Cabbies throw weight around in bid to protect monopoly

taxi cab

If there’s one thing the taxi cartel doesn’t like it’s unregulated competition. Of course, when it can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million per taxi to get a piece of the pie, one can understand why cab drivers are willing to take extreme measures to protect their turf.

Earlier this week, cabbies created chaos at San Francisco International Airport as hundreds of taxis honked their horns and flashed their headlights and tail lights while circling the airport between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., with most refusing to pick up passengers.

For about a half hour, between approximate 9:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., the slowly circling cabs created gridlock, backing up traffic on to nearby highways.

The protest was in response to technology-driven ride-service startups like Uber and Lyft that use untrained drivers in personal cars, summoned by smartphone apps. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A coalition of San Francisco taxi drivers, pleased with the impact of the protest, have vowed to bring more disruption to San Francisco International unless the airport director agrees to discuss their concerns that the ride services are being given an unfair advantage in serving the airport.

“That’s just a sample that we showed them,” said Harbir Singh, a taxi driver and board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, which organized the protest. “We will do it again and again, every now and then. They have to listen to us.”

The protest was the latest skirmish in the ongoing fight between San Francisco’s taxi industry and the technology-driven ride-service startups. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated while the ride-service operations argue that the cab industry is a monopoly in need of a shakeup.

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Loss of food cited as cause of woolly mammoths’ demise

wooly_mammoth-rbc

A major decline in plant diversity resulted in the extinction of the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and many other large animals following the last Ice Age, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

Relying on DNA-based research, the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark has found that the flowering plants that mammoths and other large creatures depended on for survival disappeared from North American and northern Asia during the last glacial period, eliminating a major food source for the animals.

Prior the that period, the landscapes of the Northern hemisphere were far more diverse and stable than today’s steppes, with megafauna like woolly rhinos and mammoths feeding on grasses and protein-rich flowering plants, or forbs.

But at the height of the last Ice Age – 25,000-15,000 years ago, at a time when the climate was at its coldest and driest – a major loss of plant diversity occurred, the study’s authors wrote.

As a result, the giant animals barely survived.

Once the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago the climate warmed again. However, the protein-rich forbs did not recover to their former abundance and were replaced with different kinds of vegetation, including grasses prevalent on today’s plains and steppes.

“This likely proved fatal for species like woolly rhino, mammoth, and horse in Asia and North America,” according to the University of Copenhagen. “Even though it became warmer again after the end of the Ice Age the old landscapes did not return.”

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California paper asks newsroom staff to help with delivery

Orange County Register

As a former journalist, I’ve had a hard time watching the newspaper industry’s continuing decline. Across the United States, papers are struggling to handle the significant drop in advertising revenue that’s taken place over the 12 years or so.

None of the four daily papers I toiled at during my career are doing particularly well at present. Nowhere is that more evident than at the last paper I worked for, in Columbia, SC.

When I joined the paper as a banking reporter in 1999, it had a business staff of seven, an assistant business editor and a business editor. Today, it has a business editor and approximately 1-1/2 business reporters.

I say “approximately” because the two individuals assigned to write business stories will often find themselves covering non-business subjects, as well.

But things could be worse.

Take the Orange County Register, which this week asked its employees, including its reporters and editors, to deliver the paper’s Sunday edition over the next few weeks.

The California newspaper, which has three Pulitzer Prizes to its credit and is one of California’s largest dailies, started the initiative after a switch in distributors wreaked havoc on home delivery, leaving some routes uncovered and thousands of papers undelivered, according to Slate.

The Register asked employees to help deliver the Sunday edition of the paper until its carrier woes are worked out.

As compensation for the task, which involves sorting and delivering 500-600 papers on a full route and can take as much as six hours to complete, employees can earn $150 in Visa gift cards. A smaller route will earn a $100 Visa gift card.

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The iconoclast who could have sold guns to Gandhi

Eddie-Gaedel1

Quote of the day comes from baseball maverick Bill Veeck, who was born 100 years ago this year. Veeck, who lost part of his leg serving in World War II, loved to buck the system, a fact that often irritated the stuffed shirts who ran Major League baseball in post-war America.

Veeck, who was at various times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, is remembered for a number of notable efforts, including:

Among the best baseball books ever written is Veeck As In Wreck, Veeck’s 1962 autobiography. In the work, Veeck, the consummate salesman, sums up his approach thusly:

“To give one can of beer to a thousand people is not nearly as much fun as to give 1,000 cans of beer to one guy. You give a thousand people a can of beer and each of them will drink it, smack his lips and go back to watching the game. You give 1,000 cans to one guy, and there is always the outside possibility that 50,000 people will talk about it.”

Veeck died in 1986; five years later the powers that be finally got with the program and elected him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yemeni man takes himself out of ‘Father of the Year’ competition

yemen

While there were many times my own parents likely felt the need to, as they say, “drop the bomb” on me during my formative years, they were on the whole quite subdued in their response to my youthful antics.

The same cannot be said for a Yemeni father who recently attempted to end his sons’ disobedience by tossing two grenades at them when they were at his house.

