Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Graduate finals, or "Undergrads"

UPDATE 12/13/2011: I have searched for several days now for a new place to settle in and convert to a dystopian Man Cave. My criteria are simple: a comfortable seat, a large space to lay out my dozens of papers and books (so that I can look at them all simultaneously, if need be), some mellow and indistinguishable background white noise, a large drawing space for erasable markers, and a stark absence of undergraduate students. I do not include this final criterion out of any sense of blind prejudice or hypocritical elitism (though I guess that last part is debatable...), but rather out of an earnest effort to avoid conflict during those manic periods of finals at around 7-9pm, 11:30-12pm, 2-4am and 1 hour after dawn  - when the beauty has worn off and you realize that it is indeed very, very early and you didn't get to sleep and your marginal productivity is slipping again.


P.S. The study rooms are not for drinking Diet Dr. Pepper and Malibu while playing a harmonica. Why are you even awake?! Go home!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Subjective Well-Being, or "Measuring Happiness and Opportunity as a Benchmark for Policy"

“When we think about policy then I think we need to make some normative choices about what versions of happiness societies care about… I certainly think that the US, which has the pursuit of happiness in the declaration, and has traditionally emphasized opportunities over outcomes, would opt for an Aristotelian definition [of life-fulfillment]. If we went as far as to say that happiness is a benchmark for policy and we have an Aristotelian definition allowing citizens to lead fulfilling lives, then promising happiness in that sense as a policy objective requires providing all citizens with the agency to pursue it.”

In recent years, a number of countries have begun to incorporate measures of subjective well-being – or “happiness” – into their benchmarks for development and national progress. Even in the United States, policymakers and academics are beginning to consider the merits of measuring happiness and its role in public discourse. This is great part because of the work of Carol Graham and her colleagues.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adventures on the Circulator

Each city handles fare evaders differently. Today I took the Circulator's Yellow Line over toward Georgetown to hear a panel of experts talk about the woes of human migration, and I experienced a brief moment of MUNI-ness. Three stops out from Union Station a group of individuals step onto the bus and move to the back of the car, while one woman wearing a heavy wool jacket clearly fails to pay her fare.

"Excuse me mam," the bus driver eventually says.

Silence.

 "Excuse me mam."

She wears a look of confusion, searching about for a source of the voice.

"Excuse me, MAM!"

She looks about once more and finally finds the furious gaze of the bus driver. He raises his eyebrows in the universal human gesture of "what the hell do you think you're doing?". She stares at him for a moment, and he supplements his massage with an open hand, palm up and flat, that slowly but deliberately directs her attention to the fare box, never breaking his gaze. "Yes?" She asks.

"Aren't you going to pay your fare?" The woman cocked her head to her left in the universal, cross-species sign of curiosity and did not say a word. "Aren't you going to pay the fare?!" he repeated.

"No.... we don't pay the fare."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mental Image from Ebenezer's, or "A burgeoning relationship with the neighborhood cafe"

Below is an excerpt from a conversation I had with Chelsea about how this week is going:

" I'm here getting distracting and losing my will to work on school things now, but BEFORE this I was at that coffee shop with the good chais... [Ebenezers]
I made a breakthru on my paper proposal and got all excited as i was sitting next to the window bay across from the bar.... after like 2 hours
I stood up, poured my refilled coffee into my travel mug so it would stay warm, danced a bit to myself with my big green headphones on, bents down to get a new pen, found an even better pen than I expected and stood up excitedly, like hooray!
and backhanded the shit out of my topless coffee mug
which then exploded its contents not only all over my phone and computer, and my chair
but also the window
the wall
the floor
some more of the floor
the OTHER wall
another chair
and all over the shoes of the only other person still in the cafe with me...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

"You are wrong, and I don't know what you're talking about" (Part III)

For the next few weeks I moved the X-Wing frequently so that it would not even be on a street being checked each day. I printed my receipt for the DMV appointment and taped it to the inside of my windshield next to the note requesting pity from SF parking enforcement. And then the day arrived.

The DMV is an incredible place that seems to be a a strange timewarp-delay of 20 years, no matter the decade. The technology in this office was clearly a product of the 1990s including large projection televisions with static, MSDOS running on nearly every computer monitor, massive copy machines, and a 4-foot stack of boxes filled with staples. I could see that the desktop behind the counter closest to me had an extension for zip-drive disks. Everyone was dressed in plaid or bright pastel blouses.

Everyone has to come here at some point. The DMV is one of those pieces of the American experience that still unifies the public with a shared identity and nemesis (read, "nation building"). And it has a remarkable capacity to strip even the most determined individual of the reason and patience they might exhibit in all other aspects of their life, so that you inevitably find yourself sputtering half-conceived nonsense in protest of just about everything. A line stretched out of the front door, everyone appeared to be either angry or anxious, and only 2 of the 30 windows showed any sign of activity. How this widespread phenomenon has persisted against all probability since Man first had to register the first wheelbarrow with his tribal accountant, I will never know. But I am certain that if we could make citizens at the DMV feel loved and appreciated, the quality of our entire political culture, national democracy and positive views of government would increase a hundred fold.

