Monday, October 19, 2009

NY Times raids SF Chronicle in NY Times Bay Area edition

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The New York Times's new "San Francisco Bay Area" page edition is out, and has given quite a few members of the San Francisco Chronicle both print and online reasons to gripe or just plain cuss. The reason: the almost subject-for-subject and paragraph segment-by-segment borrowing of original SF Chronicle content.

Look, I'll tell ya, this blog post is designed to be a deliberate search engine torpedo. Something's got to get the cyber attention of the NY Times execs so this kind of questionably lazy work doesn't happen again.

The problem is the first story about Oakland's new police chief Tony Batts, or Anthony W. Batts", written by the NY Times' Jesse McKinley, who's the head of the San Francisco Bureau and has been since 2006, so he's new to our area.

What Jesse did was write an obvious quasi-replication of an older San Francisco Chronicle article dated August 18th 2009 "Oakland officers' killing led to Batts job"

McKinley's article released Friday, October 15th and called "New Oakland Police Chief Inherits a Force, and a City in Turmoil" wins points from me for its attention to search engine optimization in the title, but, as SF Chronicle Executive Editor at Large Phil Bronstein points out, has words and paragraphs ordered in such away that "there was just a gnawing deja vu sensation about it".

But my question is why, with the Bay Area story line being the 20th Anniversary of The Loma Prieta Quake, would Jesse McKinley chose to write a stale story almost three months old?

If the New York Times wanted to show it was really a part of the Bay Area, isn't the best move to write about and present an event unique to this area instead of the East Coast, knee-jerk, "Let's dial up the Oakland crime story!" habit?

Well, guess what? He did write about the quake celebrations but its in an area called "San Francisco Journal" and not on the new San Francisco Bay Area page online!

(And as I'm not an offline newspaper reader, but online, if the Times' intent was for the quake story to be part of their new Bay Area coverage even online and not the "San Francisco Journal" they really missed the Internet mark.)

Forget that Oakland too sustained a lot of damage from that disaster and that there are people around - like me - who have memories that are too painful to want to recall in a blog post, that story should have been the Times Bay Area opener.

I'm so confused! There's not even a widget to tell us about the Times' new Bay Area coverage on Jesse's Loma Prieta story; it's over at the article about Oakland's Police Chief Batts!

This is driving me batty. What was the NY Times thinking? What was going through Jesse's mind? And who's Jesse McKinley anyway?

A young David Letterman look-alike

Jesse McKinley

David Letterman

McKinley looks for all the World like a young version of talk show host David Letterman, and like Letterman he was a New Yorker.

Heck, he probably knows Letterman. 

Before his new job here in San Francisco, Mr. McKinley was best known for covering the New York cultural arts, specifically the New York theater scene.  That's logical because according to McKinley's Linkedin profile, theater was his major at New York University.   He has no real Bay Area ties such that he knows what "Tightwad Hill" is or for that matter who "Elihu Harris" is.  He wasn't around for Loma Prieta and probably thinks "The Big Game" is Harvard v. Yale.


Jesse, it's Cal v. Stanford.  And if you need tips on who to root for just contact me, but here's a hint: GO BEARS!

Angels baseball beats Yankees baseball 5-4: battle of payrolls

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Angels win was a Money-ball story

The old saying: the more things change the more they stay the same. The Los Angeles Angels beat the New York Yankees 5-4 today in the AL Championship Series. They're back 2 games to one and could make a real game of it with another win.

But don't make the mistake of thinking that it was David beating Goliath, where the New York Yankees monster payroll was clobbered by the miserly fiscal practices of the Angels.


The truth is that the 2009 player expeditures for both teams are not far off. The Yankees payroll was between $192 million and $201 million this year; the Angels payroll was at $113 million.

Both teams are part of the top six highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, proving that it takes money to win, even in this post-Moneyball era. This was supposed to be the time when the Internet and sabermetrics created a baseball team that could consistently when with a low payroll.

But the reality in 2009 is the same as it was in 1993 and in 2002 when I created the Oakland Baseball Simworld in partnership with Forio Business Simulations, and 2003 when University of San Francisco Professor Dan Rascher and I founded Sports Business Simulations.

