Monthly Archives: August 2015

[This is a multi-part series. See parts I and II.

Note: This entry in the series immediately follows the previous entry. I strongly recommend a quick review of part II to re-establish the mood and setting.]


“Don’t pick up any black people, especially if there’s more than one of them,” the experienced cabbie told me. “Stay out of Third Street, and Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Don’t stop for anybody there”

I’d stopped after midnight for a passenger on Market Street, who’d turned out to be a young black male, and then two young black males, and they’d taken me down Third Street to Bayview/Hunter’s Point, into a deserted warehouse district, where I expected to die, only to drop them off at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard: two sailors who’d thanked me and tipped me well.

Chagrined, but still shaking off the stress of believing I was about to be shot point blank in the back of the head, I was headed back up Third Street to familiar territory.

“Stay out of Third Street, and Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Don’t stop for anybody there”

I’m not going to.

Stopped at a traffic light, I see a guy wave at me from across the intersection. Black, middle-aged, wearing a Muni uniform, a bus or streetcar driver, maybe the cable cars.

I’m not going to be that guy, and a middle aged bus driver surely can’t be a threat, unless he’s behind the wheel and I’m on my bike. The light changes, I roll forward and stop in front of him.

He’s in a good mood, relaxed, smiling and friendly. He gives me directions, and I recognize the hill we’re going up. It’s the route toward my friend’s home in the feudalistic white enclave above the poor black peasants.

As we skirt around the top of the hill we pass an open grassy area, on fire. Sometime past one o’clock in the morning, and there is a grass fire, and there is nobody around. Weird. We’re both silent.

We descend the hill, heading down toward the Bay, heading through the projects. I’d heard about these projects, World War II temporary housing for shipyard workers still in use a half century later. I make a sharp left, an acute angle, into a narrow dead-end street. There’s a trash dumpster, flames boiling from its depths into the dark sky, with people sitting around it in chairs, drinking and talking. It’s surreal, and coming so soon after I thought I was about to be shot point blank in the back of the head and after passing the grassy lot burning with no one around it’s too much for me to process.

They’re calling out to me. “Cabbie, hey, cabbie! Beautiful night, isn’t it?” The man pays me and gets out. The street is so narrow I have to back up and pull forward a couple of times to make the turnaround, a 5 point turn. All the while these strangers drinking deep into the night by the light of a burning dumpster are calling out to me. I’m freaked out. This doesn’t happen in small midwestern farm towns. This doesn’t happen in the small town where I want to the small conservative religious college. It doesn’t happen in my neighborhood in San Francisco. I wave, trying to seem friendly, trying not to seem rude…trying not to seem racist…and drive out as fast as I decently can.

“Don’t stop for anybody there”

Believe me, I’m not going to. The sailors turned out to be all right, the Muni driver was friendly and pleasant, but the circumstances were just too freaky. I’m getting out of there as fast as I can, back on Third Street charging north towards downtown, north of the speed limit.

An arm waving, a middle-aged lady, nicely dressed. I’m not going to be that guy. I’m not that guy. And I’m not going to leave a woman without a ride in the middle of the night.

First a stop at a nearby liquor store where I idle in the parking lot while she buys a bottle of wine, then then on to her home. No problem. She’s nice, chatty, friendly. The route home is familiar. I’d been there just minutes before.

We skirt the edge of the hill. The grassy lot is still burning, but thank you god firetrucks have just arrived, restoring some semblance of normalcy to this increasingly crazy night.

Back down the same street towards the Bay, the same acute left turn into the same narrow dead-end street of WWII temporary shipyard housing still occupied a half century later, past the same burning dumpster, past the same people sitting around it drinking.

It’s been 15 minutes, tops, since I was there before. They recognize me and they’re calling out to me again, “The cabbie’s back!” Hey, cabbie!

Deja vu, but it’s real, surreally real. I make my 5 point turn again, wave again, heart racing, drive off as fast as I decently can again, get to Third Street again, turn north toward downtown again, toward familiar territory, toward the cab shop because while I could have the cab a couple more hours I’ve made decent money for my first night, and I’m now so freaked out by the weirdness of the night to want to drive anymore at all.

I have tunnel vision. I don’t know if anybody is trying to flag me down or not. All I can see is pavement ahead of me. Every light I hit green or yellow and blow on through. I cross Mission Creek, back into the South of Market area, and head back to the shop.

