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.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Prop 8 Ruled Unconstitutional

A bright light of reason in a time of darkness. As far as I can tell at this moment, TPM has the only quotes from the actual ruling. Here they are:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional....

In the absence of a rational basis, what remains of proponents' case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. FF 78-80. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate.....

The arguments surrounding Proposition 8 raise a question similar to that addressed in Lawrence, when the Court asked whether a majority of citizens could use the power of the state to enforce "profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles" through the criminal code. ... The question here is whether California voters can enforce those same principles through regulation of marriage licenses. They cannot. California's obligation is to treat its citizens equally, not to "mandate [its] own moral code."
It's almost as though you could imagine sanity reigning again, at least in this state.

Let's hope.

UPDATE: here's the complete ruling.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Local Muni Crankiness: Rewarding Failure

Muni operators in SF are now approved to receive their annual City Charter-mandated raise, this year of 5.75%. The host of issues surrounding this hot button topic aren't what I want to bitch about though: not the quality of Muni, nor the upcoming ballot measure to wipe the Charter clean of their exceptionalism. It's just my personal frustration at seeing failure being rewarded, and indeed lauded.

The two comparable systems to which SF Muni is compared are Boston and Santa Clara Valley. The first is, I believe, the better comparison (small dense city, complex road grid, challenging population and routing, mix of over- and underground usage, trolley/coach rolling stock and light rail, etc.). So let's just glance at them. If you google it, it takes about 15 seconds or less to find the MBTA's public performance scorecard for 2009 online. Try finding SFMTA's. You won't. There isn't one.

I want to be proud of where I live, and to be able to proclaim it as a world-class destination; but our current situation precludes that from happening.

For MBTA, the most noticeable issues are that their overall on-time performance (using nearly identical metrics to those apparently used by Muni) hovers a few points above 90%. Muni announced with much fanfare earlier this year that they'd tipped the scales of success by achieving a record on time performance of 77% --- of course, that was only on the routes which had been drastically reduced or modified last year. The remainder of the system was hovering between 71% and 73%. (you can find all this here, and here).

Even more interesting to me are the missed run statistics. MBTA includes these, and there too notes a 90% or higher achievement rate overall. SFMTA has rates of...we just don't know. Since operators. as part of their work rules, have no need (at least initially) to alert anyone of missed runs/absenteeism, there doesn't seem to be either an accurate accounting, nor a willingness to publicize any estimates. But anecdotally, we are running a higher loss rate than Boston, at about 13-15%.

That said, now that we are paying Muni to get their asses whupped by MBTA --- not by a little, but by a 30 point spread --- I wonder what's next. And I wonder how on earth we are ever going to be able to negotiate our way out of the managerial and structural mess that Muni has become.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Why We Are Doomed

Last night I had the pleasure of spending the evening with friends at a BBQ party. As we sat under the clear night stars, talk turned to the economy. One of the guests, a very smart and very engaged man who works in the financial sector, said he thought we were in for a long slow recovery, with higher taxes and fewer services.

I turned to him, and asked what he foresaw as the route to that model, considering that a large number of the folks in government right now (and their constituents) are fairly well dedicated to the idea of reducing taxes, and limiting any cuts in real governmental costs (like, say, defense). He repeated what he had said. I asked again - how do we get there if the congress can't enact legislation to either raise taxes or reduce costs because of political posturing and agendas of the opposition (and some of the Democrats as well). His response was telling:
"Well, they just have to. There's no other way to get out of this mess."
Which brings me to my title statement. The disbelief of rational people in the ability of those in power to engage in the most irrational of acts is what paves the clear wide road to self-destruction. Indeed, the current Congress could very easily block any tax raises, or any real cost cutting, until the fiscal health of the country is so unsound as to be unrecoverable for decades. Just because it's obvious that taking such a route would be catastrophic is in no way a protection against taking that route.

Genocides continue to occur in this world because (in some small part) rational people refuse to accept that their peers could engage in such obscene behavior. And so it occurs, in the face of denial, until nothing can be done but bury our dead.

Economic idiocy in the form of lowering taxes and raising spending simultaneously, while desperately struggling out of the worst recession in generations, and fighting two foreign wars, is absolutely within our reach. The fact that to do so is unbelievably stupid doesn't make it unbelievable. And I wish that more people who are close to these issues would understand that. Because if they don't, we really are doomed.