer. And this is where the trouble starts. Some individuals are only able to pull down basic jobs, and others feel this is not right. They create a rule that every head of household is entitled to employment at a living wage. In this reframing it is decided that society, or the greater group, owes the working family a living wage.

And voila, a social market is created.

More fines, more hoops, less fees

It’s rather perplexing how the liberals feel about landlords. If in doubt check out this new round of rules and fees being proposed at the Minnesota Legislature.

The bill would also restrict landlord entry and apply fees to landlords for subsequent violations. It was approved and referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.

The bill offers few exceptions while outlining well-defined penalties.

The types of fees that would be banned include those for move-in, move-out, vague administration practices, lease processing, amenity and access to rental portals.

“HF315 would prohibit those non-optional fees for non-optional services,” said Rachael Sterling, a housing attorney at HOME Line.

“This is different from a pet fee or parking fee a tenant can elect to add to their monthly costs,” she said.

Violators would pay either three times the amount of each unenforceable fee or $500, whichever is greater. In addition, the court could award reasonable attorney fees to tenants.

Landlords entering residential properties could be limited to a four-hour window between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and be required to give at least 24-hour notice. Instead of a civil penalty of $100, minimum penalties would have to match or exceed one month’s rent and reasonable attorney’s fees.

MN House

Are there really that many landlords entering units before 8am and after 8pm? Because it seems to me that most business people would prefer to be at home during these hours. The move-in move-out fees could be reflective of a condo building’s rules to charge accordingly. But I’m splitting hairs.

In the bigger scheme of things, I’m just not sure why progressives don’t jump into the rental business, buy some buildings and rent them out? Every time there is a market downturn I hope that one of these groups sweeps up a bunch of properties and rents them out.

It’s the car manufacturers fault

Yesterday the mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, Frey and Carter, stood up with the attorney general. Ellison, to demand that two car manufacturers recall their vehicles. Why? Because they are not contributing to the public good.

In the past few years, the public’s peace of mind has been greatly unsettled by the propensity of young folk to steal cars. Carjacking they call it. Usually, the roughians just flat-out taking the keys off a mark. The Minneapolis crime map conveys the message.

Crime map Minneapolis for the last 7 days

The mayors are responding to a terrific increase in the number of car thefts in 2023.

In a message released Friday, the police department said there were more than 700 car thefts in January, along with 33 carjackings and “260 Thefts from Motor Vehicle.”

Bring Me the News

And then the politicians called on Kia and Hyundai to recall all their vehicles that do not have anti-theft technology. Because- “They have an obligation to keep people safe. I have an obligation to people in this city,” said Frey.”

I think both mayors have congratulated the capitalist system in a backhanded way. Manufacturers, in the process of reading their consumers, voluntarily introduced anti-theft technology to their products. Since business is a competitive process, this will undoubtedly become a standard feature.

Markets solve the problems people demand from them. They work for the public good as well as the private good.

The romance of remote work is over?

My college senior has already decided he would prefer a job with a minimum of two days a week in person. For the past year and a half, he has been employed as an IT intern doing web design. This work has all been done remotly. Covid pushed all these jobs out of the brick and mortar buildings.

But if a 21-year-old is anxious to be back in person, maybe work life, commutes, and happy hours will return. It’s just not that interesting, he says, to sit by himself at the computer all day.

A bird came down the walk

Emily Dickinson 
A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw:
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall 
To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad-
They looked like frightened beads, I thought;
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious, 
I offered him a crumb, 
And he unrolled his feathers 
And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam, 
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, plashless, as they swim.


Daycare math

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to leverage the federal government’s expansive investment in the semiconductor industry to make progress on another goal: affordable child care.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department will announce that any semiconductor manufacturer seeking a slice of nearly $40 billion in new federal subsidies will need to essentially guarantee affordable, high-quality child care for workers who build or operate a plant.


I’m not sure that ‘leverage’ is the proper word choice here. Subsidies for the chip manufacturers became a clear public necessity during the COVID crisis. Certain goods are so essential to US productivity that the risk of being cut off by a foreign supplier justifies the expense of keeping US chip manufacturers in business. Step one of resource flow for a public benefit affirmed.

