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4/6/11

The art of getting bumped

Neat (via the New York Times):

[A]irlines continue to cut capacity in an effort to keep up with rising fuel prices, leaving fewer seats for passengers…. [T]here are some travelers who see the flight crunch as a lucrative opportunity. Among them is Ben Schlappig. The 20-year-old senior at the University of Florida said he earned “well over $10,000” in flight vouchers in the last three years by strategically booking flights that were likely to be oversold in the hopes of being bumped.

If you subscribe to the credo that there’s “nothing new under the sun,” then this is exactly the kind of pursuit you’d expect from young Americans who possess entrepreneurial spirit. There are many worse ways one could devise to maximize one’s benefit by exploiting some aspect of a system.

It’s refreshing to me to see a reversal in the trend of corporations destroying our society, even such an insignificant one. So, thank you, Mr. Schlappig, for doing the legwork. Perhaps others will gain from your pioneering ways.

Filed under Amusing (if only to me), Culture, Fluff, News, Travel, Uncategorized on April 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm
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3/9/11

You’ve gone and done it this time, Wisconsin Republicans.

Wisconsin Solidarity
Wow, Wisconsin Republicans, very slick. Your crap plan to kill collective bargaining (and a whole lot of other things about Wisconsin government) basically had the votes. But instead of waiting out the Dems who fled the state, you had to go and create a committee that met in violation of state open meeting laws.

Wisconsin state politics has long featured some degree of blatant corruption and/or powermongering (Tommy Thompson, Chuck Chvala, Gary George, etc.), but Governor Scott Walker isn’t anywhere near as savvy as any of those guys were.

Convening the hastily formed committee was clearly an illegal act. What fools they are to choose not to play by the rules and completely give up the moral high ground, especially when everybody knows they had the votes to eventually win anyway. It was an overreach from the start.

From http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dls/OMPR/2010OMCG-PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf (a guide to open meeting compliance from the WI attorney general in 2010) —

page 10:

The two most basic requirements of the open meetings law are that a governmental body:
(1) give advance public notice of each of its meetings, and
(2) conduct all of its business in open session, unless an exemption to the open session requirement applies.

and page 13:

The provision in Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3) requires that every public notice of a meeting be given at least twenty-four hours in advance of the meeting, unless “for good cause” such notice is “impossible or impractical.” If “good cause” exists, the notice should be given as soon as possible and must be given at least two hours in advance of the meeting. Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3).

No Wisconsin court decisions or Attorney General opinions discuss what constitutes “good cause” to provide less than twenty-four-hour notice of a meeting. This provision, like all other provisions of the open meetings law, must be construed in favor of providing the public with the fullest and most complete information about governmental affairs as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

Seriously, think about this for a second. What good cause could there possibly have been to create a committee and have it meet almost immediately? There is none. The Dems have been out of town for days, so the fact was that they just wanted to ram it through — that definitely doesn’t pass the “good cause” smell test (and if you argue that there was a good cause, think carefully about what your biases might be).

Maybe Michael Moore’s speech the other day spooked them.

Frankly, I’m amazed that this is happening in my home state. You know things are bad when even Wisconsinites finally decide enough is enough. To be honest, my (wacky and perhaps unrealistic) dream is that the next big progressive movement arises (again) in Wisconsin.

Filed under I Hate Politics, News, Uncategorized, Wisconsin (and tagged with , , , , , , ) on March 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm
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1/9/11

One guy’s initial thoughts: What conditions precipitate the shooting of Congresspeople?

I started to post this as my status on Facebook, but it was getting long.

I hardly need to say that I’m sad and angry that people are shooting at Congressional representatives and judges and children. I’m certain that our country’s culture of violence and cavalier attitude towards human life has something to do with it. The media, which have conflated news and entertainment, and politicians (and by extension political parties), who are increasingly disconnected from reality, bear much responsibility for where we are today.

I’m not sure how we as a country and as a society are ever going to grow up. I’m not quite naïve enough to believe that violence can ever fully be eradicated, because it’s been with us for all of history. I am still idealistic enough, however, to think that working to stop it is worthwhile. I think that starts with thinking of the people around us not as enemies or competitors, but as our brothers and sisters, people who are in the same struggle to survive and thrive as we are.

It continues by recognizing that the people who set us against one another, who have created this climate, do it because they have something to gain at our expense. (From kumbaya to overly abstract, I know, I know.)