45 minutes later my number was called over the loudspeaker. I approached Window#19 with deep breaths and explained my predicament one more time. And then something new, and sweet, and unexpected happened.

"Oh, wow. That sucks. We should probably apologize for that."

"Oh my, is that.... is that an apology?"

"No, it was an observation."

"Oh," I considered. "Well, would you like to apologize then?"

He thought for some time. "Um, yeah, OK." And just like that, he turned back to his green-text computer screen to finish processing my request, his cheeks undoubtedly blushing behind his frightening scraggly beard.

I felt vindicated and light of heart. Within moments this man had produced for me the registration for which I had longed for so many months. With the X-Wing's legal recognition in hand, I left the crude place and pranced forth into the sunlight with great hope. I could now drive without risking arrest, and my misunderstood offenses would be forgiven. I was vindicated, and I was free.

Briefly.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What a US default would mean, and why you really need to care

*I'm going to preface this with a request. If anyone reading this can provide me with a good explanation of the GOP perspective, I will be incredibly grateful.*


The general media has thrown around words like “apocalypse” and “destitution” and “bluff” in the face of federal default, while a minority of the GOP has seriously suggested that it could even be a good thing for the nation – an opportunity to sober up government and reduce unbalanced spending.

That sounds nice, but absolutely absurd. I don’t mean to be partisan most of the time, but with an honest look at our prospects in the wake of 4 failed negotiations this week, there isn't really an alternative. Yes the government spends A LOT of money, and Yes it needs reforms to reach sustainable limits, but the debt ceiling is now too serious a trigger to be used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.

BOND RATINGS (OH HOW EXCITING)

If the federal government fails to pay its dues and the US bond rating is reduced from AAA to B-plus, you can bet your ass we’ll have a fiscal crisis on our hands, as well as a tremendous shockwave throughout the entire national economy that would almost certainly cripple any recovery that we’ve managed to eek out so far.

Clearly the GOP/Tea Party Caucus has never taken a course in macroeconomics (which from me is saying something!) You see, it’s not just about a decreased bond rating from Moody’s – most people don’t even know what that means. Those that do increasingly counter that these large rating agencies gave companies like Leman Brothers high marks before their inevitable collapse, and so why should anyone trust their ratings now?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Digestible explanation of international austerity and debt, or "The myth of Austerity"

Okay, so this may not seem to have a lot to do with LOCAL politics - but trust me, it does. (And even if it didn't it's still worth your 5 minutes!)

Mark Blyth is a professor of International Political Economy at Brown University and faculty fellow at its Watson Institute for International Studies. He is writing "Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea," forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2011.

Just to tie it together a little bit, local governments are ultimately the agents responsible for administering public and social services. When national governments - or in our case, federal or state governments - cut public services and funding for support programs, it is the local governments that are squeezed most. Many times the services they provide are even mandated by local rules or legislation (i.e. the "independent socialist republic of San Francisco"), and so the services just go unfunded or the localities have to raise finances on their own. In both cases, the public takes it our on the the city/county/district first. No fair!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Urban Art, "Ads can be art too!"

Everyday I am bombarded with advertisements and messages that make me want to buy things (or sometimes not buy things). On my way to work, on my way to the other bus, on my way to City Hall, on my way to the PUC, on my way to the wonderful Turkish kebab shop next to Burger King on Market, on my way home, and while I am sitting still in my chair trying to find information about risk management best practices and public financing. And it sucks.

But sometimes, an ad actually grabs my attention in spite of my best anti-capitalist efforts. Perhaps it is just part of living in a dense city, but it makes me want to carry a camera everywhere I go to capture the failures or absurdities of urban marketing. These are part of my everyday life.

Ellis & Market

Bad News Bears for State's corrections agency, or "MORE Bad News Bears for the State's corrections agency"

The California State Controller's Office this morning released its most recent audit of the CDCR, and it wasn't a pat on the back. The State's prison system has become one of the nation's most expensive and worst funded, and in recent months several internal investigations have been launched to root out misspending and abuses (both financial and physical, which is doubly sad).

In the midst of the State's Realignment, and in the wake of SCOTUS's scathing review and injunction last month, Sacramento is finally taking a critical look at prison-corrections costs and detention policies in an effort to (a) not get sued again and (b) save some much-needed $moolah$.

The report this morning points to "grossly inadequate procedures... for collecting overpayment of salaries and travel advances made through the agency’s office revolving fund", says State Controller Chiang. The audit also identifies several cases of mis-appropriation and abuse of public funds. No good, CDCR. No good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quote of the day, or Goat Proletariat

Excerpt from the comment section of a Berkeleyside news article this morning, “Goats reduce fire hazards in the Berkeley hills”:

"In an Animal Farm analogy, the 600 goats should become conscious of the fact that a handful of humans and a few guard dogs are exploiting and enslaving them for their own profit and benefit.  As the vanguard of the proletariat, we in Berkeley should sow dissension among the goats, support revolutionary goat liberation and foment the overthrow of "Farmer Jones."  The exploitation and mistreatment of these proletariat goats has already been documented locally."

