High-Impact Drinking

By: Mr. Wilson on August 17, 2011
I'm trying to figure out the circumstances in which bars are large enough contributors to traffic between 4:00pm and 6:00pm that they justify $12,000 worth of extra impact fees each year. We're supposed to believe that out of all the traffic on the road for that two hour period, bars disproportionately contribute to the load. Hogwash. The actual big contributors are more likely schools, offices, and homes. Supposedly the extra impact fees placed on bars are "based on national data showing average traffic for specific businesses between 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.". I have a hard time believing that bars are really that popular during those hours. Then again, I'm not a bar-goer. In addition I've lived in a college town my entire life so I'm used to college town sorts of drinking patterns. For all I know going to the bar from 4 to 6 is perfectly normal but it gets buried in the noise of college drinking habits. While thinking about this I realized it could be pretty neat to see some local data regarding trip origin and trip destination based on time of day. One could do some pretty neat visualizations if you had enough data. Imagine a "heat map" of Lincoln showing how traffic patterns flow around town. It'd be easy enough to do one type of analysis based on simple traffic counts. In fact, I have no doubt the City already uses that sort of data. Would that analysis show the same results as one that actually follows individual vehicles along its route? If we levied impact fees on homes and businesses based on actual origin and destination data, who would have the biggest impacts at various times of day?

For Whom the School Bell Tolls

By: Mr. Wilson on August 16, 2011
Today marks my first day in my new role as Principal of Elm Street Schoolhouse. I've never been a principal before. You might think my inexperience would have disqualified me but what can I say, I was the only applicant for the job. Our school has an enrollment of two, one each in kindergarten and preschool. Our student population is 75% black and 25% white. We have a student/faculty ratio of 1:1. That also happens to be the ratio of students to swings on our playground. Zero percent of our students are domiciled with their biological parents. Each student has a fully individualized education plan. In addition to core subjects, our students take electives in: domestic animal care; cross-generational communications; home economics; etiquette; personal grooming; napping; and more. The students will spend exactly zero minutes on standardized testing this year. We've been planning for this day for a couple years now. It feels weird that it's finally here. We are very excited and we're looking forward to an awesome school year!

She Took My Red Stapler

By: Mr. Wilson on August 16, 2011
Now that we know LPS employee Sharon Brewster is accused of setting the fire that torched LPS's district officers, we can get to the real questions I've had for a while now. Namely, what have been investigators been up to for the past several weeks? How did they narrow down their search? What led to the various breaks in the case? In other words, I'm ready to hear about all the juicy CSI stuff. But for now at least we have an arrest in the case. Hopefully it's the correct arrest. Maybe she even has $20 million in the bank so she can pay full restitution. Er, well, probably not. That sure would make an interesting twist to the story though, wouldn't it?

Another Sports Complex That Probably Won’t Happen…

By: Mr. Wilson on August 15, 2011
Ayars & Ayars have proposed a new sports complex to be situated southeast of Park Boulevard and Van Dorn Street. The complex would consist of baseball and softball fields, along with buildings dedicated to baseball/softball, volleyball, wrestling, and swimming. Unfortunately, the proposal will likely not come to fruition for many years, if ever. That's not a dig on Ayars & Ayars, or anybody else for that matter. It's just that lofty proposals for sports complexes around here tend to fizzle. But hey, I'm all for lofty dreams. I would love to see this complex happen. One question that popped immediately to mind is how this complex jives with longstanding dreams of a sports complex north of the Haymarket. I hope the ideas are compatible, lest we wind up with an unproductive battle over which idea is more worthwhile. You've got to give the planners credit for one thing: the location is excellent. It has easy access to Highway 2 and Highway 77, plus the Jamaica North trail. The land is out-of-the-way and not attractive for a lot of others uses. There aren't residential neighbors nearby to worry about. It's in a flood plain, but one that hasn't (to my knowledge) flooded very often. The biggest downside I can think of is that there's only one entrance/exit. Who knows, maybe our kids (or our kids' kids) will one day play ball at Ayars Park.

