Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'rant'

Musings on ⇒ Porter Ranch and Ancillary Damage

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 15, 2016 @ 12:05 pm PST

userpic=disasterI seem to be in a musings mode this week, and today my lunchtime thoughts are about the clusterfuck that is the Aliso Canyon (Porter Ranch) gas leak (SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Leak Info Site)

For reference, this map shows approximately the distance from my house to the leak (it’s about 7 mi, uphill, to the leak); this page shows an estimate of the areas impacted. Here’s my previous post on the subject. Recent news has shown how massive of a clusterfuck this is turning into:

We don’t live in Porter Ranch. We do live in Northridge, downhill and downwind from Aliso Canyon. There are mornings we have smelled the mercaptan, but it isn’t persistent or heavy. The YMCA I go to is in Porter Ranch; our synagogue is on the edge of Porter Ranch. I don’t personally know folks who have evacuated yet, but I’m sure I’ll learn more names when I go to the next temple event.

Fixing the leak isn’t easy. They’ve already undermined the wellhead, and made the problem worse with each stoppage attempt. The crater around the wellhead is now 25 feet deep, 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. The wellhead sits exposed, held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt. The well pipe and its control valves are exposed and unsupported within that hole, atop a deep field of pressurized gas. So Cal Gas is now attempting to stop the leak by drilling relief wells to intercept the damaged well. Workers are not expected to reach the base of the well, 1.6 miles below ground, for at least six weeks. If it fails, highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels. A blowout would also increase the amount of leaked gas, causing greater environmental damage. This is on top of the risk of a massive fire if ignited by a spark. This well is in the middle of a brushfire area, and is subject to very strong winds.

Further, this is a problem that won’t go away when they finally fix the leak. Businesses have been impacted (the Y is almost empty when I go up there). I know it is impacting our synagogue, and I could easily see it creating difficulties for the upcoming cantoral search. It is going to drastically lower the property values of homes in Porter Ranch (which weren’t cheap — I’d guess between $750K and $1.5Mil), and I could see numbers being abandoned out of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and distrust). It is going to impact the property values of neighboring communities as well, and will certainly make it difficult for those looking to sell.

Then, of course, there is the increased cancer risk, which might not appear for decades and would be difficult to positively attribute to this source.

Further, our society being what it is, lawsuits will abound. Already, the sharksarecirclingand smellingthe chum. Who will they sue? SoCalGas, which is part of Sempra Energy, which was formerly San Diego Gas and Electric. Where do they get their funds? Ratepayers. Who will pay for the lawsuits? Ratepayers and Insurance Companies. Further, you know the actuaries at those insurance companies will increase their rates in response: both for the utilities affected (hitting the ratepayers), as well as for homeowners and businesses living in the area. These will all come back to bite those in Porter Ranch and neighboring neighborhoods.

The sad part of this all is that I don’t see any good resolution, and those of us in the area are stuck, either in one end or the other.

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A Dinner Costs How Much?!?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 12, 2015 @ 2:40 pm PST

userpic=acsacFriday, the ACSAC conference ended for 2015. This year (and next year), the conference was in Los Angeles at the beautiful Universal City/Los Angeles Hilton; this meant that on top of my usual Training Chair hat, I was Local Arrangements Chair. That means I was the coordinator for the event: assigning the rooms, picking the dinner entertainment (more on that in the next post), and selecting all the menus. When I first saw the hotel menus, I was shocked at the prices: lunch prices between $40 and $50; and dinner prices even higher. In fact, when I got the end of day survey for the first day at the hotel, I had trouble answering the question: was this a good value for the price? How can you judge, when gallons of coffee are so expensive.

But as the week went on, I grew to understand the prices are so high. In many ways, this is the same reason that the prices are so high in well established and fancy restaurants. And, no, the reason is not “because they can”. The reason is service.

When you go to almost any restaurant, the bulk of the cost of your meal is not the food costs. Food costs, right now, are relatively low. Delivery costs to your location are higher, but even those aren’t the bulk of the cost due to the volume being shipped. The most significant factor in the cost of a meal out is the labor. In fact, the labor is so expensive they increase the size of the portion so you don’t feel guilty paying that price. [And, of course, we’ve all be taught to clear our plates and not waste food, and so you have one reason behind the growth in obesity. In fact, there might be an interesting statistical study in the correlation between the cost of labor, portion size, and obesity in society.]

In a hotel — especially in a hotel that focuses on service such as a ★★★★ hotel — that cost is magnified more so. Everywhere I turned around at the HUC (Hilton Universal City) there was someone from Banquets making sure that all our needs were met, someone from IT making sure the A/V was right, someone from … you get the idea. Who pays for that service? It isn’t room rental — often room rental is gratis if you make a particular number of room nights and a minimum food and beverage. In fact, the answer is in that sentence: it is in the room rates, and the food and beverage costs. A certain amount of labor can be absorbed by the room rates, but the hotel also must be competitive. The bulk of the labor is captured in the F&B costs.

So, let’s go back to the question: is it a good value? We had only compliments on the quality of the food, and the quantity was almost too much (must remember that for next year). Most importantly, there were no complaints about service or the meeting rooms. The hotel staff was there whenever we needed them, often going above and beyond (with no additional charges). So, looking back in retrospect, I think it was a reasonably good value.

(Of course, that still didn’t mean I didn’t wince a little signing the final event orders. Who wouldn’t? But I also now better understood why I was paying what I was paying).

By the way, this is something that the great unwashed public — and even Congress — doesn’t understand. We’ve all read of the DOD acquiring toilet seats that cost $200 each, when they are $10 at the hardware store. We get incensed about the price, without knowing that they have unique manufacturing requirements that prohibit volume manufacturing, that they have documentation and maintenance requirements for their lifetime, and that they have the overhead of the administrative employees at the corporation that manufactures them, which has much lower volume to spread that overhead across when compared to a bulk manufacturer. Similarly, we hear stories of conferences with the $15 muffin or the $45 rubber chicken, and think the government is wasting money. It isn’t: that money goes to all the people employed by the hotel, providing all the service, and spending that money in the community. Yes, there are some conferences with boondoggles, but most food costs are not the boondoggles. Now you understand.

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And take a tip from La Belle France: “Viva la difference!”

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 22, 2015 @ 8:00 pm PST

Observation StewLet’s end this week of news chum posts with song lyrics in the title with a very apropos song for a “news chum stew” post: Pete Seeger’s All Mixed Up. The point of the song is a timely lesson for all of those who profess hatred or refuse to permit in refuges:

There were no red-headed Irishmen
Before the Vikings landed in Ireland
How many Romans had dark curly hair
Before they brought slaves from Africa?
No race of man is completely pure,
Nor is anyone’s mind, that’s for sure
The winds mix the dust of every land,
And so will woman and man.

And now, on with the stew:


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Dashing Daesh

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Nov 16, 2015 @ 7:11 pm PST

userpic=camelsBefore I go and do another news chum post to start clearing the links, a few thoughts that hit me over lunch while I was reading the news and seeing all the articles about how bombing Daesh is the answer to the terrorism (why do I use Daesh? Read this).

Simply put, the notion that we can bomb Daesh off the map and have the terrorism stop is so World War II. It comes from a mentality of nation states waging war, and more importantly, nation states that can stop the war when they surrender and admit defeat. We really haven’t had a war like that since World War II or the Korean Conflict, and perhaps Vietnam.

It is clearly not the case in the “War on Terrorism”. Terrorism is distributed, with cells throughout the world. We saw this after 9/11. You clean up one area, and the problem moves to another. You get rid of one acknowledged leader (Osama Bin Laden), and another pops up.

Suppose — just suppose — that we carpetbombed Daesh out of Iraq and Syria. Sheet of glass, however you want to do it. Conventional. Nuclear. Would that stop the terrorism threat from Daesh?

Nope. They’ve got sympathizers around the world. New leaders will pop up. New cells will vow revenge. There will be retaliatory attacks and the problem will go on.

There are those who will say the problem is Islam. It isn’t. Most Muslims are peace loving. The problem is fundamentalism, and fundamentalism combined with (to put it bluntly) brain-washing. Militant fundamentalism is a problem whether it is Islam militant fundamentalists from Daesh, Christian militant fundamentalists in America (or on the crusades), or Jewish militant fundamentalists in the occupied territories.

So how do we address this problem. First, we think about how to do it right. Simple retaliatory strikes are not the answer; in fact, it may aggravate the situation. Strikes that speak the language they understand would help (read “From Beirut to Jerusalem” to understand what I’m saying). Strikes that don’t walk into the PR game they are playing would also help. Everytime we do a carpetbombing strike and kill civilians as collateral damage, we give Daesh ammunition to recruit. Weeding out militant fundamental throughout the world would be a good start.

