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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Destination Nowhere

Biking down Greenmount Ave (not a good area) this morning on my way to class at Public Health, in the bus shelter at 25th Street I noticed this flyer for a van transportation service. For one, it's a testament to how crappy the transit system is here. For another thing, the destinations advertised are way depressing.

This is the Chinese restaurant diagonally across the street from the bus stop. There are take-out places all over the city that look like this, yet turn out to be open. It's unclear to me whether this particular one is actually open.

There are definitely lots of areas of the city, like this one, where there's just not a lot of hope. And I don't think the police cameras with blinking blue lights like this one are really going to do the trick. (Photo by Karl Merton Ferron for The Sun)

Blech. Really the type of relationship-building the police need to do. Not to mention that the the flashing blue light is really bright and is on 24/7, just like the camera says. (I see from Flickr that someone who came to the same conclusion on the cameras has done some sidewalk editorializing.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I need an anthem

While cruising the internet for info on Giant Food for my thesis, I wandered over to IGA. IGA isn't so much a chain of grocery stores as a name (and a distribution network, I think) that can be licensed by independent grocery stores. I'm a fan of local grocery stores, so that's good. But wait until you hear THE IGA ANTHEM! You will be so overcome with emotion that you will march straight to your nearest IGA to shop for ground beef out of sheer "hometown pride."

It's several minutes long, so you might not make it all the way. My favorite part is the overdramatic drums throughout. I'm trying to picture the marketing meeting where they came up with this, and it's just not working.

(P.S.: "I know that you're as proud of me as I am proud of you.")

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Legislating Reality Out of Existence

Speaking as a public policy graduate student, this law just passed in Florida is the most irresponsible bit of policymaking I've seen in a while.

Basically, since home insurance rates have skyrocketed on the Florida coast as insurance companies have realized that their hurricane risk predictions are too low, the state of Florida has now comitted to come up with lots of cash -- up to around $40 billion -- to compensate insurers in the case of catastrophic hurricane claims so that the companies will lower their rates. Note that the state now has a little less than $1 billion for that purpose, and has no serious plan for raising the rest. When part of your implementation plan is "We all need to pray to the hurricane gods," you have a problem.

Even worse than the foolishness of this policy, it is also spectacularly unfair. If disaster strikes, inland and upstate residents (who tend to be poorer) will heavily subsidize coastal residents who insisted that their expensive oceanside homes still be affordable to insure even when they shouldn't be. I guess the market is only omniscient when it's working in your favor, eh?

What's more, the statement near the end of the article about the likelihood of federal government relief if the state comes up short is prescient. We would almost certainly be expected to bail them out of their pickle; I think that's ultimately what they're planning on in passing this, and it's extremely cynical and cowardly.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New York, New York

After making a valiant effort to get my thesis draft done (and not quite making it, but it was mostly okay, because it was a self-set deadline), I headed to New York to visit Alex for the long weekend.

I've put up some photos on Flickr. I blew a bunch of money on the visit, as usually happens with going to NYC. Most of it was on food: Thai crispy pork with basil; Chinese orange chicken, ginger squid and pork buns; falafel sandwich; pastrami sandwich from the famous Katz's; three of the world's best doughnuts from Doughnut Plant; etc., etc.

We again saw some stand-up comedy, and just like last time I visited, it was mediocre. Much cooler was a screening of the five live-action short films up for Oscars this year. I really like short films, and there's definitely something to be said for seeing them in a theater instead of on YouTube. We were in agreement that Helmer and Son should win, but I put the odds against it. We also saw Inland Empire, David Lynch's new movie -- it was great. I like Lynch in general, and this was a good one.

Actually, we got around quite a bit, visiting the Queens Museum of Art at the 1964 World's Fair grounds, the NYC Transit Museum, this warehouse that serves as a graffiti canvas, MoMA, and a new MoMA annex in Queens called P.S.1 that's in a converted public school. It has very current, and changing, contemporary art, and I really liked a lot of the stuff. There is an installation in the former boiler room (still with old boiler) where a pleasant cat's purr slowly creschendoes into a terrifying roar when people enter the room. Another installation has you eat one of the oranges stacked in the corner of the room, and leave the peel strewn around (it smelled very orange-y in the room, and I appreciated the snack). Lots of the other stuff was really gripping, but don't lend themselves to brief explanations.

Anyway, now I need to get back to work actually finishing my thesis draft. The good news is that in the past few weeks of working on it intensively I finally got legitimately excited about it, and what I'm saying in the paper is interesting to me, at least (it's a policy process case study of Maryland's so-called Wal-Mart Law). I got an extra little lift when I got back today to find that one person I had really wanted to talk to had finally gotten back to me, so I'll get my 22nd (!) interview under my belt tomorrow.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Small Worlds

Tonight we had a couple over for dinner who are friends of my Public Health housemates. As we got to talking, it turned out they both went to Macalester College in St. Paul. And then it turned out that one of them lived a few blocks from me while I was in Minneapolis. His band used to record in the old flower shop across the street from our apartment (I was unaware it was a recording studio).

This reminds me of how, at Carleton, this guy Ned who I only sort of knew came up to me once and said that while he was in Paris the previous term, he had hung out with a girl who wrecked my car in high school (I slid off the icy road, and Molly did the same in her Jeep while I was already there). And did I mention that Femi and I ran into two sisters who are students in Baltimore at a laundry service counter in Cusco, Peru? Small world, as they say.