Suspension of Disbelief

By: Mr. Wilson on August 12, 2011
This press release from Lincoln Police Department is interesting enough for how many people were arrested after a concentrated effort to clear up a backlog of outstanding warrants. But look down int he second paragraph. Seven officers in a "saturation detail" picked up a whopping five people for driving under suspension. Think about that for a moment. Those five people weren't targeted in any specific way. They just happen to have been among drivers caught doing something -- even a minor something -- wrong. If seven officers can happen upon five people driving under suspension, imagine how many other drivers are out there on suspended licenses.

Too Many Taken Away

By: Mr. Wilson on August 11, 2011
Advocates for families of children who have been removed from the home met with DHHS officials recently to discuss concerns that Nebraska is too quick to remove children, and that families' rights are being abused. Those are relatively common complaints about Nebraska's child welfare system. Indeed, trying to decrease the number of children in out-of-home foster care is one of the reasons why Nebraska has moved toward privatizing services. I'll repeat a request I've made before: show me the cases. The family advocates like to cite numbers -- e.g. that Nebraska removes 7.5 of 1,000 kids compared to a nationwide average of 3.4 per 1,000 -- but rarely, if ever, do they cite real circumstances. I have no doubt -- none -- that Nebraska gets some of these cases wrong. I don't doubt for a second that some kids shouldn't have been removed, or they shouldn't have been out of the home for as long as they were, or that a family's rights were abused. But come on, Family Advocacy Movement (and others)! Numbers alone aren't going to get you anywhere. Surely you can find a handful of families willing to share their story. Let's hear about them. It's not just a marketing strategy. If they can't cite actual situations then why should I or anyone else believe them? Given the lack of evidence they've presented, it's just as easy to argue that the numbers represent Nebraska's activism on behalf of children while other states are willing to let them languish in terrible home situations. Some people argue exactly that. I'm not in a position to know who's right and who's wrong. My perspective is limited to my tiny little window into the state's child welfare system. Our lone case has its fair share of errors that have benefited and hurt various parties. I have seen evidence of one case in which the children arguably went back home too soon; on the flip side, I haven't yet seen evidence of kids removed when they shouldn't have been. Again, I'm limited in how much of the system I can observe. To get back on point, I know the Family Advocacy Movement and others like them are presenting a message that needs to be heard. Well, not just heard but acted upon. However their message right now is very weak. They've got a lot of work to do if they're going to convince anyone that their numbers are anything more than just, well, numbers.

Steve Joel’s Five Percent

By: Mr. Wilson on August 10, 2011
At a time when Lincolnites' income growth rates are among the lowest in the country and teachers are set to receive a 1.75 percent pay raise, the Lincoln Board of Education wants to give Superintendent Steve Joel an extra five-and-a-quarter percent. The question we voters have to answer is: is that fair? If you're looking for a definitive answer, don't look at me. I'm terrible about salary decisions. For example I would do Joel's job with a grin on my face and a bounce in my step for a heck of a lot less than a quarter million bucks annually. But I'm not qualified for the gig so that's somewhat of a moot point. Besides, the Board has more to think about than how much the lowest bidder would be willing to receive for the work. The timing of the proposal could have been better. The economy stinks; property taxes are about to go up on the City side; schools face ridiculous expectations with inadequate funding; and so on. Deserving or not, giving Joel a raise that substantial just doesn't look good. Why don't the best teachers see a raise of that magnitude? (Oh right, merit pay is widely shot down by teachers unions. sigh) In the end, I find myself fence-sitting, a position I don't find particularly comfortable. Perhaps some of you can pull me one way or the other. Should the Board's proposal pass?

Is The Super Fair Super ... Or Fair?

