Traffic management

January 21, 2017

The delays occasioned by traffic jams, red lights and other things that slow our automotive travel are a major source of frustration to most of us.  As individuals, we can mitigate this frustration by choosing our home and work locations, and the times at which we work.  We may be able to telecommute, walk or bike, or take public transit (which has its own frustrations).  But in today’s automobile-dominated society, most of us have to use the private automobile for most of our travel, much of which must be done on a rigid schedule.

We deal with this frustration with fancy sound systems, luxury seating and blue tooth connections that allow us to use some of our automotive downtime productively.  However, those measures do not address the tremendous waste of oil-based fuel and its concomitant pollution. Government, on behalf of us all, can do more to manage traffic and its related delays, but in our geographic area it has largely failed to act.

While I was driving down Washington Avenue in Albany recently, hitting red light after red light, my frustration triggered some early memories — from the 1960s — of driving up and down avenues in Manhattan with my father, watching each light turn green as we approached it.  My dad explained to me that the lights were timed so that you would rarely have to stop, if you maintained a steady speed at or around the limit.  I am aware of nowhere in our area that employs this proven (and by now, probably more affordable), technology.

Another local failure, on the part of the Thruway Authority, is its lagging behind the Mass Pike in eliminating toll plazas at exits and entries to its highways, with all tolls being tallied by gantries over the road that read E-Z Pass transponders without the need for cars to slow down (a few such gantries do exist on the Thruway, most notably near the Harriman exit, but they have not replaced the toll plazas at the entries and exits).  Although the demolition of the toll plazas and barriers on the Mass Pike is not complete, travel time savings already have been noted.

While we now do have electronic signs on many of our primary roads advising of travel time to various points, these signs do not offer alternatives when delays are indicated, and in most cases no alternatives exist.  While information may reduce frustration during times of congestion, expenditures aimed at reducing congestion would be a better use of taxpayer funds.

Money spent on reducing traffic congestion, as well as on things like bike paths and libraries, benefits everyone by making the area a more attractive one in which to live.  Unfortunately, in New York, “everyone” is not a special interest, which may be why government under-spends in many of these areas.


Casino smoking update

December 29, 2016

I recently visited Turning Stone, which just completed alterations to its gaming areas.  I think it did a really good job to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers.  It enclosed in glass walls and allows smoking in about a quarter of its main gaming floor, an area that includes a bar and a self-service area from which patrons can get free coffee and soda.  The smoking area contains a large variety of slot and video poker machines and table games.  Also enclosed in glass and reserved for smokers is a separate, small high-limit table games area (there also is a non-smoking high limit table games area next to the high limit slots area).  While there are openings in the glass walls enclosing the smoking areas to allow patrons and staff to enter and exit, there does not seem to be a lot of leakage of smoke into the non-smoking areas.

Turning Stone’s solution, while the best I have seen to balance the preferences of smokers (who seem disproportionately represented among casino patrons) and non-smokers, is not perfect.  The main smoking area is very smoky, since almost everyone in it is a smoker (I didn’t go into the high limit table area, but I assume it’s also pretty smoky).  Though the smokers are there voluntarily, that may not be true of all the staff. The high limit slot area is outside the close and is now in the larger area of the casino in which smoking is prohibited.  I believe the live poker room and keno and bingo areas also are completely non-smoking, so players of those games who are smokers may not be accommodated.

All in all, though, management at Turning Stone deserves praise for responding to the complaints of non-smokers in a meaningful way, while preserving its competitive advantage over the non-native American venues in New York that will not be able to allow smokers to gamble and smoke at the same time. Now, if only management would turn its attention to the noise issue . . .


Election aftermath

November 12, 2016

Much has been written about the recent national elections, and I only wish to add to it if I can say something original.  Here it is:  in large part, I blame the result on the New York Times, which for weeks had listed Hillary Clinton as having a virtual lock on the election and which, earlier, had done all it could to support Clinton over Bernie Sanders, even if it meant crossing the heretofore sacrosanct line between reporting and editorializing, a line it later admittedly obliterated when the finalists came down to Clinton and Trump.  The Times contributed to the naming of Clinton as the nominee, though she represented the party’s past, not its future.  And its unrealistic assessment of her chances justified the decision to stay home of those who did not support her, but otherwise would have come out to hold their noses and vote for her to defeat Trump.  Commendably, in some of its post-election navel-gazing pieces, the Times admitted that, in assessing Clinton’s chances as unrealistically high, it ignored the majority of voters outside of its bubble.  I have not yet seen an apology for its disregard of journalistic standards in its biased coverage of her campaigns in the primary and general elections.

