About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.

Friday, May 14, 2010


That's a polite word for what the CEO of BP is full of, when he spews forth this toxic bile in an interview with the Guardian:
"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."
Of course, as someone commented pithily on the TPM site, a
A gunshot wound is also very small in comparison to the volume of an adult human, yet for some reason we still take them very seriously.
There's more. Hold your nose, and read it all.

Go To College, Get A Job?

At long last, it seems that policy thinking is catching up to something I've been ranting on about since at least 1984: that the US system of higher education and its unfortunate and deep entanglement with the US job market is wackadoodle. For more than 40 years, we've been on a path that creates an urgency for a 4-year degree as proof of eligibility for higher wage jobs, and by doing so have inversely affected the actual education being received by more and more youths, while at the same time creating a perverse incentive to reduce higher education to the level of vocational training.

And now, as the cost of education is reaching truly incredible levels, and the number of unemployed is near 10%, and the relationship of a higher degree to the work done after its receipt has often no tangible thread, a few others are starting to rant. Particularly intriguing is one finding:
Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder blames the cultural notion of "credential inflation" for the stream of unqualified students into four-year colleges. His research has found that the number of new jobs requiring college degrees is less than number of college graduates.

Vedder's work also yielded something surprising: The more money states spend on higher education, the less the economy grows -- the reverse of long-held assumptions.

"If people want to go out and get a master's degree in history and then cut down trees for a living, that's fine," he said, citing an example from a recent encounter with a worker. "But I don't think the public should be subsidizing it."
The problem, of course, is that the cycle is systemic, and its easier to throw money at the issue than to modify the underlying structure of US education.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Checking Fares

It's a common knowledge matter of "fact" that one of the primary reasons that Muni is so financially crippled is that a tremendous number of riders don't pay their fare. All these fare evaders have not only given Muni bad PR, but have seemingly caused the multi-million dollar disaster that is their deficit.

Only now we have numbers.

In a program just suspended (read all about why here), Muni sent in teams of 8 to 10 inspectors all at once to a bus or train, making it possible to check every passenger for proof of payment in under a minute or two. The results?
The saturation inspections were effective, Muni officials said at a hearing earlier this month. A total of 130 saturation inspections between July and March managed to check 326,293 passengers, and 3,348 citations were issued.
So let's do the math: 130 inspections over an 8 month period resulted in 3,348 citations from a pool of 326,293 passengers, for a overwhelming average of....a 1% fare evasion rate.

Now, the overall estimated rate is officially closer to 2.3%, but let's go on.

The lost fare revenue on those number, assuming they are all adults who would be paying full fare (unlikely, since a significant number, if not a majority, of fare evaders are on any given day eligible for Youth fares or other discounts), adds up to a maximum of $6,696.00.

If we look at the numbers for total inspections and not just the mass raids, we have a total of 28,169 citations -- out of 1,276,593 inspections -- for a total loss of $56,338. That's a bit more than the chump change cited above, but still less than the average annual pay of a single Muni worker.

But let's go on.

The cost of each inspection raid: Let's take an hour for each raid (organization time, prep time, wait time, the actual inspection, citation writing, cycling back into regular duty), and assume that none of the officers working are making anything more than average money. So that's about $25/hour for your $50K/year Joe (or Josefina). So Each raid costs us $25 x 10 personnel, or $250.00. And we ran 130 inspections, for a total cost estimated at $32,500 --- or about 5 times the lost fares. Even if we allow for 2 raids per hour, that's still 2.5 times cost versus loss.

Now granted, if we look at this as a revenue center, with each citation returning $75.00, suddenly the numbers look better. But creating punitive revenue streams is counterproductive in the end, and ugly. Still, when you can rake in $250,000 in citation fees from fare jumping shmoes, who's to say anything bad? The only trouble is, if the decline in evasion rates continues at its current pace, we won't have any fare evaders in a year or two, and so no revenue stream, and so we're back to the beginning again.

It's turned 90 degrees and skewed a bit, but it's yet another example of lemonade stand illogic that seems to permeate not only civic management but the business world as well: "I can't seem to sell enough of my lemonade at $1 a glass to make any money. So instead I'll raise the price to $5 a glass! Instant profits!"

And within a reasonable window of time....no more lemonade stand.

Always remember: A higher price is not an incentive. And the revenue necessary for either your profit, or the proper management & maintenance of your organization, is never going to be a concern of the consumer or customer. They are only interested in one thing: getting the product at the lowest cost possible. This fundamental rule of human market interaction seems beyond the grasp of far too many people.

You may need money to improve business and attract more customers --- but penalizing your current customer base with higher prices, or citations, or reductions in value, can never be a long term winning strategy.

The money has to come from somewhere else.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Backlash Begins

It took them a mere 12 days to raise $10,000 for their plan to create a better online society, and beat Facebook at its own game. Four geeks, some money, a dream, and a whole lot of frustration adds up to....well we'll see. As one of the budding entrepenuers says:
“For some strange reason, everyone just agreed with this whole privacy thing.”

If you want more info on their project ("Diaspora"), their site is here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

And One More Facebook

Via Sullivan, a post that graphically shows the [d]evolution of privacy and control of personal data on Facebook, 2005-present. It's fascinating and disturbing in equal parts. And if you think that there is anything like a "private" note on the web, open your eyes and smell the encroaching transparency of our lives.