Payroll rules.

Our simulation was and is designed to reflect both the "Moneyball" approach and the more common "Pay-To-Win" strategy, but it's the latter that's hard to beat.

In fact, Smith college Sports Economist Andrew Zimbalist (who's also a member of our simulation advisory board) determined that after 1990 there was a more powerful correlation between higher payrolls and team performance.

I tried for years to make a team "work" in the context of the current Oakland Coliseum using the Oakland Baseball Simworld (which I developed from scratch for the purpose of teaching marketing, business, and sports finance in high school and college classrooms and is based on my work at the City of Oakland). It's hard to achieve the 250 and up score that indicates baseball business success.

The only answer is to build a new stadium. Location aside - Oakland's better - it's the best tonic to turn any Oakland-based baseball team into a winner, including the one currently called The Oakland Athletics.

Meanwhile, the Yankees and Angels will keep being in the hunt for the World Series. Some things never change.

CA DMV - Do you know where your registration money goes?

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 DMV: Where's the Money?

I just returned from another really harrowing experience with the California Department of Motor Vehicles office on Claremont Avenue in Oakland .

Between this and the taxi cab issue, and the Oakland parking problem, anti-car forces should not complain about California not charging enough to operate a car. In fact I've determined that many of them don't own cars; no bumming rides from me in the future, OK?

I think God's putting me through this just to shine a good media light on these problems.  So be it.  To that end, I got the email of the director George Valverde which I will not share, the DMV Twitter account, and his Twitter account, which I will share: @GVCADMV.

George Valverde

Mr. Valverde to date has been helpful in directing my emails, though we've not talked as of this writing, but it's these revelations below that really need to be looked into.  It may be that he's not aware of what's happening under his nose.  He should be. 

What happens, and this is from the personal experience I have gone through complete with extensive notes and papers, is that the registration paid to the DMV is not immediately assigned to whatever citations a driver gets. Plus, it may take as long as three years before a ticket or toll violation is paid from DMV to FastTrak or the California municipality!  

During that time you could wind up paying for a ticket twice and not be reimbursed - once to the DMV via registration or to clear a tow and once to the city or agency. How often this happens is not clear but I learned this from a very enterprising young man at the California vehicle collection division.

It was there that part of my horror started. They sent a "Demand for Payment" for an amount of money I already paid.

When I sent the cashier's check to prove it, it should have ended there, right? Nope. It got worse. Guess why?

They couldn't find it.

That's right. But the enterprising young man I'm taking about kept digging and determined that DMV never assigned my payment. Meanwhile the toll tickets I paid were gaining interest because FasTrak said they were not paid. It turned out that they never got the money from DMV. Now, that's not my fault - I gave them a cashier's check.

Turns out this happens to Californians more than a few times and especially when FasTrak's involved.

What's an outrage is that we allow this to go on without challenge or initiative. We as Californians worry more about being able to smoke weed than having correct and reasonable vehicle costs.

And the City of Oakland's not safe here either. It has parking records that are not accurately updated and suffer from the same DMV payment delay issues FasTrak has.  I have seen three documents with three different amounts on them. 

But what really galls me is today's discovery that DMV Sacramento can "at will" delay or adjust payments for you. It's up to how the manager looks at the situation - well, how the manager feels that day. It's discretionary, which means they can play favorites if they want to but it also means they can work to correct a mistake or at least not stick you with an obvious one.

Too much of what DMV does is so disjointed and uncoordinated that I'm really shocked the California Legislature hasn't called for an investigation. For example I got something like four different print letters from vehicle collections with different amounts. But a person in a good position at DMV told me today they should all be the same and not different. 

This person also told me that the agency - like FasTrak - that requests the money from DMV sends the payment amount and DMV doens't double check it. In other words FasTrak can send one request for $50 and then up it to $100 within a month and DMV will not question it - meanwhile FasTrak's charging weekly interest to the cost.  (Isn't that illegal?  Don't we have usery laws here?)

It's no wonder an irate Yelp user referred to FasTrak's accounting practices in a way that points to some untoward intentions.

