Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time for sanity on bikes

The city Minneapolis prides itself on its elaborate system of bike paths. The city's fringes are girded by massive bike bridges. Our downtown areas are rife with an intricate system of bike only lanes. We have spent literally billions of dollars maintaining arguably the most biker-friendly environment in the United States.


Lost in the enthusiasm for all things bicycle is the fact that the majority of Minneapolis residents rarely, if ever, ride a bike. Only 1 in 20 commuters ride their bikes to work, and that doesn't even count those who commute from the suburbs.

Recently, as part of an overhaul of downtown's traffic flow, a new system of bike lanes was established to protect cyclists. In particular, with bike lanes situated on the left side of traffic, cyclists were vulnerable to left-turning drivers who are unaccustomed to checking their left-side mirror before turning. Of course, this scenario was the product of a previous overhaul, prompted by cyclists getting hit by car doors on the right side.

Now, Cars are asked to park 3 ft. away from the curb, making room for a bike-only lane. Soon, cars will be asked to simply hover, allowing bikers free reign of the streets.

None of this is really a big deal, except that it costs money. Lots of money.

The bicycling community has been remarkably adept at influencing city leadership to their agenda. This stands to reason. People who ride bicycles vote, and vote for the sort of liberals who hold court in Minneapolis. Riding a bike has an air of environmental friendliness to it, in a city obsessed with the concept.

Beyond that, they are simply very demanding people. Demanding people get what they demand, as a rule. People who live under the threat of gun violence in a depressingly dangerous city? Less so.

As such, every grievance, be it a legitimate safety concern or a pet peeve, is met with instant redress. In spite of our unparalleled efforts to cater to bike people, there are more complaints. A non-profit called Nice Ride has begun an ambitious bike sharing program in Minneapolis.

No good. See, north Minneapolis is left out of the program for reasons that are myriad and obvious. And so state Rep. Bobby Joe Champion is calling for action.

Um, Bobby Joe. May I draw this to your attention? It might explain your little bike-sharing dilemma.

But his lamentations illustrate a point. We don't have ornate bike trails on the north side. Bikes are a luxury item, and biking is a luxury sport. Sure, it's a "green" luxury, but for every person who commutes to work, there are dozens more who strap their bikes onto their SUVs and drive to choice locales. In most instances, biking doesn't replace driving; it replaces jogging, knitting or roller-blading.

While we are pouring millions into the luxurious habits of a few wealthy, influential voters, we are taking cops off the streets, and that is compromising our safety. While the give and take between safety, fiscal sanity and luxury vexes city leaders across the globe, it is time to ask the bike community to give.

For starters, we need a moratorium on new bike projects, unless they are fully funded by private or federal resources. Second, it's time to ask cyclists to pay their fair share.

How about a bike registration program? Say, $180 for new bikes, and $90 for used? Perhaps a licensing program, with annual renewal rates of $175 for adults and $350 for families. All funds going to pay for these expansive new bike projects.

At minimum, it would redirect cycling advocacy. Do you really need a new bridge by Lyndale and Franklin when there is one a few blocks away? Okay, but your license fee will go up by $25 per year. Yeah, thought so.

Alternately, we can impose some fiscal discipline and common sense. This isn't Chicago. This is a car-based community in one of the coldest metropolitan areas in the world. A world class bike path system is great, but it should not be maintained to the neglect of other important areas.

It's time for some bicycle sanity.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bad poetry day - BP Edition

Childish tiptoes, sand unkempt
Seas enduring, tidal wept
Tween then adult, our brains collide
To compromise, future aside

Rain togs adorned, lest we repent
Thus chilly mud, a future spent
Lacrimose, we hypocrites
Doff visage scorn, to thrones do sit

Our pansies gripe, the most reviled
Lest branch's pose be reconciled
And reclaim doom, lest all pretend
It's only molt around this bend

So bristle hands with chafed contempt
While skimmers skim what swimmers swept
So wring them thus, the hands of scorn
The handkerchiefs of peddled mourn

To quicksand make, our sands of time
The tarpit haste, perhaps divine
It cuts us, but above the quick
Our conscience gleaned unto the nick

And so depraved accomplice lie
The fathers of our alibi
We dream upon their product gain
And so did wind our beaches stain

Monday, June 21, 2010

Soccer Musings

This has been a bad week for soccer snots. In addition to the scoreless ties and euro-flopping, we have stupid toy horns and the outright theft of a game by a referee.

That last bit, I think, is going to be an insurmountable hurdle.

