html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: June 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

I held it together until about half way through. Then it gets good.

In fact, our entire edifice of environmental protections is silly because it takes power and control away from those most directly affected. What do a bunch of scientists on some panel of experts know about the harm that their decisions will costs to tens of thousands of farmers? Do they even think about it? Did they get Ph.D.s in humanistic studies or in things like fisheries management? With whom--or what--will they side given their backgrounds and training and biases? Probably not the farmers. And is that fair? Is that right? Why set up a system that is biased towards protecting the fish and ignoring the farmers?

There is a very good reason to take power and control from those most directly affected. Farmers in the Klamath are one group that is intimately and personally affected by the allocation of water in the Klamath. Yep. I bet they think about that a whole lot and understand VERY CLEARLY the costs keeping water in the river imposes on farmers. If farming were the only important priority, they would be very good people to make decisions about where Klamath water goes. I have every faith that they could operate the Klamath River to maximize farmer profit.

But, and this seems to be the part that loses libertarians, civil servants and agency staff are required to BALANCE COMPETING NEEDS. See, it isn’t just farmers in the Klamath basin. There were salmon fishers whose livelihoods were at stake. There are Karuk peoples, whose sustenance is at stake. There are sport fishers. There is the American public as a whole, who are emotionally attached to the ideas of salmon runs in the west. So the answer to your question “What do a bunch of scientists on some panel of experts know about the harm that their decisions will cost to tens of thousands of farmers?” is: probably a fair amount. You know what else they know? They know what different alternatives will cost the fish run, the salmon industry, the Karuk, the sport fishers. They have MULTIPLE INTERESTS TO BALANCE. Under those circumstances, libertarians forever emphasize how one party got injured. But that doesn’t mean that the system didn’t work. It likely means that an outside party, like an agency official, balanced the collective wishes of everyone in the conflict and the American public as a whole (usually represented by the Endangered Species Act) and chose one trade-off. Who should do that? NOT the people who are “most directly affected”, the ones who have an economic stake in the issue.

You know who else shouldn’t do it? Fucking libertarians. I swear to God, you guys act the same every single time. EVERY time I post something about a societal trade off, you instantly, passionately and irrevocably identify yourself with one and only one side. Why? WHY? WHY do you do that? I thought this one might be harder for you. I mean, two picturesque resource extractors. I thought the salmon fishers might get some love from you. Two years they lost their entire livelihood and way of life! But no. Instead you write with a fanatic dedication to the potential costs to the farmers! Why?! What did you choose on? Seriously, it was "rippling back muscles of the fisher as he winches his nets out of the sea, man on his boat against the elements" versus "his thigh muscles flexing, the grower squats to take a handful of soil, surveying the new growth on his alfalfa before whistling for his dog". How the hell did you choose?

I mean, I knew the Karuk would get no love and heaven forefend we respect the fish, who exist as entities unto themselves and not for our purposes. But WHY did you arbitrarily pick the farmers and focus exclusively on the potential harm to them? I know why Cheney did, for votes. But why did you? Justin did the same shit when I talked about flood easements in the Sutter basin farms versus entire downstream cities. What the hell is with this immediate and visceral need to identify with one side of the story, who may experience a loss in what they consider their rights, and disregard ANY LEVEL OF COSTS to anyone else or the population as a whole. Why do you do that so blindly and so absolutely? You would make CRAPPY civil servants.

UPDATE: Hi friends. I've had a few hours to think, and now I am sorry I wrote the sweeping generalizations about libertarians in this post. Jan's comment gave me some access to his libertarian perspective, which was very helpful. You guys did an amazing job raising the level of the discussion higher than the tone I set, and I appreciate that. I'll be out tomorrow, but I want to keep talking about this stuff Sunday or next week. Please be thoughtful and respectful of each other in the comments. Thanks.


No, asshole. I'm not.

That scares me and reminds me of Hayek's chapter in The Road to Serfdom where he talks about how nearly all of the German scientific elite lined up quite voluntarily behind the Third Reich. They didn't do it because they were Nazis. They didn't do it because they were Facists. They did it because they believed that they could be part of a government that would allow them to run society "scientifically" and would let them run with things without having to convince a bunch of poor benighted non-scientist common people (i.e. voters). Essentially, what they wanted was a combination of power and non-accountability.

You seem to be advocating the same thing. Are you?

I will never understand you. I just don’t. We are in a political landscape where our top elected officials have renounced the rule of law. Bush and Cheney between them have:

Lied to the American people to start a war against a country that didn’t attack us;
Started an unprecedented policy of using torture;
Disappeared people to foreign countries to be tortured;
Decided that the right to a trial was voluntary, including for American citizens;
Destroyed American credibility abroad;
Turned the Attorney General’s office into their hand-picked bullies, with political affiliation as the standard for whether a person should be prosecuted;
Illegally eavesdropped on American citizens;
Decided that laws circumscribing their behavior simply didn’t apply for reasons so facially ridiculous as to mock the Constitution.

They are outside any traditional definition of 'conservative' or 'ethically bound by law'. They are rogue; their guiding standard is to consolidate power and perpetuate war.

In this climate, with this cabal leading our country, you somehow look around you and decide that what scares you, the real threat to our democracy is a bunch of civil servants? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK WE DO?

I am dead serious. What do you think we DO? We sit here, thousands of us, infiltrating the entire nation. Every day we come to work and do something that is scarier than making a mockery of the Constitution, disappearing and torturing people, killing thousands of our own and theirs in a country that wasn’t an aggressor, spying on Americans, evading laws to tilt elections. What the hell could that BE?

Part of me wants to explain this one more time. I can tell you what we do. Dave, upstairs? He monitors a bunch of gaging stations in the Delta and likes to talk about telemetry. Amy? She tracks grants and reads invoices very carefully. The guy down the hall? He holds public meetings, dozens per year, to figure out what the public wants us to do with our water. Three cubes over? He surveys culverts along the 1 to see whether salmon can get through them. Also upstairs? They inspect dams and think about whether sirens or radio announcements are more effective for announcing a dam break. Those FIENDS! There are some people whose jobs I don’t know. Maybe they’re the ones doing whatever it is that terrifies you.

But what we are actually doing isn't the real point. Here is the real point. Civil service is not inherently evil. Even regulators who have faith in their professional opinions are not inherently evil. Just because an evil regime had bureaucracies DOES NOT MEAN that bureaucracies have an intrinsic inclination to do evil. It means that evil regimes also require banal logistics. Hayek attributed one set of motives to bureaucrats under the Third Reich, and for all I know, he was right. But those motives were a characteristic of the Third Reich. Contemporary American agencies are ostensibly guided by different ideals: respecting the rule of law, balancing the competing needs of the American people, serving the people of this country with our professional knowledge. What the bureaucracy is set up to do, checks and balances within the system and the ideals of its leaders determines whether it will be corrupted, not some inherent quality of bureaucrats.

It is ironic that I am defending the agencies and civil service at a time when they are the closest I’ve ever seen to being turned into single purpose agents of a rogue executive. Hearing that Cheney and Rove gave presentations to upper managers about the close elections in their districts and how that agency’s actions could be influential offends every piece of me. Knowing that they staffed their agencies with people chosen for ideological purity is fucked up. Knowing that their decisions were so blatantly political that ethical people felt they had to leave makes me scared that agencies are being hollowed of the very critical thinkers and moral leaders they need most. So I’m telling you that you are wrong about the American civil service just when I am afraid that you are right. But I think that is a function of a power-hungry administration; I keep thinking that when the Bush leaves office, the civil service will return to our usual American ideals of governance. I hope so.

Don't you worry. There'll be lots more tomorrow.

For whose benefit do we set up the laws? Did anyone who set up the EPA back in the Nixon administration really envision a day when it would be a fish run vs. tens of thousands of farmers? And if so, did they think: "Of course we'll side with the fish."

I doubt it. And if they did, they were silly and misguided.

Another sentence where I start off agreeing with you. The Endangered Species Act is incredibly draconian. It stuns me when I stop to think about it. There is no economic balancing whatsoever in the Endangered Species Act and the breadth of its power is astounding. Fourteen hundred farmers1 versus attractive salmon is NOTHING to the Endangered Species Act. You can stop an almost completed dam with a little snail. You can shut off water to Los Angeles for an inch-long fish. The Endangered Species Act takes my breath away.

Did you know that the Endangered Species Act passed virtually unanimously? Yep. I can’t imagine how that happened. Did they not read it? Did they not think at all about what the words meant? Where they hypnotized? I am very sure that they didn’t mean what they voted on. They couldn’t have; it is too much. I don’t think they thought that anyone would side with the fish in a fish vs. farmers standoff. I don't know what they thought. I don’t think they were silly or misguided, but I do think they can’t have meant the law they actually passed.

Now we have an Endangered Species Act that requires turning off irrigation water when irrigating puts a fish species at risk of extinction. I bet the legislators who passed it never envisioned that.

But. The Endangered Species Act is the law of our country. Too extreme? Misguided? Silly? Maybe. I don’t think so, but it might be. Even if it is all of those, it is the law that our Congressional representatives passed. That is the law that Dick Cheney is sworn to uphold. If we are ruled by law, then the executive branch must uphold and obey the laws of our country when they are extreme (the Endangered Species Act) or annoying (no torture) or absolute (habeus corpus). It is wrong for Dick Cheney to do an end run about the Endangered Species Act2, whether you like the Act or not, whether you care about the outcome in the Klamath or not.

If the Bush Administration does not like the way the Endangered Species Act works, they can try to sway public opinion and get Congress to change it. That is totally fair game3. But while it is law, they must enforce it scrupulously and they must obey it. That is the basis for democracy. If our highest officials treat the law like a hassle they must dodge to reward political cronies and consolidate their power, and if they are not punished as every other person would be for disobeying the law, then we do not live in a democracy.

1The Klamath Project serves 1364 farms.4

2The end run that Cheney did around the ESA was to bring in an additional level of review because he did not like an agency decision created in accordance with the ESA. There is no process in the ESA for that. There is, in fact, an escape clause in the ESA for cases of extreme outcomes. A “God Squad” of federal Cabinet members can convene to evaluate the species and they can publicly determine any outcome they want. They can doom a species, if they choose. Those are the people and that is the way you can override a Biological Opinion if preserving a species would pose unacceptable costs on society. What you CANNOT do is use the power of your office to remind agency officials of your preferred outcome, solicit an group outside the agencies or the God Squad to review the biological opinion and grant that group more authority than any other public comment, have them evaluate a Biological Opinion that was created responsibly and whose predominant fault is that it didn’t give the outcome you like, then personally fly to the agency and bully the nation’s employees into agreeing with you and reversing their own research. That is not the process outlined in the ESA.

When the revised plan got to court it was overturned. The plan that reversed the original Biological Opinion did not comply with the ESA. But by then it was too late.

3That happens to be a dangerous game for American politicians. Reasonable law or no, the American public loves the Endangered Species Act. By a lot. Messing with it gets politicians thrown out of office. Sucks to be you, Pombo.

4See how I did that without saying how your anger interferes with your ability to count? But that that was understandable, because all people of your ilk are so motivated by self-righteousness and anger that being within an order of magnitude is beyond you?


Dizzy, hon. Go to sleep.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How about you show me a bigger one?

First of all, why do you start off with such a reckless assertion as: "largest fish kill ever." You have no way of proving that. Not even close. I checked the web and that assertion is repeated on lots of blogs and other posts across the web, but nobody gives a single jot of factual support for the assertion. And since you are an expert and should know better, I can only imagine that you said something that reckless because you were driven by anger. I don't think that's good. But perhaps it is understandable in at least as far as most of the environmental movement seems to be fundamentally motivated by anger and self-righteous resentment.

You’re right. I quoted that bit about the “largest fish kill ever” and I didn’t check it. I didn’t blink at it either, because a single event fish kill of 77,000 salmon sounded like a lot to me. So it made it past my initial skepticism. Let’s check it now. The CA Department of Fish and Game told the legislature that there are about 1,250,000 adult salmon left in the state. The Klamath fish kill was 77,000 fish. That single fish kill killed 6% of the salmon in the state of California. That is a significant chunk of a population.

But, is that the largest fish kill ever? Did I make an erroneous claim that shows my thought to be so distorted by anger and self-righteous resentment that the rest of my the post is clearly irrelevant? Hmmm. How big are other fish kills? This one in China got press. Maybe it is big. 450,000kg of fish is 99,000lbs of fish. Guess a twenty lb fish and you’ve got… 50,000 fish. Klamath kill is bigger! This “massive fish kill” was apparently good news. And it was so big! “Thousands” of fish! I’m guessing they’d have said tens of thousands if it had come anywhere close to 77,000 dead fish. I bet it was smaller than the Klamath one. Doesn’t look like the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused a substantial fish kill, although it suffocated that year’s roe.

So, twenty minutes of looking around confirms my sense that 77,000 adult salmon is a very large fish kill. But is it “the largest ever”? Did underwater volcanoes ever cause a bigger one!!!! How about when that meteor hit the earth and extincted the dinosaurs! Bet that killed a lot of fish!!! Listen, pedant. The clear context for that sentence is “kill of adult fish of a species we care about in recent Western history”. In that context, 77,000 fish, 6% of all the salmon we have in California and every salmon in the Klamath those weeks, is A LOT. I don’t know if it is technically “the largest fish kill ever”, but it is not a reckless assertion.

Next, you can take back your patronizing assumption that this level of anger (one I have lived with for seven years) would override my expertise, and you can stop throwing around crude and unsupported assertions about the entire environmental movement. When you are done with both of those, you can tell me how the possibility that this wasn’t the single largest fish kill in history makes any of the specific consequences I listed less significant.

See you in a couple hours. Sleep is for the weak.

Sometimes you’re going along, reading the blogs on the political circuit and everyone is talking about a series of articles about Dick Cheney. That happens sometimes. You read the articles, and when you get to the last one, it talks about how Cheney acted illegally to make a decision in the Klamath that killed a lot of fish. Now THAT makes you sit up straight. You happen to be a chick engineer who reads every news story about western water every single day, and you have for years. So, even though the Klamath isn’t your usual beat, you have a passing knowledge of it. You remember all the pathos-filled stories about salmon boats making a mournful sound as they clanked against the docks at the marina, nets empty, fisherman looking longingly at the sea. Maybe it struck you when you read that article about the Karuk Tribes getting diabetes since their preferred diet had been killed off. And didn’t you just read about salmon emergency relief money? Coulda sworn you did! So it dawns on you… maybe you could put Cheney’s maneuvers in context! Sure, yeah, pictures of majestic salmon dead on their sides. Whatever. Only dirty hippies care about that. The story doesn't end with the fish kill. Cheney set off a chain of things, and you know some of them and you can find where you read them and put them all in one place for your readers. So you, and by “you” I mean all of us, come home from your friends’ house at eleven and stay up until one, finding those things you remembered. You get up at five so you can write them up before your daylong meetings. Such a common story.

Then, on breaks during your daylong meeting, you sneak back to your blog and you find that someone has left a comment that manages to mis-read the words you thought you made clear, make ridiculous assertions, impute motives to you, insult your co-workers, insult you and compare you to the Third Reich. You fume all through your afternoon meeting, but check in to find that your beloved regulars are responding with thoughtful and considerate comments. You are inspired by their example and resolve to do the same. Later.

The fire from that comment lingers. With that energy behind you, you power through clothes shopping! cleaning the whole house! making dinner! painting your bike frame! watering everything! Sadly, by nine-thirty you are done. And you are still pissed. You shouldn’t start this. You are tired and concentrating is hard. You never actually took administrative law, so you’re going to have to understand the Hatch Act by yourself. You are inclined to say intemperate things, and those will get you linked by strangers who wonder how you can live with such anger in your soul. Wouldn’t it be better to make a gin and tonic, turn up some Eminem and dance it off? Yes. That would be better.

So you go to the fridge and you reach for the tonic. But there, next to the tonic, is that six-pack of WHUP-ASS you’ve been saving. You close the fridge door. Then you open that door again and you reach right past the tonic. You grab the first can of WHUP-ASS and you crack it and chug it standing there in front of the fridge. It tastes GOOD. You reach for a second can of WHUP-ASS and it is even colder and sharper and goes down so easy. You grab the third can of WHUP-ASS and open that one, too. You call Ali, to tell her to bring home another six-pack. Then you carry your third can of WHUP-ASS over to your keyboard and you start to type.

The tracks of destructive careless people.

The Washington Post exposed how Dick Cheney secretly maneuvered to overturn an agency decision to keep water for farmers, and the result was the largest fish kill ever. People are justifiably pissed, mostly at the sheer cynicism of his manipulations. He personally interfered to reverse a decision that was made in public to balance the laws of our country, used the agencies to get Republican politicians elected, and the results were visible devastation. Years later, that particular scheme is still reverberating; I want to illustrate some of the consequences of Cheney’s decision that a close election in Oregon meant that Republican farmers would get water.

Cheney’s manipulations had costs. It weakened the Endangered Species Act, by introducing a new, unprecedented level of review for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion. It discredited agency science and the concept of governing based on objective science. Longtime Fish and Wildlife Service staff quit in protest, staff that had local knowledge and had served conscientiously enough to get promoted in an extremely contentious region. It made all watchers more cynical about American governance.


At the risk of sounding like a dirty hippie, the Klamath River salmon run has intrinsic value. A salmon river run is a beautiful and structured system that created and feeds living things. It is made of living things, fish with genetic continuity in that region for millennia, big leaping fish. They should not be suffocated and drowned in warm water by the tens of thousands, their bodies left to rot, for the political advancement of a man three thousand miles away.

Salmon fishery
The Klamath fish kill shut down the West Coast salmon fishery for two years. When salmon return to the ocean, they mix with other river runs; since the Klamath run was endangered and you can’t tell whether you’re taking a Klamath salmon, all salmon fishing was banned for a year and severely abbreviated the next year. Salmon boats were idled; the season was immediately declared a federal disaster and $10M of federal monies were made available to help salmon fishers through the season. Oregon spent $1M in disaster relief; California made $10.2M available in low interest loans. Smaller governments gave money to salmon fishers; Lincoln County gave $75K to help pay moorage fees. That was the immediate response to closed salmon fishery. Five years later, the federal government has approved another $60.4M in aid to the salmon industry. Cheney’s fish kill cost the feds, Oregon and California about $65M.

