Playing Politics With Pumping Water From The Delta

San Joaquin DeltaWith Governor Jerry Brown declaring a drought emergency in California, three House Republicans from the Central Valley are playing politics by adding an amendment to the farm bill that would force pumping more water from the delta to irrigate farms and halt work on the San Joaquin river restoration. Unfortunately, without the massive outflows from rain water and snow melt into the delta, the only water anyone can pump out of the delta is salt water from the San Francisco Bay.

That begs an interesting question: Why would Republicans want to irrigate California farms with salt water?

The obvious answer is that these House Republicans are throwing out a bone to their constituents from a “do nothing” Congress for the 2014 midterm elections. The Central Valley farmers always want more water for their water-intensive crops and don’t give a damn about the endangered fishes in the delta that people outside the Central Valley rely upon. As House Speaker John Boehner (R – Ohio) explained in Bakersfield, “In my part of the world we would shake our heads at how things work here. It’s nonsense that a bureaucracy would favor fish over people.”

Speaking of John Boehner’s part of the world, the West Virginia chemical spill is a mysterious disaster that wouldn’t happen in California.

Alternatively, since California is a very much blue state that isn’t going purple or red in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, the Republicans may want to destroy the economy at the state level by ruining California farms with irrigated salt water. With the state budget producing a surplus underneath a Democratic governor, the imminent economic collapse and/or zombie apocalypse in California that conservatives have raved about for years desperately needs some help.

Fortunately, the farm bill amendment failed in the House. Now water-rich Southern California is complaining about their water from the Colorado River is being given to water-poor Northern California, which previously happened in the 1976-1977 drought.

Updated 07 February 2014: The Republicans rammed the amendment through the House as a stand-alone bill on a party-line vote with no chance of being passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate. As the drought intensifies, the water wars will get nastier.

A Modern Day Scrooge McDuck Mocks The Holocaust

Scrooge McDuckIf you have to mention Nazi Germany while making an argument, you pretty much lost the argument and any legitimacy to make that argument. A prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist billionaire, Tom Perkins, wrote a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal that compared the one percent rich in the United States to the 30,000 Jews who sent to the concentration camps on Kristallnacht in November 1938, which marked the beginning of the Holocaust that killed six million Jews.

Obviously, this modern day Scrooge McDuck has been watching too many conspiracy theories on Fox News TV.

I haven’t heard of any reports that San Francisco progressives are rounding up the one percent rich, destroying their businesses and marching them off to the concentration camps. The broken windows of luxury car dealerships during the Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland a few years ago and the recent protests against commuter buses for tech workers in San Francisco doesn’t make a “war on the rich” conspiracy.

The one percent rich are feeling insecure because they have been too successful in manipulating public policy and the economy to their advantage over the last 25 years. With a new Gilded Age within reach, the pendulum is starting to swing back towards the 99% who are still suffering from the Great Recession. A FDR-style revival in greatness could undermine everything that the one percent rich has done.

As the trader in the opening scene of “The Wolf of Wall Street” said (paraphrasing): “Wall Street doesn’t make anything, doesn’t build anything, and moves money from the client’s pocket into their own.”

Rather than growing the economic pie for society at large to benefit, the one percent rich are slicing-and-dicing an ever smaller economic pie for their benefit. Americans don’t begrudge someone for being rich as long as the playing field isn’t tilted against them. Unfortunately, economic inequality has become a serious problem. You’re either very poor (i.e., the takers) or very rich (i.e., the makers) in this economy. If you’re in the shrinking middle class that is paying the most taxes to fund the welfare benefits for the very poor and the tax cuts for very rich, you’re seriously screwed and need to move up or down.

Making comparisons to Nazi Germany mocks the horrors of the Holocaust. With 1,000 Holocaust survivors dying each month, the few people who lived through the horrors will no longer be around to remind the world of what happened in the 1940’s. Israel is considering a bill to outlaw the usage of the word “Nazi” outside of educational references to prevent further mockery of the Holocaust. (Although I abhor censorship in any form as a writer, the word “Nazi” might be a special usage case that requires considerable care.) Most people today regard the Holocaust as ancient history, but the civil war in Syria has proven that Nazi-style death camps are still here in the 21st century.

The Macintosh Came Out 30 Years Ago

Byte Magazine MacIntoshUnlike the first-generation iPhone in 2007, I wasn’t there for the introduction of the first-generation Macintosh in 1984. I was in the eighth grade at John Steinbeck Middle School in San Jose. According to the girls at school, I came from a “poor” family because my parents couldn’t afford cable TV to get MTV. We were too poor to own an Apple II. My parents gave me a Commodore VIC-20 for the Christmas the year before. When I informed my teacher that I got a computer, I got laughed out of the Apple II programming class in the seventh grade because he called the VIC-20 a toy (which it was).

A real computer, I learned, requires big bucks.

As my interests in computer programming and electronics developed in 1984, I read everything I could get my hands on. Byte Magazine was my primary source of information, where I first read about the Macintosh. The two most influential books I read that summer was a technical book on the Motorola 68000 processor that the Macintosh used, and “Hackers: Heroes of The Computer Revolution” by Steven Levy. I felt frustrated because I didn’t have a real computer to do anything with and the computer revolution was marching on without me. Never mind that I was only 15-years-old at the time.

I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas that year. Although a toy compared to the Apple II and Macintosh, this Commodore 64 was the first of three I would use for word processing, programming and video games over the next ten years. The Commodore 64 got me through the four bad years when I stayed home from high school and four good years at San Jose City College when I got my associate degree in general education.

The first Macintosh computer I used was a Macintosh Classic II at the SJCC library. English literature instructors demanded that all papers be turned in as either typewritten or laser-printed. The near letter quality (NLQ) setting on my dot matrix printer was barely tolerated. I would print out papers at home, re-type the papers into the Macintosh at the library, saved the file to a 3.5″ floppy, walked over to the checkout counter, insert the floppy into the Macintosh connected to the laser printer, and printed out the pages at ten cents a page.

As I worked in Silicon Valley, my experience with the Macintosh was touch-and-go in the Windows-centric corporate environment. Every time a co-worker taught me how to do something new on the Macintosh, I would get laid off from work two weeks later. Recruiters always teased me about Apple jobs but never submitted my resume because my work experience was—and still is—predominately Windows.

After I started earning the big bucks, I got a Mac mini in 2005 and a black MacBook in 2006. I later gave the mini to a friend who needed a Mac more than I needed an extra system. I’m still using the MacBook eight years later. Although suitable for word processing and web browsing, it’s no longer suitable for compiling programs in the background. I’ll be getting a replacement system later this year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh.

The Boss Sings Governor Christie’s Traffic Jam

On “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” this week, Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen sung about the traffic jam scandal from last September that gotten New Jersey Governor Chris Christie into a bit of hot water. So far no smoking traffic cone has turned up that the governor orchestrated a four-day closure of two lanes on the three-lane George Washington Bridge to snarl traffic as political payback against a Democratic mayor in Fort Lee who decline to endorse the governor in the recent election.

Unlike the endless parade of manufactured scandals against President Barack Obama, this is real scandal that will send people to prison. If a smoking traffic cone does implicates Governor Christie, his impeachment and removal from office will also remove him as the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2016. That would be a shame.

With the Tea Party extremists chasing moderate conservatives out of office, the Republican Party doesn’t have an experienced heir apparent for the presidential nomination. Governor Christie came close to filling that role. The Tea Party, however, hates him because he hugged President Obama rather than give him the middle finger and for accepting federal aid—the handling of which is also being investigated—in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As one commentator wrote in response to a political article about the song, you don’t see liberals denouncing Bruce Springsteen for shaking hands with the governor for the Hurricane Sandy telethon event.

What the Republican Party has left are third-rate candidates who will implode from saying something stupid while pandering to old angry white people who no longer represents America in the primary elections, and the eventual nominee who does emerge can’t pivot to the center that does represent America to win the general election. As we saw in the 2012 presidential election, Governor Mitt Romney got tied up and delivered like a pretzel when he went against President Obama. I expect more of the same in 2016.

It doesn’t help Governor Christie that the scandal happened in the backyard of the New York City media market and New Jersey’s most prominent citizen sung about the scandal on national TV. But that’s the East Coast. On the West Coast, we have to settle for renaming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as a possible bridge scandal.

Firing On Cars With California License Plates

Targeting The GreenbackA conservative blogger, Bill Whittle, at a Tea Party rally this week advocated that Texans should open fire on any vehicles with a California license plate to prevent refugees escaping the collapse of the California economy and/or zombie apocalypse from settling in the “no tax, low reg” hell hole known as Texas. I see one serious flaw. Since the California GOP has more in common with the spotted owl than one-sixth of the U.S. population, these “refugees” are probably fellow Tea Party members.

If Texas wants to execute their own, by all means, let them.

When my father and I drove up to Boise, Idaho, to bury my mother’s ashes with her parents in 2004, our future Tea Party-leaning relatives teased us about driving a car with a California license plate, as Californians got blamed for high real estate prices, drug dealers and drive by shootings.

High real estate prices I understood too well. If my parents had kept the house they paid $32,000 USD in the 1960’s until they retired in the 1990’s, they would have walked away with a million bucks to buy a similar house in the boondocks of California or a palatial mansion in a western state. Unfortunately, they had a failed divorced and filed for bankruptcy in the 1970’s. My father was quite certain that monthly rents would never go above $400 per month, when San Jose was still a bedroom community to San Francisco and Silicon Valley haven’t yet spawned enough millionaires to drive real estate prices through the roof.

As for the drug dealers and drive by shootings, the finger pointing wasn’t justified.

Most of my father’s side of the family smuggled something for a profit throughout the years. My father and his brothers smuggled untaxed cigarettes from Oregon through Nevada to sell to construction workers in Southern California from the trunk of their car in the 1950’s. A distant cousin smuggled cocaine from Cuba to Florida until the Coast Guard caught him in the 1990’s. As for the smuggling of meth, heroin and prescription drugs to the local white trailer trash, you don’t mention that in polite company.

No one shot at us while we drove around with a California license plate. When my father did a California rolling stop at a four-way intersection, car horns from three different directions blasted us. My father looked in the rearview mirror with surprise.

“I was born in Idaho,” he said. “I’m not from California.”

As for California today, the economic collapse and/or zombie apocalypse is nowhere on the horizon. The 2014 budget is projecting to have a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus. If Governor Jerry Brown can hold the line on Democratic spending proposals, reducing the state debt will happen. A severe drought might be the most serious threat to the state, imposing widespread water conservation as many reservoirs are at their lowest levels in decades. Droughts, like earthquakes, come and go all the time.

Rather than worrying about Californians coming to Texas, maybe Texans should worry about their own problems that require a functional state government to fix.

Review – 47 Ronin

47-ronin-6After seeing the trailer for “47 Ronin” over the last few months, I expected a sword-and-sorcery movie based on the true story of The Forty-seven Ronin (samurai without a master) who plotted the murder of the feudal lord who murdered their feudal lord and allowed to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) as their punishment in eighteenth-century Japan. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was a quite different movie. If all the fantasy elements were remove, the movie closely follows one of the most famous Japanese stories about honor and revenge.

Most Hollywood movies based on Japanese samurai culture have a “white samurai,” a foreigner who learns bushido (the way of the warrior), to lead the other samurai into battle against the enemy. “The Last Samurai” (2003) with Tom Cruise as an American cavalryman captured by the samurai was a perfect example of this. Of course, the inspiration for the novel, “Shogun,” came from James Clavell reading a line in his daughter’s textbook: “in 1600, an Englishman went to Japan and became a samurai”.

A boy runs out of the demon-infested forest to collapse in a creek. Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), leader of the samurais, tries to drown the boy because he saw a demon. But Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) has compassion on the half-English/half-Japanese boy, Kai, bringing him into his household and raising him with his daughter, Mika. Many years pass. Kai (Keanu Reeves) is an outcast in Japanese society because of his mixed heritage and demonic background, held in contempt by the samurai and beloved by Mika (Kou Shibasaki).

