Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Every so often, I start down this odd path of thinking about stuff that's piled up in my mind. Today is one of those.
First, to the people who have made this blog as moderately successful as it is, thank you. It's been over six years since I first put fingers to keyboard in anger. I have Katrina to blame.
Not the hurricane, the writer.
Thanks, Kat. A bigger drain of energy I've never experienced.
To my friends at The Reaction and Agonist, thank you for welcoming my words on an almost daily basis. Whether I agree with my co-bloggers and readers or not, I've enjoyed the chance to develop my thinking and to be challenged on my positions. I may not always come away with a changed mind...OK, I'm almost always right, so hardly is in these discussions that I learn the flaws in my arguments.
It's Thanksgiving in America, so it feels right to acknowledge how important this part of my life has become. I vowed in January of this year to work harder at being right on a story and to work less hard on being someone who grabs eyeballs. I felt like I was selling out in 2008 and 2009. This year, not so much.
To you all, I wish a happy and healthy and safe Thanksgiving, and to my international readers, well, have a good Thursday tomorrow.
The beauty of the Internet is that I can speak with people from Colorado to Colombia to Canton. The fact that always amazes me is how much people outside the US know and even understand about America, and how little we know of them. OK, there's a law of large numbers involved: if you live in Spain and focus on America, that's different than living in Spain and trying to understand America AND Sweden AND Dubai AND Malaysia, all at the same time.
Still, I'm really impressed by people who post things like "Well, I live in Clapham, and..."
Doubly so as a New Yorker. I've lived here all my life, and am a child of the streets (as anyone who's followed my Flickr account can tell you), and just when I think I know it all, I'm surprised by what I find. I envy tourists one thing: the first impression. I walk the streets near my office and am jealous of the folks who pull out a camera and snap a photo of Grand Central Terminal or the Chrysler Building. For them, that's a lifetime story to tell people.
For me, it's another building that I have to walk around to get from A to B.
Every so often, I get that same thrill, though. I rode my bike in Red Hook this summer and found these little vest pocket parks with these adorable little names, and marveled. And then I started to notice that parks all over the city started these cutesy names.
It got a little annoying, in fact. Maybe it's because I've become so feminized.
I realized that this morning when I was catching up on Time Magazine, and found this article on the "Sheconomy". Women, you see, make or are involved in 85% of the purchases around the house, including some surprising things, like home theatre systems. Companies are only starting to notice this in a way that is meaningful. Marketing designed for women has finally gotten past "paint it pink and slap a flower on it," to understanding better how women buy something.
In the course of the article, the Midas corporation example was brought up. It turns out, Midas markets to women not by selling them a service, but by making them a customer, getting them to buy into a process by explaining things to them.
You know, you need a new alternator. Rather than gruffily say that, the technician will sit down with the customer, pull out a diagram and explain what the alternator does, how it charges the battery as the car moves, and explain precisely what broke down.
As they tell their technicians, "Explain it to your customers like you have to explain it to your mother."
And so here I am, thinking, "Wow, that's how I would have done it!"
And that's when I realized just how feminized I had become. See, men-- or rather as I term them in my next book, "guys"-- walk into a repair shop and presume that they have to have the appearance of knowing everything there is to know about cars. so the mechanic sizes them up, looks at the car, and pronounces his judgement that the car needs an new alternator.
The guy nods in agreement, grunts, and pulls out his wallet.
There was a time when this might have been the case, back before fuel injection and computers. Hell, I used to do all sorts of repairs to my engine as a kid. Now, I open the hood and go all Tim Allen, grunting and bug-eyed like one of the monkeys in front of the monolith in 2001.
And I've done that, to be sure. For whatever male vanity reason, letting a mechanic know I have no clue what he's talking about seems comforting.
Maybe to him, but why is it comforting me?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We're Number One! We're Number One! We're Number One!

