Posts tagged ‘SF’

Why Peyton Manning is an Icon

I friend sent me a note analyzing data on NFL quarterbacks past and present, and came up with this top five based on a points system that ranked the top 40 all time quarterbacks on a number of dimensions, such that the lowest score is the best:

1. Joe Montana - 54 Points
1. Tom Brady - 54 Points
3. John Elway - 68 Points
4. Terry Bradshaw - 84 Points
5. Peyton Manning - 86 Points
Even without going through the numbers, I can live with this.  The conundrum is that Peyton feels to many, including me, like he may be the greatest of all time, but nearly any numerical or scientific analysis puts him behind other quarterbacks, including Tom Brady.  So why do our hearts tell us something else?  I have two hypotheses:
  1.  He is the most interesting guy in the history of the NFL before the ball is snapped.  This is a criteria I never would have thought even existed 10 years ago.  But Peyton has made watching the team at the line of scrimmage before the play starts totally compelling.  No one in history is even close.   Think of all the great quarterbacks in history -- you think of them throwing, right?  With Montana, for example, I see those slants to Jerry Rice, hitting him in stride.  Now, how do you picture Peyton?  Yelling Omaha at the line of scrimmage.
  2.  He is money in advertisements and live appearances (e.g. Saturnday Night Live).  Have you seen Joe Montana's and Farvre's ads?  Stiff.  How much better would Peyton have been in There's Something About Mary?  Only Bradshaw is close.

Peyton gets dinged for being a poor bad-weather quarterback.  I am not sure if the numbers support this hypothesis, but he would have to go a long way to being worse than Aikman was.  I was in Dallas during their three Aikman-era superbowls (actually I lived in Denver for their 2, and St Louis for theirs, and Arizona for theirs, all of which is payback for growing up an Oiler fan).   Aikman always disappointed in bad weather.  The one year of their four year run in the 90's that they did not go to the Superbowl, they lost to SF in the Conference championships.  That day, the moment I saw it was raining, I knew the Cowboys were doomed.

How Newspapers May Survive

Local blogger Greg Patterson writes:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Gannett will soon be adding USA Today to it's local papers.

With this change, the Republic and USA Today are essentially a hybrid.  As print revenue continues to slide the USA Today side will grow and the Republic side will shrink.  Eventually, your morning Republic will consist of a copy of USA Today with enhanced local coverage.

This is a change I have expected for a long time.  The wire services have always existed as an attempt by local papers to share costs in national and international news gathering, but I would have expected this next step of national consolidation some time ago.  The internet allows not just the text, but the entire layout of newspapers to be transmitted instantly across the country.

The whole situation reminds me of television broadcasting, where local affiliates exist mainly as a byproduct of past technological limitations in signal transmission.  Satellite and cable have eliminated these restrictions, but still local affiliates exist, in part because there is some demand for local content but in part because of the fact that the government protects their existence (by law, cable and satellite operators must give you the local affiliate, they cannot give you the national feed).

This is what I wrote back in 2009

I actually think the problem with newspapers like the Washington Post is the "Washington" part.  Local business models dominated for decades in fields where technology made national distribution difficult or where technology did not allow for anything but a very local economy of scale.  Newspapers, delivery of television programming, auto sales, beverage bottling and distribution, book selling, etc. were all mainly local businesses.  But you can see with this list that technology is changing everything.  TV can now be delivered via sattelite and does not require local re-distribution via line of sight broadcast towers or cable systems.  Amazon dominated book selling via the Internet.  Many of these businesses (e.g. liquor, auto dealers, TV broadcasting) would have de-localized faster if it had not been for politicians in the pocket of a few powerful companies passing laws to lock in outdated business or technological models.

Newspapers are ripe for a restructuring.  How can one support a great Science page or Book Review section or International Bureau on local circulation?  How much effort do the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, SF Chronicle, etc. duplicate every day?  People tell me, "that's what the wire services are for."  Bah.  The AP is 160 years old!  It is a pre-Civil War solution to this problem.  Can it really be that technology and changing markets have not facilitated a better solution?

