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Showing posts from November, 2008

Blogging Outliers

I normally don't write book reviews here on Extraordinary Observations, and I won't post a comprehensive review now, but I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, and I think some of his analysis can be connected to the world of blogging. Outliers is a solid book that I would recommend to anyone. I'm not sure I enjoyed it quite as much as his other works, Tipping Point and Blink, but for a quick and easy read, Gladwell's new book is worth your time. (The rest of this post contains some teasers, so if you are serious about going into the book fresh, you might want to check this post out once you're finished with the book).

The description of Outliers reads:
Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers" - the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are…

End Black Friday

It wouldn't be the day after Thanksgiving if I didn't have something to say about the institution of consumerism in America. In 2006 I pointed out the irony of how we act on Thanksgiving verses how we act only hours later on Black Friday; last year I blogged about some minor injuries that people endured, some fistfights, and scuffles with police over the purchases of trivial items.. This year, I was planning to find some footage of people acting like animals and poking fun of it here on Extraordinary Observations. When I logged on to YouTube this morning, however, I found something more sad and disturbing than I have ever seen before.

What happened this morning on Long Island is tragic, and it should never happen again. 364 days of the year we can function as a society without this type of violence and savage behavior at retail stores. Only on Black Friday are we not only given the opportunity, but also in some ways expected, to act this way. Why do retail stores need to open a…

The Real Entry-Level Job Market

Penelope Trunk thinks that young people ought to be grateful this Thanksgiving for their immunity to turmoil in the job market:
I know that we have a bad economy, so bad that we have a not-yet-President who is running the country from the Chicago Hilton so that the markets don't implode while Bush gives pardons for cronies. But can we just take a minute for a reality check? It's not really bad for people who are young. It's a part of the world you don't hear much about in mainstream media. Think about it. Most media is in NYC, and you don't make a lot of money as a writer, so most people who are writing in the tri-State area are married to bankers. Yes, this is a huge generalization, but it is a stereotype because it's true. Two neighborhoods—Montclair, NJ, and Park Slope, NY—are the bastions of media elite married to banker elite. And it's a combustible moment there, demonstrated by how we get a lot of reporting about how sad it is for the bankers right now…

Home Ownership & The American Dream

Part Two: How Desirable is Home Ownership?

On Saturday I described the strange way that home ownership is marketed in America, as a type of investment vehicle and an equity-building tool. I suggested that homes are only (sometimes) profitable investments because we are allowed to buy them at incredible leverage ratios; these huge leverage ratios have also forced a lot of unsuspecting people into painfully difficult circumstances thanks to the recent housing crisis. Now that the myth that home prices will never decline has been shattered, and as thousands of Americans lose hard-earned wealth in the decline of their homes, another question to be asked is: how personally desirable is home ownership?

When I graduate from college next year, the first order of business will be to launch my career, and finding a place to live will be a close second. There is no doubt that I will be moving into a rental property. After graduation I will have a pile of student debt waiting to be paid off. In an …

Home Ownership & The American Dream

Part One: How Did We Get Here?

If there is anything as American as baseball and apple pie, it is probably the idea of owning your own home. Whatever their intentions, government has provided disproportionate incentives to lure people into purchasing homes, and in light of the financial and housing crisis, a lot of people are starting to question how we got to this point and whether home ownership is even something we should aspire to in the future.

Home ownership is typically pitched as a means to invest and build personal equity, and for whatever reason, it is marketed as one of the safest assets in existence. For investing purposes, however, homes may not be all they are cracked up to be. One takeaway from Jim Cramer’s book Real Money (I can’t say with confidence there were other valuable takeaways) is that for any given period in time, stocks have outperformed all other asset classes, including real estate.

So why take out huge mortgages to buy homes when we could just rent our housin…

The Value of Transit

You'd have to be a pretty big transit dork to anxiously read through Reconnecting America's new 34 page report, prepared for the Federal Transit Administration, providing detailed background information and outlining policy recommendations for creating and capturing value from transit systems in America. Having just finished looking at the report, I must recommend it to anyone who is interested in the intricacies and economics of transit systems and subsequent transit-oriented development. With President-elect Obama at least verbally committed to promoting transit, now is a unique window of opportunity to push a lot of good ideas into reality.

