Have we no heroes now?
Has heroism become a malady?
Is Leopold Bloom our cuckold hero?
No matter if he isn’t
We relish Molly’s drawers
(would, anyway, could we)
We are each the hero
Of our lives in an imagined journey
From cradle to grave
(With words and music)
A strange interlude between birth and death
Our future cast in dies we’re born into
As we aspire to an heroic ideal
We dare not speak about the dust
Homer didn’t invent it
It’s in Mahabharata,
Song of Solomon,
Driving Alexander long before
Offenbach, Leopold Bloom,
Celine and Bukowski
I dress each day
In heroic clothing,
Phylacteries off the shelf at Target
After a grimace at an uncomprehending
Reflection, I march into the abyss
Distracting myself with stories
Of Mollies I’ve desired
The heroic conundrum that
Love blinds and binds us to.
The infinite monkey theory* has a logical flaw. As weird as it seems to think, problems we experience as potholes, traffic, pollution, crime and people living without shelters in public places result from this flaw because our public administration is largely based on the infinite monkey theory, not for the reason you’re thinking, but because our system is set up on priorities of management efficiency.
When we describe problems as having a common cause, we usually name a politician; anything other than the actual cause. Each of our problems has in common one system of public administration. It’s not discretionary boards and their policy decisions. The system is designed to allow, if not produce problems we’re seeing and not other possible problems. It can’t do other and it does what it does very well—witness the downtown skyline and cute little bustling airport.
The system is based on centralizing and it consists of algorithms—rules about infinitely diverse categories of roads, buildings, people. The system reacts to things that come up. It’s failures show up like a 36’ high building, a seawall where there was a beach, traffic… Should we replace the system with something that gives us more of what we want and less of what we don’t want? The Boston Tea Party wouldn’t get far in San Diego Harbor.
Some here don’t want to think about this. However, when someone drives a 747 over their home or puts a four story condo in their view, they really hate thinking about it. Can you blame them? Not even an infinite number of monkeys can solve this simple problem.
The system is needed to collect money from huge populations, hundreds of thousands, millions. It’s a profitable system for those who are employed by it and developers but it’s actually incapable of doing many things it’s supposed to do, literally, any kind of job–no matter what: it can’t stop crime, can’t do traffic engineering, repair potholes or carry out urban planning so we have communities that are safe and nurturing for poor as well as wealthy people.
How would you alter the system so that it allows most of us to have more of what we want more of and less of what we don’t want? It’s simpler than “rocket science”. We just need to ensure that politicians aren’t actually in the business of collecting campaign contributions. The system is set up to ensure the opportunity to buy influence from politicians with campaign funding.
*A million quantum computers might come up with a novel but it won’t be James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s oxymoron: quantum mechanics prevents it; observation changes the observed. Joyce’s Ulysses lives only in a reader’s imagination. It only takes one primate to create Ulysses; it’s done all the time and it’s never the same.
I was starting to feel pride welling up in my soul. We’re arguing about things that touch us deeply, my friends and neighbors, and yet, we’re not talking about some things: for example, constraints on our harbor and coastal access by an increasing Navy presence, or that students at UCSD and SDSU are now largely people (mostly Asian and South Asian business students) here on visas, many of whom live in the condos of Costa Verde, Rennaissance and Mira Mesa. I wondered, where’s the Asian presence in San Diego’s culture and politics? Where’s the traditional Chinese and Indian culture? Why are there no Guzheng concerts at UCSD?
I drove to Burbank last Saturday morning. LA is such a reality check. Returning to San Diego at 8:00 PM Sunday with an understanding of those who voted for Mr. Trump and also, a view of the power of an “electoral college” to literally trump a popular vote and why many are upset about this now since it’s not the first time. My epiphany occurred at a place that we may now think of as New South Asia; the place we’d previously thought of as Orange County, Costa Mesa, Irvine, etc. I now know why Nixon sought an ally in Red China…
The relationship between waves of immigration and our military campaigns in South Asia and the Middle East is inescapable: we bomb them over there so they come here. Wouldn’t you? If we don’t want all this immigration, why do we engage in practices that result in refugee immigration? We’re told the wars preserve freedom and democracy but did we not imagine this result, given the history of the United States? And have immigrants ever said their emigration justified wars in their homes? So what? What’s the prognosis?
We propose a “Great Wall of America” from Brownsville to Tijuana to keep out Mexicans, but it’s Asians and Indians, not Mexicans, who populate our state universities and buy the new million dollar condos Downtown and in OC. Are we in fact spending billions on a strategy against a declining Hispanic in-migration against our New China? It worked against Mongols, why not Mexicans?
If China was our enemy, it now owns so much of our economy, that we have become our enemy. For instance, our popular national elections are showcase rituals in which a kind of central committee, called, The Electoral College, chooses our national leader. While the electoral college is constitutional, our electoral system wasn’t always controlled by campaign contributions that allow control of government to be sold to the highest bidder. We don’t know what our Asian population thinks of this. They don’t vote. Or speak to us. Do they see Americans as only pretending to be self-governing, since political influence is purchased? How do our Asian immigrants and visitors feel about our financial, natural and human investment in military campaigns that result in refugee immigration? What do they think about our fear of Mexicans? Do they view Mr. Trump as accurately reflecting the American mentality they encounter?
So in the cultures of our new neighbors: what is communication like, how do they see political systems, what values and priorities do they inherit or rebel against, what is there for us to learn?
In 1962, went off to Coast Guard boot camp at Government Island in Alameda, my Parents used the opportunity to sell their home in La Puente. I learned this when a yellow cab I hailed at the airport dropped me at their house, which I was certain was a wrong address.