Monday, July 18, 2011

"You are wrong, and I don't know what you're talking about" (Part II)

Several days later, the Ante was upped to $180 with a third citation in less than two weeks time. I printed the receipt from my online renewal and taped it to my windshield with a plea to stop issuing tickets. I moved my car frequently so that it was not even on the same street as the parking officers on their daily routes. I submitted a formal protest to SFMTA and assured them that my registration would update in March. "I have an appointment," I pleaded. "They're going to give me me new tags because the old ones just never came." I was skipping lunch for this :/

"Mmm hmmm, so they never came...4 months ago? Whadya been doin' since 4 months ago, hmmm?"

"Trying to get them!"

She scoffed. "I don't think the DMV would do that to you."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Our vacations are never simple

This adventure started July 1, then took a break for this past week while I worked in the city and my car was stuck in Valencia, CA. It now resumes. The last 650-mile leg will start and end ... ... TOMORROW!

Monday, July 11, 2011

"You are wrong, and I don't know what you're talking about" (Part I)

The California Department of Motor Vehicles gave me an early birthday present this year, validating our long unspoken love for one another. But we will get to that.

In October of 2010, the registration for my 1999 Silver Volvo V70 station wagon with turbo and spoiler(yeah!) was scheduled to expire. As often happens in the case of responsible and modern law abiding citizens, the registration was updated, fees were paid, and a receipt of my online activities was delivered to my inbox. The experience was unnecessarily complicated, but no more so than filing the forms in person. The Renewal Notice and instructions thanked me for following the law, and suggested that I allow up to 8 weeks for my Registration Tags to be delivered. And so passed without my consideration, the first of several mythic signs of things to come.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quote of the day, or "Thermostat WTF"

"The US military's bill for air-conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan each year is about $20billion - about a third of the entire UK defence budget."

סּ_סּ  http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9525000/9525737.stm 

Nobody's heard of 
evaporative cooling?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When it rains in June

"...Wesley Crusher."

“What the fuck are you talking about?!” bellowed the woman in stalkings as rain poured down around us. I should have seen that coming.

----------------- 

A tropical depression made it pour today, which just goes to show you that the San Francisco weather god has it in for us. Weird things happen when it rains here in June, and people don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Two days ago it was beautiful and warm and college kids filled the Park for Alice’s Summerthing after the Pride Parade, but now citizens that had for months mastered the art of dressing for this City’s fickle winter weather strode about grappling with their coats and upturned umbrella’s.

Three o’clock rolls around and my eyes are about to fall out of my head because I’m stuck in an office with two flickering halogen bulbs and a full-spectrum lamp as bright as the sun (which I guess was the point, in retrospect). My left hand is soar from repeating the same keystrokes for 5 hours, and I pulled a muscle in my leg while attempting funky office stretches to stay awake :| Time for coffee.

I grab my jacket and frown because it isn’t a coat. Of course I did not plan on it raining today – because it’s June 28th and it should be hot by now! – but my coworker offers me her “oversized umbrella”. I happily accept the gift and prance happily out of the office into the damp air.

-----------------

Ah, sipping warm coffee by a full-length rain-speckled window listening to weird Starbucks jazz, how I have missed you. I watch as a man in an expensive pinstriped grey suit and Oakleys in the rain gestures like a magician as part of some elaborate story he is telling to a very cold and wet woman in a purple dress. 

"Hey, what the hell are you doing here?!" My regular barista shouts to me across the cafe. "Don't you have to be at work or something?"
"I work for the government," I retort dismissively, returning my curious attention to the couple. "We don't work, we just drink coffee. Doesn't matter where I do it." . . . . 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Street Art

San Francisco has an incredible Art Commission, but compared to other cities like Seattle or Boston, San Francisco has a fairly limited public art program. The smallest detail of a public art project can become a divisive political battle leading to countless public hearings, sabotage and conspiracy theories. Such is the civic culture of this city. (At least they're engaged, right? ... ...right??) But a vacuum attracts content, especially when it is surrounded by activists, culture, media, hippie artists and resources.

Over the past several years, more and more private displays (especially guerilla art) have cropped up across the foggy city in areas bountiful with flat surfaces but lacking in advanced color schemes. It's become a sort of pastime of mine to record some of my favorites. Here's a teaser sample below.

Le Enchante Cafe @ 26th & Geary
Langton Labs @ Howard & Langton, SF


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quote of the Day, or No fish for you

"Sometimes the supes act on the commission's recommendations, such as when they approved a ban on declawing cats. And sometimes they don't, such as when the animal panel suggested introducing birth control pills into birdseed to solve the city's pigeon problem."

