Transit Talk

Shall we start with some good news? I think we should.

Word from the engineers studying the Transbay Transit Center beam cracks is that they’ve ruled out a design flaw as the cause of the problem. That means once the cracked beams are repaired (or, presumably, replaced) we should get decades of use out of the terminal.

Granted, we still don’t know what the underlying problem is or how long repairs will take. In theory, we’ll know the answer to the first question by the end of November–but don’t forget the difference between theory and practice. And, although the engineers are already planning repair procedures based on a variety of likely scenarios, implementing those plans could still take months.

But let’s focus on the positives here. Based on what we know now, unlike the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, the TTC’s problem seems to be limited in scope and unlikely to recur. That’s a big win.

To be fair, however, all is not sweetness and light in TTC-Land. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority–an alias for the city’s district supervisors–voted to withhold tax money that had been slated to go toward the next phase of the Transit Center*. The SFCTA is also calling for an investigation of the whole project and the Joint Powers Authority, which currently oversees the TTC.

* Laying new railroad tracks to bring Caltrain into the Transit Center.

An extended delay could permanently derail the train project (sorry). That would make the TTC a mindbogglingly expensive bus-only project.

Stay tuned to see how this one plays out.

Meanwhile, BART is taking steps to ensure that we don’t lack for expensive transit projects to worry about. They’re about to present plans for a second connection between San Francisco and the East Bay.

I hesitate to call it a second Transbay Tube, as early reports suggest it could be an above-ground project associated with one of the existing auto bridges.

According to the Chron, construction wouldn’t even start for another decade, which does make me wonder if we’re going to get a reprise of the Bay Bridge’s extended design and implementation. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see them rush in and give us something half-assed.

Still, ten years of planning should produce plenty of blog fodder. That’s a good thing, I think.

And one final Bay Area transportation note. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering a plan to do away with toll booths.

No, that doesn’t mean doing away with tolls. Don’t be silly.

The goal would be to go to all-electronic toll collection, something that’s already been done on about 20% of the country’s bridges and tunnels.

There are some good arguments around cost savings and safety to be made in favor of the change, but there are also some unanswered questions to be dealt with.

Most notably, in a region as heavily dependent on tourism as the Bay Area, how does electronic collection work for someone driving a rental car? I hope the MTC isn’t figuring that Uber and Lyft are going to put Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise out of business any time soon.

I also wonder just how much support the MTC will have for some of the ideas they’re considering under an all-electronic toll regime. Congestion pricing is never popular, but I could see it happening.

But implementing tolls on traffic in both directions seems like a plan designed for failure. If you thought the gas tax caused a major upset, just wait until voters hear that a round trip across the Bay Bridge is going to cost $15.

BART had better hurry up with that second Bay crossing. When the price tag for driving hits two or three times what transit costs, we might actually get a few drivers off the road. (Yeah, I know. That’s my optimistic side speaking.)

Good News / Bad News

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I’ve got bad news and good news.

The bad news is that it’s too late to get a cool sticker like the one at the top of the post–the rare, three-word special edition.

The good news is that there’s still time to get the regular edition, which is almost as rare. It doesn’t have that third word, but that third word is the least important of the three.

Go exercise your franchise. It’s the Right Thing To Do.


Okay, so you’ve voted. Now what?

I’m going to dump some depressing news on you here, because I want to get it all out of the way at once and save Thursday for something cheerier.

The message is this: even if there’s a massive blue wave that give Democrats control of both the House and the Senate, we don’t win anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Taking control of Congress is a necessary step to repairing the damage done to the country over the last two years (and the fifty years before that). But in itself, it’s not enough to fix anything. At most it’ll prevent more damage.

Because, while Congress can block a judicial or cabinet nomination, it can’t make nominations. Suppose Kavanaugh gets hit by a bus. A Democrat-controlled Senate can block whatever conservative candidate the White House picks–and hand the Republicans another talking point about obstructionist Democrats–but they can’t offer a liberal candidate.