Arriving home, I find my girlfriend has waited up for me, scared, expecting me home a couple of hours ago. I tell her I meant to drive until 4, for the full 12 hours I had the cab. Then I tell her about my night, my first night as a cab driver, and together we relive the craziness of it; a hell of a night, never to be equalled in the four months I drove.


Long after, I realized what an opportunity I missed. Had I gotten out of the cab, walked over, and shared a drink with them, I would have earned the respect of those folks sitting around the burning dumpster: a white guy, getting out of his cab in the projects, at nearly 2 a.m., to share drinks with black people living there. I imagine they laughed about me–I do, too, now.

What makes me kick myself is that inside, I knew it. I could tell their calls to me, while slightly mocking, were friendly, not threatening. They would have loved it if I hadn’t acted like the scared kid I was, but had joined them. I regret that moment.

Category: Road

leftlaneThe New York Times reports that manufacturing is making a comeback in the South, but Adam Ozimek says “Not so.”

Despite some bad news recently, Ben Thompson argues that ESPN is going to be okay.

Well, this sounds like a pleasant working environment.

As it turns out, giving people health insurance doesn’t save money. (“But long term, preventive care saves money!” Not exactly.)

Moody Analytic’s model suggest the slightest of slight victories for Hillary Clinton a Democrat next year. 270.

Yeah, this is pretty much what almost every middle school kid wants to hear. Truthfully, at my middle school, most of the worst flamed out by high school. I don’t think that’s especially typical, though.

UberX could be responsible for saving lives.

Will there be a restaurant at which we can watch? Or will we have to make due with charts?

New eye drops may be able to combat cataracts without the need for surgery.

There is an island off India – that is technically a part of India – where the inhabitants will apparently try to kill anybody who enters.

Some research indicates the driverless cars could produce enormous emission reductions.

Hadn’t thought about it, but it makes sense: Gay marriage is still illegal in Navajo Nation.

I find it hard to disagree with this: The Samsung whistle really is horrible and it’s the first thing I change when personalizing a Samsung device.

There is a class divide when it comes to choosing one’s major. It corresponds with my experience this it tends to be wealthier kids studying English, to the point that you can almost see a class divide at extended family gatherings.

The Columbia Journalism Review looks at the cult of Vice.

Category: Newsroom

Would you feel safer flying with the hiring and training of additional TSA officers/agents’/whatever they have to call themselves to feel important’, or would you rather they hire & train more air traffic controllers?

PS I object to the TSA as a whole as security theater, but for the most part, all of my interactions with TSA personnel has been professional, even if the rules they enforce are stupid, and even if they occasionally drink their own kool-aid (I don’t argue with them, I have a plane to catch).

PPS I suspect the reason ATC is hurting for people such that it has to use grinding schedules is because the training is tough, the work stressful, and the pay is high enough (median $122K/year) that management is not keen to staff centers fully if they can avoid it.  Add in that politically, TSA is something of a jobs program for the unskilled.  Still, for every 2-3 Blue shirts, we could have another ATC on the job.  Imaginary terrorist plots rank much lower to me than very real collisions.

Category: Road, Statehouse, Theater

I’m ambivalent about the value of a college education. I think some people are invited, persuaded, or seduced to expend valuable time and resources to pursue an education for which they are not well suited. In some of the discussions Over There, I sometimes err by digging into my heels without really acknowledging how complex the problem is and how difficult it is to formulate or implement a solution. The whole exercise becomes a cultural signaling thing where I get upset because others strike me as snobs and where others get upset because I strike them as a philistine.

Those discussions sometimes get tied up in discussions over what to study. On one side, not only should most people go to college or at least give college a try, they should study the liberal arts instead of, say, business or STEM fields. On another side, it’s wrong to encourage or support students in studying a discipline that has so little obvious or direct payoff. And there are other “sides” and positions between them. I usually come down on the side that liberal arts aren’t everything and we should be wary of the promises we make to students who consider studying them.

And yet I studied liberal arts as an undergrad and am grateful for having done so. I was introduced to ideas and books and people I would likely never have encountered had I not gone to college. I gained a lot of social and cultural literacy I would not otherwise have had. Whatever challenges my writing still has, it’s still a lot better thanks to the constant writing practice I got in college. And although my own career prospects post-BA were pretty weak–these amounted to service jobs for which a high school diploma was the only formal degree required–I still retained the ability to enjoy engaging ideas and books at a level I would not have before. It’s not true that “education is the one thing they can’t take away from you” (if anything because Alzheimer’s runs in my family), but as far as goods go, my liberal arts education is for me a very durable good indeed.