The Board of Supervisors is preparing to consider legislation to ban the sale of gold fish in San Francisco. Seriously. The new ordinance would prohibit the sale of certain pets within the City limits in an effort to curb animal abandonment. The idea is that small cute animals are more vulnerable to "impulse buying" and consequently higher levels of discarding when owners get bored. San Francisco's Animal Control and Welfare Commission this week renewed its push for a pet sale ban after a year-long study cute animal sales, and its recommendations will appear before the Board in the coming weeks.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rollerblade group at Powell BART Station

Some pretty fun antics go down in San Francisco at late hours. I was trying to find Pandora Karaoke Bar last Friday when I came across this flashmob of rollerbladers, skaters, skate boarders and people on various wheeled devices. An announcer was challenging more and more of them to make it down the escalators on their wheels, and one guy not only accepted but jumped over 4 people laying side-to-side and made it down the escalator backwards.



Does anybody know what group this is that rides around SF late at night? Props to them. (risk management lag!)

MUNI makes it onto FailBlog

Yup. Nuff said. (8 June 2011)

Quote of the Day

"We would like to have a laser inside the body of the animal, to generate laser light directly within the animal's tissue."

Excellent. Harvard scientists have used a genetically engineered human kidney cell as a "gain medium" to amplify light waves into a laser. It's nothing compared to the 1 megajoule power of Lawrence Livermore Labs's National Ignition Facility out here in Cali, but then again we won't be the first to get laser sharks :/

" Hundreds of different gain media have been used, including various dyes and gases [and Jell-O]. But no one has used living tissue. Mostly out of curiosity, Malte Gather and Seok-Hyun Yun of Harvard University decided to investigate with a single mammalian cell.
They injected a human kidney cell with a loop of DNA that codes for an enhanced form of green fluorescent protein. Originally isolated from jellyfish, GFP glows green when exposed to blue light and has beeninvaluable as a biological beacon, tracking the path of molecules inside cells and lighting up when certain genes are expressed.
After placing the cell between two mirrors, the researchers bombarded it with pulses of blue light until it began to glow. As the green light bounced between the mirrors, certain wavelengths were preferentially amplified until they burst through the semi-transparent mirrors as laser light. Even after a few minutes of lasing, the cell was still alive and well. "

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Realignment and the Corrections Crisis, or "9 Fellows Walk Into a Bar..." (Pt.5)

I visited Sacramento four months ago with my fellowship cohort to meet with policy wonks, and to ask some uncomfortable questions about the state of the State. A $26B budget deficit, gridlocked politicians, a frumpy economy, a mess of jurisdictional mishaps and dozens of uncoordinated populist initiatives that don't look so hot the next morning had (and still have) all conspired to ruin everything.  Wild rumors had been flying about in San Francisco that the state was considering a wide-reaching reorientation of public services, and that local governments would expectedly "get the shaft" in these changes. That turned out to be true.

It was hailed as the great "Realignment" and in this shifting of authorities, monies and services, prison reform (kinda) made it onto the list. And rightly, considering that California has one of the largest prison populations out of any state in the Union, and that the Union has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the ENTIRE WORLD. That mean's we're the best!

My group has started working with the County Sheriff's office on a project to evaluate the levels of recidivism in San Francisco, the effectiveness of corrections programming and alternative sanctions, and CCSF's ability to adapt some of those services to a new population. It could not be timelier. The US Supreme Court last month upheld an injunction against California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for civil rights violations like inadequate medical care and services, and violence, due to overcrowding (see Brown v. Plata). The number of prisoners incarcerated in California since the 1970s has increased sevenfold, and the system is now over 175% of its official inmate capacity with 143,000 prisoners (down from 173,000 in 2006). This was identified as a significant cause of the rights violations, and so the State was ordered to either (a) increase capacity and services or - since California’s annual budget is still short by several billion dollars - (b) to release or redistribute approximately 33,000 prisoners.

The ruling itself was no surprise. The case was pending for several years, and it was really a matter of time before the High Court followed up in the case - it was just a bit earlier than anyone thought. Unfortunately this means San Francisco and hundreds of other municipalities across California will be absorbing some of the State prisoners into their jails and local corrections programs. The official objective is to move low-level offenders closer to their communities, as this has shown to encourage rehabilitation and stabilization - but it's also about money and a federal injunction.


This is a new demographic for county sheriffs - more serious crimes, different affiliations, somewhat more radical behaviors, and parolees. Counties are generally ill-equipped to manage these offenders, but we have to learn. The City's expecting at least 700-800 new state prisoners next year. It's hard to know a definite number, though; the state doesn't share all inmate records that signify who's eligible for the transfer.

As a state, we need to ask some important questions, foremost of which is how our already enormous corrections system has swelled to nearly twice its official capacity. Is it the judges, or lawyers, or the police? Whoever it is, they're clearly crazy. Unfortunately the problem isn't that simple. There does not seem to be any single mechanism to blame or switch to flip that would resolve this crisis - and with costs skyrocketing, a structural state deficit, abuses gaining public attention, report after report indicating that the prison systems are often overtly and procedurally racist, and with a new court injunction, it really is a crisis for the state. 

But if I were to dismiss nuance and point to something as a fundamental structural flaw, I would start with California's infamous Three Strikes Law.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Liu's 9th Circuit nomination blocked by GOP (again), withdraws

"Oh, come oooooonnn!"
In the latest round of GOP obstructionism, Republican representatives in the Senate have blocked through fillibuster the nomination of UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Liu was first nominated in February of 2010 by President Obama. He is a Rhodes Scholar and Supreme Court clerk, and he has received the highest rating possible from the American Bar Association.