Can We Kill Ignorance in the Blogosphere?

Christine Borne is sick and tired of all the negativity and ignorance in the comments section of articles. I certainly can't disagree. A few weeks ago I blogged about some despicable comments left on an article about young people who had taken a passion for politics this past election season. Unfortunately, I'm not as optimistic as Christine that we can "take back" the comments section, no matter how hard we try.

This is, of course, not a new discussion. In July, Sheila McClear made the case over at Gawker that newspapers shouldn't allow comment sections on their websites:
Comments are thought to be an added value to a newspaper's site—providing another reason to read. You come for the article, and stay for the interesting discussion. The only problem is, there is no interesting discussion. Almost never. Not even from the mythical supersmart New York Times readers.The obvious solution would be to have newspapers control all user subm…

The Credit Crunch is Crippling Cleveland

The Plain Dealer publishes my letter to its Letters Unlimited blog:
The credit crunch could not have hit Cleveland at a worse time. Michelle Jarboe's recent front-page feature, reporting that Cleveland's commercial development projects may come to a grinding halt, given the current economic conditions, is extremely disheartening to those who have been holding out hope that Cleveland's urban renewal may soon move from a dream to a reality.

The credit crunch is a nationwide phenomenon that may affect every city across America; but it puts some, including Cleveland, in an especially precarious situation. Cities that got ahead of the curve, and have already made great progress renewing their core urban areas and gentrifying previously decaying neighborhoods, will become relatively stronger and more attractive compared to cities that have not. Unfortunately, a crippling of development may confirm Cleveland as a less-than-desirable city for many who are seeking exciting and walkab…

Missed Opportunities on RTA's Healthline

Streetsblog is hyping Steven Litt's piece in the Plain Dealer as a mark of success for Bus Rapid Transit. Having spent years watching Cleveland's transit project come to life, just as long thinking about the impact the RTA Healthline will have on the city, and having heard the initial reactions to the Healthline, I have a few thoughts of my own to add.

Photo via The Plain Dealer

The RTA Healthline is undoubtedly an improvement over the overcrowded and chronically unreliable #6 bus that used to provide service up and down Euclid Avenue. The corridor project is also a major improvement over the pothole infested and crumbling street that connects Downtown to University Circle. Additionally, the bike lanes down Euclid Avenue are a major step forward for bicycle commuting in Cleveland. With frequent and 24/7 service, the Healthline makes moving between Public Square, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Clinic and University Circle simple and convenient.

At a $400 $200 million pr…

A New National Holiday

A week ago today was an exciting day for many, including myself, who voted for the 44th president of the United States. Now I sit at home, on Veterans Day, and wonder why I get today off of work but not last Tuesday? Really, what I find curious is why we can't merge voting day with Veterans Day to make it easier for people to get out and vote? Would it be so much to ask for congress to at least debate the merits of merging voting day with Veterans Day? Certainly there is nothing more patriotic than celebrating our right to vote. I can't imagine that many veterans would object. It does, of course, seem a little too easy, which makes me skeptical of the whole idea.

Hypocrisy of Joe the Plumber

When the McCain campaign decided to use Joe "the plumber" Wurzelbacher as the spokesperson for average, hard-working, entrepreneurial Americans, they actually demonstrated that success in America isn't all about being dedicated and hard-working; that major success comes from being in the right place at the right time, and that sometimes you don't even need to work hard to get there. Joe the plumber could have theoretically been anybody: Sam the barber, Emily the nurse, Kevin the gas man, Carl the construction worker, or Rob the blogger. If Joe the plumber is supposed to be the quintessential representation of all these individuals, he stopped at the moment that his name was dragged into the campaign.

You see, Sam, Emily, Kevin, Carl, and Rob are all still regular, average people whose lives continue on as they did a month ago. They aren't holding press conferences or appearing on major news shows to share opinions; they aren't getting offers for book deals and…

Man Behind the Curtain

When people find something they really enjoy reading, an author whose work they really admire - it's natural to want to know about that person and their life. This is especially true for blogs, as the very nature of blogging makes the style more personal, more intimate, and less edited than just about any other form of writing. Bloggers are passionate and dedicated to the topics they write about. They work hard to earn the trust of their readers; and readers want to believe they know all about their favorite bloggers.

Unfortunately, what a blogger reveals on a blog doesn't necessarily indicate who he or she is deep down. Yes, blogging is a part of the person's life, and the topics he or she writes about are obviously something they care about; but it doesn't always tell the whole story. You don't always know who these people eat lunch with every day, where or with who they spend their Friday and Saturday nights, and what they think about before they fall asleep each…

Earl Blumenauer for Transportation Secretary

The United States Secretary of Transportation technically isn't even one of the 10 most important positions in the executive branch of the Federal Government; but in my book it is one of the most important jobs out there right now. The United States is at a transportation cross-road, where we will have to decide whether to continue propping up "car culture" or whether to make progress toward building a society and economy less dependent on a very limited number of options for transportation. Barack Obama ran a campaign promising change, and if he is serious about bringing change to the Department of Transportation, he should offer the position to Earl Blumenauer.

Politico (via Yglesias) reports that Blumenauer is already one of the contenders for the appointment. He is the House Rep from Oregon's 3rd congressional district, and perhaps one of the biggest advocates for alternatives to car culture. Unless you live in Oregon, you, like me, have probably never heard of th…

America's Hottest Neighborhoods

As a follow-up to yesterday's call on President-elect Obama to launch a "transit space race" - more should be known about the market for transit and transit-oriented development in America. How do we know that people want to live and work near transit? The open market tells us so. Matt Yglesias points out the semi-obvious:
Seriously, these trends show the need to build more and better transit lines and also to allow for greater density near our key transit nodes. These areas are desirable, which is great, but we don’t need to live in a universe where they’re so rare that only rich people can afford to live in them. We need to make the transit services that there’s clearly demand for, and given that building rail lines is expensive we need to make sure that the housing supply in their immediate vicinity grows robustly.Houses, condos, and apartments near transit lines in America are already selling at a premium because... wait for it... the demand greatly outstrips the supp…

Call to Obama: We Want Transit

I would like to be among the first to call on President-elect Obama to launch what Reconnecting America calls the "transit space-race". We gave car culture a chance in America, and we ended up with sprawl, pollution, traffic, and as I recently noted, a loss of individual freedom. The United States is desperate for transit infrastructure, and a recent piece in Salon notes that transit systems across the country are packed to capacity, with interest and ridership at all time highs. The Bush Administration's Federal Transit Administration has made getting funding for individual transit projects difficult and beauracratic - increasing the costs of the few projects that actually do get a stamp of approval.

President-elect Obama has the opportunity not only to provide cities across America with the resources they desperately need to jumpstart transit projects; he also has the opportunity to stabilize what is becoming an increasingly shaky economy. Other countries get it. With t…

Voting Incentives: Corporate Goodwill or Consumer Driven Society?

I was already out the door of the polling place and on my way to work Tuesday morning when I realized I didn't receive an "I voted" sticker. After arriving at work and noticing various individuals walking around with red stickers on their shirts, I logged onto my Twitter account and jokingly posted about my disappointment for not getting one of those stickers. A follower quickly tweeted back, saying: no free Starbucks for you today. I immediately remembered an article I had read the previous day about freebies that companies were giving out on election day:
Several national food chains with Northeast Ohio locations will offer free treats today to celebrate democracy.

Ben & Jerry's, which has a store on North Park Boulevard in University Heights, will give away cones from 5 to 8 p.m., no proof of voting required.

Krispy Kreme, which has stores on Pearl Road in Middleburg Heights and on Maple Street in Akron, will award you a star-shaped, blue-and-red-sprinkled doughn…

Yes We Did!

Tonight is undoubtedly an exciting and electrifying evening for progressives, liberals, moderates, and even some conservatives. After nearly eight years, many of us finally have something to celebrate. I could talk about all the potential the new administration has and the huge number of opportunities available. I imagine there will be plenty of that in the blogosphere; and there are, nevertheless, a few more abstract victories where I want to draw attention.