Anyone who's driven in NYC at any time, day or night, weekend or weekday, could tell you this:
NAVTEQ— the digital map, traffic and location data company— released a study today via its site and service naming New York City and its freeways as the most congested and traffic-delayed in North America.
It's ironic in a city where the mass transit system is unparalleled in terms of its ability to carry passengers, the fact that it runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and its access to parts of the city woefully underserved by major roads, and a city that is one of the up-and-coming bicycle cities in the world, that traffic would be so bad.
And yet, it is. To the point where I, who have driven these streets since Jimmy Carter was President, avoid getting in a car at all costs. And I know the back routes and secret expressways to get around!
It can't be that subway and bus service is so bad. Most trains are clean and maintained, and most buses, while they can run slowly because of traffic, are pretty regular and certainly well-kept and run smoothly.
And it can't be that it's cheaper to drive. Tolls at our major bridges range from $5.50 (soon to rocket upward) to over $10 (with a free return trip).
New York City is a friendly city for walkers. Blocks are short and great attention is paid to where stop lights need to replace stop signs.
Most of the time. Indeed, the city Department of Transportation is continually assessing pedestrian policies and advances to try to make walking in NYC even better, even faster.
Personally, I really think two things need to be done. First, a parking permit needs to be issued to city residents that gives them priority rights to park on select streets. Too many neighborhoods suffer from a commuter outside the city who drives as close as he or she can to Manhattan, park the car and then hop on a subway.
Yes, this is an improvement over driving up to their offices, but it still creates an enormous burden on our roads and on our local streets.
Second, I'd like to see Michael Bloomberg's idea of congestion pricing invoked, but taken one step further to encompass the entire five boroughs of New York City. Downtown and midtown Manhattan are a nightmare, but so are parts of Queens and Brooklyn and forget Staten Island during rush hour. We could cut an exemption for residents of any borough to remain within that borough without incurring a fee, of course, or perhaps make it so that crossing a river triggers the fee, but I digress.
It's insane the traffic we get around here, and it's becoming a crisis.

Clean Your Own Muddy House First, Ms. Palin

Item: Palin says she will 'clean up' journalism
Pardon me for a second, k?
Ok, now that I got that out of my system...
Here's the funiest bit:

"I want to help clean up the state that is so sorry today of journalism. And I have a communications degree. I studied journalism, who, what, where, when, and why of reporting. I will speak to reporters who still understand that cornerstone of our democracy, that expectation that the public has for truth to be reported. And then we get to decide our own opinion based on the facts reported to us."

"And I can see Russia from my front porch!"

Now, here we have Sarah Palin. She attended five colleges to get that "degree" in communications, something they ought to revoke retroactively given her complete inability to construct a sentence that doesn't contain either a syntatical error or a neologism that, well, reeks of plagiarism.
We have Sarah "Half Term" Palin. We have a mother who isn't, a governor who isn't, and a college graduate who barely is. And if rumour is accurate, we have a wife who isn't. 
I don't expect scintillating conversation from a political figure, but it would be nice if I could read a speech without Google Translate, or the same feeling I get trying to understand a credit card agreement.
If she truly understood reporting, the way she claims to, then Katie Couric would have been praised by Palin, instead of basically called a heartless bitch, saying she will not speak to Couric again, calling her "biased" and won't "waste my time."
Because, you know, Couric dared be a journalist! OMG! Imagine!
She added: "So a journalist, a reporter who is so biased and will, no doubt, spin and gin up whatever it is that I have to say to create controversy, I swear to you, I will not my waste my time with her.  Or him."
In an interview later tonight on Fox News...
Where, of course, she's an analyst.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"We, The People..."

...ain't half as dumb as we look.
A few Sundays ago, the NY Times published an interactive US budgeting webpage. There, you could personalize your own 2011 Federal budget and try to reduce the deficit.
(For the record, I scored an $800 billion surplus by the year 2015, and a $2.6 trillion dollar surplus by 2030, all without major cuts to social programs or tax hikes on the middle class and working poor. But I digress...)
Well, over the weekend, the Times followed up with some startling, eye-opening statistics:

Reduce the size of the military rather than reduce pay for noncombat members of the military. Impose a millionaire’s tax rather than cut deductions for high-income households. Cap the growth of Medicare spending rather than raise the eligibility age...

The single least popular choice was allowing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income below $250,000 a year. Fewer than 10 percent of the solutions included that option. But when it came to tax cuts for incomes above $250,000, people’s opinions appeared to diverge according to their political views. Those who preferred spending cuts — a conservative group, in all likelihood — generally wanted this tax cut to remain in place. Among those who closed the deficit mostly with tax increases — probably a liberal group — the expiration was the single most selected policy.

The most popular option among all respondents? Reducing the military to less than its size before the Iraq war — included in about 80 percent of the solutions posted to Twitter. But cutting pay and benefits for the military was a choice of only 40 percent.

It seems I was not alone.

Admittedly, this is not a scientific sample. Altho there were over one million page views, the Times was only able to analyze those people who either tweeted (ugh!) or posted links to their solutions. Furthermore, they culled only those solutions that saved at least $1.345 trillion from the 2030 projected deficit, thus creating a balanced budget. This cut the total size of the analysis to a population of about 7,000 people, from which only a thousand or so were able to successfully balance the budget by 2030. (Results here)

Twitter and, say, Facebook postings tend to skew younger, and younger usually means more liberal.

But check out the agreement with regards to taxes: a full 73% of respondents believed that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy ought to expire, and nearly the same percentage believed a new "millionaire's tax" should be imposed (by the way, great little piece of neurolingsuitic programming, that. A "millionaire's tax"...who could possibly object?)

Even the carbon tax saw a 6 out of ten choice. This means that not only did liberals choose these taxes, but that many conservatives did as well!

There's hope yet for this nation.