A Democratic Congress can pass laws, but can’t force the president to sign them. There’s no way to get enough Democratic congresscritters to establish a veto-proof supermajority in both houses. Not in 2018, anyway.

Nor, and let’s be brutally honest here, would a two-thirds majority in both houses do any good. The modern use of a signing statement to, in essence, say “This law doesn’t apply to me,” gives the White House an out, as does the option of simply ignoring any inconvenient legislation. Remember the Russian sanctions of 2017?

Don’t forget, as well, that newly-elected representatives don’t take their seats until January. That still leaves the current administration a couple of months to rush through as much legislation as they can.

As I said, flipping Congress is a necessary step. But it’s a holding action. This is the beginning of a long, hard fight, not the end. See you at the polls in 2020, 2022, 2024,…

There’s Always One

As Thanksgiving approaches, the neighborhood gang is out in force.

They do it every year; a kind of ongoing, silent (usually) demonstration of solidarity with their domesticated brethren.
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Not everyone is with the program, though. Did you notice Tom? Here’s a better look as they continued down the street.
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Yeah, up there at the top of the picture. There’s always one guy who goes his own way.

Maybe Tom is in a world of his own. Maybe he figures he’s got enough problems of his own, staying out of the jaws of the local coyotes; who cares what happens to a bunch of domestic turkeys he’s never met? Or maybe he’s a Wild Supremacist, actively promoting the elimination of lesser sub-species.

Regardless of his motivations, he does eventually join back up with the rest of the gang.
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At which point, of course, they all give him the ol’ hairy eyeball and break the silence of the march. As best I can tell–I’ve forgotten most of the Turkeyish I learned in school–the commentary boils down to something like, “Geez, Tom, you are such an effin’ turkey!”

To which Tom, of course, replies maturely, “Takes one to know one, guys.”

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

No Sleep Until…

The ongoing saga of Brett Kavanaugh makes me want to go back to bed and not come out again until November 6. Which is, of course, exactly the response Republicans want. So here I am, at the keyboard, not hiding under my warm, dark blankets.

I keep wondering just how stupid the Republicans–or the people behind the Republican decision-making processes–think we are. Dumb enough to try a fake punt*? Especially if the stream of accusers continues to flow–and let’s not forget we’re hearing about a possible third now. There could be more.

* They’re already using the ol’ hidden ball trick, concealing their current attack on Medicare and Social Security in the latest emergency spending bill behind the noise and confusion of the Kavanaugh and Rosenstein shows.

Not that I’d suggest anyone might try planting an accusation. But if someone turns up with an accusation that Lindsey Graham and his colleagues see as particularly weak? I could see him saying, in essence, “You want an investigation? Fine.” Turn that one accusation over to the FBI for investigation, take whatever evidence they turn up that doesn’t outright prove the accusation, and use it to say “Hey, this has been proven false, so therefor all the other accusations must be as well.”

Probably not, though. Senator Graham is already on record as saying he’s going to vote in favor of Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment no matter what. And he clearly expects all Republican senators to go along with him. So why bother trumping up evidence of Kavanaugh’s innocence? Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t called for a vote already.

I still don’t see the value in rushing his confirmation through ahead of the November elections. Even if the Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, the Republicans will still be in charge until January. Plenty of time to ram the nomination through. Even if Kavanaugh goes down in flames, unlikely as that seems right now, they’ll have enough time to get somebody they approve of onto the court in time to save Trump’s bacon.

And let’s be realistic: even if the Blue Wave succeeds far beyond Democrats’ wildest dreams, they’re not going to gain enough seats to put impeachment–of Trump or Kavanaugh–on the table. That would take a two-thirds majority in the Senate. There’s a better chance that a couple of conservative judges will have fatal heart attacks in the next few months than there is of the Democrats gaining that much control.