First, tonight is a victory for hope over fear. We have been told for years that the world is a scary place, that we are all in danger, and that if we don't put our full unconditional trust in America's leaders that there will be hell to pay. We were convinced, out of fear, to go to war, to give up many of our civil liberties, and to re-elect the leadership that put us in that situation. John McCain's campaign, as an extension, was packed with fear-inducing depictions of Barack Obama and other congressional Democrats. …

Election Day Ground Game

Jason volunteered to be a poll watcher in Akron, OH, but the campaign already had it more than covered.
I actually went door to door on the south side of Akron. Obama had sooo many volunteers in the area that every identified Obama door in the area got knocked on 3 times in the last 48 hours. The organization of the Obama ground game was far to good for McCain to overcome.

First Time Voters: Die-Hard College Kids

Bubba and his friends cast their first presidential ballots at a polling place near the University of Dayton...
I awoke at 5:30am in order to ensure I did not wait in the projected long lines. After meeting with two friends, we walked 3 minutes to our voting location. We reached the church at 5:50am, and there were already four other people waiting: two volunteers and two voters. A few groggy University of Dayton students stumbled over to the church, still in their pajamas, also attempting to cast their vote as early as possible.

At 6:20am, I became concerned when I saw no volunteers and no signs of life within the church. At 6:21am, a man appeared from behind the church and grumbled, "you enter back here!" An elderly couple told our group of voters that "this is where we have always entered to vote."

After being lead into the church's basement, also serving as a makeshift indoor playground for children, the group of voters, now 25 strong, were required to si…

First Time Voters: Blast from the Past

Tree cast her first presidential ballot this morning in University Heights, OH...
Honestly, it was nothing out-of-the ordinary. Small gradeschool gymnasium (at Gearity Elementary), senior citizen volunteers who had already lost any semblance of patience by 7:00AM, and a thin veneer of order backed up by a commanding presence of nobody-really-knows-exactly-what-all-the-rules-are: like what happens if your ballot rips and the machine doesn't take it, or what to do in case of large, angry men who are late for work and ready to argue about the generally-accepted norm of standing in line.

Not that the lines were all that long anyway -- ten minutes at most -- and the whole process went pretty quickly. I felt almost as if I was voting in the fifties, especially with the paper ballots, the cafeteria tables set up with cardboard dividers in the middle, and the genial gradeschool gym setting, complete with yellowed posters of stretching tips on the wall. I was brusquely brought back to the…

First Time Voters: In the Boondocks

David submits his first presidential ballot in Hiram, OH...
I waited 45 minutes to vote in Hiram (which sucked). We had 4 electronic and 1 paper voting station for a village of ~1000 people. Besides the long wait, I didn't have any trouble--though I watched some people get denied after 45 minutes of waiting because their driver's license was out of state, and they don't accept passports.

Granted, this is the fault of the voter..

I voted on a machine, and I did think it was a bit shady that McCain's name did not appear on the first page, and the voter needed to hit "Next" in order to access the page where his name appeared. It took me a full 45 seconds or so to figure out how I would have voted McCain (if I would have wanted to). I can only imagine how an older person would have struggled with this. (Admittedly, I may have skipped the directions, but it was still less than intuitive).
McCain's name is hard to find on the Hiram voting machines? By the McCain/Pa…

First Time Voters: Getting Out Early

With a lot of first-time presidential voters living out of town or at college, not everyone got to visit the polls today.

Nick voted last Saturday in Lake County, OH...
I voted early at the lake county board of elections in Painesville, OH. I had to wait in line for 2 and a half hours to get a ballot; which i was allowed to fill out at home and bring back if i wanted. How does that make any sense?

When asked how many people voted on that day one of the organizers responded with, "about 700." It hardly makes waiting in that line on a Saturday, and early voting in general, seem like a valuable use of time. According to the organizer's numbers there are 150,000 registered voters in Lake County, enough to make a few hundred overly patient people a lack of concern.Phil submitted his ballot a few weeks ago at the Cuyahoga BOE...
I voted at the BOE in Cuyahoga. I voted before registration closed, and they actually found a problem with my registration. They had no problem fixing it …

I Voted Today!

Today was the big day - my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. After weeks of anticipation the day I had finally come. I was temped to vote early, as early voting was getting hyped to the sky by the Obama campaign, and I was getting emails nearly every day telling me to vote before today. Nevertheless, having heard stories of the long-lines at the early-voting locations themselves, I decided to wait it out until election day.

I live in Cuyahoga County, OH: Euclid, ward 6, precinct A, and my polling place is the Lake Shore Christian Church, about a half mile from my house.

