Friday, March 20, 2020

Life While Sheltering in Place

So now we can't leave home except for "essential purposes," or to walk or run for exercise (as long as we stay 6 feet away from anyone we meet).  I love my house but sometimes I have to get out of it; today I took a long walk, up to the top of the canyon where I live.  I used to take this walk regularly, with a cane, when I was recovering from knee replacement surgery.  It's 3/4 of a mile one way and goes up about 200 feet in altitude; a good stiff walk.

I wondered what activity I'd see, walking up the canyon on a Friday afternoon when everyone is supposed to be at home.  Quite a bit, actually. 

I passed the elementary school, and there were some small kids (with parent attendants) riding skateboards down the slight slope of one of the driveways behind the school.  Riding, here, means "sitting on."

A little farther on, I passed the baseball diamond, where a man was pitching baseballs for his teen-aged son to hit.  Further on in the sports field was a family with a picnic, a couple of guys batting a tennis ball back and forth on the grass, a woman kicking a soccer ball with her small daughter, and a couple of small boys throwing frisbees.

The major action was at the 3 public tennis courts at the end of the school sports field.  Every court had an active game, and the practice wall at the side of the courts had 2 guys hitting balls.  I assume all the tennis buffs were here because the private club, further up the canyon, was closed for the duration, with all the other fitness facilities.

Farther up the canyon, I saw people walking dogs, people walking without dogs, bicyclists with kids on bicycles, bicyclists without kids.  There weren't many people, but I was definitely not the only one out.  I'm not sure why but it made me feel better.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Pandemic

I haven't been posting much; Christmas and its aftermath was very chaotic.  And now what we all thought was a sad epidemic in China is a global pandemic, and it's right here in my town, where everyone agrees with China that the best way to cope with it is for everyone to stay home and not mix with other people.

Part of the problem, of course, is that our brilliant government decided it didn't need a team of pandemic experts on standby (Trump fired them in 2018).  And when a real pandemic came along, they decided we should build our own test kits instead of using the ones from the WHO, like most other countries.  And because Trump has also been gutting the funding for the Centers for Disease Control, the first test kits they sent out were unusable because they were missing a part.  China's epidemic is tailing off, South Korea is testing hundreds of thousands of people, and the U.S. can't get off the ground.  California has almost 40 million people, and we have about 8,000 available test kits, some of which don't have all the necessary parts.  Who's the 3rd world country now? 

I may go crazy.  I don't usually put personal information in these posts, but I'll admit that I'm over 70 and I have asthma.  Treated and controlled asthma, but asthma.  So here I am, a prime target for the virus; and there's nothing I can do but wash my hands.  Which I do.  But I'm a very social person; I need to interact with people.  And the "stay home and shut up" advice is steadily shutting down all my options.  My chorus rehearsals - cancelled through the end of the month.  The concerts we had tickets for - cancelled.  If I'm stuck in the house, my solution is to read - I just learned that the city is closing all its libraries "until further notice."

The uncertainty of all this is not helping.  I'm a problem solver by nature; the pandemic is a problem I can't do one single thing about.  And nobody knows how long it will last.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Nothing left to lose

I don't know how many people are following the protests in Lebanon.  God knows there's a lot going on all over.  But I listen to NPR, which has covered this, and I read the Economist.  The people of Lebanon have been in the streets protesting for the last 9 days, ignoring all the Lebanese government's attempts to calm them.  I just heard Marco Werman of The world interviewing a Lebanese activist on the protests.  She said things that resonated with me (paraphrasing):

The government has been "making the rich richer, and the poor poorer" for years, and nothing ever changes, and the same faces keep doing the same things.  She said that "we have nothing left to lose" by demonstrating, despite the fact that Hezbollah, at least, is now beating demonstrators.  Yes, Hezbollah is Iran's Shiite militia in Lebanon, put there to make trouble for Israel; but it's part of the Lebanese government, and its people are attacking the ones protesting the government.

"Nothing left to lose" made me think of a historical incident in 1789 in which "the people" felt they had nothing left to lose.  We call it the French Revolution, and it led to the death of a king and queen, and of a lot of other wealthy and prominent people, by an aroused public that felt it had nothing left to lose.  France is now a republic, but by the late 1790s the revolution had led to the ascent of Napoleon Bonaparte and eventually a war that covered Europe.

I don't know if the leaders of Lebanon read European history or not.  They may think they can get away with this, and continue as they have been.  But if their population really feels it has nothing left to lose, they may be as wrong as the French aristocracy was.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

PG&E Power Outages

Based on what I've read and heard about PG&E over the last couple of years, I have to rant.

Because of the lawsuits after PG&E equipment started a number of catastrophic wildfires over the last few years, the company has gone into bankruptcy.  They've now decided that, to protect their shareholders, and the executives' bonuses, the appropriate response is to turn off the power over large areas of the state, whenever the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning for dry conditions with gusty offshore winds.  We have one coming over the next couple of days.  Because their web site couldn't handle the traffic for the people from 29 counties who all want to know now whether they will lose power, I can't even check their web site to find out if we're affected.

As far as I can tell, this is because they were too incompetent, or too cheap, or both, to create and maintain an electrical power system that would not fail and cause fires.  (Those of us who remember the San Bruno gas explosion in 2010, which destroyed a neighborhood and killed 8 people, feel that they can't manage their gas distribution system either.) 

So they're putting the onus on us, their customers.  I cannot express how angry this makes me.  We have an announced outage coming over the next couple of days, and because their web site couldn't handle the traffic for people from 29 counties who all want to know now whether they will lose power tomorrow, I can't even check their web site to find out if we're affected.

And most of us have no choice - PG&E is a monopoly in most of northern California.

I'm still waiting for one of these outages to kill someone who relies on electrically powered medical equipment, like the ventilator my sister uses (she's in Nevada, thank God).

Monday, May 27, 2019

Disgraceful

It is Memorial Day 2019.  The President of the United States is in Japan, being feted by the prime minister and the new Emperor.  He is NOT here, honoring the veterans who have died for this country over the years - including the veterans who fought Japan for this country!  (No, I don't have any particular animus toward Japan.)

I have relatives (all dead now) who fought in World War II, and other veterans still living.  Let me call out and honor my cousin Johnny Maguire (U.S. Navy, WW II), my cousin Orville Hicks, Jr. (U.S. Navy, WW II), my cousin Michael Maguire (Vietnam). 

I'll also honor my living veteran relatives:  my brother-in-law James David Allen (U.S. Air Force; Vietnam).  My cousin Richard T. Ivy was in the military, in Korea. 

Let me also honor my father, Lestle W. Ivy, who was too old for the second war (born 1907) but moved to Vallejo in 1940 and spent the next 31 years working for the U.S. Navy at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. 

I learned after I began this post that 45 is actually participating in a Memorial Day ceremony on the U.S.S. Wasp, with U.S. service members.  So I guess I can't yell at him very hard.  I still think he should have stayed home for this occasion.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Great Negotiator

Donald Trump ran for U.S. President, among other things, as "the great negotiator."  His book, The Art of the Deal, was highly touted in evidence.  (He didn't write that book, and the ghost writer has had some pointed things to say about him.) 

He's now been in office for 2 years and some change, so we've had a chance to see him at it.  I was going to discuss his many failings as a negotiator, starting with the fact that he has only a limited understanding of how his opponents think; but I realized it would take a full volume, not just a blog post.  But for a blatant example of his ineptness, I refer you to an article in the April 25 Economist called America Wants to Challenge Rogue PetrostatesAs I read it, I found myself shaking my head. 

The incident which blew me away in its stupidity was related to the Iran oil ban.  He announced in May 2018, when he withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, that America would impose sanctions on Iran's oil industry, starting in November.  To support this, he dickered with OPEC to increase oil production, to help restrain oil prices.  Saudi Arabia did this, increasing production by 600,000 barrels a day from June to November.  This was quite generous of the Saudis, since they require an oil price of something like $80-$85 per barrel to balance the national budget.

Just before the sanctions were to take effect, he announced sanction waivers for 8 countries, including China and India (the biggest investors in Iran oil) - and he didn't warn the Saudis, who reduced production in December, along with the rest of OPEC, when oil prices fell to $51 a barrel.  And he considers MBS a good friend.

The rest of the Economist article, which I highly recommend, goes into detail on several other aspects of Trump's attempts to manipulate the oil market to support his policy positions, apparently with less idea of how the oil market works than I have.  Or for that matter, with less idea of how the international financial market works than I have. 

I didn't vote for him; I wouldn't vote for him for second assistant dog-catcher.  But we're stuck with him, at least until 2020 (I hope, no longer), and every so often I have to rant about him.  Thank you for reading.


Thursday, May 02, 2019

Another jewel from Art Hoppe

In December 2013,  I posted a link to a column by the late lamented Art Hoppe, reproduced on the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate web site.  I have another one for you, assuming you can get past the paywall for sfchronicle.com, which is where the Chronicle Classic series is posted online. 

Today's column is called The Mightiest Nation, originally published on July 15, 1987.  Read it and weep - I hope you can get to it.  It sounds merely mildly sarcastic until you get to the last paragraph, which raised the hair on the back of my neck.