None of which is to say the Democrats should give up. Any Supreme Court justice appointed by the current administration will be a disaster for the country.

Delay, delay, delay. Put it off as long as possible, take whatever gains they can in November, and build on them in 2020.

Then maybe it’ll be safe to crawl into bed.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’m sure the residents of the Carolinas are relieved to hear that FEMA is on the job and our president says “We are absolutely totally prepared” for Hurricane Florence.

After all, FEMA and Trump did such a magnificent job in Puerto Rico last year. Undercounting the dead by two orders of magnitude. More than half a year to restore power.

But I’m sure the Carolinas will get more and better help than Puerto Rico did. After all, both states electoral votes went to Trump. Heaven help Virginia if Florence shifts to the north, though.

It’s worth noting that Trump will not be going to Jackson, Mississippi for a campaign rally Friday as previously planned. With Florence expected to reach land by early Friday morning, millions of people are evacuating the coast. And rallies aren’t the only events affected. High school and college football games are being rescheduled. Concerts have been canceled.

Notably, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a state of emergency, citing fears of flooding, downed trees, and power outages.

Regardless, our government soldiers on. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Thursday. That said, it’s widely expected that committee Democrats will delay the vote to next week, presumably after Florence has passed and power has been restored to Washington*. Because it wouldn’t do to allow the court to go into session next month short-handed.

* Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it hasn’t been restored elsewhere. Crews from further north and inland have already been tagged to assist in the Carolinas, and you know the comfort and safety of our elected officials is paramount, but as far as I can tell, nobody’s paying a whole of attention to the people in between.

Depressing thoughts on what should be a day of remembrance. What I find myself remembering is the way individuals always seem to step up and do what needs to be done in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

It’s not the big agencies. They show up later–if they show up. It’s certainly not political parties.

Take a minute today and thank a neighbor for being there. Don’t get ridiculous about it. There’s no need to thank that guy down the street who lets his dog dig up your flower bed, or the ones you’re pretty sure are making meth in their basement. But the folks you don’t usually pay much attention to, good or bad. They’re the ones you’re going to rely on when your neighborhood is hit by a hurricane, earthquake, or zombie apocalypse.

Bailing Out

California has approved a change to state law which will do away with bail. Only if the law stands, of course. As might be expected, loud voices have been raised in opposition.

In brief, SB 10 will do away with bail, and require each county to set up its own system of risk assessment to determine which defendants could be released on their own recognizance, be required to submit to electronic monitoring, or held in “preventive detention”.

Naturally, bail bond businesses are objecting the loudest, but they’re hardly alone. The ACLU is opposed, as are a large number of law enforcement organizations.

The primary objection–outside of the bail bond industry, which would be largely destroyed if the law stands–is that it places too much control in the hands of judges. With local jurisdictions able to assign their own weights to whatever factors they consider relevant, and individual judges free to interpret the guidelines, critics of SB 10 fear that it may increase the number of people held in jail pending trial, rather than reduce it.

And certainly, there are any number of ways such a system could be gamed to disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.

The bill was initially proposed in 2016, and has been substantially modified since then. Many of the groups who disapprove of the version just signed by Governor Brown approved of earlier versions. Even the primary author, Senator Bob Hertzberg (Democrat, Van Nuys), seems less than enthralled with the final version. The Chron quotes him as saying that “Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete.”

Cynic that I am, I tend to read his comment as “Well, it was the best I could do. Maybe we can fix it later.” And pessimist that I am, I’m doubtful whether fixes will be a high priority.

“Release fast, fix later” may work for software. Maybe. The jury is still out on that. But it’s a bad approach to lawmaking.

Opponents are considering challenging the law in court, and have already started a petition drive to put the question in front of voters in 2020. (The law will take effect in October of 2019 unless blocked in the courts. Or, if the referendum qualifies for the ballot, the law would go on hold.)

