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The Araucaniad

Haec est victoria quae vincit mundum, fides nostra.

5/7/12 04:35 pm - A new rail line in L.A.

The new Expo Line has opened in Los Angeles.

The MTA website says it takes the new train 8 minutes to get from USC to the 7th St Metro Center station. By contrast, it takes 10-13 minutes to get from USC to downtown via bus line 81.

To get to the Vermont/Sunset red line station from USC purely by rail, it's 27 minutes, including a wait of 10 minutes to transfer at 7th St. This is a savings of 5 minutes off the trip that would involve taking bus 200 to MacArthur Park and then taking the Red Line from there.

For that savings of 5 minutes, and the "community development benefits" which come from property owners recognizing the "long term commitment of municipal resources" which are alleged to attend a light-rail line going through your neighborhood, we are looking at how many traffic accidents and fatalities over the next 50 years? How many more than would be caused by buses?

As I see it, the main benefit from rail lines is the increase in passenger throughput made possible. But that involves a dedicated right-of-way: on a Chicago elevated line, or a New York underground line, transit authorities can always add trains to increase capacity, and there is no disruption to the surrounding traffic grid. But light rail that travels on surface streets has to obey traffic signals and basically goes along with the flow of car traffic. It competes only marginally against buses in terms of travel time, and does not pose an attractive option for people who already commute by car. (Although car-parking expenses may tip the balance in favor of the train.)

In this light, the complaints of the L.A. Bus Riders' union, which won a Federal consent decree to force the MTA to improve service, become more interesting. How much sense does it make to allocate transit dollars towards investing in rail as opposed to bus? Particularly in California, where train systems - particularly underground or elevated lines - have to be engineered to a much higher degree than in New York or Chicago, in order to withstand the inevitable earthquakes. We ought to be investing in what will yield the greatest good for the greatest number, and working towards a system in which public transportation - in any mode - attracts people away from commuting by automobile.

1/29/12 09:19 pm - Fencing tournament pictures

I fenced in a tournament in Santa Rosa today, for fencers rated "E" (the lowest rating) and unrated fencers. Most of the people there were college-aged, and as you can see here, I got smoked. It was a lot of fun, though. My girlfriend Amanda and I stopped at the Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma for dinner on the way back. What a great day!

Below should be a link to a Picasa album.

Bay Cup Tournament, Santa Rosa 2012


11/8/11 10:48 pm - Terrorism and what to do about it.

This Guardian article got me thinking.

In recent times the European security services have shut down the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, ETA in Spain, and the IRA in Ireland and the UK. Let's remember Rome and Vienna suffered spectacular attacks by PLO gunmen at their passenger terminals (1985). The approaches varied but the results were the containment of violence and the eventual eradication of these groups.

The United States, by contrast, has rather a worse record at dealing with the same type of groups, and its only major successes were achieved in poor countries at the expense of great bloodshed against opponents who lacked resources (e.g. Guatemala, El Salvador). Then, also, there are the cases of the Weathermen and the Black Panthers - the latter (COINTELPRO) being a particularly relevant foreshadowing of how counter-terrorism campaigns can overreach and harm the civil rights of all.

So... why exactly are we taking the lead in this "Global War on Terrorism" now? Exactly why is this kind of activity required in order to help maintain our position as the indispensable country? How are we helping ourselves, exactly?

9/21/11 11:32 pm - On the death penalty

Two people were executed in the United States today.

I equally oppose the death penalty in the case of Lawrence Russell Brewer, self-acknowledged murderer by lynching of James Byrd Jr. in Texas, and in the case of Troy Davis, convicted for murdering Mark MacPhail in Georgia, about whose case legitimate and serious room for doubt exists.

The point is that taking the life of a person who does not pose an active threat to society is useless and degrading to society. Indian newspaper The Hindu recently republished George Orwell's essay "A Hanging" in order to oppose the death penalty for the convicted assassins of Rajiv Gandhi. It's well worth reading.

I believe that state punishments have evolved over time as society has changed. If you look at the administration of justice from the perspective of the state, you can view the application of penalties as a task the state undertakes in order to increase general compliance with the law. Medieval societies around the world are famous for not only the broad application of capital punishment, but also the use of lesser penalties such as mutilation ("an eye for an eye"; cutting off the hands of thieves, branding prostitutes, and so on).

Obviously, societies 500 years ago did not have anything like the modern, professional and bureaucratic governments that we have today; the medieval English justice of the peace is not comparable to today's L.A.P.D. or Scotland Yard. So I suggest that, in general, the perpetrator of any crime is much more likely to get caught today than 500 years ago. If this is true, then it stands to reason that it would have been necessary for the state in the past to administer serious, grevious punishments to those perpetrators who were unlucky enough to get caught, in order to provide something like an effective deterrent. Today, when every city and county in the United States has a staff of police detectives, the chances of getting away with murder are much lower. So in order for punishment to provide the same level of deterrent, it doesn't need to be as serious.

Some people say "what about the victim's rights in the matter?" I say the victim's rights don't matter at all. Criminal cases are always titled The State versus the defendant, or The people versus the defendant; the attorney general is not filing a lawsuit on behalf of a murder victim, or on behalf of the victim's family; the prosecutor files suit on behalf of all of us, because a crime has been done to society. The logical conclusion of "victim's rights" would mean having victims' relatives sit on juries.

In fact, I don't think retribution is the right way for society to think about justice. Deterrence is clearly a function of how many police officers we have out on the streets - how likely you are to get caught, regardless of what penalties you might face. Justice should be about rehabilitation. This was supposed to be the country where anyone could start over, everyone gets a second chance.

Sitting in prison, neither Lawrence Russell Brewer nor Troy Davis was in any position to cause further harm to anyone out on the street. For a prison functionary to end their physical lives was a gratuitous act of violence. There are some leftists who make the argument that the death penalty is something the government does deliberately in order to keep poor people afraid of the police and obedient to the machinery of the system, to help the working class "internalize the eye of the Panopticon"; I disagree.

It's just an outdated, barbaric practice that allows the right wing to enact a ritual that celebrates the right wing's favored values of punishment, hierarchy, and authority. It enables politicians to portray themselves as "hard on crime" and enables some prosecutors to advance their careers.

For the record, if I ever get killed somewhere that has the death penalty on the books, I hope my family will oppose the death penalty for the people convicted of the crime.

Here are Troy Davis' last words.

I'd like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I'm not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight. For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.

9/19/11 10:11 pm - That word again.

It really does make me uncomfortable when I hear anyone use the N word, in conversation or in song lyrics.

But in the grand scheme of things I don't think my opinion about it matters very much. That scene in Rush Hour when Jackie Chan gets in trouble for using it comes to mind. (http://youtu.be/tjVIUlxRuNs)

For a long time, it's been my belief that this word is off-limits to anyone who isn't black, and I think it's a good thing that the African-American community is carrying on a continuing debate about the word's meaning and relevance.

So now we come to the case of Ireland Baldwin. Here the situation is confusing. Should Ireland have chosen a different song to mention in order to celebrate her favorite artists? If Kanye and Jay-Z chose to use the word in their song's title, wasn't a situation like this bound to happen sooner or later?

It's clearly asinine to take Ireland's Tweeting of the song title as evidence that she might be racist. It is perhaps fair to call her naive for having failed to anticipate the situation herself. But I don't think that's strictly fair. It's clearly just a song title.

This situation is radically different from the 1980s controversy over the Guns N' Roses song "One in a Million", which led to well-founded accusations that Axl Rose was racist and homophobic. The guitarist for Living Colour said at the time, correctly, If you don't have a problem with black people, don't call them (epithet). (Redaction courtesy of the L.A. Times article in the link) The song in question is clearly a testimony of the real attitudes of a "young, scared kid" (as Axl later described himself) in Hollywood who'd just gotten off the bus from Indiana. Not at all the same thing as Ireland Baldwin referencing a song by black artists with that word in its title.

If I were to say that I liked the song, "Don't call me n***, whitey" as performed by Jane's Addiction with Body Count, would that be evidence that I was a racist? Am I not allowed to say in public that I like this song?

9/18/11 11:23 pm - What I did today.

I had to go in to my office today.

I had to go pick up my summons for next week's jury duty, which I'd left there on Friday, when I forgot to call in.

I got down to the garage in my apartment building and found that my bike was gone.

All that was left was the U-shaped lock, where it was attached to a pipe (gas or water, I don't know, probably gas), and the two strands of chain-cable. Someone had cut the cable and taken the bike, whose frame was not secured by the lock itself but only by cable.

The bike ("Rapax") was bought used from a cool consignment store called reMatch Sports. I loved that bike, because it got me where I wanted to go in the City. It was old and I thought no one would steal it. There was enough rust that the seat could not be physically removed, and the front wheel was similarly joined in irrevocable union to the frame.

I took a picture of the lock with the two strands of cut cable dangling from it, and then realized: I never took a proper picture of it, just a blurry cellphone photo. For the life of me, I can't remember the make and model. I never wrote down the serial number. All that I remember is that it was gray.

Now, San Francisco is actually a great place to ride bikes. So many dedicated bike lanes, so many beautiful houses and buildings, so many awesome views at the end of slopes which are not too steep and don't go on for too long. The place is only seven miles by seven miles so you actually can pretty much cover the whole place on two wheels - it doesn't sprawl. So, you'd think that San Francisco would be a good place to shop for bikes in. There are a million bike hipsters and a thousand shops that cater to them. If you want to spend $5,000 on an Italian frame with Japanese gear-shifters, you're definitely set. But for a civilian commuter whose bike is not a fashion statement - I actually have no real style and my taste when it comes to clothes is spotty at best - the bike hipster shops are terrifying.

Which is why reMatch Sports was so great. The dread bicycle Rapax was purchased in 15 minutes, no hassle, no pressure. It was a consignment store, very little in the way of new stuff there. The staff weren't patronizing or preachy. (Those two words describe a lot of San Franciscans.) And moreover, the place was a short walk from my old apartment on Fillmore.

So I'm out a bike, and I'd slept late, so it was about 3:30pm when I started weighing my options. I absolutely had to know today whether or not to be at the courthouse or my office at 8am tomorrow. And I wanted to bike there since I'd screwed up my rhythm by not biking to work on Friday. Down on Stanyan Street by the park, there are a lot of bike stores - I'd have no shortage of options, more than likely. But they seem mostly to be terrifying hipster shops. I mean, any place with $5,000 bikes where the employees are younger than me, and the men have scruffy beards and wear highwater pants, is terrifying to me.

Then there's Everybody Bikes about three blocks from my apartment. A local business! A catholic-sounding name! (The name sounds revolutionary, like they wanted to call it Bikes To The People but the name was still under copyright from 1976 or something.) I went over there.

Nothing under $200. I walked in, put my hands up and said "I'm no conoisseur. My bike was stolen and I have to go to work. Can you put me in a bike for under $300?" Turns out they couldn't, but they had one for $420. (No jokes, please.) That bike was too small for me - I spent about a half hour there as the guy assiduously encouraged me to try out several different models to ensure that I got an appropriately-sized one. We wound up making a deal where I got a white 2012 Fuji Absolute 3.0 for $450 (asking price $520). See http://www.fujibikes.com/images/bike/absolute-30-usa3/lowres/2012_FUJI_ABSOLUTE-3.0_SILVER.jpg

There were also a few incidental charges - a new chain cable and new lights. I asked about fenders - wheel wells, to keep the muck from splashing up on me when the rainy season comes: the guy said the fenders cost $30 for the set, but he could give me the installation for free. I got a free kickstand - apparently it's not normal to get kickstands anymore? (Like I said, I'm not hip.) He installed it for me, including shaving it down with a metal saw because the stock item is too long. He adjusted the handlebars so that the bike is comfortable - rather higher than the seat so I don't have to hunch down too low.

So I biked in to the office. Called the courthouse. No reporting tomorrow.

So I biked home. The ride in was not really a good test of the bike - it's almost all downhill. Riding home, uphill on Market to Duboce where The Wiggle starts, I noticed the thing's machinery runs incredibly smoothly. When I downshift on the uphills, it feels like it gives me more power. The wheels are hard, so you feel the road surface a lot more than you do on a mountain bike - and Market Street is a pretty terrible street, as street surfaces go - but the guy in the store said "those wheels are fast wheels", and he was right. I am pleased with my new bike. Currently I am debating whether to call her "Formidable" or "Audacious". (I think the British Navy always has the coolest names for their ships. Formidable, Audacious, Terror, Indomitable, Revenge, Renown, etc...)

When I got home I found my roommate had returned from a hike with a friend. We all went to dinner, in which we stuffed ourselves with quality Thai food around the corner from the apartment. So the weekend is turning out to end well after all. It had started rather auspiciously with a stupendously good band rehearsal yesterday (our first performances of Seven Nation Army and Heart of Glass were just brilliant, I tell you), followed by an afternoon on Telegraph Avenue (Cafe Durant, Revolution Books, gourmet ice cream sandwiches...) So in the grand scheme of things, I'm okay with having had a bike stolen. I'm still ahead as the weekend ends.

9/17/11 10:53 pm - Ah-one, two, three, four...

Started a cover band with some friends last year. This post is a test - seeing if this Facebook "like" HTML code works.

6/8/11 02:06 am - Concert photos

Saw U2 tonight in Oakland. Lenny Kravitz opened for them. Totally awesome show.

Here are some pictures. My friend Wendy and I were in the front section, as close to the stage as you are if you're in the back of the room at the Troubadour.

U2 concert Oakland 2011
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4/30/11 01:44 pm - Required Viewing

As of right now, nobody is allowed to publish any opinions about "the Media" on the internet, until they watch the movie Network.

4/9/11 07:44 pm - There but for the grace of God go I.

I'm reading Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, a nonfiction account of his travels in the North of England's industrial hellscape during 1935.

"The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the-embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her--her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that 'It isn't the same for them as it would be for us,' and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her--understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe."
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