Blog

The Masque of the Red Death

November 11, 2016

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. Just a short review.

Read it.

If you need help interpreting it, let me know.

A Meditation from the Dark of Night

November 9, 2016

I woke up at 3 a.m. to use the bathroom but resisted the impulse to check the election results. What if Trump won? sober thinking said. There’s nothing you can do about it, and you won’t be able to go back to sleep. That lasted for an hour until I finally checked my phone’s browser on the bedside table.

At that point, I got up to do dishes.

I have a feeling that keeping my small corner of the world clean is all I’m going to be able to do for the next four to eight years, as the United States of America lurches toward its ignominious end. I’ve done all I can for the world outside my house.

On the up side, I predict a resurgence of the horror genre.

Don’t Let the News Beat You Up

November 4, 2016

Let your kid do it instead!

Nah, it didn't hurt.

Nah, it didn’t hurt.

The Cost of Being an Uber Driver

October 27, 2016

The word “Uber” cropped up in my life several times last week, so I became curious about what it costs to be an Uber cab driver. My conclusion is that it’s not worth it.

Uber and its drivers I expect will have a different opinion. Maybe my calcuations are wrong or unrealistic. If so, please leave a comment. This is a discussion, not a Matt Warner Proclamation.

What is Uber?
Uber is an app-driven way to hire taxicabs or to become a self-employed taxi driver.

Riders use the Uber phone app to summon the nearest roaming Uber driver. The app lets riders know what driver to expect and even shows a moving icon on a map. At the completion of the ride, the rider’s payment method is charged; no cash changes hands. The payment goes through Uber’s bank, and Uber takes a commission before forwarding the balance to the driver. Drivers and riders can leave satisfaction ratings for each other.

Drivers likewise use the Uber app to signal they’re ready to be hired. It appears easy to become a driver: just upload documentation like your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance to Uber, undergo a background check, and blam, you’re in business with your own car.

The appeal of using Uber as a passenger includes not having to use cash and receiving information about your driver. The fares might also be cheaper than an ordinary cab, depending on who you talk to.

The appeal of becoming a driver includes being your own boss and setting your own hours; that’s certainly worth a dog whistle from my world as a family man, business co-owner, and writer. I imagine there’s also the thrill of seeing the money ring up on your smart phone with every ride, like playing a real-world video game, plus the fringe benefit (if you’re an extrovert) of interacting with people.

The Driver’s Money
To build the below spreadsheet, I relied on Uber’s fare estimator to calcuate the fare-per-mile to three known destinations here in Staunton and Augusta County, VA. I averaged those figures to use as the gross rate in the “per fare mile” column.

The “Vehicle costs” per mile assumption uses the IRS standard mileage rate deduction for 2016. The IRS calculates this rate to be inclusive of fuel, depreciation, maintenance, taxes, and insurance.

Not shown are further start-up costs, such as the “No Smoking” and “No Alcohol” signs I would probably buy, and the Commodore stain protection I would seriously consider investing in prior to transporting my first drunk-sick college student. Uber also encourages drivers to give their passengers perks such as water bottles and gum; that would be an ongoing operating cost that’s not shown below.

The one-third (33%) set-aside for income tax is the figure we use here at Deena Warner Design to estimate our taxes. What it means is that once cost-of-business deductions are taken, one-third of every dollar deposited into our personal bank accounts gets escrowed into a savings account for income taxes. One-third is on the high end of our combined federal and state income tax liability. (We save separately for things like property tax and business licensure tax.)

Analysis
The strongest deterrent I can see to becoming an Uber driver is the operating cost per mile, assuming the IRS calculation is accurate. You don’t earn money when the passenger seat is empty, which means you’re only burning fuel when you’re roaming your area or even driving to pick up a waiting passenger; I labeled these non-fare miles as “overhead miles.”

The spreadsheet shows my estimate that, at least in this area, the take-home pay would be between 57 and 84 cents/mile. Counterbalance this figure against the overhead mile cost of 54 cents/mile, and it means you need roughly equivent numbers of fare and overhead miles just to break even.

Perhaps this ratio is acceptable to most Uber drivers. For all I know, they’re completely stationary while on the clock and between fares. Or maybe business is so plentiful that they never travel more than a couple overhead miles between fared rides, and the fared rides traverse several miles at a time. This latter scenario seems more likely for taxi driving in dense, urban areas.

Not so in my more rural area. Based on this local article from a year ago, I assume the Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta County market isn’t nearly so profitable as the more populated Charlottesville market. Charlottesville is an 80-mile round trip for me. So if I wanted to do business there, I’d need to pick up at least 80 fared miles just to break even on a given day.

This of course doesn’t address the question of market saturation, about which I have no data. How many people in this area have downloaded the Uber app as either passengers or drivers? That would tell me if there was a healthy predator-prey balance. Uber, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to furnish that data nor seem to care, instead relying on the market’s inherent Darwinian capitalism to balance itself out.

A few frank conversations with Uber drivers might clear up some of these questions. If I do that, I’ll write on this topic again. But for now, I think it’s time to draw some …

Conclusions
It doesn’t seem financially viable to be an Uber driver around here. As others have pointed out, Uber could sweeten the pot by reducing their commission or allowing riders to tip drivers. They could also furnish data on market saturation so that both riders and drivers could make informed decisions ahead of time. But it seems unlikely they’ll do any of this. After all, they’re making money hand-over-fist and expanding internationally; why rock the boat?

As I said, I’m interested in your Uber experiences. Is my math wrong? Do you think I’m full of shit? Tell me.

How are Bill Clinton’s Affairs Relevant?

September 30, 2016

Trump & ClintonWith Donald Trump threatening to bring up Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs in his next presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, we’re sensibly asking why he’d even go there. How is it relevant?

In the interests of fairness, let’s take a couple minutes to examine the subject. (Make sure to place the half of your brain into neutral that’s screaming about Trump’s supreme hypocrisy. Why yes, he did cheat on his first wife. Why yes, he’s been accused multiple times of sexual assault, even child rape.)

If I understand correctly, the critique of Hillary’s behavior falls along two main themes.

First, Hillary supposedly wanted to cover up these affairs because they threatened her political career. Linda Tripp, former White House aide and Monica Lewinsky confidant, alleged Bill had “thousands” of affairs. She said Hillary “is someone who had no real personal problem with any of this behavior. The problem was in it becoming public. They had to continue to become electable… She was the more aggressive one in ensuring that the political viability was not endangered in any way.” Buying into this line of reasoning, of course, requires forgetting that Tripp, in saying these things, continues to have a compelling self-preservationist motive of her own.

Second, this critique states, Hillary’s public support of her husband and initial dismissal of the sexual misconduct allegations violated her own feminist positions. She should have immediately smelled Bill’s bullshit, some have said. She should have stood up for women like Monica Lewinsky who’d been victimized by Bill’s abuse of his position. This is the criticism that most resonates with millennial women.

Here’s what I think. I don’t have the necessary psychic retro-cognitive omniscience to prove or disprove these allegations, and neither does anyone else. But since we’re in the spirit of speculation, I would like to raise a couple other possible explanations for her behavior.

The first is, as the aggrieved spouse, she may have been in psychologically self-protective denial for years. Maybe it was too painful for her to face the truth, so she did her best to malign any woman who accused her husband of misconduct. She desperately needed these women to be attention-seeking liars, because to admit otherwise meant admitting Bill had cheated on her. I know, from having ridden shotgun through others’ divorces, that one of the worst things a cheated-on wife must face is self-doubt: “Did I drive him to this because I’m not beautiful/intelligent/supportive/what-have-you enough?” If this explanation is true, it’s not a ringing endorsement of Hillary’s emotional toughness, but it’s definitely human, understandable, and forgivable.

Secondly, what if, as a loving wife, she simply believed her husband’s inevitable denials? Sure, Bill had a few affairs in the past (she might have thought), but this time, these accusers are only seeking attention.

And third, perhaps Hillary just bought into the increasingly rare American myth of the good marriage, that spouses stick by each other through thick and thin. She said as much during a 1999 interview in the LA Times. “Everybody has some dysfunction in their families,” she said. “They have to deal with it. You don’t walk away if you love someone. You help the person.”

Personally, the explanation I most identify with is anger. Yes, Monica Lewinsky was exploited by her boss, one of the most powerful people in the world. But no paramour is blameless. Monica was an adult who knowingly had an affair with a married man. So was Gennifer Flowers. An extramarital affair is an act of violence against the aggrieved spouse and any affected children. I wouldn’t blame Hillary one bit for being furious with these women at the same time as she was furious at Bill. For her to instantly walk out of her marriage to defend Monica Lewinsky — in the interests of feminism, no less — is simply ridiculous. If she’d done that, then she really would have been a political opportunist.

I cannot reasonably hold Hillary accountable for her husband’s behavior. Sure, in her shoes, I would have dumped his ass years ago, but she comes from a generation that believes in walking through hell for the sake of a marriage, even a rocky one, especially if that marriage produced children.

Bill Clinton, not Hillary Clinton, is responsible for his behavior. Let’s not lose sight of that truth as Mr. Drumpf attempts to twist it to his self-serving ends.

The Leaves

September 13, 2016

I got an A!

I got an A!

Here’s another flash from the past. I found it in my school papers from 11th grade English class (circa 1990). The assignment was to write a lyric poem:

“The Leaves”

Why do the leaves
of trees fall?

Exposing the branches,
baring all?

Is life so hard,
and so corrupt,

That leaves can’t take it,
and just give up?

Or are they normal,
just like we,

Who see responsibilties,
and decide to flee?

Article about Transsexualism

September 12, 2016

Here’s a blast from the past. Go to page 16 of this archived copy of the Feb. 6, 1995 edition of The Breeze, my alma mater’s student newspaper. It’s the profile piece I wrote about the first transsexual I ever met. I would never have seen this link, but Jenn, the subject of the article, recently contacted me to chat. She’s doing well and I believe like me is having a hard time believing this was from 21 years ago.

The Writing Lab

August 25, 2016

u1866I’m enjoying THE WRITER’S LAB by Sexton Burke. Lots of cool writing prompts.

Here’s one I worked on this morning over tea on my back patio: “Write a scene during which one character reveals a powerful and emotional truth to another — without using any dialogue.”

Here’s what I came up with:

Randa’s [what was I thinking with that name? nevermind] ability to change her body had given us countless nights of pleasure. Any female body type we could imagine was ours to enjoy in the privacy of our bedroom.

But as I stood across from her in the kitchen, watching her make her skin transparent, I realized there was one type of body alteration she couldn’t do.

She wept as her skin peeled back to show me. An octopus-like mass of black tendrils enveloped the major arteries to her heart and lungs. Cancer. It pulsed in time with her heart beats.

Randa, for all her magical body-morphing abilities, could not cure herself of sickness.

The skin continued to retract down her abdomen. What else did she want to show me?

A fetus the size of my thumb floated in her uterus.

20 Ways to Help an Author Out

August 16, 2016

While at the Writer’s Digest Annual conference last weekend, I picked up this great handout from Wiseinkpub.com called “20 Ways to Help an Author Out.” I’ve taken the liberty of re-typing the tips here. Please apply them liberally to promote your favorite writer.

1. buy the book!
2. buy the book for others as a gift
3. face the book out at bookstores
4. read the book where others can see it
5. ask a bookstore employee where the book is located
6. leave a review on Amazon, BN.com, and Goodreads
7. “like” the author’s author Facebook page
8. reserve a copy at the library
9. attend the book release party and bring two friends
10. spread news of the book through your social media channels
11. arrange a connection for the author with your media contacts and people of influence
12. recommend the author as a speaker at your local library
13. if your library has an annual author luncheon or evening event, suggest the author as a speaker
14. create a Wikipedia page for the author, including details related to the authorship of the book
15. buy a few extra copies, and donate them to your local library, doctor’s office, and community center library
16. send a copy to your favorite radio show with a personalized note explaining why you liked it
17. take a picture of yourself holding the book, and post it on your social media
18. create a Pinterest board by pinning the cover, author’s photo, and any other photos or illustrations related to the author or book
19. offer to write 10 e-mails you’ll send to booksellers, librarians, TV or radio producers, book reviewers, or just to your network of friends and family
20. volunteer to help the author at book events

Brought to You by 5th-Grade Matt

August 5, 2016

In honor of today’s opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, here’s a limerick from 5th-grade Matt Warner of White Oaks Elementary School, in honor of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. I hope this year’s athletes stay in better health than this guy.

olympics001