One additional factor that I haven’t seen mentioned in the press: it seems likely that under SB 10, electronic monitoring would become more common for pre-trial defendants. However, the defendant is required to pay a fee for the equipment. Seven bucks a day (according to an article from 2016) doesn’t sound like much, but that adds up quickly. If a defendant can’t afford bail, how likely is he to be able to afford two hundred dollars a month?

I’m generally in favor of doing away with bail, but I have to side with the ACLU* on this law.

* While I have some sympathy for the bail bondsmen, I don’t have a lot of patience for the “This change will put me out of work” argument in general, and even less in this case, where the change is intended to save the jobs of many, many more people.

The potential for abuse is too great, the approach is flawed, and the “fix it later” attitude is offensive. Scrap SB 10 and start over.

Two Things

I don’t want to make this another political post, but there’s one thing I feel obligated to say: It’s not over!

Seriously, folks. I’m seeing a lot of celebration over the Manafort conviction and the Cohen plea deal. And yes, they’re worth celebrating.

But it’s not, as many columnists seem to think, the end of Trump. Case in point, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote that “the president’s strategy of diversion and evasion collapsed.”

Which president has he been looking at? Has he read any of Trump’s tweets over the last couple of days? Or any statement coming out of the White House over the last year and a half? This is an administration that runs on denial, obfuscation, and lies.

Has any Republican in Congress snapped out of his paralysis and done anything more concrete than expressing cautious concern? Not that I’ve heard about. Has there been any sign of Republican pushback against Brett Kavanaugh? Not that’s been reported in any news source I’ve got access to.

Until we see Republicans taking action against Trump–or until Democrats control both the House and the Senate–not only is Trump not done for, it’s not even the beginning of the end.

‘Nuff said.

Moving on to something more cheerful.

The affinity between cats and boxes is well known. I–along with every other blogger since the Internet was created–have written about it before.

You can find pictures of cats in boxes with little trouble. Cats in shipping boxes, cats in cereal boxes, and on and on.

But nobody has come up with a box specifically designed for cats to sit in. Until now, anyway.

That’s right. Scott Salzman has, according to the Longmont Times-Call run a successful Kickstarter to launch sales of his purpose-built cat-sitting boxes (not to be confused with the sort of cat boxes normally filled with litter).

That’s right. For a measly ten bucks, you can now offer your cats a box built just for them. No more secondhand, used boxes!

My prediction? Your cats will completely ignore the “Purrfect Cat Box” you buy them, and instead play with the packaging it was shipped in.

Surf’s Up

Looks like all of our problems are solved.

That’s right, Californians can rest easy now that we have an official State Sport. Sorry, rest of the US, you’re on your own.

Okay, yes, I’m sure it was an important lack. After all, every other state already–what? Really? Only twelve? Never mind.

Seriously, though, surfing is now the state sport of California. And yes, I’m sure the five percent of Californians who surf* are totally stoked, Dude. And yes, I know surfing is totally identified with the state in the public mind, thanks to fifty years of music and movies. I’m even aware of California’s many contributions to the technology of the sport.

* That’s a guesstimate. Various surveys show the Californian surfing population somewhere between 1.1 million and 2.5 million. The total state population seems to be right around 40 million. So, five percent.

But, really?

No, I’m not bothered by the fact that surfing is already the state sport of Hawaii, where it was invented. After all, rodeo is the state sport of South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, and they seem to be sharing the burdens and joys without significant conflict. And Delaware’s state sport is bicycling, and I’m quite sure bikes weren’t invented there.

I just wonder if this was really the best use of the government’s time. Especially in an election year, with a hell of a lot riding on the results.

I’ve seen it suggested that this action will help fight federal efforts to open the California coastline to oil drilling. Excuse me while I go laugh myself sick.

The bill was authored by a Democrat. Maybe it’s an effort to recruit the surfer vote. “Democrats made surfing the state sport, so come out and vote against Republicans.”

