The Token Vice President

John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his Vice Presidential candidate today. Is it a victory for women? Palin wants you to think so, as she made clear in her acceptance speech:

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.

I can't speak for women or minorities; but as an objective observer, I can say that there is a major distinction between what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama accomplished this year and other so-called "advancements" for women and minorities in the past.

Take Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice, for example. No doubt, they are accomplished individuals, but they serve in appointed positions in government. It is one thing for an African American or a woman to be respected enough to be appointed to a high-level position by a powerful white man. It is quite another for them to run a presidential campaign successfully and make it for themselves. That is exactly what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accomplished this year.

Could Sarah Palin, or any other woman, have gotten elected to the Republican ticket on her own? Based on the lineup of Republicans that ran for the nomination, I'm guessing that the answer is no...

Both Clinton and Obama did some great things - their supporters are right to be proud of what they accomplished. However, if a woman were vote for the McCain ticket strictly because of Sarah Palin, it would be a step backward. Not only is Sarah Palin worse on traditional women's issues than both Obama and Biden; voting for the McCain ticket because Palin is on it would be a concession that women can not make it on their own - that they are merely pawns in the game of presidential politics, and that they need to be appointed by men if they want to play.
Racket, scam, gaffle, con... these are all words used at the beginning of every semester to describe the college textbook market. I'll be the first to admit: the whole system is bogus. First you have those professors who author their own textbooks, require students to purchase them for the class they are teaching, and then collect royalties. Then you have other professors who are simply getting kickbacks from book publishers if they require the publishers' books for their classes. Finally you have professors who just seem to pick the most expensive books on the market, without any regard to what their students can afford.

Let me make this clear: traditional laws of supply and demand do not apply to the college textbook market. In a market favorable to students; the students in a particular course would be allowed to collectively decide which textbook to use. They would take into account factors such as the cost of the book and its quality. They would not select books strictly based on the fact that their professor wrote it and they certainly would not get kickbacks from the publishers. The professors, in turn, would build their course around the book or books that the students select. But lets get real, this will never happen, because professors are considered the ultimate authority on the subjects they teach, and therefore are supposed to keep the best interest of their students in mind at all times, even though there are plenty of instances where this isn't the case.

It hurts me to hear that there are students who are spending $300, $500 or more on textbooks per semester. You don't have to do this to yourselves. I have five suggestions that will keep your college textbook bill to a bare minimum. Think it can't be done? In every semester I've been in college, except the first (when I was a naive little freshman) I have spent no more than $100 per semester on textbooks.

1. Don't Buy The Books - this is the most obvious and also the suggestion that most people tell me is crazy. You must buy the textbooks or you'll fail the class!.. they say. I'm willing to bet that if you go back through and look at all the books you've purchased for classes, there will be some that you literally never opened. Did you fail the class? If not, then could you have gotten by without buying the book? Some professors put a book on a "required" list and then on the first day of class tell you that you're only going to read a chapter or two out of it anyway. Some put books on the "required" list even though they're not going to test on it or lecture on it, but think it is a good supplemental book. I guess they have to do this since college book stores don't have an "optional books" section.

2. Never Ever Buy a New Book - if someone else already purchased a book, let them take the initial depreciation hit on it and don't give the author or publisher the benefit of the doubt by putting more copies into circulation. Used books are cheaper because they're usually a little worn in and a large supply of them on the market pushes down prices. Buy them online, buy them at bookswaps, or buy them from a student who took the course last semester; it doesn't really matter where you get it from. Don't get me wrong, I buy plenty of books new - but they are books I want to own for my personal collection - and to this day, a professor is yet to assign a book that I enjoy so much that I want it for my own personal library.

3. Two Words: Old Editions - what are the major differences between new editions and old editions? Sometimes the chapters are in a different order; sometimes there is a new forward or updated references to iPods and other technology; rarely is the content so different that you would be baffled by a test on the material. There is one instance when old editions don't work; and that is in the case of math, science, economics, or any class where the professor assigns problems from the end of the chapter. Personally, I think this is lazy teaching, but there is a way around this anyway, the next suggestion...

4. Exercise Your Right to Photocopy - if you are in a class with ten or more people; chances are that at least half of them (and probably a much higher percentage) got suckered into buying the newest edition of the book. Use their gullability to your advantage. Look through the syllabus and find out what is crucial from this book or edition, ask someone to borrow their copy until the next class, and then go to the library and photocopy your heart away. At 10 cents a copy, you can copy 100 pages and only spend 10 bucks. That is probably more than enough to cover all of the problem sets that a new edition has in it.

5. Check the Library - this doesn't always work for obscure anthologies or straight-up textbooks, because libraries don't purchase them and because too many students need them. However, there are instances where a professor will assign a New York Times bestseller to the reading list or a literature class will require a classic for reading. In this case, check the public library, they are likely to have these books available for your use at no cost.

That is it. The next time someone complains about spending triple digits on textbooks, you can lean back, grin, and think about all the extra debt you aren't taking on, or the meals you won't have to skip, so that your hard earned money can go to textbook publishers and the professors they pay off.

Dennis: Wake Up America!

Regardless of what you think about Dennis or the content of this speech; on thing is certain: this is just plain hilarious.

I made the unfortunate mistake of listening to some Republican pundits giving their opinions after the Democratic National Convention on Monday. One thing that I found amazing (but not surprising) was that the Republican pundits found every single strategic move that the Democrats made objectionable. Granted, I'm sure Democratic pundits would say the same about Republicans, but the whole situation confirmed how pointless listening to political pundits are. Regardless of what happens, the pundits will say it is wrong and that the exact opposite should have happened. Consider these three examples:

On Biden: Obama selected Biden as his VP and the Republican pundits object. They argue that if Obama was truly a "change" candidate that he wouldn't have selected an old Washington insider. So what if Obama would have selected someone much like himself? The Republican pundits would argue that the Obama ticket severely lacks experience and that Obama should have selected someone with Washington experience to balance out the ticket.

On Clinton: Republican pundits object to the fact that Clinton didn't get selected as VP. After all, they argue, she did receive 18 million votes, so it only makes sense to put her on the ticket. So what if Obama had selected Clinton? The Republican pundits would argue that it is a terrible choice - that for every voter that Clinton brings aboard, another moderate gets turned off; that Clinton fires up the right-wing base; and that Clinton supporters would still feel slighted that she didn't get the nomination and they will vote for McCain anyways.

On Michelle: Michelle Obama's opening speech at the Democratic National Convention was a generally positive presentation about her and Barack's life. Republican pundits object because they say the speech was too soft on McCain. So what if Michelle Obama had gone hardline and railed on McCain? The pundits would say that the Democrats are being ruthlessly negative and that Americans hate and get turned off by negative campaign tactics.

This phenomenon occurs on just about every issue that a pundit is called in to comment about. The takeaway is that these pundits, regardless of party affiliation, and useless at helping us understand the issues and the candidates. Admittedly, most reporters, journalists and bloggers have some slant - and you'll be hard pressed to find any media that is truly objective. But pundits are a species of their own, who take the "slant" to the ultimate extremes.
Remember Harriet? These folks almost make her look rational by comparison... yikes.

Bush Then vs. Bush Now

In June 2000, during George W. Bush's run for the presidency, this little gem appeared in the New York Times:

Gov. George W. Bush of Texas said today that if he was president, he would bring down gasoline prices through sheer force of personality, by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude. ''I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply,'' Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, told reporters here today. ''Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.''

And 8 years later... this little gem appeared in the AP wire:
President Bush on Saturday blamed the Democratic-led Congress for the high cost of gasoline and renewed his call for expanded offshore drilling to increase U.S. oil supplies... "This Congress has been one of the most unproductive on record. They've failed to address the challenge of high gas prices," the president said. "They need to send me a bill next month that I can sign so we can bring relief to drivers, small business owners, farmers and ranchers and every American affected by high prices at the pump."
I guess "sheer force of personality" and 6 years of Republican controlled congress still wasn't enough to do anything, eh, Mr. Bush?
America is on the edge of its seat; anxiously awaiting the announcement of Obama's Vice Presidential candidate. For many, this doesn't mean being glued to CNN or NPR, it means watching their email or text message inboxes. The Obama campaign has been hyping the VP announcement for weeks - ensuring supporters that they will be the first to know when the news is released. While this strategy promises to make Obama supporters feel special and important, it also accomplishes a much more important marketing goal.

The Obama campaign is in the process of building a massive database with thousands (or more) names that can be utilized throughout the campaign. Whether Obama needs to respond quickly to attacks, whether he needs to push out important news, or whether he simply wants to motivate his supporters to go vote, Obama will be able to market directly to these individuals. Email marketing isn't new to politics, but the Obama campaign has taken it to the next level. It may be hard to see the value in this strategy now, as it might not reap immediate rewards, but it has the potential to be critically important as the election nears.
One thing that has baffled me about the political climate lately is has become dominated by debates over offshore drilling in the United States. Even more baffling is the bogus logic that undermines most of these debates. For instance, it seems to be assumed that if we drill for oil off the coast in the United States, that we as Americans are entitled to all of that oil at a low cost. This just plain isn't the case. Cenk Uygur explained in the Huffington Post last month that whichever company extracts the oil will simply sell it on the world market to the highest bidder.

The issue goes even deeper, however. Think of the oil market as a giant bucket. Right now companies extract oil and then pour it into this giant bucket. The logic follows that once the US starts drilling that more oil will end up in the bucket. But wait... this is based on the flawed assumption that all other producers will continue pouring their oil into the bucket at a fixed pace. What guarantees that if the US ramps up its oil production that OPEC simply won't scale back theirs?

The guys running OPEC are pretty darn smart, and right now they are holding all the cards. American politicians, looking for a "quick fix" to energy prices, want us to believe that dumping more oil into the bucket means there will be more supply available to dip our little hands into; which is exactly why the debates over offshore drilling is nothing but a waste of hot air, and why offshore drilling is not a solution at all to energy prices. I'm willing to bet the guys over at OPEC can't help but look at our petty fights over offshore drilling and chuckle a little.

Living in a Daze

How are Americans setting themselves up for another mini-disaster? USA Today has the answer...

Car shoppers who panicked in June and July about gas prices are losing interest in small cars and hybrids as fuel prices have declined. As gas prices topped $4 a gallon for about seven weeks this summer, truck and SUV sales plummeted, and small-car sales soared. But, which attracts about 50% of people using the Internet to research their next car purchase, says research interest in compact crossover SUVs now is on the rise... the future of compact and smaller cars may not be as bright as some predict. In addition to's report, a study by consulting group Acxiom found most buyers won't look to small cars for their next purchase but may downsize in the class of vehicle they drive. Owners of big SUVs, for instance, would more likely buy a smaller SUV or crossover, not skip to a small car just to save gas.

Apparently America has already forgotten about what happened earlier this summer, let alone what might happen in the coming summers...

Car Free in America

Some folks love their cars, so much that they spend every penny they earn (and even some money they don't have) on them. Others hate cars and would be perfectly happy never getting behind a wheel. I suspect, however, that most people have a love/hate relationship with vehicles - they value the convenience but dislike the cost. Owning a car isn't cheap - AAA released a report this year that indicates the average cost of owning a car is between $7100 and $9100 per year, depending on the make and model. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that cars are the second biggest expense for average Americans behind homes and home mortgages. Is it worth it? To car lovers, the cost can always be justified; but to more and more, the answer is starting to switch to "no".

"No, it can not be done" is often the answer I get to the question: is it possible to live comfortably without a car? A recent Washington Post front page article does a good job explaining how we got where we are and presumably why so many people feel that it can not be done. Nevertheless, I think it can, you just need to be in the right place. Some cities will make progress in the next few years to make it easier to live comfortably without a car, but in America we want instant gratification, and having studied this question for months now, I've concluded that there are 5 cities in the United States where you can currently live comfortably without a car.

How did these cities get this way? They emphasized three things: public transit, bicycling, and car sharing. They did not necessarily emphasize each equally, some are more heavily geared toward bicycling and others transit, but most are integrated in some way. For example, bicyclists use transit to extend trips and shared cars are often parked at rapid transit stations. Ultimately, these measures allow for a lifestyle that is promising and rewarding, even without your own car.

Before I give you the list, I must say this: I know there will be folks out there who will read this and think, I do live in one of these cities, and I could not live comfortably without a car. If you live or work in an exurb of one of these cities, it very well could be the case. However, I'm not making the argument that everyone who lives in these metro areas does live comfortably without a car, only that they could. Where you live and where you work are decisions that were made in the past in some cases cannot easily be altered. However, when evaluating future job offers, you might take into consideration factors like where a job is located, in addition to factors like salary and benefits. When evaluating where to live, you might take into consideration how connected a neighborhood is to where you work and like to spend time, rather than just how nice the house is and who the neighbors are. That said, Honorable mention goes to Boston and Philadelphia, although they still have some progress to make. Here you go...

5. Portland

Photo from Wikipedia

Portland... the bicycle capital of the USA. According to the Census Bureau, 3.5% of commuters in Portland use bicycles to get around. While that number may seem on the low end, consider that the national average is only 0.4% and and bicycle hostile cities like Dallas and Oklahoma City are only 0.2%. The MAX Light Rail system opened in the mid 1980s and has been expanding ever since. MAX is one of (maybe the only?) light rail systems in America that has hooks dedicated to bicycles, and many cyclists use light rail to extend trips. Portland was also a pioneer in car sharing, when Car Sharing Portland (later Flexcar and eventually Zipcar) was founded in 1998.

4. Bay Area

Photo from Wikipedia

On a recent visit from Dallas to San Francisco I found myself sitting next to a friendly woman from Oakland. She had lots of great things to say about the area and plenty of recommendations for things to see and do. Most notably, she recommended against renting a car during the trip (I wasn't planning on it anyway) and told me that she and her husband had been living happily in Oakland for years without owning a car. They get around by bicycle, and for long trips they combine biking with the Bay Area Rapid Transit. It didn't seem like she was alone - I spotted dozens of bicyclists on the BART that night, which was interesting to say the least, especially because it was already after 11:00pm. Some parts of the Bay Area still have progress to make. Silicon Valley is somewhat popular with bicyclists but severely lacks transit access. Zipcar has a presence in San Fransisco, Oakland and Stanford, but car sharing in other parts of the Bay is slim pickings.

3. Chicago

Photo from Wikipedia

If you ask a native of Chicago to describe the L, they will probably tell you that the L IS Chicago. The century old rapid transit system is still going strong. It is only one of 2 systems in the United States that runs 24/7 and as such, is a reliable means of transportation, regardless of the day or time. Chicago's leadership has been strong on bicycles. Mayor Daley has said that he wants to make Chicago the "city that bikes". Bike commuters claim they can beat vehicles commuters from the north side of Chicago to the Loop by utilizing Chicago's beautiful lake front trails; and the McDonalds Cycle Center provides showers for bicycle commuters, lockers, and a maintenance facility. Zipcar has a decent presence in Chicago, with most of the cars clustered downtown and in urban neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Wicker Park.

2. Washington DC

Photo from Wikipedia

Despite its criticisms, Metro is undoubtedly the most successful post-war transit system in America. The rail system, despite consisting of only 5 lines, has the second highest ridership in the country and it does a fairly thorough job of providing access to key neighborhoods in Washington, Virginia and Maryland. Zipcar has a strong presence in the area, with most of the cars clustered around Metro stations, making it easy to access a car, regardless of what part of the city you find yourself in. Bicycling is less popular than in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, Washington was hard hit by sprawl problems, and monster-truck SUVs still make their ways into the city from the exurbs, making life less than ideal for cyclists in the nation's capital.

1. New York City

Photo from Wikipedia

What can I say? Everybody knows that only a fool would own a car in Manhattan, right? Between the Subway, the cabs, and the fact that everything you could ever need is within walking distance, it just isn't necessary.
If retailers are serious about lowering their costs, and if consumers are serious about saving the environment, an absolute no-brainer would be to alter the way we utilize plastic bags. Progressive states, like California, want to tax plastic bags, or ban them altogether; but that isn't going over too well politically. Sure, Whole Foods has its Bring Your Own Bag program, where they give you 5 cents off per bag; and sure Giant Eagle has its plastic bag recycling program. These are all good starting points, though they have their flaws. Sometimes you're out and simply don't have your Whole Foods bag or don't have anywhere to store your plastic bag until you can recycle it. What bothers me is that our current system requires you to opt-out of plastic bags, rather than opt-in. Convenient? Maybe. Efficient or cost effective? No.

Case in point: last week I bought a bag of coffee beans at Whole Foods; I figured that with just one item, something that I could easily carry home, I wouldn't need a bag, but before I finished paying, the cashier had already shoved the item into a bag. Yesterday I went to CVS to buy a bottle of Pepsi; again, a single item that I could have easily carried out of the store on its own, yet before I finished punching in my debit card PIN, the bottle was already in a plastic bag. At Giant Eagle, cashiers bag items like a gallon of milk, or a 6 pack of Pepsi, even though these items are just as easy to carry without the bag. Why are we doing this!?