In these times, I can’t help but think of George Washington’s warning against political parties (emphasis mine, of course):

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

(Relevant portions are excerpted and explained in this only slightly dated column from Harper’s Magazine, and the full text is here).

I have to say that I favor the actions and tenets of one party over another. And I’m not saying they’re equally responsible for what happened yesterday — using obvious violent metaphors in political rhetoric is inexcusable. Both parties have to be part of the solution, though.

And I know there are good people in the media, and in politics (like this guy); I really don’t know what happens to them on the way to the top. Maybe most of the ones that make it to the top are the ones who are willing to do anything to get there.

Regardless, this is a point at which I would like to see our country’s “leaders” take some responsibility, admit their errors, and call for people to be calm. Unfortunately, I expect to be waiting for a while.

The main thing I’d like them to say, and the impression I want this essay to leave, is timeless: Let’s treat those around us the way we want to be treated. Not as enemies.

Filed under Culture, History, I Hate Politics, News, Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 at 9:42 am
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12/13/10

Bernie Sanders’ 8 hour, 35 minute speech

Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind-VT):

We cannot give tax breaks to the rich when we already have the most unequal distribution of income of any major country on Earth. The top 1 percent earns 23 percent of all income in America, more than the bottom 50 percent. They don’t need more tax breaks to be paid for by our kids and grandchildren.

Read the whole 124-page transcript here.

Filed under Sometimes Politics is Okay, Uncategorized on December 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm
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12/12/10

My thoughts on economic issues

[This is a draft I saved on 12/12/10 that I was going to add evidence to, but I’m fine standing behind it as is. Others have done the work that supports my glib conclusions. This is the Internet, after all.]

Okay, so here are the things that are indisputable:

The gap between the rich and the poor is greater than ever. The difference in real pay between the McDonald’s clerk and the CEO is larger than it’s ever been.

My generation is the first in this country to be worse off than the one before.

So I laugh when people say taxing the rich isn’t necessary, or is punishing them, or is hurting the economy. How is taxing people with incomes of $250,000 hurting the economy? THEY ALREADY HAVE MONEY. They will continue to spend money and make money on the money they already have. They can absorb a much bigger tax hit, but apparently they’re rich enough to matter. Meanwhile, a huge number of working people living paycheck to paycheck (if lucky enough to get one) continue to suffer.

[Edit five years later: that particular cutoff strikes me as a bit simplistic, since the cost of living for even upper middle class people has gone up; I guess the solution would be, you know, move out of San Francisco or Manhattan.]

The rich are not being “punished” by having to pay higher rates of income taxes. They’re participating in the social contract our forefathers agreed to. They have been “punished” at much higher rates in the past but they’ve sold so many of us Americans on how tough it is to be rich.

The “government” is us — the people — or at least it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately the ones with money have bought and paid for it, so it’s US who don’t enjoy the same privileges our parents did. I know it’s not that simple. But it almost is.

I guess civilization ain’t quite as civilized as it used to be. I wish there were more guys like Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone (RIP).

Filed under I Hate Politics, Life, News, Uncategorized, Unfinished Thoughts on December 12, 2010 at 1:51 pm
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A blog entry and an EP that are all over the place

It frequently occurs to me to react to something I read online. That is not that interesting.

The interesting thing (at least to me) is that I almost always choose to submit a comment on the site that I’m reading, rather than linking to and reacting to the content on this blog. It might behoove me to reverse that. (I also tackled this topic two and a half years ago, to no avail.) Why should I add value to someone else’s site with my cogent, incisive, entertaining analysis? Why not promote myself right here? Why not express my thoughts here?

Speaking of which, it’s pretty obvious that I’m just thinking out loud here, so to speak (so to speak).

I was listening to “All Delighted People” from the EP of the same name by Sufjan Stevens, and I recognized the lyric he used: “…and the people bowed and prayed / to the neon gods they’d made.” I couldn’t immediately place it. Instead of making an attempt to recall what it was from, I took the lazy way out via the oracle Google. Of course, it’s from The Sound of Silence. When I looked up the song titles together, I found (on some random site) someone’s review of the EP, which was not all that complimentary but was at least (I thought) fair. Basically he said he wasn’t a huge fan and that he couldn’t really find a “through line” on the album.

