Yes, you've found it. The only blog in America that doesn't care if Barack Obama uses carrier pigeons or text messaging to announce his vice presidential running mate. As we in the media gear up to cover both political conventions, I worry we'll also lose perspective about where these political factoids fit into the big scheme of things. Yes, the next leader of the free world is an important decision, but the process has been going on for more than two years, and there's the old adage "people don't care until after Labor Day."
Why don't they? Because they're leading real lives.
The rest of us? We're wondering what the heck happened to summer? I just saw May; it was around here somewhere a few minutes ago, and then I open up the newspaper this morning and find this: "With summer ebbing, pools about to close."
In our little neighborhood, we're required to pay for the use of a neighborhood pool, whether we use it or not. We haven't been in years, not since I started calculating how much each trip to the pool cost me. But I had big plans for this year; I was going to stop by the pool every morning before work and get in shape. It didn't happen... again.
Hope springs eternal, but eventually it falls apart. I was going to finish the rebuilding of the backyard deck this year -- the project I started four years ago. The lumber is still in the garage, but I didn't hammer a single nail over the summer. Again.
This was the year I was going to relax and pay more attention to the garden. I only planted peas and broccoli -- cool weather crops that wouldn't take up all my summer -- but I never got around to checking how it turned out. Last week, my wife cut a small piece of the mega-broccoli (long since passed) and put it on my dinner plate. It didn't taste very good.
I was going to build a rain garden and expand the perennial garden, which last year was a sea of bees and butterflies. This year? Not so much. Maybe next year.
Number of new bikes in the garage: 2. Number of summertime evening bike rides: 0.
So many plans, so few summer accomplishments.
How is it that summer can pass so quickly, but a presidential campaign plays out in torturous half speed?
I plan to think about that over the winter.
What was the highlight of your summer?(8 Comments)
Minnesota Public Radio's Melody Ng is in China on vacation, providing News Cut readers with a street-level view of life in Beijing during the Olympics.
8-20-08 The Shuangjing Neighborhood (where we're living). We're off for baked goods this morning. My husband doesn't think our daughter has been eating enough. So we're forgoing our usual breakfast of steamed pork buns and sweet tofu pudding or rice porridge with thousand-year-old eggs, and heading to a Chinese bakery around the corner.
Bakeries of the sort with which we're familiar are new to China. Breads here are steamed, deep fried, or grilled on a flat, hot iron plate. Back when I lived in Xi'an, we also had these small, flat breads that were made by throwing round discs of dough up against the inside wall of what looked like a metal oil drum heated by coal, sitting out in the street. They'd stick to the wall until the bread was thoroughly cooked. So they were baked, but not in a conventional oven. I've never seen an oven in a Chinese apartment before, and I think even now in more modern China, they're very rare in homes.
This bakery has what I think of as Taiwanese style breads and pastries - light, airy pre-sliced breads wrapped in cellophane, and western-like pastries, but of more Asian flavors: almond, coconut, peach, green tea, and lots of red bean. A guy follows us around the small shop carrying a tray and tongs, and when we select an item, he picks it up and places it onto the tray.
I feel silly having this attentive service when I'm buying just two pastries, but it's obviously the way things are done here. The shop is empty of customers as it appears almost every time I pass by, but there are three other women in uniform standing around, on hand to wait on other customers should they materialize. Our puff pastry filled with cream is pretty good. My daughter digs happily into her sticky rice and red bean flat cake.
China's westernesque baking has come a long way since 15 years ago when my teaching partner Amy and I (incredibly stupidly - please don't try this at home!) stuffed a 10" birthday cake down her toilet because we couldn't eat it (it tasted like it was made of lard), and we didn't want our school staff to know we didn't eat it (because they had bought what was probably a very costly gift to celebrate Amy's birthday in the way they figured she was used to).
We, of course, plugged up the toilet and flooded the bathroom floor. I ended up having to take a broom handle to try to break the cake up, which was really difficult because it was so solid. And Amy's apartment smelled rancid for days.
8-20-08 An Olympic requirement. Hard to believe, but I think every cab driver in Beijing has now gone through six months of English lessons. At least, that's what our driver said on the way to the beach volleyball competition the other evening. Mr. Li has been driving taxis for about 30 years now. He's 51, and is looking forward to his forced retirement in four years when he turns 55. He says he speaks no English, that he's "too old" to learn, and that he hasn't needed it for work thus far. But for the past six months, after each of his 10-hour shifts, he's had to sit through two hours of English lessons in preparation for the Olympics and us foreign visitors. To him, that was the only onerous part of hosting the Games in his hometown, but now it's over. Classes ended with the opening ceremonies on 8-8-08 - a very auspicious day for Beijing cab drivers.