Americans experience sporting events in a very different way from our brethren across the pond. We view sports as a meritocracy, where the best athletes typically prevail. We root for superstars who can carry their team to victory, but also for inspirational underdogs who overcome the odds. We root for the home team because their success can we worn as a badge of pride.

Elsewhere, sports are celebrated as a social gathering, a reason to get drunk with friends and enemies. In England, gangs representing each team will literally brawl in the stands. In the Middle East, local leaders behead rape victims during halftime. In South Africa, the fans incessantly blow toy horns for some damn reason. At best, soccer is but one act in a protracted social ritual.

In America, regardless of the extant distractions (dunking gorillas, touchdown celebrations, zambonis), the outcome is of primary importance. For proof, look no further than the stream of fans exiting a stadium during any blowout.

As such, we outcome-driven Americans are often lamenting poor officiating. Each of the four major team sports has a rigorous program for ensuring fairness and quality in this regard. To the degree that poor officiating affects outcomes, it can at least be said that the impact distributes evenly.

In soccer? Not so much. Refs throughout Europe are often on the take from the mafia. Bigotry and national fealty regularly result in flagrantly biased calls. Guess what? Most countries resent America.

Bias aside, teams have made an art form out of manipulating pliable officials and nebulous rules. Slide tackles have replaced defense, since there is no real penalty for the act, thus negating any advantage superior athletes might have on offense. Then there's the Euro-flopping.

FIFA, the sport's worldwide international governing body, is aware of the problem. The 2006 world cup is widely considered to have been an officiating disgrace. They responded to these criticisms by... Finding some unknown from Mali with limited international experience? Great.

And so the United States was robbed of a goal (and a corresponding win) by a ref who either dislikes our country, or was paid to take away the goal. This isn't conspiracy talk. Again, it's taken as a given that international referees are corrupt. To make matters worse, FIFA does not require referees to advise the nature of a penalty.

Perhaps they realize, as Americans are coming to learn, that it doesn't really matter.

Americans can deal with low scoring. Given the quality of our athletes, our professional players would make that a moot point, anyway. We can deal with the flopping - basketball fans are already accustomed to it from South American players.

But international play is essential to soccer's identity. If Americans feel as though the sport is rigged against the U.S., as it is presently, fans will simply tune out. Soccer will be relegated to the second-tier dustbin with MMA, cheerleading and greyhound racing, other sports where outcomes take a back seat to other considerations.

The soccer snots will continue to chalk it up to American ignorance. But they'll have only their beloved sport to blame.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Minneapolis Murder Rate - Now With Math

After (another) spate of shootings, the city of Minneapolis is "up" to 24 for the year. It was only months ago that R.T. Rybak declared victory on crime. Touting the success of his youth programs, he removed cops from the streets and ran for governor.

What happened? Have the youth programs ceased to perform? Journalists and the mayor's office are baffled. They shouldn't be. Here's why.

From 2000-2009, Minneapolis averaged 45.1 homicides per year, with a standard deviation of 10.8. Over the last four years, the numbers have been even more erratic, with 41.3 murders and a SV of 17.2.

Wait! Come back! The maths will not harm you.

What this means is that, simply by looking at the numbers, an objective observer (we'll call him Ralph) would predict, with 95% confidence, a range of 34-56 homicides based on the data of the last ten years, or a range of 24-58 based on the last four. For discussion's sake, let's split the difference and go with an expectation of 29-57.

Ralph wouldn't be terribly surprised by the city's present projected pace of 53 homicides. He would have been baffled, however, by last year's 19 figure, having projected a narrow range of 42-54 based on a ten year data set. Ralph could also be forgiven for concluding that, given such an outlier, it would not be unreasonable to expect a further diminution of the homicide rate.

Clearly, this was Rybak's calculus as well, but let's dig deeper. Below are the homicide numbers for each of the last five years.

2005 - 47
2006 - 60
2007 - 47
2008 - 39
2009 - 19

Within four years, we had both the highest and lowest data points since 1996.

Let's think about what happens during a homicide. Someone dies, right? Also, at least one other person becomes guilty of murder. Who murders? Why, murderers, of course. Who gets murdered? Those who draw the ire of murderers.

In 2006, then, we had a lot of murderers acting on their impulses, and a lot of people hostile to murderers falling victim to same. Approximately half of murders in Minneapolis are gang and drug related. In other words, about half of those murdered are likely, if left unmurdered, to murder someone else. Further, those who murder get arrested, often along with a bevy of accomplices, who are also nascent murderers.