Because, Blanca, their landlord and her Hispanic friends and neighbors were having a party, they said, fiesta, in the common front yard of the three houses she owned, including the one my parents rented. Latin rhythms punctuated the sound of the adjacent freeway interchange and a few score brown-skinned young men and women were well on the way to a felicitous state of inebriation, that is to say, were already drunk.
Ed, my war-hero step-father was amused at my discomfort, which was less about the bigoted view of Mexicans, than my general narcissistic view of all others as less everything than I, a condition I reluctantly now say isn’t far from accurate but that’s a different story. That was in 1962.
In 1966, when I began making educational films, I learned that more than 50% of students then enrolled in Los Angeles City Schools were from hispanic or African American families and my films needed to reflect this ethnic and cultural mix. Now, I’m told the majority of students at UCSD and SDSU are from Asian, South Asian, African and Hispanic families and the cultural and the ethnic mix is increasingly colorful. People from China interest me more than Mexicans and Europeans–they are enigmatic and the more I learn about them, the more they seem like people from a very interesting and equally distant planet, where people have learned to think about things. Their language is musical–how a statement is voiced changes the meaning. To pronounce their names correctly is a music recital.
After Costa Verde and Renaissance I figure they will probably buy all the two to three million dollar condominiums under construction along the Pacific Highway downtown. Less affluent white people will better afford the condos on the east side, around the trolley building, where the homeless people are pitching tents, playing in traffic and pushing shopping carts around with all of their earthly stuff.
It’s possible the waterfront condo residents will be the same scions of wealthy Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Arabic families that now populate the University of California and many private colleges and work for biotech and IT companies around La Jolla. A host of new restaurants and markets, now mainly in Mira Mesa and Kearney Mesa to serve the Asian population will begin to appear downtown.
Guzheng concerts at the Balboa will be nice and classes in Chinese and Korean at SDCC and area high schools as the new condominiums sell out. Demographics of the Shelter Island and La Playa neighborhoods will begin to change as the condo sales impact local rea estate values, however, the cultural history of Pt. Loma is deep and the land will leave it’s stamp on the values of our new generations of Asian immigrants.
State of the art music production technology allows a person with little to no classical music training, to deconstruct complex and powerful pieces: Bach, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg’s, etc. with no knowledge of conventional theory or musical notation developed over the last three centuries that classical instrumentalists typically follow or use to communicate their ideas. Current state of the art digital audio workstations use the actual tonalities and sounds to craft music from which to display musical relationships in conventional score format, albeit absent articulation marks that electronic composers must now write in “by hand”. These composers can see how notation communicates their intent and the intent of works by known composers they study.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) use pre-recorded samples of instruments and/or synthesizers that offer a nearly infinite array of articulations for every instrument, modern and ancient, western and eastern, ethnic and classical: sitar, tabla, gamelan, guzheng, duduk, oboe d’amore, clavier, and so on, placing their sounds at the disposal of electronic composers using midi controllers in every music genre. Instrumentalists can produce ensemble and orchestral arrangements of pieces and perform their own inventions. With no classical training a DAW musician can learn to compose, arrange and produce simple and complex scores and learn by exploring ideas of composers of music of every culture, since the earliest times.
The importance of this new facility for musical expression is seen in a huge number and ethnic array of postings on YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud and other portals and in the music in cinema and video productions. Yet the importance and value of music itself is relatively unexamined and not generally understood: that music is a medium for emotional narratives and shapes our global culture.
A ride request chimed and blinked on my iPad. I saved the C Minor Symphony and left to pick up “Jason”, at the address of the submarine base near the end of Pt. Loma, about a mile from my home. In 5 minutes, I arrived at the guard’s booth where the Marine sentry on duty told me, “Ubers can’t come on base; only taxis are allowed”. He told me to park in a small lot by the gate and wait for the rider. The sailor’s barracks buildings are a half mile from the gate, so I asked the guard if he knew where I can ask for a permit to drive in. “Uber’s aren’t allowed on base.”
“I got that. I want to ask for a pass to come on base.”
“Oh.” He pointed to a small building with a sign on which the words, “Pass Office” was printed in block letters.
Because the barracks is a long walk for sailors and drivers have to wait ten minutes or longer for a ride that usually nets no more than $2.00 after deducting expenses, the following morning I decided to go to the Pass Office and ask for a permit to drive into the base.
Inside the little grey building, I saw three relatively young African American women engaged in animated chatting behind a plywood counter. It occurred to me they are the only women of African American descent I’d encountered in Pt. Loma in more than two weeks, aside from the Ethiopian security by the door of San Diego County Credit Union at Talbot and Rosecrans.
“Can I help you?”
“Good morning! I’d like to be cleared to pick up and drop off riders.
“I’m sorry, sir, what do you want?”
I gathered no one had ever asked for a permit. “I’m an Uber driver. I want to drive into the base, when I receive a ride request or when I’m dropping off people who live or work here.”
“You can’t. People who work for Uber aren’t allowed. on base.”
“Uber drivers don’t work for Uber; we’re independent contractors. I know that taxis can enter the base. I’ve seen them.”
“Taxis? Oh, yes. Taxis can come in, but not Uber.”
“That means there must be some kind of approval criteria?”
“An approval process.” (I’d been a yeoman in the Coast Guard Reserve and I know that in the military there’s a process, procedure and criteria for everything imaginable and much that isn’t imaginable.) One of the other youngish (African American) women nudged her colleague gently aside as she searched around under the plywood counter and came up with a three ring book with a black cover. She then read that I needed to be a licensed business. Check. I’m licensed. Insured Vehicle. Check. Driver’s License. Check.
