Category Archives: Policy

Chicago Toying with Rental Bikes

Mayor Daley is considering a test of 1,500 public rental bikes in a program similar to Paris’ Velib experiment. After visiting Paris this summer, Daley was very impressed with the Paris bike rental program; the Economist reports that Velib has seen daily rides hit 100,000 for its fleet of 10,000 bikes.

This would continue Daley’s long streak to make my hometown one of the greenest in the U.S., and transportation has always been a key component. Though its public transportation authority, the CTA, continues to face financial shortfalls and maintenance issues, Chicago still has one of the nation’s best transportation systems. Millennium Park also offers bike commuters a secure, public bike lock-up facility featuring public lockers and showers.

New Studies: You shouldn’t be an over-protective parent

Parents should take note of two scientific studies that came out this week and added further muscle to otherwise common sense beliefs about education and hygiene. Bottom line: your kids are going to play and get dirty whether you want them to or not. Make sure they get an adequate dose of the truth.

First, an Oxford University study of tens of thousands of American teenagers concluded that Abstinence-Only programs don’t work. A second study, though not statistically significant, suggested that Abstinence-Plus programs (teaching abstinence plus advising on condom use) probably do work. (Of course, as the article mentions, this means that were wasting a huge amount of money on policies that are ineffectual in the U.S. and likely to be ineffectual in developing countries.)

Second, a University of Michigan public health study found that antibacterial soap was no better than regular soap at preventing disease. Triclosan is the antibacterial ingredient that manufacturers like Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive dump into products ranging from soaps to deodorant and even toothpaste (yuck); triclosan may also cause bacteria to become drug-resistant. Of course, this raises the issue of whether we should be so paranoid about germs in the first place. Obsessive hygiene is one theory behind the rise in allergies in children. The hysteria to kill every possible germ is a new one, and you can thank the marketers at the big companies mentioned above.

Recap: 47 Minutes with the TSA

I had a birthday last week, and with it my driver’s license expired. I learned this at 6 AM Saturday morning at Dulles International Airport as Jen and I were trying to fly home to Chicago for a family reunion. While Jen moved quickly through the security line, the security contractor (non-TSA) marked my boarding pass for further security screening and took me all the way to the last security station.

I quickly realized I was in the terrorist suspect line. There were over 50 people in front of me in the line, and except for maybe 6 or 7 individuals, everyone else was either speaking in a Middle East language or wearing a head scarf. I’m absolutely not exaggerating. I counted 6 women with headscarves, and there were two or three groups of Israelis traveling together. Some others in the group appeared to be Pakistani or Bangledeshi, and a few Malysians seemed to be present as well.

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Whitewater National Championships = International Diplomacy

Last weekend we visited two of my oldest friends from Atlanta who moved to western Maryland last summer. Kieran is working remotely for IBM and Matt is managing the new artificial whitewater course at Adventure Sports Center International in McHenry, MD. They also manage four beautiful kids who keep them extremely occupied. After a long night of catching up, the kids woke us up early on Saturday for several hours of errands and field trips. I merely had to keep all four alive (harder than you think, and I can elaborate) long enough to give mom a quick break and then we were off to the race. Though officially opened a month to the day of the race, ASCI was hosting the 2007 US National Championships.

I was lucky to have Matt and Kieran indoctrinate me as a spectator long enough ago to have watched Matt qualify for both the Sydney and Athens Olympics. Whitewater slalom is the most exciting live sport I’ve ever watched and defies description. At first it really seems like controlled chaos. Paddlers either have a strong understanding of fluid dynamics (the science), a vocalized spirituality about how the water wants to flow (the art) , or both. Either way, they understand they can only go where the water permits, and maneuvering is about choosing the right line and hoping for the best.

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Paris Introduces 21,000 City Bikes to Curtail Auto Traffic

In an attempt to reduce auto traffic by 40% by 2020, the Parisien Mayor, long-time friend to bike commuters, has staged another bold move to make the city more bike friendly.

This time, Paris has added a fleet of bikes that consumers can check out for about $1.38 per day. There are bike check-in/check-out stations all over the city, and it sounds like it works like those luggage carts that you rent temporarily at airports.

The city added about 11,000 bikes last week and has plans to expand to 21,000 by the end of the year. A private corporation popped for the cost of all bikes in exchange for exclusive advertising rights at the bike stations (and probably on the bikes as well).

The new movement is called “Velib“, a marriage of the terms “velo” (bike in French) and “liberte”.

The Parisien Mayor has also added 125 miles of bike lanes to Paris since 2001, angering some motorists.

Home Depot’s Green Streak

It has been said that Green is the new Black, as all marketers jump on the eco bandwagon. The NY Times reports on Atlanta-based Home Depot’s new Eco Options campaign, which features and promotes environmentally-friendly products.

Home Depot VP Ron Jarvis heads up the campaign and scrutinizes potential products for their environmental merit. There is no shortage of interested companies hawking products, and Ron acknoledges that it is mostly hype or “voodoo marketing.” While the article paints a flattering picture of Mr. Jarvis, it also notes criticism from consumer and environmental groups that highlight the fact that Home Deport continues to be a (large) retailer of non environmentally-friendly products.

Regardless, it sounds like Home Depot has put the right man on the job. I was very pleased to see Mr. Jarvis thinking about the total lifecycle of a product when considering its environmental impact. Some products have an eco-friendly consumption footprint, though when you examine the entire product lifecycle, including production and disposal, the negative can outweigh the positive. Mr. Jarvis mentions a corn-based rug. Economists as well as environmentalists continue to debate whether corn is really green.

NY Times: At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw?

Primaries underway…

Recent polls have stated that 60% or so of those watching the Democratic primaries are delighted with the candidates. The past few years have witnessed the Democrats putting the strongest contender (rather than the best person) on the ballot, and in this climate of change, ideas may actually be important. (i.e., we get to vote FOR someone rather than AGAINST someone else.)

I love the primaries (in both parties) because the candidate’s haven’t homogenized their platforms yet. Stump speeches haven’t had their rough edges polished. Policies are bold and innovative, and candidates are still figuring out how to water them down to appeal to mixed bedfellows, such as autoworkers and environmentalists. Because the campaign analysts haven’t had much time to oversurvey and focus group every little idea, it’s still unknown as to what cocktail of vision and suibstance are going to sell. As we travel closer to the spigot that is the Democractic primary, we’ll see more co-opting and borrowing. 

The Economist had a great article on Hillary’s candidacy. I once waited 4 hours in the rain to meet Hillary when she was touring with her book It Takes a Village to Raise a Child. I realize that many consider her a polarizing figure, and I have never understood why. It seems to be mostly personal dislike. Is it because of her husband? Is it because she’s opinionated? Or too curt and not smiley enough? I could understand opposing her based on policies, but I don’t understand how people HATE her.

Regardless, public opinion is split and the Economist correctly points out that Hillary may be more effective and mending rifts abroad than at home.

Javaun’s rant on healthcare

I wore an ankle boot for 6 weeks, and so I wasn’t about to undergo surgery without seeing if it had done me any good. I had my second CT scan yesterday. It’s really quite an amazing process. You spend 20 minutes in the waiting room, fill out paper for 10 minutes, then go back to the on-deck circle for 10 more minutes. Then they bring you into the room, put you on the table, and then align you and scan you in less than 3 minutes.

While an MRI is the gold standard for soft-tissue imaging, CT is the gold standard for bones. A fracture like mine, that is almost invisible on an X-ray (the first doc didn’t see it on the first four X-rays, the second caught it on the 7th or 8th) is clear as day on a CT. I didn’t have doubts about going in on Friday, but if I did, the CT was clear enough: I’m not getting better.

So obviously this technology is pretty cool, but not everyone gets to have it. The actual scan I had was complete in about 45 seconds. If you walk in off the street, the going rate is about $1500. If you have any insurance that is in network — including the terrible “open access” HRA I have — the in-network discount is about $1200, which brings the cost down to under $300. Even if I pay out of my own pocket (which I will probably have to, but many people don’t) it’s quite affordable. Now, if you’re a poor person without insurance, at $1500 the cost is 5 times higher. This is a diagnostic, often preventative measure. Who decided that people that can’t afford insurance should have to pay more for the same service?


I asked all the questions, did my reading, called surgeon friends in Tennessee, Oregon, and even phoned Boulder Sports Med in Colorado. I’ve done my homework and I am confident I have the best person to perform the operation. 

I was really lucky to have access to the doctors I’ve seen. I saw 3 of the best ankle surgeons in Georgia before picking one I liked. I also saw the  podiatrist who sees most of the Atlanta Falcons and is a local legend and hero in the cycling and running communities.

I will no doubt face a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, but since I can a la carte several items, such as the hospital, I can choose an in-network facility and an out-of-network surgeon. Maximum choice mixed with cost-savings. My corporate insurance is the only reason I’ve had this level of choice and affordability. Most Americans aren’t this lucky.

Stowaway on the the Obama for America Campaign

As a native Chicagoan, I was delighted when Barack Obama declared his intent to run for president. I’d actually emailed his campaign and offered to assist in any way I could. To my surprise, I got an email last week asking if I’d be available to help his media team shoot video at the Atlanta rally. Of course!!!!

Jen (my wife) has been working in D.C. and was coming into town, and she was also excited to help out. We signed her up as a photographer. Likewise, we enlisted the help of my talented friend and pro-photographer, Andrew Kornylak.

Jen and Andrew worked the crowd to get the sort of grassroots photo journalism shots of people that most main stream photographers overlook. My task was to interview the crowd and document the qualities they expect in the next president of the United States.

One big perk we received were the press-passes that gave us access to the entire venue. Most of us stayed right in front of the stage, until the police evicted us. No matter, it was exhilarating while it lasted.

Jen and Andrew got some great shots. One of Jen’s was actually chosen for the homepage on!

Barack Obama Atlanta Rally
(photo by Jennifer Wills)

Photo by Andrew Kornylak
(Photo by Andrew Kornylak)

Photo by Jennifer Wills
(photo by Jennifer Wills)

Barack Obama takes the stage
(Photo by Jennifer Wills)

The Senator was stirring, inspiring, humorous at times, and always engaging. I really appreciated not only his vision, but his frankness. He’s ready, willing, and able to lead. Above all, he may not have all the answers (does anyone?); his commitment isn’t to posturing, but rather to doing what is right — no matter the difficulty. Justice in all things.

I must have interviewed at least 50 people at the rally. There really was a diverse group from all backgrounds and walks of life. I talked to business people, grandparents, students, teachers, public servants, you name it. One gentleman in the front row hadn’t voted Democrat in 32 years but was ready for change. I spoke with a marine veteran, concerned about his friends in Iraq. I spoke with a mother who told me her gray hair was a result of worrying about her son in Iraq. I spoke with recent immigrants and families who showed me their daughters and said “this is the future.” Several people compared the Senator to JFK. A few more compared him to FDR. Barack was charming as always. He started off telling a few personal anecdotes and how when he thought about declaring his intent to first run for office (State Senator in IL), he did what most first timers do and he consulted two higher powers: he prayed to God, and he spoke with his wife. Barack spoke a lot about change over the course of history and how the American people needed to take their gov’t back. I won’t give away too many spoilers, you need to see the footage.

I should mention that quite a few people in the crowd likened him to JFK. Some had no idea what he stood for, but had a gut feeling he was different. Many talked about his commitment to the long-term vs. the here and now.

What’s really been missing from politics is leadership; the two are definitely not the same. A good leader gives leadership to the masses and also receives it from them. I saw a lot of that yesterday, the idea that our leaders guide and inspire us, but also respond to our needs and our desires. We lead them from the ground up and tell them what is important to us. The good leaders take these movements and drive them. The term “grassroots” is typically a perjorative, when really all successful movements are grassroots. Unless you live in a fascist country, most national policy originates as a citizens’ movement before being co-opted by a national party.

I digress. I was refreshed today. It’s still too early in the primaries to know how things will play out. Obama is still refining his stump speech, and all the candidates know it’s a long road ahead. Certainly, Atlanta is a city sympathetic to him. He may have taken some liberties and used this rally as an experiment here to see how some of his positions would play out in the tougher and bigger markets.

Check the blog and TV postings to see updated video. Here’s an amateur cam of the event, I’m sure more is on the way.