A+ to D-
02/27/03 TV news says Bay Bridge traffic is declining
The operators of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Caltrans, a state agency had a spokesperson on TV say that traffic is falling off at the rate of several thousand cars per month. We regular drivers are seeing the same phenomenon on all freeways near San Francisco and at San Francisco airport.
So what is going on?
First, please let me discredit the information from Caltrans. It is probably correct, but it is correct because Caltrans can see it with their own eyes and they can count revenue.
About seven years ago, I had some hypothesis about Thanksgiving and other Holidays that I decided to test by looking at the traffic data for the Bay Bridge, the most reliable data test I could imagine. I looked at the Caltrans Bay Bridge data in their Oakland offices. Caltrans had walls of data on Bay Bridge traffic, computer printouts in the tens of thousands of pages, hour by hour.
As I tried to use the data, I could see why none of the pages appear to have ever been looked at. The counters on the Bay Bridge only go to 9,999 vehicles per hour and then they start over. So the numbers might be accurate between 3 AM and 5 AM when the number is under 9,999, but the rest of the day, the numbers are useless. God bless bureaucracy.
There are three reasons that I can think of for the traffic declines.
One, more people are car pooling. That is ridiculous on the face of it. These are Americans.
Two, jobs are disappearing and people aren't driving to work. Partly true, but the worst measurable fall off in jobs was a year ago and based on rental rates and home sales, the market has been level (but low) for a year. I see no other evidence that the labor market is getting worse. I see some evidence that it is picking up slightly.
Three, the job market is picking up but it has two interesting characteristics. Jobs may be picking up on the periphery of the Bay Area; Santa Rosa, Napa, Vallejo, Concord, Modesto, Livermore and the whole South Bay as far as Santa Cruz. This would be an active continuation of edge city a term brilliantly coined by Joel Garreau a Washington Post journalist. Edge city means that suburban people, with multiple jobs in the house prefer to have all the jobs in the suburbs (edge city) to keep the driving to the central city at a minimum. This appears to be happening.
The airport issue may be related. I'm told that San Jose Airport is busier these days. It is hard to disentangle airport traffic issues from airport routes and airline problems. But if you'll let me hazard a guess, I would guess that San Jose Airport is picking up some edge city growth but that air travel overal is weak.New edge city jobs are designed around the internet, high bandwidth and portable telephones. The early guesses that the internet would reduce travel may be becoming true. Label this as early speculation, please.
02/21/03: 13:10 Congress is asking for trouble
Congress really did something preposterous. In the last minute flurry to pass the 2003 budget, a few lines got added. The added lines modified the Department of Agriculture's definition of "organic' meat to include animals that have been fed non-"organic" feed when the difference in feed price between organic and non-organic is greater than 30%.
(What is your role in this?) In 1991 I founded a group called The Project to Label Genetically Altered Food. It was never very successful because I found it impossible to organize the public around an issue as difficult to understand as genetic alteration of food. Parts of the American public may know a little about it by now, but the main issues are still unknown outside a limited circle. The European Greens have made genetically altered crops an international trade issue. The American public has generally bought the propaganda that food has always been genetically altered. The European public knows that corn plants have never had sex with pigs or fish. Bananas certainly haven't had sex with fish. GMO, the term the Europeans use, allows transfer of genes between species, which breeding never did.
While I failed to organize an American movement on this issue, Monsanto succeeded in creating a public opposition to GMO in the United States. Two forces collided.
A long-term slow-growing organic foods movement had been developing over thirty years. The industry wanted to find a way to standardize the definition of "organic food" . The definition was different in 14 states in 1995. One of the solutions being slowly examined, by the organic food industry, was a panel of organic expert's recommendation to the Department of Agriculture for a national definition of organic food. The organic food community was generally satisfied with the panel definition ... "generally."
At the same moment, Monsanto decided to use its "kiss my ass" power over the Department of Agriculture to insert into the definition of "organic foods": genetically modified foods, the acceptable use of municipal waste in organic fertilizer and the acceptable use of radiation in treating foods.
The story is short. Within eight months from the time Monsanto inserted their weird definition into the Dept. of Agriculture definition, the commercial part of the organic food movement, farmers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers put up the money and organized a large part of the organic consumer community. Together the organic industry and consumer community inundated the Department of Agriculture with protest letters and emails. We're talking about more than 100,000 real personal letters. The Department backed down, having never seen such an onslaught of interest in their department and settled on the original panel definition of "organic food" . The Monsanto definition was soundly defeated. Meaning that GMO is definitely not part of national label for "organic". The Dept. of Agriculture is in now in the process of implementing the non-Monsanto organic policy.
So along comes Congress, last week, meddling in a Department of Agriculture process that has taken seven years to complete. It will be obvious to the millions of organic food producers and consumers that the new Coingressional definition of meat raised on non-organic feed will be laughable.
Because the labeling of "organic" by the Department of Agriculture grew out of a deeply grass roots movement and the Congressional aberration grew out of the minds of a few lunatics, we get to see a wonderful display of democracy in action.
My guess is that Congress will act promptly to rescind the new language that virtually eliminates the definition of organic from meat.
If Congress is slow to act, the organic consuming market will know about the Congressional folly within six months and will begin reducing their purchases of organic meat and restrict their meat shopping to trustworthy retailers who will offer their own certification of organic meat.
The reestablishment of locally certified organic foods, this time, will push Congress to act intelligently and get out of the issue.
What has changed from my first organizing days in 1991 to 2003 is that there is a large, organized network of organic producers and consumers who still don't know much about GMO, but who do know about organic and they want it kept separate from GMO.
02/21/03: 12:30 Japanese foreign affairs
I write a column for a Japanese foreign affairs magazine. The magazine has a quarterly version in English of their most appropriate articles (the English edition does not include my articles). The winter 2003 issue has a great inside discussion of American foreign policy by Peter Brookes (Heritage), Kurt Campbell (CSIS) and Thomas Donnelly (Amer. Enterprise). I recommend the article for its insiders-the-US quality.
02/21/03: 15:30 I was wrong
In the blog below I describe some of my activities as a peace activist to protest the armed revolutonaries in Nicaragua (the Contras). The U.S. government was supporting the Contras. The Contras were fighting the communist dictator, Daniel Ortega, who had eliminated democracy in favor of his version of a socialist state.
The Contras were successful enough, along with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, to force an open election in Nicaragua in 1990. Oretega was defeated. Ortega ran again for President in 1996 and was soundly defeated.
The people of Nicaragua obviously didn't want him. I bow to the Contras and the people of Nicaragua. I was clearly on the wrong side. What I did was wrong.
I wonder how many other peace activists are honest enough to admit their mistakes.
02/21/03: 13:20 Peace activist
I am reminded of my peace activism in the 1980's:
In the mid 1980's I flew over the Concord Naval Weapons base to take photos that were used by the Peace movement in its campaign against the Contras of Nicaragua. The weekend after I took the photos a military train at the Concord base ran over a peace activist who was protesting in front of the train and cut off his legs.
The following weekend I went to a mass demonstration where Jesse Jackson was the featured speaker. After the speech, the crowd was so riled up and angry about the previous weekend train incident that we (I joined the crowd) removed half a mile of railroad track in front of the base. We did it by hand. More than 200 people, working in perfect synchrony, removed every rail and every tie and stacked them neatly in giant piles.
Nearly a year later I went to the Court in Contra Costa for the hearing for the only person arrested for the track removal (the guy was caught with a railroad wrench in his hands). His lawyer, Tony Serra, never showed up, so a friend and I talked to the judge on behalf of the sole arrestee. He was released with charges dropped.
A few months later I was arrested at a demonstration in San Francisco in front of the Federal Building, protesting on the same Central American issue. I decided to stay in jail over the weekend, but when I found that I was the only person who was going to stay, fear of being raped and getting AIDs, led me to call a lawyer and get out of jail.
02/15/03: 7:50 State of the City.
* It looks like the TV program about Hot/Not on Thursday night was a great success. This is a show where three judges screen 32 contestants down to 8, the first 16 on a Hot/Not scale, then the final 16 on a scale of 10 for face, 10 for body and 10 for sexiness. The show is politically correct on skin color issues; all colors treated equally. The judges comment and interact with the contestants who have no presentation to make other than sex appeal.
My friends, and I, are saying that we now look at the world much more through the Hot/Not perspective. People around us are now more visible on a 1 to 10 sex appeal scale. Mysterious friend, Alex, says that we always have seen the world this way, "This is nothing new."