My insight into the EP is this: When Sufjan played Oakland a month or two ago, he gave a really long monologue about what was going on in his head. The sense I got was that he was in a pretty bad place for a while, and these were songs he needed to record and be done with in order to move on to his next thing (The Age of Adz, a sprawling and ambitious project).

Music is an aesthetic pursuit and, as they say, “there’s no accounting for taste.” I used to think that that statement implied that the subject had bad taste. But now I realize it means that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to this stuff. A beancounter can’t quantify how good an album is. There are no audits in art. So we are all free to have our own opinions, and I like that we can talk about it.

As far as the EP itself, yes, it’s all over the place (much like this blog entry), but I love the way he’s defying conventions. As someone else said in the comments on the review, that’s the way new and original work is created. I am happy to be along for the ride.

Filed under Music, Uncategorized, Unfinished Thoughts on December 12, 2010 at 12:11 am
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11/2/10

Thoughts on a three-page ballot (photo illustration)

Commons Comic: original image from Flickr commons

Filed under Amusing (if only to me), I Hate Politics, Photography, Uncategorized (and tagged with , ) on November 2, 2010 at 8:27 am
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One guy’s progressive endorsements

My Ballot
There have been people in the past who have trusted me to give my take on the ballot to help them decide what to do. Things have been so busy this year that I haven’t gotten to this to this point, but, better late than never. I think in future elections I’ll do this a little earlier. (Part of the reason I am not posting this until now is that I am using this blog post, written tonight, as a way to clarify my own thoughts and make my final voting decisions.)

The ones that probably need the most help (in my subjective view) are up top; sorry if the order is confusing since it’s not the same order as the ballot. Ah, well. And, of course, the farther away you live from me, the less likely our ballots will be similar.

Special focus:

BART Director, District 4: Robert Raburn – he is an experienced transportation planner and transit/bike/pedestrian advocate, and a good guy. (He was E.D. of the East Bay Bike Coalition for 15 years, of which I’m a member.) From what I can tell, his opponent the incumbent is a politician with no particular expertise in transit planning. Vote for Robert Raburn.

Yes on Prop 25: This doesn’t go far enough, but it’s worth voting for. The budget should NOT require a 2/3 vote in the legislature.

No on Prop 26: Neither should fees to mitigate pollution! Defeat the initiative funded by Chevron.

While I’m on the subject, No on 23! Beat the Texas oil companies’ profit grab and save California’s climate policy.

Yes on Prop 19. The two main reasons I’d vote for it: Local, state, and federal government “waste valuable resources targeting non-violent cannabis consumers, while thousands of violent crimes go unsolved. And there is $14 billion in marijuana sales every year in California, but our debt-ridden state sees none of the revenue that would come from controlling and taxing it.” (Quote from the Yes on 19 website.) That last reason alone is reason to vote for it. People are going to do it either way (similar to alcohol during Prohibition), so why not maximize the societal benefit?

Also, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as alcohol. Alcohol is (obviously) addictive and can cause death if overused (or, for example, if used before getting behind the wheel), both unlike marijuana. Time Magazine reports on how marijuana is not a gateway drug — but the discredited idea is still used as an excuse to continue a failing policy. Read more info from LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition).

City of Oakland Mayor:

The Ron Dellums era is (thankfully) ending. Let’s just forget about the last four years of Oakland city government, shall we?

Oakland needs a leader who is focused on Oakland, not just an office to hold when termed out of the state legislature. I’ve heard good things about both Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan — people I trust have a lot of experience with both of them, and I think they’re running for the right reasons. Luckily, the city has finally implemented the ranked-choice voting (instant runoff!) that voters mandated several years ago, so here’s my recommendation:

  1. Quan or Kaplan
  2. Kaplan or Quan
  3. Anyone else but Don Perata

Perata is the front-runner due to name recognition, I’m guessing. However, even though he represented Oakland in Sacramento, he lived in Alameda. I just worry that he’s going to be similar to Dellums — out of touch with what a mayor should do and just marking time. If you vote the way I suggest, your vote will certainly count for either Kaplan or Quan, since I will be shocked if either of them finish worse than 3rd.

Other state ballot measures:

No on Prop 20. The redistricting commission established by Prop 11 a few years ago was not designed to redraw Congressional districts, and it shouldn’t. There’s a lot at stake in terms of federal funding for California, and Californians should keep our state on a level playing field relative to other states.

Yes on Prop 21: Cars are far too subsidized in California, and State Parks need funding. It’s a modest user fee that saves recreational opportunities and habitat. Easy choice.