You know, now that I say it, that almost sounds sensible, compared to most of the political news. Maybe we could swing a few older voters further east with similar strategies. Any Democrats in Nevada and New Jersey want to sponsor legislation to make gambling your state sports?

Losing Face

More proof, as if anybody needed it, that Facebook didn’t get where they are today–a dominant force on the Internet, with a bankroll large enough to slide them through public relations disasters that would kill any lesser company–by playing nice.

Not with its users, and certainly not with the outside world.

You’ve probably seen the recent news stories about their detection of several accounts, possibly linked to Russia, that Facebook believes were attempting to sow confusion and create conflict leading up to the November elections.

In brief, these accounts were promoting protests, specifically counter-protests against pro-Nazi–pardon me, Alt-Right–events.

My cynical side wonders whether Facebook would have taken action if the accounts in question had been promoting the original rally rather than the counter-protest, but since there’s no way to know, that’s something of an irrelevant point.

The bottom line here–and Facebook is, of course, focused directly on the bottom line–is they have to be seen to be doing something about Russian interference with American elections.

Not only have they closed the accounts in question, but they’ve taken the additional step of notifying people who expressed interest in the counter-protest that it might be a Russian operation.

Needless to say, this has not been a popular move with the event’s other organizers, who have had to spend the past couple of days proving to Facebook that they’re not fronts for Russian spies, while simultaneously reassuring people that the counter-protest is real.

Naturally, Facebook doesn’t see a problem. They’ve Taken Action! They’ve Caught Spies! They’ve Made Facebook Great Again!

And it’s not like the protest groups are major advertisers, paying Facebook large sums of money to promote their event.

Facebook’s other recent move is to make it harder for their users to see what’s happening outside of Facebook. Until yesterday, it was possible for bloggers to automatically link their blog posts on Facebook. No longer. (It’s not just blogs that are affected by this move, either. Auto-posting of tweets to Facebook won’t be possible anymore, nor will it cross-linking be possible from any other service.)

Sure, you can still manually link a post. Log into Facebook and copy/paste the relevant text or URL. Takes two minutes. Except, of course, if you’re a prolific tweeter, blogger, or what-have-you-er, those two minutes per post are going to add up quickly.

What really stings about this move, though, is that it only affects posting to Profiles, not to Pages.

Grossly oversimplified: Profiles are intended for users–consumers, in other words. Pages are intended for groups or businesses–or, as Facebook would prefer to call them, revenue generators.

Pages get less visibility than Profiles. Unless, of course, the owner of the Page pays Facebook to advertise it.

I did mention that Facebook’s eyes are on the bottom line, right?

So where does this leave me? I make no secret of the fact that I’m on Facebook–with a Profile, not a Page–purely because it’s considered to be a major part of an author’s platform. “How are people–readers!–going to find you if you’re not on Facebook?”

Right or wrong (and I’m well aware of the counter-examples, thanks), that’s the reality we live in right now. Nothing has changed in that regard since the Cambridge Analytica revelations. So leaving Facebook still isn’t an option.

If I want my posts to keep showing up on Facebook, I’ve really only got two choices: post manually, or convert my Profile into a Page (and then pay Facebook to promote it).

Converting wouldn’t stop them from selling my personal information to other advertisers, and I really hate the idea of paying them to sell my information. And I’m not crazy about having to post everything twice (and thank you, Twitter for not setting up a similar block).

This post will get a manual link. Future posts will too, at least for the time being–but I’m not about to link to the Friday cat posts at midnight. My loyal Facebook followers will have to wait until I get to my desk Friday morning.

And we’ll see how it goes. I will undoubtedly forget from time to time. No question that I’ll botch the copy/paste periodically. If the whole thing gets to be too big a hassle, I will give up on Facebook, regardless of the “necessity” of being there.

Because, no matter what Facebook thinks–or, more precisely, wants its users to think–Facebook isn’t the Internet.