I leaned against the WWII era plywood. “I live a few blocks down the street. I’m a neighbor. I want to drive into the base to pick up riders–sailors, people who work here. It’s my business.”
“Do you have a business license? ”
“No, I’m not a business. I have business here. I don’t work for Uber. I work for the riders whose requests I accept. I’m a rideshare driver. We don’t need to have a TCP.”
“TCP? What’s TCP? I don’t know what TCP is. Have you ever heard of TCP?”
“No, I don’t know what TCP is.”
“Transportation Charter Permit. You get it from the PUC–Public Utilities Commission and rideshare drivers don’t need one. They cost a thousand dollars. I’d need a bigger reason than a rides from a few sailors to put out a thousand dollars, right?”
“Suit yourself,” she said, “that’s what it says here”.
Leaving them to continue the conversation I’d interrupted I walked to my car, deciding then and there to give up on getting a permit to come on the base. A couple days later, I again received a ride request from the sub base. As I drove through the orange barricades approaching the gate, I saw a man and a woman dressed in combat blue fatigues talking to the Marine sentry, who wore green fatigues. The sentry disappeared as I neared the gate. Expecting to be asked to wait in the adjacent parking lot as I had before, I smiled up at the grim face of an athletic-looking black woman about 38 years old.
“Uber. I’m here to pick up Jason. Shall I park over there and wait?”
Her black hair was tucked tight into her officer’s cap, which she wore at a slight rake. Opaque aviator sunglasses hid her eyes; she seemed poised like a UFO fighter in her corner–and she had a big black gun holstered on her hip. She spoke with the hint of a snarl, “I’ll take your driver’s license!”
“Why do you want my driver’s license? (If she’d been an Uber rider, I’d have told her to get another car.
“Give me your driver’s license.”
“Wait a second. You’ll TAKE my driver’s license?”
“Give me your license, sir!”
Her partner, standing silently beside her, a little out of frame said, “get out of the car…”
“I’ll take care of this,” she said to him, “keep your eye on them” She pointed at the line of cars forming behind my car. There’s a lot of traffic in and out of the sub base and only this one lane entrance and one lane exit for trucks, cars, whatever.
“Miss, if you want to call the police, please, do so. I’ve done nothing wrong.” This is a free country in which military personnel can’t violate the person, property or rights of civilians. You may defend yourself if you believe there’s a threat. “Can you identify yourself as a police officer? You know I can’t legally drive this car without a license in my possession and at this point, I’d like to leave.”
“Keep your license!”
“I’ll do a u-turn and I’m out of here. Tell Jason.”
“Jason, the sailor or marine who supposedly requested a ride.” I started to pull away to turn and leave.
She pointed to the parking lot, where I’d waited last time.
“Pull your car over there.”
“Into the parking lot now? Ok.”
“Over there!” she re-iterated, as if I wasn’t already moving. With her hand on her weapon, she walked alongside my car as I drove slowly into the parking lot, where I expected to wait for Jason an earn a $3 fare. Why is it that Marines tip and sailors don’t? Maybe my luck.
“Stop right there!” (in the driveway of the lot).I turned off the motor and started to open the door to stretch–I try to get out and stretch whenever I can. Otherwise, I’m sitting for hours.
“Get back in the car!”
“Give me your driver’s license.”
Since I was now on the base, where she has legal jurisdiction, I handed her my license. “Why are you doing this? I’m an Uber driver. I live in this community. What’s your name?”
“You don’t need to know that.” I inferred from this that her actions are sanctioned by superiors, maybe triggered by my visit to the Pass Office. The possibility of deliberate harassment was there, but to what end? To protect the exclusive franchise of a cab company or to protect America from Americans.
“I can call the police and have you arrested!”
“Yes, you can. I’m an Uber driver trying to make a living serving people who live or work here. I live in this neighborhood and I’ve done nothing wrong and you can have me arrested. Ironic.”
“Get off this base! Immediately, Get out of here! Move! Now!”
(I’m rereading Rick Altman’s book on narrative theory. In Altman’s view, every narrative depends on the reader’s/viewer’s perception of characters and actions, a view over which a narrator has no control. These characters perceived contrasting narratives. The officer’s actions, though correlated with my actions, were neither consistent with seeing me as a threat but instead, with a perception of an older white man’s disrespect of her as a class, a black woman officer. In all likelihood, our species won’t survive armies of women.)
(Non-diegetic music tells the story by evoking emotional contexts. Since it isn’t heard by characters, it’s the story-teller’s voice, evoking feelings about the images and action that shape our perceptions. Each frame in a modern cinema narrative has correlated sounds the viewer expects to hear in the situation . Non-diegetic music creates the emotional verisimilitude of reality that viewers imagine.)
What I’ve enjoyed most about ubering is conversations with and observations of riders and occasional others along the way. I engage with all of them to the extent they’re open to it: riders, drivers, doormen, police, baristas at Starbucks, staff at the delis, whomever. Some of the observations awaken riders picked up at SAN, visitors as well as residents, to things they hadn’t noticed and are commonly taken for granted, like the people living in the streets. Their curiosity awakens, which irritate some who do their best to ignore things like the people living in the streets. I think I’m also sort of prescient–I know how old people are and where they come from. But I judge them only by their behavior.
What I most don’t like about ubering is when I feel taken for granted, like a part of the car–the postman. Uber sets this up in the way ridesharing is promoted. It’s a dichotomy. They tell riders that they needn’t carry cash–that it’s all on the card they use to hail a driver. But there’s no tipping option and the same riders who prefer to feel they needn’t tip drivers are often too demanding. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of math could figure out that the fare they’re paying for the use of the car and driver for a 20 minute ride doesn’t equal minimum wage. They know the driver’s expense for the trip: fuel, car lease, maintenance and insurance must come out of that fare. They smile and say, thank you soooo much for the ride, I really appreciate it. Have a great day! That’s about 95% of riders. The other 5% give the driver a tip.
Uber took the tip option off its app after they were sued by drivers for allegedly stealing part of drivers’ tips. Uber’s management team doesn’t seem to understand or doesn’t care that removing the tip option created an exploitive situation, like leaving a restaurant without tipping the wait staff. Riders say things like, “I thought the tip is included?” Really? You think Uber is taking 25% of the fare and somehow then tipping drivers? How much was the fare? $5? $4?
Some riders are rude by nature and some by custom. Asian riders are polite and condescending. They are sometimes uncomfortable to learn their driver is someone they should respect, it makes them feel uncertain. I’ve asked rude riders to call another car. A week ago, I pulled over and said to two drunk men, “get out of the car. Now.” One cursed me as he slammed the car door but I felt safer with them out of the car. More experience of riders is wonderful than not, Taking scented attractive women to their rendez-vous is fascinating .
The girl, who sang a song she’d made up, her perfect a cappella style, as we passed through San Pasqual Valley to the wild animal park, brought tears to my eyes. Watching her walk away, waving, I felt frozen in the act of uber-driver. I wanted to go with her.
A second thought today was about a letter I received from B today. Two years ago, it offended him when I pointed out that courses in his department were published with different catalog numbers for undergraduate and graduate levels and that they were poorly written and full of mistakes. I didn’t realize they were his work. I also mentioned that some teachers in his department were remarkably uninterested, unknowledgeable or incompetent at teaching and I didn’t realize he only hires his friends, regardless of qualifications. The “teachers” know the courses are absurd in a graduate school.
It was not in my best interests to show him, with specific examples, how these courses were at secondary school level, with lousy writing and misinformation, sometimes self-contradicting. I’d paid $2,600 per class for these courses and it irritated me. It must have been upsetting for B when I wrote about it in the letter to the accrediting board. Two of his teachers threatened me when I questioning their facts. They told me that questioning a teacher isn’t permitted or polite–that students shouldn’t ask questions.
$2.600/3 unit class is a hefty price and represents 50% of the FAFSA loan allocation. I thought about this when I found myself answering exams with answers I knew to be incorrect. Then I learned that the former experience of the school’s online course administrator was that the had been a police commander in Hayward. I tried to imagine exactly how that experience prepares someone for this job. What sort of outfit is this school anyway? No one at the top cares about the quality of courseware or teachers? In any case, a result of the documentation I sent to B about course errors was that his assistant gave a phone number and told me to call a composition professor and when I left a friendly message, B and M, the dean of the school accused of harassment–long distance by voicemail message.
Another thing I don’t like about ubering is the third thought for the day: the philosophy of Uber’s management, policies and practices, is revealed in Uber’s quest for a driver-less car. In their superstitious belief in technology, they see drivers as unnecessary, inconvenient and incompetent; we’re a dangerous nuisance of automotive mobility. Though I well understand this view after managing in traffic 50 hours/week. Drivers who aren’t able to achieve close to 100% alertness in a dynamic and unpredictable situations either make trips take longer or they get hit. Driverless cars are not a real option. Uber’s religious belief in technology rather than a rational understanding, leads Uber to treat drivers as disposable and expendable, while professing to appreciate them. Uber appreciates that drivers are paying for 99.9% of the assets for delivering service. Uber’s policies show zero interest in retaining drivers, their actions show they don’t want drivers to have a say in determining fair rates. The complexity Uber adds to the program that sends ride requests allows them to favor drivers who rent or lease cars from Uber or to drivers whom were enrolled with the promise of $1000 from their first 75 trips. If the driver earns $300 from these trips, Uber makes up the difference. This cost is amply covered by taking 25% of fares while contributing less than 1% of the cost of providing rides.
The driver-less car is nonsense without changing the social and practical context in which driverless cars are used. But despite the thousands of people on the streets, depressed economies of rural areas, rising sea level, catastrophic events from climate change, millennials, influenced by the Star Wars franchise, video games, iPhones and virtual reality believe that technology will make everything ok, that there’s a tech solution to every problem. They believe in the possibility of space travel and extra-terrestrial life rather than managing planetary resources as a social reality. No one really believe the superstition that urban technology, which does permit population growth and warfare is a solution but it pays well and they’d rather do that than sleep on the streets. Climate change suggests there are limits, however, and we’re meeting them.
Will Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Kia, Etc. and Tesla abandon their lines related to personal freedom? No. They will incorporate technology learned in robotic car experiments. The idea of lock stepping vehicles is technical child’s play but will you sit in a steel cage moving in a river of steel cages alone or with someone you’d rather not see? Buzzed perhaps? Meditating? Listening to your favorite music? Do you want to get out now? Do you have to pee? Feeling sick? Bored? Where’s the app for that?
Feature a Cmax Energi with performance characteristics of a Mini, scooting down I-5 south of the bend on the kind of clear December night you best appreciate on Mt. Soledad. Zipping under 54 and succeeding strange green signs announcing, H Street, and so on. In and driving it is Michael Winn, known to some as Uberman, not because he was more fond of Zarathustra than of Karl Marx, nor because of his occupation (Uber driving) but in consequence of his ill fit for the distinction, man. Heterosexual in appetite but his mind worked more like a woman’s than a normal man’s.