Can you imagine Twin Cities cabbies all having to take classes on civics and U.S. government (or the history of the Republican Party) to prepare for the RNC?(4 Comments)
The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis are taking questions on the nuts-and-bolts of how the Republican National Convention affects you.
Q: How bad is it (traffic) going to be?
A: (St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman) There's no question there'll be more traffic. Shepherd Rd. will be open. St. Peter St. will be open. I'd be crazy to say you're not going to see an increase in traffic, but that's part of hosting a convention. People will be able to get to their jobs. People will be able to get to their place of employment.
(Mayor RT Rybak) - On a typical night, we've got 50,000 people in downtown Minneapolis, and many aren't on buses. In this case, we've got people boarding shuttle buses, leaving at 3 and not coming home until 10. It won't affect most people's commute.
Q: What is the situation with Dorothy Day Center?
A: (Coleman) The protest march is going close to the homeless shelter. The free-speech stage is close to their. We're working with Catholic Charities to keep the Center open.
Q: Is it true that persons who use Dorothy Day Center are being moved to the psych ward of a nearby hospital?
Q: Who's monitoring the installed downtown cameras? Will they be monitored outside of St. Paul?
A: (Coleman ) I'm mindful of the Big Brother aspects but when you see how they're used and how effective they are (working on getting drug dealing out of downtown) ... they'll be very helpful. They're being used property. They're monitored in the St. Paul Police Department.
Rybak says no additional cameras were installed in Minneapolis for the convention.
Q: Are there preparations for impromptu protests?
A: Yes. We have the ability to respond. If someone's protesting peacefully on Summit Ave., they have a right to do that. The question is when the protests become something other than that. (Coleman)
Q: Should people expect violence?
A: (Rybak) Nobody can predict, but law enforcement has trained well for it. Expect the unexpected, but this is a community that's used to expressing itself. Rybak says the best way to protest is to register people to vote.
(Coleman) There will be headaches.
Q: Are you bending over backwards to accommodate the protests and handcuffing the police?
A: Nobody who knows what they're talking about would say that. (Coleman)
Q: Will you have enough police officers?
A: (Coleman) Absolutely. We have 620 officers. Minneapolis has 880 officers. In New York, there are 30,000 officers. We formed partnerships with agencies across Minnesota. There are only 10,000 officers in the entire state.
Tangent time: A news release from the Minnesota court system just showed up:
Court officials have cleared many other regular calendars beginning August 27 to enable quick processing of convention related cases. They also plan to hold court over the weekend, and on Labor Day, Monday, September 1, normally a court holiday.
Court officials have been meeting with Minneapolis and Bloomington police, the Hennepin County Sheriff's office and the Hennepin County Attorney's office to plan for the events of convention week.
Tangent time, two - A release from the GOP just showed up. Sen. Norm Coleman to address convention on Wednesday. Gov. Tim Pawlenty will address it on Thursday, not long before McCain.
Q: Why do you rent out public institutions?
A: (Rybak) I'm thrilled to have them rented out during non-business hours. If you look around the entire areas, museums and public facilities will benefit from the money Republicans will spend.
(Coleman) We regularly rent out facilities during the year. It has to be looked at in the context of promoting the area.
Q: is there any need for armed security at my condo?
A: (Rybak) That's up to each association.
Q: I work in downtown St. Paul and I'm concerned I'll be attacked by police or protesters.
A: I object to the idea that the police will be attacking anyone. People are going to be protected and they're going to be safe. (Coleman)
Q: I hear I-94 will be shut down by protesters at Macalester. Is that true?
A: You will hear all sorts of predictions. There are no guarantees. We are prepared for many scenarios, including that one. (Rybak)
We're planning for a convention, not a crisis. (Coleman)
Q: Word on the street is the RNC is not using local sources for many parties, how does this help Minnesota?
A: Rybak: We've pushed that very, very hard. The media party on Saturday night is local. That's one example. A big difference between here and Denver is entertainment and performers. Denver is bringing in big-names. Our entertainment is from local arts.
Q: What are the chances of a law enforcement communications breach, in which things get scrambled?