The future is almost certainly a number of national papers (ala the WSJ and USA Today) printed locally with perhaps local offices to provide some local customization or special local section.  Paradoxically, such a massive consolidation from hundreds of local papers to a few national papers would actually increase competition.  While we might get a few less stories about cats being saved from trees in the local paper, we could well end up not with one paper selection (as we have today in most cities) but five or six different papers to choose from  (just look at Britain).  Some of these papers might choose to sell political neutrality while some might compete on political affiliation.

Please, Please, Please Don't Let This Be Screwed Up Like Starship Troopers Was

Movie deal for Old Man's War.

Also heard that Ridley Scott is doing the Forever War.

By the way, I was working on a list of SF stories that were completed screwed up as movies in the 80's and 90's, so much so they would be worth a remake.  So far I have only a couple, but would appreciate suggestions

  • Starship Troopers
  • Running Man
  • Total Recall  (not as awful as the first two but had that same cheesy unserious style that brings it down for me)

I suppose some might put Robocop in this category but I am attached to that movie, in part because if there was an underlying novel I hadn't read it, and the campiness kind of worked.

Train to Nowhere

Apparently, Congress just before the election appropriated $900 million to build part of a high speed rail line in CA.  Rather than focusing either on LA or SF, Congress apparently appropriated the money for a mostly rural district that just coincidentally had a Democratic Congressman embroiled in a difficult election.  So now Congress has dedicated a billion dollars of your money for this high speed rail line, from Borden to Corcoran:

I am not kidding you.  More here from the AntiPlanner.

I discussed the CA high speed rail project here and here.  I discussed the practice of building even one useless section as a way to commit the public to building the whole thing here.  An excerpt of how this is done the Chicago way:

But what is really amazing is that Chicago embarked on building a $320 million downtown station for the project without even a plan for the rest of the line "” no design, no route, no land acquisition, no appropriation, no cost estimate, nothing.  There are currently tracks running near the station to the airport, but there are no passing sidings on these tracks, making it impossible for express and local trains to share the same track.  The express service idea would either require an extensive rebuilding of the entire current line using signaling and switching technologies that may not (according to Daley himself) even exist, or it requires an entirely new line cut through some of the densest urban environments in the country.  Even this critical decision on basic approach was not made before they started construction on the station, and in fact still has not been made.

It's Just Going to Get Worse

California high-speed rail advocates are already backpedalling on the numbers, and from experience with other such projects, it will only get worse.

In the face of the state's perpetual budget crisis, some Californians are beginning to regret their votes in favor of the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond last year. Even though proponents of the train have now admitted the bond was only a down payment on the actual cost to build the system, the numbers that were projected are changing"”and all in the wrong direction.

The business plan released by the train's advocates last month show the dramatic differences in what the voters were told and what reality is. For example, the price of a ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles is now projected at $105, up from the previous $55 estimate.  That new number changed the ridership predictions: now 41 million annual riders by 2035, down from last year's prediction of 55 million passengers by 2030. The cost for building the train system has also grown.  The proponents had been thinking $33.6 billion (2008 dollars) but have revised upward to $42.6 billion.  Recently, the Obama administration announced $2.25 billion in funding for the project. Proponents said federal money would be used to close the gap between the voter-approved bond and the ultimate cost, but
this is a drop in the bucket and still will not work.

Do not expect a true LA to SF high speed rail line for less than $75 billion and the ridership numbers are still absurd, as discussed here.  By the way, Southwest's advanced fair from LAX to SFO is $114 right now.  If you are willing to go Burbank to Oakland, the fair is $90.

San Francisco: Progressive Paradise or Bankrupt Banana Republic?

Great article in the SF Weekly on San Francisco:  The Worst Run Big City in the US.  The article is lengthy and packed full of government fail.  Just one example:

You can't get San Francisco running efficiently, because that would require large numbers of unionized city workers to willingly admit their redundancy and wastefulness. Inefficiency pays their salaries. "It's been going on for decades," Peskin says.

This problem comes up almost every time the city negotiates labor contracts, which is part of the reason San Francisco is constantly on the brink of fiscal ruin. Politically powerful unions "” the progressives are beholden to the service unions; moderates cater to police, firefighters, and building trades; and Republicans ... what's a Republican? "” negotiate contracts the city knows it can't afford. Politicians approve them, despite needing to balance the budget every year, because the budget impact of proposed contracts is examined by the Board of Supervisors only for the following year, no matter how long contracts run. According to former city controller Ed Harrington, it has become common practice not to schedule any raises for the first year of a contract, but to provide extensive raises in later years.

