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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11-year-old me on why ancient man steered clear of Office Depot

Lunar_eclipse_April_15_2014_California_Alfredo_Garcia_Jr1

Word is we had a lunar eclipse down our way early this morning. The event offered me an opportunity to recall how utterly obtuse I was 40 years or so ago.

Last night, as I dropped my girls off at their mother’s house, we discussed the eclipse. They explained how they were considering getting up around 5 a.m. to view the unusual celestial occurrence. They had a basic understanding of what caused the event and were excited to see it.

As I drove home, I recalled that when I was the age of my youngest daughter, 11, I not only didn’t understand what an eclipse was, I was utterly unfamiliar with the word. As evidence, I can recall the first time I heard about the concept of an eclipse.

My mother was attempting to explain that people can be afraid of that which they do not understand and was describing how ancient societies were often very superstitious and fearful of rare phenomena. Among things that confused and frightened prehistoric people, she explained, were eclipses.

As I was unacquainted with the word, and not a particularly bright 11-year old, my ears only caught the second part of the word, “clips,” and my mind immediately wandered to “paper clips.”

With an ignorant arrogance not unknown among 11-year-old boys, I immediately thought, “Wow, what a bunch of morons – afraid of paper clips! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Mind you, I wasn’t confident enough in this anthropological assessment to voice this view to my mother; I simply sat there in smug, silent awe that a group of people could be afraid of office supplies.

Sure, paper clips could be exasperating when they got all looped together, and they could cause some really agony if the end of one got under a fingernail, but any society that was afraid of paper clips must have been a pretty pathetic one, I reasoned.

Looking back, I don’t know at what point I finally learned what an eclipse actually was, or at what point I realized what it was my mother had been talking about, but some years later I made the connection that I’d been off base – way off base.

Needless to say, my girls – who are a bit wiser and certainly more intuitive than their father was at their age – always get a chuckle out of that story. And there’s certainly no shortage of similar tales for me to regale them with. I guess that’s one of the few benefits of having been a dense kid.

(Top: Lunar eclipse seen earlier this year. Not pictured: Paper clip.)

Independence movements around globe watching Scotland

With a week until the people of Scotland vote on independence from Great Britain, separatist movements around the world are watching closely.

“From Catalonia to Kurdistan to Quebec, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely – sometimes more so than Britons themselves, who seem to have only just woken up to the possibility that Scotland might vote next Thursday to bring to an end a 307-year union,” writes the New York Times.

“A curious collection of left and right, rich and poor, marginal and mainstream, these movements are united in the hope that their shared ambition for more self-determination will get a lift from an independent Scotland,” it added.

The Telegraph reports that a record-breaking 4.3 million have registered to vote in Scottish referendum, the highest number in Scottish electoral history, and recent polls show the pro-independence movement gaining steam as the vote nears.

As of yesterday, the No campaign had a slim lead over the Yes campaign, 47.6 percent to 42.4 percent. But when the 10 percent who said they were still undecided were removed from the equation, the survey suggests that the Yes campaign would win, 53-47, according to The Telegraph.

The referendum is gathering attention around the globe.

“Busloads of Catalans, South Tiroleans, Corsicans, Bretons, Frisians and ‘Finland-Swedes’ are headed for Scotland to witness the vote,” according to the Times. “Even Bavaria (which calls itself ‘Europe’s seventh-largest economy’) is sending a delegation.”

“It would create a very important precedent,” said Naif Bezwan of Mardin Artuklu University in the Kurdish part of Turkey. Across the Iraqi border (or “the Kurdish-Kurdish border,” as Mr. Bezwan puts it), where a confluence of war, oil disputes and political turmoil has renewed the debate about secession, Kurds pine for the opportunity of a Scottish-style breakup, the publication added.

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Persian literature exhibition winding down in Washington

If you’re in Washington, D.C., over the next couple of weeks you can catch the tail-end of an exhibition exploring the literary tradition of the Persian language during the past millennium.

A Thousand Years of the Persian Book,” at the Library of Congress, includes an array of works, from illuminated manuscripts to modern-day publications. The exhibition focuses on the literary achievements of not just Iran, which is recognized as the birthplace of Persian, but also the Persian-speaking regions of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Central and South Asia, and the Caucasus.

The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 20, features 75 items drawn primarily from the Library of Congress’s Persian collection, part of its African and Middle Eastern Division.

“The Persian language gained prominence as a literary and common cultural language about a thousand years ago,” according to information from the Library of Congress. “Since then, a rich and varied written and spoken heritage has developed in the Persian language, elevating the visibility of the Persian civilization among world intellectual traditions.

“That tradition is particularly strong in the fields of storytelling, poetry, folklore, and literature, with important contributions in historiography, science, religion, and philosophy,” it adds.

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April 1861 editorial shows divided sentiments within US

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Among the misconceptions surrounding the American Civil War is that both North and South were monolithic in agreement that their side was in the right and the other in the wrong.

The fact is that there were many Unionists in the South and plenty of Northerners with pro-Southern sentiments, particularly at the beginning of the 1861-65 conflict.