With hopes and dreams of getting a twofer, the administration believes that by demanding daycare be provided– no no ‘affordable’ daycare be provided– the numbers will simply do double backflips and be leveraged. But all that will happen is that the subsidy calculated to support chip production will be diluted to subsidize both chip production and daycare. And maybe that’s what they want.

Say people feel that a daycare worker should be paid the same as a factory worker. Now say each daycare worker is assigned four children. Add to that an administrative overhead and a building maintenance fee. If a family has two kids in daycare, the second worker that goes to work at a factory is only taking home, a third to a quarter (?) of their wage after daycare expenses. And daycare is closed on certain days. Daycare is at a distance from home so there are logistical issues of transport. Kids have to stay home from daycare when they are sick. Such are the hidden expenses of daycare.

Don’t get me wrong. I support daycare and both my kids went to daycare. I’m just saying to get the numbers to work in this scenario, the daycare would need to be significantly subsidized to make it the better choice for the worker. Or, the worker would have to be paid a professional wage. And if an administration thinks that this is a good use of public funds, then keep track of it as a separate line item. Then we can calculate which expenditures alleviated risk and which expenditures supported women in the workforce.

Hoping and wishing the math were different won’t make it so.

You People- Movie Review

There’s a new romantic comedy out with some heavy-hitting actors like Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jonas Hill, David Duchovny, Nia Long and newcomer (at least to me) Lauren London. The film tackles all the social awkwardness around race relations when Jonas falls for Lauren and vice-versa.

It’s a Romeo and Juliet romance where the families serve to pull the lovebirds apart. One such scene occurs around the dinner table. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jonah’s mom, starts down the whole ‘our parents came to this country to work’ reasoning for success, and Nia Long, Lauren’s mom, challenges her with the benefits of heredity in the family profession.

As expected, Jonah’s father is a podiatrist, as was his grandfather and his great-grandfather. But what does the implication of this occupational lineage? In what does it offer an advantage? In a competitive situation, having access to information at any time or season has clear advantages. This may be knowledge about educational issues, school entrance requirements, course work, or internship insights. And not only can one tap a family member at any time, but there is also a stronger guarantee than with any other group that their response will serve your best interests.

This unconditional support is further enhanced through connections to others in the field who may serve to advance the student’s objectives. Favor trading within a group happens naturally. So a lineage of family members with contacts throughout the profession offers access to others who will also work on the child’s behalf. This reaching out to lend a hand may also occur with a sense of nostalgia- Remember when we were only twenty and had not a cent in our pockets?

It’s important to pull these tasks apart and take them on an individual level. Understanding how institutions work if it’s deemed important to get some outside blood into highly competitive professions.

As far as the movie goes- it was humorous, and that’s saying a lot given how worn out the black/white/wokeness dialogue has become in recent years. It made me laugh and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the girl gets her guy in the end.

V Ostrom quotes Tocqueville

Tocqueville has suggested that the danger of democratic despotism engendered by the search for simple solutions in a centralized state can be avoided if a democratic people give proper attention to political science as a “science of association.” He views a science of association as being “the mother of sciences. in democratic countries: “The progress of all else depends upon the progress it has made” (Tocqueville, 1945: 2: 110). A science of association will enable men in a democratic society to “comprehend the utility of forms” (Tocqueville, 1945: 2: 325) for putting the doctrine of self-interest to proper use as a rule of action for organizing and sustaining collective enterprises (Tocqueville, 1945: 1: 10). Tocqueville observes, “If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased” (Tocqueville, 1945: 2: 110). A science of association is a necessary ingredient for advancing civilization in democratic societies and is the basis for Tocqueville’s conclusion: “A new science of politics is needed for a new world’ (Tocqueville, 1945:1: 7).

The Intellectual Crisis in American Public Administration, (page 93), Vincent Ostrom

Remember when

I’m old enough to remember when I couldn’t pull together an evening meal. Pre-family, cooking is a secondary concern. There’s always takeout. And so much of one’s activity swirls around getting food with others. But once you have children in your household, then the daily routine of dinner is the mayflower pole that keeps everyone from flying off into hangry-land.

