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Stories relating to the Twin Cities and Minnesota

Gang Graffiti Avenger

I met Ed last year on a trip to Winona to learn about a fiber optic network. He is an interesting guy that does many interesting things - but his work to stamp out gang graffiti was recently profiled in an online video.

After the Ride

Michelle and I attempted the 100 mile Lakeville Ironman bike ride today. Michelle has a roundup of her experience. It was cold and eventually snowy/rainy. Breezy out of the Southwest, which sucked as the first 40 miles went right into it on rolling hills.

We could have tried a shorter route and stuck with Kris Scheid, but we felt ambitious and went for the full bodega. Started a bit after 7:00. Rest stops at 23 miles and 33 or so. At 35 miles, Michelle was really struggling (this was as we faced a tough wind, doing some 7mph up hills). So she decided to hit the sag wagon, which was disappointing but she clearly needed to rest.

I pushed on and barely picked up the pace as the wind got more brutal. Finally, around mile 40, the course headed west and we got the wind at our back. At mile 54 we got the next rest stop. I wasn't feeling great, but decided to push ahead for the next one which was only 11 miles down the road.

The tops of hills were killing me, but I was often hitting 20mph on straightaways and downhills. But the horizon showed dark dark clouds coming from the Southwest. At the next stop, I took a long waited bathroom break and started feeling better. Michelle was nearly back at the start by now (sag wagons make lots of stops).

I started getting back on the bike, and stared at the clouds. I was contemplating it when I overheard another guy say, "Put on your rain gear now or you may regret it." It was cold, my bike was just overhauled and I didn't want to get it all nasty on the first ride back so I decided to abandon. Put my ride in the wagon and talked with some of the other soft folks. 5 minutes later it started raining. 20 minutes later it started snowing. I feel good about the decision.

This was my second structured ride (Mpls was the first) and I hope to do a lot more. I enjoy riding in large groups of people with mechanics on call and food breaks. Riding with Michelle is also lots of fun even though she gets mad at me every time!

Court to MN: UR Video Game Laws R DUM

Happy days - the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a Minnesota law to ban the sale of certain video games to minors. Looks like parents will not be able to rely on stores to decide what is appropriate for their kids.

But Chief U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum ruled in July 2006 that violent video games were protected speech, even for children. He found the state failed to prove its claim that playing violent video games caused lasting harm to the psychological well-being of minors.

Rosenbaum also faulted the state for failing to address other forms of violence in the media. And he held that the state's dependence on a voluntary rating board to determine which games should be restricted was unconstitutional because it did not permit immediate judicial supervision of the ratings.

This opinion totally shot down the rationale for these stupid video game laws (as advanced by many Democrats, including Hillary ... I think Obama is also on the censorship wagon here but I could be wrong).

"Indeed, a good deal of the Bible portrays scenes of violence, and one would be hard-pressed to hold up as a proper role model the regicidal Macbeth," Wollman wrote.

If kids were so influenced by video games, we would expect more to be getting lost in pipes, chasing coins, and eating every mushroom they saw. The overwhelming majority understand the line between video games and real life.

Transportation

Call me urban-oriented. I'm frustrated by cuts in state funding to Minneapolis and St. Paul. I see some arguing that the cities still getting too much aid. They don't. We need to get more money to large cities.

Let's look at transportation - The Atlantic recently ran a short piece examining transportation in large cities.

The nation’s 100 largest metropolitan regions generate 75 percent of its economic output. They also handle 75 percent of its foreign sea cargo, 79 percent of its air cargo, and 92 percent of its air-passenger traffic. Yet of the 6,373 earmarked projects that dominate the current federal transportation law, only half are targeted at these metro areas.

You want this country to prosper? We need to solve the metro transportation problem. People are starting to move back into the core of cities (as prices in the suburbs rise and high gas prices make commuting even less desirable) which is only going to make this problem worse.

The United States has been dropping in terms of high speed network availability compared to Japan, South Korea, and other industrialized countries. Our transportation systems suck. If you are an innovative, growing business, where will you locate in the next 10 years?

America’s biggest and most productive metro regions gather and strengthen the assets that drive the country’s prosperity—innovative firms, highly productive and creative workers, institutions of advanced research. And the attributes of some cities are not easily replicated elsewhere in the U.S. The most highly skilled financial professionals, for instance, do not choose between New York and Phoenix. They choose between New York and London—or Shanghai. While many factors affect that choice, over time, the accretion of delays and travel hassles can sap cities of their vigor and appeal. Arriving at Shanghai’s modern Pudong airport, you can hop aboard a maglev train that gets you downtown in eight minutes, at speeds approaching 300 miles an hour. When you land at JFK, on the other hand, you’ll have to take a train to Queens, walk over an indoor bridge, and then transfer to the antiquated Long Island Rail Road; from there, downtown Manhattan is another 35 minutes away.