Prop 22: I am just not sure. If you support local government and agree with the League of California Cities that the state government shouldn’t borrow from cities to plug holes in the swiss-cheese-like state budget, then vote Yes on 22. If you agree with the California Teachers Association and the California Professional Firefighters (the union that represents the state agency that fights wildfires as well as many local departments) vote No on 22 to protect state funding for things like education. This might fall under the “when in doubt, vote no” strategy, especially since it’s a constitutional amendment.

Yes on Prop 24: It repeals a law that creates corporate tax loopholes. I don’t believe the scare tactics that say businesses are leaving California, because the data says they aren’t.

Yes on Prop 27 (with philosophical reservations). Prop 27 abolishes the aforementioned redistricting commission and returns the responsibility of redistricting to the legislature. On balance, I say vote yes, but I am doing it while holding my nose. Most progressive organizations say that you should vote yes on Prop 27, which seems to be a primarily pragmatic stance.  Passing Prop 27 would undoubtedly result in more liberals/progressives/Democrats in office after the redistricting, because the California legislature is controlled by Democrats, and legislature-run redistricting processes generally favor the party that is currently in power through the creation of gerrymandered districts.

Gerrymandered districts have problems. However, the commission as currently constituted — “balanced” between Dems, Repubs, and “independents” — is no panacea either. It certainly doesn’t reflect California to the extent that the legislature does. The tipping point is this: Prop 11/Prop 20 has a weird clause that requires that districts be homogeneous based on income — read more at http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/no-on-prop-20-yes-on-27-171353.aspx — and for that reason I say No on 20, Yes on 27.

State Candidates:

U.S. Senate: Barbara Boxer

Attorney General: Kamala Harris
Lt. Governor: Gavin Newsom
Insurance Commish: Dave Jones

Governor: Jerry Brown
Sec’y of State: Debra Bowen
Controller: John Chiang
Treasurer: Bill Lockyer
State B.O.E. (District 1): Betty Yee

9th Congressional District: Barbara Lee
16th Assembly District: Sandré Swanson
CA Supreme Court: no idea at this point.

Alameda County/Oakland measures:

I need to do way more research before I say a word about these. More later, maybe… but for now I think this is pretty comprehensive for anyone who’s going to read this. Enjoy! Let me know what you think.

Filed under California, I Hate Politics, Rants, Recommendations, Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 12:53 am
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8/5/10

Thoughts of Brainwash (photo illustration)

bw-derby-thoughts-crop

Just for fun.

Filed under Amusing (if only to me), I love Oakland, movies, Photography, Uncategorized (and tagged with , ) on August 5, 2010 at 8:44 am
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8/3/10

Brainwash Movie festival THIS Saturday (& next weekend)

Yes, the 16th Annual Brainwash Drive-in Bike-in Walk-in Movie Festival is almost upon us!

I’ll bet you didn’t know that the New York Times says the Brainwash Movie Festival “pirates a piece of that old Hollywood magic and challenges conventions on the role of public space in the process.”

Funny, because Brainwash organizers say, “We project movies onto a tarp in a parking lot in Oakland.”

Brainwash features a great mix of new movies from the Bay Area and all over the world, featuring dark humor, animation, mockumentaries, and much more. See http://www.brainwashm.com/festival/2010-festival/ for this year’s full program.

What’s a Drive-in Bike-in Walk-in Movie Festival? It’s set up like a traditional drive-in with FM sound as well as two big amps. Arrive however you choose: drive, bike, or walk in, perhaps with your favorite chair or blanket. West Oakland BART is one block away.

The festival will be held Saturday, August 7th, Friday, August 13th, and Saturday, August 14th (9:00 p.m. each night) at the Mandela Village Arts Center at 1357 5th St in Oakland.

Admission is just $10, or a $40 Festival Pass gets two people into all three nights of the festival. Tickets are available at http://www.ticketweb.com/snl/EventListings.action?orgId=16986 or at the gate. More about Brainwash.

Also, I’d be glad if you wanted to post one of these lovely banner ads (below and in the sidebar) on your own site. Somehow that seems unlikely, but you never know.

brainwash 2010 program

Brainwash Movie Festival

Filed under California, Culture, I love Oakland, movies, Recommendations, Uncategorized (and tagged with , ) on August 3, 2010 at 9:01 am
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