First, it’s the juggle of monitoring what everyone will and will not eat. Then there’s the learning curve of which groceries last and which perish. In addition to maintaining an inventory of groceries in the cupboards as well as the fridge, one must meter out prep and eat times to sync with everyones’ after school-activities. There were disappointments. There were complaints. And that’s how you get better.

For a bunch of years now, there’s been no thought involved. Perhaps a little discussion, “Do you want Marry Me Chicken or stuffed pork chops?” But the deroulement of the whole thing just happens. Senses, especially the sense of smell for foods underway, are much sharper. Listening to a podcast, unloading the dishwasher, and checking on the mail all can be dovetailed into the process that just seems to happen.

What I want to take from this is the memory of how hard it was to learn all those steps. Because then, when I see another, who could use a bit of a nudge, a kind word, a bit of encouragement, I’ll remember all those little steps and how long it took to master the basic task of dinner.

Notes from Housing Court

When landlords and tenants get into a tussle, they end up in housing court. From the bleachers it appears the dominant activity addresses evictions. But a tenant may also ask the court to hold their rent in escrow until their complaint against their landlord is heard. That way they are not viewed as delinquent yet they are still denying the landlord access to their monthly income.

A typical rental turnover includes a tenant giving proper notice to a landlord regarding an intent to move. This is usually thirty or sixty days. The window of time allows the owner to reveiw the present condition of the unit, determine whether it needs any freshening up, and either proceed with improvements or decide to rent it as is. During the tenants remaining occupancy, the place is shown to prospective tenants and most often a new lease agreement is drawn up to match end to end with the term of the existing lease.

And then, there are times when this is not the case.

The tenant stops paying rent on the 1st. By mid-month it may be clear for a bunch of reasons that the teanant will no longer being paying rent. At this point the landlord needs to give them a two week notice of their intent to evict. Once that timeframe is completed, the landlord goes to housing court to file a complaint. In days of yore the courts were committed to processing the complaints in 6-14 days. In a post Covid, post eviction moratorium world, the wait is six weeks.

Keeping count of the cash flow reveals the landlord misses three months of rent in this last scenario- or a quarter of their annual income on the unit. One might point out that they keep the delinquent tenant’s deposit. True. But a delinquent tenant who won’t vacate a property more than likely has left the unit in rough to very damaged condition. These are folks who are often experiencing a few bumps in their lives.

On the one hand activists want landlords to house people with flaws on their rental applications. On the other hand when a landlord takes a hit on a scenario such as this one, and internalizes the loss of a quarter of annual income, it would be reasonable to expect the public to at least acknowledge the sacrifice. Instead the activists vocally promote the idea that all landlords are opportunistic wealth hoarders.

Wouldn’t it be cool if one could demonstrate who bears the social costs of things?

Buchanan and accounting

I want to argue that our failure to allow for any accounting of the sort of choice behavior involving investment in becoming something different has inhibited our ability to understand as well as our willingness to try to understand some of the problems of our time, both individual and social. By implicitly refusing to consider man as artifactual, we neglect the “constitution of private man, which roughly translates as “character,” as well as the “constitution of public men,” which translates into the necessary underpinning of a free society, the “character” of society, it you will.

Natural and Artificial Man, James Buchanan 1978

Because, as Buchanan concludes in the last line of his lecture, “He wants liberty to become the man he wants to become.

Stacking priorities and coordinating benefits

Local legislators at town hall forum 2/17/23

Two legislators and one Minnesota senator gave a town hall talk last Saturday. With majorities in both the MN House and Senate, a swarm of bills has been flying through committee and onto a vote. Let’s have a look at them.

Education: The schools are still (and always) underfunded. They need dollars. The plug’s been pulled from the bathwater as there was no depth offered to describe relative priorities, to meeting public expectations, to backing winning strategies.

Abortion: Many didn’t believe abortion was on the ballot until the votes were counted. And sure enough, the topic occupied the first hours of the legislators’ work. The right to an abortion all the way through the third trimester was codified into the MN constitution (not sure what they mean by codify, it’s their word). Winners: feminists and women of childbearing age. At risk: unborn babies and paternal rights. Losers: Religious ideology

The Surplus: The promise to return a portion of the surplus to the taxpayers is echoing more and more faintly. It really never was a return but a redistribution where people of lesser means received the most, middle income some, and wealthy folk nothing. Instead, the audience at this town hall was told of failing bridges and infrastructure. When you want to spend bring up the tangibles. There is more resistance to human services than to maintaining nuts and bolts public hardware. No offer of project eval or expenditure return on public use. The pols always declare the need, and steer clear of distinctive comparisons or hierarchical demand for public dollars.

