on politics, privacy, parenting, and the planet.
Everything I need to know, I will learn from my children. r.b.
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Tuesday, October 28The fires this time
Today I am travelling by train for work. Yesterday, I flew into Burbank in order to attend a few meetings. We live in California so we know about fires and we have read about the current Southern California firestorm, but you can’t really appreciate the intensity and the devastation until you see it. On the flight into Burbank we flew past a few of the fires. Flames were reaching high into the sky. The fire were intense and at times seemed so close that one could easily imagine the heat from the flames. The sky above the Los Angeles basin is normally a thick brown pall. Now with the fires, a new shade of gray has been added to the polluted shroud ,along with the added element of falling ash.
After a day of meetings I was ready to fly home, but with the smoke filled skies I realized that planes might be grounded. (Burbank airport had been closed for two hours on Sunday.) At the airport although I learned that my flight was delayed for an hour and half, I was one of the lucky ones. Half of the flights out of L.A. were cancelled yesterday due to the fires. It didn’t help either that the primary air traffic tower for Southern California was threatened by a fire and evacuated. At this point 900 homes have been lost in these fires and more than a dozen people have perished. These fires have devastated thousands of lives.
If you don’t live in California you may not realize that there is a “fire season” here. Fires are typical in the dry forested and brush areas of Southern California. This year though they are unusually severe. I am often involved in planning issues professionally, so I can’t help but think that man has caused much of this devastation. Zoning agencies, city councils and county governments permitted residential construction in areas prone to fires. That was such a bad idea. Where was the common sense? Where was the service to the public good? People will buy homes if they are built. There is a certain sense of trust – and suspended disbelief -- that those in the know, or those who should have known, did their jobs and that the homes are safe. I have to believe that no one would buy a house if they knew with some certainty that it would burn down. To top it off, if these SoCal residences are like those that burned in the Oakland Hills fire, then they were on hillsides, off of winding roads and nestled among trees. It is difficult to get fire trucks into areas like that and it is difficult to fight fires and protect homes when dry brush and trees are immediately adjacent. They make great fuel.
Private insures have woken up to the risk involved in insuring homes in fire prone areas. Insurers are risk adverse so their response is to not write these risks or at least to not write many of them. Insurers like to collect premiums, they don’t like to pay claims. If you insure a house in a fire zone and the premium isn’t astronomical then you will pay a fire claim and you will lose money on the risk. Not something insurers like to do. At some point private insurers will say enough is enough and they will write fewer or no brush fire risks. If every insurer writes fewer of these risks then some people will go without insurance. Real estate sales would plummet. But in time, after much pain and economic loss, market forces would correct these planning mistakes, property values would decline and people would move to safer and more stable communities. Without insurance, people would not be able to get home loans. No lender will extend credit if it is almost a certainty that they will lose the collateral, the property.
However, all states have a Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Association (FAIR Plan). These FAIR Plans are comprised of all property insurers in a state. They are designed to provide insurance for those properties that are the least insurable. All property insurers – in a given state -- are members of that state’s Plan. In this way the market is able to spread the risk on these properties across the entire market and (theoretically) viably underwrite these risks. In most states the FAIR Plan insures properties in the inner city. The idea is that it is good public policy to have and maintain viable properties in the inner cities. These FAIR Plans help to promote inner city property ownership. In California the FAIR Plan was established after the 1960’s riots in Watts. Like those in other states, it was created to provide insurance coverage for those difficult to insure inner city properties. However, in California there was a twist. The California FAIR Plan also insures homes in brush fire areas. That means that if a home is on a hillside, off of a dirt road and in a forest it is unlikely that a private insure will extend coverage, but the FAIR Plan must. That’s right, it must insure these otherwise uninsurable properties.
To me this means that it is the stated policy of California that no matter where you live, no matter how foolish the local government may have been and no matter how greedy the developers may have been, or how blind you may have been to the hazards, you can get insurance. The result is that homes are built in the desert (much of Southern California was desert, its water comes from the north and the Colorado river) and amidst dry brush. Your house may burn down, but the views are fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to live there? On a rational level one might understand the risk, but the views and the trees are magnificent, so on an emotional level the risk is minimal. Besides we can get insurance and if the risk really were so great how could “they” have built here anyway?
Insuring difficult to insure properties is a very noble goal, but the result of that mission may have led to untold devastation, personal tragedies, the consumption of millions of dollars in fire rescue resources and manpower and uncontrolled sprawl. Do people really have to live or somehow develop every square inch of this planet?