I think the real answer is to see this is a long game. Militant fundamentalism often arises out of class struggle; rarely do you see the militant fundamentalists being part of the 1%; instead, they are near the bottom of the 99%. If we can raise the standard of living, improve education, improve critical thinking, empower men and women (especially) to excel; if we can make it so that no one needs to fight for the underclass because there is no underclass — then we can create a world where the terrorism is no longer needed.

Now to go write the news chum.

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Responding to the French Attacks

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 14, 2015 @ 12:23 pm PST

userpic=soapboxWhile eating lunch, I was getting ready to do my normal news chum post, when I began rereading the article about the attack in France, the French response, the responses on Facebook, and I began thinking about what I had written earlier in the week about freedom of religion in the US. I was thinking about how we began the week all up in arms about the symbolism of the Starbucks Red Cup. I knew that Islam was not to blame for this attack, but was rolling around in my mind how to prevent such attacks in the future. Could we, for example, ban the type of fundamentalism that led to ISIL. The answer is no; the characteristics of the ISIL group — a belief in scripture as law — exists not only there but in fundmentalist Christianity, and even in some Orthodox Jewish sects.

Then it hit me. In America, we judge people not by their beliefs, but by what they do. To use an extreme example, one could want to commit all sorts of sexual depravities in one’s head, but if they only remain thoughts untranslated into action, there’s no crime. Jimmy Carter can lust in his heart all he wants; it is when he acts that there is a problem. We do not have, nor should we have, the thought police.

The answer to this violence is not to bar or attack religions, or to bar and attack refugees. It is to bar and punish those who commit terrorism. It is to enforce the laws we have regarding planning treason, endangering the public, possessing explosives without permits, etc.

It is also to consider the other end of judging people by what they do. We should be recognizing those who are pushing for peace, speaking up about the peaceful side of belief, preaching how belief tells us to care about the downtrodden, those in worse situations than us, and for mutual respect.

Our enemy here is not religion or refugees. It is terrorists, and those who want to create chaos through terror.

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Why Freedom of Belief Is So Important

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Nov 09, 2015 @ 7:36 pm PST

userpic=schmuckThe response to my post of yesterday regarding Starbucks, the Red Cups, and Christian Privilege (at least on Facebook) has been tremendous, if not a little off-point: over 83 likes, over 33 shares, and lots and lots of comments. I was thinking about it over lunch, and about the movement in our country by some Christian groups to bring God more into the discussion, to have laws that are more in-line with biblical teaching.

To me, that is the absolute wrong thing to do, and will destroy what is special about America. I understand the fears behind the laws, especially as these folk see Islam rising in other countries, and they see more and more people with strongly different beliefs. I understand they are scared and that they believe there is a “war on Christianity” — an attempt to wipe out Christmas and other holidays.

C’mon. Retailers will never let that happen.

Seriously, however, what keeps America strong and special is precisely its freedom of belief, and freedom from government imposed belief. I do not believe that any other country has this. Everyone in America has the right to their beliefs (or non-beliefs) and to observe them as they see fit. If the government does things right, it will not force a belief on you, will not prevent you from holding your beliefs and worshipping how you will, and it will ensure that one person’s beliefs do not infringe on another’s beliefs. It is on this latter point that we have been failing miserably of late, falling into the Christian notion of “If I believe an action is a sin, not only do I have to not do it, I have to prevent you from doing it as well”.

By strongly ensuring that every individual can believe as they wish, and does not have the right to impose their belief on anyone else, we keep this country strong. We not only ensure that people are free to practice Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, FSM, atheism, or any other belief system, but we ensure that any belief system cannot take over the country. Enforcing Christian morals and practice on non-Christians through law or policy is just as bad as in Islamic countries, where Islamic morals and practices are enforced on non-Muslims through law or policy.

So, tying back to yesterday: I don’t care what designs are on Starbucks cups. They are free to observe — or not observe — holidays that occur during the winter season as anyone else, in whatever fashion they want.