And I obtained all this without debt. That happy result was due in part to my willingness to work in high school and save up money and to work in college while studying (but I didn’t work during my freshman year). It was also due to my parents’ relative affluence. I didn’t have to pay them rent or contribute to the family finances while in high school or college, and in the back of my head I knew they would help me if my finances got bad. I also knew I could live with them after college until I got on my feet, so finding a gainful job right away wasn’t as pressing.

But my debt-free education was also due to state subsidies. Cibolia State University gave me scholarships (probably supplied by taxpayer money, but I don’t know). Those paid for most of my tuition, leaving me responsible only for room and board. And one reason those scholarships were sufficient to pay my tuition was because the state limited the rate the university could charge.

I sometimes fear my ambivalence about college and the liberal arts elides the fact that I have benefited immensely, at little financial cost to myself, from that which I criticize. Maybe that’s not relevant for what our country’s higher education policy should be. But I have gotten a certain benefit, and there’s something not entirely right about saying others shouldn’t, or saying it should be more expensive or riskier for them to do so. It’s not entirely wrong, but not entirely right.

Category: School

I am going to start a weekly update feature, posted most weeks on Friday or Saturday, that will include general topics of stuff that is going on. This week will mostly be talking about television, though they may not be as unified in the future.

New television arrives today! I’m pretty jazzed, though feeling sad and a little bit guilty that about the functional television in the basement. I mean, that TV is… fine. But I do a lot of my television interaction through a computer, and that’s increasingly difficult with that old machine attached to it, and on a CRT display.

We’re going to be getting DirecTV soon, and so it’s one of those “do it now or make things really complicated down the line” things.

So I’m getting a new TV for the living room and moving the one there downstairs. The Vizio I currently have was a great value, but has certain blind spots. One of which is that it has bad SD display from cable/satellite. Which, if we’re getting cable/satellite, kind of matters.

A frustrating thing is that new TVs don’t have VGA inputs, and VGA is what I use to attach the computer. The media PC does have a DisplayPort, which can convert into HDMI. So I got the applicable cable and was, alas, disappointed by the results. The video looks okay, but the Windows interface looks less than stellar. I am hoping that this is a Vizio problem, and that the new Samsung will look better. The Vizio has the VGA outlet, and so I can continue to use them for that TV.

Another alternative is that I got a bad cable. Cables matter a lot for such things. While I didn’t skimp, I also apparently did not get a 4K HDMI. Now, the TV and computer are 1080, but it’s possible that you might want to overshoot on something like this?


Speaking of which, I discovered, which is pretty great with kids’ videos. It also has some Lain favorites, like a Curious George cartoon and Cat in the Hat cartoon. I have mixed feelings about the latter as it has Cat and Fish as friends (or sort) and Cat and kids (and fish) going on adventures together just doesn’t seem right to me.


I’m presently working my way through Arrow and Flash, though that’s been stalled somewhat. Enjoying it greatly, though the melodrama of Arrow is sometimes grating.

I’m audioreading Isaac Asimov, which I’m enjoying. Though Matt Yglesias recently kickstarted a conversation about the French Reign of Terror, which turned me on to a bunch of podcasts I want to listen to. I wish that had happened before I jumped back in to Asimov.

Last week I listened to the TV show Revenge, to its conclusion. It was a worthy enough conclusion on a silly show. SPOILER: I’m struck that I cannot remember a case where a protagonist that I didn’t entirely expect to get a happy ending got a happy ending that by any objective assessment she completely did not deserve.

Category: Theater

diedfightingAccording to a report from the FRB-NY, federal student loans and grants don’t increase enrollment, but do increase price tags.

Reihan Salam argues that Mexican immigrants have more to fear from the US than vice-versa. Or as Orin Judd likes to say, we’re importing the superior culture. (An old college professor had a similar line, that immigrants are wonderfully used until we drag them down to our level.)

Some Russian Nationalists want to fly the flag of the Tsarist imperial standard. I can’t speak to the history, but it’s certainly a cooler flag than their present one. (For that matter, the so was the Soviet flag.

