Tuesday, December 27, 2011

When will The Enquirer start reporting the online activities of public figures?

On December 23, The New York Times reported that the Tea Party mayor of Troy, MI rejected federal stimulus funds for a transit center in her city. Included in the article was a sophomoric anti-gay marriage remark that the mayor posted on a social media website:
[Click Here for a large version of this file -- quote is highlighted in the third column below graphic]

In 2006, CityBeat reported SORTA board member Stephan Louis's racist online remarks. Unfortunately, despite this and his 2002 reprimand from the Ohio Elections Commission, other news outlets have continued to contact Louis for his (predictable) comments on transit-related matters. This past fall, during the Issue 48 debate, Louis was a guest on various radio shows and on Channel 12 Newsmakers. He continues to announce himself as a "medical devices salesman" when in fact he does bathroom remodeling and other odd jobs.

In recent weeks, Mark Miller of COAST has been sending outrageous tweets:

This tweet was in reference to his December 21 claim that fire station brownouts were responsible for the death of a child in Westwood -- except there weren't any fire station brownouts that day in that area. What's more, planning for the streetcar has in no way affected the fire department's budget -- in fact state law prohibits it. Miller knows this but keeps doing it, because that's the only thing he and his group do.

Mark Miller on streetcar:

Meanwhile, Cincinnatians have died thanks to the likes of Mark Miller. They're among the 4,000+ who were killed in Iraq during the 2003 invasion and ensuing eight-year occupation. Miller, St. Xavier Class of '83, never mentions the two St. Xavier High School graduates who died on August 3, 2005 in a roadside bombing so that he can afford to drive his cowardly self from con-job to con-job.

We could go on all day long about pathetic activities of Miller, Louis, and the rest. Instead, let's get straight to the point: if The New York Times finds the online comments of public figures with Tea Party affiliations fit to print, why doesn't The Cincinnati Enquirer? Oh yeah -- because doing so would bite the hand that feeds.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

You've got to pay your dues...to write for Yahoo News!

Today, this appeared on Yahoo News. At first I thought it was a link from The Onion:

Only one manager called me back: the one from Brooklyn, just a few blocks from my apartment — and the last store I visited. She offered me the job at $10/hour; and if I worked part-time for three months, I'd be eligible for health insurance.

I'd later find out that the store is located next to the busiest transit hub in Brooklyn, which makes itthe busiest Starbucks outside of Manhattan. My initial idea of working a leisurely part-time job was completely false. This was going to be hard work. And a lot of it.

My first day was deceptively easy – watching videos of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on the store’s laptop with my fellow three trainees, and taste-testing coffee and tea. We had some pamphlets that explained the drinks, and our task was to memorize all of them — including some several dozen variations of shots, sizes and flavors.

We tried making a few of these with our trainers at the bar, but it wasn’t easy. There was usually a steady stream of 20-some people waiting in line, and there simply wasn’t the space or environment to train properly. It was always chaotic, with several people on the floor, calling orders, shifting from station to station, and asking you to get out of the way. Not to mention 10 customers waiting at the end of the bar for their drinks.

Photo: Daniel Goodman, Business Insider

My first real 7:30 a.m. shift was jarring. The intensity of what goes on behind the counter is simply not visible from the customer’s point of view. During the peak morning hours, we’d work through around 110 people every half hour with seven employees on the floor.

Since there was no chance my new colleagues — or “partners,” as Starbucks calls its employees — and I would ever memorize all the drinks, we handled everything else: brewing and changing coffees (staying on top of which ones are decaf, light and bold roasts, while rotating them via Starbucks’ “coffee cadence” using 2-minute timers and grinding the beans, having them all prepared to brew — and never leaving one pot sitting longer than 30 minutes without dumping, since it’s no longer “fresh”), marking drinks (there’s a complicated shorthand that you’ve got to memorize, while translating what a customer is saying into “Starbucks speak” and calling it properly), rotating pastries, the food case, and tossing hot items into the oven — all while managing the register.

Just as I was tempted to remind my coworkers that they were new once, too, I wanted to tell customers that I was way over-qualified for this job, and hoped they’d see me on the street in normal clothes, not in khakis, a black T-shirt, bright-green apron and baseball cap.