But it gets even worse. If you aren't quick on the draw and your tin of mints gets bagged and then you say, "no bag, please", the cashier usually grumbles now that the bag isn't conveniently folded and ready to place items in, sometimes they even throw the bag out! Psychologically, people respond to whatever the default option available to them is. If employers require someone to opt-in to 401k plans, significantly fewer people save for retirement than if they require you to opt-out. The same is true for plastic bags. If a person buys a bottle of Pepsi and it isn't bagged by default, they will more than likely carry it out of the store and probably think nothing of it; but if the store bags it without, they will probably carry the drink out of the store in the bag, then proceed to throw the bag in the nearest trash can and walk around with the drink in hand.

Now before you go blasting me and pointing out how necessary bags are for big shopping trips, keep in mind that I'm not suggesting we stop bagging everything. What makes obvious sense is to switch to an opt-in policy for plastic bags. If people want their pack of gum in a bag, so be it, but make them ask for it. I'm sick of having to take my items out of plastic bags that I never wanted in the first place before I leave the store; and take note retailers: this can save you money too!

Cleveland's Urban Renewal

I've been thinking a lot about the theory that urban centers will be revived over the next few years at the expense of car-centered exurbs. Theories are all good and fun, but having solid evidence that it is happening is a lot more exciting. Even in rusty old Cleveland, there are a handful of urban development projects; which I've been surprised to find out that many suburbanites have no idea about. I've picked my top 5 favorite mixed-use development projects in Cleveland. A few of these projects are already under construction and a few are planned, but they all look awesome to me and a good step forward for urban mixed use development.

5. Stonebridge
Status: Early phases complete/late phases planned
Comments: The West Bank of the Flats has seen better days. Sure, there are still things happening at the Nautica Complex and Shooters, but most would describe this part of town as "past its prime". The location on the Cuyahoga River has plenty of potential, and has probably been underutalized to this point. There is more than enough unused space in this part of town to develop into something truly progressive. The current location lacks a link to public transit, and that could change in the future, although current plans do not call for it. (Photos from the Stonebridge website).

4. East 4th Street
Status: Mostly complete/late stage construction
Comments: It was only a few years ago that Euclid Avenue between Public Square and East 9th was one of the grimiest parts of Downtown Cleveland. Formerly boarded up buildings are now restaurants, abandoned office and industrial spaces are now apartments and condos, concerts happen almost every night at the House of Blues, and stand-up comedy can be seen at Hilarities. Enjoy a game of bowling or shoot some pool at Corner Alley, have an "imperial pint" at Flannery's Pub, or enjoy Cleveland's finest cuisine at Lola. (Photo from the East 4th Website).

3. Avenue District
Status: Under construction
Comments: On the east side of Downtown Cleveland, a new neighborhood is being constructed. The Avenue District is mostly residential, promising luxury penthouses, lofts and townhouses, and there will certainly be room for limited retail and restaurants. The neighborhood appears to be ideal for those interested in downtown living, with close proximity to many attractions but without the hustle and bustle of living above a bar or a club. (Photo from the Avenue District Website).

2. Flats East Bank
Status: Planned/early stage construction
Comments: Flats East Bank was formerly known for being the place to party in Cleveland. Now anyone who goes down there sees boarded up buildings, graffiti, and serious urban decay. Most of the bars and Clubs moved up the hill to West 6th Street and Cleveland's main concert venue got relocated to East 4th. The Flats East Bank project calls for a boardwalk along the Cuyahoga River with plenty of restaurants and bars, condos and apartments on top of retail space, a new grocery market, movie theater, 5-star boutique hotel, and office space, including Eaton Corp's headquarters. The RTA Waterfront line will cut through the heart of the development. If properly executed, this truly could be "the place to live" in Cleveland. (Photos from The Plain Dealer).

1. Uptown
Status: Planned
Comments: With everything happening Downtown, it can be easy to forget about other promising Cleveland neighborhoods. As home to Cleveland's fast-growing biotech industry, University Circle is already a key job center in the area, but to this point, the area lacks solid "urban living". Most of University Circle's residents live in dorms or university-owned apartments, which are generally off limits to anyone other than students. There are some turn of the century houses in Little Italy, but nothing resembling luxury lofts or penthouses. The Uptown project will be connected to Cleveland Clinic via the new RTA Healthline and a newly planned "Little Italy" rapid transit station will connect Uptown to Downtown. (Photos from The Plain Dealer)