One possibility is that the 2002 drought would have cost someone that money. It could have been the farmers, who’d have lost a season’s crop. I don’t know what the Klamath irrigators’ loss would have been. But I do know that Cheney’s decision was a transfer of wealth from the salmon industry to Klamath farmers (indemnified, eventually, by every taxpayer in the country). Maybe that is OK. Maybe that is how the United States wants to allocate wealth. But I am very sure that that decision should have been made in public, and it should have been made in accordance with the laws of our country, and it should not have been made specifically to advance Cheney’s political party in a local election.

Karuk Tribe
We’re spending $65M to make the salmon industry whole, but the group who will not be made whole from the Klamath fish kill is the native Indian tribes. Cheney’s fish kill is just one contributor to the collapse of their native fisheries, but the Karuk are very clear. They do not want money. They want salmon. Their descriptions of the 2002 fish kill are wrenching. They value the Klamath and the salmon in ways we do not, and they are hurt when the salmon are hurt.

They are also injured in ways we can understand. The Karuk Tribes are bringing a novel claim against the dams and fish kills on the Klamath; they’ve created the concept of nutritional justice. When the federal government destroys the healthy food source of a dependent tribe, the ramifications of the switch to a crappy modern diet falls on the tribe. Cheney’s fish kill is only a part of the problem, but because of it, the Karuk are sicker, poorer, more alienated from their ways, sadder.

I keep telling you that these decision matter. They seem banal, how much water an irrigation district gets this year. But these are decisions about who will bear costs and hurt and risk. This decision cost the public $65M; cost salmon fishers two years of sitting on land, terrified for their families and way of life; cost nature a gorgeous indigenous fish run; cost the Karuk suffering and food; cost all of us faith that we are governed by laws and not political power consolidation. It matters that we elect people who believe these decisions should be made with a public balancing and acknowledgment of those costs, according to the laws that our representatives passed. It matters that we hold politicians to these standards and make them accountable for the damage they do. Compared to the War in Iraq, the destruction in the Klamath is trivial. But it isn't nothing, and Cheney hurt us all.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

You weren't using that, were you?

My friend Teddy's wife, a very excellent lady, hung around in high school with a bunch of dorky types. (And then she married a friend of MINE! Can you believe it?) They were, by her account, a bunch of meek dorky types, but being bright, they figured out a work-around. They figured that within the whole group, they had enough gumption for one person, and they would pass that around between them. They called it The Spine. They'd discuss in the morning who needed The Spine for the day (hard test, talking to a girl, bringing grades home to the parents) and agree on who would get The Spine when.

I'm gonna asked for something job-related today, and that is not a way that I am naturally assertive. If you don't have anything demanding on your schedule, could I get The Spine today?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fifty on the dot.

There's an excellent Craigslist ad up right now. The whole thing reads:
Let's Just Get This Over - 32
Reply to:
Date: 2007-06-25, 12:21PM PDT

Please just go ahead and reject me in 50 words or less.


I can't resist that. Here goes:

Oh honey, I really tried. But I feel like you never let me in. You barely told me anything; just made demands; never showed me who you really are. I was supposed to guess everything, and I can’t anymore. I’m not psychic and I won’t be your girlfriend like this.

Any of you have fifty words for this guy?


So then Tom walked right into the comments and said, "Here. Let me show you how it's done." His version:

Alone. Aimless. Aching. Around.

Approach. Abashed.

Artless. Available? Apointment?

Arrive. Attentive. Admiring. Amazed. Absorbed.


Affectionate. Amorous. Aroused. Abed. Acrobatic. Abandon. Ardent.


Adjoined. Adventures. Aspirations.


Announced. Amused.

Afraid. Affront. Adolescent. Askance. Argument. Ambivalence. Anxiety. Acerbic. Accusation. Alienation.







Also, it turns out the guy who placed the ad is pretty cool and is part of a really neat blog: Ten Car Train.

Hang out in LA this weekend?

Hey folks! I'll be in LA for a wedding (swank and Indian, so you KNOW the food'll be good) this weekend. Want to hang out? I'm thinking it'll have to be a brunch Sat or Sun morning, since I fly in Friday night and have the wedding on Saturday night. Or we could pack a picnic lunch for Griffith Park and throw the frisbee around. That'd be fun.

Pick a time and suggest a place in the comments. I'll probably go with the early suggestions, 'cause I need to plan my weekend. Fun.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Absolute proof positive that you can get over ANYONE.

I don't even notice all those muscles any more. Who cares whether he threw that straight down the line for an outside-in assist to the back corner? Anyone could do that and look all graceful. It isn't such a big deal.

These guys are my type. Universe, send me these guys.

I can't believe that I found out about Diet Coke and Mentos from my real friends. Well, since you mention it, from Some Guy on my league team*.

When I was at CalPoly in the irrigation degree, there were always job openings for fountain designers. I guess they take their hydraulic engineers where they can find them. I thought that would be pretty neat job. I'm not sure I have the soul for it, though. I liked the Bellagio Fountains, but all I could think was how many psi must come out of those nozzles. They would take your hand off if you waved it over the stream.

*I barely played yesterday, 'cause my ankle does hurt. I came in a little for the last game. I was mostly ineffective, but on one point, as I was walking on, I happened to hear that a totally different Chris picked me and Tyler for his fantasy point. I told Tyler that I'd go deep for him. Tyler got the disc mid-field, I was already running full out, and he sent it just right. We got an assist and a score for Chris S., putting him into the lead. How come that motivates me more than just getting a regular point for my team?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Are you missing anyone?

Chris hasn't returned anyone's call in three days. We think he's been Raptured.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I very much agreed with this article praising bureaucracy and bureaucrats who uphold governmental integrity. I know how people love to hate on bureaucrats. There's the usual accusation in the Marginal Revolution comments that all bureaucrats want to do it protect and expand their perceived interests. I profoundly disagree with that. That isn't what I've seen.

Look, people work in bureaucracies for reasons. It isn't for the high pay and the glamorous lifestyle, I can tell you that. The reasons that people work for bureaucracies are the same things that make them worthy guardians of the "integrity of the American system of government.". First, to be a bureaucrat, you have to have some respect for rules and authority. Working inside this system would be intolerable if you chafe at rules and want to do slashbuckling dramatic works. Bureaucrats believe in rules, and that faith in rules means that they want to follow an explicit process. When a political appointee comes in at the last minute and wants to change the conclusions and maybe also ignore the public comment or not give full notice in the Federal Register, our bureaucratic souls are offended. There was A PROCESS! You can't JUST CHANGE THINGS! We wrote in the management plan that we would sample these sites and use this decision rule and why aren't we doing that?! People get so frustrated that bureaucrats follow rules no matter what, but when those rules are there to safeguard the public against a rogue executive, what you need is a whole bunch of narrow-minded inflexible pedants.

The second reason that people go to work for bureaucracies is that they love the topic. There's nowhere else Margie could build so many fish ladders. There's a reason I'm here and not at CalTrans. I didn't want to be a bureaucrat so desperately that I would have gone to work for Health and Human Services. I wanted to practice in water, and my agency does more stuff in water than anyone else in the state. People here mostly care about water and, years into their careers, are very knowledgeable. Bureaucrats get buffeted by political changes in agency direction, but many are still people who love the topic. If the political veering gets too extreme, in the end they will stand up for what they know. You cannot convince them that overpumping will not damage groundwater basins, or that Delta smelt are perfectly fine, or you that the levees have no underseep. They know better, because this has been their career, and if political appointees are using the authority of the agency to make blatently false statements, the cognitive dissonance will eventually force them to action.*

Finally, agency staff believe in public service. This sounds so quaint and idealistic that it is hard to believe it could matter. But it does. Some people go to work for bureaucracies because they love their state and want to serve it. I do. The idea of "best for our state/country" comes into every decision we make. You can argue your libertarian "I don't want anyone else deciding what is best for me", which I don't agree with at all**, but whether you like the outcome or not, bureaucrats have "best for our country" at heart the way that doctors have "best for my patients" and teachers have "best for my students" at heart. Sure, not all of them live up to that. Of course not. But in times of Constitutional crisis, when your highest elected official does not believe that the law applies to him, it matters that the people who will be carrying out his orders are used to having a voice in their heads asking "Is this best for my county? Will the people I serve be helped or hurt by this?". That idealism matters when the integrity of your agency and its mission is being blatantly trampled.

So I am not surprised that mid-level bureaucrats stood up to be a check on the political levels of the executive branch. I'm surprised to see recognition of that, and pleased to read someone explicitly saying so. But I am not surprised to see bureaucrats uphold agency integrity. The good bureaucrats crave a rule-guided process and they have decades of knowledge in fields they care about and they are idealistic about serving America. Some of the time, some combination of those things will force them to take hard stands at great personal cost. Respect for you, rumpled and unglamorous bureaucrat. American democracy depends in part on you acting like dedicated public servants. Thank you for living up to that.

*They may not have good ways to do anything. Maybe they have no way to tell people that a political appointee is changing the conclusions for biological opinions, or that safety measures are being de-funded. Maybe it is incredibly hard to explain why it will matter to anyone that inspections are being changed from an on-site inspection to a self-submitted web-based checklist. Maybe the best they can do is keep their heads down and leave the public sector. But people who loved their fields can't watch their core knowledge and purpose be violated forever.

**I will never believe that you want to decide for yourself what concentrations of chemical byproducts from local metalplating shops is safe for your household AND the seismic standards for the bridges you cross AND the optimal level of pesticides on the lettuce you eat AND the proper response to the introduction of West Nile disease into your county AND I could go on forever. You cannot make me believe that you want to deal with all of those personally.

I'm fine. My girlfriends are on it and the weekend is looking good.

When I need consoling or sympathy, I go straight to Chris. It is perhaps his strongest gift. He is absolutely fearless about staying with a sad emotion, asking the hard questions that'll bring the hurt to the top to be soothed. He'll do it for trivial problems that feel big at the time, but he isn't afraid of the entire range. He's sat with dying people and the recently bereaved. He'll listen and cry and hug you when you need it or switch instantly back to joking, if that comes up. I don't know how he does it.

Anyway, the fucker didn't return my phone calls last night, so I'm totally gonna sandbag him next time we're at a party and he's trying to score.

The classic (and way over-discussed) debate about consoling people is the 'emotive listening vs offer constructive suggestion'. Whatever. They both have their place. Chris, in fact, takes the emotive listening too far. I'll wail, "Oh Chris!! Whatever should I do about this tragic thing?!?!" And he'll be all, "Megan, I can hear that you are hurt and uncertain and don't know how to proceed." And I'll be all, "No. I'm asking you. What should I DO?" So I'm pretty well past that debate. Have both skills at hand; be attentive to the sad person; switch back and forth between them.

The part I'm still working on is how frankly to acknowledge the suckiness. I'm such a cowardly avoider; where Chris is fearless, I usually try to murmur things like "it's not so bad, look on the bright side, it'll get better". I'm not sure that's best. One time, I hit it just right. This was horrible, but a brother of a friend was the victim of a home invasion and rape. I sent him a card that said essentially, "one day, this'll just be a really fucked up thing that happened and not your whole world." I might have actually written that. I heard back that he liked that card a lot. But I don't know if I could say that in person; I'm not brave like that. Maybe I should work on it. Sometimes things just suck. The sad person knows they suck; she's well aware of that. Pat reassurances either remind her of the difference between what she knows and the reassurance, or diminish her emotional reaction to the genuine suckiness.

So I'll try to do better. The best choice, of course, is to send in Chris. But if that isn't available to me, I want to live up to what friends need in sad times. Booooo! I hate being brave.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ways I’ve gotten over people.

D.K. (3rd through 6th grade, gold-rimmed glasses, best at dodgeball, good grades): Went to different junior highs and I couldn’t maintain the interest without seeing him. Ran into him once again, late in high school. He wasn’t wearing the same glasses or playing dodgeball, so I didn’t get what I was so smitten by.

Series of small crushes: ended only when replaced by the next crush.

First boyfriend: My first semester at Berkeley, my parents divorced and I broke up with my first boyfriend. He got into Berkeley second semester, but had to spend that fall home in LA. I knew he was lonely; we’d all left for school. I was still worried about him, and spent hours trying to figure out ways for him to be less lonely. Play soccer, take a class, anything to get him out of the house. I was also worried for my Dad. My sister’d be leaving for school soon and with her and my Mom gone, I was terrified that Dad would be alone in an empty house. I lay awake nights, trying to figure out what would help their loneliness.

I was leaving math section one day and happened to ask my math TA how he was. He was fine, but a little lonely, since he’d just moved to Berkeley and was living off-campus. I barely made it outside before starting to cry, and I went home and cried and cried. It was too much. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t fix my Dad AND my first boyfriend AND my math TA. Something had to give, and when I stopped crying I wasn’t in love with my ex anymore.

(My Dad was ahead of me. He re-married fairly soon, and had two more children. My ex boyfriend came to Berkeley, and I’ll always think he joined martial arts to see me more often. However, he was excellent at them and hap ki do became his social scene. Four years after that, when I was done with the co-ops, he and I moved into an apartment in the apartment building of all black belts. Spring semester of our last year, we were both black belt instructors sleeping with students from our white belt classes in the fall. I dated mine for seven years. He married his and they have a beautiful little girl. So I indirectly solved his loneliness in the long term. In the short term, however, he was not pleased that I met my next boyfriend… in his dorm suite.)

Second boyfriend: I think I got over him before we broke up. That was a strange time. He was essentially conservative and a pessimist about people. We started fighting the night of the Rodney King riots and didn’t stop fighting for months. I finally broke up with him because I couldn’t stand fighting anymore. I was sad about the breakup and sad for him, but I guess I got over him in all those fights. And, somewhat, when I started spending more time with a guy in my co-op…

Third boyfriend: He broke up with me. (That, incidentally, was the day I learned you could make fun of anything. We broke up just as I was leaving to go home for winter. I cried walking to BART, cried on BART (where I think I saw a guy who was especially mean to me in sixth grade), cried on the plane, stood outside the airport crying waiting for my pick-up. My mom and sister picked me up and asked what was wrong. “Chris broke up with me.” I choked out. Oh, said my sister. Very long pause. “No one’s ever broken up with me.” Short pause. “Me neither,” said my Mom. It cracked me up, but I learned a dangerous lesson that day.) I got over him when I met my next crush.

Side crush: Throughout my second and third boyfriends (so we’re talking three years), I had a side crush on one of my smartest, funniest friends. It was low level but persistent, and nothing was ever expressed. But I happened to see him the day Chris broke up with me and he made some off-hand snarky comment about being rid of Chris. I was still fiercely protective of Chris (maybe that hasn’t changed) and I was so offended that my crush ended that minute. We’re still good friends.

Fourth boyfriend: I got over him the minute he told me that he was going to date my best friend. I was done with him on every level.

Crush after that: He wasn’t interested and long-distance. I couldn’t maintain the crush on no information.

Crush after that: He was less interested and long-distance. I couldn’t maintain the crush on no information.

Crush after that: He did a jackass thing.

SomeGuy: I realized nothing was going to happen and stopped putting him on every Ultimate team I arranged and stopped flirting with him and chatted with his girlfriend whenever I saw her. That crush ended when I met my next crush.

Next crush: Not over.

Crush after that: Played catch and went to my garden with him one evening after his ex had broken up with him again. He wasn’t trying to charm me and was correspondingly much less charming. Crush ended.


Alright folks. What have we got? Looks like a bunch of crushes that ended when I met the next crush. A few crushes that fizzled for lack of contact. Two crushes that ended because the situation was wrenchingly hopeless. Two crushes that ended when the guy was inconsiderate. Looks like Plan A is to meet the next guy. Lack of contact hasn’t killed this crush, so that won’t work. We don’t interact enough to get to wrenchingly hopeless. So Plan B will have to be to get the guy to pull some jackass move. I think there’s potential there.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ask me more!

You know, this piece just wasn't funny enough to be worth the possibility that it is indiscreet and a bad idea. I'm pulling it. Sorry for the discrepancy between here and your feed readers. I'll see if I can come up with something better for today. Top candidates are new regulations for vegetation management on levees OR lawsuits filed against the ag waiver program. You have a preference?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Both sides.

I was all insecure and jealous yesterday and I hate that crap. I hate that I make up huge involved stories, based on the slightest evidence. I hate that I can't stop. I hate that this is the stuff that runs through my mind. I know a relationship isn't a cure-all, but I was in relationships for years, and while I was? I really wasn't hung up on speculation about strangers. If I wanted to find out what HE was up to, I called and talked to him. And he was happy to hear from me. Or, if I did get jealous, at least I had some right! I resent all the processing time I spend on being single and hurt. I hate that my problems are small, petty problems. I want them solved so I can move on to more worthy problems.


I was out with a friend of mine the other day and a woman walked by. He gave a small wave and she gave a small wave. He'd broken up with her; she was still hoping to get back with him. I think she thought I was the next girl. I wanted to tell her I wasn't. Oh no honey, don't look at me and wonder why. I didn't do anything better; I'm not so cute; I'm not funnier. Don't imagine anything, sugar. I'm getting on my bike after this and riding straight home. Don't do that to you. Not tonight. He may date someone else and you may see them at the movies. If you do, you'll have to suck it up then. But tonight you'll just be hurting yourself and there is no cause. Beside, you have beautiful hair and you look like a neat girl and I bet we'd be friends if we met another way. So don't take on grief 'cause of where I'm sitting. I'm sorry, hon. I'm usually you.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Evening star? More like oncoming headlights.

I need to live in a siesta culture. I'm so drowsy. The Sacramento nights have finally arrived. We've been waiting all year for these soft warm nights. Eighty-four degrees at eleven-thirty, so you might as well stay out another hour. Walking home from the funnier Megan's late last night, I passed circles of people in their front yards and couples on their stoops and houses with all windows open. I saw a street man leave his cart to sit on the curb and gather in a cat who looked happy to see him. It was in front of a church and I loved the idea that at that church, even the cat ministers to the poor. I've seen owls, too.