Republicans protested his history with the American Constitutional Society, of which he served as Chairman. The ASC was first formed at the Georgetown Law Center in 2001 as a "liberal" research institute ('think tank'). It has pursued such crazy liberal issues as individual rights and liberties, access to legal resources, and structural inequalities in public institutions, and even publishes the Harvard Law & Policy Review (ew gross!). Liu has also spoken out on legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage and affirmative action, which he seems to support.

Republicans also voiced concern over his age and experience (ummm...). Liu is 39 years old, and would have been among the youngest appointees to the 9th Circuit. However, among the 18 youngest candidates nominated to the federal appellate courts since the Reagan administration, ALL OF THEM have been Republican nominees.

The vote to cut off debate through super majority was held last Thursday, but the final vote fell to 52-43. On Wednesday, Liu asked President Obama to withdraw his nomination in an effort to end the senseless controversy. Liu suggests that the recent fighting over his candidacy may be holding up other nominees from getting proper reviews. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals covers 9 western states and Guam (jurisdiction), and has been short-staffed with judges for several years running due to delayed reviews and protests over nominees. The problem is only getting worse.


Read more from the SF Chronicle on SFGate.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Urban Artwork: Mission (Lower 24 St.)

Cities develop an identity based, in part, on their expression of culture - and what is a more clear expression of this culture than crazy SF street art! San Francisco prides itself on an eclectic hodgepodge of identities - ethnicities, icons, sexualities, religions and mix of a dozen other factors - and the meeting of these forces manifests in anything from guerrilla art to coordinated public street projects. And these displays are not always where you would expect them.

Over the last ten months I've begun documenting some of my favorites in and around my city, and I'll be sharing a  sample over the next few weeks.

Mural on an apartment on 24th St. and Alabama in the Mission District
Take the murals of the Mission District that my program toured last Fall (around 24th and Folsom to Potrero) as the first example. They're neat, eh? And colorful? Indeed. But they are also woven into the history and identity of the neighborhood. We met with Erick Aronello of the Lower 24th Street Merchant & Neighbors Association and a handful of his colleagues, who explained the work and mission of his group within the greater context of the community. It is an unusual mix of neighborhood groups, local businesses and non-profit organizations (mostly arts, housing, job placement and family services) that sit on the board. It partners with organizations like LISC, the Market Planning Initiative, SF Planning Department, DPW and a dozen others on common services and special projects (such as creating and maintaining sanctioned murals). The Lower 24th MNA is only about 11 years old, but it formed at a critical moment and out of an immediate need within the community to resolve a history of residential and commercial conflicts that had stalled, and in some cases stopped altogether, the redevelopment and revitalization of this once flourishing neighborhood.

The recent history of the Lower Mission is an outstanding, though often tragic example of how the many variables of urban life play into each other in San Francisco. Once a predominantly Irish neighborhood with a  growing Latino population, the economic power of the Mission was in many ways upended during the construction of BART in the late 1960's to 1970s. They Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system had long been hailed as the next generation in regional transportation (replacing the Keys System of surface electric rail cars) and the project began with local and national fanfare. But when it came to urban planning, someone dropped the ball. In order for the underground rail lines to be laid, most of the Mission corridor was excavated and closed for several years without proper consulting or relocation of local businesses. There was inadequate public and pedestrian transportation along the route, and over time these businesses were forced to close. By the time BART construction was finished in the mid 1970s it was a different neighborhood, both demographically and financially.

The neighborhood saw a surge in gang violence and the homeless population during the 1980s, and with this change came an inflow of drugs and organized crime. After a series of arson cases and violent murders in 1997-1998, the neighborhood began to seriously resist despite little cooperation from the City's police and local merchants. Residents lobbied the City for more public lighting and financial assistance, cut down trees at their own initiative to increase exposure from streetlights, and formed several ad hoc neighborhood watch and community programs. Many merchants were wary to get involved, concerned that they would lose the protections offered by local gangs. There were still tensions among the activists about the role that the SFPD could play in the neighborhood, and the community ultimately lacked enough resources to make these efforts lasting...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Quote of the day

"The nation hit its nearly $14.3-trillion debt limit this week"

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said talks had hit an impasse. The "Group of Six" had met for several hours late Monday, but several sources report that Coburn ran into resistance when he proposed making cuts to Medicare that were considered "unacceptable" by other members. The Senator became upset, spilling his glass of milk all over the table and complaining that no one ever listens to him as he stomped out of the room.

The setback shifts attention to the closed-door negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden and congressional leaders to reach an agreement on budget cuts. Treasury officials have said the nation will default on obligations if its borrowing capacity is not increased by August 2. Republicans are demanding $2 trillion in spending cuts  in exchange for their votes to increase the debt limit and avoid defaulting on obligations.

This game of chicken is getting a bit old for local governments that depend on federal distributions to maintain some critical services, and once again we are facing a damaging cut in funds on one hand and a suspension of federal spending on the other. No good.

11 weeks and counting.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Persistent, or "There's Still Sun in the Park!"

Incredibly, I am still determined to bike to work every day. Part of this, I am sure, is the sudden and wonderful turn of weather up here in the City. It has been uncharacteristically warm for over a week now, and I am trying to take advantage of every photon before the fog finds its way home, and I sulk back into the regular crowds and bus lines.

Thousands of people seem to have the same idea. As I rode home at the end of my week - having discovered a tricky zig-zag street path that avoids sudden and desperate inclines, endearingly called "the Wiggle" - I stumbled upon this group of impromptu musicians by the Conservatory of Flowers. The hodgepodge seemed iconic of GGPark, including various percussion instruments, a flute, harmonica, man on a sax, middle aged tech-industry guy letting his wild side out with maracas, a handmade pseudo-Chinese string instrument, an electric guitar duck-taped to a portable amp, a woman that no one knew but who wanted so badly to dance, and to the left a very old man enjoying his hash and his mop-puppy.

Fun fact: The Conservatory was purchased and brought to CA by the one and only James Lick - the hit-and-miss piano maker, romantic, trouble-maker business man of the 19th century, and financier of the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton - who had originally meant for the structure to be built near his eccentric mansion in San Jose, but then left it on the docks for a nearly a decade until he died. Now we have it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Muni "bonds", or "How I rode my bike and then caved in"

As a not-wealthy resident of San Francisco, I have a relationship with MUNI transit. It's not great, it's not (usually) terrible, but it is certainly special. The most accurate comparison would be to the relationship you might have with that college friend or roommate that always hangs around and conveniently has a car, but no one is quite sure why he's part of the group because the only time you talk about him is to talk shit or recall a ridiculous story that usually ends with someone dancing drunk on a table at a stranger's house or getting slapped in the face at a Wendy's. But still, you keep coming back for more - and part of you kind of wants to.

On Tuesday I missed the 31-Balboa inbound and chose to walk down to the 5-Fulton, as is often the case. MUNI open sourced it's vehicle tracking data and I have a nifty app that tells me when the buses come now, but to no surprise it has an incredibly difficult time keeping track of the 31 inbound. "6 minutes" it says, and then a moment later it refreshes and reads "10 minutes". Once I relax and settle into the last sips of my cofee, it tells me "12 seconds, ha ha. you're screwed I tricked you." So now my only reliable signal is the mid-pitch ZZZ-ing noise of the electric engine of a bus tearing its way down Balboa toward my apartment, past my apartment, and away from my apartment. When the winding noise first penetrates my windows in the morning, I have approximately 50 seconds to grab my gear, get down the stairs and run two blocks to the bus stop. It may or may not actually stop.

Whatever is going on here, just leave the station and walk away.
So on Tuesday I walked to the 5, boarded, and headed in to the urban core for work. The bus filled up, became full, continued to fill up until there was nowhere to move, and then a middle aged man vomited everywhere in the middle of his second bottle of gin.

On Wednesday I opted to ride my bike to work, and it was wonderful, and clean, and warm. I rode past the Conservatory of Flowers, along dirt trails, amongst giggling children playing in fields with remarkably absent parents, and I even lost a 2 1/2 mile street race through the Panhandle and down Page by several seconds with a strange hipster on another Peugeot. All this and I still got to work 20 minutes earlier. But of course, I can never stay away forever. I always come back with some rationalization, secretly curious about strangers I’d see and the next MUNI mishap that I could be part of. And in the back of my mind, I always think that it will be a little bit more convenient than another mode of transportation. After a 300 ft climb uphill on my first mile going home, dodging cars on narrow streets and bikes flying in the opposite direction, I had my justification.

For now I will split my time between the open, beautiful bikeways of Golden Gate Park and the congested anarchy of MUNI in rush hour, until the next health-hazard drives me to the streets once again. No matter the malfunctions, delays, anxiety, reckless abandonment of traffic code, claustrophobia, and generic icky-ness of certain bus lines, it seems I will always return to this awkward friend.


One writer on Muni Diaries sums up his the experience nicely, with graphics!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So....who gets the money?


I wrote an entry this past March reflecting the political controversy around redevelopment agencies in California. Governor Brown still argues that the State ought to dissolve the agencies to reclaim short-term costs to Sacramento's tax revenue, but others argue that redevelopment agencies foster long term growth and profits in areas that would otherwise not develop in the normal market.

There are examples of abuse and success for either side of the argument to hold up to the spotlight, but the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency is noted as one of the most successful cases in the program. The agency has integrated into the City's administrative framework since its incorporation in 1948 by taking on responsibilities in financing, planning and coordination in a variety of City projects, and even asserted its management capacity in increasingly complex initiatives. The SFRA now holds jurisdiction (often shared) over more than 10% of the territory of San Francisco. Active project areas include:

» Yerba Buena Center
» Hunters Point Shipyard
» Rincon Point/South Beach
» Bayview Hunters Point
» Bayview Industrial Triangle
» South of Market
» Mission Bay North & South
» Transbay
» Vistacion Valley


» *Treasure Island redevelopment is no longer part of SFRA, and is instead managed by the quasi-independent Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA)



The Agency is an entity legally separate from CCSF, but it only performs certain functions authorized by the City and County of San Francisco and in areas designated as Redevelopment Zones by the Board of Supervisors.