Or, I would say, small worlds. These were odd connections across different times and places, but not entirely coincidental. These are all people of the same cultural niche and demographic as me, and we tend to run in the same circles, live in similar areas and do similar sorts of things no matter what part of the world we're in. It's a much smaller world than the world at large, so it's not as stunning as it first seems to have these sorts of coincidences. I guess that's a reminder of how much our circumstances shape our experiences and perception of the world.

(I am posting quite a bit, and indulging meandering thoughts. This indicates that I have a lot to do -- thesis draft due Thursday -- and posting on my blog is a nice procrastination tool. It's really getting to crunch time, so I will now disappear into a hole for the rest of the week.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obama sunrise

So, Obama is officially in. Almost nobody had heard of him at this time in 2004. Gotta say I like his logo:

Can you say "Morning In America"?

For my post-graduation job, being actively involved in partisan politics is not allowed because of the imperative of doing non-political analysis in fact and appearance. Thus, I won't comment on the race as much as I might like in order to avoid wading into partisan discourse. But the primary races are going to be absolutely fascinating for both Democrats and Republicans this time around.

You Can Always Get What You Want

The insane wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith brings back something that occurred to me while I was working on my media-related Comps (thesis) at Carleton: Now that people get much of their news online, media companies have much more precise info about what content we consume and how we consume it. It used to be that a newspaper or broadcast was purchased/consumed as complete package, as far as the companies behind them were concerned. There were some means for feedback by which editors knew, for example, that the sports section was very important to readers. But consumer preferences and consumption habits were pretty vague.

Contrast with now: Editors know that 90% (or whatever) of their readers viewed the story about Anna Nicole Smith dying, and that most went to it first thing from the homepage. And, in addition to knowing precisely which parts of the news are most of interest to the audience, revenue is starting to be coupled to individual stories -- online readers don't get the whole news and advertising "package," they generate money-making page views for only the stories that interest them. If you're an editor, under pressure to maintain profits in a tough business, knowing exactly what your customers want makes it really hard to justify not giving it to them. If showbiz news generates twice the readership of international coverage and is a third of the cost, where are the budget cuts that the owner has asked for going to come from? We get exactly what we want, which, at the risk of sounding a little "eat your vegetables!", is not necessarily what we need. And in my example, the market is actually likely to give us even less international news than we want because the cost is higher. Sigh...it's not as simple as all that, of course, but I can't help but think that having precise info on what people are interested in makes life tougher for serious news in the mainstream media.

Anyway, I'll second Jack Cafferty on the current frenzy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Songs of the Moment (An occasional feature)

> A Tribe Called Quest - Award Tour [YouTube]
> Sufjan Stevens - Decatur, Or, Round of Applause For Your Stepmother!
I still think this album is amazing, and I've been listening to it way too much.
> Listing Ship - Dance Class Revolution
> Bishop Allen - Things Are What You Make of Them [mp3]
A wonderfully catchy song that I was introduced to through Mutual Appreciation, which stars one of the members of the band; in one scene the song is just finishing on the radio.
> Smashing Pumpkins - Here Is No Why
> Liars - We Live NE of Compton
This album is so awesome.
> !!! - Heart of Hearts [mp3]
This single gets me excited about their upcoming album. And if they come to B-more/DC I'm definitely there.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Divine counsel

I know you're confused by the proliferation of presidential candidates so early in the 2008 race. It's hard to consider the pros and cons of all the hopefuls.

In making your decision, don't forget that "It is [elected leaders'] duty to uphold the kingdom of Christ." It's good that Chuck Norris reminded us of that. Yes, the Chuck Norris. Hi-YA!

Based on that criteria, Chuck plumps for...Newt Gingrich.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Not too coherent, smacks of laziness -- hummus and pita, banana, apple, yogurt and granola. (What? No one cares what I had for dinner?)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Unions from all angles

I seem to be on an accidental quest to explore all sides of labor disputes.

Back when I was on the MPIRG board of directors, there was a union organizing campaign among our employees. It was a little contentious for a while, and resulted in some stressful board meetings. So I got a glimpse of things from the management side.

Then, of course, I went to work for AMFA Local 33 and did battle with Northwest Airlines for a couple years. (The members went on strike just as I was leaving for grad school, and the company brought in replacement workers. The union has recently formally ended the strike through an agreement with the company, and a few people have gone back to work.) So I definitely saw the union side of things.

And now, it turns out that there's a union organizing campaign on at my post-graduation employer. So I guess I'll get to see the employee side of things; it's not clear if the vote will take place before I get there or not.

I'm actually inclined to think that a union wouldn't be a good idea for GAO. Union representation is needed for workers for whom the "market" fails or who suffer employer abuses. In my opinion, this turns out to be mostly blue collar professions, like janitorial staff and aircraft mechanics who don't make an appropriate wage without a union. But for white collar professions where there is strong demand and workers have the ability negotiate for themselves (and the ability to go elsewhere if they aren't satisfied), I think it's just an unnecessary intermediary between employer and employee. And union rules can get cumbersome after a while, so if they're not necessary it's best to go without. Also, judging from the press release, it sounds like dissatisfaction among some employees with the pay-for-performance system is the driving force behind the union campaign, but I don't think that moving away from pay for performance is necessarily a good thing. Measuring performance is a very slippery thing, so it could be problematic, but in general I accept the idea that raises and promotion should be based on how well you're doing. Anyway, we'll see how it all plays out, the representation battle may be over by the time I start.