Friday, December 27, 2013

The Curmudgeons Lump of Coal

If there is anyone out there who doesn't think their lives are designed by forces they never see, think again. They are. From the bed you sleep in to the house you live in to the clothes you wear, cars you drive and the work that you do plus the government you live under, someone(s) has made a conscious effort to design how civilization should work. Since man came out of the forests and tamed that first animal and gathered that first harvest, every aspect of your life is designed.

As we can all agree not every design is a winner which leads me to 2013's lump of coal. The problem is where to begin?

Obamacare probably deserves the biggest lump of coal. In a nation that probably was key in inventing the Internet and embraced it in ways DARMA never conceived, it's a national disgrace that will not soon be forgotten. Why our national government hired a bunch of hacks (not hackers who probably could have done as well in one night) is stunning. With a nation of 40 million citizens, or not, uninsured, plus untold more who were lied too and had insurance cancelled, why they they thought a system that at best could handle 50,000 at a time was good enough staggers the imagination. Especially when fines would be doled out if you didn't register. Clearly there wasn't anyone in charge. Amazon could have handled them all in one day and in a few hours.

That leads me to the next lump, our government, Congress in particular but the executive mansion isn't off the hook either,  has the worst approval rating since the Tea Tax levied by England in the 1770's. In fact, hemorrhoids were more popular on a poll rating. Well, we always knew the government was a pain in the butt but now we know just how much. A year of standoffs resulted in the government shutting down after already living under the sequester that started in March. An article I read said this would be the worst do-nothing Congress in history. That's just fine with me. As we have seen, they seem to have trouble enforcing the laws they already have.

Moving down the scale, there's the State of California. I live there so I know a little more about it than the scandals we read about in New York, Illinois, Florida and a host of other places where the natives and their governments are restless and greedy.

The city of Bell, CA is the poster boy for corruption in government. This blue collar town of less than 50,000 was paying its city manager around a $1 million a year in salary and perks, his corrupt assistant over $500,000 and the list went on and on. The city councilmen were making nearly $100,000 a year. Not bad for a position that usually gives you $100 a month IF that. One city. The Comptroller of the Golden State just released preliminary findings that showed Bell is really the tip of the iceberg. Milpitis, a small town in the Bay area was paying its city manager well over $500,000 a year or about five times what the Mayor of Los Angeles makes in a city 1,000 times larger. A state senator caught red-handed accepting bribes and water districts that shovel out money by the bucket.

If you go down to the county and city level, it gets better. A columnist for the Pasadena Stars News gave a lump to the people who are shutting down Baldwin Ave. just above Valley Blvd. for two years to lower the street under the railroad tracks. Can you imagine? One of the most important streets in the San Gabriel Valley and a direct entry and exit from an interstate freeway? Two years? You can imagine the hoots the first intercontinental railway people would have had over that. Twenty or so years ago, Alhambra, a small city to the west lowered their tracks because in an emergency there was no way to service the southern part of the city when a train came through. They invited all the cities around to go in with them to reduce costs. Not one city did. Now, from Alhambra east through the valley the southern cities are being torn up to finally lower those tracks. The cost is probably about 10 times higher. In the northern areas the towns are being torn up to extend the Gold Line and every major street for 20 miles is torn up for improvements or for train tracks.

Which brings me to something near and dear to my heart, light signals. The State of California has passed laws that will encourage and allow driverless cars. This is a state that has spent 100's of millions of our tax dollars to digitize the DMV and it is still "in progress." Like FAA control towers everywhere we are running on 50's technology. The thought of a car with a driver is oftentimes daunting but a driverless car with the state of our technology? Truly terrifying. They have never heard of the use of packets, a discovery AT&T made years ago to send information on their copper wires. Traffic signals are willy nilly and often every lane of traffic on big highly traveled streets sit there because the signals can't tell they are there and use arrows to tell cars to turn when there is no one there. There are smart signals but California seems to have never heard of them. Its a shame. Milan Italy back in the 70's had a strangling traffic problem that they improved with the use of software that regulated signals and improved traffic by 20 - 30% in the first year. That was the analog age folks.

If there is any point to this, well I guess rant is a good a word as any, its that people made this mess but you the people can also improve it. Hats off to the jury that found that Bell assistant guilty, the FBI for exposing a corrupt state senator, the press for many of the other revelations that we read about. Sure, some news is silly and oftentimes hides the true problems that need tackling. As voters and citizens, you have the right to speak out. We may not agree with each other but to remain silent is to continue to invite these problems. Remember it is better to tackle them BEFORE they are a problem because it takes far more effort to correct them, if they ever are.

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