With the threat of dissolution looming awkwardly in the air over every redevelopment conversation in San Francisco, CCSF is left with the uncomfortable task of figuring what to do with the billions of dollars in projects, contracts and funds - and 10% of San Francisco - that will have to be handed to someone else to manage. Realistically, the RA projects already underway will likely continue without intervention or suspension, but the real problem is the coming disruption to administrative services and the juggle of authority that always gets more complicated than it needs to in SF. Now, there is also a whole bunch of money, land and social justice conflict involved to upset even the most idealistic department.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Furious cabbies

Over one hundred taxis encircled San Francisco City Hall today in a long chain through the Civic Center. I made my way back to the office through cabbies wailing on their horns and protesters angrily displaying obscure signs. They blocked intersections, bus lines and pedestrians from passing, damning the whole area to gridlock while locals and tourists grew evermore upset.

But why? I had just walked through the park square only 30 minutes ago and it was warm and tranquil. The masses on the steps of City Hall now seemed to be wielding unrelated banners, including bright yellow signs for "Ross Mirkarimi for Sheriff", "Miller 4 San Francisco Mayor", "Unions bite back", the generic "Si se puede" posters in various colors, the more obscure " نعم نستطيع " and dozens of 8.5x11 papers with illegible black and white block text covering the entire sheet. Whatever the initial catalyst, the arrival of Sal Castaneda and his posse of reporters appeared to draw people out of the woodwork with something to say to the cameras. 

But the taxis, why so many taxis?! Since San Francisco has maybe a dozen to begin with, the looping mass of yellow, white and green cabs seemed improbable. No one could explain what the fuss was about, until one woman in the security line at City Hall said simply "MTA. It's MTA, and me. They're basically here for me." She walked away toward the elevators, leaving behind her a cloud of ominous-ness.

I later learned  that the Cabs were protesting a Board of Supervisors meeting, in which the BoS was debating the new MTA regulations that would waive a rule prohibiting cab companies to recover the 5% surcharge per credit card payment from drivers, thus transferring the cost. A 5% fee may not sound like much on its face, but it comes with responsibilities to maintain digital screens and hardware - and on top of that, there are no taxis for hire in San Francisco today. So it is, de facto, a big deal.

For a Full story and explanation of the issue, this San Francisco Sentinel article gives a good summary.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bay could have looked like this...

In the 1960s, before the creation of BART or modern strategic transportation plans, the prospects for San Francisco looked very different than what we see today.

My fellow Fellow Eliot Chang recently forwarded me an image from his office that immediately grabbed my interest. He is part of San Francisco's Department of Public Works (DPW), and he uncovered a treasure trove of alternative proposals for bridges, tunnels, freeways and subways that were ultimately abandoned to the City's archives, but not before their designs and specs were completed. See if you can imagine them now.

Here are some of my favorites.

Alternative bridges and tunnels for trans-bay travel, circa 1967.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

SFPark goes live with mobile app for parking

Download the iphone app
For those of you readers with iPhones in and around San Francisco, your day has finally come. SFPark released its mobile app for iPhone users today, less than a week ahead of the program's full-fledged launch. SFPark has already activated 5,000+ smart meters around the City, and users can now pay with credit and debit cards, as well as coins and SFMTA parking cards. Rates are adjusted several times daily for business and peak hours, and the rate structures will [only*] occasionally change at the start of new months. As for the "quality of life" issues, drivers will now be able to access graphical information on parking availability and pricing in each of the pilot neighborhoods. Small sensors keep up-to-the-minute record of used and free parking spaces - not only in garages, but also on the street.

See how it works, and revel in the glory of how much easier your life just got. Those of us with Droids or not-smart phones will secretly envy and resent you for now.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

States uncertain of impact from looming federal shutdown

As the U.S. legislators fail to come to an agreement on the FY 2010-2011 federal budget, states begin to wonder what will happen to their own budget negotiations and services.

Legislators were unable to agree on a budget by Wednesday evening after a lengthy meeting between Senators Boehner, Reid and Schumer. Legislation must be proposed 72 hours before a final vote, which that a another continuing resolution to extend temporary funding beyond Friday night would had to come before Thursday.

Most expect that most services will not be interrupted by a short-term government shutdown, but state and local workers employed with federal dollars may have to be furloughed. A short-term shutdown of up to a couple of weeks would expectedly have minimal impacts on state governments without too much harm to their own operations or financial integrity. However, many counties have come to rely on frequent and rapid transfers of resources from the federal government in social services such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. The increasing use of computerized data and electronic transfers in these programs since 1995 (the last shutdown) make it unclear what would happen, specifically.