Here’s an interesting idea: An Oklahoma school system seeks to deal with a budget crunch and a teacher shortage by condensing the school schedule.

This is the #1 reason – and indicator – that it will be a very, very long time before we see a United States of Europe.

War or no war, the Slave Economy was in for a lot of hurt.

Tom Selleck and the White Tattoo Guy have been vindicated!

David Whitlock makes the case against foul ball nets in baseball. I think #2 and #4 are especially strong points, and that #2 helps push along #1 and #3.

Idaho is down to one full-time federal judge.

A woman in the UK had to legally change her name to be able to log in to Facebook.

The TPP could have some bad consequences for generic drug availability.

Desperate migrants are trying and dying to swim across the English Channel from France to England. I asked Matt Feeney, who gave supplied the link, why immigrants consider the UK so much better than France, and he sent me this.

Some people seem rather upset that Charlie Hebdo has announced that it won’t be doing anymore Mohammed cartoons. I am glad that they didn’t back down at the time, but the attacks did not impose a requirement that they produce these comics indefinitely.

It’s really quite remarkable to me that they’re going forward with the movie valorizing the Bush-TANG debacle. What has me a bit concerned is that it might work.

Color me a bit surprised: In the UK, seven in ten homes that had the decision to filter out pornographic content chose to do so.

Category: Newsroom

The SWINCAR.  It’s an all-electric off-road vehicle with a very, VERY flexible chassis (and ya’ll can just get your minds out of the gutter right now, it ain’t that kind of flexible chassis).

The key thing to note is the lack of any axles.  Each wheel has it’s own electric motor, which allows for a low slung design and a wide range of motion for the suspension arms.  Some years back I had drawn up some initial designs for something similar, but with a higher center of gravity.  Alas, no money, and battery technology wasn’t quite there yet, so it was all just on paper.

Category: Road

Amnesty International has found itself in a controversy over its new draft policy on sex work, that calls for “the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work.” A group of well-known celebrities has penned a letter denouncing the draft policy, and journalists are voicing their dissent.

At times the misrepresentations of Amnesty International’s claims are blatantly dishonest. Jessica Neuwirth, for example, suggest Amnesty has “been hijacked by proponents of the global sex trade,” and falsely implies that they called prostitution a human right. At no point in the draft policy does Amnesty say prostitution itself is a human right, but that their concern is protecting against human rights abuses against sex workers, including: stigma and discrimination; physical and sexual violence; and criminalization that prevents access to health care.

Others have come to Amnesty’s defense, arguing that we should be listening to the voices* of the sex workers themselves, rather than to Hollywood celebrities. The left often asks us to listen to the voices of the subaltern, but this issue tests their commitment to that principle. They also support treating women as competent adults, except in this issue.

Amnesty’s critics are foolishly putting their idealism above the opportunity to make positive gains for women in the sex trade.

Let’s talk seriously about public policy.

1. The first thing we need to ask is, is the sex trade harmful in ways that justifies a policy response? I say the answer is yes, and that it would be hard to argue against that position. Prostitution can harm the wives of johns, causing them to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Prostitutes are at risk for violence, slavery, and sexually transmitted diseases, and this is not a complete list.

2. Can prostitution effectively be eliminated or at least reduced to a rare activity? Some think so, but I believe there is no evidence to suggest it is possible. Sex for remuneration is found, as far as I know, in every human society anthropologists and sociologists have studied, and in the non-human world as well.

3. If we cannot effectively eliminate an activity that has harms justifying a policy response, we have to look to how we can minimize those harms. And the overwhelming evidence from a broad range of prohibited activities demonstrates that prohibition, particularly with strict enforcement, exacerbates rather than reduces the harms. A superior solution is to decriminalize and regulate with an eye towards the health and safety of the participants.

I’m not going to dive into the weeds of what that regulation should look like. There are no doubt better and worse models, but they are models we can learn from and adapt beneficially. But I support Amnesty’s direction on this, and I think anyone who cares about ensuring the safety of sex workers, and cares seriously enough to think seriously about how that can realistically be accomplished will come to the same conclusions.

*Astute readers will have noticed that all of the news sources to this point have been from the Guardian. There are others, of course, but kudos to the Guardian for publishing essays by voices on each side of this debate. Note that the final link in that sentence actually predates the current contretemps, having been published last year.

