Friday, August 31, 2007

Mass Transit - Planes, Trains, and Metro...oh my

Because the Bay Bridge is closed for repairs (you don't say!) and due to the fact that I made a wise decision not to make a 24 hour suicide trip to Las Vegas today, I've been thinking a lot about methods of mass transit recently. My aunt who lives in Alexandria, VA is in town for my sister's wedding reception tomorrow, and during lunch today with my mom, we discussed DC's METRO, the S.F./Bay Area B.A.R.T. and New York City's subway system (which my mom and aunt are familiar with due to being born and raised in the Bronx).

In any case, I started off the discussion by relating some of the details of James Surowiecki's most recent "Financial Page" column in The New Yorker. Titled "The Unfriendly Skies", it deals with why airlines are basically able to give shit service and get away with it (main reason: if you use time as your currency, some trips are only economical if you fly; you can't just take off work for five days here and there to drive to every vacation destination...if you can drive at all). I experienced this myself on my recent "trip" to Montreal.

So, sadly, I find myself in agreement with the column's conclusion that Big Aviation has us by the balls. To bad, but c'est la vie.

But what of ground mass transit? Well, in keeping with a theme that the esteemed Rick Perlstein has observed, Ezra Klein notes that DC's METRO system is being stressed to the point of collapse due to underfunding. This is in keeping with Perlstein's wry observation that conservatives, once elected, defund programs they don't like so that they can prove that government doesn't work. Be that true or no, it's a particularity acute issue in the D.C. region due to the ongoing controversy surrounding the buildup of Tyson's Corner and the extension of the METRO to Dulles Airport.

As my aunt pointed out, one of the problems about Northern Virginia is that it's basically a large, loosely connected group of suburbs as opposed to being a stand alone major metropolitan city like a New York, or a Chicago or a San Francisco. Because of that, and the fact that so many people commute either into DC or Maryland to work, they can either only use METRO or they have to drive. As far as I know, there's not a viable bus system that gives good service throughout NoVa. The individual city and county systems in Northern Virginia do not have to work in concert, so my guess is that there is a patchwork quilt of options, some of which are attractive, but the majority of which are not.

Jumping back to air travel for a second...on Crooked Timber, there's an interesting discussion about what people would actually like to pay for in an airport (a shower, a clean place to nap, healthy food) vs. the actual offerings. Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen both weigh in with ideas about what might be at play here (Megan talks about the premium of actual physical space, while Tyler talks about the collision of people in a confined place with money to burn and easy to market high end goods) but then Gary Leff of View from the Wing says that some of what both Megan and Tyler say is true:
Competitors don't undercut pricing because airport space is at a premiuum, adding space is difficult, and politics rather than markets distribute the space and allocate the services. Furthermore, competing airports aren't built on a whim, and the infrastructure necessary to offer some benefits is rather difficult to plan and build (plumbing).

Less infrastructure-intensive services do exist. Massage chairs and common, often in the middle of heavily trafficed areas. Live massages are offered in the North Satellite terminal in SEATAC. Bars offering liquor for a fee abound. But greater space is necessary for showers, and they're difficult to plan for and produce.


The product is bundled and sold at a premium.
You have access to departure (and even sometimes arrivals) lounges when purchasing business or first class tickets. It's a component of the luxury good that constitutes the 'experience' above and beyond simple transportation that a premium class international airline ticket entails. Take for example Lufthansa's separate First Class Terminal at Frankfurt. International first customers have sit down dining don't even re-mix with business class customers upon boarding time -- instead being collected and driven directly out to the plane in a Mercedes or Porsche.

The product is expensive to offer. In addition to fixed costs such as plumbing, upkeep on gym equipment and showers is pricey. Substantial use degrades the investment quickly. And the way shower facilities are currently offered, marginal costs are meaningful, too.

Check into a lounge and tell the attendant you'd like to take a shower, you'll be offered a 'shower kit' which ranges in the particulars but will include towel(s), shampoos and other amenities (at nicer facilities, designer-branded such as Bvlgari), flip flops, razors, etc.