Have you guys seen Venus the past month? That planet is ridiculously bright. Seriously, it distracts me if I am outside. If it were an engagement ring I would think it was overdone and tacky. The past couple nights it looked good next to the new crescent moon, but I'm getting a little embarrassed for it. 'Tone it down, hon. We see you.'

Summer shifts everything late for me. I eat first dinner when I get home at 6ish and real dinner at nine or ten. The warm nights are tempting me into staying up late and I can't sleep in in my east facing bedroom, so how do I magically turn us into a siesta culture? I love naps. I want to nap in the shade in a courtyard with a blue-tiled fountain. I want to drowse in a small room with my family making noise in the rest of the house. I want to wake up for these long gentle evenings, light until nine and a late sunset with that crazy star, and a cold dinner and my city still sitting up talking.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I guess a generation is long enough.

Wow. Governor Schwarzenegger called for a Peripheral Canal. We don't call it that anymore, since that lost resoundingly in a 1982 California referendum. It was unmentionable for twenty years. Now, though, the Delta is so conspicuously broken that something must be done. I'm not opposed to separating the functions of Delta ecosystem and water conveyance. Trying to tweak the Delta to do both hasn't worked; the function that suffered was the ecosystem.

I've written before that my boss says that through-Delta conveyance is a technical problem and a governance problem. A Peripheral Canal is only a governance problem. (Northern Californians believe that with the capacity to move huge amounts of water through a Peripheral Canal, there's nothing to stop Southern California from taking it. At least the through-Delta conveyance posed physical limits on how much water could be moved south.) But in an year where DVVR is getting held to the requirements of the California Endangered Species Act, I believe an enforceable governance mechanism could be worked out for operation of a Peripheral Canal. I don't see how it could be worse than what we have now.

Here you go, Colin: My introduction to the Delta.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I knew it'd come back.

Back when I was telling y’all that when you see incivility on the internets, it is your responsibility to speak against it, one response was that “we are mere commenters. If we said something, it would only fan the flames. It is up to the moderator to take action and delete nasty comments. The blog owner has to do it.” I’m not letting commenters and lurkers off the hook, but I now think they’re right that blog owners need to take responsibility for their comment sections. Small bloggers, you and your buddies may never need to deal with this. Craft bloggers, this may not be a problem for you. But if you run an opinion-based blog with an active comments section, I believe you have a duty to adopt a comment policy and moderate your comments.

If you do not have a comment policy and moderate your comments, you are defaulting to the baseline standard of the internet. That baseline standard is not civil discourse. The baseline standard for the internets is often regular chatter, but at its worst, it is sexist, racist, violent and mean personal attacks. A considerable portion of the time, it is personally demeaning snark. All of the time, it demonstrably discourages full participation by women and other marginalized voices. Unless you explicitly choose a higher standard, that is what your blog will represent.

Civil discourse is a high standard, but it is the one that underlies wide participation and a thoughtful exchange of ideas. The power behind blogging, the part that is something new, is the potential for widely distributed thought to rapidly emerge, be critiqued, polished, spread and adopted. Civil discourse fosters all of that; rudeness discourages every stage. Blogging is a subset and microcosm of participatory democracy and self-governance; it should be training grounds for learning the skills of civil discourse. I think that civil discourse on the blogs needs to start where the fights are – in the comments sections of large blogs.

I think that large opinion bloggers can enforce civil discourse in their own comments (and arguably, no one else can) and I think they should. The benefits are enhanced communal thought and the costs are intimidation, hurt, anger, fear, polarization and exclusion. I think that combination, ability and imperative, create a duty. Large bloggers, I think you have a duty to adopt a policy of civil discourse and enforce it.

I objected for you, to get us all started. Here you go:

But blogland is the wild West! Rough and rowdy! You gotta toughen up! We’re wildmen here! You wrassle with bears, you’re gonna get bit! … You’re probably a chick, aren’t you.

I hate this notion that by going on the internet and typing on blogs, we forfeit the expectations of the rest of our waking minutes. Civility is the norm for the rest of our dealings. Why should people expect a different rules because they have switched to typing? * Dealings on the internet are a big part of life for many bloggers and expectations for how people act carry over from real life; there is not a magic discontinuity that means that we don’t feel shocked and hurt at personal slams if they are typed.

Second, this attitude allocates privilege to the rude. Under this attitude, rudeness holds sway; civility and thoughtful speech has to wrest away space. There’s no good reason for this initial attribution of privilege. No one picked ad hominem attacks, sexist and racist slurs or snarky misattributions for policy reasons. It arose as an unthinking default, but it is a harmful one. Posting a comments policy flips that allocation, so that privilege goes to civility and rudeness must justify itself.

And then!? Why on earth would being thick-skinned be a collective goal?** Being ‘thick-skinned’ means what? Becoming dismissive of what people say? Tolerating rude behavior towards you and others? Becoming callous, building a shield between you and the world? Those aren’t goals. Those are penalties. The world is less gentle and open and playful when people become “thick-skinned”; that’s a real loss. I also think becoming thick-skinned is a first step towards belittling the Other and ignoring opposing viewpoints. Toughening up is not a goal.

Finally, this attitude, the “you asked for it by showing up”*** approach favors people who like a rough and tumble approach. I think that that is a bias in favor of men, and it isn’t like the internet needs more biases that favor men. A rough and tumble approach is not self-evidently better than others; the fact that the people who are already here are comfortable with it doesn’t make it the best way for blogland to conduct itself.

Free Speech is everything to me. I love Free Speech SOOOOO much that I can’t bear to restrict my comments in any possible way. Because of Free Speech.

I’m going to give this the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is genuine and not a way to avoid the work of enforcing respectful content-based commenting. If it is genuine, it is misplaced. Having an "anything goes" comment section does not lead to a free exchange of ideas. It leads, very predictably, to spats that escalate into flame wars. That is one very narrow idea. Seeing it lots of times does not make more Free Speech.

If what you mean by Free Speech is an open exchange of ideas that hears marginalized viewpoints, then you must moderate comments. People will not speak unusual views when they’ve seen other people personally attacked. People stop listening to others’ ideas after they’ve been attacked. And the thoughtful people that will help think about ideas are repelled by nasty forums. The thoughtful, interesting people that hold blogland together have lives. They have better options than watching predictable and hurtful blogfights. They’ll leave.

Policing your comments for ad hominem attacks and correcting misattributions will not decrease the amount of Free Speech. You will be trading the predictable content of personal nastiness for the more interesting content of a wide range of views and engaged discussion by reasonable people.

But I can’t. I’m busy. I put enough time into the posts and I do other things.

If you can not put in the time and effort to moderate your comments section, you are shirking the responsibility of a major blog. You have options. You could turn off your comments. You can hire a moderator or sucker some regular into moderating. You can put in time upfront, training your regulars to step in and conduct discourse in the manner you prefer. Or, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say “It is OK with me to host and sanction rudeness. My convenience is more important to me than the feelings of people I link to, than the hurt and anger generated when people fight in the comments, than the idea of civil discourse, than the voices of people who are disgusted or timid or marginalized or anything less than thick-skinned.” Say it out loud. At the very least, you can post a comments policy, so you don’t feel bad about banning the conspicuous assholes.

It is really hard to moderate comments. It requires me to really think about what people said and correct them when they’re assholes (even when they’re on my side!) or extract the valuable point while contradicting the personal attack and also you have to be sincere when the snark is so much fun.

Yes. It takes skill and it is personally demanding. It is hard to moderate comments.

*Please do not explain to me about anonymity and the limits of text and how the internets are different. That means that civility is more necessary, not less. Besides, explaining that dynamic doesn’t justify it or convince me that it is the only possibility.

**You can skip your emo sensitivity strawman, too. I’m starting from reasonable people, who can take jokes and have a good sense of self, but who are hurt by being personally attacked and having their fundamental selves demeaned for all to read.

***Which, I’ll remind you, many people DID NOT ask for. Many people just thought they were talking about something. Being told in retrospect that “this is how the internet has always been – it was like this when I was on the bulletin boards – if you come in here, you have to expect this” does NOT mean that people gave implicit consent to being attacked when they started reading, writing and commenting on blogs.

No icky boys.

I was watching handclapping games on YouTube, 'cause Ali and I've been handclapping. I love that Ali and I know the same claps, despite ten years difference and growing up across the continent. They aren't consistent internationally, though; I'd never seen this one. I don't see a lot of the Say Say Oh Playmate variant I grew up with (hold pinkies, swing hands as you sing "say say oh playmate", break into claps at the end of the line). Do any of you remember a "Say Say oh Enemy" variant? The one I remember best wasn't well represented on YouTube, but it is here at forty seconds. Those girls look like they're having a ton of fun.

Ooooh... these girls are awesome.

