Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In the Battle of Rail vs. Bus...

Rail vs. Bus has been a consistent battle since completion of the Blue Line in 1990. By connecting Long Beach to Downtown L.A., the transit planners resolved some of the commuter headaches of the 710 and 110 freeways. In 1993, the Red Line opened it's first leg from Downtown to MacArthur Park and exposed all the difficulties with building a heavy rail line (a.k.a. subway) in a city as developed and busy as Los Angeles. Other communities began clamoring for their own rail lines and the expansion continued with the Green (traveling on the 105 fwy.), Gold (Pasadena to Downtown and now to East L.A.) and the faux Orange (technically a Bus Rapid Transit system, but close enough for the Valley). Now Metro officials have declared that Crenshaw Blvd. should receive it's only Light Rail from the Expo Line which is currently underway to the existing Green Line.

I am personally not 100% convinced that rail is the best way to spend transit dollars in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles, but it is understandable why it continues to win the battle vs. bus debate.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Metro caused me to move

Shortly after I started taking the bus on a regular basis from Whittier to Downtown L.A., two things happened: 1) I got a new job located at the transit hub in L.A., aka Union Station and 2) my bus commute became unbearable on one rainy day in early October. The benefits of my work being located at THE transit hub are enormous. Rather than having to take a very slow Municipal bus line (a.k.a. Montebello Bus) and having to transfer to an equally slow Metro bus (#33/#333) to get to Pico-Union, I now had the advantage of taking a very slow Metro bus (#270) to several very fast, Express buses by a variety of transit providers. It didn't cut down the overall trip time by much, but it did allow me to walk to the bus stop from my house. This all worked out very nicely until one day it rained in L.A. And for those of you who aren't native Angelenos this means the entire city is thrown into chaos.

I had arrived to work relatively on-time most days via my new route and was surprised at how even the unpredictable rain didn't affect my travel time to work. Unfortunately, it was the ride home where my faith in bus transit started to wear thin. I waited at my stop next to the El Monte Busway for any express bus that was headed towards El Monte Bus Station. As I stood there, three buses that would have taken me to my transfer point were so full that two didn't stop and one stopped loading passengers. By the time I was able to board Foothill Transit's Silver Streak I had missed my transfer connection. For a regular route, this wouldn't be a problem, but the Metro 270 only runs once an hour! Add that the cold weather and rain and I called in the cavalry and asked the bearded man to come pick me up.

This long roundabout story played a large part in our decision to move to a location where I'd be within walking distance of a Metro Gold Line stop that has a frequency of approximately every 8 minute during peak hours. It means no more transfers, no more waiting at a stop wondering if the bus will ever come and a 99% likelihood I'll have somewhere to sit. More to come on the move, and the ever evolving result of having only 1 car in a city ruled by what you drive.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Riding around on 2 wheels

Today I spent most of my trip on the Montebello Bus Line 41 sleeping until I realized I was about one stop away from where I needed to get off. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people talk really loud on their cell phones in the bus. Apparently the guy behind me was frustrated about some Architect Committee members sending out rogue e-mails with other people blind copied. The fact that I even know this much proves how loud and obnoxious this one sided conversation was. Anyways, after exiting on 3rd and Spring I walked down to 6th and Spring to wait for the 33/333. It took about 10-15 minutes for the bus to arrive, but once boarded we had to wait an additional few minutes to allow a rider in his wheelchair on the bus.

This got me thinking how difficult it must be to get around a city like L.A. in a wheelchair. Owning a van with a wheelchair lift is VERY expensive, plus having to modify it with hand controls is another cost. But for $.25 someone can travel on Metro throughout the County. This is a huge public benefit that is not often considered when talking about public bus transit. The bus also allows disabled individuals to be dropped even closer to their destination as opposed to the fixed routes of light rail/subway/busways. Unfortunately, there remains several problems for disabled passengers when using Metro: 1) not all buses have the wheelchair lifts/they are not always working; 2) the frequency of the bus service can lead to VERY long commutes; 3) the passenger must always know where he/she wants to get off so the bus driver can assist them in debarking, which requires extra planning and research on the part of the rider.

Overall, I would hope that by improving the overall bus system for all riders, disabled passengers would benefit even more as they depend on public transit for the majority of their transportation needs.

Total transit time today: 90 minutes; 50 minutes from Whittier to Downtown L.A.; Transfer wait: 10-12 minutes; 10 minutes from Downtown L.A. to Pico Union

Friday, August 14, 2009


Thank you to my few loyal readers, but I have decided to take this blog in a different direction. What prompted my decision has mostly to do with an advertisement I saw for a transit blogger for Metro's website. The purpose of this blog was to inform readers of on-goings in the transit world and progress on projects, Measure R money, etc. As I'm now a frequent commuter of multiple bus lines within L.A. County, I thought it might be interesting to report on what I see and hear while on the people's limo.

So let's begin with a review of Montebello Bus lines 41 and 341 (the Express). This line travels down Beverly Blvd beginning at either Norwalk Blvd in Whittier or Montebello Blvd. for the Express. After several trips on this line, I'm very impressed with the bus driver's service, the timeliness, and the cheap fare ($1.10 for regular, $1.30 for Express). The 341 travels on the 60 fwy. to the 101 fwy, exiting 4th Street before it continues Downtown. In total, the Express saves approximately 15 minutes in total trip time.