I don't know that I have much to add to this at the moment, but it's interesting stuff to consider.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Part Time Model"

I haven't gotten into "Flight of the Conchords", but I think I need to after seeing this:

"Stronger"

Kanye West and Daft Punk? Yep. And it's hot.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wilco!

GREAT show last night at the Greek...2 1/2 hours of quality music. Jeff Tweedy had the best comment of the night when he said to the crowd, "You all smell high". Highlights for me were "Sky Blue Sky", "California Stars", "Either Way", "On And On And On" and "Jesus, Etc".

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"The War As We Saw It"

This is a few days old now, but anyone seeking to find out what the conditions on the group in Iraq are really like, should take the time to read this op-ed that ran in the Sunday New York Times. Seven non-commissioned soldiers present a sobering look at the facts in Iraq. Truly a "must read".

Monday, August 20, 2007

"These Girls" by Ryan Adams

Well, girl sometimes i feel just like a boy
Put here on this earth for you to toy around with
Like matchbox cars you buy and burn in your backyard
Like monsters underneath your bed you ain't afraid of yet
But you let me in
And i feel alright
Yeah, i feel alright

The late night girls are anxious
And they're coming out to play
And i've been stranded on their doorstep for every night and day
I only want them more, it's so sad but when they smile
God, i've been had
I get hypnotized and i wanna go to bed

I used to pick up shells cast off the reef
One christmas i got a funeral and they handed me the receipt
How ever many lies i tell without my tongue
Get twisted into memories 'til i believe them some
And i toy with you
And you toy with me
Can you stop this please

God bless all the late night girls, and they're coming out to smile how can anybody feel bad
It makes me tired and i wanna go to bed
These are better off in my head
These girls are better off in my head
These girls are better off in my head
These girls

Deluge

Sometimes, when it rains, it just fucking pours.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Montreal!

So, I'm finally here! It only took being delayed at JFK for 5 +hours last night, stopping by 4 hotels before I found a place to crash, and a seven and a half hour drive from Manhattan at 6:45 a.m. this morning to get here (a special thanks to the Canadian government for keeping us in customs for 90 minutes)!

On the upside, I'm pretty sure I sat behinds this guy in the customs office.

The draft is done, the draft girls did an excellent job (I don't know how I feel about my team...more below) and now we're off to eat before heading to Opera, which is supposed to be the club of the moment in Montreal.

For those interested, and I know you ALL are, here's my team:

QB: Hasselbeck
QB: Farve

RB: Gore
RB: James
RB: B. Jackson
RB: M Robinson

WR: Walker
WR: Branch
WR: B Edwards
WR:Bennett
WR: Jarrett

TE: Shockey

DEF: Jags
DEF: Hawks

K: Wilkins

My thoughts? Well...I want to chalk it up to having only 4 hours of sleep and being in a car for 7+ hours, but I don't think this is a very good team. It's not a bad
team, but it depends on a few things (mostly Hasselbeck, Gore, Edge and Walker staying healthy). It has some balance and some upside with Braylon Edwards and Dwayne Jarrett, but we'll see.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Fascinating Story About...

...roadsigns?

I was skeptical too, but this neat little piece traces the rise of the current sign age used on our interstate highways and shows how an environmental graphic designer and a type designer set out to make our signs easier to read. Very interesting. And there's even pretty pictures.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Potential New Food Obsession

Yogurt Bar at Union and Octavia. While I won't be giving up my Swensen's, it's nice to have a healthy alternative.

Will Blacks Vote For Obama?

Trey Ellis says "yes" and I largely agree and for the reasons that he sates.

As one might expect, Ellis' argument will surely lead to much gnashing of teeth in certain quarters (go and look at the comment section in the post above). But so much of what is being argued in his piece is, frankly, common sense. It's entirely plausible that blacks will not vote for Obama just because he's black, but also because he might indeed be the best candidate (or at least the candidate that best represents their interests). If Obama is the best candidate, he will garner a wider base of support, but it shouldn't be shocking that black people would line up like this (someone tell Hillary Clinton, whose supposedly has the "black vote" on lock).