Not that Clinton didn’t sabotage her own candidacy.  Her monetization of her prior service by giving paid speeches to Wall Street firms, the content of which she refused to disclose, and her misuse of e-mail, which almost surely revealed government secrets to those not authorized to see them (though I am not aware that the nation ever was placed in danger), among other things, were, to be sure, not as bad as many of the things Trump has done and said.  But the “false equivalency” argument is not a winning one.  Her weaknesses were enough to take the issue of character out of the race for those otherwise inclined to vote for Trump.  Had the democrats fielded a candidate with less questionable character, many people would have seen Trump for what he is and would have refused to vote for him, even if his ideology – to the extent it could be ascertained from his rambling, contradictory statements – might be more palatable to them.

So here we are.  The losers are not happy, as many violent demonstrations show.  I hope all the protesters were Clinton voters.  Obama, ever the class act, vows cooperation in the transition (see, by contrast, the way in which the Bill Clinton administration left the White House) and Trump, after a long meeting that undoubtedly opened his eyes as to what lies ahead, appears accepting of the advice he received.  He already is tacitly acknowledging reality by pulling back on his promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, realizing there is no easy way to preserve insurance for its 20,000,000 or so beneficiaries while removing its “objectionable” features.  Even with his party dominating both houses of the Legislature, expect more reality-dictated compromises to follow.  While such compromises may result in a lot of buyers’ remorse among Trump’s supporters, they could avert disaster at home and abroad.

 


Let’s see how long it lasts

November 8, 2016

As I suspected, the new State-regulated casinos in New York (as well as those in Massachusetts) will almost all be smoke free.  This good news was reported by the Times Union in a recent item about what Turning Stone is doing to meet the new competition.

While I and many other casino patrons would welcome a completely smoke-free environment, maintaining a ban on smoking may not be economically viable.  There is a high correlation between gambling and smoking, and a complete ban in Atlantic City sent too many customers elsewhere and had to be rescinded.  Smoking will continue to be allowed at Turning Stone and in the Connecticut casinos.  Their customers may stay loyal to those establishments that allow them to smoke, even if new, non-smoking casinos are closer to where they live.

I think the best way to accommodate everyone is to make all public areas of casinos non smoking, with separate (but equal, in terms of games offered and other amenities) gambling rooms for smokers and non smokers.  Foxwoods has a separate non-smoking casino, but unfortunately for me it does not have any of the full pay jacks or better video poker machines I like to play at that establishment, so I have to put up with some smoke to play the better games.  Casino management also should consider accommodating those who are sensitive to noise by establishing some quiet areas.  The more a business can accommodate those with competing likes and dislikes, the better for everyone.


More on charter schools

November 6, 2016

This recent column in the New York Times summarizes some studies on charters, and sheds some interesting light.  Apparently, the charters that do the best (and not all even do well) are those that stress the basics — longer days, more support for teachers and students and imposition of high standards.

Aside from reflecting what appears to me to be common sense, these values contrast with those present in many conventional public schools, where shorter work days and more insulation from accountability are the goals of the teachers, as expressed through collective bargaining and political action (many individual teachers put in extra time and strive for excellence, even after achieving tenure).  While I understand teachers’ perceived need for some job protections, and while I believe most tenure “abuses” are caused by management that does not terminate probationary teachers who are unlikely to be successful, there still is a disconnect between the positions of advocates of traditional education and those of the best, successful charters.

If competition produces better results for all, and if charters are to fulfill their original mission as laboratories in which successful teaching methods can be developed and tested, both systems need support.


Worst coupon ever

October 8, 2016

Recently, I received via e-mail the coupon below from EMS, an outdoors store.  Needing to buy an expensive Thule roof rack component for my new car, I went to EMS rather than a competitor, hoping to use the coupon, though suspecting it might not be accepted.

I was or was not disappointed, depending on one’s point of view.  When I presented the e-mail on my phone, the sales clerk relied on the small-type words, “exclusions apply,” and scrolled down past a lot of other content to the bottom of the e-mail, which contained, in even smaller type that I had not noticed, a long list of items to which the coupon would not apply, including, of course, Thule products.  My usual argument, that “any one item” is directly contrary to “exclusions apply,” and that the statement in larger type should apply, fell on deaf ears.

