29 March, 2007

27 March, 2007

CENSORED

There are times when my refusal to be vulgar on this blog are more than just highly constrictive.

This is one of those times.
But I'm not. I'm at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last four weeks, I've been getting death threat comments on this blog. But that's not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs... blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers.
Please continue to read Kathy's post on your own time.

But turn your attention specifically to this:

It's the threat that causes fear.

It's the threat that leads you to a psychiatrist and tranquilizers just so you can sleep without repeating the endless loop of your death by:

* throat slitting
* hanging
* suffocation
and don't forget the sexual part...

I have cancelled all speaking engagements.

I am afraid to leave my yard.

I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.

I am beyond angry. Beyond furious. Even beyond volcanic explosions of wrath, and gore, and destruction, and chaos, descending upon the heads of these unrighteous pigs that debase the very name of humanity by continuing to possess basic metabolic functions.

No. Instead I've gone to the dangerous place, where everything is calm while the storm rages around you, of it yet not in it.

So to those who find these things to be not vile, not inexcusable, not reprehensible, not a debasement of the foundation of our culture, I have only one thing to say:

Let that which you have done to others be visited upon you, threefold times threefold.

Carpe jugulum.

24 March, 2007

Can't See The Forest For The Woodwinds

I've just found my second "Bash The Local Democrats" moment of the year. Emphases mine.
A Republican lawmaker urged colleagues to adopt rigorous math and science high school graduation requirements Thursday - or watch Colorado youngsters lose a global race for high-paying tech jobs.

"The world is rapidly shifting to a technology-based economy, and if we don't meet the challenge, our kids will be left behind," Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Genessee, warned the House Education Committee.
...
Witwer and co-sponsor Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, had attempted to gain support of skeptical Democrats by scaling back Senate Bill 131.

Instead of requiring four years of math to graduate, they asked for three years of math and science. The bill also would have allowed sophomores who test well on those subjects to opt out of junior- and senior-year math and science courses.
...
Committee Chairman Michael Merrifield, a former music teacher, opposed the bill, saying it would create an unbalanced educational system by robbing funding and students' time for liberal arts instruction.
For those of you in the Denver area, the loud sound you just heard was me yelling obscenities at my monitor. For those not in the area... Well, sound travels slowly, so it'll get to you later on.

Three years of math classes is not a difficult step to take. I had to endure those in the abysmal educational system of California. Three years of science classes is not a difficult step to take. I had to endure those in the abysmal educational system of California. And an option to pare it down to two years? Even less strenuous.

And what does Mr. Merrifield do? He shoots it down by saying it doesn't leave enough time for the "liberal arts"? Or, as the Denver Public Schools call them "elective studies"? The same DPS that already requires that minimum level for science and math coursework from their graduates? And the same DPS that overall ranks "at or above" the state average? (And to Denverites, that is either a welcome sign or a very scary concept.)

I believe it is time for Mr. Merrifield to turn his ears away from his beloved music classes and face a different music. I went through the same basic years of instruction that Mr. Witwer wants here in Colorado, and I still can't do college high-level math or science courses. I've even had a few extra pieces of coursework thrown in for good measure. I can hang on by sheer stubbornness and eke out a C (If I'm lucky. Which is exactly what I was when I accidentally took Medical Microbiology, the pre-med requirement, instead of Introductory Microbiology thanks to kicking the section number during registration. When you celebrate getting a D on a midterm, you know it's a tough class. Don't laugh.), but I can't truly understand them. And I fall pretty much at the average of the pack when it comes to my understanding of the "liberal arts" as I was well-grounded from my high school classes in theatre, music appreciation, and pottery.

(You're laughing, aren't you. Fine. In that midterm I mentioned, the grade spread was 1 A, 1 B, 7 Cs, 5 Ds, and 17 Fs. So getting a D was ahead of the curve, thank you very much.) (Oh. You're laughing because of the pottery class. Okay. Go ahead and laugh.)

A broad understanding of science and math are just as important as a broad liberal-arts background. Liberal arts shows us how rich our society is. Science and math are how our society got to be so rich.

Given my druthers, I'll pick science and math. Being able to understand is important, but not quite as important as being able to contribute.