Ok, boys. You can come back now:

The game that made me really nostalgic was this balance game. Oh man. I've played that for hours. I'm good at it, too. The goal is to make the other person move their feet first. There's strategery, so it isn't just a strength game. I loved that game. I don't know if I can still play it; I'm sure it would hurt my wrist after a while. But next time we're hanging out and you feel like you need to get schooled, you just let me know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I've wanted to keep chickens for years.

I liked this idea, of neighbors taking down their interior fences to make a large communal backyard. I liked that idea more when I first proposed it in a ninth grade essay on how to improve cities, and I am sorry that it has taken so long for my early works to become influential. I’ve had time to reflect since that seminal essay, and I am no longer as sold on the idea. Combined backyards sounds like a small interior park, and while that is probably better than many even smaller pieces of turf, I think I want my parks to be larger and open to the public and have cooler play equipment than a bunch of neighbors can afford. Although, if a combined back yard meant that we could salvage and install those seriously high metal swings from our childhood, I would choose that over the pansy-ass, not-high-enough, brightly colored plastic swings you get in parks now.

Speaking of entirely inadequate swings for keeping children safe, this photo-essay* from Slate awakens all my unsubstantiated beliefs about how kids are raised these days. Lots of people in my age cohort clearly remember all sorts of freedom and autonomy of the “go play outside, be back for dinner and at dark” variety. Bill says his parents would be shocked at how far abroad he rode on his bike; Chris was free-range for sure; Margie said her Mom never knew where she was playing. It seems like people my age simultaneously want that for their kids and believe it isn’t possible. (Well, my friends’ kids are very young still.) I can’t figure out what is really stopping parents from that ‘turning their kids lose on the streets all evening’ existence that we grew up with. Combination of a culture of fear (unfounded – crime is down), societal pressure (no one else lets their kids out and they’ll say you’re the parent who doesn’t care if your kid gets snatched), poor urban design (not enough density, dangerous streets, and no adult eyes on front porches)? Chris lived in Santa Cruz (rich, white) and taught in Watsonville (poor, Mexican-American) and said that he’d never see kids on the streets in Santa Cruz, but that Watsonville was exactly like the ‘50s stereotypes of kids playing streetball all evening, every evening. Which makes me wonder if I would move my family to a poor ethnic neighborhood to provide that opportunity for my kids. Anyway, I watch my friends who think just like me act more protective than I think I would. I have to assume that when I feel those pressures, I’ll act like my friends are. But I don’t like it.

The final item in the theme of ‘lifestyles that I imagine for myself based on no real evidence’ is that I have wanted to live upstairs in a north-facing fourplex since I moved to Sacramento. These fourplexes are all over Midtown and the best of them have upstair balconies across both apartments. I want to live in one of those, despite the fact that I love my adorable little bungalow. Second story so I can walk around naked and street level people can’t see me! Drinking on an upstairs balcony has got to be even better than drinking on a porch. So much light! My plants would be so happy! So I’ve had this entirely achievable dream for several years now, and I apparently don’t want it enough to move out of my house.

But! I can combine that dream with another odd notion that I’ve had for a while, which is that I think I would like living in the upstairs apartment across from my still-imaginary husband. Some people react very strongly to that, say that of course I’ll want to share a house with him and have the same bedroom and when I get there the idea of living in adjacent apartments will be ridiculous. OK. That’s entirely likely. But from the outside, I kinda like the idea. First, I’d get to live upstairs in a north-facing fourplex with a balcony. And second, maybe it would be nice to have entirely different spaces. Maybe he doesn’t want to live in a brightly colored forest with no air conditioning. Maybe I don’t want to live in some boy-gadget haven with a TV. Maybe we’re old enough to like private time and independent spaces and sharing those spaces as well. Of course we can compromise, but maybe we would like adjacent apartments better than those trade-offs. I know that doesn’t work with kids. I know that it isn’t what a lot of couples want. I know that I can’t predict what I’ll want. But some part of me likes the idea, maybe as something to return to after the kids leave home.

*I will also add that I think that the twelfth picture is fucking UNJUSTIFIABLE, and my doubts about the editorial choices at Magnum are only increasing, especially their choices of images of women and girls. Their famous women/women athletes series were bullshit. Their mother/child series had some very lovely and touching shots. But I can’t see how that sexualized picture got into a series on children at play when there must be thousands of other pictures of children playing (in Asia, perhaps?) that could have offered additional insight into what children do during summer break. I think someone should be fired demoted to coffee bitch over that picture. Slate, why’d you host that crap?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Such nice pictures.

I can't tell if this is serious, but it is infrastructure pron, so I don't care.

I don't need additional surety.

I've gotten a handful of emails and a few comments on the dream post and more comments on older posts where you guys are all "Tell him! He doesn't know, because men are blind AND deaf about girls! Tell him in so many words!"

The underlying assumption for that advice is that there is mutual interest, but tragic miscommunication keeps the soulmates apart. I cannot figure out why y'all are clinging so hard to that narrative. I'm starting to think you neeeeed that storyline the way you neeeeed "bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people" and "economics is a science". Perhaps it is a subset of "good things happen to good people". Maybe it is projection; you're fond of internets Megan and imagine that he must necessarily be more fond of real Megan. But I've told you that isn't the case. So what is it, folks? I'd say that you've been trained by reading all those romance novels, but now I'm thinking that those romance novels are just tapping into that pre-existing need. What gives?

Monday, June 11, 2007

I have to be able to run on it by Thursday.

Rolled my ankle yesterday, which is not a rare thing to happen. This was a moderately severe roll, so my usual macho walking it off didn't work. Instead I had to admit it was rolled and go elevate it. My sister made me ice it. I hate icing injuries. I hate it very much, so I was very sad that she also knows about treating injuries and said cheery things like "Ten minutes on, ten minutes off!" I thought she was a little too happy about fetching the ice and the wrap to hold it in place, but if you can't trust your sister to have your best interests at heart, who can you trust?

Rolling my ankle threatened to make today difficult too. I had a Fancy Meeting with Illustrious People today in SF. I would have been intimidated by them, except that I was entirely distracted by the prospect of wearing professional clothing for hours. I brought one outfit, which depended on the black high heels I chose. I don't usually wear heels, but when I do, I like some serious height on them. My high heels were out of the question now. But my sister saved me again, with cute black mary-jane-esque docs. I wasn't sure if I could pull off mary-jane-esque docs at a Fancy Meeting, but I looked online, and Style Quasimoto! said that all the grotesquely limping hunchbacks are rocking the schoolgirl look these days.

Anyway, the shoes worked and I was sorry to give them back to my sister. The Fancy Meeting went fine. The only real downside is that I had to tell Ali about my ankle and when she saw it all swollen, she gave me a stern look. "Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off. Every day." Why is everyone I live with bossy?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

It was nice.

I dreamt last night that I was on a trip with a bunch of people to a ghost town in the western desert. The guy I’ve had a crush on forever was on the trip and so were my usual crew and so were some friends of my friends that I hadn’t met. We were doing ghost town things and checking out the abandoned stores and a couple of the new guys were feeling out the situation with me and deciding they might enjoy a trip-fling. I was wondering if my same crush was (finally) going to realize that we belonged together and trying to be around him more, but he was just going along with the group and not paying any special attention to me.

After dinner it was time to figure out where everyone would sleep (the abandoned saloon, the abandoned general store, the abandoned houses) and two guys who thought they had a bid on me were getting loud and competitive and tacky. The guy I have a crush on slipped away somewhere and I was turned off by the guy posturing, so I made it obvious I was going to sleep in the main room with my crew in our usual puppy pile.

The next day I woke up earlier and slipped out to look at the desert. On my way back I fell in with a couple and the guy I like. The couple was all happy and couple-y and started walking ahead down the western town main street. I was being casual and friendly when the guy I like pulled me closer so we could walk with his arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t believe he did that when he never acts like he likes me, and I couldn’t believe how well he fit and I decided it didn’t mean anything, like the times I walk arm and arm with Chris or Ali or Anand.

But he didn’t pull away and I was just watching the couple get further away and starting to exhale and settle into walking with him when he turned his head toward me. He leaned in close, and talked real soft, his mouth on my hair. “Did you sleep well last night?” I shook my head real small, No. “Are you tired?”, and I nodded my head just once, the smallest nod. “Do you want to nap with me this afternoon?” and I thought a nod wasn’t enough for that question so I stepped in front of him and looked at him to see if he really meant it and he kissed me.

In the dream we kissed for long, long seconds and it was huge, wider than that empty street and bigger than that whole ghost town and enough to fill all the deserts in the west.

And then we were walking again, but now I knew I belonged under his arm and I could stop him again for another kiss and I was going to see the rest of the ghost town with him so that when I saw something neat, he’d see it too. And I was going to nap with him that afternoon and I wouldn’t have to put off boys who were tugging on my attention anymore. And when he slipped off that evening, I’d slip off with him. And he would kiss me some more and it would all finally be easy. I could stop fighting the pull of him. I could relax against him and take slow breaths and some breaths would taste like him.

Well the answer is D, all of the above.

It was a sweet and vivid dream, but I don’t know what to do with it.

Option 1: Start organizing trips to ghost towns, since I’ve clearly got a jones to see one.
Option 2: Get over this fucking crush, which isn’t going to go anywhere.
Option 3: Savor the sweetest kiss I’ve had in a very long time.