But. But. But. She says DMV expects the documents to have the same amount. Isn't that crazy-making? But she said in one sentence that DMV doesn't care what they're charge or how it changes - (my words now) because they're just going to stick you with it, anyway.

Someone's making some extra money here. I said this to one Oakland DMV office staffer today and she agreed. "Not me" she said. But someone is. This money trail's not adding up properly, yet everyone I talked to agrees there's a problem.

This is not a good situation for the State of California to be in as it looks like and feels like it's trying to cheat California residents to clear a massive budget deficit.  I said it, and I challenge the DMV to show me that it doesn't look like that.  It does. 

Balancing the budget on the backs of California drivers is, to use a street term, just plain lame.  Ok.  It's criminal.  Moreover, it's a highly regressive practice, hurting the poor more than anyone else. A sad state of affairs.

Brees-ing Past Marino's Mark? FRO's 2009 Drew Brees Watch

Brees-ing Past Marino's Mark?

FRO's 2009 Drew Brees Watch
By Jon Wagner Sr. Writer at Large Football Reporters Online

One year after passing for the second most yards (5,069) in an NFL season, only 15 yards behind Hall Of Fame quarterback Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084 yards in 1984, New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees is again poised to take aim at Marino's record. FRO follows Brees' prusuit of Marino each week, throughout the season:

Brees’ 2009 Avg. Yards Per Game: 280.00
Avg. Yards Needed To Pass Marino: 307.08

1 Sun 9/13 vs DET W, 45-27 26-34 76.5 6-1 358 4,727
2 Sun 9/20 at PHI W, 48-22 25-34 73.5 3-1 311 4,416
3 Sun 9/27 at BUF W, 27-7 16-29 55.2 0-0 172 4,244
4 Sun 10/4 vs NYJ W, 24-10 20-32 62.5 0-0 190 4,054
5 Bye
6 Sun 10/18 vs NYG W, 48-27 23-30 76.7 4-0 369 3,685
7 Sun 10/25 at MIA
8 Mon 11/2 vs ATL
9 Sun 11/8 vs CAR
10 Sun 11/15 at STL
11 Sun 11/22 at TB
12 Mon 11/30 vs NE
13 Sun 12/6 at WAS
14 Sun 12/13 at ATL
15 Sat 12/19 vs DAL
16 Sun 12/27 vs TB
17 Sun 1/3 at CAR

TOTALS; 192-93 110-159 69.2 13-2 1,400

Oakland talk at the Lake Chalet

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This is just an FYI but I'm planning an occasional meetup at the Oakland Lake Chalet to do a live stream show and video for one hour where we talk about Oakland and the news in general.

I'm doing the first one as an experiment this Wednesday at 5 PM and to 6 PM. If you're in the area, stop by. IF you can't you will be able to find us at and my blogs.

The Lake Chalet is at 1520 Lakeside Drive in Oakland. The map is here:

View Larger Map

I totally recommend the burger - best in Oakland.

Angry Cab Driver abandons car in Oakland - follow-up

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Some thoughts on the Oakland cab problem in the wake of my video and blog. The video is below if you missed it:

Has this happened to you? If so, send an email.

UPDATE: reader email from Adam:

I'm sorry that's happened to you. Here in West Oakland, often times the
cabs won't even come at all, even after repeated calls to the cab

The solution, however, is not more laws, as you suggested in your
column. The solution is to end the monopoly that Friendly Cab has in
Oakland. Open the city up to more cab companies, and there will be
economic consequences for cabbies who don't feel like doing their jobs.

The matter of fixing the cab system in Oakland has been put on the backburner for years. Decades. Aside from Friendly Cab's strangle hold on the Oakland cab market, the media has been almost silent on this issue.

If this were an African American East Oakland crime video it would have been placed where it could get the most attention. In other words, showing society's ills is more valuable than showing those of the institutions that cause them.

But that aside, the Oakland Cab system needs to be fixed. This matter of single company control and bad driver behavior is allowed to go uncontested and unchallenged. I was told the City Manager's Office staffer Barbara Kiley is the person responsible for taxi cab issues in Oakland.