And Mr. Merrifield shows that he just doesn't get it.
"My contention is by forcing every child into this narrow curriculum, we are not making them more innovative, we are not making them more creative," the Colorado Springs Democrat said, citing a national report that calls a well-rounded education the "passport to a job in which creativity and innovation are the key to a good life."
Mr. Merrifield? Continuing the lack of emphasis in science and math is not going to get kids those kinds of jobs in the future. In order to be creative and innovative in a field, you first need to have a thorough understanding of the base concepts. Only then can you see what is innovative versus what is ordinary.

So unless we want people to be innovative in the field of "liberal arts", I suggest we widen our horizons just a smidgen.

[Turn Signal: Grandmaster Jeffy G]

22 March, 2007

I Hope You Know That This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record

[Title courtesy of the Violent Femmes]

This morning, Tony Snow failed his class in Constitutional scholarship.
The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn't have oversight ability.
Someone should do some more research outside of the White House before spouting off.
In 1927, the Court found that, in investigating the administration of the Department of Justice, Congress was considering a subject “on which legislation could be had or would be materially aided by the information which the investigation was calculated to elicit.”
[Citing McGrain v Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135]
Congress has the power of oversight. It is simple. In order to make legislation, it must be able to ascertain the facts of the matter. And in order to make legislation that affects the Executive Branch, which has included the very creation of the Department of Justice, it must be able to ensure that it receives the facts of the matter.

Honestly. It took me 5 minutes in Google to find this, and I'm not even a trained attorney. I'm not even a professional researcher or spin jockey. You'd think that, with all the resources of the White House Press Office, someone in there would have found this datum point before Tony Snow looked like an idiot on national television.

Wouldn't you?

16 March, 2007

Road Rules Redux

This idea just might work.
A new reality TV show in the Middle East has a familiar set-up: Take a group of young adults, put them in an RV and film their every move as they drive across the United States.

But producers threw out out the formula of partying, petty fighting and outrageous physical competitions and instead focused on a loftier goal — trying to bridge the cultural gap between Arabs and Americans.

"On the Road in America" debuted earlier this year on the Saudi Arabian-owned satellite channel MBC. It follows four young Arabs — three men and a woman — as they travel from Washington, D.C., to California to discover the "real" America.
...
Layalina founder Richard Fairbanks, a U.S. ambassador-at-large under President Reagan, said he hopes shows such as "On the Road in America" have something the U.S. government-financed programs do not — credibility.

"I thought the best way to do it was with the private sector and have it appear on media outlets in the region and appeal to people there," Fairbanks said. "I hoped we could produce programming ... that would have a positive impact on critical thinking and show a different view of the United States."
I gotta say it again. This just might work. Why? Because this is private enterprise speaking, not the United States government. These are real Arabs speaking, not Ahmed Chalabi sound-a-likes. Those are real Americans they are speaking with, not State Department bureaucrats. And that's a real satellite station they are using, not a government-run sound machine.

Maybe we can try to do the same thing, only filmed using Americans traveling through the Middle East and to be aired on American television. I know I'd sign up for that trip.

[Turn Signal: Ang]

15 March, 2007

Simply Stunned

Last May, I had the intense impulse to turn cartwheels after this post got an Instapundit mention after I crossposted over to Creative Destruction.

And now, I've learned that this little blog of mine in general, and this post in specific, was mentioned in (Ready for it?) THE DENVER POST!

And now my cats are looking at me like I'm some sort of raving lunatic. After all, why else would someone be dancing around the apartment, pumping his fists into the air and chanting "Who's your blogging daddy!" repeatedly? Definitive signs of insanity, which should be no surprise to any cat that spends any amount of time with humans.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and do some more cartwheels. Outside, this time, as I don't think the television can take another hard impact. Nor can my knee.

14 March, 2007

Truer Words Have Never Been Spoken Written

From Megan McArdle, pulling guestblogger duties over at the Insta-place:
Starbucks makes it even worse by overcooking their espresso beans. Anyone drinking burned Starbucks on the assumption that the smoky flavour must mean it carries a real kick--not so, not so. Char grilling is for steaks, not Arabica beans.
I have long held that Starbucks has some of the worst drip coffee on the planet, solely due to the ultra-heavy roasting their beans get. (However, there is a new king of truly awful coffee: Boyds Coffee's Hi-Rev. Absolutely nasty. Even I can't drink the stuff.) And this is precisely the reason. If I wanted something burned to the point of being unrecognizable, I'd order my steak well done.

And seeing as how I like my meat cooked to medium rare, that doesn't happen all that often.

To me, burned tastes bad. It's that simple. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that sees things this way. So, yet again, I will continue to only order a venti no-water chai from my neighborhood Starbucks. For actual coffee-based drinks, I'll keep going to Caribou and Peaberry.

