Thursday, October 23, 2014

Open Letter to my friends in Oregon on Measure 90

In California we have enjoyed a top two open primary system since 2010.  We have had a couple of election cycles to kick the tires and while there was plenty of consternation about a new system nothing earth shaking has come to pass.  The effects while subtle build the potential for long lasting and positive effect.

The old partisan system rested as much power as possible in as few hands as possible while giving an illusion of real democracy.  In reality very few people controlled the money and the access to resources needed to run.  Partisan power brokers could tell potential upstart candidates that if they ran they would never get financing or support from traditional sources ever.   Someone that ran as an outsider had to have enough money of their own to at least kick off the campaign and see if they could attract nontraditional cash.  To upset a system controlled by a very few one had to be part of an even smaller group, the very rich.  Toss-up districts were almost non-existent and upset races even more rare.  Since the outcomes were predictable the monetary flow was also predicable.  It was what one might see as great for the business of politics.  It was however a nightmare for governance.

During the 2012 primary here in the First Assembly district we had two Republicans and one Democrat to choose from.  As an Independent I had my choice from all three as did anyone else without regard to their party of registration.  I didn’t make my choice based on ideology but on a combination of electability and things that I read from good source about one candidate that caused me some concern.  I tend strongly toward the conservative but being more interested in problem solving not much of an ideologue.  After the election I found that my friends that strongly lean to the left made the same decision and for the exact same reasons.   As a district we found a candidate that we felt would represent most of the districts constituents.   That is Top Two’s strength: the system has a bias toward consensus as opposed to partisanship.

A battle between someone that is sure to win and someone that is sure to lose isn’t an election, it is a rigged system and that is what our old partisan Primary system was.  Between gerrymandering and the partisan primary for most of our districts it was almost a waste of money to go through the election exercise.  It is no wonder that California has had a declining turnout for a very long time.  Those that say recent low turnouts were due to the top two are conveniently ignoring that it is just another step in a long trend of declining turnout going back much further than our new choice of primary systems.

Minor parties are doing as well as they ever have.  The Top Two Primary only restricts them from losing two elections instead of just one.  They have as much winning as anyone.  The candidate that wins just has to prove that they will represent more voters than just one other and they move on to November.   It is a very simple test.

One should not worry that Measure 90 will make Oregon more like California.  Measure 90 passing should make Oregon more like Oregon because more of Oregon’s citizens can participate in the process.  Based on how things went where I live, I can with confidence recommend that my friends in Oregon vote yes on Measure 90.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Loma Prieta; Part Two

While local officials were telling everyone to stay home my fellow techs and I were being paged to let us know that the next day we would start twelve hour shifts.  When computers run emergency services and hospitals those that repair them are considered emergency responders.  The boxes that this company built had a well deserved reputation for reliability and it turned out to be the dullest duty that I ever pulled.  There were however a few interesting memories.

We had an office in San Francisco’s financial district.  San Francisco would not allow the buildings to be occupied until checked out by the building department.  A few of our people were in the building before that announcement and loaded two vans with parts, rented a hotel room in South San Francisco and used that for an office.  They did not have near as much as they needed so we became San Francisco’s stockroom.  

The Bay Bridge was missing a section so parts were being hauled all the way down to the San Mateo Bridge and up the peninsula to customer sites in San Francisco.  It took half a day to get done.  When asked me to run four cases of parts to San Francisco,  I grabbed my pal Henry and said “this is dumb Bart is still running you grab two cases I will grab two and we can do it in an hour.  Henry was not warm to the idea but after a few digs about his lack of courage he agreed. 

Our Alameda office was a few miles from the Coliseum Bart Station and the customer site was on top of the Market Street station.   About half way under the bay the train just stopped and the lights went out leaving us in pitch black and under water, oops.  Henry had a tiny keychain flashlight and when he turned it on the look on his face was far from pleased.  In fact if looks could kill I would have been listed as a casualty of the quake.  There were about ten of us on that car and everyone was scared.  In fact the lady sitting in front of me went into a complete and frenzied panic she flailed about so wildly that a couple of people held her down to keep her from hurting herself.   After a few minutes the lights came back on and after a few more the train began moving.  It happened a few times on that trip but for such a short duration that we had no time to be frightened over it.  Needless to say there would be no more talk of moving parts via mass transit after that. 
IA fed days later  was paged to service a software company down the street in Alameda.  The customer had a normal problem unrelated to the quake but did need a mundane repair.  They had interesting landscaping coming up to the door.  It was a strip of grass about thirty feet long and four feet wide surrounded by brick trimmed concrete walkways.  The grass was all torn up at the end nearest the building.   The repair was an easy fix and I chatted with the system manager while the system came back up.  He said that he had started out the door to his motorcycle and realized that he forgot something when he turned toward the building the shaking started.  He noticed a lump about the size of a small dog at the end of the grass furthest from the building.  After a few seconds it ran the thirty feet length looking like an animal under a blanket.  When it got to the far end water and sand explode and a piece of brick work broke off.  It was quite a lesson in liquefaction.  He handed me the piece of brick and with his permission I took it back to our office.  I gave it to my boss as a paperweight and memento of her first earthquake.  No matter where you went or who you talked to there was a story.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Loma I recall

As I write this it was twenty-five years ago that we experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake.  I was a tech for a  computer company.     It was a busy but otherwise uneventful work day.  Our office was a new building on the south side of Alameda.  Several of us were turning in old parts and picking up new ones in preparation for the next day.  It could have been any other day.  I was last in a rather loosely formed line at the parts counter.  I needed a suitcase full of parts for an appointment at 08:00 the next day.  

Jerry was a long time friend, smart as a whip and first in line at the parts counter.  He did his parts work and set off to pick up his wife at her office in Oakland.  His commute was well scripted, pick up the wife get on the Cypress take it to I-80 and finally home.   

Next in line was Claire; a hard working single mom and just about as nice a person as one might ever meet.   Unfortunately  for Claire her pager went off.   In our business a page that near quitting time usually meant you were working late.  Sure enough Claire had to grab some parts,  jump in her van and get to Berkeley pronto.  While she got ready we talked about what traffic she might hit on 880 going through Oakland and what effect the World Series might have on the commute.

Once my friends were out of there I took care of my business and decided that since I skipped lunch I would grab a candy bar to eat on the way home.  I lugged the heavy kit case over to the break room vending machines.  Behind me at the vending machine was Arlene, a recent immigrant from Washington DC.  Arlene was tough as nails and a lot of fun to be around.  I got a Baby Ruth said “see ya” to Arlene and headed for the door when the building started shaking.  Having lived in California for all but two years of my life I didn’t think that it was a big deal.  I literally set the kit case in the break room doorway, opened the Baby Ruth and started eating it.  I looked across a large room full of cubicles to see my boss stick her head out of her office door and realized that she had only moved to California from New Jersey and was not yet earthquake tested.  I stood up, waved her back into her office and yelled for her to get under the desk.  She wouldn’t have got five feet in those heels with all of that shaking.  It did feel strange shouting orders at my new boss.  As went to sit down I realized that Arlene was still in front of the candy machine trying to get her balance.  It was 1989 and heels were still standard office attire.  My mind flashed to something that I heard on the radio about all of the vending machines on military bases being bolted to the floor because the young soldiers would shake them to get free stuff and the near one ton machines had fallen on a few of them.  I ran over and guided Arlene a few feet to my suitcase chair.  It seemed like it went on a long time long time but the shaking only lasted about 15 seconds. 

First I called the wife; all the circuits were busy.  Everyone around me seemed okay and in truth this new earthquake safe building made me feel like this was nothing to worry about.  On the way home I found just how wrong that I was.  Not one traffic signal worked and no radio station would stay online for more than a few seconds.  It took over an hour to drive the eleven miles home.  At home it was obvious that this was a big deal because everyone on the block was outside talking.  It was how our block handled all big events, talk and drink beer in front of Buds house  He always had a fridge full of beer in the garage.  He also had a small battery powered TV and as I saw the coverage on the Cypress structure my heart sank, I had friends on that structure and at that time.  With no phones working I could not check on them and if I paged them they probably could not call back.  It was a very long night.

Jerry picked up his wife got on 880 and when the freeway started to shake everyone went for their brakes.  Jerry thought it was a traffic jam and was right next to an off ramp.  He got off the freeway as soon as the brake lights lit up and took the back roads home.  It was his standard commute plan B and this time it really worked for him.

Claire was on the freeway when the shaking started, she thought she was getting a flat tire.  When she looked in the mirror to move over to the right all she could see behind her was a huge dust cloud.  A couple of minutes earlier would have made a very big difference. 

There are more stories about the weeks that followed but this post is long enough already.  Just remember everything you know can change in a few minutes or even as little as fifteen seconds.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Applegate Fire

We rural folk tend to distrust outsiders and dislike loud mechanical noises.  Unless of course there is a nearby wildfire and then it is welcome and thanks to those mutual responders from afar. A special feeling of relief comes with the constant din of helicopters filling their buckets nearby and the roar of a low flying DC10 tanker known as a VLAT (Very Large Air Tanker).  For me the sound of our local Cal Fire Battalion Chief's voice on the scanner was particularly comforting as I know how experienced and capable he is.  One must make due with good sounds at times like this because when we live in a land of canyons and tall trees it is hard to see anything. 

Best wishes and prayers for our fire fighters and neighbors that this fire comes to a safe and quick conclusion.

Here are a few links about the fire.

Thursday 10/09/14 Video of Community Meeting about the fire (very informative).


Placer County

Caltrans road conditions to see if I-80 is open.

Caltrans traffic cams to see how bad the backup near Applegate might be.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Get a Warrant!

I caught wind of this News 10 investigation on Facebook.  In light of legal decisions over the last few years it is difficult to believe that anyone in law enforcement could consider this type of snooping legal without a warrant.  Probably the most frightening thing about the use of such technology is the level of secrecy involved with the manufacturer requiring non disclosure agreements and law enforcement refusing to release even anonymous data on level of use.   Not being a legal scholar I picked up a few articles for readers to check out and form their own opinion. 

Sacramento sheriff admits to use of cellphone spying technology

 USA Today
Cellphone data spying: It's not just the NSA

Supreme Court: Police Need Warrants to Search Cellphone Data

Washington Post
Supreme Court limits police use of GPS tracking

Cell Tracking