The result is a contract that looks affordable one year out, then blows up in the city's face. City employees receive up to 90 percent of their already generous salaries in pensions and many also receive lifetime health care "” meaning that as they retire, labor costs soar.

Sounds like the health care bill in Congress, no?  The bit near the beginning on the problem in the parks department - overstaffing, no one showing up for work, lost money, poor controls, no process - particularly resonate with me.  My business is the privatization of public parks.  I can't tell you how many public parks agencies I know to be providing terrible service (service levels that I would be ashamed of) with grossly inflated budgets tell me face-to-face that they can't privatize because that would jeopardize the quality of the parks.  Well, that and the fact that the public employees unions would not allow it.

I always laugh when folks tell me that government intervention is needed because private industry is too short term oriented.  But no one is more short term oriented than politicians looking to the next election or closing this year's budget hole.  In particular, capital maintenance is always ignored until infrastructure is literally falling apart.   We see it in parks, transit systems, roads, schools, etc.  It is the same phenomenon that causes third world state-run oil companies to have their production fall off - instead of reinvesting their profits into upgrades and maintenace of their fields and infrastructure (as those short-term focused American oil companies do) they transfer the money into social giveaways that cement their political power.  Here is a great example from San Francisco:

In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the city had, for decades, been siphoning nearly $700 million from its Hetch Hetchy water system into the San Francisco General Fund instead of maintaining the aging aqueduct. Several mayors and boards of supervisors used that money to fund pet causes, and the Public Utilities Commission didn't say no. Unfortunately, spending maintenance money elsewhere doesn't diminish the need for maintenance. By 2002, the water system was in such desperate condition that voters were asked to pass a $3.6 billion bond measure to make overdue fixes. Obligingly, they did "” who doesn't like water? Since then, the projected costs have swelled by $1 billion. So far.

My favorite line:

"San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

Update on Government Salaries

Over 700 employees of San Francisco's BART transit agency make over $100,000 just in cash wages.  This does not include lucrative benefits that probably add $30,000 or more to total compensation for most employees.  (SF Chron, via Thin Green Line)

Open Letter to Whole Foods Boycotters

It is good to see that you have found a tangible way to respond to the editorial written by the Whole Foods CEO.  Your ability to pursue such a boycott is one of the great things about a free market. There are literally hundreds of food shopping choices in a large city, with a variety of value propositions from the low-cost but ambiance-challenged Wal-Mart or Target to the farmers market. Its great to see folks exercising their choice in the free market to take their business elsewhere.

Besides, if nothing else, it provides the majority of us entertainment value as we enjoy the irony of people exercising their free choice shopping in the highly competitive and diverse grocery marketplace to boycott someone who advocated maintaining choice and a diversity of options in the health care market. Hope all of you have great success boycotting the single payer medical system you long for when you don't like something it does, and I hope the single one-size-fits-all insurance option you have happens to match your individual preferences.

Anyway, I give you an A for political activism but an F for marketing if you believe Whole Foods customer base is all liberal or progressive. It may be so in downtown SF or Seattle. But most of Whole Foods stores are in places like Scottsdale, and Houston, and Dallas. For a large portion of Whole Foods customers, it is not some progressive statement, but it is simply a premium-priced grocery store selling premium quality foods. Though I suppose the Scottsdale country club mom in her new Jag gets some psychic boost from shopping there, kind of like buying a carbon offset.

Seriously -- I bet that most of Whole Food's most profitable customers just don't care about this progressive stuff. They don't go looking for fair trade coffee, or whatever. They don't care Whole Foods buys all wind power (in Texas, where the market allows this). They don't know how the employees are treated and paid. I shop there and I had no clue as to their HR policies until this week when they have been in the news.

