When it’s time to give up (5×8 – 7/16/12)

The business of intervening in teen violence, a week of fire, are we changing our attitudes about our lawns, tugs on TV, and the Color Run up close.

The Monday Morning Rouser:


When is it time to walk? And when is it time to walk away? This has been a terrible summer in some of the nation’s cities as young people keep killing young people. In Chicago, a preacher isn’t giving up…In Minneapolis, K.G. Wilson is giving up. “We have to stop bickering about who is going to get what funding and what money and let’s save some of the lives of our children,” Wilson said of others in the city who work on youth intervention groups. He’s done.


It’s hot and it’s dry in many parts of the country, and the wildfire season has already been a tough one. Now, a Concordia College professor, Scott Olsen, is spending a week profiling the people who not only fight the fires, but also the people who have to make the decision who will get what firefighting capability.

His blog, A Week in Fire, is up with a couple of posts already.

Yesterday, on my way here, when I crossed the 100th meridian–for many people the beginning of the West–near Steele, North Dakota, just east of Bismarck, I saw grains and soy beans. Clear sunny sky. Cottonball cumulous clouds. There was nothing to suggest a fire story here, or a fire history.

East of Bismarck by 20 miles, though, a haze grew thicker in the air. At first I thought it was just summer haze, the soft focus of heat or, if it were later in the year, the dust of harvest. But the farther I drove into this, the more I believed it was smoke. Smoke from wildfires in the mountains now drifting slowly over the prairies.

You can smell woodsmoke. You can feel it against the corner of your eyes. The fires near Colorado Springs and the fires near Ashland are over, but they are not out. They are contained, but they smolder. This was not dense smoke–I could see through it to the horizon–but it reminded me that what happens in one place is never an isolated event. The haze thinned, then came back even thicker.

It’s been the worse wildfire season in decades and there’s not much good coming out of it, the Washington Post says. The “fire deficit” built up because we got good at suppressing them. But now there’s a lot of built-up fuel for them, and when they burn, they’ll release a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide.

Ironically, there was one benefit of the buildup of understudy fuel: It allowed native plants to grow tall and thick, blocking sunlight from light-hungry invasive species — also introduced by humans — on the ground level. Falling leaves and brush from native plants also suppresses the growth of weeds. As a result, the Western forests have more successfully resisted the invasion of nonnative plants than most other areas.

This presents a conundrum for fire management officials. For the past couple of decades, they have started controlled fires to burn away the excess fuel and prevent catastrophic wildfires. In the late 1990s, however, officials called off controlled burns in parts of California after noticing the alarmingly rapid growth of cheatgrass, an invasive weed. Officials now have to balance between the risk of destructive wildfires and the effects of invasive plants.


How we treat our lawns — especially in the suburbs — is a societal barometer. Our lawns often make us forgo all logic. For three weeks of massive heat, many of my neighbors have been mowing lawns, only to see them dry up shortly thereafter. I haven’t mowed my lawn in five or six weeks.

It’s not the prettiest lawn on the block, but it’s not a well-manicured hunk of brown, either.

To counter their decision to mow, they pour tons of water on it, essentially growing grass in the desert.

This has been the tradition of the ‘burbs since they plowed under the first cornfield. So a story in the Pioneer Press today is noteworthy. Water use in Woodbury has dropped despite the heat wave. The city has had water-use restrictions for years, but lawns were too important for laws. But water use per person has dropped 21 percent.

“Whether it’s an indication of the conservation rates or the education outreach or the enforcement, I don’t know,” the city’s utility boss said. “Probably a combination. But we have been consistent with it.”

This needs more investigation.


The tugboaters of the Great Lakes had to end up on a reality show sooner or later. This week, the History Channel debuts Great Lake Warriors. Duluth is well represented:

The Duluth-based Heritage Marine is one of three tugboat operations profiled in the series, the Duluth News Tribune says.

Related: About 12 years ago, MPR profiled a tugboat crew that works the Mississippi. My favorite takeaway: The crews weren’t allowed to get off the boat in Saint Paul because they might go get drunk.


In the color run, held yesterday in Saint Paul, runners get doused with colors at various checkpoints, and a color bomb at the end. Why? It’s summer in Minnesota. Who need a “why?”

Here’s some Color Run images from around the country…

In Madison Lake, meanwhile, they need a “why.” The idea of a “bikini parade” isn’t going over real big, the Mankato Free Press says.

Bonus I: David Levinson at Streets.mn theorizes on closing Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis…

Based on evidence about induced demand, some traffic would disappear and some traffic would reroute to alternatives. Substitute routes should see an increase in total traffic. My guess is the most affected route would be Lyndale. If my posited design were implemented, short sections of 22nd, 24th, 25th, and 26th Streets would also see more traffic as travelers from the North peel off from Lyndale to reach places on Hennepin that would have been accessed differently.

There would be fewer traffic conflicts at the remaining Hennepin Avenue intersections, though it wouldn’t go to zero, as sections of the route would still be open.

Bonus II: It’s great that so many people love soccer, but why do soccer fans insist on trying to convert those who don’t? Today’s MPR commentary says soccer requires a different approach.

The U.S. soccer team didn’t qualify for the Olympics, which — the Los Angeles Times says today — is when the difference between the haves and have-not in sports in this country come into focus. Synchronized swimming? Handball? Field hockey? We’re not real good at that sort of thing.

Bonus III: A good reason to root against all of England at the Olympics. The cops pulled the plug on Springsteen and McCartney because of a curfew violation over the weekend.


The 2012 presidential race has become the most expensive in history. Political advertising is likely to be prominent during U.S. broadcasts of the Olympic Games, and ESPN is set to begin accepting political commercials in its local markets. Today’s Question: Are you ready for the onslaught of political advertising that’s about to begin?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Abuse of stimulant medication.

Second hour: The making of an elite athlete.

Third hour: Is Teach for America failing?

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): From the Aspen Ideas Festival: Will the European Union survive? Speakers from Britain, Italy and the U.S. say the situation is dire.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Politicians think they know how they’ll get people to the polls this November, but scientists think they can do better. NPR will report on how they’re using psychology to get the vote out, and why those celebrity robocalls just don’t work.