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


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.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

No Collusion?

I haven't been posting much about 45 (I refuse to dignify him with his name), because I'm afraid I couldn't stop.  But I have something fairly succinct to say about the current flap over the summary of the Mueller report, which is all anyone but the attorney general has seen.

Mueller was quoted that he "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government" during the campaign.  He also "did not draw a conclusion" about whether obstruction of justice occurred.  He did, however, say that the report did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice.  45 has spent the week since the report was delivered, Tweeting madly about how he's been Wronged, and how it was all Fake News.

Nonetheless, it's clear that there was Russian interference in the 2016 election, via a brilliant cyber warfare campaign, not so much in favor of 45's election as against Hillary Clinton's.  Regardless of whether 45 chooses to believe Vladimir Putin on this, if every intelligence agency we have says that this happened (and they do), I believe them, and I thank them.

Consider that a direct connection with the Trump campaign was not necessary for Russia to attack our election using social media and cyber warfare.  Look at the history.  Putin has dealt with Hillary Clinton before, when she was Secretary of State; and he hates her guts.  I don't think he cared which of the 17 Republican candidates won the nomination; he would have launched that campaign regardless.  He didn't care who won, as long as it wasn't Hillary.  I'm sure he was delighted when the field narrowed down to a relatively stupid man, who happened to be a brilliant demagogue, and with whom the Russian oligarchy had done business for the last 30 years.  Putin knew all about 45, if he didn't know him personally.  My take is that 45 is what the Russian intelligence people call a "useful idiot."  Notice that the famous meeting at the Trump Tower with potential "dirt on Hillary" was initiated by the Russians, not the Trump campaign - the fact that they leaped at the bait says more about them than it does about the Russians.

I trust we will soon see the full Mueller report.  But the apparent fact that Mueller failed to establish conspiracy or coordination with  Russia does not mean that 45 is qualified for the office he now regrettably holds.  Because he isn't.  And if he actually closes the Mexican border to all traffic, which he now threatens to do, the impact on the American economy will be, let's say, visible.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Go Away, Juul

I dislike ads in general, and in fact I don't usually read them.  But these days you can't miss the full-page newspaper spreads from Juul, showing a big photo of some obviously adult person, praising Juul for freeing them from that awful tobacco smoke while still supporting their nicotine addiction.

Wait, what?  That's right. The people in the Juul commercials are publicly bragging about how easy it is now to support their addiction.  I don't think I've ever seen that advertised before.  On one level, if you are hooked on nicotine, it's probably better to vape than to smoke cigarettes.  I've heard no suggestion that vaping nicotine will kill you, although some people now worry about small children opening and drinking the little plastic capsules containing vape liquid.  But we know that smoking cigarettes has a very good chance of killing you.  Lung cancer has killed two of my cousins and a brother-in-law.  So far.

I've seen a number of articles and blog posts suggesting that vaping is much better for you than cigarettes - and every one of them so far has traced back to organizations that sell e-cigarettes.  This makes me suspicious.

Make no mistake, nicotine is addictive - smoking tobacco would probably not be addictive if the nicotine could somehow be removed.  (But then, why would you do it?  Cigarettes stink.)  A 1988 Surgeon General's report declared nicotine to be as addictive as cocaine or heroin.  The article Nicotine Addiction 101, from WhyQuit.com, has a pretty good description of how and why nicotine (and other drugs) causes addiction, and why it's so hard to quit.  There's good evidence that early Juul advertising, emphasizing sweet, fruity flavors, has addicted a lot of teenagers who shouldn't be using the stuff at all, as their brains are still developing.  That's why all the people in the ads now are adults, and Juul no longer brags about how nice its vapors taste.  They were forced to change their ads.

Nicotine is a poison.  It's been used as a pesticide for centuries.  A large enough dose of the stuff (30 - 60 mg) will kill you, according to the National Institutes of Health, although other articles indicate the dose varies.  And nicotine addicts, of course, require a much larger dose to kill them.  I'm a detective story fan, and I can recall at least one old novel where the victim is murdered by nicotine (obtained from an agricultural poison) in his drink.

So it's a good thing that both cigarettes and e-cigarettes give you a very small dose of nicotine.  Vape liquid contains somewhere between 3 and 24 mg/ml (that's milligrams per milliliter for the non-metric), and the amount you get when inhaling is a tiny fraction of that. So I'll agree that, on that level, vaping is probably less destructive than smoking, although you get more nicotine from vaping Juul than from smoking a cigarette.  One original Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, so someone who inhales one pod a day is getting equivalent nicotine to a pack of cigarettes a day.  Juul recently said they're putting out lower nicotine options. 

Wouldn't it be better not to be addicted at all?? 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Changing Names

There is a current trend that if a public monument or building is named after someone who we learn was actually a racist, that we should rename it after some more current "good" person.  San Francisco has renamed several streets and a couple of high schools on this basis, and it's related to the urge in parts of the southeastern U.S. to remove statues memorializing the Confederacy.

This is a mistake, and it's stupid.  Frankly, many of our ancestors (yes, I include mine) were racist, and bigoted.  This country was founded economically on racism - the rich economy of the Old South was based on the labor of African slaves, which was justified by a misreading of the Bible.  If you doubt me that it was based on the Bible, read the secession statements of several Confederate states, especially Texas, which make it brutally clear.  Further, this country was expanded on the backs of all the Native Americans we murdered, or gave syphilis or measles to (probably not deliberately); and the transcontinental railroad which tied the country together was built by immigrant Chinese laborers, whom we later prohibited from living here by the Chinese Exclusion Act.

I won't say the racism wasn't our ancestors' fault; I will say they came by it honestly.  Most of the original white settlers in the U.S. came from the British Isles - now the United Kingdom.  Before the 20th century (and for that matter during much of it), Europeans (including the British) honestly believed that people of color were generally inferior to the "white race;" there was a formal hierarchy of races, and some actually believed that they derived genetically from separate origins than white people (see Wikipedia on Scientific Racism, which says that scientific racism was only formally denounced, by UNESCO, after World War II).

So our bigoted ancestors were honored by naming things after them because during their time, bigotry was normal.  Why, then, is renaming buildings and taking down Confederate monuments a mistake?  The Confederate monuments, especially, represent the Old South's cry of victory in establishing the Jim Crow regime.  Why should we memorialize that?

All this renaming allows us to blind ourselves to where we came from.  It lets us pretend, as our schools largely do pretend to our children, that America is a wonderful place with opportunity for all, and that we wouldn't discriminate against anybody.

That is a lie.  America over its history has been a wonderful place with opportunity for some white men; in the beginning, only for white men who owned property.  Over the intervening two and a half centuries, we've gradually expanded the opportunities to other white men (poor men, Irish men, southern European men, Catholic men), to African slaves (Reconstruction tried to do that but was summarily squashed for another 50 years until the Civil Rights movement, see my comments about the Confederate monuments), eventually to the Chinese.  Oh, and to women, who slowly stopped being their husbands' property, and became able to own property themselves, but who couldn't vote until 1920.

If we let ourselves forget how nasty our forebears were, we risk falling back into the same ways.  If you don't know where you came from, how can you focus on where you want to go?  I've written before about tribalism (Hating the Other, Sept. 2010); I see racial bigotry as an outgrowth of tribal attitudes, where "the other" is a threat to the tribe's hunting grounds and other food sources, going back millennia, before agriculture.

We must remember that we have these tendencies, so we can fight to overcome them, especially in the midst of a major recurrence of bigotry and intolerance.  So we should leave Boalt Hall named after the man who backed the Chinese Exclusion Act, but also put up a plaque explaining about his racism.  (The linked article may be behind a paywall, but this one isn't.)  And we should leave up the Confederate monuments, but add a plaque explaining that they represent, not victory in the Civil War, but a successful movement to reduce the South's African-American residents to a state as close to actual slavery as possible.

If we are continually reminded of our bigoted past, we may some day be able to decide, collectively, that racism is a waste of time and energy.  Science tells us that there are no significant genetic differences among the races.  Do we really want to keep arguing about skin color??