Thursday, April 22, 2010

X Marks the Spot

Many children's stories include treasure maps with a large "X" indicating the location of what is always described as the world's greatest treasure. Apparently this is true in the world of grownups as well.

Perhaps you've noticed the MARTA buses with a large Red X painted on the side. Or, perhaps your car is in the shop offering the opportunity to visit a rail station where some of the train cars have similar markings. Perhaps you've wondered what that is all about.

Well, dear readers, the recent Toyota recalls have opened up many opportunities to chat unofficially with MARTA officials at the Lindberg train platform. During a recent conversation the issue of the Red X came up.

So, what's with all the Red X's?
"It's all part of a PR campaign. See we want more money. "
"So we can spend it, duh! We want state funding for operations and capital expenses and this is all part of the plan to get it."
How will Red X's do that?
"Well, the Red X means that's a bus or a train car that we will take out of service. That does two things. First, ITP, it riles up the riders. You'll see 'em storming the statehouse, marchin' arm in arm, singin' "We shall over-COME!" That will be grand political theater. "
So, that will blow over...
"Maybe, but then there is the impact OTP. See all those conservative suburbanites who "pay more than they play" will see a bunch of empty buses with a big red X and think, "Finally! Somebody at MARTA came to their senses and we won't have all those empty buses barreling through our neighborhoods spewing fumes. At last they're using some of our money wisely". Once they perceive "we get it" then we've got them! They'll start thinking we are responsible stewards of the money they owe us and then we can crack open that "Capital Expenditures Only" lockbox and spend CapEx on operations. Before you know it all those buses, and more, will be back on the streets."
Won't that just pissfritter away the money that should be spent on new buses, train cars and rail lines? Why not just spend some of the CapEx on smaller, more efficient buses? Then you can improve services whilst decreasing operating expenses.
"That's exactly what's wrong with the general public. You seem to think this is somehow about efficient operation and top notch service."
At this point the unofficial official was interrupted by an announcement: "We are experiencing delays in our Northbound rail service".
"As I was saying...CapEx get's you nothing, it's all about OpEx. OpEx means more headcount. More headcount means a manager has a bigger budget..."
Which means the manager gets a bigger paycheck...
"...and a bigger bonus."
You get bonuses?
"You BETCHA! Big ones. The kind only public servants can get. And let me tell you, we don't want to lose them either. "
So if you spend all the money set aside for capital expenses on operating expenses what happens when you need new buses and cars, or you need to extend rail service?
"That's the beauty of this plan. Once we drain the CapEx funds we'll start pulling buses and trains out of service because they are too old and broken down. The the State will have to buy us new buses and cars to avoid a complete shutdown."
And since you've already spent every penny you have...
"...that's right. We still get our bonuses."
After the piercing screech of ill-maintained brakes deafened the crowd, this gleeful unofficial official boarded his train, a fitting end to this painful conversation.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Freaknik Weekend

Freaknik comes to town this weekend!

Get ready to party!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Most Prolific Writer

By far the most prolific writer, even before the Whirled Wild Web, remains Anonymous. And there are some folks that take issue with that.

A recent AJC editorial posits that anonymous posts and comments have no place in "legitimate journalism". Legitimate journalism is readily identified by phrases like "unnamed sources" or "remaining anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on the record" or "unidentified sources". That's where the irony gets knee deep. This editorialist cited a case where a judge may have disclosed information on a case that, well, that judge just shouldn't ought to have. That's right. Legitimate journalists are the only ones allowed to divulge information, especially when it is sensitive. But it gets better. Because this is the electronic age no one can really prove that the judge actually made the offending comments, or even that the judge's computer was used. The only thing that may be certain is that the judge's internet account was used.

Then it gets local. A Dunwoody blogger, who shall remain nameless, thought he might encourage greater and more lively debate by allowing anonymous comments. Indeed. This change also did what it generally does, which is remove any inhibitions some folks might otherwise have against vitriol. That anonymous posting degrades the quality of conversation is well demonstrated in local school and police blogs (where anonymity is rationalized as necessary to prevent retribution from the man). Anonymous rants on these blogs have rendered them virtually useless, totally predictable and incredibly monotonous. But there are large number of comments on any given post.

So this Dunwoody blogger gets blasted by a local blog-o-phile, we'll call him "Roger Luddite", who has a consistent non-stop rant about folks "hiding behind anonymous" and using "fake names".  He seems to think that the value of the comment is directly related to whether the poster uses his "real name", a pseudonym or simply remains anonymous even though the "real name" is the only one that cannot be verified. (As Thaddeus Osborne Dabell once remarked: "it isn't the name that matters, it's the initials".) Now Mister Luddite considers himself quite the mover and shaker and presumes that everyone in Dunwoody knows him, knows he really exists and assumes we actually give a rodent's rectum that he does and what he says. But in his rather narrow world, if you're posting on the internet, then by god, you should use your "real" name or your comments just don't count. But in taking such a strident view, he prevents open discourse by implying that given a "real" name he might launch an ad hominem attack to advance his own opinion, especially since he already engages in ad hominem in absentia.

Of course this ignores a few key realities. First, since the days of 1200 baudbps modems and bulletin boards, folks have been using "handles" when posting online, much like folks did and still do on CB radio. It is, and has been, the way these bulletin boards, and now the web, work.

And, if you follow Mister Luddite's logic, what must we think of "Poor Richard" or "George Sand", and other great intellects forced by circumstance--often an ignorant and bigoted populace--to use pseudonyms? Are their works somehow diminished  by the fact that the "real" author's name remained hidden or has the world been a better place because important ideas were offered to the public? Is a good idea, or a sound and legitimate criticism, any less worthy because the mind behind the words chooses to remain unknown? Conversely, is there any value, positive or negative, in knowing that it was indeed Mister Luddite who said something?

At the end of the day, if you cannot filter the sound comments, the profound analysis and the informed opinion from the increasing noise on the internet, regardless of the name on the tagline, then maybe you're not as smart as you think you are.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spinning in Their Graves

Is this what the patriots who founded this country fought for?

Or against?