Universal School Lunch: One might wonder if it is the best use of funds to pick up the lunch tab for those who can and might still provide their children’s meals.

Paid Family Leave: I’ve never heard a peep on how it was determined that enough folks were locked out of taking care of a few personal errands during work time to make a law worthwhile. Nor is there a whisper regarding whose pocket this human resource benefit will come from. I’m sure some people live in this uncomfortable pinch between time and money. Making a universal law benefit is great if most people need it. If it is given to everyone when one a handful are struggling, you have to wonder whether the donations to public funds would be best employed in another manner.

This is where I have to give my legislator credit. Here the school districts are being given additional funding only to have it taken from them to cover the paid family leave. Schools are public only in their function to educate children. Public institutions are employers as well. The legislator acknowledged she was hearing from her friends at the MN Teacher’s Union. Turns out that publically funded entities are employers too.

Which highlights the importance of coordination. Elected officials are only exposed to very limited voice. There’s got to be a better format to express the desires of the constituents in the manner public funds are allocated.

St Olaf in film

St Olaf may be well known as a premier liberal arts school in the upper midwest, but that recognition doesn’t always translate to destinations further afield. So when Betty White claimed it as her alma mater in the Golden Girls sitcom there was a seven-year span of possible name-dropping. To say nothing of the glow of being associated with the comedic charmer, the bright as a penny, the class act who was Betty White.

Apparently the local college in the town know for cow colleges and contentment also made an appreance in the Cohen Brothers’ (Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, True Grit) film A Serious Man.

Was it the beautiful Hogwartian campus? Was it the Lutheran chapel with Scandinavian overtones? No, it was a lecture hall and a mega-sized black board chock-full of physics equations. I came across this interesting tidbit when I was trying to track down a former St. Olaf biology professor, Jim Cedarberg. He helped the stage set fill the board.

Written by Mike Roe, a St. Olaf Alum.

The college will never be known for its sports records. It will always be lauded for the St. Olaf Choir. And now it has appeared in two cinematic ventures.

You gotta pay to play

You’ve probably been trapped in a regretful conversation. One where there’s a dominant voice (usually male) telling everyone how he saw this stock as an up-and-comer or that business venture as a sure thing. Blaghty blagh blagh. The way the words drop out of his mouth, he should be a highflyer. But alas no. Despite the wealth of information he is willing to impart about the market, he never actually makes a move and puts his money on the table.

And then you have the travel bug. Oh- you should really go sailing amongst the Greek Isles and watch the sunset between Ionian columns. Or go kayaking in the Galapagos; snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, or horseback riding on a dude ranch in Wyoming! Come to find out, the travel bug never leaves the the winged back chair by the bay window in her living room. This wealth of information has yet to be experienced.

In the real estate business, everyone wants to anti up their advice to the prospective buyer or seller. At the job, their coworkers share all their experiences with ardent fervor- yet they moved over ten years ago. The neighbors warn the clients to look for this and be careful of that because the last time they were involved in a real estate transaction those were the going concerns.

As much as information gathering is part of the process of buying or selling a home, this type of chit chat is only vaguely helpful. The knowledge that guides a market participant to a successful outcome is obtained from parties, such as themselves, who are in an imminent position to complete a transaction. Those willing to pay have processed the particulars of their present market and thus have pertinent knowledge.

Tip #1 to the new Realtor

Never run half of a couple out to homes. Both will be making the final decision, hence both have to churn through the process.

It’s usually the woman. She has all the energy and ambition to drive around to eight homes over a two-and-a-half-hour window and consider their features. And then the spouse says that this suits him fine as she’ll make most of the calls. But this is almost always not true.

Both parties have their thing. One may care about the size of the center island and whether there is a pantry, but the other will absolutely not budge on the size of the lot. By looking at homes without a generous amount of verdure, Mrs. Buyer is getting a false sense of her choices. By disregarding one of the couple’s requirements, improper knowledge is gathered.