On my third day, my boss handed my fellow trainee — who would later disappear after a 10-minute break never to return — and me a mop and supplies to clean the bathroom, because the toilet was broken. It turned out not to be so horrible, but again, I quickly learned to swallow my pride.

We got two 10-minute breaks and one unpaid 30-minute break for every 8 hours on the floor, where we’d have to decide between running next door to use the restroom (because ours was always had a line of customers in front of it), quickly eating a bag lunch (there was never time to stand in line and buy something from the store), or making a cell phone call. If you’re lucky, you got to sit down on the one chair in the break room, or on the ladder, because there were never any open seats in the store.

Some of my coworkers were more demanding than others. Most were nice and welcoming. And there were office politics. On more than one occasion I walked into the break room to see someone crying, or talking about other coworkers. I mostly avoided this, until what would be my last week on the job.

I told my boss that I got a new, full-time job, and could work until I started at Business Insider. Butthe next day my name disappeared from the schedule.

For many people, service industry jobs are not a supplementary income or short-term solution. And hats off to them — especially those who do it without even complaining.


The author on Twitter: http://twitter.com/aimeegroth

Again, at first I thought this was a piece of satire, but no -- this girl apparently had never had a retail or restaurant job of any kind until, it appears, age 22 or 23. What's so astonishing is the writer's presumption that she will never return to menial work...because she's such a goddamn good writer (did Yahoo News pay her more for this piece than she made during her three week Starbuck's tenure?).

Out there in folksy middle class land, there exists the belief that a brief visit to the blue collar world as a teenager "builds character", or something. After a summer or two mowing the cemetery's grass, it's off to college and its fabulous internships, then dinner parties with similar people in a condo your parents helped you buy (I know you can't wait for just the right time to tell everyone that you bought that Chinese-made imitation Sri Lankan vase in Pago Pago).

I haven't paused in the last few years to think about "what I've learned" from my various restaurant, warehouse, office temp, and manual labor jobs. Putting myself on the spot, I suppose the main things are:

  • Most people are quitters
  • Few people recognize that "common sense" is a trick laid out by people much smarter and wealthier than themselves.

That's about it. Oh, and most white people who are "doing well" (those condo people I just mentioned, as well as most young white adults who moved to New York City after college, and of course most white people who started "their own" business) benefited from money given to them by their parents and/or deceased relatives. Such people on one hand think poor people (you know, real poor people) are cute, but on the other hold people from their native culture who still operate in that world in high contempt.

Is this post really just about me? It certainly is with respect to my deep suspicion of anyone who I spot "Playing Magazine". That phrase popped into my head one day at age 21 or 22 to describe under-30 college graduates who aren't yet "Playing House". Instead they've moved to New York City, or pretend that they have, and consume the specific elements of yuppie culture that magazine articles and advertisements promise will trick similarly insecure members of the opposite sex.

Just one final word to Ms. Groth (who is, like seemingly all who write for magazines, certainly playing magazine) -- I never took a writing class in college, but I hear they say something like "write about what you know". Reading this piece, we all know Starbuck's was in fact your "toughest" job because it was the closest you'll ever be to having a real one.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gov. Kasich: Tin Soldiers and Nixon's Coming

14 months ago, Kasich promised to kill the 3c's plan if elected:

He was elected and he did kill the project. I have plenty to say myself, and probably will return to this subject at some point, but here I'm simply reposting recent remarks by All Aboard Ohio's Ken Prendergast from page 179 of UrbanOhio's discussion of Ohio's defunct 3C's rail plan.

The 3C Corridor is one of the top-10 most heavily traveled intercity routes in the United States, according to the US Dept of Transportation. And the 3C project would have given Columbus Amtrak service to the east via Cleveland then through New York state -- the flattest and fastest route to the east. The link wasn't touted as much as it probably should have, but such travel would been possible had the guv kept the money to upgrade the rail lines to the same quality as the direct Chicago-East Coast lines through Toledo and Cleveland. Instead, Columbus remains the largest metropolitan area in North America and possibly the Western Hemisphere without any regularly scheduled passenger rail services, and few local officials seem interested in doing anything about changing that dubious honor. Consider this recent, sad example.... US Railcar Corp. had to ask the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority to sponsor a grant to develop a manufacturing facility in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna! Why? Because local officials wouldn't support it. If Central Ohio won't financially support passenger rail while other states/regions do, then why should passenger rail come there?