08 March, 2007

Still Got Nothing

Ever have one of those times when everything just seems blah. Not a specific blah, either. Just blah.

Here I could be commenting on the firing of someone who feels uncomfortable in their own skin, or even John Edwards leading the charge away from the Fox News-sponsored debate in Reno... But when I start typing, all I get is the blah feeling.

But I know how to fix things. Now, all I have is a case of the chuckles from reading through Berkeley Breathed's greatest hits.

Marsupial on the head?

Pear pimples?

Losing your marbles?

Yeah. Exactly.

Maybe I can get over this case of the blahs over the weekend.

04 March, 2007

Laugh Break

Meh. It's the weekend. Have yourself a laugh for a change.




You're welcome.

02 March, 2007

Taxi!

After my own experiences in the driver's seat of one of Metro Taxi's vehicles, this story about the failures of cabbies fails to surprise me.
The disabled Metro State art student got a two-hour runaround from Metro Taxi on Tuesday, when all she wanted was a short ride to her apartment about a mile and a half from campus.

"I fight every day," said [Psalm] Shaw, 34, who has used a wheelchair or crutches since being hit by a truck nine years ago. "It used to take me seven minutes to get to school. Now it's one to two hours each way."

She said cabs sometimes fail to arrive, and she's sometimes still there when campus buildings have closed for the evening.

Whenever I had a cab strapped to my back, I had three rules for myself. One, accept every single fare that came onto my screen. Two, get to the fare as fast as possible, with or without regards to speed limits. Three, get the fare to destination as fast as possible, holding regards to speed limits and rarely without.

From my usual perch in central Aurora, I could get anywhere between Denver International Airport, Parker, and Cherry Creek in under 25 minutes if traffic was light. (And believe me, I know how to get around most of the heavy traffic spots.) And from my secondary perch at Colfax & Colorado Boulevard, I could reach all but the farthest edge of Commerce City in under 15 minutes and be downtown in much less time than that, plus hit Brighton in 35 minutes flat. (For those not in the area, and I know there's more than just a few of you judging by the SiteMeter statistics, here's a somewhat decent non-Java-based map to give some spacial references. Otherwise, I might as well be writing in Swahili for you out-of-towners. And I don't do dead languages.)

So someone waiting two hours for a cab to arrive is anathema to me. Even more so, waiting on the Auraria campus, which is so close to downtown that you can throw a rock and hit it, for two hours for a cab to arrive is so far beyond ludicrous as to defy definition.

So from an insider perspective, let me tell you exactly why something like this can happen. And, regretfully, it happens all over the city on a regular basis.

Taxi companies in Denver charge a flat lease per week. Not a percentage like most limousine and town car companies, or even New York's yellow cabs. And definitely not as a paid employee of the company as some fares continue to believe, but as independent contractors. Exactly what the lease rate is varies between the three companies, ranging from $400/week for owner-operators (Freedom) to $660/week for leasing independent contractors (Metro) with 6 days paid and Sundays free. The later was my category, and as it remains the highest populated category, I'll use that as a baseline.

Add in gas at an average of $25 per day and you have a mandatory $835 outlay per week. Anything additional that you feel you need to keep going, like food and soda/coffee and cigarettes, will simply tack more onto the accounts-payable side of the ledger. This is before you even start to make money for yourself, a.k.a profit. Take into consideration this study by Schaller Consulting about the average fares in major metropolitan areas, which cites the average fare here to be $13.23 and you have a need for at least 64 average-rate trips per week simply to stay ahead of the system.

Regretfully, most trips aren't average. Instead, a high portion of trips are under $10 on the meter, particularly those that start at neighborhood bars, grocery stores, hospitals, schools/colleges and shopping centers. With trips like these being the norm, it moves the trips-needed to 84/week. Add in U.S. Department of Transportation regulations setting time-behind-wheel at 10 consecutive hours per day or 80 hours maximum per week, and you have to do at least one trip per hour just to make lease and gas. Now, that may not seem like a lot, but with 497 other Metro cabs running the streets plus two other companies that you have even more direct competition against, and competing for fares with all the above, it becomes a bit of a stretch to run at that rate for too long, much less an entire week. So for the average hack just trying to keep their heads above water, these known short trips don't seem like a good investment of their time.