New realtor, do not be fooled! Mr. Buyer must join the hunt. In addition to holding some firm, albeit limited, requirements his impact on the decision is significant. Moreover, the process of looking, evaluating, of seeing which homes sell and which ones drag on the market creates an internal registry of pricing. People will not sign their names to one of the largest purchases of their lives without a sense of price.

So what I’m really saying to those of you just joining the profession, is that where a couple is concerned, the decision maker is the couple. It is not the addition of buyer one and buyer two. Through the discovery process of finding their new home, both individuals will find out their partner’s preferences as well as their own. And the final decision will include some combination of compromises between the two.

Alcoholic breath and cabbages

One of Professor Hayek’s most renowned essays is titled “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” I am tempted to emulate Hayek here and entitle this postscript essay, “Why I Am Not an Economist.” To anyone who reads the methodological urgings contained in the essays of this volume, written over almost two decades, and who simultaneously looks at what passes for “economics” in the professional journals of 1980, there is only one evident conclusion. The author of the essays is almost the only one in step or else he writes under some delusion that he is something that he is not.

If not an economist, what am I? An outdated freak whose functional role in the general scheme of things has passed into history? Perhaps I should accept such an assessment, retire gracefully, and, with alcoholic breath, hoe my cabbages. Perhaps I could do so if the modern technicians had indeed produced “better” economic mousetraps. Instead of evidence of progress, however, I see a continuing erosion of the intellectual (and social) capital that was accumulated by “political economy” in its finest hours.

3D homes in the Lone Star State

Lennar, a national home builder, has been experimenting with 3D-built homes in the Austin area.

GEORGETOWN, TX – November 10, 2022 – ICON, the leader of advanced construction technologies pioneering large-scale 3D printing, and Lennar, one of the nation’s leading homebuilders, announced today that construction is underway on the largest community of 3D-printed homes and reservations will begin in 2023.

Situated north of Austin in the city of Georgetown’s master-planned community of Wolf Ranch by Hillwood Communities, a Perot company, the 100-home community combines innovative robotics, software and advanced materials to create homes that are technologically advanced, environmentally sustainable and architecturally striking. Each Lennar home in Wolf Ranch is co-designed by the renowned architectural firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group. Prices are anticipated to start from the mid-$400,000s.

Things must be going pretty well as it is now being reported that Elon Musk’s Boring Company will be partnering with Lennar to build a community of 110 homes near its plant in central TX. Austin Business Journal reports.

Elon Musk has already transformed a rural swath of Central Texas with facilities for Boring Company and SpaceX. It looks like the billionaire wants to erect houses next, and a public official says Musk has enlisted one of the nation’s largest homebuilders to help. 

He’s not the first businessman to participate in helping workers find shelter. But it is surprising how few companies try to entice their employees to live close to work through subsidies. When you think about all the activities which take place close to home, wouldn’t the saved time of no commute contribute to a less stressed and more timely workforce?

Just think of the employee loyalty that would develop by bringing the most promising entry-level workers into a neighborhood they otherwise couldn’t afford.

The right fit for the itch

On Economists Writing Everyday yesterday, Zachary Bartsch posted how he came to support a tax to pay for mosquito spraying for nearby neighbors. His neighborhood has always been sprayed, but given the mosquitos’ lack of interest in our municipal lines, he surprised himself with a collective mindset.

At first, I wanted to write a blog about the collective action problem and how one can be comfortable with oppressing the will of electoral minorities. I expected to make a Kaldor-Hicks argument in favor the potential gain of the majority. Among free-marketers, that would be the edgy thing to do. But I realized that this referendum was fundamentally about changing our set of property rights. It’s an externality story. I am now required to pay for mosquito mitigation on my land in order to prevent the harm to my neighbor. 

Some might take this as an endorsement for more government. But it’s not. It is the private benefit gained from increasing the treatment area for the pests that gives dynanism to the collective product. Money (or resources) will flow to the issue as long as there are individual gains as well as the group gains.

Hence finding the right public subset to fit each public good problem is necessary for achieving the best use of resources.

Attention to process

When you meet with a seller to talk about selling their home they are always keen to find out your opinion of the price of their home. The price is straightforward. The price is simple. But price alone lacks depth and understanding of the marketing process. More importantly, understanding the process leads a seller to gain a stronger price from the market.

