Friday, July 31, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
For people too young, or with no sense of history, light rail used to not just connect neighborhoods within cities, but different cities as well. There was a time when, with some small gaps that required some walking, one could ride from the suburbs of Boston, to the island of Manhattan, albeit with dozens of transfers. Here in Los Angeles, we had the red car system that connected communities as far apart as Santa Monica and Riverside. I'm not arguing that we should build such an extensive light rail system. People do like cars, and will continue to favor private transportation over mass transportation. But, high speed, elevated rail lines, not subject to crossing traffic, and quiet enough to go through neighborhoods, and over buildings; that connect the already existing transit systems of different cities; or that connect rural communities with nearby urban areas, would do this country a world of good. Here in southern California, a line that would run from Santa Barbara in the north to San Diego in the south would take a lot of cars off the roads, allow people to increase the area in which they can hold jobs, and allow me to go to San Diego for the weekend for $5. Such a system could keep small towns alive, allowing easy and low cost commutes to urban centers. And a system built to bad weather standards, could allow quick evacuations from hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and blizzards. And since we're talking about an airplane fuselage on wheels...well, Northrup, Boeing, and General Dynamics are a natural to design, and build a modern, high speed, interurban system. All that's needed is for the federal government to get involved. Accept bids for a common track design for the whole country so that, if warranted, systems can be linked up over time.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
"So it says on your resume, that in your last job, you drove your employer to the brink of bankruptcy. That they only survived because of a massive government bailout. It also says that you almost destroyed the economy of the whole planet. So why are you leaving?"
"Well, I didn't feel like I was being paid enough for my work in impoverishing millions of people around the world. It's just not fair."
"Sounds good, so is half a billion enough?"
So I'm no math wiz, but if a company has net revenues of $5.4 billion, pays out $3.9 in bonuses, and loses $159 million, doesn't that mean that if that company paid out less, or nothing at all, in bonuses, that company would be profitable? Well, they are the masters of the universe and a lot smarter than me.
Monday, July 20, 2009
9. Merced to Fresno. This stage almost duplicates a route from the 2009 Tour of California that started in Merced at city hall, the intersection of N St. and 18th. St. and ended in Clovis at the intersection of Bullard Ave. and Pollasky St. Clovis is a suburb of the much larger Fresno, so I just pushed things to the campus of Cal. State Fresno. The route follows CA 140 and 49 into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Climbing, but nothing really serious. 118.5/912.9.
10. Visalia to Paso Robles. This route follows, exactly, a route from this years Tour of California. Starting point, the intersection of Aceqia Ave. and Church St. in Visalia and ends at the intersection of Spring St. and 11th St. in Paso Robles. The route starts in the San Joaquin Valley, and goes over the coastal mountains. 134.3/1047.2.
11. Monterey to San Luis Obispo. As I've noted before, there are some drives between stages. Monterey is a two hour or so drive north of Paso Robles. The route follows the coast highway through Big Sur and past San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst's Xanadu. Also Moro Rock. This should be one of the most beautiful stages of this imaginary tour. Perfect for television. 137.1/1184.3.
12. Bakersfield to Kernville, going around the southern side of Lake Isabella. Time for a time trial. After a fast, flat getaway from downtown Bakersfield, the route goes up an extremely steep and winding road that follows the lower Kern River, one of America's great white water streams. At the top things get flat again, as the route goes around Lake Isabella to Kernville. Some undulating climbs on the northern side of the lake. 66.6/ 1250.9
13. Lake Isabella to China Lake. This is the one stage where I couldn't get an exact distance. I don't think that the National Forest road this route uses is in Mapquest's data base. The route goes north from the town of Lake Isabella, through Kernville, following the river. Then it makes a sharp right turn into the Sequoia National Forest. The climb is steep and long, with many very steep sections and switchbacks. After it peeks, there is a long and technical descent to Kennedy Meadows, and then climbs again, before starting a long, switch backed descent to the Mojave desert. Safety nets will have to be put up along this section of road, since going over the guard rail would probably be fatal. Once the road ends in the desert, it follows frontage roads along CA. 14 and then cuts over to China Lake, an entrance town for a military base. I'm guessing around 120 miles, though I wouldn't be surprised to be off by 20 miles either way. Estimated 120/1370.9
14. There are lots of National Parks in California, and this is the only route from this tour that goes through one. The Park Service already allows a running race from Bad Water in Death Valley to Whitney Portal, so it wasn't much of a stretch to think that permits would be obtainable for the Death Valley National Park section. The route starts in Lone Pine, gateway to Mount Whitney, goes through the park, and ends in Beatty, Nevada. 114.7/1485.6
15. Las Vegas, to Lauglin, Nevada. This isn't a particularly long or difficult stage, but any tour organizer would be foolish to exclude Las Vegas from the route. Laughlin is another casino town, located on the Colorado River. 95.2/1580.8.
16. Needles to Barstow. I've done some reading about the history of the Tour de France and was surprised that there was a time when the route would often use gravelled roads. In the first five miles out of Needles, there are several short, gravelled sections. Expect flats, but as part of a neutralized role out, that shouldn't be a problem. Following route 66, the most famous road in the United States, it will be necessary to have race referees stationed at several railroad crossings. If any riders have to wait fifteen minutes for a slow moving freight train to rumble by, times will have to be adjusted. Also the longest stage of this made up tour. 160.3/1741.1.
Rest day and part three to follow.
I tried to watch as much as the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings last week, and as I watched, all I could think about was Pete Wilson. Hispanics are still the fastest growing minority group in the United States, and Republican panel members chose to use there time on live television to attack Sotomayor on ethnic grounds. I don't think I've ever heard the word "Latina" used in such a pejorative manner, as I did last week. And when Tom Coburn decided to imitate Ricki Ricardo, well it was California circa Pete Wilson all over again. If Hispanic voters weren't overwhelmingly Democratic two weeks ago, they are now.
To hell with bipartisanship. I applaud the Repugs for committing electoral suicide. The fight against global warming can't be won with market based solutions. It's the market system that got us into this mess to start with, and as long as there is a significant Republican presence in Washington, the market will continue to fight any attempts to solve problems that aren't inherently a source of profit. When I read how Repugs are hoping to turn health care reform into Obama's Waterloo, I realize that bipartisanship isn't possible. So thank you, Judge Sotomayor. The racial hatred shown by Jeff Sessions, Tom Coburn and their ilk, will help to shovel the Republican party onto the dung heap of history.
P.S. to Tom Coburn. Ricki Ricardo was Cuban, not Puerto Rican.
To hell with the whole too big to fail thing. It's time to let one or two of these super banks fail. Sure, there will be a god awful mess made, but I can't see any other way to make the "masters of the universe" listen. They should read a little history and realize that the economic system we have today isn't the same one that existed 200 years ago. Things change, and after a failure or two, we can move on and start breaking up Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and most importantly, Goldman Sachs. Like I said, things change, and you don't have to be an economist to know that we can't keep allowing a handful of financial institutions run roughshod over the world.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I grew up on Walter Cronkite, and I think if he had never been born, I would not have the appreciation for news and politics that I do. It may seem weird, but when I was a kid, fooling around was done before, after, but never during the CBS Nightly News. Cronkite, in a mere 30 minutes, minus commercials, managed to get me excited about the greater world beyond my small, home town. Following the space race, the presidency, the cold war, and even the Vietnam war, didn't just make me a better informed person, it made me a curious person. Cronkite, Eric Severied, Roger Mudd, and all the rest excited my interest in what was going on in the world, and also made my want to know about the history that was the foundation for so much of what was going on. Cronkite made me a newspaper reader, as I sought to get more detail on the stories that he reported. He also made me a student of history, as I sought to understand how the past influences the present. I've got to say, I really feel sorry for all the younger people who have grown up on new media, and completely lack any sense of the historical precedent, and the interconnectedness of the world around them.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I've always thought of Jimmy Carter as the American Cassandra. In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of the king of Troy. The gods gave her the gift of prophecy, but also cursed her. She could see the future, but no one would ever believe her. Looking back, Carter was right on so many things, but he lacked the political skill to convince the American electorate of the need to change the way we lived, for the long term good of the country.
Thirty years ago today, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech on an energy crisis, caused by the OPEC oil embargo. In it, he noted that the United States was so dependent on foreign oil, that we had lost our foreign policy independence. He laid out an ambitious, Manhattan Project type plan to make us energy independent. While he could have limited his remarks to freeing ourselves from OPEC oil, through conservation, higher efficiency standards for cars, and alternative fuel production, he also talked about the need to move from a carbon based energy system to clean, renewable sources. Thirty years ago today, Jimmy Carter was laying out a plan to increase solar, wind, and geothermal energy production. If only we had listened.
And then Ronald Reagan became president, with his hostility to government and his belief that markets solve all problems. Well, markets don't solve all problems, markets make money, and if money can be made by making things worse for the majority of Americans, so be it. If we had followed through on the Carter, energy initiatives, today, we'd probably be the world's largest producer of solar energy, as well as the world's leading manufacturer of solar generating equipment. Ditto for wind. We'd probably be driving around in a mixed automobile fleet, powered by oil, natural gas, electricity, hybrid technology, and very likely the first generation of hydrogen cars. And as a bonus, we'd probably be living in a much cleaner environment, and a world far less threatened by global warming.
But, of course, we didn't. In the end, OPEC folded when it became evident that Carter was willing to push energy independence, no matter what the oil producing countries did. Ronald Reagan hailed it as the market solving problems, when in fact it was government's willingness to use direct action to remake the world into a more energy diverse world, that weakened OPEC. Reagan, as only a doctrinaire conservative could, misidentified the problem, and, in the long run, made us more dependent on foreign energy sources, while doing, very likely, irreversible damage to our environment.
So thank you Ronald Reagan. Thank you for a world where we fight wars for oil. Thank you for global warming. Thank you for permanent drought, rising sea levels, and dependence on oil companies, foreign and domestic. You really did screw the American pooch.
Friday, July 10, 2009
If I had months to go through the records, I could come up with thousands more.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
In the last presidential election, actress Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in a commercial for proposition 3, a ballot initiative to provide funding for children's hospitals in California. I don't know whether Curtis was a true believer or a paid spokesperson, but she was effective enough that the prop. 3 passed easily. The ad started with Curtis leading a children's choir in a rendition of John Lennon's Imagine. She then went into a brief bit about the necessity of passing Prop. 3. In the last shot of the commercial, Jamie Lee Curtis turned to the camera and said, "Remember, Proposition 3 has no new taxes."
Yes, Proposition 3 had no new taxes. In that, she was 100% honest. What was left out of the ad was the eventual cost to the California state treasury. By the time all the interest is paid, and all the incidentals are taken care of, the total bill will be closing in on two billion dollars. Maybe we'll get lucky, and when it's time to pay things out, the state will be swimming in cash, and it won't matter. Highly unlikely. The facts are, the people of California have used the initiative system to cut taxes, make it almost impossible to re-raise them, while passing one expensive, and unfunded, bond measure after another.
We've also passed expensive social experiments, one of the best examples being the three strikes law. Playing on a, mostly, unfounded fear of crime, we the people, bypassed the state legislature and passed an initiative that greatly expanded the states inmate population with no way to pay for the new prisons, guard salaries, utilities, food, clothes, and medical care needed to house all those extra prisoners.
The fact is, every initiative that's put before the electorate comes as a singular thing, with no thought that paying for one proposition takes money away from other state programs and obligations. An informed legislature that works on budgets for everything at once, can see how an increase in the education budget, with no new revenue streams to pay for it, means a decrease in, let's say, the parks budget, or more debt. And since the park's budget may, in fact, have built in restrictions passed by the voters, the only choice may be to pass another bond to paper over that years budget short fall.
Of course, we don't' really have an informed legislature anymore. We the people decided we were offended by the idea of professional politicians in Sacramento. So what did we do? Why, we passed term limits. Now, just when someone in the state assembly finally learns how the system works, and just as importantly, doesn't work, they're out, only to be replaced by another amateur. I have nothing against assembly speaker Karen Bass. I'm willing to accept, without reservation, that she's the best we have to offer, but she's only been in the assembly for four or five years, and in one or two years, she'll be term limited out. In other words, she hasn't been around long enough to really understand the system, and she'll be gone before she has a chance to master the process. What a waste.
Direct democracy may work in a very small town, where the electorate is a couple of hundred people, but in a state as large as California, it has proved to be a disaster. California is a failed state. Not failed in the way that Somalia is, but a failed state nevertheless. Probably the one hope for our salvation is a state constitutional convention that could dump the current mess, and replace it with something simpler, and more workable. And as far as propositions go, the only one I'm interested in voting for, is a proposition to get rid of propositions.
So there it is, from memory, a rewrite of a deleted post from six months ago. Of course it's not the same, my memory isn't perfect, but it does convey my thoughts on the ongoing destruction of California, helped along by the smiling and effective spokesperson, Jamie Lee Curtis.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Well here's my totally illogical theory: Governance as performance art. Every time I turn around, I hear of some politician who claims to love governance, but hate campaigning. Makes sense. After all who would want to spend all of their time begging for money, glad handing strangers, and making the same stump speech over and over again. Politics is the means, to the end of power. And, by the way, that's not a criticism. Power, ambition, those are two things that are at the root of government. We like to think that great leaders are at heart, humble, and altruistic. Humble never, altruistic, who knows.
Palin strikes me as one of those people who loves politics, but hates governance. The woman barely shows up in Juneau, and let's be honest, she's not the brightest bulb in the world. Running a state is probably pretty overwhelming for such a limited intelligence. She does, however, have a real talent for moving people. She can work up a crowd as well as anyone out there. Of course, from my point of view, she's more Mussolini than Lincoln, but that's a whole other story. I think she loves the adulation of the crowd, and the best way to be loved by the masses, is to get out of Alaska and get on the stump speech circuit. My guess is that she's going to be working up conservative crowds about abortion, gun ownership, and Obama, and making a good living at it.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
It is the fourth of July, and once again, we Americans are wallowing in patriotism. Well, I think, as a people, we're way too patriotic. All of us, including we liberals, are constantly trying to prove how much we love our country, and I think that's why scoundrels do so well in the United States.
While I haven't agreed with everything that president Obama has done, I'm hopeful that he'll do well. Still, on this holiday, I think it's important to remember that we've just got through eight years of scoundrel heaven. The scoundrels appealed to patriotism and brought us one unjustified war and one ill managed war; they sold us on the patriotism of the market place, our American way of doing business, and we have the worst economic crisis since the crash of 1929. It's hard for me to be patriotic when I can't even afford to eat every day. Love of country, as defined by the scoundrels, has brought us a country that's now owned by the oligarchs, while most of us dig in our nails, trying to hold onto the cliff's edge.
No, I'm not damning patriotism, America, or hope for a better future. I am damning the scoundrels. I'm damning our George, Ronald Reagan and their legacy.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
As a liberal, I do wish that my fellow American leftists would stop heaping praise on people like Zelaya, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales. You can't have a democracy without an election, but an election does not a democracy make. It is also the rule of law, rather than the rule of the individual that makes a free state. None of the leaders I've mentioned are harsh dictators, but each has shown a tendency towards, what I would call, a soft dictatorship.
They've all tried, on some level, to allow themselves to be elected president for life, and each has also shown a tendency to rule by decree. They're all a long ways (Well maybe not Chavez) from secret police and disappearing the opposition, but they're all laying the ground work for a hard dictatorship, with no limits, that are not self imposed, on their power.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The mountain as character. Dr. Johannes Krafft (Gustav Diessl) and his wife, Maria, on the north face of Pitz Palu. Grandly romantic, this film starts with a kiss that coincides with an avalanche that sweeps Mrs. Krafft to her death. The doctor imagines that he can hear her cries for help deep with in a crevasse. Or is it his imagination. Descending into the glacier, it's only the sound of running water.
On the anniversary of her death, another young couple have arrived on the mountain, Hans (Ernst Petersen) and his fiance Maria (Leni Riefenstahl) are staying in the climbing hut beneath the north face, when Dr. Krafft, compulsively climbing in the mountains, shows up at the hut. After spending the night with Hans and Maria, he rises early to attempt the north face, as yet unclimbed. A mountain guide had showed up the night before to let him know that five students from Zurich would also be attempting the route. Joined by Hans and Maria he starts up the mountain. There is another avalanche that sweeps the students to their death in the crevasse that was the final resting place of Mrs. Krafft. The same avalanche has injured both Hans and Krafft, and along with Maria, they are now trapped on a narrow ledge, where all they can do is await rescue from the local mountain guides.
Hans is at first, unconscious, while Johannes Krafft, with a broken leg, stands on the ledge trying to signal for rescue. During the day he calls out, at night he waves a lantern, to attract attention. The mountain guide, who is also a loyal friend of the doctor's, climbs the mountain searching for the students and Krafft, and finds the dead students. He returns to the village to get the other guides and leads them on a night time, torch lit, climb of the mountain. In a spectacular sequence, the guides descend into the glacier, lit only with their torches, to recover the bodies of the dead students. They then begin, again, to search for the living. Meanwhile, a pilot and friend of the young couple, Ernst Udet, playing himself, has flown into the mountains and locates the stranded party. Over the course of three days, the guides climb to the group's rescue. Hans, losses his nerve and tries to throw himself of the mountain. Krafft and Maria tie him to the ice to save his life. As the temperatures drop, Krafft wraps Hans and Maria in his hat, sweater, and coat to prevent them from freezing to death. With his last ounce of energy, he climbs up to an ice shelf and then freezes to death, and is buried in the snow by a storm. Nearing death, Hans and Maria are saved when the guides finally climb down from a ridge, to their rescue.
Melodramatic at it's core, this movie excels with it's depiction of the climbing world. The constant shots of the mountain and it's avalanches focuses attention on the plight of the three stranded climbers. Krafft, doomed from the start, finds a level of redemption in saving the young couple, something he couldn't do for his wife. Stunning photography brings the mountains to life. The night shots of the mountain guides, climbing up the mountain, lit by their torches, followed by their day light skiing back down the mountain to the village are almost abstract in the way they are photographed.
Before she became a director herself, and, sadly, became associated with the Nazi Party, Riefenstahl was known as the star of a series of mountain movies. She is stunningly beautiful, shot against the snow and rock of the mountain. Diessel is great as the doomed climber and doctor.
The White Hell of Pitz Palu was shot in Germany, and released in 1929. Co-directed by Arnold Fanck, and the under rated G.W. Pabst, who also made Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. The original negative has been lost. This version was mastered from a surviving nitrate print. I've written about the Kino Video version of this film. A few scratches hear and there, but over all, the condition is excellent. Highly recommended. This DVD also has an hour long interview with Riefenstahl and a sound sequence from a 1935 rerelease.
It seems that Angel Island, Mount Diablo, Point Sur, Fort Ord Dunes, Point Magu, and Border Fields were all once federal properties, and when they were deeded to California for use as parks, part of the deal was that they be kept up and running in perpetuity. That's got to hurt. Action Hero has positioned himself as the tough, fiscal conservative willing to do anything to bring fiscal responsibility to the golden state. Every time he turns around, he finds out that some pesky law is tying his hands.
Of course, his biggest problem isn't with the state legislature, unions (a favorite whipping boy for Action hero), or the feds. His big problem is us, and while I think the Gov is, to put it mildly, in way over his head, I kind of feel sorry for him.
The people of California have used the initiative process to cut taxes, make it almost impossible to re-raise taxes, while passing all sorts of social programs, and expensive bond issues, all with no way to pay for them. We've even gone so far as to use the ballot box to dictate to the state government how to allocate funds. And let's not forget, we didn't like all those evil professional politicians, so we passed term limits to guarantee that our state will be run by amateurs, the worst of the lot, governor Action Hero himself. It's time to put the gov out of his misery. The amateurs in the Sacramento legislature should impeach the amateur in the governor's mansion.
Here in Los Angeles, we have thousands of large, flat roofed buildings. From movie studio sound stages, to big box stores, to industrial properties, we have hundreds of thousands of roof top acres that could be used for roof top solar arrays. Too, while as a city, L.A. may be turning to vertical housing, most people still live in traditional, single family, stand alone homes, most of which could easily be retro-fitted with solar panels, as well as small, wind turbines. The only thing stopping such usage is money. While the cost of solar panels, and small wind turbines is coming down, they're still pretty pricey.
The obvious solution is for utilities and government to pay for the installation of solar cells and small wind turbines. If California would make the commitment to pay for any retrofits to homes owned by people whose income is below a certain, to be determined amount, we could rapidly move towards generating a high percentage of day time electricity without the use of coal, nuclear, or natural gas. Of course, the people of California have used the initiative process to block tax increases, so it would be almost impossible to pay for, unless....It's time to view power as part of infrastructure, and get rid of private utilities. Pay for solar panel retrofits out of utility bills rather than paying dividends to investors. We've already got a start towards the public ownership of utilities. In the L.A. area we have the DWP, the Department of Water and Power, as well as other publicly owned utilities through out the state. Use the state's power to take over ownership of private property to take over Cal Edison, and the other private companies, and run them all as a break even operation, and we can move more rapidly to clean, renewable power generation for all. This whole, only the market can solve problems, private property is sacred notion,will be the rope that hangs us all.
Too, while we're examining power generation in California. Why not the oceans? We've got tidal energy, as well as reliable ocean currents in abundance just off our coast line. Could it be that we're reluctant to tap the oceans for power generation because people with money like ocean views, while people without money live in places like Barstow and Baker?