Though I probably should not have, I bought the item anyway, as I was there, it was in stock and I probably could not have gotten it for less anywhere else.

I concede that the facts that the coupon did not apply to everything in the store, and that the item I wanted to buy  was one of the “exclusions,” were displayed in the e-mail, and that I was aware of the first, which should have led me to look for the second.  Does this mean that I have no reason to be disgruntled?

I contend it does not.  The format of the 20% offer – with a seemingly unqualified offer in large type, followed by increasingly restrictive words in increasingly small type – seem to me calculated to attract customers into the store as well as to limit the number of tendered coupons that actually have to be honored, thus limiting the cost of the promotion.  Of course, the cost of losing customers who feel they weren’t treated fairly is not factored in by the marketing bean counters.

I wrote to the company, pointing out the direct conflict between “any one item,” and “exclusions apply,” suggesting that honesty would require the use of some qualifier such as “any one specified item” or the like.  I will let you know if I receive a response.

EMS is not the only retailer using this type of coupon, though its list of exclusions is the least conspicuous I have seen.  I believe government regulation should prohibit the use of seemingly unqualified offers unless the fact that there are exceptions, and the list of specific exceptions, appear in the same size type as the original statement.  Such regulation would, of course, be decried as intrusive and unnecessary by the weasels whose antics precipitated the need for it.

 

 


Once every 30 years is enough

September 2, 2016

I recently met some friends for a long weekend in Chicago.  One of them, a big sports fan, suggested we attend a game at Wrigley Field.  I thought it might be interesting, knowing that Wrigley is an older park with, presumably, lots of history.

The last time I attended a major league ball game was in the 1980s, when I lived in New York City, and I recall paying less than $5.00 for general admission to both Yankee and Shea stadiums.  Though I’m not a big sports fan, my occasional visits to these venues were relaxing and enjoyable.

I know prices have gone up in the last 30 years, but the inflation attending sporting events appears to rival that attending college tuition.  A reserved seat near the third base foul pole cost $75.00, and afforded only a distant view of the diamond.  Three hot dogs and three bottles of water set me back $37.00.

Worse than the prices was the experience.  We were seated below a speaker that blared “music” every time there was a lull in the action (which was about 80% of the time) at ear-splitting volume.  After hearing “Who Let the Dogs Out” a dozen or so times, I agree with those who, in a poll, rated it one of the top 20 annoying songs, according to Wikipedia.  Blaring a snippet of “What’s Up Chris” every time Kris Bryant came to bat might have been clever once, but I tired of it the fourth or fifth time.  There was a little bit of the traditional organ music, but not nearly enough.  The new electronic scoreboards were more geared to displaying commercials than useful information (thankfully, the original scoreboard remained and was my primary source of information).  There was really nothing  (except for some statues of players outside) that I could see that called attention to any of the history or traditions of the stadium.  Even the ivy wall had been defaced by panels placed in it for the sole purpose, apparently, of displaying commercial messages.

Though we were unable to stay until the end of the game because of the need to catch early flights the next day, the part of the game we saw was pretty good, and we learned later that it went 13 innings, past midnight, and that the Cubs won by one run.

The urban location of Wrigley field presented an opportunity for owners of nearby properties.  Many of the houses and other buildings that afforded a view of the field had been outfitted with elaborate bleachers and other amenities.  Next time, I may try one of those. Or, if I want the best views, the ability to tune out the noise and the ability to use the copious down time productively, I’ll watch on television.

The rest of the trip offered many enjoyable things.  An architecture tour by boat on the Chicago River was interesting and fun.  The Art Institute is one of the world’s leading museums.  Less famous were the Driehaus Museum, a restored Golden Age mansion (be sure to check out the exterior of the Richardson-inspired mansion housing Mr. Driehaus’s business diagonally across the street) and the nearby Bloomingdale’s Home store, which us to house a Shrine Circus and has restrooms that have been nationally recognized as among the best.  The Cloud Gate (known to locals as “The Bean”) and the rest of Millenium Park are worth a visit.  Though I’d been to Chicago before, there’s still a lot I haven’t seen.

Chicago earns praise from me by offering a single seat ride on its transit system from each of its commercial airports to its downtown.  The transit system, which we also took to and from the ball game, was clean, efficient, not too crowded, and easy to use.