And to those who would begrudge black people for actually voting for a viable black presidential candidate in part because he's black, please spare me. Did these same people get up in arms when people voted for George Bush because he gives off the vibe of someone down home and "authentic", a person you could have a beer with? Yes, racial and personality comparisons are not easy to make, but there is an underlying similarity and that is that people are drawn to ally themselves with people or things they know (or think they know; George Bush is a product of one of the most tony families in America, but that didn't prevent millions of people from convincing themselves that the son of a former president who was governor of Texas - and whose brother is a former state governor - who also attended Andover, Yale, and Harvard Business School was an "average Joe" just like them ). This, despite the fact that the policies of the candidate they most identified with often ran counter to their own interests. All of this, for better or for worse, is simply identity politics in action.

Obama's real problem isn't going to be "Will blacks vote for me"?; it's going to be actually getting people in the voting booth. To me, those aren't the same issue. One feels like something theoretical from a poll ("Would you consider voting for Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary?") vs. catching someone coming out of the voting booth on primary day and asking them who they pulled the lever for and they respond, "Barack Obama". One seems tied to intent, the other to actual action.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Everybody Hates Chris

Mr. Daly can go Cheney himself. It's because of people like him that everyone thinks S.F. is home to irrational, bat-shit crazy lefties.

Update: Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Musical Obsession of the Moment

Nick Lowe - At My Age

Thank God for iTunes gift certificates and Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic.com.

While trying to figure out how to burn through my $15, I perused AMG's best records of the year so far and found the elegant and refined songs of Nick Lowe. "At My Age" is just such an engaging listen...it's a portrait of a man who's truly lived, looking back over his time on earth, sometimes with regret, sometimes with razor sharp humor. Musically, the album runs from something like rockabilly to classic late night, jazz tinged piano ballads. Lowe's voice on the slower songs has that wonderful, weary sound to it and, to me, it recalls some of the mood of Tom Waits classic "Closing Time".

My favorite track is easily "Rome Wasn't Built In a Day". It's a slightly swinging tune with a confident protagonist musing on how he's going to win the object of his affection:

"You don't know it but I've made my mind up
You'll wind up in my arms
First I have to break down your resistance to my charms
Yes darlin'
I know it won't be easy
But I won't rest until I find a way
Everyobody knows that Rome wasn't built in one day"

I am most happy to see that Mr. Lowe (I think I have to refer to him that way; he's got the air of someone my grandfather, a classy gent himself, would have been friends with) is going to be coming to San Francisco later this year. I might be the only person under 50 at the show, but I'm in. I may even have to put on a suit for this one.

Movies

Had the chance to check out both The Bourne Ultimatum and SiCKO over the weekend. Jason Bourne = minor diety. Mr. Moore's newest film is pretty decent...though I'm almost certainly in Moore's wheelhouse in terms of target audience, I have a pretty strong aversion to his work, mostly because it's so sensationalized. I'm not a strident partisan, so I don't like blatant agitprop, and Moore is more skilled than most in building his movies with a particular slant. A neutral filmmaker, he is not. All that said, having navigated some of America's labyrinthine insurance industry in dealing with my arthritis, I am sympathetic to much of what is presented in the picture and I found the examinations of the nationalized health systems in Canada, England, France and Cuba (!) very interesting (and, I suspect those portions of the movie will be rather eye-opening to a lot of Americans). While the movie certainly comes down on the side of the little guy versus the big, bad insurance companies, in this case, I think the vast majority of Americans will want the little guy to wins this one in the end.

Getting Old

Really...two days after an afternoon of sloshball and I'm still sore. Whoever said that 30 is the new 25 is seriously delusional.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Friendship

It's often been said that we all get by with a little help from our friends. This is, of course, true. Tonight one of my old roomies turned 30. We are, also, basically losing a friend to law school this weekend and I, for the first and probably NOT the last time, was called out about possibly leaving the Bay Area next year for journalism school. In any case, all of these semi-isolated incidents actually intertwined, which either means the Bay Area is really small (true) or that I just happen to be so amazingly lucky in the terms of the people I call my friends that this was inevitable. At some point, when I get married (not holding my breath and you, dear reader, shouldn't either), I know that at the reception I could spend days talking about how blessed I feel in the presence of the people that I am proud to call my friends. I've said this before and I will say it again, I have no idea how I, of all people, deserve this...but my life is, and will continue to be enriched by...(hyperbole alert)...people akin to angels....nobody could ask for even half of what I have and expect it to come to pass. I am in no place to question to question things, so I won't. There are very few things in this life you can take at face value, but the love and devotion of the people you call your friends is one of them. When you have a second, let them know how important they are to you. Your life, and theirs, will be all the better for it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Too Proud to Confess to An Error in Judgement

