P.O. Pears is Back. Kind of.

By: Mr. Wilson on August 29, 2008
New owner Monte Froehlich will reopen P.O. Pears this fall as an "event-type business". It will be open on game days and for other special events and private parties. It's not quite what Lincoln's Pears-lovers would like to see, but it's a start. I wonder how much of its original character the restaurant has retained given that most, if not all, of its eclectic collection of decorations was auctioned off. And how 'bout the food, will it be the same? If you're curious, plan to find out for yourself around the time of Nebraska's third football game on September 13.

High School Football is in Season

By: Mr. Wilson on August 29, 2008
While most folks are focused on that other team, local high schools are gearing up for their football seasons, too. In fact, East kicked off their season last night. I don't typically follow high school football, but I may start this season. One of my cousins is supposed to start for Southwest this year. I may even take Robbie to his first-ever football game tonight as Southwest takes on Fremont. Do you have a favorite high school football team this year? Who is going to take the city championship?

Keith Prettyman’s Telling Slips

By: Mr. Wilson on August 28, 2008
It was just two little slip-ups, easy enough to miss among the rest of the article. But to me, School Board member Keith Prettyman's words speak volumes. From the article: School board member Keith Prettyman suggested if Hunzeker and others "want to play the game of teachers versus roads," they might lose. Do you see it? Several members of my family are employed in education and I was once on my way toward a career in education, so it jumps out to me. "It" is Prettyman's emphasis on "teachers". Not students. Not education. Teachers. Prettyman also frames a revenue loss -- read the article for details -- as being equivalent to 150 teacher salaries. Not opportunities for students. Teacher salaries. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that Mr. Prettyman's focus is misplaced. Frankly, I don't care about teachers, and neither should you, except to the extent they advance student learning and achievement. That's where I care deeply about teachers. If teachers are an end (as Mr. Prettyman portrays them) rather than a means, then we are doing something very, very wrong. Let me strongly emphasize that I'm not saying that teachers are unimportant. Good teachers are not just important, they are critical. But teachers are just one tool we rely on to help educate our kids. We oughtn't focus on the importance of their employment; we ought to focus on the importance of their task. Considering the power of their position, this is especially true for policymakers. (By the way, the whole "tool" metaphor can be taken too far. Many education policies treat teachers exactly as tools -- as script-reading robots, basically -- stripping them of their humanity and their ability to be effective. Don't take my use of the word literally.) The words we use are important. They tell others about our interests and priorities, among other things. Sometimes we goof and use words that imply things we didn't really mean. I'm hopeful that's what happened here. I encourage Mr. Prettyman and other School Board members to work on better framing their words -- and more importantly, their policy decisions -- around the real goals we are pursuing.

Little Turbines, Big Eyesores?

By: Mr. Wilson on August 27, 2008
Current zoning restrictions in Lincoln all but prevent homeowners from placing small wind turbines on their property. Some people would like to see those rules changed. It wasn't all that long ago that people accepted large television antennas and satellite dishes on roofs and in back yards. Would people also accept the "unsightliness" of wind turbines? Would you? It's probably a moot point for me. I don't think I could get enough wind on my property on a regular basis to justify the cost of a turbine. Nor could most of my neighbors. I could go for some nice solar panels -- or better yet, solar shingles -- though.

One Year Before the Big Farewell

By: Mr. Wilson on August 26, 2008
The State Fair had a big weekend. I'm not surprised. Combine great weather with the impending move and you've got yourself a recipe for some healthy attendance numbers. Did you go? Are you planning to go? As an aside, have any of you noticed that a good proportion of people seem to think this is the State Fair's last year in Lincoln?

The Perils of Design Standards

By: Mr. Wilson on August 26, 2008
I don't think I have commented lately (if at all) on the question of whether the Antelope Valley Project needs design standards for buildings that will be built in the area. The proposed design standards have been developed in order to ensure a sense of consistency and, for lack of a better word, "neatness" in the area. The standards would control everything from parking to lot layout to building materials. I can certainly understand why a community would want to develop design standards for an area into which a tremendous amount of community resources have been (and will continue to be) thrust. Who wants to put a good fraction of a billion dollars into a region only to see it immediately cluttered by a bunch of bugly buildings, poorly planned parking lots, and so on? On the flip side, I hope we don't really want to spend all that money to end up with block after block of cookie cutter designs. We have Williamsburg for that. Such inorganic development reeks of artificiality and has less staying power than a more dynamic environment. I have a lot I could say about all of this, but not much time. So I will simply toss these questions out to you. What do the design standards get right? Where do they go too far? Should the City even be involved in regulating some of these issues?

