Archive for August, 2010



23
Aug
10

Change your commute, and change your life!*

Do you hate your commute?

Is it long and stressful?

Is it destroying your body, killing you, or even — gasp! — making you fat?

Do you need a change?

Maybe you should try… taking the bus!

That’s right, give public transit a shot.  Beloved by smug satisfied car-hating East Coasters like Matt Yglesias, Richard Florida, and Donald Shoup — all of whom know better than you — taking the bus is a radical step towards improving your life, because they said so.  In fact, it can not only replace your commute: it can make everything you hate about it worse!

Hate spending hours in your car every day while the air conditioning struggles to keep up with the blazing sun and the trunk-rattling stereo in the lowered Civic next to you goes doof-doof-DOOFDOOFDOOF?  By taking the bus, you can spend three times as much time on the shimmering ribbons of asphalt, enjoying the sauna-like comfort of a large vehicle full of people with no Gaia-murdering air conditioning.  Pop the windows for a bit of precious oxygen, and the doof-doof stereo gets even louder.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to sit next to someone with a cranked iPod and hear the doof-doof up close!  If you can find a seat, that is.

Does the uncertainty and unpredictability of traffic leave you shaking with impotent, frustrated rage?  Take the bus, and not only can you fret about traffic, you can fret about whether the bus shows up at all.  Maybe it’s ten minutes late.  Maybe it was five minutes early, and disappeared from sight just before you reached the stop.  You can’t tell! How exciting is that? You’ll begin to think of it as an opportunity for rigorous scheduling, as you leave home hours early to compensate for late or disappearing buses and missed connections.

Even better, once you get on the bus, you face the exciting question of whether there’s a seat available, and whether your seatmate is violently senile, grossly overweight, or has bothered to bathe in the last week.  Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and squish wetly down onto a puddle of urine left by the last guy!  Or maybe you’ll have the chance to stand in the aisle, while the kid in front of you smacks you with his overloaded backpack every time the bus accelerates and the college student behind you splashes you with scalding-hot coffee every time it brakes.

Do you stare wistfully through your windshield at the dusty sidewalks with their scattered half-dead weeds?  Do you long to stretch your legs and breathe the grit-blasted polluted breeze that gently kisses the freeway?  Man, that’s fucked up, but taking the bus will cater to your perverse fetish.  You’ll walk miles over the course of the week, in rain or shine, shirt-soaking heat or killing cold.  (Just think of all the calories you’ll burn!)  You’ll stand for hours in torrential downpours (or sit shivering on rain-soaked benches), and when the blessed sight of your bus rounding the corner sends your heart soaring twenty minutes late, it’ll be packed to the gills and rocket right past you, showering you with oily puddle-water.  Hey, it builds character.

Are you nervous about walking through a deserted parking lot in the dead of night?  Wait ’til you get to spend an hour at the bus station when the bars have all let out!  Do you lock your car doors and grip the wheel tensely when a trio of gang-bangers cross the street in front of you?  A late-night ride home on a bus with no-one thereupon but you, those very same thugs, and a thoroughly disinterested driver will cure you of that fear.  You’ll see assaults both random and domestic — maybe you’ll even get to participate, or maybe someone will take a swing at the driver.  Taking the bus will toughen you up.

Hate shopping?  Is a detour to the local mega-mart on your way home the last thing you want to do after a tough day on the job site or at the office?  On the bus, you probably won’t have the chance to make a quick stop.  Dashing in and out just doesn’t happen when your ride leaves every half hour (if you’re fortunate enough to find it on time).  You’ll make your grocery-getting trips separately, and you’ll do it more often (and pay more) because you won’t have a trunk any more — no loading up with “value-priced family packs” of chicken breasts or half a dozen gallon jugs of milk.  Just think how exciting it’ll be to shepherd home a dozen eggs without a rogue two-year-old or unsteady senior citizen crashing into your bags!

Do tailgaters, road-ragers, and other idiots behind the wheel stress you out?  On the bus, you’ll meet those very same inattentive idiots and aggressive assholes without a pair of metal cages to separate you.  Ever spend forty-five minutes being harangued for spare change by a filthy hobo (or by a meticulously-scruffy teenager wearing clothing worth more than you make in a month)?  Ever seen a stoned backpacker clobber a wheelchair-bound child with his overstuffed pack… three times in as many minutes? Ever look on helplessly as an unsteady old man flies head-first into the edge of the fare box when the driver decides to brake suddenly to teach the kids at the back a lesson?  They’re experiences you’ll never forget!