Or do nothing, I guess. There isn’t the option where he is secretly in love with me, but we are both hiding it for obscure reasons that we will laugh at when the obstacles are overcome. We are both single and I’ve shown my interest and he knows how to reach me if he wants to. Which he doesn’t. Which is fine. No one has to have a crush on me. Not pestering him with my crush is the price I pay for not feeling guilty if I turn away someone’s attention. We’re grown-ups, so you give a sincere try and then you handle your feelings if it doesn’t turn out.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Contempt is for the second-rate.

When I was on the college tkd team, one of my coaches was a recent Olympic gold medalist. Watching him move was astounding; he was a big guy, fought heavyweight, and shockingly quick. He was interesting in a couple other ways. He was the worst fight coach I ever had, couldn’t tell me the opponent’s weakness or how to adjust my technique in the second round or anything. No doubt he could have done any of it, and he was great in training, but he was not a helpful ringside coach. He was tkd born and raised. Father was a martial artist and he was raised in a tkd studio; spent his childhood winning everything in tkd. So I was really sad for him the day he told me that he never liked it. Yeah. He never liked it. He did it for his dad. He wished he could stop, but everywhere he went (like our university) the tkd crowd would beg him back into it.

I caught him watching the white belt class one day, which surprised me. He didn’t love tkd, and if there’s anyone in the world who knows what a bunch of white belts look like, it is a man who’s been teaching them since he was nine. So I asked him what he was looking at. “Look at them,” he said. “They’re trying so hard. That’s got to be so hard for them. I haven’t worked that hard in taekwondo for years.” I watched him after that and he always meant it. His bows to white belts were long and sincere, no different than he gave to his world-class peers. He respected everyone.

I’ve seen that same thing since, and I’ve come to think there is a pattern to the respect people give out. Regular people give out respect in some proportion to their own skills, recognize they’re in the middle somewhere and respect half of people for being better than them, disrespect half of people for being worse than them. As their gifts or natural talents or intelligence go up, they adjust that proportion, respecting themselves and their peers a good deal, disrespecting more people as being less gifted. That continues up the continuum until you reach the very top, and at the top it flips. At the top, the smartest, most accomplished, most talented, most impressive people I’ve ever met? They respect everyone.

I don’t know what it is, some additional edge of empathy or maybe the kindness that comes with everyone always acknowledging that you are the best, but the most impressive people I know never badmouth anyone. “Hm. That isn’t the conclusion I’d have come to, but he must have gotten there somehow – maybe this is why he thought that.” “Oh man, look at the effort trying to get to that catch. If she keeps it up, she’ll be someone to reckon with someday.” “Wow, full props for trying that. That angle won’t work, but watching him try to do that reminded me…” Or maybe they can afford to be magnanimous, since the little people aren’t competition for them. But I’ve seen in everyone that I thought was just in an entirely different league, a giant among us. They feel contempt for no one.

Seeing them makes me realize that contempt is for the second-rate. Truly impressive people don’t feel it unless it is for a person who is morally bankrupt. The most impressive people I’ve met are interested in all the ways people do things, proficient or no, and find something to respect during the attempt. Or maybe truly impressive people don’t feel contempt because contempt is a dismissive shortcut. It is cheap and easy to write off a person for not doing something well and there’s that nice little rush of self-satisfaction. Maybe the people who’ve gotten great at something aren’t in the habit of taking cheap shortcuts. Having a deep respect for everyone isn’t enough to make a person great on the scale I’m talking about. It probably isn’t even a causal factor. But I’ve seen it in the truly amazing people I’ve met. I associate it with that greatness, and I’ve also developed another association. Contempt and disrespect are a signal for second-rate thought. They’re very often the first sign that the thought will be shallow and flawed. Contempt for someone else earns doubt from me. Respect for everyone makes me think you’re someone worth more respect.

Power to the people!

So, on Wednesday, Ali and I were swimming, and Ali was all "the pool's too short" and I was all "am I tan yet?" and then Ali asked the lifeguard if we could take out the lane lines and switch to long course, and the lifeguard was all "I don't know" and I asked the two other swimmers if they would be ok with long course and they were happy for it so we switched to long course and it was great and I think it improved my tan.

And yesterday the creepy front desk guy said that today was going to be long course! And maybe it'll be long course a couple days a week from now on and we are SO EXCITED and it just goes to show you that you CAN make societal change for the better and that THE MAN can't resist the organized will of the swimmers.

Also: I got a hand block at league last night.

I thought it was trained mice, but I was wrong.

Chris: My housemate works for Google.

Megan: Yeah? what's he do there?

Chris: You know, finds things.

Megan: He's the guy who finds things?

Chris: Yeah, when I type things, he runs and finds them and then holds them up to the screen.

Megan: That's HIM?

Chris: Yeah. Maps are the worst. You have to hold them up to the screen and move them left and right and stuff.

Megan: And back and forth! Like windsprints.

Chris: You get in good shape working for Google.

Bob Vis calls bullshit. He has proof that Google runs on trained pigeons.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dear Margie and Dave and Mel and Tall Chris and funnier Megan and Becca and Anthony and Marcus and anyone else in Sacramento who might compete:

I hope you're practicing.


Meg & Ali

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cuernavaca or Cairo for me.

This is a supercool slideshow on a week's worth of food for families around the world.

The pictures from America make me sad. I suppose I knew about my compatriots' food preferences, but all that packaging. The Californians don't do any better. Those six lined up tangelos just kill me.

I wonder how accurate my image of my aggregate food is. In about a month, it would be easy to imagine. It would be a mound of tomatoes, a mound of cucumbers, some red onions, lemons, garbanzo beans and plain yogurt, and not much else. 'Course, this year, there'll be green beans.

via Stumptuous

Monday, June 04, 2007

Just in case...

Oooh, are you going to make me talk about the precautionary principle and the fact that bad things happen and what to do with uncertainty and the sweet reassurance of redundancy in our designed systems and my theory that lawyers are paid well in part to compensate them for the cognitive dissonance they experience because they are paid to plan for bad things happening? Don't make me turn that into a post.


Also, LB? I'm not convinced by the potato-rhubarb gratin. The rhubarb is tart, but still a little sweet and stands out against the yummy cheesy potatoes. I think that if I wanted a sweet element, I'd go for carrots more than rhubarb. Are you sure about the savory rhubarb approach?

Sometimes your strawmen find you.

Ed said...

"Currently, officials don't know which levees in the Valley even meet a minimal 100-year level of flood protection."

So, no one even knows if there is a problem, but they are willing to wreck the real estate and development market just in case.

8:33 PM

The alternative to levees not meeting 100 year flood protection standards is NOT that they are better than 100 year flood protection. We do not worry at night that when levees were constructed thirty and fifty and eighty years ago, they were somehow overdesigned and are now in better shape than we expect.

When we don't know whether levees will meet hundred year flood protection, the alternative is that they are not that good. All of the uncertainty is a matter of how much worse the levees are than the bare minimum (which is a one-in-a-hundred chance that you will lose your house every winter, which are pretty crappy odds, far as I'm concerned, but I guess some people have different willingnesses to risk, you know, everything they love and own.). If they aren't as good as 100-year flood protection, which is the likely bet, that is a huge problem, well worth disrupting the section of the housing market along rivers and in the Delta, especially since all those rivers are about to become substantially more variable.

And then, what kind of shortsighted analysis doesn’t balance the potential failures on either side of this law? If we are wrong to forbid real estate development behind levees that turn out to be safe after all, what are the consequences? Well, housing patterns may shift, if developers apply their trade elsewhere. Individual developers who own property behind levees may lose wealth. We aren’t talking about enough area to make much of an impression on the overall California housing market, so I am not worried about losing housing affordability. The current housing market is a glut, not scarcity, which gives us some time to assess levees and think about whether it is safe to put houses behind them.

What are the consequences if we allow building behind levees when they aren’t safe after all? Then you have what we have now, which is people living under risk they don’t appreciate and committed to their dangerous property. And that shit is irreversible. How would we get people out of their subdivisions in Natomas now, if we wanted to? Condemn their houses? Pay them to move somewhere else? Evict them with the National Guard? You can’t. You cannot make people leave their homes because of a risk. People just don’t work that way. In fact, if that risk came due, some of the survivors would probably move back afterwards. Shit, they do in Florida. I bet it would take two or three floods and no more assistance before the bulk of people would abandon the property they bought in a floodplain. Failure in this event means people drowning, losing their homes, being displaced and whatever costs of resettlement or reconstruction society opts to bear.

So weighing the costs of being wrong, potential loss of developer wealth vs irreversible increased flood hazard to people, I have no problem coming down on the side of caution. You know what? I believe that what they’re doing, these hypothetical developers who build behind levees we don’t know to be safe, is so incredibly venal and selfish that I don’t even see a need to compensate them if there is a regulatory taking. Those fuckers would sell people homes where their lives and families are at a genuine risk, and they would do that for money. Worse, should the flood come, the developers will not be there to fulfill the promise of what they sold the homebuyers – a place to live and an intact house. No, the developers will have taken their profits and left, and all of the rest of us will bear the cost for protecting that development indefinitely. We all will pay for upkeep on that levee, and flood fighting costs if they come, and post-flood costs when those come too. We are all poorer for having to protect people who live in floodplains. Far, far better to keep people out of those in the first place. Schwarzenegger’s bill is a start.

The L.A. Times bites my style.

And you would drive too fast on Topanga Canyon Blvd, while the Cure faded in and out.

If you grew up as a nerdy kid in LA in the eighties, it was VERY IMPORTANT that you listen to KROQ 106.7. KROQ was the station that could give you alterno-cool cred, which was obviously the only kind of cool I had a shot at. I still remember KROQ very clearly. I think I had all the bumper stickers for a few years in a row. I knew all the jocks, and pronounced it K-ro-Q, as all the in-group did. Two or three years I went to Oingo Boingo Halloween concert. Oingo Boingo was a HUGE deal in Southern California, so I was surprised to move away and find out that they were primarily a local band who never got huge. You wouldn’t have known that from KROQ.

I don't think I could name a current radio dj anywhere, but I remember the ones at KROQ twenty years ago. Jed the Fish, in the afternoon. Dusty Street, in the evenings. Richard Blade, lunchtime. The Poorman used to do the morning show. In fact, Loveline was originally The Poorman’s show. I listened to it before I went away to college; sometime later, they took it away from The Poorman and gave it to Adam Corolla. (I think because The Poorman threw a fit and stormed out of the studio in the middle of a show.) I’ve refused to listen to it ever since. I turn it off if I ever hear it by accident, not because Adam Corolla is a tool, which he is, but out of solidarity for the Poorman.

Anyway, today I thought to look up KROQ’s history, which turns out to be pretty interesting. I never knew about the early mass walk-outs. But I have a different question for all of you. The formulation: "-----er? I barely know her." I am very sure the first time I ever heard that was advertising the KROQ bumper stickers in, say, 1986 or so. I can still hear the tagline closing the ad, “Sticker? I barely know her.” Did KROQ come up with that, or do any of you know of an earlier use?

Alright friends, What did I miss?

A good policy blog is a series of conversations among interested people guided by a named blogger who introduces topics and thought.

Is a guided conversation:

A good policy blog is a series of conversations guided by a blogger (or bloggers) who introduces topics and thought. The blogger finds and introduces topics according to her interest and expertise, then adds thought. Adding thought is the part that makes a policy blog more than a news aggregator; the blogger will put the item in context, show how the specific topic matters to the readers or reveals a larger trend or leads to an outcome. The blogger does work and leads the readers through a critical analysis.

A good policy blog is an extended conversation. One of the most compelling and powerful features of a blog is the capacity to respond quickly to new thought. Better than that, a blog can respond quickly to new concepts from a wide variety of sources; a good policy blog can engage other policy blogs, or respond just as easily to laypeople or a media report. In addition to the extra-blog conversation, a good policy blog will develop a strong, civil comments section, where verbal people will critique both the topic and the blogger’s analysis. That’s where the analysis gets hashed out, with commenters asking basic questions or offering interpretations based on different biases or opposing core values. When a blog has good commenters, the discussion a post prompts will often have more value than the content of the post. Readers sort themselves by what they like and write comments that mirror the blog; to get readers that will give thoughtful, rigorous comments, write thoughtful, rigorous posts.

Some of the things that a good policy blog does are the same as any good text-based blog does. Any good blog creates a blogroll the blogger is implicitly vouching for. Any good blog mixes up short punchy posts and longer substantive posts. Blogging is a media that allows straight-up opinion pieces, with only the merit of the piece and the reputation of the blogger for authority, and fact-based pieces, with strong documentation and transparent sourcing. A good policy blog does both. A policy blog, like any other blog, should develop a narrative arc (or a few narrative arcs) and cast of characters. Policy blogs can tell a policy story as it develops and return to it when it becomes interesting; the backstory is only a link away for new readers. As with any good blog, each post should stand alone for drive-by readers, even if it is one part of a complex policy discussion.

Written by a named author or authors:
Having a named author does several things*. First, people do better work when they know they’ll be signing it. Second, having a named author gives readers context. Over time, readers will pick up a blogger’s credentials and biases, and use those to put each post in context. Because people are used to remembering others’ traits, I think it is easier for readers to associate a package of credentials and biases with a persona. And, people who read a blog regularly come to like or dislike the blogger. Knowing who the blogger is hastens that affinity or disfavor.

Being a named author both offers and generates trust. A good policy blog will address complicated and contentious issues; you cannot discuss the issues at the center of a conflict without trust between the participants. Writing under a name extends an assurance to the reader that there is a person who is willing to be accountable for those words, that position, that assertion. Writing under a name offers a trust as well, that the author is willing to interact with the readers as herself. (S)he is trusting the readers first, at the least that they aren’t violent crazypeople or out to damage her, at the most that they will think hard and constructively and offer civil commentary (or be funny).

The audience for a good policy blog:
A few groups of people read policy blogs. The policy-junkies read a policy blog because they would read anything on the topic they love. They’re easy; you don’t have to write well for them. People who are current in their fields read a policy blog to track breaking thought on the topic. You don’t have to give a detailed backstory for them, but for this crowd, you do have to back up your assertions with good sources. People who need content and want someone else to do the thinking read policy blogs, which probably includes most people in any policy field; I’d bet some large sub-section of journalists, lobbyists, staffers for decision-makers, agency staff and advocates read policy blogs to know what to think on an issue.

Then there’s the group of readers I most admire. These are the bright people who are just looking for clear and interesting thought, on anything. These folks are attracted to the quality of thought, not the topic, and respond to the amount of work or originality in a post. They’ll read good posts on anything, long as it is a good post. Trust these people. They’ll keep you honest. Because they don’t know the topic, they’ll ask you questions that tell you where you left something out, or cheated over a relevant distinction, or didn’t make your reasoning clear. They’ll point out your biases to you. They’ll ask for more demanding posts and prompt new thoughts. They’ll agree with things or disagree with things and they know why. These are the readers you want to steadily gain; you want to write things they want to talk about with their other bright friends. As long as these people stick around, you’re writing a good policy blog.

*I have a good deal of respect for pseudonymous bloggers that value their handle's reputation. I understand that that is a persona as well and many of the arguments about names and accountability apply equally well to a pseudonymous blogger. Nevertheless, I think that representing yourself on the internet as yourself shows that you back your words with your very personhood. It is your final way to vouch for your words: "I said that, and this is who I am." I do understand the reasons a person would stay pseudonymous, and when I occasionally worry about my work finding the blog or attracting dangerous personal attention, I wonder if I should have made that trade-off.

Friday, June 01, 2007


I guess he took my post from yesterday to heart. Schwartzenegger wants to say NO. No. You can't build houses in a floodplain.

Also, if you only find twenty-five Delta smelt in the entire Delta, that is reason enough to turn off the pumps.

Remember how I told you that Judge R0esch told the Dpt of Wtr Rsrcs that they cannot just pretend they have a take permit to run their pumps? That they must actually HAVE a document that says "Take Permit" from the Dpt of Fsh and Gme? Well, one of the Dept of Wtr Rsrcs responses was to say, "No, no, Judge R0esch. It is actually cool. See, we're going along with what the Feds did. They have a Biological Opinion from the Fsh and Wldlfe Service, to run their federal pumps under the national Endangered Species Act. Let's just say that the national Endangered Species Act and the California Endangered Species Act are the same, and use the Biological Opinion for both, 'K? So, it's cool. We're chill."

It isn't clear whether Huge Stones R0esch would have gone along with that, but he can't now. His colleague in Fresno, Judge W4nger, has thrown out the Biological Opinion that supported the feds pumping water through the Delta for the Centrl Vally Projct. Judge W4nger threw out the fed's Biological Opinion for being "arbitrary and capricious". He is pretty much telling the federal Fsh and Wldlfe Srvice that they made it up.

Judges don't like to overturn agency decisions. Judges tend to think that they are experts in law, and agencies are experts in their fields. By and large, judges do not want to learn esoteric water policy, and evaluate Take Permits and EIRs and Biological Opinions on their merits. Who would? Even if they did, there would be the question of whether they would simply be substituting their (new) professional opinions for that of the agency experts. Judges don't want to get into that mess, so instead the standard for judicial review is "Are they talking crazytalk?". Is the challenged document arbitrary and capricious? And recently, under the Bush administration, federal agency plans have increasingly been found to be "arbitrary and capricious". That used to be incredibly rare, but I've seen it happen three or four times in the past couple years. It should shock you, that a judge is willing to say that the plans that come out of several years of work at an agency are "arbitrary and capricious", have so little founding in fact or science that they are worthless. It didn't used to be like that, but before Bush, political appointees didn't arbitrarily change conclusions to support political outcomes (or were less blatant about it or didn't get sued and caught, but my take is that the Bush administration's disdain for agency integrity is unprecedented.).

Anyway, Judge W4nger said the federal Biological Opinion is trash. So the Dept of Wtr Resrces can't pretend that it will serve as a Take Permit for them either. Don't know when the pumps will come back on after this shutdown, but DVVR will need a genuine Take Permit to keep them running.