But why does Northern Ohio have Amtrak service? Because congressional leaders along that route, especially in Cleveland, fought for it in 1975 as Amtrak's first experimental route. Today, the Lake Shore Limited is one of Amtrak's most heavily used trains. The Capitol Limited was rerouted through Toledo and Cleveland in 1990 after track was downgraded through Canton, Mansfield and Lima.

Then why does Cincinnati have Amtrak service? Because Congressman Harley Staggers Sr. and Senator Robert Byrd both of West Virginia fought to include the Cardinal route in Amtrak's initial system in 1971 to link their state with the East Coast and Chicago. And they fought to keep it, albeit with service reduced to thrice-weekly operations, in the face of repeated Amtrak budget cuts in the 1980s and early 1990s. Cincinnati got and kept its trains because there was no higher quality rail route between West Virginia and Chicago.

No Senator or Congressional leader in Columbus has fought to keep passenger rail since Amtrak's creation 40 years ago. It's why Columbus lost the New York City-Kansas City National Limited in 1979. If a Congressman didn't fight to put or keep your city on the Amtrak route map, then Amtrak isn't going to do it for you. Same deal happened with mapping out federal highway routes. Ohio had won $400 million in no-match federal funds -- as good as it gets -- to put Columbus back on Amtrak's map. Never before has no-match federal dollars been provided for passenger rail, let alone in such large amounts. And Ohio threw it away. Why? In the hopes of getting a better deal?

If you want rail infrastructure that enables fast, drive-time competitive Amtrak service between Columbus and Pittsburgh to the East Coast, as well as to Columbus to Chicago, be prepared for a price tag in excess of $400 million. The highest quality, least expensive route with the greatest ridership potential for Columbus is the 3C Corridor. But if Central Ohio wants something else, then it should seek funding leveraged by some of its own because the no-match rail grants were a one-shot stimulus deal and they're all gone. Local officials should be prepared for a higher start-up cost, leveraged by a 20% non-federal funding match such as from the state or local governments (meaning if Ohio wants to reapply for a $400 million grant, it will now have to pony up $100 million of its own funding to get it). The per passenger-mile operating subsidy would be higher too, based on the Ohio Hub studies, since no Ohio-involved passenger rail route was as promising as 3C when it came to ridership, revenue or operating subsidy per passenger-mile.

But we keep hoping and fighting for change. And I hope you will too, including sharing some ideas on how to get train service back to Ohio's third-largest metropolitan area.

Read more:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cincinnati Enquirer scooped by blogger in South Korea!

A few days ago, I received this email:


This morning Randy Simes, who has been working in South Korea for the past six months, posted his TIGER III story on UrbanCincy.com and all hell broke loose.

Jane Prendergast quickly patched together a story of her own, which is now the top item on Cincinnati.com:


The Business Courier and Channel 5 also filed reports.


In other news, Peter Bronson hasn't updated his website in close to a year. I'd bet he was getting just 100-200 hits per day, or approximately what this infrequently updated blog gets. In other words, he was getting smoked by UrbanCincy.com (which has been operated for the past two years by someone who has lived, at minimum, 500 miles from the city) and even the dreadful Cincinnati Beacon.

So if The Enquirer disappeared tomorrow, and Barry Horstman and the lot each started their own blogs, would any of them build any kind of following? I doubt it, because nothing about their work at our city's daily paper indicates that they actually care enough to write about civic affairs for free.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chris Finney lurked outside No on 48 Party

They say arsonists like to watch the fires they set.

Chris Finney
, the one-man wrecking crew who has concocted one crisis after another for the past 20 years, lurked outside Tuesday night's No on 48 party at Arnold's.