By: Mr. Wilson on August 8, 2011
The Wilsons went to the so-called Super Fair on Saturday. I apologize for not having photos. I'm horrible about taking my camera places. I'll be upgrading my phone in the next month or so to a model with a very nice camera. Then I'll have no excuses. Today's county fair is way bigger than it was back in my days as a 4-H'er. For the most part that's a good thing. There was no midway when I was a kid, for example. Nor were there concerts or racing pigs or large model railroad displays. Indeed, relative to the Lancaster County Fair of twenty years ago, this fair is pretty impressive. We were pretty disappointed with this year's midway. It has been advertised as having "More rides. More games. More excitement in 2011!" Yet if I'm not mistaken the midway takes up significantly less space than last year's midway. In fact, several weeks back Gateway had a midway of sorts in its parking lot during Lemon Days and it was only marginally smaller than this year's fair midway. Yet demand for rides seemed reasonable as there was a huge, 70 yard long line at the one and only ticket booth on Saturday night. Having only one ticket booth was a tremendous blunder. Our group of twelve took one look at the line and headed for our cars. Entrance to this year's fair costs $2.00, representing the first time there's ever been an entrance fee for the county fair. (Entrance is free if you've grabbed tickets from Casey's or Russ's. We had free tickets.) Considering the new fee we assumed there would be many new features this year. If there were, we missed them. The 4-H exhibits were the same; the vendor exhibition hall was the same; the outdoor activities were about the same. I think there might be more bands playing this year, but that's not something that benefits our family very much. In the end, as it pertains to our family's situation the new $2 entrance fee (had we paid it) only got us a smaller midway. Meh. If it sounds like I'm picking on the fair pretty hard, well, I am and I'm not. We still had fun as we do every year. My beef is that the whole "Super Fair" designation is a misnomer right now. It's a very arrogant title and one that requires a lot of oomph to back up. Right now the product just don't match the claims. Perhaps it'll get there some day. On a side note, the fair's website is horrid. It's ugly, it's disorganized, and the content is often inaccurate. (Honest admission: this website sucks too. Cobbler's kids, shoes, etc.) Here's an example: what time do Bush Hawg and Gallagher perform? I don't know what they paid for that website, but it was too much. If anybody involved with the fair wants to talk about the website and how to make it awesome for next year, give me a call.

Get Your Fried Batter On

By: Mr. Wilson on August 5, 2011
In case you missed out, the Lancaster County Fair -- er, sorry, "Super Fair" -- is now open. And as per tradition, their website still inhales. What is it about fairs and restaurants that requires them to have crappy websites? The Wilsons are headed to the fair tomorrow evening. We like to go at least once each year. It's free, after all. (You DID pick up your advance tickets, didn't you? If not it's $2 at the gate.) We'll wander around, maybe ride a couple rides, play fair food Russian roulette, and just generally goof around. That's what fairs are for. If you're going to be around tomorrow evening, be sure to say hello if you see us. We won't be hard to pick out of the crowd. I'm the bald guy with the hot blonde wife, a squirrely 8 year old brown-haired kid, a scrawny brown-skinned 5 year old with a love for trains, and a 4 year old who runs like a linebacker. You can't miss us.

When the Weather Gives You Lemons

By: Mr. Wilson on August 3, 2011
It has been hot in Lincoln this summer. Between the high temps and lots of bored kids sitting around the house, that means it's lemonade stand season. Or at least one would think. I haven't actually seen any lemonade stands around town this summer. Maybe that's because I sit on my backside in my basement working most of the day. There could be stands all over town for all I know. Back to my point. You see the sad scene on CNN every summer: Little Susie is crying, mom is angry, faceless government agent says he's just doing his job. I'm curious if you know of any would-be entrepreneurs who have ever run into troubles in Lincoln with evil government bureaucrats over a lemonade stand. My impression has always been that the powers that be politely look the other way when it comes to six year-olds with a pitcher and a stack of styrofoam cups. When I was a youngster I used to make a mint selling Kool-Aid and cookies, especially at garage sales. I would like my kids to be able to do the same, if that's the sort of thing they're into. So do lemonade stands and the like still happen around Lincoln?
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