Have we wrought what we have sown?
Friday, October 24A joke, that Karl Rove would understand
I don't usually forward or print most of the e-mail jokes that circulate, but this joke is good. I first read it on Blah3 and have copied it verbatim.
Thursday, October 23Energy Bill
Check Mark Fiore on the pending energy bill.
Wal-Mart Keep Out
One victory for the little guy. Oakland has moved to prohibit the construction of the massive (almost 200,000 square feet) Wal-Mart superstores. The Oakland ordinance bans stores over 100,000 square feet that devote more than 10 percent of their area to groceries. It does not include wholesale clubs such as Costco.
Wednesday, October 22Enemies List
What do the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Times, Art Buchwald, Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Retired Persons and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have in common? They are all on the enemies list of the National Rifle Association. How pathetic. If anything the list is way too short. For instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't on the list. During his campaign for governor he said that he favored some gun control. People should be proud to be on the list. We should use this contact link to the NRA to state our support for gun control and ask to be placed on their list.
I learned of this list from Mark Murford:
Maybe you are not on the NRA's list just yet. Maybe you want to join the blacklist and add your name to the thousands who look at the NRA and feel, well, not really anger, not liberal outrage, not even mistrust or disgust.
Tuesday, October 21Democratic Snobbery
David Brooks opines, with Edwards as his muse, in today's New York Times that part of the failure of the Democratic party lies in its appeal to snobbery. Democrats talk of being the party of the people, but the candidates seem to look down at every day people. Al Gore certainly didn't talk to everyman. Gray Davis didn't talk to everyman. In fact, he was completely out of touch. Hence he could be thrown out of office for no real reasons at all.
But the really eye-popping change is in party identification. In Franklin Roosevelt's administration, 49 percent of voters said they were Democrats. But that number has been dropping ever since, and now roughly 32 percent of voters say they are. As Mark Penn, a former Clinton pollster, has observed, "In terms of the percentage of voters who identify themselves as Democrats, the Democratic Party is currently in its weakest position since the dawn of the New Deal." The Democratic presidential candidates wending their way through Iowa, New Hampshire and the other primary states are offering theories about the party's decline, and what can be done about it.
Monday, October 20A Wonderful Sunday Afternoon
The Byrd's have all been sick for more than a week now. Our 3 year-old daughter got well just before the weekend started, but her one year-old brother still has a morning cough and mom and dad are slowly coming around. (Truth be told, I am getting better because my cold turned into yet another sinus infection and now thanks to the miracle of antibiotics I am able to breathe again and talk without erupting into coughing fits.)
The fall weather here has been delightful. Yesterday it was sunny, in the low '80's, with a very gentle breeze. We had no plans for the day, since we had all been ill. After the boy's morning nap we decided to head to the barber shop for haircuts. One for him and one for me. (Mrs. Byrd has wanted someone to cut the boy's hair for a few weeks. The last straw came on Saturday night. We had been at a pumpkin carving party -- yes, a party for toddlers with lots of knives and messy pumpkin guts. Miraculously no one was hurt. Anyway, I digress, a woman at the party referred to our son as "she"! This was too much for Mrs. Byrd. Any haircutting delay had passed.)
In the past our daughter had gone to the barbershop with me, for my haircuts, but those trips had been a little boring for her. Yesterday was an exception. Mom and her brother were at the barbershop too. Now it was an adventure. While we waited our turns "M" (our daughter) played with toys that were in a basket and "talked" with a one year-old baby girl. "Z" (our son) walked around the store looking to see what trouble he could get into. He was good though, he listened to us and never tried to walk out of the open barbershop door. Instead he wandered around inside. At one point the one year-old girl walked up to him, but she didn't look at him. Instead she looked at the ground. Z walked around her and then stooped down in front of her in order to see her face and get her to look at him. We wish that we hadn't forgotten our camera. We wanted a picture of him trying to connect with her. And we wish we had our camera for the hair cut itself, but we forgot. There is a lot to do to get a toddler and a baby ready to leave the house. A camera just isn't on the routine checklist.
Z was a trooper while the barber cut his hair. He even liked the sound of the electric razor and he didn't flinch with the scissors trimming the hair around his ears. Z's hair was cut in no time. The amount of hair that came off his head was amazing though. I had no idea his hair was so thick. Mrs Byrd had been right, he did need a hair cut and now he does look like a boy! Z came off the chair and then M got in it. She wanted a haircut too. Now though mom was nervous. Afterall, she cuts M's hair and she likes the way it looks. What would the barber do? He cut a little hair off at her bangs, not much, but enough for her to have had a haircut too. And M got a lollipop from the barber. That made it even more special. I got my hair cut -- no lollipop for me -- and then we walked to the pizza place.