Whole Foods does this stuff because Mackey and most of his team really believe in it. They are truly passionate about it, not like some company like Kraft who creates an organic cheese SKU because the consultants said there was a market niche for it. Really, are there 5 other corporate CEO's in the Fortune 500 whose beliefs and the way they manage more closely match what progressives would want to see? Is there even one? But this is the guy y'all are choosing to go after, this one company out of all the Fortune 500, because he disagreed with the progressive orthodoxy on a single piece of legislation? Jeez, this is like conservatives boycotting Fox News because they put a single liberal pundit on from 2-2:30AM.

I Would LOve to See This Happen

San Francisco has a ballot initiative this November to seize all PG&E transmission lines and assets in the city such that all city power comes from a new government owned utility.  Further, the initiative would require that this new entity get 100% of its power from renewables, particularly wind and solar, by 2040.  It is similar to a 2001 initiative.

All due respect to PG&E's private property, but I would love to see this happen.  If I were governor, I would be seriously tempted to encourage them to proceed, with the only proviso that no one else in California be allowed to sell electricity to San Francisco on the hugely unlikely possibility that there might be a day without sunshine in San Francisco.   (I find it hilarious that San Francisco's solar future is trumpeted in the "fog city journal.")  This might actually be a big enough disaster that even the media would have trouble ignoring its spectacular failure.  It would also do wonders for the Arizona and Nevada economy, as major industries would move our way.

I am sure San Francisco is well on their way to success.  After all, the city just completed its largest ever solar project

            The solar system is expected to generate 370,000 kilowatt hours of
electricity annually, enough to power 80 San Francisco homes.

Wow.  It can power 80 whole homes, as long as its not night time or winter (when it is seldom sunny in SF).

A Couple of Free SF Short Stories

Tor.com recently went online, and apparently has a new John Scalzi short story from the Old Man's War universe and a new Charles Stross from his very enjoyable "Laundry" series (I have not mentioned the latter series very much, but it is sort of HP Lovecraft meets Men in Black crossed with Office Space.  Really.)

Peak Pricing for Parking

From my point of view, the NY Times buried the lede in this story about installation of parking sensors on San Francisco streets.  The article focuses mainly on the ability of drivers at some time in the future to get locations of empty parking spots on the streets via smartphone or possibly their GPS.  But I thought the pricing changes they were facilitating were more interesting:

SFpark, part of a nearly two-year $95.5 million program intended to
clear the city's arteries, will also make it possible for the city to
adjust parking times and prices. For example, parking times could be
lengthened in the evening to allow for longer visits to restaurants.

The
city's planners want to ensure that at any time, on-street parking is
no more than 85 percent occupied. This strategy is based on research by
Mr. Shoup, who has estimated that drivers searching for curbside
parking are responsible for as much of 30 percent of the traffic in
central business districts.

In one small Los Angeles business
district that he studied over the course of a year, cars cruising for
parking created the equivalent of 38 trips around the world, burning
47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

To
install the market-priced parking system, San Francisco has used a
system devised by Streetline, a small technology company that has
adapted a wireless sensor technology known as "smart dust" that was
pioneered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

It
gives city parking officials up-to-date information on whether parking
spots are occupied or vacant. The embedded sensors will also be used to
relay congestion information to city planners by monitoring the speed
of traffic flowing on city streets. The heart of the system is a
wirelessly connected sensor embedded in a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of
plastic glued to the pavement adjacent to each parking space.

The
device, called a "bump," is battery operated and intended to last for
five and 10 years without service. From the street the bumps form a
mesh of wireless Internet signals that funnel data to parking meters on
to a central management office near the San Francisco city hall.

This is actually really cool, but my guess is that politicians will not have the will to charge the level of peak prices the system may demand.

Postscript:  As many of you know, there is a new wave of urban planners who want to impose dense urban living on all of us, whether we like it or not.  I have no problem with folks who want to fight the masses and live in downtown SF or Manhattan, but the world should also have a place for the majority of us who like to have an acre of land and a bit less congestion. 

Anyway, in singing the praises of the urban lifestyle (which often is as much an aesthetic preference vs. suburbia as anything else), you seldom hear much about this type of thing:

Solving the parking mess takes on special significance in San Francisco
because two years ago a 19-year-old, Boris Albinder, was stabbed to
death during a fight over a parking space....

The study also said that drivers searching for metered parking in just
a 15-block area of Columbus Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side drove
366,000 miles[!!] a year.