Category: Elsewhere

If you’re looking for a post that has a strong and cohesive thesis with supporting paragraphs and all that, this isn’t that post. (You may well be at the wrong blog, for that matter.)

Late lest week, the law office of one Collier & Radcliff was bombed in Mocum, Deseret. This was relevant to me because Edmund Collier was the chief legal counsel at Falstaff, where I worked when Hit Coffee was started. Edmund is one of three lawyers at Falstaff I remember and he is the only one I remember particularly warmly. Eldon Cooper (no relation) was okay, I guess, but I remember him more as being my boss’s boss by the time I left. Eric Forrester, The Coffee Shop Cowboy, was rather snooty.

Forester was also gay. And he was fired for it, when it came to light. This was just after Collier and almost all of the rest of the legal staff (except Cooper) was let go, leaving a real shortage of legal talent in a business that was very law-oriented.

Whatever role Collier may have played in that firing, though, I still remember him warmly. He was a pretty big deal, and really nice to everybody including me when I had just been hired.

What’s interesting to think about is if it had been the law offices of Forester that had been bombed, I’d be wondering if it was some anti-gay hate crime or something. In fact, there’s a decent chance that would be the assumption. It might even be in the national news. Except, of course, that it wasn’t because Forester wasn’t the target.

It’s something that comes to mind with the coverage of black church fires. There was the immediate assumption that it was related to Dylann Roof and the Confederate Flag. That was my assumption until some scrutiny was applied. I’m old enough to remember the alleged rash of black church fires back in the 90’s that also turned out to be less than meets the eye. Something grabs the attention of the media, and then each one gets coverage. It was actually during that spell that my own church (largely white) was burned to the ground. Little news coverage of that. Which isn’t a complaint (absent a larger trend, why would it get coverage) but probably feeding in to the perception that it was specifically black churches being burned down.

The number of racially-motivated burnings in both cases were, as I understand it, non-zero. And any time that happens – whether racially-motivated or not but especially when it is – it’s a tragedy. Though relatively a minor thing, it’s kind of frustrating that it gets hard to view except in a dichotomy where a segment of the population believes that none of it is racial and another side is irate that race is not applied to every instance until demonstrated otherwise.

Anyway, hopefully they will find whoever it is that bombed Edmund’s office. If they find them and report why, I’ll relay that information to you. Maybe it’s like a similar bombing in Winnipeg where it was an ugly divorce case. And two is a trend…

Category: Newsroom

I suspect that in any discussion about whether unions are good or about whether such and such a policy designed to promote or weaken the appeal of unions is good, most parties to the discussion will profess to support unions.

In my view, the question is less whether we support unions and more under what circumstances we do and what policies we’d support or at least tolerate. As Oscar pointed out in a recent thread, he supports unions, but not the sort of “regulatory capture” exemplified by the proposed union exemptions to L.A.’s minimum wage law (a perfectly reasonable position, in my opinion).

Here are some considerations (pulled mostly from the American context):

  1. Do you support union-shop or “fair share” arrangements, where all employees must contribute union dues? Or do you support “right to work” laws?
  2. Do you support closed shop arrangements, where a prospective employee must be a member in good standing of a union before being eligible to be hired?
  3. Do you support “secondary strikes” or “secondary boycotts” where a union or its members refuse to cross other union’s picket lines or refuse to work for employers that do business with a struck firm?
  4. Should public employees be allowed to unionize? Some public employees but not others? What powers to negotiate should these unions have (wages only, wages + working conditions)?
  5. Should the law require employers to negotiate “in good faith” with a union that can demonstrate a minimum threshold of support? If so, what should the requirements of good faith be?
  6. Should the state require “first contract” arbitration, where a union negotiation automatically goes into arbitration after a certain time period has elapsed, so as to ensure that the union obtains a “first contract”?
  7. What should an employer be able to do, or not be able to do, to oppose unions? What should a union be able to do, or not be able to do, to promote unions?
  8. What, if any, preferential policies would you accept that would help promote unions? (I’m thinking of things like the minimum wage exemption Oscar wrote about, but also of things like antitrust exemptions, exemptions from injunctions, and probably other things I’m not thinking of.)
  9. Under what circumstances would you cross a picket line to shop at a struck firm?
  10. Under what circumstances would you cross a picket line to work at a struck firm?

On a lot of these issues, I myself am undecided or have changed my mind. You can no doubt think of other questions, and if so, feel free to offer them.