* The war has clearly started: Special Forces are active in many parts of Iraq and the no-fly zone bombing has been widely expanded. My many lefty fundamentalist friends are sick with hysteria. They can hardly talk, eyes filled with tears because of their impotence. My non-lefty friends are unhappy: they can't believe they are surrounded by so many stupid lefties who are blind to the world, the lefties don't seem to have learned anything in their lives. This is not exaggeration.
* Almost no rain in San Francisco for two months. Now that winter is past it will have been a winter with early warm heavy rain from October to the end of December, then none after that.
That past two El Nino years were very heavy rain with the Russian River overflowing its 100 year flood levels. This El Nino is virtually a drought. Next time we hear "El Nino" we won't assume it means anything.
* Global warming talk is diminishing. Is it because the three--day-Sept. 11th-no-airplanes flying left the skies clear of contrails? The evidence is strong that contrails have a greater atmospheric temperature effect than green house gases.
02/13/03: 9:50 Cause of the Columbia crash
I'm going to put on my statisticians hat. We statisticians have more than one hat. The one that works most often in the physical world is a Bell curve.
Other hats are more conceptual: the Poisson hat, the Students' hat and the Chi Square hat. The whole point of this blog is derived from the NYTimes report this morning that said a solar phenomenon hit the earth at exactly the same time as the space shuttle Columbia was re-entering the earth's atmosphere.
The phenomenon doesn't appear to have a name: "It is a disturbance, a discontinuity, and it did deliver a punch," according to Dr. Devrie S. Intriligator. (Have you ever seen a name like that?) She describes "the phenomenon as a sort of gigantic wave of electrically charged particles, magnetic fields and radiation that was moving toward Earth at roughly 400 miles a second."
According to the rest of the article, these phenomenon seem to occur several times a year.
As a statistician, I can state unequivocally that this "phenomenon" caused the Columbia disaster. The calculation is simple: something that happens "several times a year," or any number less frequent than weekly, that occurred at the exact same time as an equally rare event, a shuttle re-entering the earth's atmosphere, must be the cause of the disaster. It simply must be the cause of the disaster. There could be other problems and system weaknesses in the shuttle, there always are in "accidents," but the cause was this 400 mile per second storm hitting the earth. Near statistical certainty.
Of course the NY Times found someone to make sure that no real human thinks like a statistician: "Spiros Antiochos, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, said there was a 'very low probability' that a storm in space played a role in the Columbia's demise."
Thank you, Spiro ... you read your statistical table upside down.
02/13/03: 9:35 Thinking ahead
I always tell my friends that if they want to affect the world, they need to think of issues that will be important a decade into the future.
One example I often give is to make a list of what Iran will have to do to be accepted back into the family of nations. Remember, Iran held diplomats hostage in 1981, a violation of a 2,000 year old tradition of total immunity for diplomats. On a lesser level, it issued a fatwah against Salman Rushdie.
The list would look something like this: (1) Iran will pay compensation to a list of individuals harmed by the hostage event. (2) Iran will make a multi-billion dollar deposit to be held for fifty years to the IMF for use in international loans. (3) Iran will act as the diplomatic training center and mentor for the 25 smallest nations that are members of the U.N. (4) All Iranians and their descendents who left Iran from 1979 to 1999 will be offered reparations and resettlement. (5) Iran will pay the cost of building a new building for a major agency of the International community. (6) Iran will section off a 100 square mile piece of land on every international border it shares and the 100 square mile piece of land will be a free trade zone operated by an international agency and guaranteed by several major nations. (7) Iran will endow an entire University in the name of Salman Rushie in some agreed upon nation with 200 scholarships a year available to Iranians.
Right now there appear to be no good ideas for restraining the wild growth of medical costs in the United States. The solution is a decade off. Start thinking. Good ideas for this problem will change future policy.
I offer my suggestions based on several policy analysis assumptions: Good health practices and self help are vital; most good health practices must start before age 30 to have any benefit at all; all subsidies become corrupt rapidly.