Sen. Boehner and Sen. Reid are still optimistic that a deal can be reached before the Friday deadline, but others are less certain. The Democrats have now agreed to as much as $33 billion in cuts to the budget, while the Republicans have stood by their proposal of $61 billion in cuts. After weeks of stonewalling by the GOP, Boehner reportedly conceded to reduce the cuts to as low as $40 billion, but Democrats have complained that the terms of a compromise keep moving further back.

Read more from the NYTimes article States Fear Local Effects if Shutdown Cuts Off Cash.

ADENDUM: Well clearly federal legislators and Pres. Obama were able to come to an agreement before the deadline Friday night, a with a whole hour to spare! What they actually passed was sort of an emergency place-holder bill that allows the specific text of the fiscal bill to to sit for 3 days (as per rules) without shutting the government down. If any of you have finished a term paper the "morning-of", you know how this goes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Because of the monsoon

My visit to the east coast last week was welcomed by a surge of temperate weather in the region, and even warm sunshine on several days. When I arrived in Manhattan that Friday afternoon, I was actually sweating through my t-shirt as I dragged my [excessive] luggage from Penn station to Grand Central. I had the particular feeling that there were small mammals frolicking in a warm green field somewhere nearby, and indeed there were! Yappy purse dogs and grey squirrels chased each other through Central Park as I explored the glorious open-space.

This morning I walked 300 feet from a bus stop to the front door of my building, and my shoes were gushing water everywhere across the landing.

There's this funny thing that I have realized about government agencies and internal practical problem solving; it is an estranged relationship. Just as I walked into my office and greeted Elisa, every single power outlet on my side of the office despairingly resigned. Maybe it is just their way of striking in response to low maintenance, to wait until the official start of hours and then bail.
"Wait for it... wait for it!.... HE'S ALMOST HERE!....(off)!!"
I dunno. Point is, the computers don't work. And it's really just the computers, the lights and microwave and phones are golden. (if you did not know, land lines have an independent power supply through the phone wires. Cool stuff.) Unfortunately, all of our directories are on the Cloud. So phones are useless. I'm also writing this from my cell phone, cuz it's my only access to the www.

"Why Luke, why don't you just use your one coworker's computer that still works? She had the foresight to take a vacation day, she doesn't need it!" Good call, Common Citizen. How sensible of you! Unfortunately, thats not how we role.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why good evening, Madam! "9 Fellows Walk into a Bar... (Pt. 4)"

Ryan and Elaine love Corgis. Of course corgis are basically chubby foxes with tiny little legs and a forever-happy demeanor, so it’s easy to understand. But I mean they LOVE corgis, as in they send videos to us of baby corgis slipping on hardwood floors, and with their political slant they obviously share a particular fondness of the Governor’s own corgi named Sutter – who has an inexplicable cult following in San Francisco and a regular column in the Chronicle. Odd perhaps, but we really enjoy our up-to-date news on anything.

And so the story continues. On our late night stroll back to the hostel from Spin – which is a burger joint bar with street bikes wired to a computer and projector for the purpose of digital wind-sprint races – several of the Fellows and I suddenly stumbled upon an enormous, fanciful building (like a splice of museum, synagogue and 1780 colonial brick architecture) that we slowed down to inspect out of curiosity. It was incredible, but unexpectedly large buildings often seem incredible after 3 open-bar receptions and a night out with politicos.
As Chance would have it, a woman in a fine coat was taking a corgi out for a late-night walk along this building at the same time, and Ryan and Elaine noticed. “Oh my god a corgiiiiiiiieeeeeeiiieeiee!!” they screamed as we all pounced on the dog. The flurry of shouting and baby talk was actually met with a happy invitation to play with the excited dog. Of course we did, and the pup just ate it up.

“Oh look at you, you’re so cute! And such a little attention whore, aren’t you!” Ryan exclaimed at the corgi rolled around on its back, pretentiously.

“Oh, he is such an attention whore!” the woman laughed. “He does this all the time.”
Meg eventually looked to Elaine, smirking. “Wouldn’t it just be great if this were Sutter?” she said not-quite-quietly and everyone laughed. This was Elaine’s dream, of course. “He is so adorable. So what’s his name?” She asked.

“Sutter.”

“Wait…… like the governor’s dog Sutter?”

“Well, he IS the governor’s dog Sutter.”
@__@
"... ... ... OMG YOU’RE SUTTER!!!!!” Everyone went crazy, and I’m absolutely certain we looked nothing less than crazy to this poor woman standing next to us. It took a few moments for someone to ask the obvious question. “So why are you out this late walking the dog? Like, how do you know Jerry Brown?”

“Oh, I’m his wife.”

We stared at her. And then suddenly, a photo clipping of her face from an article I once read popped into my mind. Yep, it was her.

This was very exciting and all, but when you recognize the First Dog before the First Lady, and the First Lady is also effectively the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and it’s very late at night and you’re trying to get home, there’s not a lot you can do to recover a sense of professionalism. But fortunately, she thought our resulting shock and fumbling of gracious words were hilarious.

"So lemme guess, you're out here this late to avoid the paparazzi that love your dog?" Dani laughed.

"Well, yes. That was the idea."

"And then you ran in to us? Lucky you!"

"Oh, so it would seem...".