Don’t trust your mechanic?  Do terms like “CV joint” and “Macpherson strut” make you nervous?  Just wait ’til the bus gets up around the speed limit.  Your ears will thrill to the sound of rattling bolts and screeching hinges.  Ever felt bad about taping over that gash in your front seat with duct tape?  You’ll burst with pride at your diligence and resourcefulness after gazing at the jagged shards of plastic and sheet metal protruding from the seat in front of you.  Do you know what boiling brake fluid smells like?  Ride a packed bus down a twelve-percent grade for a couple of miles and you will, although if the light at the bottom of the hill is red when you barrel through it you might have trouble distinguishing the smell of cooked brakes from the stink of fear and urine.

So what are you waiting for?  Step up to the challenge!  Visit your local convenience store and drop a couple hundred bucks on a one-month bus pass.  After a few years, you’ll be a very different person!

(Disclaimer: I live in greater Vancouver, which has perhaps the finest public transit system in North America**.  Your bus-taking experience may not be as cheerful as mine.  And yes, these have all happened to me — and more besides!)

——

* Not necessarily for the better

** I’m being entirely sincere in that sentence

23
Aug
10

Miscellaneous Monday motorsports mumblings, vol. 27

Can you believe it’s been the whole racing season to date since I wrote the last one of these?

——

First of all: Road America.  If you neglected to watch this weekend’s ALMS race, drop what you’re doing, find a torrent, and watch.  It’s only three hours, and totally worth it.

Congrats first of all to Drayson Racing for their maiden victory, and second to the American Le Mans Series for their incredibly successful prototype rules.  Fans of the series will recall that, due to flagging interest from factory teams, the ALMS ditched the ACO’s LMP1/LMP2 classification and combined both categories into a single heterogeneous “LMP” class, with weight penalties and engine restrictors and such to achieve some sort of parity.  What that meant this weekend was that Drayson Racing (and its Judd V10-powered B09/60) stacked up against Patron-Highcroft’s Acura ARX-01 and Team CytoSport Muscle Milk’s Porsche RS Spyder — both LMP2 engine/chassis combinations revamped for the new regulations.

You’d expect the much faster and slightly heavier LMP”1″ cars to run away from the lighter, slower LMP”2″ cars on Road America’s three long straights.  You’d be wrong.  While pole-sitter Johnny Cocker ran laps five seconds faster than the RS Spyder in clean air, he also burned far more fuel doing so and was forced to pit under green with less than half an hour remaining.  In the end, he passed David Brabham’s ARX-01 for second with only a few laps to spare and took the lead from Klaus Graf’s Porsche through Thunder Alley on the last lap, as the German slowed to make it across the finish with only fumes left in the tank.

This, folks, is racing. All of the LMPs were competitive, but in different ways and at different points in the track.  Team Autocon Motorsports’ jarringly orange Lola/AER (“LMP1″) was by far the fastest car on track, and held the lead until it broke a shift linkage in the first hour, but the Dyson Motorsports Lola/Mazda (“LMP2″) and of course the RS Spyder were damn quick from T6 through the T9 carousel and dangerous under braking.  Patron-Highcroft brought a modified “Le Mans” package for a bit less downforce and a bit less drag and split the difference between speed and quickness, giving them opportunities to attack all over the track but less margin for error.  (This is the sort of thing you can do when you have Simon Pagenaud and David Brabham driving for you!)

It was glorious.

——

Speaking of glorious racing: next weekend is going to be a good one.  We’ll have the Belgian Grand Prix and ALMS at Mosport.  If your mantra leans more toward “four wheels good, two wheels better“, you’ll be pleased to watch Ben Spies and Valentino Rossi at the Indianapolis GP.  Actually… just book off your whole Sunday.

——

And speaking of Formula One and dubious segues, this is why Korea is cool:

A business park inside a Formula One track, with a Satriani soundtrack.  Yeah.

——

Finally, we find that Jalopnik have distilled their thread of epic win into ten illustrative (and illustrated) examples:

It’s… vindicating, in a backhanded sort of way.  And the comment thread is likewise full of win.  (And with that link, this post gets tagged “haterade” — for the jerkoffs who inspired #7 and #3.)

22
Aug
10

More linky, less thinky

(Should I start numbering these posts?)

We begin with an ominous post from Megan McArdle on the subject of investment-funded pensions:

Here’s the cheery news:

Private pensions are heavily regulated to protect workers. But regulation hasn’t stopped the plans from being underfunded, in part because the regulators, who worried that companies would use pensions as a slush fund to smooth their earnings, kept them from overcontributing in flusher times. Even before the latest financial crisis hit, the government-run pension insurer estimated that, on average, plans had less than 90 percent of the assets needed to meet their liabilities. Now those figures are much worse, and workers who have been depending on those pensions may see them slashed if their companies go under and the government takes over their plans.