A: (Coleman) We're prepared to deal with it. We have an 800 mHz system we saw in action during the bridge collapse. People at the highest levels of the Secret Service, FBI, and Homeland Security are looking at every possible scenario. They do this for a living.
Q: I commute to downtown St. Paul on my bike and I work a late shift. I'm concerned with all the drinking, getting mucked by some drunk driver. Why are bikes banned?
A: (Coleman) Vehicular traffic ban includes bikes. The zone is as narrowly defined as could be. You'll be able to walk to the front door of the Ordway. CNBC is broadcasting from Rice Park and we wanted people to be able to see that, too.
The drunk driver issue is interesting, most of these people are going to be transported by buses. We have 350 coaches transporting people.
Q: How many "joints" are going to be open until 4 in the morning?
A: (Rybak) A number of hotels, First Avenue and several others will be open.
(Coleman) My goal was to have a level playing field. We wanted to do what Bloomington and Minneapolis was going to do. There haven't been a lot of "takers" to pay the $2,500 to stay open. I'd like to make it easier for restaurants and bars to stay open.
Q: Can I volunteer? Do they still need help?
A: msp2008.com is where the specific volunteer opportunities are listed.
Q: How can we accommodate protesters if there's no hotels or camping?
A: (Coleman) We had 17,000 rooms booked, there are still rooms available throughout the region.
Q: Where's the best place to see famous people?
A: They're going to be all over the place. Go out and spend a normal night in Minneapolis St. Paul. Go to the fun spots and you'll likely run into somebody.
(Coleman) The large tent across from the Xcel is for broadcasts. CNBC will be at Rice Park.
Q: Is the health care system up to it?
A: There's been a huge emphasis on preparedness for health care. After 9-11 and Katrina, there's been a lot of work on this. When the bridge collapsed, the health care system were deeply woven into the preparedness plan. (Rybak)
I don't know who's at the other end of the camera that just went up in downtown St. Paul at the corner of Seventh and Cedar...
But I wonder if they got nervous when someone walked up to it and took its picture, and I wonder why they'd be nervous -- or at least concerned -- about being photographed.
Did they kick it up the chain of camera command when I walked up two blocks and photographed another? (I don't know why I found the image of the Capitol in the background ironic, but I did).
And then walked another block and took a picture of the one at 10th and Cedar.
Which is about 10 feet away from the ones on the side of the human resources building.
I'm not the only one wondering. On Midday today, a caller asked who is monitoring the cameras and are they being monitored outside of St. Paul. Mayor Chris Coleman said the St. Paul Police Department is monitoring them, and Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak recalled the brouhaha when cameras were installed in his downtown some years ago.
But that was then. Eight, nine years ago, this sort of surveillance was a big deal. But not anymore.
If you want to have some fun during the Republican National Convention, look up, and see if you can spot the people or machines that are watching you.
The issue is being debated on St. Paul's e-democracy.org forum.
Many people don't give a hoot if they're legal. They're creepy, they are unwelcoming, they're a boon to those who want to stalk downtown residents (imagine having a camera with public access to the feed watching your home 24/7), and they ought to be sold on eBay after the convention.
Before we adopt our own "Operation Sentinel" (the name given NYC's plan to watch everyone all the time everywhere), why hasn't there been a public discussion of the decision to make them permanent? How did accepting the money to pay for temporary but necessary security measures turn into permanent surveillance?
Ward 2 City Council member Dave Thune says after the convention is over, there will be a public discussion on whether they should stay.(5 Comments)
Residents of some of the smaller counties in the metro area got a chance today to see if the increase in the sales tax is going to make any difference in their counties. We're talking about you, Washington County.
Rather than individually administer their sales tax money -- the right to increase it was given to the counties in the same bill that raised the state's gas tax -- Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota and Washington counties voted to pool their loot.
At a public hearing last April, most residents of the smallest county -- Washington -- urged county commissioners not to approve the tax increase, partly because there was no guarantee the newly-created Counties Transit Improvement Board -- dominated by the big counties -- wouldn't just take the money and spend it in their own counties. Similar thoughts were echoed in Anoka County.
Today, that theory got put to the test. The board voted to spend $270 million in future sales tax money to building the Central Corridor light rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. It also voted to spend future money on the Northstar commuter rail, which is under construction; and rapid bus lines along Cedar Ave. and I-35W.
Washington County got nothing. Hennepin County residents will see a decrease in that portion of their property tax paid to the Hennepin County Rail Authority.(1 Comments)