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Seeing Red for a Different Reason

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 08, 2015 @ 6:47 pm PST

userpic=schmuckEarlier today, I posted the following comment in response to one of the many responses I have seen to the Starbucks Red Cups this holiday season. If you don’t know about this latest skirmish on the “War on Christmas”, the skinny is this: Starbucks, this holiday season, is using plain red disposable cups with their green logo. Many Christians are up in arms about this, seeing it as yet another attack upon Christmas. One response going around (the one that I shared to start my commentary) seethed about the upset in a very good way, noting: “Because, seriously, do you think Jesus would rather we remember his birthday by putting it on a coffee cup that’s going in the trash? Or would he rather we remember it by no longer treating one another as disposable?” [By the way, that commentary is well worth reading]. However, much as I agree with what was said, I saw a deeper issue, and thus I posted the following:

I keep seeing this going around, with various messages: either from Christians upset at Starbucks, or people asking whether Jesus would care about a red cup. What I see, however, is a presumption that infuriates me. Why do we assume a business must venerate Christmas? After all, we’re in a country where there is freedom to practice your religion. In fact, we see devout Christians going to the courts for the right to practice their religion, even when it trods on the rights of others. We’re also in a country where there is no official national religion. So why are we getting upset at a business that might choose not to even tangentially observe a Christian holiday. I’m not insisting that the cups be blue and white. I’m not insisting that they be the colors of Kwanzaa. I don’t care what color they are (I use a refillable mug). Starbucks has as much right to make their cups devoid of holiday symbolism as In-n-Out has of printing bible verses on each cup (which they do). The hidden “Christian Privilege” in this country is amazing. Observation of any religious holyday is a personal matter, not something to plaster on cup. … or be upset if it isn’t there.

The subsequent discussion has been far ranging, with many agreeing, and many not seeing the Christian privilege in this country. If you don’t see it, try looking at things from the someone who is not Christian, and especially who is not of an Abrahamic faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) or Atheist. In fact, the number of likes and the discussion surprised me — I have no idea who reads what I write. But there is a strong notion in this country that businesses are expected to do something to observe Christmas and that everyone is expected to hold “Christian” values — and that expectation bothers me in a country that is so proud of its heritage of having freedom to worship. [Of course, that emphasis is actually new. Just look at the history of Catholics in America. I never knew that at one time, the most popular novels were exposes written by nuns.]

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Vigilantes, Mobs, and Bullies, Oh My!

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Aug 04, 2015 @ 11:35 am PST

userpic=soapboxReading the news over lunch the last few days has been very upsetting. I’ve read articles about trophy game in Africa, potential underage sex, anti-abortion activists, and much more. What has been upsetting me most, however, is not the ostensible subjects of the articles — the killing of animals, the sex, and such. What is upsetting me — and what is prompting me to climb up on my soapbox and write this article over lunch — is the way that the Internet is turning people into cyberbullies, cybervigilantes, and cybermobs.

Let’s take the case of the dentist, Walter Palmer, who admits to shooting a lion with a bow and arrow. Long before he has had his day in a court of law, where it would be determined if he actually violated the law, his personal information was placed on the Internet. He has received death threats; his practice has been harassed and shut down. This has impacted not only Palmer, but his employees, his family, and his patients — none of whom are guilty of any crime. It has gone beyond Palmer. Even different dentists who happen to share the same last name are being harassed and threatened. Other game hunters — who hunted legally — are being harassed.

We’ve seen this happen in numerous other areas. Consider Jared of Subway fame. Claims have been made, and even before they are investigated, there is harassment. This harassment has extended to Subway franchises, who have done nothing other than try to run a business. It is even true in the case of Bill Cosby. I’m not trying to say that Cosby is innocent. But displays of African Art collected by Cosby are being boycotted — this doesn’t benefit Cosby at all, and financially hurts the art institution that was viewing the items as art.

Growing up, we all read books like The Ox-Bow Incident, where we learned about the dangers of vigilante or mob justice. We work to teach our children that cyberbullying is wrong. Yet on the Internet, we participate in it. There are people who troll comment forums, attacking anyone who expresses an opinion they disagree with. There are people who dox other people, disclosing home addresses and phone numbers to permit personal harassment and threats and expansion to family members. There are people that organizes attacks on businesses they do not like. There are people that go undercover and illegally film events, to disclose identities that put people at risk. These people are all, essentially, taking the law into their own hands.

I’m not trying to argue that Cosby’s actions, or Palmer’s actions or whomever’s actions are right. I’m saying that the Internet is not the place to try them. They need to be judged in a court of law, against the laws that are on the books, not someone’s personal moral code. If you don’t like the law, get the lawmakers to change the law. But we are a civilized society, and we do not take the law into our own hands. That means no trials in the court of public opinion, no sharing of rumors and heresay on the Internet, no doxing, no online harassment, no trolling, no cyberbullying. We — as a society — are better than that.

I shall now climb off my soapbox. That feels better.

P.S. If you are kid / teen facing a cyberbully, here’s some good advice on what to do.

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