Now, as you know, Mrs Byrd and I had been on the South Beach diet and pizza isn't your typical diet food, but we love pizza. Our pizza had a whole wheat dough, so that made okay, right? We ate our pizza and M even used the potty. These little milestones in a child's life are awe inspiring. It wasn't too long ago that M was in diapers and then when she would only use the portable potty that we keep in the car. Now she wants to use the grown up potties when we are out, because she is a "big girl". These things made you proud as a parent and they make your heart melt too. Our girl is growing up so fast. We ate our leisurely lunch and then took a stroll. We looked in strorefronts and sat on benches, we ran along the sidewalks and we wandered through stores.
We didn't do much, but it was a wonderful afternoon. It was nice to hang out with the family with no goals or deadlines or any particular purpose in mind.
Friday, October 17Benign RFIDs?
Marks and Spencer is testing the use of RFIDs in the tags attached to men's clothing. If there is a benign use of RFID this might be it. These chips are not embedded. Instead, they are in the sales tags and Marks and Spencer declares that the only information provided is the inventory control number and that no sale information (purchaser name address etc.) will ever be linked to the chips. RFIDs pose a vast threat to privacy because when they are embedded in a product they won't be removed and when activated could be used to track someone's travel and purchasing habits. Imagine wearing a sweater with an embedded chip and that chip registered in a sensor everytime that you went into or out of a building? I have written about these chips in the past here and here.
Thursday, October 16U.S.Roots
As this article at Mother Jones explains, the unrest in Bolivia has U.S. roots. The immediate cause is a proposed natural gas pipeline for U.S. energy companies, but the U.S. war on drugs has helped to impoverish the nation and U.S. backed free-market reforms have not bolstered the economy.
Tuesday, October 14Endangered Species, more endangered now
BushCo's response to the threatened extinction of endangered species? Kill them to save them.
Hit the "Shift" key
The copy protected CD isn't so copy protected afterall.
It was not a delightful weekend at the Byrd's. Everyone was sick all weekend. Our 3 year-old and I are better, not great, but definitely better. However, Mrs. Byrd and the 1 year-old are worse. The little boy has a cough and a sore throat. Whenever he coughs he cries.
Friday, October 10Cough, cough
If you can imagine the sounds of a one year old coughing and crying; a three year old coughing -- with fever -- and begging to go out and play; and mom and dad coughing and under the weather than you know the sounds in the Byrd house. In light of our collective ailments, further blogging will not be happening today.
Thursday, October 9Dean on the Recall
"Today's recall election in California was not about Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. This recall was about the frustration so many people are feeling about the way things are going. All across America, George Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy are undermining state budgets, causing cutbacks in services and increases in local property taxes. Were recalls held in every state, it's quite possible that 50 governors would find themselves paying the price for one president's ruinous national economic policies. Tonight the voters in California directed their frustration with the country's direction on their incumbent governor. Come next November, that anger might be directed at a different incumbent...in the White House."The glass is half full.
EPA sides with Pesticides
A little change here and a little change there and pretty soon you don't have any of that pesky regulatory stuff to worry about.
"The Bush administration is siding with the pesticide industry to make it harder for farmers to sue manufacturers over product labels.
The glass is half full. On social issues Arnold is moderate to progressive. He supports some form of gun control, he is opposed to offshore oil drilling and he is pro-choice. He certainly isn't all bad and maybe BushCo will send more federal funding to California. We could sure use it. Also, BushCo will be hard pressed to enforce policies in California that Arnold is opposed too. However, the Governor-Elect's fiscal policies do worry me. I don't know how the car fee can be lowered without state services to the poor and elderly being cut. Terminating the car fee hike will create a new $4 billion hole in the state's budget. Covering up that hole is going to hurt someone. Most likely more state workers will be laid off. The state is already in a second round of layoffs. Agencies have already prioritized the services that they provide -- mandatory services will continue, but discretionary services may not. Yet another round of layoffs will mean even fewer services to the people of California. In the long run this will hurt California.
Tuesday, October 7Arnold is the next Governor of California
Democracy...doesn't mind what the habits and background of its politicians are; provided they profess themselves the people's friends, they are duly honored.