Finney was the author of the Issue 48 ballot language, the charter amendment that promised to kill the modern streetcar and all other transit or passenger rail efforts until 2020. With the exception of their October 3 fundraiser at Mecklenburg Gardens, which I reported only drew about 15 people but nevertheless attracted TV coverage, their campaign consisted only of Mark Miller's insane tweets, which might put the Hyde Park bum behind bars, and endless free publicity provided by the leg humpers at 700 WLW and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Unlike 2009's Issue 9, Finney and COAST had no election night party (if you remember The Enquirer's photos from that "event" two years ago, it consisted of Finney, Chris Smitherman, and maybe two other people sitting in an empty Pleasant Ridge bar). Instead, the group's Tuesday night activities consisted entirely of Chris Finney, alone, mugging for the media that gathered for the No on 48 event:


What is so frightening about it all is that Issue 48 came so close to passing, with the pro-campaign having raised under $200. It's safe to say that without the efforts of 100 volunteers, and Cincinnatians for Progress having raised tens of thousands of dollars, the charter amendment would have passed.

So this near-miss means that Finney will almost certainly launch a third charter amendment ballot issue to kill the streetcar project in 2012. AND he will word it in such a way as to affect all other passenger rail. AND although Cincinnati city council saw significant turnover, the local media will be the same local media, and will keep humping Finney's leg.

If Smitherman's inexplicable election to council means an end to the NAACP infrastructure that had allowed Finney to lob four charter amendments onto city ballots in the past24 months, he will surely busy himself with lawsuit after lawsuit aimed at blocking the streetcar project, when he's not filing frivolous lawsuits against streetcar supporters themselves.

No doubt Finney took notice of Chris Seelbach's election to city council last night -- Seelbach's entrance into local political affairs was the successful 2004 campaign to overturn the 1993 Finney-authored Article XII charter amendment. Finney's outrageous activities have caused many others -- including myself -- who formerly watched civic affairs from the sidelines to get involved.

That it takes a loose network of 100 people and tens of thousands of dollars annually to contain this man is testament to the total absence of a functioning media in this town.

hits: 7,442

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Don't trust anyone under 30!

Rock & Roll used to be about how lame your parents were -- now it's about how lame your kids are.

After several months of 20th anniversary chatter, this past weekend I gave my 19 year-old copy of Nirvana's Nevermind its first spin in about 10 years. My first thought was of the old Teen Spirit deodorant commercials, and how today's teenagers can't possibly understand the context from which Nirvana emerged...then it occurred to me that some odd soul might have uploaded those commercials to Youtube:

That ad campaign was the very picture of the era -- stupid shit was shoved down your throat day after day and if you didn't swallow you were cast out. Then one day in the fall of 1991 MTV aired an uproarious video by some new band that presented a crushing critique of that word. A month or two after that first airing, Nevermind unseated Michael Jackson's Dangerous as the #1 album in America.

So back in 1991, when I had just turned 13, the #1 album in the United States of America sounded like this:

Nevermind exploded for several reasons unrelated to the music itself: first, the title of the album's first single was a brilliant piece of guerilla marketing -- nowhere does the copped slogan "Smells Like Teen Spirit" appear in the track of the same name, but it was spectacularly appropriate. Second, the video was a call to action -- it operated quite explicitly as a pep rally to millions of youth who hated jocks -- jocks who would soon jump on the Nirvana bandwagon. Third, and most importantly, because Sub-Pop didn't expect Nevermind to sell more than 50,000 copies, and didn't have the infrastructure in place to fully capitalize on the band's sudden popularity, Nirvana's rise had an authenticity that hasn't happened since.

I vividly remember seeing the Smells Like Teen Spirit video for the first time -- I didn't know what, specifically, the guy was saying (in fact I didn't know most of the lyrics until I looked them up on the internet ten years after the fact), but I knew in my gut what the song and what his band was about.

Smells Like Teen Spirit was about total contempt for jocks, total contempt for teachers, total contempt for pop music, total contempt for Hollywood and celebrity worship, total contempt for college fraternities and sororities, total contempt for DARE and public service messages, total contempt for shopping malls and the era's status symbols, total contempt for Homecoming dances and phony charity balls, etc. It expressed total frustration that the symptoms of the mainstream's insecurity went unacknowledged and were even useful in establishing status within the mainstream, while people of high character were vilified -- often by parents, teachers, and others positioned as moral authorities.