And so what happens when a driver gets a fare that they really don't want? Oh, there are many an option to select from, all of which I consider unethical behavior for a cabbie. (So how do I know about them? Dudes. Cab drivers love to talk. And I listen.) First, there's the short-meter, where you accept the call, wait five minutes, drop the flag, drive for two blocks, and then turn off the meter; suddenly, you're ready for another call. Second option is the computer reset: power down the computer for 15 seconds, which logs you out of the system, and then reboot and log back in with a clean screen. Third is the refuel trick, where you pull into a handy gas station and wait for 20 minutes so that when the dispatcher calls and asks where you are, you can blurt out a mechanical-based excuse and get it cleared from the screen. Fourth is the clueless trick, where you repeatedly say that you can't find the customer when you're not actually looking for them, and sometimes not even in the same city as the customer.

Which is where Psalm Shaw comes into the picture. Which is where most people trying to get a taxi come into the picture, come to think of it. Including me, on the rare occasions that I call for a cab. And I do have the connections. Many of them. They're just not always available.

So with all this in the news, insert Colorado State Representative Jerry Frangas of Denver to set into motion... a partial deregulation of the industry. (Insert ubiquitous .pdf warning.) And the deregulation is solely set upon the founding of new cab companies on the misguided notion that more taxis on the street will make for faster response times.

I wish I was so naive as to believe that would happen. (It really would be so nice. It'd almost be like believing in Santa Claus again.) Instead, what will happen is a much larger number of cab drivers ignoring the smaller fares to compete for the much smaller percentage of large fares within their limited available timeframe. More cabs sitting at DIA. More cabs sitting at the hotels downtown and the Tech Center. More cabs sitting someplace other than where the everyday person is waiting for a ride.

Oh, I admit that it makes sense from the viewpoint of the uninitiated. Make it easier for more cabs to be out on the streets, and they will scramble for every fare they can jam into their backseats, as that's where the competition is. Yet the problem isn't trying to get more people to start companies, as there have been many attempts to do so that haven't made it through the Public Utilities Commission. The problem is getting the companies that exist to make hard-and-fast rules regarding the treatment of fares.

The solution, in my view, is to copy parts of the most prominent and successful taxi system in the United States: New York City. (They can keep Hillary. But we'll take their cabs!) Initiating in Denver a form of the medallion system will give us, the regular public picking up the phone or raising our hands, the opportunity to levy solid complaints against drivers that routinely ignore, short-flag, cancel, delog/relog, or otherwise fail to pick up their fares.

As it stands now, the public has no real enforceable recourse against a flake cab driver. We contact the Public Utilities Commission and levy a complaint. Should they, in their infinite wisdom [/sarcasm], consider the complaint worth merit, the PUC turns it over to the companies with a slap-on-the-wrist fine. And when it gets to the company in question... it stops dead in it's tracks, with no notice given to the driver in question that there are complaints filed against them until they have reached an unacceptably high number. (When I was driving in 2002-2004, the unofficial number was 10 complaints over a 3 month span before official action was taken by the company.)

And that is where action needs to be taken. The companies have little reason to care about complaints, as there are always more drivers trying to break into the business. The PUC has little enforcement capabilities, as they are primarily there to authorize and approve of taxi companies, not drivers. Even the City and County of Denver, which has the authority to grant and revoke the driver's permits for the area, does little more than actually issue permits.

So what could be done about these specific drivers? It's simple. Every taxi in Metro's fleet, as well as the other companies' fleets, has a GPS transponder wired into their meters. Drivers can't turn them off without turning off their entire computer system, which means they can't get new fares. Should the first driver in Psalm Shaw's case on Wednesday actually actually attempted to pick her up, the transponder would show them wandering aimlessly within the confines of Auraria. (Note: Auraria's interior roadways are a rats-nest of dead-ends. It is entirely possible to hit enough literal roadblocks to make someone, even me, take 25 minutes to get through the campus to a specific location.) If the transponder record doesn't show that... There goes a complaint mark onto their records.

Any more than 3 complaints in 3 months, and they should receive a 30-day suspension. (If the company lets them drive in the meantime, major fine for the company.) Afterwards, the driver in question is placed on a 6 month probation period. Any additional complaint during that probation period against that driver results in revocation of their for-hire driving privileges. Period.

If the legislature wants to get tough on flake hacks, simply making it easier for more companies to open won't make a difference. Only by getting active on bad cabbies will help matters.

And hopefully, it will help matters soon enough for Psalm Shaw to get to and from campus in under 15 minutes again.