The good news (I think) is that there was a line at the poll. The votes:
Recall Davis: No.
Propositions: No and No.
Monday, October 6Answers Please Mr Bush
Michael Moore has a certain style that you either love or hate. His take no prisonsers approach to BushCo is refreshing. You can read excerpts from his new book here, here and here. Here is a sample:
By never voting for a Republican again, you will make a tonne of money!
This is the tip of the iceberg. Meat recalls are voluntary and little or no oversight means that the recalls are made too late in the process to be effective and they serve more to blunt possible lawsuits (to show mitigation) than to actually protect the public. The USDA only undertook an investigation of the Con-Agra plant because Rep Waxman "asked" it to. Besides, the authority of the USDA was gutted years ago. That gutting process began under Reagan and continued under Bush 1. Clinton tried to correct this by requiring microbial testing, but BushCo tossed out the regulation before it took effect. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which oversees U.S. meat and poultry plants, doesn't really inspect plants. Instead it reviews, "plant-generated testing data". That's right, the inspection is a review of data generated by the plant operators themselves. Do you really expect these companies to report manyhealth or safety violations? Enjoy your lunch, I hope that it was well cooked.
Just the next generation of the bar code...
Those little radio frequency identification (RFID) chips keep popping up. They were "tested" in razor blade packages and activated surveillance cameras, then Wal-Mart set a goal to have all of its inventory monitored with these RFIDs and now libraries want to embed these chips in to books. Although in the library's case allegedly the chips will be deactivated when one leaves the building, so that your reading habits won't be electronically tracked wherever you go. Could they "forget" to deactivate the chips....
Friday, October 3Pumping Something
If the polls are correct, it looks like California is about to take a quick swing to the right and into a little chaos. Come Tuesday it is likely that Arnold will be the next Governor of California. He has a 10 point lead over Bustamante. One wonders if the groping and fondling charges will have any effect. They are probably too little too late. Arnold says that he doesn't remember each of these acts, perhaps it is because he has done these things so many times that he can't possibly remember each instance.
Thursday, October 2What bothers me about the recall
What bothers me about the recall of Gray Davis is what this says about the United States in 2003. Mac Diva expressed this same concern very well in a September 30th post.
What I find troubling is the whole scenario. A C-movie actor with the intelligence of a pet rock announces he is running for the top leadership position in an important state and far too many of the citizenry cluelessly declare their allegiance. The national GOP targets a governor for a spurious recall campaign and far too few of the citizenry see what is wrong with that. We have a habit of blaming leaders for failures in our society. But, I'm inclined to blame the citizens of the not so golden state for this one.
Wednesday, October 1Global Warming Kills
Scientists estimate that global warming kills about 160,000 people each year.
About 160,000 people die every year from side-effects of global warming ranging from malaria to malnutrition and the numbers could almost double by 2020, a group of scientists said.
If you have a disposal problem just redefine the waste and make the problem go away.
The Energy Department has asked Congress to allow it to redefine some nuclear waste so it can be left in place or sent to sites intended for low-level radioactive material, rather than being buried deep underground.
17.2 pounds. That is my total weight loss to date. My goal had been 10 pounds. Everything else is a bonus! We've been on this diet for almost two months. Someone came to this blog after a "South Beach Diet Sucks" search. I'm sorry if they have had a bad experience with the diet. The meal plan is a lot of work, but it pays off physically and mentally. The Byrds love this diet so much that we are moving to Florida. Not. We're staying put and staying on the diet for now.
Attention to Detail
As long time readers of this blog know the Byrds are an Apple family. We love all things Mac. The attention to detail in Apple products is amazing and not approached by any competitor. The attention to detail even in the packaging is stunning. We have saved the boxes for our Apple products because it almost seems a crime to recycle them. They are so pretty they should be reused. Mark Murford just bought a new Powerbook. His ode to Apple is spot on.
I will vote no on the recall, but I have been torn about how to vote on a specific candidate. Which candidate to pick to replace Davis has left me confused. I like what Camejo and Huffington have said. I agree with their visions for California. However, I don't want Arnold elected. It is the age old question. Vote your conscience or vote to win. Should I vote -- Huffington, Camejo, Bustamante or even Greuner? But now with Arianna out my vote is becoming easier. Maybe Camejo will drop out too...and if all of the supporters of Camejo and Huffington vote for Bustamante, he has a chance to be elected. Right? I must admit that this might be a pipe dream. Arnold has all of the momentum at this point...