2006 took a lot of murderers off the streets.

What happens when you take murderers off the streets? They can't murder any more. That is why you put cops on the streets... To take murderers off of them.

Over time, however, those murderers come back. Accomplices cut deals in exchange for short sentences (think gun possession, which carries essentially no penalty in the state of MN). New grudges and turf wars emerge.

Does that get us from 19 to 53? Probably not. Yet.

Consider foreclosures. The vast majority of foreclosures in Minneapolis were confined to the city's north side, where (not coincidentally) most violent crimes also occur.

Many drug and gang houses are owned by the sort of absentee landlords who simply have too many properties to manage. The housing bust was particularly unkind to these property owners, leaving plenty of the most potentially violent offenders to find new digs, while depriving them of many of their local clientele. If recent shootings on the south side are any indication, these thugs are just now beginning to discover all the city has to offer.

Which brings us back to Rybak. Based on the information above, an astute city leader would double down on enforcement. Alas, at the precise moment having more cops on the streets would have had maximum impact, Rybak called in the forces and ran for governor. I could have told him that was a bad idea. In fact, I did tell him that.

All of which is utterly depressing. For a city of Minneapolis' size and relative affluence, 19 homicides per year is about right. But R.T. Rybak has not created the conditions for continued crime abatement. He has paid the political price for his clueless arrogance, while the rest of us sacrifice our ongoing safety.

Swimming Pools

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

An interview with this cat

TPWK: Hey, are you a cat?

Pebbles: So I’m told.

TPWK: I might need your services.

Pebbles: I don’t do domestic.

TPWK: Beg pardon?

Pebbles: Purr, purr... Sit on your lap... Crap in a filthy box. I don’t do it.

TPWK: No. I’ve got a situation.

Pebbles: Situations… Them, I do.

TPWK: Good. See, there’s a rabbit.

Pebbles: There’s always a rabbit.

TPWK: He likes leaves.

Pebbles: So? What’s it to you?

TPWK: The leaves are on my plants.

Pebbles: Oh, right. You people hate that don’t you? Can’t let an animal have one
piece of the pie.

TPWK: Leaves, not pie.

Pebbles: Yeah, it’s a figure of speech, moron. So why don’t you just kill the

TPWK: See... And, uh, that’s a good question… It’s just a matter of.

Pebbles: You don’t want to kill the fuzzy-wuzzy.

TPWK: It’s a stomach issue.

Pebbles: You need him whacked.

TPWK: Well actually, I need him…

Pebbles: Again, figure of speech. Don’t be obtuse. What are you, a dog?

TPWK: No, right.

Pebbles: I’ll take care of him.

TPWK: That’s good. That’s… What I want.

Pebbles: But I’m gonna do it my way.

TPWK: Your way?

Pebbles: Look, I’m a cat. I see a rabbit, I gotta mess it up.

TPWK: Mess it up?

Pebbles: Yeah. You know. Chew it up a bit. Let it run. Chase it down. Maybe bite
its balls off.

TPWK: ...

Pebbles: Look. You want me, you get all of me, capiche? This is what I do.

TPWK: I was just hoping for something humane.

Pebbles: Humane? You talking to me about humane?


Pebbles: Humane! Look at this guy. Tellin’ me about humane. Look, when I was three
months old, my mom’s owner took all of us to a prison. We lived in cages… Right across from the dogs. After three weeks, they started taking us, first my mom, then my brothers, one by one…. Took ‘em back to this room. Never heard from them again. Never saw my mom again.

TPWK: I’m sorry to hear…

Pebbles: You know what they call that place? That death house? You know what they call it??? The HUMANE society.

TPWK: The irony is not lost on me.

Pebbles: So don’t IHOPin’ talk to me about humane. You don’t know nothin’ about it.

TPWK: Right. So, about this rabbit.

Pebbles: Leave three ounces of catnip and two open cans of Fancy Feast by the back door tonight. It’ll get done.

TPWK: Thank you.

Pebbles: Don’t mess with me on this. Fancy. Feast. You try to give me Iams, I’ll crap in your wife’s flowers.

TPWK: No. Right. Two cans of Fancy Feast. Catnip.

Pebbles: Hey. I been meanin’ to ask you. How is it you’s can talk to animals?

TPWK: I drink benzene.

Pebbles: That’ll do it. You have a good day sir.

TPWK: Hey Pebbles…

Pebbles: What?