I showed this home today. If you are not from the area, especially if you live across the world somewhere, you may not appreciate the updated fixtures found in these photos. The home is thirty-four years old which means it has hit a threshold for many if not all cosmetic finishes as well as most all of the mechanicals. For instance, the windows and siding have been redone. This project is a sizeable expense. This home also has a new kitchen and all the baths have been updated.

Nicely appointed homes will attract a large pool of buyers. This is favorable for a seller as more demand for property results in the best financial outcome. Hence the process of prepping a home for sale includes tackling refinishing hardwood floors, replacing ugly old appliances, and verifying the mechanicals are tuned and humming. Often couples get into a tussle about how much take on. One is watching the checkbook and shaking their head to and fro. The other is nodding yes, yes, yes. Can you over-improve? Definitely.

The home above has been improved to the point of reaching the highest segment of price in comparison to their nearby neighbors. The market may give the seller the best price in the neighborhood without giving the seller the price necessary to cover the expense of the updates. In other words some renovations result in a bigger bang for your buck upon sale.

Paying attention to the condition of the structure of a home before going to market is just one aspect of the process of marketing a property. Other angles also affect the final price the seller pockets at the time of closing.

Giving credit

I don’t know this Henrick guy, but I’m a fan. He gives his wife credit for helping him flourish.

There was a time many moons ago (or about 50 years) when men were obliged to take credit for all and any efforts their wives made on their behalf. To be generous would be to say that the men’s world was so competitive they had to take credit to beef themselves up next to their peers. Another view would be to say that since the man’s job brought home the financial means of support, then he deserved credit for the job while the stability of family life went to the spouse.

The thing is, no one likes to be underappreciated. Most everyone wants to feel a little warmth from the spotlight. And failure to bring the spouse on stage when credit deserved sharing led to a furious few to dismantle the marriage contract.

Industry news from NAR

The National Association of Realtors does a profile of home buyers and sellers once a year. As long as you keep in mind that the numbers are aggregated over our rather large country, there are still insights to gain. For instance, 49% of buyers say that the quality of the neighborhood is the most important factor in determining location. But quality is a subjective measure, at least as stated here. So, as long as the buyer is buying into more neighborhood amenities than they previously had, they will have a favorable view of their new neighborhood.

People also like to live near ‘their people.’ This makes sense on so many levels. It is easier to get together over a beer and a BBQ on the weekends. It’s easier to drop off the kids if you are in a pinch for a sitter. It’s easier to run a traveler to the airport or the elderly to a doctor’s appointment. People want to live near their people.

The Covid effect shows up in this next slide. Due to the opportunity for remote work, buyers had the opportunity to move further away from their present location. The distance people moved from their old house to their new house jumped from 15 miles in prior years, to 50 miles in 2022. The cabin is no longer a getaway- it’s the main residence.

Market discovery process (channeling Kirzner)

I had to call a buyer this evening and tell them theirs wasn’t the winning bid on a house. It’s never fun to be the one to deliver the news that pulls the plug on all the plans they’ve been dreaming up.

Bidding on a home is just one of the steps toward market discovery. The stages might start innocently enough by browsing real estate sites during a slow time at work. Even though this low-touch method provides limited information, some bigger-picture decisions may start to formulate. Such as the realization that certain areas are simply too expensive, or others are too far from work.

Next buyers get in their cars and go tour homes during open houses. Or sometimes they start right away by meeting a realtor at properties. This step is more structured as basic parameters have been set both in the physical nature of the home but also in price. As the process continues, a third decision criterion emerges. It concerns the number of repairs or upgrades the buyers are willing to take on.

At some point, the buyer will find a home that interests them enough to make an offer. If they are the sole bidder then the discovery only involves the expectations of the seller. If there are multiple bids on the property, such as in this recent situation, then the offer process is much more thorny. Being the highest offer can be a means of winning the house but not necessarily. Terms matter as well.

In this case, there were eight bids in total. Usually, at this level of interest, at least one party that goes for broke, bidding high and giving up the inspection contingency. This market participant requires a tolerance for higher risk. It’s by going through the process that buyers discover their tolerances for not only price but terms of the purchase. Or they adjust them to compete in the market.