Josh Marshall, via Matt, makes the very obvious and not at all hard to see point about the continuing Obama/nuke fiasco:
The unspoken truth here, I suspect, is that Obama has struck on the central folly of our post-9/11 counter-terrorism defense policy -- strike hard where they aren't and go easy where they are. I think everyone can see this. But Obama got there first. So they need to attack him for saying it.


Why people can't simply admit that this is the case is beyond me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Your Daily Obama

For your perusal, some good links:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Stay Classy, CNNSI

Finally, America's long national nightmare is over. Barry Bonds now sits at 756. All Time Home Run King.

Make of that what you will. Any and all commentary about this night will have to deal with the fact that the record might be tainted, but, frankly, what of it? I take no special personal pleasure in seeing Bonds, an ├╝ber curmudgeon, vault ahead of one of the great gentlemen in the game's history in Hank Aaron, but anyone who has really followed America's Pastime (this ought to be used in reference to the NFL now, by the way) since the great McGuire/Sosa chase for Roger Maris record of 61 homers in a single season should know by now that virtually every record in the sport has possibly been tainted be steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. The pitiful testimony given to Congress and the Mitchell Commission by such baseball luminaries as the aforementioned McGuire, Rafael Palmerio, coupled with the intentionally opaque "apology" from Jason Giambi makes one wonder about the value of, well...anything.

So having said all that, it's especially curious to see the graphic that CNNSI is running now on their front page in the wake of the new record being set. It begins with a picture of Babe Ruth with the number 714, then fades into into a picture of Hank Aaron and the number 755, before fading to a shot of the back of Bonds' jersey and the number 756...but the number fades into Bonds and an asterisk is left in his name where the "O" should be.

Now, tell me...did CNNSI put a big fat * anywhere next to McGuire's name when he hit 62?

No. I didn't think so.

Update: I want to elaborate more on my comments above. The way I ended, it probably sounds like I was advancing race as the difference in the treatment of Bonds vs. McGuire. To some extent, I think race does play a part...but certainly not more than Bonds being a general asshole. McGuire and Sosa played to the fans and Barry just sulks, so I totally get why he gets no love from most who follow the game. I do wonder, though...if Bonds were as fan friendly as those other guys, how would the allegations of steroid use played out?

And, over at Balloon Juice, John Cole digs deeper in the pathos of the haters.

Things That Make Me Happier Than They Really Should

I shall spend little time noting the passing of TimeSelect. David Brooks! Tom Friedman! Maureen Dowd! Free everyday! Yay!

Now if they'd only lower the price of the Sunday Times.

Monday, August 06, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'em...

...rig the system in your favor.

I usually don't play the role of activist, but everyone I know who lives in California will be hearing from me in regards to this issue.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What the Hell is John Hinderaker Talking About?

Erza catches John making a somewhat odd claim while discussing the Minnesota bridge tragedy:
This is a relatively new highway; I think the bridge is around 30 years old. There is construction underway on Highway 35. One hopes that didn't contribute to the disaster. This is certainly not an earthquake zone.

This is the kind of disaster that just doesn't happen in the United States--a bridge spontaneously collapsing, apparently, into a river. It is hard to convey to those who don't live here the astonishment of this sort of catastrophe happening on our most traveled highway.


As Mr. Klein notes, this kind of thing happens when local and state governments decide to cut taxes at the expense of critical services.

But more importantly, did John Hinderaker totally miss this recent incident? Perhaps this small event as well? Rick Perlstein, using this magic tool called "Google", found tons of examples of other bridges in need of repair.

But hey! No new taxes, right? Just don't complain when a sinkhole swallows your car.