Here in the Twin Cities metro, we are about to build a $1 billion train connecting the two downtowns. It will run at grade and end up taking the same amount of time as the limited stop bus that currently only runs during rush times. It will be an improvement - higher capacity, more comfort, that sort of thing. But for $1 billion, it would be nice if it didn't run at grade through the Snelling/University intersection - which is already far too crowded.

And it would make a lot more sense to find a solution for commuters. The existing light rail line has brought many commuters to park and ride lots, but none are planned for the central corridor. We should build a large park and ride lot somewhere near 280 - which is pretty close to the center of the line. Charge a few bucks for parking and you'll still save commuters time, money, and hassle.

Of course, the private sector is investing in rail in a big way right now. The Wall Street Journal actually has a great piece on modern rail investments.

The upgrade is part of a railroad renaissance under way across much of the U.S. For the first time in nearly a century, railroads are making large investments in their networks -- adding sets of tracks, straightening curves that force engines to slow and expanding tunnels for bigger trains. Their campaign is altering the corridors of American commerce, more so than any other development since interstate highways spread to the interior.

Unfortunately, these trains are being built for goods, not people. We need to build faster lines to move people. Wasting oil to fly people from Rochester to the Twin Cities or from Allentown to New York, is foolish.

Veto OVERRIDDEN!

Wow. I did not expect the MN House to override Pawlenty's veto of the transportation bill.

The House voted 91-41, one more than it needed to hand Pawlenty a stinging defeat. For years, the governor has fought any sort of tax increase to pay for road improvements, arguing instead to borrow for most of that work.

The bill would increase gas taxes, metro sales taxes and vehicle license tab fees to pay for $6.6 billion in road, bridge and transit construction projects over the next 10 years. The House and Senate passed it Thursday, only to watch Pawlenty follow up on a promise to veto it Friday.

This is huge and will help the metro area expand mass transit - something we MUST do as RAPIDLY as possible as gas prices continue to increase.

Power of Multimedia

MN Legislature

If I was asked what was wrong with this country in a debate when I was running for President, I might answer that too few people know how their governments function and how to get involved.

I got an email explaining the 2008 MN Leg session I'll share with you:

The Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to return for the second year of the 85th session at noon, Feb. 12.

According to the State Constitution, the Legislature is allowed 120 days over the biennium in which to get its work completed. Last year, it took 75 legislative days, leaving 45 days for this year’s work. Legislators must complete their work by the first Monday after the third Saturday in May, or May 19.

Traditionally, the second year of the biennium is commonly known as the “bonding year,” and is reserved for consideration of investment in capital projects. Local units of government, higher education systems and state agencies have submitted proposals totaling more than $3 billion. However, to stay within debt service guidelines, the general obligation bonding cap is likely to be around $965 million, an amount the governor has proposed. Once the February Economic Forecast is released, the bonding number could be adjusted.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls) and House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) have announced committee deadlines in the House. They are:

  • March 14 - committees act favorably on bills in the house of origin;
  • March 19 - committees act favorably on bills or companions that met the first deadline in the other body; and
  • March 28 - committees act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills.

Committees are to meet as scheduled in the afternoon of the first day of session. However, no committee meetings will be held before 3 p.m. Feb. 13 due to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s State of the State Address in St. Cloud.

If there are any questions you have, I could try to find an answer...

Super Tues Wrapup

Michelle, Kim, and I all went out to caucus last night. Well, we really were treating it like a primary as we did not stick around to do the actual caucus type stuff. We just waited with thousands of other people to violate the Jr. High fire code and cast our Presidential Preference ballot and returned home to ignore the results until this morning.

Waking up this morning, I was thrilled to see Obama was very strong in Minnesota. I was deeply saddened to see how well Clinton did elsewhere though. My colleague at work noted that Obama's loss in California may have been influenced by absentee ballots cast before the Obama surge and latino anti-black racism.

In talking with another co-worker we discussed how many GLBT (gay) groups go heavily for Clinton - perhaps reflecting the traditional animosity between the black community and gay groups.

But overall, I still believe this race is firmly not about race or sex and those factors will not overly sway the final result. Similarly, I think Romney's failures cannot be attributed to his religion - and I think that speaks tremendously for a country that could not have imagined these three candidates competing just 25 years ago.

A story from the Washington Post noted:

Clinton appeared before supporters in New York shortly before the polls closed in California, thanking her supporters for voting "not just to make history, but to remake America." Saying that Republicans want "eight more years of the same," she added, "They've got until January 20th, 2009, and not one day more." She also presented herself as a candidate who "won't let anyone Swift-boat this country's future."

Obama, who was in Chicago, came out later and, while congratulating Clinton on her successes, drew a contrast with his rival, saying voters in November deserve a clear choice between the Republican and Democratic nominees.