Here are some of my policy suggestions to get the discussion started: (1) a health insurance policy at a low price based on several good health measures, with coverage and rates guaranteed for life, (2) access to a health policy, like the Veterans Administration, available to people who serve time in a five year health fitness program (3) release from student loan repayment for the same type of service, (4) awards to active participants in community health support-group programs over long periods, (5) national privileges for participants in demanding health research projects, such as free membership in the Smithsonian, National Galleries, Library of Congress, priority access to gallery seats in Congress and the Supreme Court. (6) free military air travel for teams that have met specific health standards, similar to current airline mileage awards.
02/12/03: 9:35 Black and White
A close and loyal friend berated me yesterday for the voice that I use in my blogs. He chides that I'm a nice person but my blog personality has a black/white quality.
It appears that my enthusiastic use of the phrase lefty fundamentalist is offensive. His argument is that I am mistaking an ideology for a religion. The distinction does escape me. The two, ideology and religion, are so close that I miss the difference. Both offer comprehensive world views, are based on unverifiable beliefs and exclude outsiders.
"Exclude outsiders" you may ask. How do lefty fundamentalists exclude outsiders? They start every conversation with how dumb George Bush is or how his father bought him the office of President. That makes all non-lefty fundamentalists outsiders.
With my close friend's concern on my mind, you won't read here anything about the Friends of Tyranny. Currently the group is mostly lefty-fundamentalists but Friends of Tyranny is a movement with a long history. Friends of Tyranny have been supporting Yassir Arafat for decades, before that they supported Stalin, Mao and Hitler. I won't mention Father Coughlin, a popular American who had millions of radio listeners, who hated Jews and supported Hitler and counted among his friends Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Joe Kennedy. Today's Friends of Tyranny are not new, they have a long history in America.
02/12/03: 9:15 Poetic morality
The present Laura Bush dust-up about canceling a poetry conclave needs a history lest anyone think that the rude poet, who caused the dust-up, stands on a moral high ground. My experience suggests otherwise.
In 1974, I was disturbed by a monthly newspaper available in 50 news racks in downtown San Francisco. The newspaper had a salacious color photo on the cover offering sex listings and escorts. What disturbed me, after buying one, was that the entire content of the newspaper was poems. The person who produced this periodical was high minded about exposing the world to poetry by enticing them with a sexual cover.
I tracked down the publisher and explained to him the immoral nature of his deception. He was adamant that anything that sold poetry was fine.
So I wrote a carefully worded letter and paid to have it sent, with a postage paid return envelope, to 800 California poets. My hope was to create an environment among poets that would make this deceptive poetry newspaper untenable.
Nearly everyone of the 800 recipients responded. My surprise was that half the poets who responded agreed with me that selling poetry deceptively was unacceptable. The other half felt the way the newspaper publisher did: anything that exposed the world to poetry was suitable.
Relevance of my experience to the current White House contra temp: Plenty of poets have dubious morals. About half of them.
02/09/03: 9:35 If I'd known
We all have to listen to the music of our teenage years for the rest of our lives. There isn't much I can do about it, I hear the cracked teenage voices of the teenage singers that I listened to more than forty years ago. I guess it will continue as I go to coffee shops, clubs and stores with my coevals.
Had I known this would happen, I don't know what I would have done. I enjoy contemporary jazz and what is called experimental classical music, but I have to go out of my way to hear it. So what?
02/09/03: 9:30 Big news
San Francisco was a liberal Republican city forty years ago. We had a Republican mayor, congressman and assemblyman. The overthrow of the California Republican Party by the rightwing and the ascent of their darling, Ronald Reagan, drove the San Francisco liberal Republicans out of the party. In the last gubernatorial election the Green Party candidate got more votes in San Francisco than the Republican candidate for governor.
I have been expecting a revival of San Francisco liberal Republicans, but have yet to meet the three people in this category who could join me in organizing.
I learned yesterday that there is a group of Republican Jews, most of whom are old, but they are getting new young members now. I checked the S.F. Young Republican website and found that two of their officers are Jews.
This is what I was expecting but mostly hoping for. George W. Bush is the best friend we Jews have had in 2,000 years and lefty fundamentalists turn out to be supporting Palestinian murderers. It is hard for Jews to ignore the reality of who our friends are.
Add to the litany of betrayal by prominent Democrats, Bill Clinton, who was personally lied to many times by Arafat still went to tell the Israelis, after several hundred civilians had been murdered, to "be patient"; and Jimmy "nuculer" Carter attacked Israel for defending itself.