Waiting for a rider on Florence Street, he observed lights in streets and houses on hills in Mexico, the next neighborhood, looking south, if you don’t count a 30 meter high fence that people go around if they need to leave one and enter the other. At the hole in the fence, called, San Ysidro there’s a bridge over the line in the sand.
–You’re here already? I’ll be right down.
–Yes, thank you. Sky blue Ford, hazard lights on, can’t miss it.
Of course, I’m prompt. Drivers arrive quickly because Uber and Lyft enroll drivers with cash incentives and not a lot of discernment beyond felony check and driving record. Riders benefit from an excess of drivers but drivers compete for scarce business because the cash incentives for drivers doesn’t increase numbers of riders.
Drivers are a representative cross section of the lower economic strata of median incomes around the city. Riders are a little better off than drivers given they don’t have to Uber to pay the rent and they don’t work 6 to 7 days, 10 to 12 hours a day to clear more than minimum wage after paying for car and gas, nor do they have Uber web content that blows smoke up their asses while Uber takes 25% of every fare. With the rates Uber set for this city, a full time Uber driver with the highest performance ratings is lucky to net 25% of fares because the fare are far below what the market will pay. Lyft and Uber seem like childish corporate entities. Ridershare companies need to cooperate in the same way as airlines. Since all rideshare companies have the same business model and costs, drivers, whom Uber calls “partners,” would have to set the standard.
The market will eventually migrate to higher value experience, not based solely on the quality of the vehicle but also, of the driver.
On the rider’s side, about a third use corporate accounts. They Uber or Lyft as an alternative to driving and parking, airport shuttles, rent cars and taxis in short rides between the airport and hotels. Many older out-patients of Kaiser and UCSD Uber instead of taxis for medical appointments and shopping because taxis cost 3x as much for the same service. The taxi is accumulating social status, the reverse of public transit stigma. Did you Uber? Hell no, I taxied! But it’s not that easy, there are other factors:
Because we live in a community of 4+ million souls (counting Baja) and Uber drivers can roam without boundaries, drivers are often new to communities in which they find themselves and very new to the customs and sensibilities of riders that show up in our cars. Many drivers are unable to carry on a conversation in an intimate space with strangers, nor are they able to make their cabins a comfortable container for authentic communication. They know little or nothing about communities they pass through and, with their attention on a computer generated voice telling them where to turn, even when they are curious and want to connect with others, they are unable to be present to another let alone a group.
To make money we go where riders take us and more often than not, these are places we’ve never seen so if we don’t have our heads in a computer brain, driving and the people we meet are fascinating. Every humans being we encounter in and outside the car is awake and aware to something and often, when a rider gets into the car, their heads are in other places. Some say, “how’s your day going?” Some are actually talking on a cell phone as they enter your car and don’t even bother to acknowledge your presence, sometimes because their attention is on making sure they are not cheated. (In most cases, the distrust stems from an experience when a navigation app sends drivers on inefficient routes, not because drivers who don’t know where they’re going, intentionally extend a journey.)
The culture of ridesharing is more like that of a trolley or city bus in a small town, rather than a professional taxi. Riders sometimes treat their drivers like chauffeurs, which works as long as they tip the driver and pay them the respect a good chauffeur is due. The driver’s job isn’t like a taxi driver’s. It has some qualities of a concierge, doorman, personal assistant, interested, non-judgmental listener; a caring person. Riders show appreciation for generous and caring drivers with gratuities. As a group, Lyft and Uber drivers are by no means sophisticated or conscious as in any profession; some are shrinking violets, highly judgmental, passive aggressive, sullen.
The characters portrayed in Uber’s and Lyft’s ads for drivers feature the immediate cash rewards. The ads don’t reveal we’re at the mercy of priorities of a computer program that doesn’t include concern for either our our community’s success, nor even best interests of riders. It’s as ruthless as the risk analysis of an insurance company.
On the other hand, my prompt arrival and attention to the rider’s transportation, safety and comfort reflect a professional commitment behind my performance; a matter of heart.
–Hi, I’m Rachel.
–Hi, Rachel, I’m Michael, welcome to my ride. Where are we going?
–I think I put it on the app.
–The app usually mis-identifies the location of riders and plots inefficient routes. (I read the address the rider input to the rider to make sure it’s correct. I check out the route the app suggests.)
–The app shows 163, through the park. 163 is jammed southbound. We should go 805 to 94,
–You’re right. I trust you, whatever you say.
–Let me know when you know something. I learn a lot from riders. It’s a jungle out there.
–How long have you been driving Uber?
–I’m a veteran; at least six weeks.
–(More laughter) What do you think about it?
I’m having more fun Ubering than any thing I’ve done for money. The ridesharing app is a true technology. Uber and Lyft, however, are not responsible businesses by modern standards. Not since the 19th century has a private enterprise flagrantly avoided statutory required conditions of employment. Uber and Lyft drivers are employees in a practical and economic sense but not on paper. Drivers not only pay for personal clothing and health maintenance, they also cover all the costs of assets they use. We have no sick leave or vacation time, no regular breaks, no dependable salary, no retirement, medical insurance, no Workmens Compensation.
Driver have none of the protections trade unions struggled to create during the 20th century following the great depression. When a driver is ill, pregnant or if her car breaks, she’s without an income. If she’s robbed or assaulted on the job, she’s on her own. Drivers cover the monthly cost of high bandwidth cell service, required for the GPS navigator. And, by over-subscribing drivers and inducing ridership with fares that are far too low, competitiveness arises between drivers, rather than cooperation. The program can send call requests preferentially, for instance to drivers of cars that Uber rents to drivers who have no credit (at inflated rates). Then, by telling riders not to tip drivers and telling drivers not to accept tips, Uber puts a negative cast on normal human generosity.
All the physical assets of Uber are owned and maintained by drivers. Uber is a set of algorithms riders use to reach drivers and pay for rides. Uber seems friendly; calling drivers, “partners” but the 25% Uber takes from every fare, the fact that drivers have no ownership in the business and cash-incentive driver invitation program reveals the extent of thought Uber has given to drivers in its business plan.
Uber drivers can make more money getting others to drive than we earn driving. An Uber driver that delivers a new driver to Uber gets a $200 to $500 bonus after the new driver’s 75th trip. Inviting people to drive pays better than giving rides and costs inviters nothing. Uber offers to rent a car to new drivers for $250/week, an amount that is deducted from their earnings before the driver gets her share. A leasing program costs the driver a little less, closer to $180 per week. Uber gives drivers a credit card for gasoline, also repaid to Uber from the driver’s earnings before the driver is paid. Uber guarantees new drivers will earn $750 to $1000 from the first 75 fares; Uber pays the difference between whatever the drivers earns from 75 rides and $1000. This calculation includes the $250 Uber gets for the car, of course. Since call requests do not go out to the closest driver, nor to the first in line at the airport, Uber’s algorithms can send call requests to drivers who are renting cars from Uber and/or to those whom Uber has guaranteed $1000.
It is ironic that Uber calls its drivers, partners. Since drivers own or pay rent for all the assets used to provide ride services, there is in this sense some truth to this. But drivers are not sharing in the equity of the business in which they are investing; they own no shares in the company yet their investment of time and money in the value of the company is cumulatively immense.
We would really be partners if we earned shares of stock in return for our investment of time, energy and money. By calling us partners, Uber misrepresents our position to manipulate judgment. Uber appeals to our desire for self-sufficiency with its invitation to “be your own boss” and “work when you want to”. Of course, This sounds great to new drivers and then after we see the first Ponzi-like windfall of cash incentives, then we see how in reality we’re grist for the mill yet at this point, there’s nothing we can do but work ten to 16 hour days. Perhaps, an organized strike of drivers would force Uber to negotiate fairly with drivers, however, the cash enrollment incentives defends against organization by rapidly adding drivers.
There are some real issues about which Uber has been and is now the subject of class action law suits brought by drivers: Riders and drivers anticipate that the Uber App is programmed to send riders requests to the closest driver. I’ve tested this several times in denser parts of the city, and ride requests went not to the car the rider stood a few yards from, but to drivers blocks distant. Uber explained that a rider has to be a little further from the car, as a measure to prevent fraud, however, sometimes the request does come to me when I’m close by and sometimes it doesn’t? The methodology of the call routing priorities isn’t shown to drivers. Uber acknowledges that the call system and airport queue is manipulated in an attempt to distribute requests to all drivers even when they aren’t the closest car or the first in line at the airport. However, some call requests are more rewarding than others and the priorities for assigning requests of different values isn’t known.
Recently, drivers got an email from the Uber Fuhrer, telling us that the system may now redirect us to a new rider, while enroute to a call request we’d accepted. This practice eliminates the driver’s choice in accepting or not accepting call requests. While this manipulation of call requests is at least suspicious, changing rider requests enroute assumes that drivers can operate robotically, while in complex traffic situations and while it can take a driver to a closer rider, taking a driver’s attention away from road conditions or asking us to blindly follow instructions of a GPS app, which is often errant, while enroute to a call can be dangerous.
Drivers are subsidizing Lyft and Uber’s unrealistically low fares, in some cases, Uber is competing with city buses and the pool fare is competitive with public transit. While this is an important service for the community, why should it be subsidized by drivers? Uber’s percentage of each fare (25%) should pay for promotion, rather than the drivers who bear the cost of “pool” fares. This particular subsidy builds Uber’s prominence in the market place. Perhaps, if drivers earned shares in Uber equivalent to amounts Uber receives from its 25% of pool fares, drivers would be made whole. Our contribution to this subsidy is real not rhetorical. Uber takes 25% whether or not a trip is cost-effective. My fare from a pool ride from the international airport to a hotel downtown was $1.80.
With Uber’s aggressive enrollment of drivers and inflated charges for rental cars for new drivers, the drivers’ earnings decline to below minimum wage after covering the cost of car, insurance, fuel, maintenance, depreciation, health insurance, social security, unemployment and disability insurance, savings for illness and vacations, i.e., all benefits won by labor unions during the 20th century. Uber drivers, by declaring themselves as self-employed, forfeit these benefits, enticed by Uber’s marketing which calls us partners and entrepreneurs, and by the experience of desperately needed pre-tax cash in the hands of under-employed and unemployed people; money needed to pay for food and rent.
Yesterday, I drove a couple from the airport through a half hour of freeway traffic in the rain. When we arrived at Manchester Hyatt, a luxury hotel where they were staying, the father/husband rushed to the trunk of my car to get his bags out before I could help because, in his mind, this would obligate him to tip me. He then hands the bags to the doorman at the hotel, and gives him $2. I earned $3 for the trip because the man had ordered Uber Pool.
The Uber Pool service works very well in Southern California for students and low wage riders but its often a loss for drivers, depending on how the pool works: whether another rider joins the pool and the length of the trip in which there’s more than one rider. I have yet to encounter a pool rider who chooses the pool fare because of their commitment to the environment. They ask for a pool to reduce the fare knowing that, in most cases, they will ride alone. Riders request a pool fare when privacy isn’t a concern because cheaper than the standard fare which is a fifth of the cost of a taxi and less than an airport shuttle. The pool fare isn’t a lot more than a city bus charges for many trips. It’s nonsense to imagine that it works for drivers.
In the UberPool service, Uber sends a request to a driver and then the computer tries to find another rider along the route set by the first rider. If the computer finds a match, the driver veers from this route to pick up and deliver rider 2 before or after delivering rider 1. Often a second rider is not found and the driver eats the discount. At other times, the second rider is far off course and the driver eats the cost of collecting the second rider. After one of the riders is dropped off, the system can add another second rider. According to Zeno’s law, potentially, the first rider might never arrive at their destination but in reality, in this market, the pool rider rides alone.
Why does Uber tell the world they shouldn’t tip drivers? (Lyft doesn’t do this.) Some riders, for instance, adolescents don’t have the money and they’re riding on a parent’s credit card. Most riders are habitually ungenerous and the system doesn’t allow drivers enough time to evaluate riders before accepting a request. A dollar or two from riders who work cleaning hotels or clerking at Walmart feels precious to me. I’ve given my tips to homeless people I pass on the road and to other drivers and hotel door men, a campaign to seed generosity in my world, which a materialist would call insane.
Uber isn’t capable of generosity, it’s a computer program and its perfection envisions driverless cars. The system attempts to manipulate drivers as if we are machines, perhaps in anticipation of future robotic cars that render drivers unnecessary. It’s an illogical idea. In the first place, franchises of robotic car owners couldn’t take advantage of existing assets. All the cars would have to be purchased and maintained by the franchise. Uber is an effective public transit in Southern California because it is a technology that uses cars and existing drivers. Besides that, the business is based on drivers using a software program, not the other way around.
Transportation wanks undervalue the social aspect although Uber’s marketing exploits it: Riders and drivers are both randomly connecting with other human beings and in doing so, they are discovering their own humanity and the perspectives of others. A typical public expectation about Uber’s drivers is still in formulation. Riders do not know what to expect but they are learning to treat drivers with respect because, that is the way drivers treat riders–as peers. This isn’t the dynamic with taxis. Yet, I hesitate to suggest to others that they should become Uber drivers because driving for long periods in traffic is stressful. The driver’s mind is forced to stay alert to things constantly moving around the car, it’s similar to conditions described to me by someone deployed in Iraq.
One night last week, after driving for ten hours, returning home, I threw my tips out the window in disgust. The feeling was worth it and I don’t miss the money. If I’d refused the money as I wanted to, the rider would likely have penalized me with a low rating.
In last night’s commuter traffic on I-5, i drove a marine from SAN to his apartment deep in Pendleton, It was like driving into Palm Desert fifty years ago. He told me about being on patrol and some of his buddies including some that died. His military dialect and manner of speaking were as perfectly performed as if he’d trained to talk the way he did. (James Joyce) got this.
Human beings connect with others in Ubers, taxis, elevators, trains and airliners. In all these experiences, there’s a stress-inducing element, an element of risk and relatively small physical space. A survey might show people choose Uber over taxis for economic reasons, however, my riders have told me they have been surprised to find that Uber drivers lifted their spirits, while taxis hadn’t. Affordability. yes. But when riders enjoy being in the company of Uber drivers, that experience is as important as the cost savings. The computer program that drivers and riders use to connect is necessary but the least important contribution to the uber experience. Technology is necessary to make ridesharing possible but drivers will ultimately shape and the business.
Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t fantastic fiction, he merely projected the outcome: things had to turn out this way.
The seeds of our present disorder were apparent and Orwell took things to probable conclusions; an automated urban culture in which privacy is impossible. Hitler, Stalin, Franco; not even the notorious East German Stazi had the ability to hack every private conversation, as our national police force does. A national police force wasn’t imagined by those who drafted the U.S. constitution, nor could they foresee technology that allows a national police force to watch us literally without oversight, of course, for our own good.
Orwell saw the rise of this kind of police power because it is predictable to protect the economic hegemony given our constitutional protections, when the population grows so large that it can only be managed by algorithms. It seems astounding that a society formed to promote civil liberty now employs the world’s most comprehensive surveillance of its citizens and visitors.
But here we are and isn’t Mr. Trump our perfect Big Brother.
Nine years older in the lying mirror above the bathroom sink I shape the face of a man who looks back at me curious every morning the same face I don’t know.
6:30. A flight roars out of SAN two miles east.
Portuguese saw the sea level rising. Nine feet in 20 years with tourists wielding plastic money. Above the air quality report in the UT now as storms flood Midway, La Playa, OB and Coronado.
Beach and bluffs along the coast fall in as storms surging over Harbor Island, flood the runways at full moon, submerge embarcadero, Humphries, bones of ancient natives float up in the white sands of the strand and SeaWorld.
The sea digests a channel across 75, south of Loew’s and Coronado is again an island. Beachfront homes fight the tide in vain with concrete walls and lobby for coverage insurance companies exempted from their policies. La Jolla beach hotel and tennis club under water; paddle-boarders skim across approaches to bridges connecting Mission Bay and Pt. Loma. The Hilton surrounded by a concrete dike; looks out over a concrete viaduct full of cars as the ecosystem adapts to an atmosphere seeking equilibrium…
I was floored to see Richard Nixon on TV again, saying he’s running for President; the last time I’d seen him on TV, he was in tears, confessing to a bribe from a developer.
More surprised because I believed in the electoral process then. So I wasn’t surprised later about Watergate and Congress allowed the man who would be president to avoid indictment by resigning. Jerry Ford disappeared into the office of our national embarrassment.
I was incredulous when an untalented melodramatic actor was elected by the people to govern the state of California based on his appearance in General Electric commercials, then to hear he’s using State Police to break a strike at Boron, the company for whom he’d been a spokesperson in commercials. 20 Mule Team Borax. The UT said “the media loves him”.
Reagan’s ascent was as scripted as a Dickens novel, yet I still didn’t get that this was the result of planning that must have started when Kennedy was elected–or, perhaps, assassinated . 1960 or 1963.
Ronald and Nancy had their astrologer to advise them and so we forgive them of being guilty of designing the chaos incited by the War on Drugs, deregulation of the banks and the deals with Iran and Bin Ladin. The U-T depicted the presidential royalty as entitled to a few eccentricities. And anyway, the real decisions were made by bureaucrats. The direction of US economic, social and foreign policy must have been considered in making the office of president into such a complete joke that an Austrian weightlifter and actor specializing in depictions of authoritarian, fascist, if you will, slightly demonic supermen.
The Austrian weight-lifter. Arnold Schwarzenegger, mounted the dais in California, where he became Governor and behold if he isn’t supported by survivors of the murdered Kennedy’s camp. Arnold is much brighter than Ronald and seems cleaner than tricky Dick, and although an unmarried man with a history tainted by tales of womanizing, is given the pretense of family values but selling a Prussian Prime Minister in France might be easier than electing a countryman of the Fuhrer president.
Forcing the Chief Executive and Commander of the Armed Forces to resign for getting head from his adult intern in his home office was classic Republican strategy. The circus trial by media was a good thing in terms of gender politics. However, in a bizarre copycat manipulation of public opinion, in this city, a developer bought the city’s only newspaper to force a progressive Mayor to resign with a daily barrage of front page attacks suggesting sexual impropriety, the developer raised trial by innuendo in the press to global attention. The mayor, whose career the UT all but destroyed, was found innocent in a court proceeding after he resigned. The damage done to the people who elected him was incalculable in much the same way as the damage to public trust of government following the assassinations of the Kennedy’s.
The Rumsfeld-Cheney-Bush war scenario seemed absurd; they used a truly horrible catastrophe, in which thousands died to promulgate a war we’re still mired in; they stripped Americans of constitutionally protected rights; federal funds were used to arm and take control of local police departments, arming and training police like those in Ferguson not unlike the arming of police for Assad, Hussein, Bin Laden… Not even Hitler, Franco or Mussolini achieved this kind of militarization and surveillance over their subjects.
Now cometh this man, Donald Trump, a cartoon caricature of a famous person; he sounds at first innocuous and a little stupid, like Donald Duck. But like England’s Brexit, he’s an opportunistic foil to tap national anxiety. And his wife, Melania, a Shakespearean twist. Can you see the two in regional theater productions of one of the Bard’s early plays: Trump as Bottom and Melania as Titania, the fairy queen in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Or the other way around. Top Bottom Bottom Top, Cherries Rubies, Rubies Cherries. Make no mistake, the apparent randomness is planned. The persona of Trump is shaped to a standard–the archetypical white American male.
The minds that plan Mrs. Clinton’s ascendence are equally historiffically informed: Bill is a people’s person, ergo, Monica, but Hillary is long-barrel practical. Can you imagine the conversation of the three? With Mrs. Wasserman onboard, this pairing of powerful women is hot stuff. The Republicans are having a cow about it as their wives constrain them.
Americans are fed up with this. European analysis of American cupidity say, :what did you expect, they are us?” Who votes when the electoral system is a farce and the executive office, a model of a titular monarchy as a front for an oligarchy?
Fascinatingly, the erotic plays an important part in our puritanical culture. The democracy of it! Rumi, Osho and other prophets of tantra, rolling inddddddd their graves! Bill’s relieved of the title role so that now we can say that behind every powerful woman there’s a congenial man with a sexy glance. (Clang clang clang went the trolley and the myth emerges.)
And, here we are on the brink of catastrophic climate change and in the ring tonight, we have, in red satin trunks, the flamboyant heavy weight contender for the oval office, the tumescent warrior, Mr. Donald Trump, accompanied by his light headed goddess, Melania.
And opposite the Trumps, in pale green trunks held by a pink Patagonia technical climbing belt and pink training bra, defending herself, the myth of American and her husband’s virility, Ms. Hillary Clinton and they are spoiling for a fight.
How Trump fares in campaigning is uncertain, since having no record in governing at this point in history is a plus and it wouldn’t it be scary if he’s actually smart and erudite…Mephistophelean. Big Brother has finally arrived.
Let me now imagine god as a woman; images of faces, tones of voice, eyes closing and opening; a magical thing; I’m rendered hypnotizable by this and how are you? A repulsive attraction for some and I feel this when I raise my eyes to the mirror, like the feel of toxins in my body; I like to fly but I don’t like flying solo. Flying solo and toxins defines me; how can anyone with a rational mind trust this world? And there’s no exit. Sartre made it pay but Zarathustra said,
“…what you abstain from, too, weaves at the web of all human future, your nothing too is a spider web and a spider which lives on the blood of the future. And when you receive it is like stealing, you small men of virtue; but even among rogues, honor says, “One should steal only where one cannot rob.” (F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra)