Sunday, February 24, 2008

San Francisco, day 7: Poof-worthy conduct

When Ari and I got to the airport on Saturday night, we noticed going through the security line that they had one of those newfangled machines that puffs air at you in an attempt to detect bomb-residue or something.

I had seen them before in action at Heathrow in London and the Buffalo, NY airport, but this one wasn't really in use - we were in line for 15 min and we didn't see anyone go through it.

What follows is a rough transcript of what happened when Ari and I got to the front of the line:

Security gal to me: Ma'am, can you come this way please?
Security gal to security dude, re: Ari: Should we screen him, too?
Security dude to security gal: No.
Security dude to Ari: Can you remove your beanie, please?
Ari removes kippah.
Aliza giggles while being puffed with air.
Ari to me, in Hebrew: They're screening you because of your hat.
You know what I call that?
Racial profiling.

All I can say is that if airport security can't differentiate between Orthodox Jews and Islamist terrorists, or for that matter, between Sikhs and Islamist terrorists, what's the point in racial profiling? Pacifist Sikhs are about as likely to blow up planes as 80-something grandmas in Arizona.

Doesn't that make you sleep better at night?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

San Francisco, day 1: Mass transit and mass confusion

Ladies and gentlemen, the editors of USA Today will now state the obvious:
Taking mass transit is healthier than driving door to door. Duh! Even a 3 or 4 minute walk to the bus and/or a daily trip up or down some subway stairs is better for you than a daily drive through the Timmy's drive thru.

Access to the easily affordable car makes Americans (and Canadians) lazy. Then we move to subdivisions where we can't function without cars, keep our kids indoors away from the scary strangers and poof! we have an obesity epidemic. But that's bemoaned all over the media.

What I think isn't said often enough is that quick, efficient mass transit is healthy for cities. I happily jumped out of smog-and-traffic-jam laden Toronto, which had a thoroughly adequate transit system, because who wants adequacy when you can have excellence? 

Boston's transit system isn't quite excellent all the time, but it gets super-duper points for having many subway lines and decent buses. However, I am uber-impressed at the speed and frequency of San Francisco transit. The F trolley comes about every 4 minutes (or did yesterday) when it was on a holiday schedule. The buses ran quickly, too. And I'm in love with those cable cars.  

But one thing was just bizarre - they have two different transit systems interspersed with each other that aren't harmonized well. If you take a bus to the subway or the subway to a bus, you have to pay with two different sets of tickets. It would be like needing separate preloaded Charlie cards for buses and for subways.

I'm sure some San Franciscan policy wonk can tell me why it's so super logical, but I'd say that if your transit system confuses tourists and your city relies on tourists for the economy, you will soon be losing market share to Hertz and Avis.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's not my holiday

I can't handle people who wish me "happy Valentine's day." If Saint Valentine were here, he'd try to convert me or convince me to be Christian or whatever. This is not to say that I don't like Christians, but I'm happy being me, and that means not being one of them.

My husband and I don't need a patron saint, especially a Catholic one (not that there are any other kinds). We don't even need a dead Roman to remind us of our love for each other.

But we still have to call Grandma and thank her for Valentine's Day card. (Hence the rant.)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Britney's fall....

Too bizarre - to add to her indignity, Britney's been cut out of "Spamalot".

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A more perfect union?

As a semi-Republican and semi-libertarian, I'm supposed to hate unions. As a teacher, I'm supposed to love them. Now that the WGA has "won" its dispute with the studios and will be bringing back network television, I am as torn as ever. Should all workers be unionized? Or do unions just protect the weak?

I think everyone who went to a Jewish day school in this part of the world must have learned about Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911, when 145 seamstresses died because they couldn't escape the flames because the escape doors were (allegedly) locked. Who can hear stories like this and not believe in the labor movement? After all, if all employers have power and all employees do not, how can any employees get a decent deal? All they can do is band together to negotiate for better deals.

It works well in theory. When your job is industrial in some way, when higher-educated bosses can manipulate less-educated employees, when the work involved is somewhat uniform, there is little downside for a union. You build your cars or lay your bricks or sew your shirts correctly and the union will protect you.

Auto workers and construction workers, especially those who could potentially be risking their lives at work, need unions. Only the most radical of Republicans would want to return to the sweatshops of 1911 .

But fundamentally, unions run contrary to the spirit of capitalism. Any person with human ambition will take advantages of opportunities to succeed, given things like time and ability. In normal English, I'll work harder knowing I could hypothetically get fired or get promoted. Most people don't want to get fired and do want to get promoted. So people who might otherwise have these incentives that are taken away by unionization have been harmed.

My best example is my two back-to-back job offers after college - one with a union school and one without. The only difference? No salary negotiation at a union school. The pro-unionist in me notes that if I were at a union school, I'd automatically get a raise when I finish my masters. The anti-unionist in me notes that in theory, if I'm awesome enough, I could earn a raise through excellent performance, not just jumping through graduate hoops.

Every writer employed by the WGA has the protection of the WGA but the incentive to write better so that their stuff gets on the air. Bus drivers getting written up if they show up late and I'd guess that even the best union rep in the world can't save a construction worker guilty of habitual shoddy work.

I don't like unions for two reasons: the first because I think that they are occasionally too absorbed in self interest to realize whomever they are harming. As a York U student journalist, I snuck into a graduate students' union meeting (CUPE something or other) and was shocked at how they talked about "the employer" in terms that made it sound like they were talking about Wal-Mart. The more $$ they get from the university, the less there is for professors' salaries, books and electricity. It's not like public universities turn a profit! And the WGA won an important victory, but how many restaurants and hairdressers went broke when the industry shut down?

I also get upset when I hear about bad workers with seniority (teachers, public employees, or any other white-collar unionized workers) getting laid off and/or "bumping" out younger workers simply because they've been there the longest.

We value antique furniture more the older it gets - but no idiot would consider a 500-year-old chair sturdy enough to sit on.

For further reading: NYC teacher's union head will likely run for leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, not a bad thing given that she has been ok in the past with merit pay.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Why I'm endorsing John McCain

Though I'm still busy being eaten alive by report cards, I think it's critical to add my voice to the many in this discussion over who should be the next POTUS. (I just like saying "POTUS".)

As an unenrolled voter in tomorrow's Massachusetts primary, I can choose which primary - Democrat or Republican - to participate in. Though I've occasionally laughed at my in-laws' urging to "vote in the primary where you can do the most damage" my choice is predicated on which one I care more about.

I've watched both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speak. I've read a bit about both of their platforms. I don't think they're that different. Though the election sometimes feels like a third-grade popularity contest, I've vowed never to stoop that low, given how much hangs in the balance. (More on this tomorrow if I finally manage to finish my "lessons from the 1800 election" blog post.) Hillary? Barack? Whatever. I don't like either, but I could live with both.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is not someone I could live with as president. If he ran against Hillary (someone I used to say I hated), I'd probably vote for her. Mitt Romney smacks of opportunism. He rejects John McCain's claims that he's a flip-flopper and says it's natural and normal and even a sign of enlightened thinking to change your position on issues. That's true - if you transition from 4th grade to 5th or from college to the real world. That's not the case here. Mitt Romney has changed his positions because it's politically convenient. Huckabee, a man I respectfully think is nuts, spoke yesterday about Romney trying to buy him and buy the election*. I have to say, I worry that Romney's just a big overgrown kid who wants a newer and bigger train set to play with, and will spend what he has to and say what he has to to do so. I don't think Romney is a qualified enough engineer to drive this great American train set. I might be a Republican, but that doesn't mean that I think a country should be run with the same principles as a business. I don't trust Romney on Iraq, and I don't like him on illegal immigration. He says such inane things like "America doesn't need more work visas" when businesses on Cape Cod and other touristy places are begging for them.

McCain, on the other hand, has integrity. He's compassionate but firm on illegal immigrants, he's realistic on the war in Iraq and he understands that government spending has to be cut. I don't like the situation in Iraq, but you break it, you bought it. We can't just walk out and leave them to destroy each other. I think it's almost disingenuous for Obama and Clinton to suggest this because it won't be fully their decision not to.

John McCain seems to be a man of integrity whose positions on foreign policy and the economy are not too far from mine. I am confident that the electorate will be similarly clearheaded. Or as his devotees would chant pithily, "Mac is back."

Oh, and my husband, also unenrolled, **might** vote for Obama. That would make us Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwartzenegger. What do I have in common with the Governator, you ask? Well, neither of us can ever run for president - we're not born in the USA.

*Source: NPR