TPWK: Thanks…

Pebbles: Don't mention it...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Michael Anschel and Grass

Fellow NOMI homey Michael Anschel has gotten some coverage for taking his case to the Minneapolis inspections office. The whole incident is depressing.

In a nutshell, Mr. Anschel worked for years to develop native grasses in his yard. Recently, the city gave him notice that his yard violated city ordinance, requiring lawns to be kept under eight inches.

Upon receiving the notice, poor Michael called the provided number to explain his situation. He left a voicemail, expecting to receive a call back from the inspector overseeing his block.

Yeah, here's how that goes. Suffices to say, the city did not return the phone call, and instead decided to mow his lawn, at his expense. The city claims to not have any record of the phone call. Yeah, I've heard that one before.

Anschel is using this as an opportunity to educate people about the importance of planting native grasses, and good on him for doing so. But he's missing the broader point.

The real story is that he called the city to explain his situation, and left his message. Alas, some bureaucratic slob couldn't be bothered even to return a phone call. This, frankly, is par for the course. How can we expect him to learn the difference between native grasses and weeds?

The problem is not that city inspectors do not have working knowledge of local grasses, but that we have given authority to a city bureaucracy to transform our properties, and have done so without any accountability. When confronted, the city can simply claim that they have no record of any complaint. I can guarantee you that the city inspectors office has NO record of ANY complaint.

Why would they keep such a record? Why should they return a phone call? Any time a city orders the mowing of a lawn, it makes money ($30 or so). That money funds the bureaucracy that employs the slobs who do not give a damn whether you are planting native grasses or viral weeds.

Sure, the inspectors might attend the mandatory classes that Michael Anschel's effort had produced. They will do so through clenched teeth. After all, you have interfered, in some small way, with their paradigm of earning money on auto pilot. By their lights, they are entitled to solid pay, eternal job security, and exquisite benefits. As an added bonus, they don't need to know things.

You are requiring them to know things.

So yeah, they'll probably be on the look out for prairie grass (which again, the planting of which is a fantastic idea), but the larger problem remains. What happens to the first-time homeowner who has failed to paint his shingles according to code? Or to replace a railing? Or to relocate his rhubarb?

Any time you pit city employees against homeowners, the homeowners lose. If the city inspectors continue to be unresponsive to citizen complaints, then we live under their whim. That is tyranny.

I feel for Michael Anschel. He has lost a lot, and seems motivated to enact change. Here's hoping the change extends beyond the question of grass.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Disturbing Roommate Conversation

Leroy: Hey, I read on your blog you are into flotillas.

TPWK: Conceptually?

Leroy: Or otherwise.


Leroy: Really? I thought you might have one.

TPWK: Leroy, look at my garage.

Leroy: It’s nice.

TPWK: And small.

Leroy: We agree.

TPWK: Where the hell would I keep a flotilla?

Leroy: Why don’t you let me ask the questions?

TPWK: Because this is my house. Why do you want a flotilla?

Leroy: I want to free St. Paul.

TPWK: From what?

Leroy: Smoking ban.

TPWK: You don’t smoke.

Leroy: Yeah, but they do.

TPWK: Who does?

Leroy: The Irish.

TPWK: What about the Hmong?

Leroy: This isn’t about demographics.

TPWK: You brought it up.

Leroy: Where can I rent a flotilla?

TPWK: You know, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what a flotilla is.

Leroy: It floats and causes freedom.

TPWK: Part of that description is almost certainly true. What’s the plan?

Leroy: I’m going to float down the Mississippi, handing out cigarettes.

TPWK: Okay, do you know what the smoking ban entails?

Leroy: It is a ban. On smoking.

TPWK: Right, but there’s a bit of nuance there.

Leroy: There’s that word again.

TPWK: Yeah, it’s not your favorite. That said, cigarettes are legal in St. Paul.

Leroy: Puffery!

TPWK: Nope. Here’s the text of the ordinances.

Leroy: You have all the ordinances of St. Paul printed out?

TPWK: Since the day you moved there. Remember the emu incident?

Leroy: Yeah, poor Skippy. How was I supposed to know that birds can't drive?

TPWK: At any rate, your "freedom smokes" plan is, at best, superfluous.

Leroy: But everyone likes freedom flotillas.

TPWK: Not really.

Leroy: So what should I do with all these cartons of cigarettes?

TPWK: Yeah, I was wondering what the moving truck was all about.

Leroy: Got ten more like that at home.

TPWK: Natch.

Leroy: So, um… Can I...

