Barring a collapse by the Detroit Tigers combined with a strong finish by our Twins, this weekend will mark an end to indoor baseball in Minnesota. I will be on site to partake in my last Dome Dog while cheering on the 2009 version of my favorite team. Like last season, which ended with a one-game playoff, this season has been frustratingly tantalizing. I can't help but agree with the notion that management did us few favors and our coming up one or two games short a second time was avoidable. 

Every spring: eternal optimism. Every fall: a broken heart. Enjoy the change of seasons along with this week's news. 

  • I'm not sure what statistics people are using to declare the recession over and a rebound in housing underway, but this statistic on mortgage applications says a lot. Understand that in the 1/3 that was denied you likely do not have a lot of people that have been recently foreclosed on or people that otherwise wouldn't get through a bank screening process to begin with. With large segments of our population now ineligible to purchase homes because they really can't afford to, there is only one direction for home prices to go. (Clue: it is the opposite of up).
  • That downward direction for home prices is going to be further accelerated by the fact that we have not yet gotten through the worst of the defaults yet. We have a tremendous systematic problem in that we, as a national policy, induced people who could not afford to buy houses to buy them. This drove up home prices for a while and made us all feel wealthy enough to go and get home equity loans, but now we have millions of lives we have unnecessarily ruined financially with many more condemned to a life of endless debt repayment on assets that are not gaining in value. Do we still pretend we really have a "free market"?
  • If the percentages in this story are accurate, the property owner has had their place on Federal land appraised at $67,000 for the last decade and now that has been readjusted to $126,000. That is bizarre considering what similar properties on private land would go for. I think we should require anyone who complains about the assessed value of the property they are allowed to exclusively own on public land to put it up for sale. If the offered price is 150% the assessed value, they should be obligated to sell. Or we could just subsidize all sides of this equation..... 
  • Earlier this year I wrote a post detailing the bizarre way in which Minnesota has chosen bureaucracy and red tape over actual environmental protection when it came to managing individual sewage treatment systems. My contention was that, in the end, the property owner is the one left hung out to dry while all the bureaucrats cover each other's behinds. I failed to consider what happens when the bureaucracy is the property owner

"Janet and Lowell Carlson are scheduled to go to jail Thursday, because they won't repair the septic system at their Norwood-Young America farm so that it is no less than 36 inches from the underground water table.

The couple was ordered to fix the system in July, at a cost of $10,000 or more, because it violates state and federal laws. But they say that Carver County is skirting the same issue -- a lack of adequate separation between drain field and groundwater -- at a $2.5 million ballroom it bought at a park near Lake Waconia."

  • For some reason we, as a society, love to espouse the virtues of the free market yet we hate toll roads. A market-based transportation system is part of the answer, and so we welcome each incremental step that gets us closer to that. 
  • Cost to run a program: "more than $50,000". Revenue generated by that program: "about $43,000". By government math, this is a program that pays for itself

"Living in a mixed-use neighborhood -- with a mixture of single family homes and multi-family housing, with some stores, transit, and other services nearby -- might cut the average person's driving by perhaps a third to a half, compared with car-dependent sprawl.  Living in an even more compact urban neighborhood, with lots of stores and jobs within walking distance, might cut per capita driving by a half to two-thirds, or perhaps more."

  • Rumble strips are actually one of the most cost-effective ways to keep people from killing themselves and others on the highways we insist on buildings through the middle of our neighborhoods. There are three potential responses to complaints about the noise.  1. We could tell complainers that the noise is an unfortunate byproduct of a policy that allows everyone to drive at highway speeds through their neighborhood. 2. We could redesign the roadway to be a neighborhood street and thus slow traffic to fit the neighborhood context. Or, 3. We could simply fill in the rumble strips and ensure that the only noise will be the occasional ambulance. You'll never guess what was done.
  • Considering how we have so dispassionately destroyed the vibrant public spaces that used to exist in our small towns, this article on the decline of the mall was made more depressing by this realization: 

"In suburbs and small towns, malls often are the only major public spaces and the safest venues for teenagers to shop, hang out and seek part-time work." 

  • Now that you have read the last article on how our old malls are, after just one generation, become dead zones in our small towns, you can read this depressing article about a supposed success story in regulating the most recent reincarnation of the mall, the big box retailer. You'll be shocked to read how this town now has dared to require stores over 75,000 square feet to provide auto access to adjacent properties, build a few sidewalks and minimally manage their stormwater. But don't worry - if this should be too onerous, there is a safety valve that allows the city to restore some common sense to the code. 

"Under the big-box ordinance, developers seeking an exemption to any one of the 16 different standards specified will be required to get a conditional use permit, which involves public hearings and a vote by City Council."

"On the one hand, people in rural America don’t have enough access to health insurance, high-tech hospitals, specialists, primary care doctors, emergency rooms, dentists, drug stores and other health services.  On the other hand, access to health insurance, hospitals, and so forth aren’t what make people healthy.

rich community life, which is more likely to exist in rural than in urban areas, is probably the most important factor in keeping Americans well. Yet we’re spending trillions of dollars on unnecessary health services, so expensive that we don’t have enough money left over to pay for what actually matters – the time to be together and learn from one another, money to keep the streets safe and an environment vibrant."

  • I was sad this week to hear of the passing of William Safire, one of the country's great writers. In the memorials and tributes I came across this undelivered speech that he wrote for Nixon in the event that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did not survive the moon landing mission. Read it - it is short and it demonstrates the brilliance of someone whose use of the English language was an art form.

"These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding."