Medicare and Medicaid are bankrupting the Federal AND state governments… which begs the question why anyone would propose what is essentially more Medicare and Medicaid? Why not fix Medicare before attempting to restructure 17% of the U.S. economy?

It’s increasingly clear that the Obama healthcare plan will not cut costs or improve the quality of care, which is what is driving the poll numbers down. So if we agree that a plan that cuts costs, maintains the same quality of care, and expands coverage to uninsured is the goal, then let’s put tort reform on the table and decouple employment and healthcare benefits, and embrace something like the German system where risk is pooled, financing through a payroll tax, and competing private insurance plans not impaired by state regulators (in other words, enable interstate commerce for insurance providers)?

What’s happening to fine dining in San Francisco?

I’ve noticed that restaurants are sending an increasing amount of promotional emails and when I do eat in SF on the rare occasion, it’s quite often that there are many empty tables and last minute reservations are not a problem.

Fine dining is under siege. Many places the writer mentioned are also the most expensive in the city, so they’ve taken a hit in a tight economy. In addition, aside from Zuni Cafe, they’re the types of places that most people reserve for a special occasion. Other factors also come into play, including the fact that many diners are turning away from fixed-price menus. In our A.D.D. world, many diners become impatient if they have to sit too long at the table. We’re also becoming much more casual, so the more formal restaurants move further down on the list of where people want to go.

[From Michael Bauer: Between Meals : What’s happening to fine dining in San Francisco?]

I think Bauer misses an important point by simply laying it on the economy and in suggesting that we are becoming more casual toward restaurants. The economy for restaurants is tough, but the disparity between SF restaurants and those down on the Peninsula of similar caliber it noticeable, which makes me think the problem is more multi-faceted than the restaurant economy in general.

SF restaurants are considerably more expensive than counterparts in other parts of the Bay Area, partly because of mandates like the healthcare surcharge that gets added on SF restaurant bills, and also because from a competitive standpoint these restaurants seek parity rather than price undercutting. When you add in parking SF restaurants present a pretty expensive evening out and the bottom line is that SF’s restaurant economy depends on tourists and people from other parts of the Bay Area traveling into SF to eat… and with the tourism business down that means the slack needs to be picked up by the exurbs and it just isn’t happening.

The other criticism of SF restaurants is that the service quality is really spotty. I don’t want to be rushed through dinner by a server pressing me to order, finish my entree and pay the bill. I also don’t want to wait to get a drink or feel like a bobblehead searching for a server when I need something. Dining out is a service AND a food experience and the best restaurants, in SF and beyond, are the ones that deliver on both points.

My wife and I went out to dinner on Saturday at a favorite restaurant in Palo Alto, which we had not been to in a couple of months. The valets remembered our name, we immediately went to our table even though we were 15 minutes early, and here’s the best part, the server must have looked up what my wife always orders to drink because he had a cocktail waiting for her at our table. The food was excellent, as always, but it was the service and attention put on us that won the evening because you leave feeling like you were treated rather than just ate out. The experience was so much better than the last time we went to Michael Mina… and that’s the real problem for SF restaurants.

The Market for E-Readers

I agree with this statement:

But industry executives believe the time has come for consumers to begin embracing dedicated readers, especially as the prices fall into a comfortable range.

“There were readers who were perhaps unable to join the digital reading environment because our prior products might have been cost prohibitive,” said Brennan Mullin, vice president of the audio and digital reading divisions at Sony. “These latest products are breaking that barrier.”

[From Market for e-readers may be turning a page]

However, I think the hardware vendors miss the point that it ain’t about the device anymore… it’s about the content. Amazon, like Apple with iTunes, was able to translate an engineering achievement into mass market success because they made it drop dead easy to enjoy content on the device and they lined up a huge inventory of content that could be enjoyed.

The Sony e-reader is a superior device to the Kindle in many ways, but like Sony’s failures with digital music services their e-reader has lagged because Sony does not have anything comparable to Amazon’s service integration for content.

The Plastic Logic device is one to watch because they have the wireless deal in place as well as a relationship with Barnes & Noble to integrate content merchandising and fulfillment. This is smart but in many ways they are set up to always be “Avis to Hertz”… as in we’re number 2 but we try harder. It remains to be seen whether a competitor to Amazon that is simply a lot like Amazon can achieve the market momentum necessary to carry them forward in the U.S. market, which for reasons I can’t explain, operates as a zero sum outcome for digital services, as in a winner and a bunch of losers.

That Sony could fumble their clear multi-year advantage in e-readers is mind boggling, right up their with whiffing digital music and screwing up the goose that laid their golden eggs… the PS3. At this point I think it is beyond debate that this company is incapable of asserting leadership in any digital services market, the preferred outcome for Sony shareholders should be to break up the company and sell it off piecemeal.

Red Light Camera Tickets Thrown Out in CA City

There are 2 things about the red light program in Santa Ana that confirm what the critics of these programs, yours truly included, have been saying all along, it’s about revenue and not public safety. Santa Ana moved these cameras around at will, redeploying cameras in intersections that were not generating sufficient revenue to new locations.

Secondly, they cut the yellow light timing down to 4 seconds from the state law mandated 4.4 seconds and issued tickets for cars that were in the intersection .5 seconds after going red. This is important because decreasing yellow light timing is proven to increase accident rates and a car in the intersection after the yellow turned red could potentially be ticketed even though they were not technically in violation of the law, unless they were going well beyond the speed limit which would give the the speed necessary to cross the distance of the intersection before the 1/2 second past red time elapsed.

A California judge last week began throwing out red light camera citations issued in Santa Ana. Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Kenneth Schwartz declared the city’s program void because it had ignored several provisions of state law. Local attorneys Mark D. Sutherland and R. Allen Baylis had challenged the city for its failure to provide the required thirty-day warning period before beginning the program and its use of a prohibited per-ticket “cost neutral” compensation scheme.

[From California Judge Declares Red Light Camera Program Illegal and Void | The Truth About Cars]

Fortunately the judge in this case is doing the right thing, declaring each ticket not guilty (which prevents the city from re-filing the citation) and holding the city accountable for their willful violation of state law regarding red light cameras.

Attorney Baylis sums up public sentiment toward these camera programs by saying:

“As a matter of public policy, I think the public is not in favor of this use of technology,” Baylis said. “I think at some point people are going to become tired of the government intrusion in their lives.”

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