So where are we 20 years later? Crank Nevermind for a room full of today's 8th graders, and they'll curl up and cry for all that noise to stop. Why? Because we're back to that cold-blooded world portrayed in the Teen Spirit ads.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall 2011: New Lou Reed and Beach Boys Records

That's right, it's 2011 and the only interesting records coming out are by the same people who were making the most interesting records 40 years ago. The two are scheduled to be released within hours of each other on October 31 and November 1.

Lou Reed/Metallica: Lulu

I'm trying to keep an open mind with this one, but I fear the worst. The leaked track on Youtube doesn't sound too promising:

What was Lou Reed's loudest song before getting together with Metallica? Probably Kill Your Sons, off 1974's Sally Can't Dance:

Folks, that is one helleva song, off one of the best albums ever. I mean, listen to some of what else is on that album:

Just listen to how that piano, electric piano, and hammond enter and leave. And structurally it's the opposite of Reed's familiar silly-song-turns-serious formula (Coney Island Baby, She's My Best Friend, etc.). He flips it, with the nagging roommate in the outro letting you know this song really was just about an annoying roommate!

The Beach Boys "Smile" (1967/2011)

Well, it's almost here. I admit that I was one of those people who spent a lot of time on the internet ten years ago reading and speculating about this album, then ran out to the record store the day the re-recorded Smile was released in 2004. But that album was frustrating because the instrumentation and certainly the vocals were no match for the original Beach Boys. One could hear the inferiority from the first second of Our Prayer to the frumpy re-record of Good Vibrations.

My opinion of Brian Wilson was unfortunately marred by seeing him perform Pet Sounds live in 2002 in Boston. He was painful to watch, his singing was way off, and his band was of course technically competent but didn't sound good. Apparently he got an entirely new band and started eating his vegetables by 2004, when this impressive performance was taped:

I'm definitely looking forward to the originally recorded version of Heroes & Villains (not the low-fi version from Smiley Smile), which should be outstanding, and of course Mrs. O'Leary's Cow, which won the 2005 Grammy for Best Instrumental, but sounded clinical (and digital!) compared to what I'm hoping for with the original 1967 recording:

It's a miracle that this record is finally being released under the auspices of the guy who wrote the songs and engineered the recording sessions. Get this record and listen to it on a real stereo, not your stupid computer!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Enquirer Anti-Intellectualism Sinks to New Depths

Each day, The Cincinnati Enquirer astonishes us with its anti-intellectualism. It is dedicated to perpetuating folksy myths for the benefit of our city's nastier controllers of wealth. Its non-stop harassment of Cincinnati's long-planned modern streetcar project -- peppered with all sorts of libelous episodes -- reached a new low on Sunday, October 16:


This graphic is such a stunner that it needs little commentary (Click Here for a larger version), but it should be pointed out that the train the couple is riding on is NOT a modern streetcar, it's a light rail train. What's more, it's a circa 1990 first generation light rail train of the sort in operation in St. Louis and Baltimore:

Technology has advanced, meaning these boxy type of light rail trains with mixed hi-low cars will never again be manufactured. The Enquirer, of course, did not bother in its half dozen published graphics to include an image of a modern streetcar, such as the one that was displayed on Fountain Square last year at this time:

Instead, they ran this photo of a 1930s-era PCC streetcar:


But look closely: they credited this 60-80 year-old photo to Joseph Fuqua II, the Enquirer photographer who is about 35-40 years old. This hints that one of his photos of the modern streetcar that visited Cincinnati last year was switched out by a bought-and-paid for editor.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hey Cincinnati Media: Every Bridge and Tunnel in NYC is "Functionally Obsolete"

It stands to reason that Cincinnati should adopt a transportation strategy that mimics that of the world's most important city. But that wish seems impossible in a town where the local media can't execute a Google search.

The Brent Spence Bridge, the object of recent national media attention, is classified as "Functionally Obsolete". This term has been abused by Bill Cunningham, Barack Obama, and everyone in between.
An effortless Google search for "Functionally Obsolete Bridge Definition" directs us to this passage from ODOT's website:

"A functionally obsolete bridge is one that was built to standards that are not used today. These bridges are not automatically rated as structurally deficient, nor are they inherently unsafe. Functionally obsolete bridges are those that do not have adequate lane widths, shoulder widths, or vertical clearances to serve current traffic demand, or those that may be occasionally flooded.