After I get downtown, I then need to make my way over to Pico Union. This second leg of my trip is unfortunately very tedious. There are 3 options: Metro Line 33 which starts at 7th and Spring and requires a 3 block walk to transfer, Metro Line 333 (limited stops) which begins at Union Station, and the Dash D route to the Dash- Pico Union route.

At first, I rode line 33 because it came the most frequently and dropped me off within 3 blocks of work. The line 333 is faster because of the limited stops, but comes less frequently and drops me off about a 1/2 mile from work. Finally the Dash combo drops me off the closest, but requires an extra transfer (although does save $0.75).

I have finally tried all three combos and believe Metro Line 333 to be the winner. Although it requires the longest walk to work, it saves time with less stops and comes frequently enough to warrant waiting out the extra few minutes in comparison to the Dash. Plus, it's drop-off point is in a safer neighborhood than Metro Line 33.

What I learned today was how inefficiently dispatched many of the Dash routes can be. The entire ride our driver was peppered with requests to spread out so that there was more space between him and the buses before and after him. The lack of specificity by the dispatcher allowed for no one to actually take responsibility for creating the required space and was very ineffective. I tend to believe that this is just how it's always been done at Dash without any ability to prove that it's useful or efficient.

Next up, a review on upcoming projects at Metro and an update on Measure R funding.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Grunts, Traffic Control, MJ and Insurance

Did you get to watch the amazing final round of Wimbledon this year? Or were you too scared to hear hours of guttural noises as tiny felt balls were pummeled across the court at very high speeds? Either way you should check out this HILARIOUS video courtesy of ABC News: The Unstoppable Tennis Grunt

After yesterday's big build up to the scary traffic drama surrounding MJ's funeral I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the LAPD and their ability to contain the chaos. It was almost eerily empty in South Park yesterday (that's the area by Staples towards USC for those of you who are not LA neighborhood savvy). I even managed to order a Fatburger and have it in my possession in less than 10 minutes, which is typically a near impossible feat. And because there was so few bystanders, the LAPD was able to send a bunch of cops home and save the city some overtime money. Considering the budget situation these days, a huge congrats is in order to Chief Bratton and Co.

I listened to most of the memorial on KCRW and was surprised at how touching it was to hear Brooke Shields, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson pay their respects. I am especially sad for those kids who have lived such unimaginable lives thus far and now are being thrown into what must seem like an even stranger world. If it turns out that MJ's death was caused by abuse of prescription drugs, I can only hope it means we'll actually get a real debate on what's going on at the pharmacy. We've turned from the illegal street drugs of the 80s and 90s to the legal, but very dangerous pain and anxiety pills of the 21st century.

Which leads to me my last topic of discussion, the need for healthcare reform in this country and the hope that this Congress will actually make some headway in making this a reality. It seems that my favorite economist and those busy bean counters at the Congressional Budget Office have added up the costs of the most recent Senate Healthcare Plan and it's a) not that expensive and b) the money we would spend is a drop in the bucket in comparison to what we spend annually on healthcare already. The current system is certainly not benefiting many besides the insurance companies, so isn't it about time we spend money on helping everyone else out as well?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Such a bad blogger

Life has been overly crazy lately, and I blame it on the gradual warming of the temperature and lengthening of the day. It seems that now that it's sunlight until 8pm there are just so many more fun options of things to do and updating the blog isn't high on the list. So I was thinking should I just give up and quit the blogging business? But then again there are so many other things I still want to comment about and muse over, so I decided to forge ahead.

Item #1- Google Transit now includes Los Angeles County trip information! This means you can enter any two addresses in L.A. County in Google maps and receive trip planning options featuring a variety of service providers. This was already available in Orange County, but it seemed that Metro was going to do everything it could to prevent itself from joining the 21st century, and I'm glad to report the fight is over. Technology won!

Item #2- Michael Jackson's funeral. Tomorrow the King of Pop will be laid to rest and potentially hundreds of thousands (some predict even a million) will come out to witness the spectacle. I work very close to the Staples Center and the Laker parade of last month caused some definite traffic headaches, but this sounds like it's going to be A LOT worse. I miss MJ not because he affected me on a daily basis, but his music always makes me happy (especially at the club) and now when I hear it I'll have to remember that there will never be another MJ single or new album. Despite all the drama going on about whether he was a good person or should he be missed, there is no doubt that his music changed people's lives and the way we think about popular music forever.

Item #3- The return of Manny and the Dodgers. Yesterday was a tough game for the boys in blue as we eeked out a win in the 13th inning after our prized saver Jonathan Broxton, fell apart in the 9th, allowing 4 runs and forcing extra innings. Again, these troubles were not on the offense or defense side, but mainly from the bullpen (especially as Chad Billingsley pitched an excellent 8 innings). Mota and Belisario each had wild pitches and it was not until Weaver came in that we had some resemblance of control. I don't think this is a huge problem as I can almost guarantee that the main thing Colletti is looking for in the mid-season trade is some new pitching blood. Plus, everyone is allowed to have a bad day even the Ox. Pitching aside, Manny's return has been pretty uneventful and it was nice to see Pierre play so well on Sunday. He had 4 singles, but none of those turned into runs, which points to why Manny should play despite Pierre's current batting average. Manny hits doubles, and homers, while Juan bunts, singles and runs like a mad man to beat the throw. Manny just requires less from his teammates to get him home, and I'm pretty sure any pitcher would rather face Pierre over Manny further gaining some advantage for Mr. Ramirez.