More soon.

Angry Cab Driver abandons car - and me - in Oakland

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What happened to me on Sunday October 18th should not happen to anyone in Oakland, or anywhere.

I was just going to go into San Francisco to catch up with my friend who was finishing the Nike Women's Marathon.  I called "Friendly Cab" to take me from my place near Lake Merritt in Oakland to 19th Street BART Station in downtown Oakland.

I was in a hurry to get there as it was around 3 PM, so even though its just about a mile away I figured cabbing it, as they say, was faster.

So the cab - car number 236 - showed up as I was standing out there early.  Well, what happed was the cab driver activated this automated call system that says "Welcome to DDS; your cab has arrived."   Well I went out to meet the vehicle and there was no cab for a solid four minutes of time.  Then he rounded the corner.

I got in the cab and calmly and normally explained where I was going.  So the cabbie starts down a street such that once he got to Grand Avenue he would pass through five stop lights before we got to Grand and Harrison.  I figured the cabbie could just turn right and use a faster path without stop lights.

But once he did as I really asked him to do without a second thought, he slowed the cab down and tried to just go deliberately slow. I asked if something was wrong. I explained that I was trying to meet my friend and it would be great if he could go faster. I then said I would give him a good tip if he helped out in that way.

So we rounded the corner on Lenox Avenue and all of a sudden the guy pulls over at what was the driveway of an apartment complex at 325 Lenox - without warning and blocking the driveway - then gets out of the car and says I can have the cab but he's going to secure it and then, yelling frantically, ordered me to take my bag out of it. He also said, "You can call the police."

At that point I pulled out my Flip Video Camera and turned it on.

The video tells the rest of the story.

As you can see, he just takes his stuff and walks off.  I got on the phone and told the cab company what happened.  I also explained that I was making a video of the incident.  I wasn't angry at the time; more like surprised and confused because I didn't say anything mean to him and there was no argument until he flew the coup.

I called Friendly Cab and the guy who came over to get me was someone I'd had as a driver before and is a very professional person. He took me to BART without charging me.

But that's happened to me before but it was in 2007.

I was returning from the Miami Super Bowl and got a cab near 12th Street BART in downtown Oakland to go home. The cab driver did not like that I asked to go down Franklin rather than some weird and costly route combination he had in mind.  So he stopped and as he was getting me to leave his car I called the Oakland Police.

They took me home.

Now all of this seems to be just because I make a request that any customer has the right to make.  But here in Oakland we have  cab drivers who seem to want you to spend more money than you should and then try to abuse you when you don't let them.  Here's my evidence.

There should be some kind of law against this action by cab driver as its dangerous. Suppose I was left in an area where I could be robber or worse? And all for what? Because I want to go my way? Come on!

This has gone on for sometime and the City of Oakland has done nothing about it.  The City of Oakland has allowed one cab company, Friendly Cab, to maintain a monopoly and in turn maintain some drivers who treat Oaklanders like this guy treated me.  But the company does have some good and fair drivers who I know - just not that guy.

That cab driver is not the norm in San Francisco, where cabbies really know their stuff and take pride in what they do.  Plus, there's more competition.  In Oakland its like they're doing you a favor rather than providing a service.

Also there's an element of racism of a different kind here: a black man cabbie who does not want another black man passenger to "give him an order," even if taking that order part of the deal of being a cab driver.

And that's the rub: it wasn't "an order" but a request I as a customer have a right to make. I was not acting weird or diva-ish and I talk to everyone. I even asked the cabbie about the warm weather before he went AWOL.

Something has to be done.  I also am explaining my personal fear because that guy knows where I live and was nutty enough to take the action of walking off.  What will he do when he can't get work because of his actions?

I have no idea.

But I do know that I had to show this. I had to take action to show people what's really wrong in Oakland from the position of how Oaklanders are treated.  Be it parking or this, the City of Oakland does not take care of its people.

Isn't it time for that to change?  I think so.  Once again, the City of Oakland, and this time its taxi detail, needs to make a better place and stop maintaining a cab system that harms Oaklanders.