"It's a choice between going into this election with Republicans and independents already united against us, or going against their nominee with a campaign that has united Americans of all parties, from all backgrounds, from all races, from all religions, around a common purpose," he said. "It's a choice between having a debate with the other party about who has the most experience in Washington, or having one about who is most likely to change Washington, because that's a debate that we can win."

I continue to be confused by half the Democratic party. They claim they want a change in Washington but line up behind the establishment candidate that has taken - by a large amount - the most lobbyist money. They claim they want to end the war in Iraq but line up behind the candidate most responsible for it.

Obama offers leadership. I also wrote true, but that would have been redundant. Hillary might do a better job than McCain though on some issues, but I certainly think he would break more with the current President's style and policy than she will. But Hillary has never shown leadership qualities. McCain used to but they may be gone for good. Only Obama offers leadership in the form of a person who makes hard decisions and is willing to strikes compromises without giving away the farm.

The Clinton campaign offers more politics as usual. It may be nice to get "even" with conservatives by electing someone they hate as much as we hate Bush but it does not move us forward.

Bridges

So, 2 days before the I-35E bridge collapsed, the Pioneer Press ran a story about the proposed Central Corridor light rail line. I'm a huge supporter - I frequently ride the bus along that corridor now (it connects downtown St. Paul to downtown Mpls via the University of Minnesota). Turns out the Washington Bridge over the Mississippi will not support the weight of light rail. This is obviously a larger concern now that bridges are in the fore-front of our minds.

The bridge carries 45 mph traffic (2 lanes in each direction), bikes, and pedestrians currently. So that will need to be reinforced if they stick to the current plan.

Minneapolis mayor Rybak (Dem) and Minnesota Governor Pawlenty (Repub) met today to talk about the new bridge over the Mississippi. I was hoping they would incorporate a transit-friendly design.

Both the governor and mayor say they are looking at transit options that would include the potential for light-rail transit or designated bus lanes to be built into the bridge's design.

They have thought ahead, so that is good. Especially because this bridge will be designed to last 100 years. If that works, the damn thing will still be around when nothing runs on oil ... can you imagine?

Bridge is out

I woke up early this morning and biked over to the site to see if I could get any decent photos to put up here. I never found a decent vantage point though, they have the area secured all around there - the 10th Str bridge is closed, the U ped bridge south of that is closed, and the Stone Arch bridge was similarly off limits.

I biked fully around it as the sun rose. The little bit I did see was surreal, there is something about seeing it live that really brings it home - we have all seen crazy shit on TV but seeing this massive bridge crumpled and the supports all splayed around is just crazy.

I've been following a fair amount of the commentary surrounding this disaster. Russell sent me my two favorite stories on it - Wonkette was the funniest. Listening to national coverage of this event is interesting - the many little things they get wrong.

The other article comes from Nick Coleman in the Star Tribune. He discusses the many ways in which political decisions lead to these disasters and we need to grapple with that.

Always a glutton for punishment, I tuned into Jason Lewis's show talk radio show. He is a local conservative talk show host - one of the ones who accuses leftists of being socialists. I doubt that he actually knows what a socialist is - except that they hate freedom.

At any rate, he hated Nick Coleman's piece. He suggested that the real reason highway maintenance has been deferred year after year is because we are spending too much money on light rail trains and the Department of Health and Human Services. Though I strongly disagree with him on what we should spend money on, he raises a valid point.

Decisions about deferring maintenance come down to fiscal priorities. Any discussion about how to allocate money is inherently political - thus those who say we should not politicize these tragedies miss the point that we have to discuss how to allocate our resources. Decisions like whether we want to build functional levies in New Orleans or earthquake-resistant highways in California are political and will always be. And those decisions will both directly and indirectly lead to death (or avoiding it). This is why politics is FUCKING IMPORTANT.

Now, in Minnesota, MNDoT has been allocating money to building new roads and not enough to maintaining old ones. That being said, bridges collapse sometimes - we could build bridges that collapsed much less frequently but overengineering bridges makes them more expensive - so we have to decide what the balance is. Do we have a bridge collapse once in every 1 billion miles bridge-miles traveled or 10 billion? The difference is going to cost billions of dollars...

I would say we have a decent job of striking that balance though no one wants to hear that when they are touched personally be a tragedy.

My larger problem is hearing Verizon's rep on the radio saying that some 20% of calls for 90 minutes (or something like that) were dropped or could not connect due to heavy use. And then saying that they are proud of the network.

Here we have a disaster which did not knock out any towers or electricity and the cell network was already degraded by some 20%??? What happens when there is tragedy that directly affects thousands, not hundreds? And when it knocks out a bunch of cell towers? Our telecom infrastructure is clearly not up to the task - so we either need to exercise much greater restraint as citizens in emergencies when we want to check on each other (freakin text each other, people! texts use far less network resources) or we need to demand the wireless companies provide better coverage.

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