TPWK: Leroy. Again, look at the garage.

Leroy: Right, no, they won’t all fit.

TPWK: Is that your baby strapped to the top of the truck?

Leroy: No! Well, yeah, probab… Yep, that’s him.


Leroy: Did I remember to ask if you had a flotilla?

TPWK: Go home, Leroy.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Idiocy on Israel

While Americans read the back and forth on the Israeli effort to defend its blockade against the Gaza clowns, Europeans get to read propoganda, straight from the horse's mouth.

Here's Ahdaf Soueif on the Israeli Flotilla incident.

Title: Israel reveals its true face


This will count. A flotilla of relief boats attacked in international waters.

It was actually an Israeli blockade, and they... Oh, facts don't matter.

Armed commandos boarding a vessel carrying supplies for a besieged civilian population.

How dare Israel arm its commandos. Show me one other nation that arms its commandos.

More than 10 peace activists reported killed.

Nine, but again, facts matter to European writers the way they matter to the New York Times. Which: not at all.

This has to be made to count.

But don't get too into the counting, cause I might have exaggerated a little bit.

The dead have joined Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, James Miller and Brian Avery in giving up their lives for the Palestinians... Each and every one of them ultimately believed that they were safe; that there was a boundary – call it a boundary of legality,

The sniper who shot Hurndall was sentenced to eight years in prison. Rachel Corrie dove in front of a bulldozer, with predictable results. The person who shot James Miller has been disciplined, and was investigated, but could not be determined as the person who caused death in this instance. Brian Avery is still alive, and was given $150,000 by the Israeli government. Sounds like the boundary of legality to me.

a boundary of civilisation – that Israel would not cross. They were wrong. And in proving them wrong, Israel has revealed, once again, its true face to the world.

Right. Israel has shown it's true, uncivilized faith. Just come out and say it, toots.

This face, of course, the Palestinians know well.

I bet they do.

They see it every day in the teenage soldiers of the occupation chewing gum as they dish out humiliations, in the settlers shooting young Palestinians with impunity, in the soldiers firing gas canisters at the heads of demonstrators.

Yep, that's those Israelis, munching on gum, and executing people at will.

The world saw that face in January last year when Israel unleashed the might of its air force on Gaza – the only time in modern warfare that a civilian population was sealed in as it was being bombed and shelled.

If this sounds pretty much made up, that's because it is.

So never mind the multimillion-dollar public relations campaign

Seriously? This author is accusing Israel of winning the IHOPing public relations campaign? What about the claim that Israeli commandos executed humanitarians as they slept? You know, the one your paper ran verbatim?

the only link between Israeli words and Israeli deeds is this: Israel uses words as a decoy and an obfuscation and a cover for its deeds.

And you think the New York Times is batshit crazy.

Western governments are fond of holding up Israel as the "only democracy in the Middle East". So should we assume that the Israeli people are behind their government? That they approve these killings?

Probably. I know I do.

Last month I was at al-Quds University in Abu Dis. Israel's wall shaved the edge off the campus. On it, in tall blue letters, a Palestinian student had written: "My Israeli sisters: this is not the answer."

Well that settles that argument. Once something is written on a wall, it is no longer in dispute.

A few days ago, young Jewish Israeli activists told me they saw that the only hope for their country lies with the international community.

Those young, Jewish, Israeli activists are profoundly naive, as Ahdaf ably demonstrates.

My anger and my sadness are so great that I have to deliberately draw a deep breath from time to time to ease the bands I feel around my chest.

Good to Ahdaf is emotional about this. Otherwise, I would not have been inclined to take her seriously.

It doesn't matter. What does matter is that millions of people in the world are feeling the same.

No, actually that doesn't matter either. Millions of people in this world worship fire. Literally. Worship. Fire. It doesn't matter what millions of people think. People are crazy.

People everywhere see and understand what is happening. Many of us feel that Palestine is nearing its South Africa moment.

Now the bands around my chest are in a twist. Anyone who thinks the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians is somehow analogous to South African Apartheid is flatly ignorant.

More civil bodies will insist on divestment from companies that do business with Israel.

This is true. To which, I hereby pledge to do business with companies who do business with Israel, and I encourage you to do the same, contra the lying scoundrel who wrote this piece.

The price of Israel's action today has to be to put the issue of sanctions squarely on the table.

I'll say this. If Obama heeds this call, he will make Jimmy Carter look like Abraham Lincoln.

Thanks for the crazy, Ahdaf.