A functionally obsolete bridge is similar to an older house. A house built in 1950 might be perfectly acceptable to live in, but it does not meet all of today’s building codes. Yet, when it comes time to consider upgrading that house or making improvements, the owner must look at ways to bring the structure up to current standards.

And "Structurally Deficient":

A bridge sufficiency rating includes a multitude of factors: inspection results of the structural condition of the bridge, traffic volumes, number of lanes, road widths, clearances, and importance for national security and public use, to name just a few.

The sufficiency rating is calculated per a formula defined in Federal Highway Administration’s Recording and Coding Guide for the Structure Inventory and Appraisal of the Nation’s Bridges. This rating is indicative of a bridge’s sufficiency to remain in service. The formula places 55 percent value on the structural condition of the bridge, 30 percent on its serviceability and obsolescence, and 15 percent on its essentiality to public use.

The point calculation is based on a 0-100 scale and it compares the existing bridge to a new bridge designed to current engineering standards.

The bridge’s sufficiency rating provides an overall measure of the bridge’s condition and is used to determine eligibility for federal funds. Bridges are considered structurally deficient if significant load carrying elements are found to be in poor condition due to deterioration or the adequacy of the waterway opening provided by the bridge is determined to be extremely insufficient to point of causing intolerable traffic interruptions.

Every bridge constructed goes through a natural deterioration or aging process, although each bridge is unique in the way it ages.

The fact that a bridge is classified under the federal definition as “structurally deficient" does not imply that it is unsafe. A structurally deficient bridge, when left open to traffic, typically requires significant maintenance and repair to remain in service and eventual rehabilitation or replacement to address deficiencies. To remain in service, structurally deficient bridges are often posted with weight limits to restrict the gross weight of vehicles using the bridges to less than the maximum weight typically allowed by statute.

To be eligible for federal aid the following is necessary (a local match is required):

  • Replacement: bridge must have a sufficiency rating of less than 50 and be either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient.
  • Repair: bridge must have a sufficiency rating of less than 80 and the jurisdiction is prevented from using any additional federal aid for 10 years.

Again, those definitions are from ODOT's web glossary of bridge terminology, which appears to have been uploaded upwards of ten years ago and has been available this entire time to anyone writing a story involving the Brent Spence Bridge. So what's happening here is the media is being tricked by the highway lobby into tricking Cincinnatians into thinking the bridge is exceptionally dangerous and in an exceptional state of disrepair. Perhaps three more people will be killed, per decade, on an interstate highway bridge with no emergency shoulders versus one with shoulders. Meanwhile, in that same amount of time, dozens if not hundreds of Cincinnatians will be killed falling in the shower.

Up in New York City, every single vehicular link between Manhattan, New Jersey, The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn is functionally obsolete. None of these bridges or tunnels have breakdown lanes, and there are no plans to replace any of them:

The Brooklyn Bridge:

The Manhattan Bridge:

The Williamsburg Bridge:

The Queensboro Bridge:

The George Washington Bridge:

The Holland Tunnel:

The Lincoln Tunnel:

The Queens-Midtown Tunnel:

The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel:

Instead of worrying about its "crumbling, outdated, obsolete, etc." bridges and tunnels, billions are being spent on major mass transit capital improvements:

  • The $3 billion East Side Access tunnel will bring Long Island Railroad commuter trains into Grand Central Station by 2016
  • Construction of the 8.5-mile, $17 billion Second Avenue Subway resumed in 2007 after a 30-year hiatus. The first 3-station segment is scheduled to open in 2016.
  • Construction of an extension of the #7 subway from Times Square southwest to Chelsea is underway and will be completed in 2013. This project sets the stage for further extension of the line beneath the Hudson River to New Jersey.

So since 2007, when Cincinnati City Council first allocated funds to the Cincinnati Streetcar, the local media has attacked the relatively small project on a nearly daily basis. Meanwhile, during that same time period, New York City has spent billions digging new subway and commuter rail tunnels that have attracted no organized opposition. And nobody who writes or reads The Cincinnati Enquirer can figure out why the young people -- all of whom can execute a Google search -- want to leave if they haven't already.