The idea of regulators preventing companies from “overcontributing” reminds me of mortgage-backed investment risk being rated based on the chances of homeowners paying down the principal “too soon”.  But at least this terrible fortune is confined to the private sector, right?  I mean, we can still construct a fairy tale where they got what they deserved because, um, profit and greed?

And yet the private plans are in good shape compared with state and local pension funds. For decades, politicians have promised lavish pension benefits in return for the support of the public-sector unions—promises that they, unlike their counterparts in the private sector, did not have to cover by setting aside a reasonably large asset base. Now the bills are coming due, and many funds are disastrously underfunded. The California state pension system, for example, has only 60 percent of the assets needed to pay its obligations through 2042. With a $19 billion budget deficit, the state is unlikely to be able to make up the shortfall unless the stock market starts zooming again.

I don’t know about you, but I stopped expecting to be able to retire when I was… twelve or so.

——

Next we have some vitriol from David Henderson:

No points for guessing.  This is all about the Cordoba Center, of course, and I’m mostly linking it for this excerpt:

The headline, “Obama Defends Plan to Build Mosque Near Ground Zero” is inaccurate. At no point in his speech on that Friday night did he defend the plan. Instead, he defended people’s right to carry out the plan.

It’s not really surprising that neither Shields nor Gerson nor the headline writer understands the difference between defending someone’s right to do something and defending the doing of it.

(Emphasis added.)

Well, they have plenty of company.  Sadly, the distinction between the two is only obvious if you have some idea of what negative liberty means; positive liberties imply endorsement.

I also linked to Henderson’s article for the phrase “politics between the 45-yard lines“, which (a) is an outstanding use of metaphor and (b) reminds me how happy I am that college football season is right around the corner.

——

Finally, we have a pair of good posts by Arnold Kling.  First, giving a dead horse a few more whacks:

He notes this, which makes me think I wrote unfairly of him:

But if you read chapter one of Shoup’s book, it seems that what ticks him off is the fact that people use cars. Hence, the relevant margin is the mode of transportation. But peak-load pricing, by ensuring drivers that parking spaces will be available, might increase the use of cars. When I have to get to a meeting in the area, I am more worried that parking lots will be full than that they will be expensive. That is one reason I usually take the subway.

Shoup strikes me as one of those people who would like to see American locales looking more like Berlin. As I wrote here, it is not clear that taking away public parking will generate that outcome.

(The comment thread might provoke some good discussion on free-market mass transit if the commenters involved remove the chips from their shoulders.  Yeah, yeah; like I’m one to talk.)

Next, this delightful nugget of carnassial observation:

Pretty much every policy undertaken in the name of “affordable housing” does little or nothing to help the intended beneficiaries. Instead, these policies have major adverse unintended consequences and persist because of the large rents they give to industry participants. If there were any justice in the world, anyone who came to this sort of conference and uttered the words “affordable housing” would have their clothing instantly disappear and be replaced by a huge sandwich-board sign that says, “I shamelessly exploit sympathy directed toward poor people for my own profit and self-aggrandizement.”

It flabbergasts and astounds me that this isn’t more obviously credited in Vancouver.  We have a dismayingly large homeless population, but no matter how much money the municipal, provincial, and federal governments throw at community activists and well-credentialed consultants and advocacy groups and special contractors we just can’t seem to build any — I’ll risk a sandwich board — affordable housing for them.

21
Aug
10

Keep your heads down, the roflcopter is about to take off

Thus, from Russ Roberts:

In particular:

“On Nov. 3 … there will be in Washington, D.C., a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate. That will be the case,” Biden said in a speech to the Democratic National Committee. [...]

“If it weren’t illegal, I’d make book on it,” Biden quipped.

Would someone please let the Vice-President know about InTrade?

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but, er… I do have an internet connection.  To be fair, I’ve only known about InTrade since it became an internet sensation during the — when was it? — oh yes, the 2008 election, where it did a better job of forecasting the result than fucking CNN.

So if Biden knows better than InTrade, he could clean up right about now.  And, I dunno, put his winnings towards paying down the debt.  I’m sure Biden’s a fine upstanding citizen with a keenly-honed sense of self-sacrifice… and of course every little bit helps, doesn’t it.

20
Aug
10

Measure what you want to improve

So this story from the LA Times is making its way all around the big truck, but I figure it (and its implications) need a bit more coverage — thus, this post.  I particularly like Ken’s Patrick’s take on the matter:

The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.“You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.

Forgive me, as I’m not a teacher, and I’m childless, but if I’m asked to judge the quality of a teacher at all, by what metric should I judge if not by student performance? By how nice a teacher is during parent-teacher conferences?  By whether she’s a union delegate?  By her students’ self-esteem, even if they can’t multiply 11 by 12?

The Times study allows for, and takes into account, that teachers in different schools are given students of varying preparation and ability, by measuring teachers within individual schools and by using student improvement, as opposed to simple scores, to gauge effectiveness.