Jilted by the Grammys

Diana Ross was nominated twelve times for a Grammy but never received one. Her first nomination was in 1964 for Baby Love. Between 1970 and 1982 hits like Upside Down, Love Hangover, Stop in the Name of Love, and Touch Me in the Morning were all overlooked.

Criminals and organ donation

In Massachusetts, criminals will be able to trade organs for a reduction in their days served.

Bill HD.3822, which would establish a “Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Program,” was introduced late last month by state Reps. Carlos González and Judith García, both Democrats. If successful, it would allow those incarcerated in the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) to get their sentence reduced anywhere between 60 days and 12 months in exchange for their bodily offering, which may include a liver or kidney, among other vital body parts.


Trading body parts is a sensitive topic. Even though plenty of ill people could need these healthy replacements to survive, a kibosh is put on this activity in the marketplace of unfettered exchanges. No cash- but trade is acceptable. A chain of trades is set up for kidney match-making for example. It’s a slower process than money for product as a sequence of events between unrelated people needs to be coordinated.

Instead of trading between family members who need a transplant, in this story, the incarcerated can trade off their debt to society. Ideally, the donors would not only be looking for their early release but have some personal interest in supporting the exchange. The intrusive nature of a medical procedure imposes a cost that must be balanced in some way.

In the Valley at Estevan Sask.

The wilds are calling me,
Calling from afar;
The sounds are following me
From the windy bar
By the silent-flowing stream,
Where new mem’ries are.

The morning is calling me,
Dreaming of the dew;
The sunlight is following me
The green woods through.
And the valley was radiant
With heaven and you.

And you are calling me
When shall I go?
By the pale glimmer of morning,
Or sunset’s full flow
Of radiancy streaming
The valley below?
RF Adams

I didn’t know this about beautiful British Columbia

British Columbia is the epicenter of a crisis that has seen more than 10,000 overdose deaths since it declared a public health emergency in 2016. That represents about six people dying each day from toxic drug poisoning in the province of five million people, topping COVID-19 deaths at the onset of the pandemic.


The action taken to mitigate this tragedy:

Ottawa — A Canadian province on Tuesday decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and other hard drugs in a radical policy shift to address an opioid overdose crisis that has killed thousands. Adults found with up to 2.5 grams of these drugs, rather than face jail or fines, will be provided with information on how to access addiction treatment programs.

Police will also not seize their drugs.

I hope it works. But addiction is a powerful force.

A view and a ride

I’ve never met anyone who has regretted a visit to Banff National Park. Just an hour and a jig west of Calgary, Alberta making it easily accessible via an international airport. Regular bus service transports worldwide visitors up to the spectacular peaks. The mountain range is stunning. Summer, fall, winter, or spring, nature will impress you by washing the skies in pale blue and then fluffing out a smattering of white clouds through the valleys.

We generally come in the winter to ski at Lake Louise. Two hills in the areas, Sunshine and Mt Norquay combine their ticket sales under Ski The Big Three. But we stick to Louis. Even in years such as this one where the snow is scarcer than they would like and the tips of boulders are peaking through some of the moguls. How can anyone pass up that view?

A nice Brit took this picture of us today. He threatened to walk away with my phone and laughed at his ruse (and clearly gave me back my phone). On some of the runs, you can see Chateau Lake Louise and the lake beyond. Both it and the Banff Springs Hotel were built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the 1920s to encourage tourism into the park. In recent years the park attracts about 4 million visitors a year. Many stay in the town of Banff which is about forty mintues east of Lake Louis.

For us, one key component is the ease of transport. It’s easy to get up to Banff with all the ski/board equipment. The airporter drops riders off all along Banff Ave and up on Tunnel Mountain. Likewise, comfortable coaches pick up from strategic spots amongst the lodging choices to get skiers up to their hill.

If you need a connector shuttle, the city of Banff has several routes running through the town of 8000. This one is waiting out a six-minute pause before his next circle starts. He’s pulled up into a large camping area that is packed with people and their RV’s and campers in the summer months.

Whether you need a ride up to the park from the airport or around the ski hills or through the quaint and historic town of Banff, they have you covered in the most convenient ways.

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.


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?


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.


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]


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


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.