A Solution to Troublesome Teenagers

By: Mr. Wilson on August 25, 2008
It's nice to see the Journal Star run a lengthy article on some of the potential downsides to Nebraska's "safe haven" law. I briefly mentioned the problems back in January. I have a couple questions that maybe some of you can answer for me. Let's take an 18 year-old ward of the state. When he turns 19 and becomes independent, does the state give him anything? Money for college? Help finding a job? Anything at all? I'm pretty sure I've heard that wards of the state don't get much, but it seems like they do get something. I just don't know what. Is it enough that it would actually be advantageous for a poor enough family to exploit as a kind of loophole? Of course that sort of thing is (probably) unlikely. I say "probably" only because no other state is goofy enough to have a law like ours, so it's impossible to know if anybody will take advantage of the odder possibilities our law allows. To me, that uncertainty is good enough reason to tighten up the law. Do we really want to get involved in the bizarre legal hassles that could arise?

Today’s Haul From the Garden

By: Mr. Wilson on August 24, 2008
I pulled all of these tasty treats out of the garden just now. That is a lot of peppers and chiles From left to right and top to bottom:
  • Red bell
  • Italian roasters (a bit like an anaheim, but I like the flavor better)
  • Cayenne
  • Cherry bomb
  • Hungarian yellow wax
  • Jalapeno
  • Serrano
  • Habanero
So, uhh, what am I going to do with all of these? If you want some, let me know.

College Rankings

By: Mr. T on August 24, 2008
Forbes magazine recently released its list of the country’s best colleges. Like the U.S. News and World Report list, the Princeton Review list, and others, the Forbes’ rankings are based on debatable criteria. In Forbes’ case, its based on online student student evaluations of lecturers (which I find a little suspect), among other things:
To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP (mostly college students themselves) gathered data from a variety of sources. They based 25% of the rankings on 7 million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site RateMyProfessors.com. Another 25% depends on how many of the school's alumni, adjusted for enrollment, are listed among the notable people in Who's Who in America. The other half of the ranking is based equally on three factors: the average amount of student debt at graduation held by those who borrowed; the percentage of students graduating in four years; and the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.
Also, of note, unlike other rankings that divide up schools by “national universities” versus smaller liberal arts colleges, the Forbes rankings took a very global approach and threw the smaller, private teaching colleges in with the big land grant schools and everything in between. Results for Nebraska? Out of 569 institutions, two local schools did very well: Doane came in at 59 and Nebraska Wesleyan came in at 78. On the other hand, heavyweight University of Nebraska-Lincoln got a 483.

The Band Gets New Threads

By: Mr. Wilson on August 23, 2008
Robbie, grandpa, and grandma at the exhibition Robbie and I went with my parents to the Cornhusker Marching Band's annual post-band camp exhibition at Memorial Stadium last night. (Actually, first Robbie and I introduced my parents to the joys of Roost. My dad had the "Hai-Yaah", my mom had the "Grape Escape" as a salad, and I had the "Ol' Red". We all three really enjoyed our meals.) At first Robbie wasn't quite sure why he was there. Robbie, grandpa, and grandma at the exhibition Thousands of people filled the seats in Memorial Stadium's west side. Robbie, grandpa, and grandma at the exhibition Finally, Robbie noticed something was about to happen. Robbie, grandpa, and grandma at the exhibition And the band took the field! Perhaps the most interesting news of the night -- at least in the short time we were able to stay -- was that the band will don brand new uniforms this fall. The current "coats and capes" were introduced back in 1981 (I think), and though award-winning at the time, were definitely showing their age. The current "hot coats" (used on hot days) were introduced around 1999. It wasn't clear from the announcement which uniforms the new ones will replace, nor was it clear if the new uniforms are a completely new design. I left with the impression that the band will start the 2008 season with an entirely new look, but I guess we'll find out for sure next Saturday. Go Big Red!