Pretty incisive stuff, and quite similar to what I’d have written (though I’d probably have said “fuck” a lot).  Ken Patrick deviates from my take in only one detail:

Why is it that the only people, seemingly in America, who oppose judging schoolteachers by the performance of their students, are … teachers?

(Emphasis added.)

It is of course teachers’ unions that object so consistently and so strenuously to measuring teacher performance.  Much like judging a nation’s people by their government, it’s misleading — bordering on invidious — to judge a population of teachers by the bellicose bloviations of their union leaders.  I rather suspect that a lot of hard-working and terrifically able teachers resent the fact that not only is their performance being deliberately ignored, but that this policy is enforced by people who purport to have their best interests at heart and with whom they are contractually forced to associate.

And yes, I know: teaching to a test is not the same as teaching the material; there are many factors beyond teacher performance in student performance; blah blah fucking blah.  None of that is any excuse willfully to avoid gathering data to improve student outcomes, and as far as I’m concerned A.J. Duffy’s position is tantamount to child abuse.

I don’t often say this about the legacy media, but go give the LA Times some ad views.

19
Aug
10

Links to greatness

First, a well-phrased, even-handed, and insightful post from Brad Warbiany comparing progressivism, conservatism, and libertarianism with if anything a bit too much charity:

Outstanding.

Next, some wharrgarbl:

I get some of this shit about computers (“Hey, you’re doing a PhD in computer graphics?  I need to make a web site, can you teach me Photoshop?”).  I get a lot of this about other topics of interest:

The single most annoying thing non-car people say to me is “How do you know all this stuff?” And not in a “Wow, you’re knowledgeable about this subject” sort of way, but with an inflection that implies you knowing something about cars means you can’t possibly understand anything else. Even worse, it’s not when you’re trying to explain how mechanical fuel injection works — it’s when you mention the simplest concept. Like when I saw a bunch of people trying to get a big heavy SUV out of the snow by putting cardboard boxes underneath the front tires and I just told them all to climb in the back. Rather than thanking me, the owner gave me the old “How do you know all this stuff.” I just laughed it off, but I wanted to reply “Because I understand how physics works, dumbass. You have a RWD truck.” End rant.

18
Aug
10

lol wut

I repeat:

Source: Ursula Vernon.  Learn something new every day, huh.

That’d be a reaction to this:

(Memeorandum: reading dreck like WND so I don’t have to.)

For some time now, principled small-cee conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and Skippystalin and Ted Olson have looked at gay marriage prohibitions and wondered what the blue throbbing fuck business any government has denying couples the right to marry on the basis that their plumbing’s a bit too similar.  The Tories, part-governing party in Great Britain, are gradually getting on board with the idea that, if stable and loving families are such wonderful assets to society, maybe stable and loving LGBT couples ought to be treated as wonderful assets to society rather than OMG WTF TEH GHEY.  Rather recently, Glenn Beck has not only promoted Hayek for a number of reasons (some of which are good) but decided that same-sex marriage is basically a good idea.  I can’t believe I’m quoting Glenn Beck approvingly, but here we are:

O’REILLY: Do you believe — do you believe that gay marriage is a threat to the country in any way?
BECK: A threat to the country?
O’REILLY: Yeah, it going to harm the country?
BECK: No, I don’t. Will the gays come and get us?
O’REILLY: OK. Is it going to harm the country in any way?
BECK: I believe — I believe what Thomas Jefferson said. If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?

Holy fucking shit, man.

And now we have this:

Ann Coulter.  The right-wing Judy Garland.  Words fail me.

No they don’t.

Fucking LOL!

The Coultergeist excuses herself thus to “the base”:

Asked by Farah why she was speaking to GOProud, Coulter said: “They hired me to give a speech, so I’m giving a speech. I do it all the time.”

[...]

“I speak to a lot of groups and do not endorse them. I speak at Harvard and I certainly don’t endorse their views. I’ve spoken to Democratic groups and liberal Republican groups that loooove abortion. The main thing I do is speak on college campuses, which is about the equivalent of speaking at an al-Qaida conference. I’m sure I agree with GOProud more than I do with at least half of my college audiences. But in any event, giving a speech is not an endorsement of every position held by the people I’m speaking to. I was going to speak for you guys, I think you’re nuts on the birther thing (though I like you otherwise!).”

“It’s just another gig.”  Right.  Riiiight. Ann Coulter is a world-class expert in promoting the welfare of Ann Coulter.  She can see the writing on the wall just as well as Glenn Beck, and that writing says “fagbashing gets you gigs in shitty bars; Jeffersonian equanimity gets you a national stage”.

I’ll leave you with this:

I guess gay marriage isn’t scary any more.  Good.




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