And here we suburbanites are complaining when we have to park more than 5 spaces from the door of the supermarket.

UN Human Rights Council Calls for Restricting Free Speech

Oh, those wacky guys on the UN "Human Rights" Council.  They are now looking to Saudi Arabia as a model for protection of individual rights:

The top U.N. rights body on Thursday passed a resolution proposed by
Islamic countries saying it is deeply concerned about the defamation of
religions and urging governments to prohibit it.

The European Union said the text was one-sided because it primarily focused on Islam.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, which is dominated by Arab and other
Muslim countries, adopted the resolution on a 21-10 vote over the
opposition of Europe and Canada....

The resolution "urges states to take actions to prohibit the
dissemination ... of racist and xenophobic ideas" and material that
would incite to religious hatred. It also urges states to adopt laws
that would protect against hatred and discrimination stemming from
religious defamation.

Saudi Arabia said, "Maybe Islam is one of the most obvious victims of aggressions under the pretext of freedom of expression."

"It is regrettable that there are false translations and
interpretations of the freedom of expression," the Saudi delegation
told the council, adding that no culture should incite to religious
hatred by attacking sacred teachings.

Hat tip:  Yet another Weird SF Fan

Update:  I am kind of amazed the irony is lost on some folks, so I guess I need to be more explicit:  I found it depressing that the UN Human Rights Council is calling for limits on speech.

Backyard Nuclear Reactor

I couldn't make the return on investment
(even with a 50% government subsidy and in one of the best solar sites
in the world) work for solar on my home in Phoenix, at least at current
prices and technology.  Maybe I can justify a backyard nuclear reactor?

Hat tip:  Another Weird SF Fan

Bundle of Joy

Yet another weird SF Fan makes a great point:

On the one hand, there's a movement (actual example here) to eliminate "bundling" in the cable industry (selling access to all of some medium instead of dividing it into pieces).

On the other hand, other people are worried about the possible lack of bundling if net neutrality isn't mandatory.

Is a debate called for? Or is it a matter of "anything capitalists do is wrong"?

He links Megan McArdle whose post quotes extensively from ... me!

Economic Illiteracy

Yet another weird SF fan points out this example of dueling Luddites.  Here is a particularly nice example:

My favorite definition of local comes from Columbia's Gussow, a
reporter for Time in the 1950s who went on to become a local-eating
pioneer. For 25 years, Gussow has lectured on the environmental (and
culinary) disadvantages of relying on a global food supply. Her most
oft-quoted statistic is that shipping a strawberry from California to
New York requires 435 calories of fossil fuel but provides the eater
with only 5 calories of nutrition. In her memoir, Gussow offers this
rather poetic meaning of local: "Within a day's leisurely drive of our
homes. [This] distance is entirely arbitrary. But then, so was the
decision made by others long ago that we ought to have produce from all
around the world."

It is hard to even begin with statement.  First, I am not sure anyone since Ghandi has really challenged the notion of division of labor, which in fact is what Gussow is lamenting.  Second, it would be interesting to ask Gussow what residents of Chad should do for locally-grown food.  Third, the last sentence is great, in that it works from the Dr. Evil Cabal theory of capitalism, positing that current trade patterns are based on "decisions made by others long ago."  And all these complaints don't even tought the silliness of somehow comparing food calories with calories of work from fossil fuels (unless Gussow is drinking Sterno at night, which might explain a lot). 

Week 5 Football Outsider Rankings

I discussed why I like the Football Outsider rankings of NFL teams and players here.  Typically defenses and offenses are ranked by total yards (given up and gained, respectively).  This is a really poor metric, as evidenced in part by the fact that Arizona is something like 3rd in the NFC in offense and 5th in defense by these traditional rankings.  The better football outsiders team rankings are here

A couple of observations

  • Cincinnati #1 after five weeks.  Wow!  Both offense and defense in the top 6.  I know it is early, but the Outsider's way of ranking teams tends to be more reliable than traditional statistical approaches.  For example, last season after week 5 they had Philadelphia and New England ranked #1 and #2, and these two teams eventually met in the Super Bowl.  Cincinnati has had a pretty easy schedule to date, which will get harder as the season continues
  • San Diego is by far the best 2-3 team out there.  They have had a brutal schedule, which gets better going forward.  They still should be considered a good playoff bet.
  • Washington is easily the worst 3-1 team out there.  Expect them to start losing soon, particularly as their schedule remains tough.
  • Philadelphia may continue to struggle.  The rankings show that their 3-2 record is no fluke, and they have perhaps the toughest schedule left to play of any team in the NFL
  • San Francisco and Houston are really, really bad.  Historically bad.  I had been hoping that Arizona had a chance in the Matt Leinart / Reggie Bush sweepstakes, but SF and Houston will be tough to beat.
  • Chicago is working on the Baltimore Ravens award, with the #1 defense to date in the NFL and the third to last offense.  Chicago has also been one of the least consistent teams (highest variance), but has one of the easiest schedules for the rest of the year, so still may have a chance if it can just to anything on offense.
  • NY Giants and Indianapolis are solid #2 and #3, though you have to worry about the Giant's high special teams score pulling them up - these scores tend to regress to the mean over the season.  Is there anyone who wouldn't love to see a Manning-Manning Superbowl?

Marketing the Left and the Right

As a long-time student of the marketing craft, it is interesting for me to look at politics sometimes as a marketplace of ideas, and running for office as a marketing activity.  Though I don't want to overplay the notion of packaging over content in politics, you can find a number of historical examples where good communication helped turn the ideological tide. 

Also, being a libertarian sometimes gives me the ability to sit on the sidelines and see the left-right struggles in this country from the outside, possibly with a bit of perspective, since my team isn't really even on the field.

From this perspective, conservatives have really been running up the score on liberals of late.  This is an outcome I cheer when it leads to freer markets and lament when it leads to broadcast censorship.

A lot of ink and electrons have been used up of late trying to diagnose the reason for this success and what the Left can do to even the score.  Rather than comment on this, I will offer the following as a marketing case study.  Forget whether you agree with everything that is said, but think of each piece as marketing for the left or the right.  I was struck by the contrast of these two articles in part because they came from the same publication, and in part because they touch on many similar themes but in totally different ways:

Which product is more compelling to the average American?  Of course, neither can represent the diversity of either side of the spectrum, but through all the political noise in this country, I think each represents the tone and message that is actually filtering through to voters.  If one side want to claim "but that's not fair... that's not the message we intended for voters to hear" --- well, welcome to marketing. 

By the way, I wrote a piece based on Mr. Morford's here.

The Sanctity of Grand Jury Testimony

I know this will come as a shock to many people, but grand jury testimony is supposed to be secret and stay that way.  I mention this, because lately, "sealed" and secret court records seem to inevitably end up in the media.  The most prominent example is yesterday's leak of Balco grand jury testimony, though the Clinton-related grand juries seemed to be sieves as well.

There are real reasons for secrecy in grand jury proceedings.  The most obvious is that grand juries have often been used to build cases against organized crime figures, and those testifying may be risking their life to do so.  More recently, with the enormous power of the press to convict people even before they go to trial, sealed testimony can help protect reputations as well as the presumption of innocence.

Now, I am not a lawyer, and I would love to hear what Volokh has to say.  I suspect there are those who would argue, as they did in the (admittedly different) case of the release of Jack Ryan's divorce records, that transparency in the legal system is more important than individual privacy.  This may or may not be true legally, but I think it would hurt the grand jury process, and anyway, I don't think this is what happened here - the Balco testimony looks to have been leaked illegally.  By the way, I am tired of the notion that journalistic privilege stemming from the first amendment trumps legal compliance with any other laws.  I know the press loves having this, sortof like the double-O license to kill, but I don't buy it.

UPDATE#1

Hey, maybe I can be a lawyer.  Here is Eugene Volokh talking about journalistic privilege today!

UPDATE#2

I forgot to mention that there is an exception to secrecy - the witness may publicly discuss their own testimony.  Again, however, I do not think this is the case here.  I don't think Giambi released these details about his own testimony, and the format of the article - with both sides of the Q&A, is pretty clearly from the transcript of the hearings.  Besides, if Giambi were going to voluntarily go public with this admission, he is much more likely to get paid $10 million to tell it to Barbara Walters than he is to anonymously leak it to the SF Chronicle.