02/09/03: 9:24 Ernst & Young
I've been thinking about the Sprint-Ernst & Young debacle from yesterday's blog. The greatest moral offense is that Ernst & Young gave tax advice and did two things: (1) required secrecy on the part of their clients about the tax shelter and (2) refused the client material that would allow them to check its soundness with other lawyers (other than one selected by Ernst & Young).
Both of these forms of secrecy, required by an auditing firm, are as morally repugnant as anything I've seen to date. In the same league as shredding court subpoenaed records.
02/09/03: 9:20 Long relationships
My partner and I have been living together for nearly a dozen years, happily. One secret to this long relationship is that she uses the "where" technique. Yesterday when I was about to cut off a heavy branch, she asked, "Where is that going to fall?" A few months ago she asked the same question when I was sawing off a heavy roof overhang: "Where is that going to land?" Six months ago when a storm knocked down our electric power line and I was reconnecting it, she asked, instead of refusing to help me kill myself: "Where is your Neptune Society membership form?" The Neptune Society is a non-profit cremation organization. I recommend the "where" approach for macho men in the heat of a macho moment.
02/09/03: 9:15 Friends of friends: wrong
I had many large parties at my house for the past several decades. Nice parties warm welcoming parties with dinner and a fire. One of my underlying reasons was the hope that my friends would meet and like my other friends. Most everyone had a wonderful time.
Then a friend of mine from New York, who had introduced me to many of her friends in San Francisco, asked me why I "hadn't done more to contact" her San Francisco friends, on my own.
The truth dawned on me slowly, after decades of ignoring reality. Just because B,C, and D are each friends of A, doesn't mean there is an earthly reason why B,C, and D should have anything more in common than their friendship with A.
My friends come from my many different worlds of activity, they also come from my variety of curiosities and values. None of them are constituted like me nor are they sycophants of mine. So why would they likely be friends of each other. The greater the homogeneity of a group of people and the greater the commonality of their values and activities, the greater the chance they will become friends. But even in such "common" environments few people become friends.
My friends are heterogeneous because I am a complex person. I spent decades with a good hearted wish to introduce my friends to each other. That was a wrong reading of the world.
02/09/03: 9:10 The real trouble on the horizon
The following chart from last Tuesday's NY Times makes clear our real government problem. The chart on the left shows revenues from Social Security taxes at 40% of the total ... the top part. The chart on the right shows the outflow of Social Security and Medicare at 55% of the budget.
The Social Security system has more money coming in for the next forty years than it has going out. The problem these charts show is: Medicare.
The Medicare disaster is big now and growing. I haven't seen any proposed solutions that make sense or have political possibilities. When interest on the debt starts to rise again, in the next few years, the situation will become dire. What are the viable options?
02/07/03: 5:20 Pigs
My grand daughters are in town which has slowed down my blogging and created two of my four blog entries.
The three girls are 5,5 and 3.5 years old. They love Chinatown for its raw realism. They saw seahorses by the score, sharks fins and black tongues of unknown animals in an herb store. They saw a pile of pigs feet and pigs noses. This age seems to be about awe for little girls, not about "ohmygod." Plenty of live fish, sometimes jumping around, sometimes being chopped up, blue crabs and every other crustacean. The favorites were the box of frogs ... each bigger than my loose fist, and big flat turtles.
What I didn't show them, but I show you, is a scene I have seen for decades. A pile of dead pigs in the back of a truck. It looks like a pile of dead humans to me. Doesn't anyone else see it this way? Has this been used in a movie or as a symbol?
02/07/03; 5:15 The girls saw the barking, frolicking seals at Pier 39.
This is an interesting lesson in the development of Commerce-Mind. The reason the seals are where they are, having eliminated the use of twenty docks that used to generate several hundred thousand dollars a month in docking fees, is that the nearby Fisherman's wharf processing plant dumps the fish cleanings directly into the Bay. On an incoming tide it drifts over to the seals who lounge around all day basking, biting, wrestling, fucking and pooping. Occasionally they dip their heads in the water for the catered fish entrails. The seals bark all day and late into the night. My guess is that 50,000 people can hear them daily from surrounding apartments and condos.
The owners of the docks decided to accept the seals and so have the neighbors. We all seem to know that the seals are a major attraction for the nine million tourists we get every year. Commerce-Mind lets all of us understand that personal distress about the barking has to be weighed against the overwhelming commercial value of the seals.
Commerce is an impressive consensus-making mechanism.
02/07/03; 5:10 Is this part of a morality play?
A few years ago, I publicly opposed the acquisition of Sprint by Worldcom. My opposition was based on the outrageous evil that passes for a human called Bernie Ebers, CEO of Worldcom. The man lies without hesitation. One of the more disgusting parts of the buyout was to offer the Sprint top executives half a billion dollars even if the deal failed because of the likely anti-trust and State regulatory opposition. Money for a failed merger was a disgusting idea, but the Board of Sprint voted for it, along with accelerated options for the executives and some other unknown perks just revealed.
Turns out the options had to be made transferable so the exec's could put them in tax shelters. Turns out further that the IRS is likely to disqualify the tax shelters, making the Board culpable (read sue able) for helping the exec's create tax shelters.
The real justice comes when we see the numbers. CEO William Esrey made over $150 million on his options and President Ron LeMay made $140 million on his. Taxes would have been 40% on the earnings, $60-70 million each, because stock option sales are taxable as regular income. Now each owns less than $30 million in Sprint shares because the market has fallen from $75 a share to $12. So selling all the rest of their stock won't pay their tax bills. They both got fired for putting the Board in a high liability position. They themselves are suing the accounting giant Ernst & Young for the bad tax advice. The story gets worse all around, but details of finance bore most people.
Sounds like some form of morality play to me.
Nobody seems to talk about what happened to the millions our play money boys made. The money might be hopelessly tied up in the trust funds they used to unsuccessfully hide the money. Great.
Worst government agency in this debacle: SEC. These kids were able to sell the stock in their own company without the public knowing it, because of the tax ruses they used. Their Board of directors was also complicit in this. SEC has not corrected this loop hole. More like a "black hole."
I know that the same fraud occurred in hundreds of major traded companies. Are we going to have a new letter from each CEO saying they certify that they are being honest this time?
I find that everyone is comfortable cursing and praising governments or government officials. I hate Sharon, I love him; Blair is wonderful, he's a sell out; the French are always there when they need us; the Germans seem to think dictators should be appeased ... Saddam Hussein is a mad man, Arafat has done more damage to the Palestinians than five Israeli Armies.
What distresses me is that I can't find a moral point to stand upon and judge democratic peoples or their governments. I can understand judging Saddam Hussein, Mubarak and Arafat. They are unelected tyrants who have the power to suppress their peoples. But that is not true for Chirac, Blair, Bush or any other elected official. They represent their people, certainly in the long run. Their people express their political values on a regular basis. We're talking about millions and tens of millions of people in democratic countries who we feel free to judge.
This is an enigma to me. Has any thinker explained where we get the moral standing to do this? Does it bother anyone else?
02/02/03 "Its a good thing"
An ostensibly annoying social change is actually beneficial on more reflection.
For the past twenty years I have seen a significant increase in the number of dogs in the city of San Francisco and certainly in my Castro District neighborhood. The negatives early negatives were minor and have disappeared. One was more dog poop and more dogs chasing me when I run. Both of those disappeared early on as dog owners learned more about cleaning up and controlling their dogs. A possible social good may have been the acceptance of dogs in lieu of having a babies. There is nothing obvious about that except to people who believe we have a population problem.
But the big bonus is that I haven't run into a bad dog in twenty years. I used to have to avoid aggressive pit bulls, growling German shepherds and biting Dobermans. That is gone. I surmise that the increase number of dog owners in public has created a social pressure by the good dog owners on the bad ones.
The best evidence of my thesis is the famous Dog Killer case last year, Noel and Knoller. In their court hearing, nearly thirty dog owners testified and dozens more gave depositions attesting to having told the Noel/Knollers to control their dogs.
I like the abundance of dogs in my neighborhood these days (I don't have one) because people socialize around dogs, they get out and walk more and most of all the dogs are friendly, good neighbors.
In yesterday's blog I pointed out that "lefty fund
02/02/03 C- State sent out a message in January
that the U.S. now supports a UN Security Council with veto
seats for Japan and the EU. Replacing France and