Oh there's so much more to report on from the IOUs now being issued by the world's 8th largest economy to the fact that Minnesota finally has two senators and Alaska is down a governor, but these and other topics including the 21st century's first military coup must wait for further investigation and research. Until then, stay thirsty my friends.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Opera of Life

I recently went to the Opera with the bearded friend and was happy to see that 19th Century musical theater is still alive and well in the 21st century. It was particularly great people watching as the average opera patron is near 70 years old. It was almost impossible to count the number of Stuart Weitzman and Ferragamo low heeled pumps I saw, but they all pretty much resembled these to the right. This was still a vast improvement over what the rest of the younger set was wearing which ranged from full on floor length gowns to the always a mistake black bra with white dress. It has been awhile since I've done a post on fashion, but thought it might be time for another featuring highlights from the Opera:

1. A black bra should only be worn when wearing black or a color that is so dark it is indiscernible from black except under the most extreme lighting situations.

2. Strapless bras were invented for a reason, please utilize them whenever your bra straps would be otherwise visible. Yes, that includes if they match or (God forbid) are clear, and no just because Carrie Bradshaw always had her's showing does it make it okay.

3. Purses should at least be in the same realm of the outfit, for example if wearing an evening outfit, the purse should be equally evening-esque. This means exceedingly large work purses, shrunken backpacks and fanny packs need not apply.

4. Wear only as high of heel as you can actually walk in without looking like you're in extreme pain or about to eat it.

5. Men: please wear pants that allow for your belly to be placed within the confines of your pants.

6. As with #3, wraps/sweaters/coats worn to an evening event should match the occasion, please leave the track jacket in the car and freeze if necessary.

7. Jeans to a Saturday evening performance of the Opera is poor form, even in L.A.

8. Taking off your shoes is never an option, please refer to #4 if your feet are in pain.

9. Open-toed shoes require clean and groomed toenails, and at minimum some clear polish.

10. And finally, if leg will be shown, please choose either stockings or a fresh shave for the rest of us who might have to sit next to you and accidentally brush across you as we scoot to our seats.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sweeps and Swept

The Dodgers are riding high off their most recent sweep of the NL East leading Mets. So much for not being able to win outside of our division or without Manny. The team has been on a tear of 1st inning runs and it continued yesterday. Casey Blake was honored with a bobblehead and proved he's worthy in Tuesday's game when he cracked a 3-run homer to win the game. I have thoroughly enjoyed this season's home games, especially since I've only seen them lose once and my hilarious game buddies: Gin, the Oz man, and bearded friend. I can't wait to see the Dodgers take on their cross town rivals this weekend. Also, last night marked the first time play-by-play was announced by a female! Although, it was only online and not TV or radio, it's pretty cool to hear a woman's voice announcing the action. It's been a recent dream of mine to be a Dodgers beat writer, but given the recent cutbacks in journalism, maybe I should switch to Dodgers announcer. I mean Vin is going to retire soon right? (Note: I will cry and mourn when this man steps down from the mic. He is a golden god.) Why not make it the Juice?

On the same day my Dodgers were kicking the Mets' error proned butts, California went to the pools and told the Governator and the legislature NO to any taxes, changes in spending and basically swept away all hope of balancing the budget. What will come next will be severe cuts combined with some bad borrowing, which will result in even more political gridlock and chaos. What's next? Constitutional Convention!!! At least I can only hope that is what's next, because "this aggression cannot stand". (10 points if you recognize where that quote is from.) There were so many good articles about what happened but check out the one from the NYtimes and this column from the LATimes.

Oh and if you want to see what our President looks like from about 291 different angles, check out the White Houses's flickr album of the first 100 days. Nothing like a handmade suit, a starched white shirt and a nice tie to make you look Presidential.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Old Friends Good Times

I had the opportunity to spend some time last night with my friends from elementary school. Most of these girls I haven't seen in over 10 years! I left my grade school after 6th grade to go to an all-girls school (much to my dismay) and didn't really keep in good contact with most of them since then (probably due to my inability to drive, use the phone at my convenience, etc. at the age of 12). But one of my friends from my past is getting married and all of our Moms who really miss hanging out with each other wanted to get together to celebrate. It was so much fun seeing all of them and it wasn't until I got home and showed the bearded man my elementary school yearbooks did I realize how instrumental all of them were in making me who I am today.

I've always found it unfortunate that there are people in your life that you are no longer as close to as you once were. There were years when I spent the majority of my waking moments with these lovely girls. We did everything together from selling girl scout cookies to getting detention together in 5th grade. I've also found that as you get older it becomes even more difficult to keep all the people that once were close to you in that same reach. The bearded man is very lucky seeing as his two best friends he's known since the age of 3 and is still very close to both of them today. I hope one day that I'll reestablish my relationships with a lot of these wonderful women and my other high school/college/grad school/past coworkers who I've lost touch with.

p.s. My friend Monica has a really cool blog about eating healthy and running. Two things I've been trying to do more regularly, and she's MUCH better about updating it than me. Check it out here!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I have joined the dark side

I decided to get a Twitter account a few days ago, mainly because I didn't want to be the very last person on the face of planet earth to join. I don't really get the point, other than being able to know what's going on with everyone in your world at that very moment. Between Facebook, text messaging and Twitter there is literally no reason to ever call/e-mail/meet up with anyone in real life. Maybe that's the real goal of all this technology we won't need our real selves, just our online personalities. There was even a recent NPR article about what happens to our online persona once we pass away and the different services that exist so you can determine what happens to your Facebook/Twitter/Gmail accounts. That seems like a lot of planning and I don't know how I quite feel about planning your afterlife on the Net, but it's something to think about.