The Threat of a County Arena

By: Mr. Wilson on August 22, 2008
I'm having a hard time getting worked up, as Mayor Beutler is, over the Lancaster County Agricultural Society's plans "to someday possibly build an arena" that might compete with the City's hoped-for arena in the Haymarket (which might someday possibly be built, if voters approve). Yeah, the multiple layers of hypotheticals hurt my head, too. Here are the basics. Mayor Beutler wants the City Council to block a 14-acre development near 84th and Havelock that would include a motel, restaurant, and similar businesses. The Ag Society thinks it would be easier to attract events if that sort of development were located near the Event Center. (They're probably right, though that sort of development is already oozing its way down 84th Street even without this particular project.) The Ag Society also, at some point, wants to build a smallish arena at the Event Center. The City is worried about a 6,000 seat arena competing with their plans in the Haymarket; the Ag Society says they're thinking more along the lines of 3,500 - 4,000 seats. The Mayor's thinking is that if the development is blocked, the arena is blocked (or at least slowed enough that the Haymarket plan can get off the ground first). To summarize: the Mayor wants to halt an economic development opportunity because it will attract future economic development opportunities that will distract people from his unapproved and still hypothetical pet project elsewhere in the city. That probably isn't fair. I can understand why Mayor Beutler is nervous. But he needs to understand that his view of the future of Lincoln isn't the only one out there. The Ag Society's plans are a win for Lincoln; Mayor Beutler's plans for the Haymarket are a win for Lincoln. That his instinct is to pit the two plans against one another rather than to pursue a way for them to work together is an example of poor leadership and narrow thinking. This doesn't need to be a matter of either/or. Lincoln can have both projects and see both of them succeed. Let's find a way to get there. Discuss.

The Rebirth of Trago Park

By: Mr. Wilson on August 22, 2008
Most Lincolnites probably don't know where Trago Park is located -- south of Vine Street adjacent to the Beadle Center and the Malone Center -- but I used to live within a block of it, so I'm eager to see its new look. I'm particularly curious about the park's "sprayground", the likes of which have never been seen before in Lincoln. Mayor Beutler will turn it on today at 4:00pm. Previously the park was a well-used but relatively relaxing place ... as long as you didn't linger too late into the night. Soon it will be bordered by a six-lane road. I wonder if it will still feel so laid back? It seems like the answer would be no, but then Antelope Park is a great park and it sits right next to Capitol Boulevard. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Vowel Swapping: Leno Becomes Lina

By: Mr. Wilson on August 22, 2008
I'm getting this information third-hand so get those grains of salt ready, but I've been told that Mr. Leno near 70th and O is soon to become Lina's. I know not all of you are crazy about Lina's, but as I have mentioned several times, my family enjoys going there fairly regularly. If this is true, congratulations to the folks behind Lina's for their success!

A Fool With a Plan

By: Mr. Wilson on August 21, 2008
T. Boone Pickens was in town yesterday to sell his energy plans. Lincoln was one stop of many in his tour across the country to convince Americans to decrease our "foreign oil" addiction. LES's Doug Bantam makes an excellent point:
One of our biggest concerns is the intermittency of the wind and for ever wind turbine that you put in, there has to be a resource there to back it up.
Quite true. Investment in energy storage solutions is so far not a part of the PickensPlan -- or at least not a part Pickens has deemed worth talking about. Yet without the ability to store the energy generated by turbines, wind can only supplement, not replace, conventional energy sources. That's not nothing, of course. But it introduces the cost of maintaining redundant infrastructure, a cost which isn't talked about very often. Electricity storage solutions are in the works, but they still have a long ways to go. They need lots of help -- whether from Pickens or anybody else who wants to make a buck off the energy transition. Personally, I'm rooting for solar shingles on every roof combined with a fuel cell in the basement. That'll be a good day. As for the title of this post, it comes from Pickens' folksy line that "a fool with a plan is better than a genius with no plan". I'm not so sure about that. But then, Pickens is no fool. He just plays one on TV.
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