Having seen pictures on TV of early-voting lines stretching for miles, and having heard anecdotes of people in Cuyahoga county who waited for hours outside the board of elections, I was prepared for the worst. On the other hand, I have voted at this particular location twice in the past, during the general elections in 2006 and 2007 and never experienced anything even resembling a line. I arrived at t…

Four Years Ago Today

Twas the night before the election and the air was cold in Cleveland, OH. John Kerry and George Bush had gone to war in the buckeye state and the victor was soon to be decided. There are not many days that I remember with great clarity, but November 1st, 2004 seems to be one of them. I was 17 years old at the time - not even old enough to vote; but they didn't discriminate at the John Kerry rally that night in Cleveland. I headed over to the Mall in downtown Cleveland around sun down. There were already tens of thousands walking the streets and the city was alive with excitement over the possibility of soon having new leadership in the White House.

It isn't shocking to see tens of thousands of people gathered in Cleveland, but usually they pack the football stadium, ballpark or arena; and rarely do you find that many people gathered together in a public space. After waiting in a long line, passing through a set of metal detectors and finding spot with a nice view of the stage, …

Are Long Lines a Poll Tax?

Rachel Maddow is calling long lines at early-voting locations a poll tax.

Maddow is right in noting that time spent in long voting lines is time not spent doing something else; she is also correct that everyone's time has value; and I would add that long lines reflect very poorly on the fact that the world's "greatest democracy" can barely operate an election. I do, however, question, who really loses from long polling lines.

If we make the bold assumption that a person's time is worth their full working wage, then we can calculate how much it costs someone to wait in a 3, 4 or 5 hour line. On one end of the spectrum, someone who is making a very low wage, maybe enough to barely get by, would be highly impacted by long poll lines in the sense that - even though they may only be foregoing 30 or 40 bucks - it might be a meal that they are unable to feed their family or the few hours per week that they do not get to see their family. On the other end of the spectrum, …

A Technician’s View of the Election

Election numbers and statistics can easily become overwhelming if you aren't picky about which you follow. Between the half-dozen daily tracking polls, state polls, variations of "likely voter" models, plus everything else out there; and with both sides drawing attention to whichever single outlier poll shows them with a distinct edge, making solid conclusions can be difficult. I have been following three sources this election season: MSNBC's electoral map,'s electoral map, and the prediction market's winner take all contracts and its electoral map. We will know the next president of the United States in only a few hours, and now is the time to test the accuracy of each source.

The MSNBC map is a standard mainstream media analysis of the election, relying primarily on mainstream polling data.

Nate Silver launched in March of this year and uses advanced statistics to draw conclusions about election outcomes.


Election Night LiveBlogging

I am excited to announce that Extraordinary Observations will be liveblogging the election night from WKYC in Cleveland. Tomorrow will be, believe it or not, my first time voting in a presidential race, and I know there are many who are in the same boat. Tomorrow's liveblogging will feature experiences of voters all across the region (and possibly) the country. I am interested in sharing everyone's experiences, but am especially looking forward to those by other young people.

If you voted early or by mail, let me know how it went. If you vote on election day - give a description of your polling place and how the process went. Bonus points will be awarded if you are able to snap any pictures!

You can email me at rpitingolo@gmail anytime or send me an instant message on Google Chat after about 7:00PM on Tuesday night.

An Atypical Sunday in Cleveland

Due to an unfortunate injury I experienced a few weeks ago, I haven't gotten to get out much this campaign season. Today, however, I got the opportunity to attend a rally for Barack Obama in downtown Cleveland, OH. The rally was scheduled to begin just as the Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens game was ending, and it featured a free show by "the boss" Bruce Springsteen. Below is the recap of my atypical Sunday in Cleveland.

12:15 PM - A friend, who we will call Mr. Hip, arrives at my house and we board an RTA bus destined for downtown.

1:15 PM - With a few hour to spare before the rally, Mr. Hip and I stop for lunch and watch the Browns game at the Winking Lizard.

The bar hosts quite a few Browns fans. We meet up with another friend, Nick, after lunch.

3:17 PM - The three of us enter the line at East 9th and Euclid Ave; quite a distance from the location of the rally.

4:21 PM - While in line we spot a few people selling Obama merchandise and someone hands out "sample …