Earlier this month, according to police, the unidentified father, age 70, ran out of patience with his sons’ failure to abide by his instructions.

“After exhausting many methods of discipline, the father decided to bomb them,” according to gulfnews.com.

Shortly after his sons entered his house in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, the father threw the grenades in.

Hand grenade: Generally not effective as means to discipline children.

Hand grenade: Generally not effective as means to discipline children.

According to the Yemeni ministry of interior’s official website, the sons, aged 22 and 30, suffered shrapnel wounds in their legs, and were being treated in a hospital in the capital.

Police arrested the dad.

Among the many troubling questions raised by this account – besides the fact that someone would attempt to use an explosive device as a form of disciple:

Who throws grenades into his own house? Just how easy is it to procure explosives in Yemen? What other forms of discipline did the father attempt before turning to the tried and trusted hand grenade?

Hopefully the dysfunctional clan will have things patched up by the time Ramadan rolls around next summer.

Insanity of World War I summed up in conflict’s final hours

Saint Symphorien Cemetery

Today is recognized as Veterans Day in the United States. Decades ago, it was known as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

Given the inane nature of the First World War, it’s not surprising that fully 11,000 men were killed or wounded during the final few hours of fighting on the last day, even though it was known by nearly all in positions of command that the war would, at a minimum, be suspended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.

Germany, after four-plus years of fighting and being subjected to a naval blockade that left it on the brink of starvation, was in chaos and nearing internal collapse. Following days of intense negotiations with the Allies just outside of Compiegne, France, the German government had ordered its representatives to sign any terms put on the table by the Allies.

The armistice was signed shortly after 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, but the actual ceasefire would not start until 11 a.m., to allow word of the agreement to travel throughout the Western Front.

“Technology allowed the news to go to capital cities by 5:40 a.m. and celebrations began before very many soldiers knew about the Armistice,” according to the History Learning Site webpage. “In London, Big Ben was rung for the first time since the start of the war in August 1914. In Paris, gas lamps were lit for the first time in four years. But on the Western Front, many tens of thousands of soldiers assumed that it was just another day in the war and officers ordered their men into combat.”

But it wasn’t mere accident that the lives of thousands of men were forfeit on the morning of Nov. 11. Many generals actually ordered their troops to fight on, even knowing the war was likely over.

Some hoped to secure additional ground in case the ceasefire didn’t hold, while others, such as American Gen. John Pershing, wanted to further punish the enemy.

Callously, a number of artillery units ordered barrages that morning for no other reason than to avoid having to haul crates of unused ordnance back to the rear once the guns were silent

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Winter’s cold hand enables us to appreciate spring’s warm touch

south carolina snow

With the calendar year winding down, the approach of winter’s cold harsh hand is evident across the northern hemisphere.

Already the grass has turned brown, the leaves are nearly all dead and fallen from the trees and the mornings temperatures have suddenly slipped into the low 40s, or well below in some parts of the country.

In South Carolina, the earliest snow of the season on record occurred last weekend. It was little more than a dusting for the most part, but when an area can go 3-5 years without snow, seeing flurries on Nov. 1 is certainly an occasion for notice.

As someone who has the constitution of a reptile and thrives in the sun and heat, this is not a welcome change. The days of sunning myself on a log in the river are at an end for the year, I’m afraid.

Unfortunately, my employer frowns on hibernation, so I will plod through the coming months.

Cities, too, take on a different tone with the onset of winter, as metal, marble and glass get colder and even more impersonal with the change in climate. I recall excursions to Boston, Montreal and Quebec City in late fall, and the dark, gloomy atmosphere exhibited by each as winter neared.

The bleakness of the end of the year in the city is captured magnificently in Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel Sister Carrie, set in late 19th century Chicago:

“Once the bright days of summer pass by, a city takes on that somber garb of grey, wrapt in which it goes about its labours during the long winter. Its endless buildings look grey, its sky and its streets assume a somber hue; the scattered, leafless trees and wind-blown dust and paper but add to the general solemnity of colour. There seems to be something in the chill breezes which scurry through the long, narrow thoroughfares productive of rueful thoughts. Not poets alone, nor artists, nor that superior order of mind which arrogates to itself all refinement, feel this, but dogs and all men. These feel as much as the poet, though they have not the same power of expression. The sparrow upon the wire, the cat in the doorway, the dray horse tugging his heavy load, feel the long, keen breaths of winter. It strikes to the heart of all life, animate and inanimate. If it were not for the artificial fires of merriment, the rush of profit-making trade, and pleasuring-selling amusements; if the various merchants failed to make the customary display within and without their establishments; if our streets were not strung with signs of gorgeous hues and thronged with hurrying purchasers, we would quickly discover how firmly the chill hand of winter lays upon the heart; how dispiriting are the days during which the sun withholds a portion of our allowance of light and warmth. We are more dependent upon these things than is often thought. We are insects produced by heat, and pass without it.”

The benefit of winter’s long, cold breath is that it allows us to cherish all that much more the beauty of spring and warmth of summer. After all, one can’t truly appreciate the light without knowing the dark.