Good News / Bad News

Apparently it’s a Good News/Bad News sort of day.

First up, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee has released a draft of their report on the Bay Bridge’s 2,200 bolts.

  • Good News: The report concludes that the bolts can “safely remain in service”.
  • Bad News: Caltrans’ credibility is so badly damaged that Jaxon’s article in today’s Chron gives almost as much space to a dissenting opinion. That opinion, provided by Yun Chung, a retired Bechtel engineer, takes issue with the design and extent of the tests Caltrans conducted.
  • Good News: At least Caltrans has documented the tests. That’s a major step forward from their previous practices on the Bay Bridge eastern span.
  • Bad News: The release of the draft report comes just a few days after the minimal “management shakeup” that’s been widely panned. Regardless of the Committee’s intent in releasing the report, it comes across as an attempt to distract the public’s attention from Caltrans’ failings throughout the bridge’s construction.

Next, we need to turn our attention the other end of the Bay Bridge.

  • Good News: The popular “Bay Lights” display on the western span will not end in March. Thanks to a $2 million dollar matching donation, the $4 million cost of making the installation permanent has been raised.
  • Bad News: That $4 million doesn’t include anything to cover the maintenance and power costs of the lights, estimated at $250,000. That money will be coming from bridge tolls. The same tolls that are pledged to cover maintenance of the entire bridge, including, one presumes, the “continued inspection and maintenance” of those 2,200 bolts. How long will it take for Caltrans to propose another increase in tolls to maintain “Bay Lights”?

There’s more news on the international scene.

  • Good News: President Obama is taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba. I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and the other Cold War era events that led to the U.S. policy of pretending Cuba didn’t exist. Maybe if I did remember those years, I’d understand how a unilateral embargo–ignored by the rest of the world–coupled with an ongoing series of incompetent attempts to foment a public uprising against Castro could possibly weaken Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union and improve conditions for its citizens.
  • Bad News: There’s no way Obama is going to get a Republican-controlled Congress to support the plan. It’ll be spun as Obama being soft on Communism and illegal immigration. Given the Right’s ongoing attempts to demonize Obama, it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts explaining in all seriousness how normalization of relations with Cuba is part of a plot to turn Americans over to alien mind-controlling lizards.

Still on the international front,

  • Bad News: Sony and theater chains have decided to shelve “The Interview”. Nobody has presented any evidence that North Korea is behind the Sony hacks, nor is there any credible evidence that the hackers could carry out their threats to bomb theaters. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sony and the theater owners have acceded to a terrorist demand despite the total lack of proof that the terrorists could actually carry out their threat. Now that the precedent has been set, look for a string of unsubstantiated bomb threats leading to the cancellation of any film project that could possibly be considered controversial.
  • Good News: By shelving “The Interview,” Sony has spared us the prospect of TSA-style security screenings at movie theaters. At least for now we’ll be spared the need to take off our shoes and wade through spilled soda and popcorn on our way through the X-ray machines.

Beware the Cat!

Back in May, we spent some time talking about what professions would be open to cats, and especially to cats with thumbs. It turns out we forgot one: Evil Genius.

We see evil villains in the movies who dote on their feline companions. The film makers tell us that it’s a humanizing trait: it allows us to establish a connection with the villain and see him as more than just “evil”. “He loves his cat,” we think at some subconscious level, “so he can’t be all bad.”

The evidence is mounting, however, that those evil villains aren’t evil at all, but simply misled. That’s right, tricked into doing bad at the paws of their “loyal” feline companions. From the cat’s perspective, it’s the perfect crime. If the plot succeeds, the cat reaps the benefits, but if it fails, it’s the human who takes the rap. The cat moves on to find another stooge to front its next scheme.

Evidence? Oh, yes, there’s evidence. Consider:

Norm Lopez” of Sacramento, California has nearly 3,000 Facebook friends and what the newspapers are reporting as “a fervent, almost cult-like following in the community.” His picture appears on band t-shirts, and people stretch their commutes to visit (worship?) him. And what has he done to inspire this devoted following? He’s fat. So fat that he was recently hauled off to an animal shelter when a stranger thought he was pregnant. Shelter workers recognized him from his Facebook page and returned him to his home.

The Cult of Norm is comparatively innocent. As best I can tell, Norm causes no harm to anyone, being content to bask in the adulation of his followers–and bathe in the street.

Much less innocent is an anonymous cat in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who cleverly drove his human front man to assault his wife. The cat allegedly repeatedly scratched the furniture, driving the man to accuse his wife of adultery before hitting her and threatening to kill her. The human has been arraigned on charges of harassment and making terroristic threats (remember our discussion of how vague the definition of “terrorism” is? Apparently threatening to kill one person can be a terroristic act. But I digress.) The cat apparently remains in the family home, presumably continuing its plans to shred all of the furniture in the house.

The Bethlehem cat was subtle. A cat in Connellsville, some 250 miles away was far less so. The unnamed feline allegedly lured one James Anthony Shroyer into a life of crime. Following the cat’s instructions, Shroyer stole a car, drove it to a nearby bank, and used a plastic gun to rob the bank bank of over $1,500. He then fled in the stolen car and–again following the cat’s instructions–rammed the pursuing police car. Shroyer received a 2 1/2 to 5 year prison sentence and is required to pay restitution to the bank, as well as undergo a mental health assessment. The cat remains at large, and no reports of its further nefarious activities are available.

Now, you may think you’re safe if you don’t live in Pennsylvania. After all, Norm is comparatively harmless. And maybe you’re right. Or perhaps not. Consider the tale of Norris, a feline resident of Bedminster, Bristol. Not content to work through a human front, Norris has gone on a one-cat crime spree, putting the “cat” back into “cat burgler”. He’s accumulated a pile of shirts, slippers, bath mats, and underwear, turning his poor, traumatized humans into accomplices and forcing them to send letters around the neighborhood urging people to come claim their possessions. And yet Norris still continues his depredations, secure in the knowledge that the public blames his parents, not him.

So ask yourself whether you know what your “loyal” feline companions are doing all day while you’re at work. Are they really just sleeping in the sunlight and knocking chachkas off the shelves, or are they even now planning to set you up to take the fall if their plans for world domination go wrong?

Boston Bombing

Here’s what we know:

Two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday. Three people were killed and 176 were wounded. The bombs did not use high-grade explosive material. No additional bombs have been found.

Here’s what we don’t know:

Who set the bombs. Why they were set. Whether more attacks are planned.

What we should do:

Investigate. Determine the answers to the questions. Continue to help the injured. Prosecute the guilty when we know who they are.

What we should not do:

Panic. Overreact.

Remember that the worst thing that we can do in response to acts of terrorism is to be terrified. We should be vigilant, but we should not do anything without evidence. Do not cancel public events without evidence of specific, credible threats. Do not begin requiring people to remove their shoes before entering sports stadiums. Do not assume anything about the perpetrators: nationality, numbers, or motivations. Do not give credence to conspiracy theories that the government is behind it (or any other conspiracy theories, for that matter).

Update: Charles Stross adds another recommendation: Stop following the news for a couple of days. I think he’s overstating the case a little bit, but in general it’s good advice. There will be very little new information in the next couple of days. Seeing the same limited information over and over, supplemented by alarmist speculation is not going to contribute to remaining calm and not taking hasty action.