In other news, the LA Times has been running an excellent series exposing some of the darker side of LAUSD. I recommend reading all of the articles as they discuss how difficult it is for the District to fire teachers regardless of the reason (including sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior that borderlines on criminal) to what happens to teachers who are deemed unfit to be in the classroom, but cannot be fired. I know these cases are the exception to the rule in a district with tens of thousands of teachers, but it's important for the public to understand this does go on and could lead to large potential savings if dealt with properly. More than anything, I feel these articles are a wake-up call to the teachers' union that it is not just ALL the Governor, and bad administration there are things they could do to ensure this does not continue in the future.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Say it ain't so Joe...

After yesterday's turn of events, I can only imagine what it was like to be a Chicago White Sox fan in 1920 when their top player Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned from baseball for life after being found guilty of throwing the World Series. Even though Manny might not have been banned for life, 50 games is no drop in the bucket. Plus, it was kind of like being told there would be no Christmas this year or that vacation hours were being canceled at work. Another friend of mine used the analogy of finding out your ex has a STI and not knowing when she/he got infected. No matter what listening to the news unfold about Manny and his suspension made me sick to my stomach. Not because the team can't win without him, and not because the season is over. Not even because I'm naive enough to believe this isn't going on throughout all of professional sports (and in a lot of Colleges), there's just too much money involved to prevent it. What really makes me bummed out is I like Manny. I like the way he winds up to bat like a caveman, slamming his black bat down at the end of the batter's diamond. I like the way he knows when he's hit it out of the park and takes a nice long look as the ball disappears into the stands. I even like those commercials and billboards proclaiming "I'm Baaccccck!".

Because in the end this is L.A. and we love superstars. We want big sports' personalities that match our egos and our self-importance. We don't want to be a team of really good rookies and few vets patched together through a relatively inexpensive team salary. It's why we loved Darryl Strawberry in right field despite his affection for illegal drugs, and why we'll never fault Gagne for taking whatever he needed to make sure it was "Game Over". It's also why this couldn't have happened to a better team, because Manny may change the dynamics of the way Dodgers will play for the next 50 games, but it won't change the team or their fans. On July 4th, Dodgertown will claim its independence not only from one player, but from the rest of the country who believed our success only depended on Mr. 99. And to that end, I'll be there still rooting for a homer from the man in dreds, because what it comes down to, he was just not savvy enough to avoid getting caught.

So tonight I return to the stadium and will not mourn Mannywood, because he didn't build that stadium or this historic run of games. No I leave that to Kemp, Blake, J. Lo, Furcal, Andre and even J. Martin to pull us out and keep us above .500. And as for Pierre I say "Vamonos Juan!"

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Flu, Souter and Silliness

I went on a brief trip to the Bay to visit some friends and partake in some Bacchanalian activities, but was instead forced to stay inside all weekend due to the flu. I still don't know if what I had was the infamous H1N1 virus or not, nor do I really care, because either way it was the flu which meant I had to drink lots of liquids, eat clear food and rest. Plus, seeing as the symptoms of swine flu and regular old fashioned flu are the same I don't know how one would go about determining which one they have. Unless of course everyone visits this gem of a site. There's just something about pandemic flu, that really gets my snarky, sarcastic juices flowing, or is it just that I realize how much the human race loves to blow things out of proportion? We manage to gloss over such real problems like HIV/AIDS, homelessness, or world hunger, because those are just not sexy enough and don't have such easy fixes as washing your hands, and not blatantly sneezing on people in confined spaces.

The other big piece of news is that Justice Souter is planning on retiring. He's staring down at 70 and realized he doesn't want to spend his "golden years" stuck in a stuffy black robe in D.C. And who can blame him? 19 years is a long time to spend at any job, especially one as intellectually taxing as being a Supreme. I applaud him for wanting to hangout in nature in New Hampshire. But what does this mean for the President? He has to appoint a new Justice and so early in his term. It's not a big surprise, there's been a short list floating around since the campaign and considering Specter just made the big leap to the Dems, it doesn't seem like confirmation will be difficult. But on the other hand, Obama should be careful what he wishes for, Souter was appointed by Bush the First and has been a thorn in the conservatives' side ever since. Who knew these amazing legal minds would have the nerve to think for themselves and not be swayed to party politics? Awww...how I love the system of checks and balances.

Finally, just some general silliness that has been bothering me. First, the Dodgers' catcher Russell Martin has changed his jersey to read J. Martin in some sort of ridiculous homage to his Canadian roots. He has not been hitting like he used to and I'm starting to think there's some kind of bad Canadian mojo on him. If this is what happens when MLB players play in the World Baseball Classic then I say cancel it! Also, in addition to the traditional Take Me Out to the Ball game at the 7th inning stretch, there is a mandatory singing of God Bless America. I really hope this is gone soon, otherwise I'm definitely utilizing the facilities during this time. Don't mess with the 7th inning stretch, it's like apple pie and well, uh, baseball. Finally, the McCourts need to buy another two houses in Malibu, so they've shamelessly named a section of the Stadium, Mannywood which includes two tee shirts with the name splashed across it and two tickets for $99. Eee-gads, isn't it bad enough that you're insisting on calling the Stadium, Dodgertown?!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds You

This post was written on April 16th and I thought deserved to be posted despite it's antiquities.

Yesterday, tax day was met with "Tea Parties" across the U.S. to protest paying taxes, and government spending in general. The Governor of Utah was booed for accepting stimulus funds, and Texas Governor Rick Perry hinted at seceding from the Union. News stories abounded about the parties, and ironically the idea apparently stemmed in part from CNBC's commentator Rick Santelli urging angry taxpayers to host tea parties. Isn't this the same CNBC who was recently in big trouble as being a "faux" news source? Jim Cramer, CNBC's money guru, was recently hammered by Jon Stewart and others for his comments about the strength of the stock market. I wonder how many of those people who took the day off from work (or presumably didn't have work yesterday) make more than $250,000. For all of those individuals who fall into that category I say please feel free to protest away. But I would hedge a bet that the majority of those individuals make far less than that figure and have no real idea about what they're protesting. Some state the President's budget currently in front of Congress, others talk about the bailout and yet others cite the blooming deficit as reasons to be out on the street and angry.

But if that's really the case, maybe some of these protesters should consider what this government/country would look like without the budget/bailout/deficit. First, the budget addresses several of the shortfalls that are occurring everywhere at the state and local levels. Without the stimulus package 2,000 more teachers would have lost their jobs at LAUSD. Countless other government services people rely on such as unemployment insurance, MediCaid, children's health care programs would go unfunded. Who would pick up the slack? Certainly not private industry and non-profits are under an even bigger burden to generate revenue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blame Baseball

I'm sorry about my lack of posting recently, but the start of Baseball combined with a nice jaunt to Colorado turned me into a news-less, uninteresting blogger. I apologize and will redouble efforts.

So let's start with the most important thing of course, the fact that there are a mere 170 games left in this year's regular season of baseball. And the Dodgers might actually do pretty well this year, although I'm not promising 100 games like a fellow fan I know. For the first time in a long time, the Dodgers' lineup has great hitting potential and defense skills. The pitching staff has it's holes, but as long as the bullpen isn't overworked by the starters I think it will be A-OK. The main thing will be manufacturing runs, avoid leaving tons of players on base and staying healthy. This is particularly important for those players who have experienced recent health issues, namely Furcal and Wolf. As much as I miss Nomar and Jeff Kent it's refreshing not to have 40+ year-olds playing key infield roles. And this just might be the year that Andre Ethier plays as well as he looks in a uniform. After a promising home opener win (11-1) against the dreaded Giants (rumored to have the best pitching in our division) I can look forward with confidence for finally being a team who is serious throughout the season and not just post-All Star break and after 6 mid-season trades.

The other thing that is particularly special about today is the fact that's its TAX DAY! This has always been one of my favorite days of the year, as I love doing my taxes, plus it's great to see the operation that goes down at post offices today. For those of you who haven't filed, as long as you don't owe anything you're in the clear. And for those of you who do owe, well then hop to it! Owing the government and paying penalties is about as bad of a combo as there is. Plus Obama is urging everyone to not stress and just make a "good-faith effort". I wonder if that means just thinking good thoughts about your tax return or if there's actual action that needs to be involved.

Finally, a quick plug for my two favorite bloggers who both just released new books. Check them out if you're at all interested in a) crazy mother/daughter relationships or b) the best baseball team in history. Maybe I should consider writing a book, or maybe I better stick to just posting more regularly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The rise and fall of news

I heard some sad news today from a fellow transit junkie friend of mine. Steve Hymon, the transit reporter for the LA Times, was laid off along with 30 other people at the paper once regarded to be one of the nation's best. It's amazing that there are still enough people in that building to actually put together enough stories to produce a paper, and the quality level definitely reflects these staffing changes. Just a few of the things he's reported on recently include: LA's plans for the stimulus money with regards to transit, the Expo and Gold line construction, and not to mention his excellent Bottleneck Blog. It's disconcerting that in a city with as much transportation issues as LA, the main newspaper would choose to decrease the amount of reporting on this extremely important topic.

Seeing as I now must rely on the New York Times for reliable and interesting news information, I found this somewhat hilarious post about Paul Krugman in the Freaknomics blog. My favorite economist wrote a scathing opinion on the new plan to price "toxic" assets in the public-private partnership developed by the Treasury Department. I know it's not fair that Krugman gets to criticize all of Obama and Geithner's moves without having to develop a solution (that is politically viable) but it's important that someone is pointing out the possible pitfalls. For the taxpayers' sake, let's hope that this Nobel award winning Economist is wrong, at least this once.

Finally in reference to my previous post, check out Steve Lopez's column about the last hired, first fired policy at LAUSD.

And for those of you who watched the Presidential Press Conference last night, please take a moment to watch Jon Stewart explain how conferences should go. HILARIOUS!
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Pres. Goofus and Pres. Gallant - Peer Pressers
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Defying Logic

Lately I have noticed several things that do not make a whole lot of sense. They range from the inane to the important but here's a brief list.

1. Chicken Carnitas. El Pollo Loco has debuted their new line of Carnitas menu-items, which might sound normal enough for a Mexican fast food joint, but they're made from chicken! Carnitas by definition is pork, just like carne asada is beef. Next they'll start serving Ensenada style fish tacos made from tofu!

2. First hired, first fired. Several of my grad school friends have fallen prey to this ridiculous HR policy utilized throughout public offices. It basically means that regardless of prior experience, expertise, education, or ability, the first person hired, will be the first person fired when budgeting requires a trimming down of staff. Why this is flawed logic, is pretty obvious, but let me break it down. Without younger people moving into these public servant jobs, there will be no one with the necessary experience and institutional knowledge to take over once the baby boomers retire, not to mention who will actually get things done while everyone else is busy chilling on disability?

3. The Obsession with OctoMom. I know it's kind of like watching a trainwreck in slow motion, but OctoMom really isn't that interesting. I can't imagine why people want to see her on TV. She never says anything outrageous, no driving around with the baby on her lap, and she hasn't even shaved her head bald yet. I bet the paparazzi really misses the old BritBrit these days. Plus, it's embarassing to see Whittier and its environs on the news every night. First Nixon, now this.

4.The wrap sandal. Is it me, or is this look even worse than the open toed boot? Now instead of worrying about only our toes being cold in winter, our spring option is to at least keep our ankles warm.

5. Local news television. My bearded friend brought this one up the other day. Who really relies on local news tv for important and reliable news and information? I watch KTLA in the mornings, mainly because I love Mark Kriski's crazy antics and I like to hear the weather before I get dressed but as for news this is what I learned this morning: a NASCAR race will be at Irwindale Speedway this weekend, the Woz was on with his partner in Dancing with the Stars, Manny is playing cricket and most important there is a REALLY long line for tickets at the Jay Leno show with the President in town. All super important and relevant news info considering that the economy is in shambles, AIG is giving out millions in bonuses paid by taxes and oh yeah the entire State is on the verge of chaos (again). I'm so glad I tuned in.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back!

Mannywood has returned and not a moment too soon or to late for that matter. Just in time to let the Dodgers break into their new stadium without any Mannigans. (Like my new word?) All in all, I'm proud of the Dodgers management for staying the hard line and only offering the 2 years. Andruw Jones was a hard lesson learned, but hopefully we won't suffer another for a LONG time. No matter what, I'm sure that Manny will do well and that the Blue faithful will welcome him back with open arms. Hey, these are some of the same people who still actually like Kobe. But I digress...

Another person who is back to his old stomping grounds is a former top executive from the now defunct Countrywide. He's opened up shop in Calabasas with some of his old friends with a new venture called PennyMac. Turns out this new business buys mortgages that are in default for pennies on the dollar and then calls up the homeowners offering them reduced interest rates and better terms. The homeowner ends up being able to renegotiate for a monthly amount they can actually pay and PennyMac reaps huge profits since they bought the loan on the cheap. Now this all sounds wonderful and just picture perfect, but then again these are the same guys who put alot of these people into these bad loans in the first place. Very fishy...but don't take my word for it, read all about it here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Get on the Socialist Bus

The title of this post is a joke a conservative friend of mine likes to tell, only half-kidding when he describes President Obama driving a big bus with the destination Socialism on the front and everyone jumping on for a ride. It was interesting to hear it reverberate during the campaign as Joe the Plumber and Sarah ranted about promises to "spread the wealth" around. Whenever I hear that phrase I always think about the game of Life and landing on that square where you had to give the other players $100.

The article in the NY Times about socialism, quotes several pundits detailing how socialism is 'un-American' and will be soundly rejected by the public, particularly in the area of universal health care. I think that might be the case if the country was prospering and people weren't losing their jobs left and right. Because as far as I can tell whether you're on the left or the right, almost everyone can use a little help right now. And before we start lambasting socialism let's take a moment to think about all the things we enjoy that might be just along the lines of what those Comrades in funny hats we're thinking.

1) Free public education. Now that's a handout if I ever saw one. America has always loved to believe that education is the great equalizing force. Except for the fact that even wages for college-educated workers have remained stagnant while prices continue to rise. Add to that the fact that no one making $35,000 at 22 in their first entry-level job has enough to move out of their parents' home, pay off their student loans and afford to put into their 401(k), which leaves few with the ability to pull themselves up from their proverbial bootstraps.

2) Unemployment insurance. Sure we pay into this, but the majority of us (God-willing) will never use it, which means we're "spreading the wealth" by helping out those who are less fortunate than us and are not currently gainfully employed. I guess you could say that it is always there in case you need it, but why not just take the money you pay into it and put it in your own rainy day fund. Oh, I forgot Americans hate saving, we like spending!

And while I was thinking about another one (please feel free to post your own) I came across this jewel of news. The only thing states spend more on than prisons is Medicaid! Yup, we've finally reached the point where corrections budgets are larger than education, transit and public aid. So if you're wondering what happens when you have a public school system that graduates only half of its students, you don't need to look too far. We continue to "spread the wealth" except this time instead of with books and after-school programs, it's with 3 square meals a day and a very tiny window. We tried to buy our way out of crime, but that hasn't seemed to work, unless you're a member of the prison guard union that is.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No celebration for Sactown

Everyone please put away your Congrats posters and stop patting yourselves on the back. The budget California just passed after more than 5 days of being locked inside a room is mediocre at best, and pointless at worst. No one has faced the fact that California’s budgeting system is terribly flawed, and will continue to be so for the following reasons:

1. The majority of Californians don’t care. Yes, it’s a pain when the DMV is not open on Saturday or if I won’t get my $32 tax refund, but for the most part the budget not being passed had little effect on most state residents. The people that do care: counties, cities, state workers, and state politicians’ families don’t make up a large enough percentage of the population to really make this a priority.

2. The right and left in California never have to agree on anything except for taxes and the budget. I’ve written about this before, but this is the one time when Reps can really stick it to the Dems for rolling over them the rest of the year with a simple majority. What generally happens, is a refusal to compromise at any cost, and the few that do cross the party line cut themselves a nice deal in exchange for alienation from their party. There needs to be a change in the 2/3 majority vote for the budget and tax increases.

3. Californians want everything for nothing. No one wants to give up any of their current funding, but no one wants to increase taxes. And this happens every year, not just when the economy is in recession. For 16 of the past 18 years, California has run a structural deficit, which means even when the economy is good we’ve spent more than we’ve taken in and covered that gap with moving money around on the books and/or borrowing. Except this year, with a $41 billion gap and the lowest bond rating in the nation, the politicians were forced to come up with a solution.

4. Even the politicians have little incentive to make it work. The voters want term limits to prevent lazy voters from sending the same inefficient officials back to Sacramento year after year. As a result, we have politicians who need to find their next gig after their term is up and spend the majority of their time in office raising funds for their next election, fixing long-term problems with short-term solutions and burning bridges at every turn, because they won’t be in office long enough to care. I know expecting the voter to care about who they choose to represent them is asking a lot, but this automatic system of accountability has not improved the quality of public policy or reduce the amount of corruption.

Read the following 3 opinions by some very smart individuals about other reasons why we’re in a budgetary mess. They include the hyper-partisan nature of our State officials, and the ballot initiative process, which allows the same voter who is too lazy to vote out ineffective politicians to make changes to our State Constitution and determine where to spend money with only a 50% majority. Today is the type of day I wish I could avoid reading the news and spend my time blissfully enjoying TMZ and other gossipy websites. Who is Jennifer Aniston dating these days?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Government: Spender of Last Resort

The past week's news about the economic stimulus plan has really started to irk me to a level I have not seen since a certain VP candidate was on all the talk shows remarking on our proximity to Russia. It seems that Congress is involved in a big game of chicken, and the only ones who are going to get hurt are the "everyday Americans" (note: I don't even know what that phrase means, but everyone uses it so I thought why not?). Why do I think we're headed to an even bigger disaster? Read this article from salon.com to get a taste as to why if the economic stimulus doesn't actually spend money and instead just cuts taxes we'll be an even bigger lurch. Actually, you don't even have to do that just think about what you did last year, when the feds gave you $300 to stimulate the economy. What did most of us do? Well those of us who needed the money used it to pay off some debt or put it into savings. Nowadays, $300 isn't a lot towards big ticket items such as big screen TVs or cars, the two industries really hurting these days.

Tax cuts don't work to stimulate the economy. Should we have tax cuts if the government isn't using the money or doesn't need it? Yes of course. Especially when we've balanced the budget. But in times of extreme deficit, how are tax cuts going to help? Another suggestion was there needs to be tax incentives for small businesses to hire people. Hmm...if businesses need to hire someone to be more productive they will. How will hiring a person they don't need to receive a tax break help their overall bottom line? If there is no demand for the service/product you sell why would you expand capacity?!

I'm sorry I'm in such a rant right now, but it would behoove the majority of politicians and pundits to sit down and read an Economics 101 book, particularly focusing on macroeconomics. Once you realize the magic equation of GDP=C+I+G+(X-M) it becomes painfully obvious that if C (consumption) is non-existent and I (investment) is in the toilet, and you're in a huge trade deficit (X-M). The only variable that can be changed is G (government spending)! Any 1st year Econ student can tell you that government investment in the economy has A LOT more bang for its buck than redistribution of wealth via tax cuts. And when no one is buying, the spender of last resort is guess who...Uncle Sam.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Buck up Gen Y, it's not over yet.

A while ago I commented on an article regarding the need for interview-ready clothing especially in the state of the economy. It seems that the outlook is even grimmer in this New York Times' blog entry about what to wear on the day you think you're going to get the axe.

I haven't really heard personally of anyone getting the axe at their job, but I've definitely heard a lot about layoffs and closures in the news. Macy's, Home Depot, Target...the list just keeps growing longer and longer. I am lucky to be employed, as is my bearded friend, in industries that are continuing to survive (even if on a day-to-day basis.) Politics and education do not rely on the fickle consumer to keep them afloat, but foundations/corporations and the taxpayers may not be able to maintain their support in the coming years. All the pundits and economists are saying if you think 2009 is bad, wait until 2010.

And yet this happens for my generation at a unique period in our adult lives. As we barrel towards thirty, we're saving up for down payments on starter houses, paying off student loans and embarking on our "real" careers. Where does this leave us? Our generation has already sent thousands to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight a war that started at the beginning of our 20s. We elected the first Black President at the end of our 20s. Now it seems that the course of history has a few more curveballs it wants to throw before we see 35. I've yet to lose my sense of optimism, but all the doom and gloom makes it difficult to have much faith in being able to achieve our personal version of the American Dream.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What has this world come to?

Now the recession has officially started to hit me where it hurts. The U.S. Postal Service is considering reducing mail delivery to only 5 days a week! There is less mail being sent, while the cost of delivering mail continues to increase. I try and do my part by sending out lots of cards, ordering from Amazon.com and even mailing a few of my bills the old fashioned way (I don't trust the utilities to do online billing right). Out of all my daily errands, the Post Office is my favorite. I think it goes back to watching Mister Rogers every morning and waiting for Mr. McFeely to deliver the mail. Recently, the randomest piece of mail I received was a letter from #43 thanking me for my service to his administration. I had no idea that interns were even considered worthy of a letter! I really hope we can avoid this travesty. The mail is one of the coolest things we have, because for 42 cents you can send something clear across the country. So get out there and write some letters, the USPS and I thank you. :)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hail to the Chief!

So I'm sure we've all had our fill of Inauguration related news and excitement this week, but there were a few things I thought might be worth a look.

First, from the creators of Nope.com, Kevin & Bean produced a nice audio montage to #43 (George II). For those of us, who remember Boys II Men End of the Road being played at our junior high and high school graduations it will bring back fond memories of having to say goodbye.

Second, I personally thought Obama's speech was definitely more practical than I had expected, but that was not at all felt by my favorite economist Paul Krugman. After thinking about it a bit I wonder if tightening our belts, greater government oversight, and making tough choices about how we spend money is really the answer. I guess it didn't work out for Hoover. :(

Finally, for those of you who are Californians, I think we should all take a moment to recognize the fact that our state's credit rating may be downgraded again by Moody's. We are now tied for last with hurricane damaged Louisiana. Pretty sad when one of the world's largest economies can't borrow money, because it's considered a bad investment. I'm afraid to wonder how much farther we can sink this state in budget woes.

In sports news, Manny is almost definitely headed to the Angels, and Jeff Kent says goodbye for good. I'll miss you Kent, especially when you'd run your mouth at the umps over strikes and balls.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hamachi vs. Winston

Being a SoCal native my relationship with my cars have been a decade-long love-hate relationship. My first vehicle, a Toyota Corolla, was named the Love Bus by one of my high school friends (for reason unbeknown to me) and survived a little over 2 years under my helm. Unfortunately, it was totaled on the way to school when another driver decided to place her car squarely in the middle of the two oncoming lanes of traffic. After that it was a variety of vehicles including the Volvo and Love Bus No. 2 which was a Chevy Prizm (but for all intents and purposes a Corolla).

In December of 2004, I bought my first car, Winston or Winnie the Mini. He was a beaut, in classic black and I loved him more than anyone should probably love a vehicle. I had such a good time driving him for those 60k plus miles, even though I know most of my passengers were not sorry to see him go. Unfortunately, Winston came with many manufacturer problems (don't ever buy a car the 2nd year it is made). I had so much replaced on him, from the window motors, steering wheel, steering fuel pump, batteries, tires, struts, etc., that by the time he decided his transmission wasn't going to be functioning for much longer I realized it was time to say goodbye. After four years of motoring across L.A., I kissed Winston goodbye and said hello to Hamachi.
Now, Hamachi is Japanese and practical, being a Subaru Impreza with All-Wheel Drive and has excellent safety ratings. He doesn't often turn heads, and I don't get a million questions about how fun is it to drive, but he's a good piece of gear. I've learned slowly to love Hamachi (very similar to how I learned to love sushi) and am now proud to say that I bought a car from a company that has managed to brave the economic turmoil of the past year. (Note: Mini also did very well last year.)

I may not fit the description of the average Scooby Doo driver, and definitely miss my greatest fashion accessory Winston, but at least I won't have to worry about Hamachi going kamikaze on me.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Madness All Day

I have found a new tv obsession- Mad Men. I waded through the 2nd season, without watching the first and was pleasantly amused. But for those of you who haven't discovered it, I do recommend starting at the beginning with Season 1. You'll appreciate the characters so much more. But here's a quick breakdown of why I love this show.

1. There are 3 main activities- drinking, smoking and sex. Not necessarily in that order, and all take place at the office. I can't imagine that the 60s were really that risque, but who knows. Either way, it makes going to the office look like a soap opera, but of course with a little bit more style.

2. The clothes are awesome. All the women wear tight, yet flattering dresses to work, accentuating their most sought after assets. The men with their suits and skinny ties, don't look so bad. And Don Draper looks good in just about anything.

3. Everyone on the show is just a little crazy. From the perfect housewife Betty, who decides to use a shotgun on the neighbor's pets, to the very proper Pete Campbell having a rendezvous the night before his wedding; all the characters seem about one episode away from a mental hospital.

4. It is also a history lesson. Although Sterling Cooper is a made-up ad agency, the businesses they represent are real including Dr. Scholl's, Nixon's campaign versus Kennedy and my favorite, Heineken. I've learned a lot more about what was going on in this decade then in most of my American history classes.

5. You'll look at ads differently forever. This was the beginning of the ad-crazed world we know today. TV was still a luxury item and the ads were a lot more straightforward, but the ways they get you to buy things are amazing.

So next time you head to Netflix, add Mad Men to the queue. And not just because I say so, but because Don does...