Still, it is sometimes startling to see such counterintuitive views expressed in print. Consider an April 8, 1861, editorial from the New York Herald, titled “Invasion of the South – The Inauguration of Civil War”.

After beginning with a description of Union warships sailing “for parts unknown,” but accepted to be the recently seceded states of the Deep South, the publication writes, “It is thus evident that a bloody civil war is resolved upon by Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet. After long hesitation, the President has screwed his courage to the fighting point. At what precise spot he intends to commence hostilities or to provoke them – whether at Charleston, Pensacola, the mouths of the Mississippi or in Texas, where there is an evident design to excite ‘domestic insurrection,’ or at all of these places together – does not yet appear; but a few days will unfold the mystery.”

The Herald continues that as of that date, which is still four days before the bombing of Fort Sumter, Lincoln has three options:

 … first, to yield to the Confederate States and to all the slaveholding communities their just rights as coequal partners in the Union, which would have had the effect of healing the breach and reuniting the sections; second, to permit a peaceable and bloodless separation, either in the hope of reunion at a future day, or at least of a friendly alliance for mutual defense against foreign foes, and for the establishment of commercial relations, which, if not specifically favoring the North, would at least not discriminate against her; and third, to wage a war of subjugation against seven sovereign States, which will be ultimately extended to fifteen, to compel them to submit to the authority of the government at Washington, and to pay tribute to it, whether they are represented in its Congress or not, in contravention to the great principle for which the colonies fought and conquered the mother country in the Revolution of 1776 – the principle that ‘without representation there can be no taxation.’

The Herald goes on to display a grasp of history that would be utterly out of place in a newspaper today, stating that the impeding war “ … is a revival of the struggle which took place two centuries ago in England between the Puritan Roundheads and the rest of the nation. The vast majority of the people were against them, but by the military genius and iron will of Cromwell the fanatics were rendered successful for a time, after putting their king to death and deluging their native land with seas of blood.” Continue reading

Flannery O’Connor remembered at historic Savannah church

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Fifty years after famed writer and Savannah, Ga., native Flannery O’Connor died, a memorial mass was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the same church she attended as a child.

The Memorial Remembrance, which took place Sunday, was held in one of the South’s most spectacular houses of worship, a downtown Savannah church that O’Connor once viewed as a child from the window of her parents’ bedroom.

“In the great scheme of things 50 years is not a long period of time, however in the life of Flannery it takes on significant meaning,” said the Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, bishop emeritus of Savannah, who led the Memorial Remembrance and delivered the homily. “Last year her prayer journal was published: What a beautiful treasure. Praying is the lifeblood of our relationship with the loving God.

“Fifty years after her death Flannery still speaks to us,” he added.

Mary Flannery O’Connor, born March 25, 1925, wrote two novels – Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away – and dozens of short stories before she died at age 39 of lupus.

She is said to have practically defined the genre known as Southern Gothic, a form that accentuates the grotesque, horrifying and, for lack of a better phrase, that which just isn’t right.

O’Connor’s writing was noted for its flawed characters and disturbing events, much of which was set in the South.

Her own mother is said to have asked her why she couldn’t just “write about nice people.”

O’Connor, who first gained a measure of fame at age 5 when she trained a pet chicken to walk backward, which caught the attention a newsreel company, moved to Milledgeville, Ga., in 1941 at age 15 after her father died of the same condition that would take her life 23 years later.

There, she lived with her mother and other relatives in an 1838 columned Federal clapboard house, which was not only the family home, but was briefly used as the governor’s mansion when Milledgeville served as the antebellum capital of Georgia.

After O’Connor graduated from today’s Georgia College & State University she enrolled in graduate school at today’s University of Iowa in 1945, with the goal of becoming a political cartoonist.

However, within a few weeks she had discovered the Iowa Writers Workshop, run by noted poet, playwright and novelist Paul Engle and switched to the school’s Master of Fine Arts program.

Discovering her vocation as a writer, she dropped ‘Mary’ from her name; had her first story, ‘The Geranium,’ published in Accent magazine, and received a Rinehart fellowship to work on a novel, according to The New York Times.

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Wine cup belonging to Greek statesman Pericles found

pericles cup

A wine cup believed to have belonged to one of the greats of ancient Greece has been found near Athens, according to published reports.

A cup thought to have been used by Classical Greek statesman Pericles was recently found in a pauper’s grave in the northern Athens suburb of Kifissia, the Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported.

The ceramic wine cup, smashed in 12 pieces, was found during building construction. After it was pieced back together, archaeologists were astounded to find the name “Pericles” scratched under one of its handles, alongside the names of five other men, in apparent order of seniority.

Experts are “99 per cent” sure that the cup was used by the Athenian statesman, as one of the other names listed, Ariphron, is that of Pericles’ elder brother.

“The name Ariphron is extremely rare,” Angelos Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society, told Ta Nea.

“Having it listed above that of Pericles makes us 99 per cent sure that these are the two brothers,” he said.

The cup was likely used in a “wine symposium” when Pericles was in his twenties, and the six men who drank from it scrawled their names as a memento, Matthaiou said.

Apparently, the youthful Pericles and/or his companions imbibed rather heavily on that particular occasion.

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