Kai leads Lord Asano and the samurais on the hunt of an eight-eyed beast that rampages through the countryside. After killing the beast with the sword of a fallen samurai, he notices a nearby white fox with different colored eyes. The fox is a trickster in Japanese culture, which later becomes the witch, Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi). Kai, the white samurai, steps aside and Oishi becomes the main focus of the movie.

That’s an unexpected twist.

Lord Asano attacks his unarmed rival, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), while under the influence of witchcraft. The shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) orders him to commit seppuku for violating the peace. Oishi and his samurai become ronin, exiled into the countryside, and forbidden from plotting vengeance. The shogun gives Lord Kira the lands of Lord Asano, and Mika in marriage after she completes the one-year period of mourning.

Oishi seeks out Kai’s assistance against the witch and gathers the ronin in secret after being released from prison. Overcoming the deep mistrust by the ronin, Kai earns his place to fight and die with them as a ronin and not as a white samurai.

The final battle begins after the ronin infiltrates Lord Kira’s stronghold during preparations for his marriage to Mika. After Lord Kira and his witch are dead, the 47 ronin return his head to the shogun, accept their death sentence for disobeying the shogun, and earned the privilege to commit seppuku as samurai because of their loyalty to their dead master.

One of the big surprises was how bloodless the movie was. Most recent Japanese movies with samurai swords have elaborate blood spray from a fire hose for comedic effect. If someone loses their head, the ceiling gets splattered with blood. If someone plunges a knife into their stomach, the floor gets drenched in blood. None of that in “47 Ronin” as the camera cuts away at the last moment as someone gets killed.

Despite the sword-and-socery fantasy elements, this is probably one of the finest Japanese movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time.

The iPhone Came Out Seven Years Ago

iPhone @ MacWorld 2007

Where were you seven years ago when Apple introduced the first-generation iPhone to the world?

My friend and I were attending MacWorld Expo 2007 in San Francisco. We did not, however, attend the keynote where Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. We were poor Apple fanboys with FREE expo passes. We knew something big got announced. We heard plenty of speculation while standing in line to pick up our badges. Until the doors to the expo floor opened, we didn’t know how big the announcement was.

The centerpiece of the expo was an iPhone under a cylinder display case that rotated for everyone to see from all angles. As poor Apple fanboys, we had to wait. Professional photographers and video cameramen for the news media formed around the display case. The tech bloggers rushed in with their cameras. After various strata of Apple nobility took their pictures, we poor Apple fanboys got a chance to gawk at the iPhone.

We crunched the numbers and determined that we couldn’t afford an iPhone in the near future. Even if we could afford the iPhone, paying for the data plan on top of the regular cellphone service was a steep price to pay. Like hyenas watching the lions feast from a distance, we could only wait our turn to own an iPhone someday.

Seven years later, we still can’t afford to get an iPhone.

Not that we’re still poor Apple fanboys. I’m still using my first-generation black MacBook (2006), a first-generation iPod Touch from 2008, and an iPad 2 from 2012. My friend has an assortment of iPads. Although the entry-level iPhone 5C is affordable at $99 USD, the monthly service charges for a two-year contract are still sky-high. That’s hard to justify in an uncertain economy that never seems to end.

Blowing Up A Sex Doll In Space

During the eighth grade in 1984, I had a junior engineering class to draw blueprints and build models. The big projects we did were a cut-away section of a house, a racing car propelled by a carbon-monoxide cylinder, and a tissue paper hot air balloon.

My favorite project was the hot air balloon. I glued alternating sheets of green and white tissue paper into eight panels, cut each panel into a balloon-shape pattern from a template based on a mathematical formula, and glued the panels together to form a 48″ balloon with a narrow neck.

Because I assembled my balloon at home, the cats got to it with their sharp claws. I had to glue on 234 patches inside the classroom while everyone else flew their balloons. The best-case scenario for my balloon was for it to fill up and fall over due to the extra weight. The worst-case scenario was for it to catch fire from an ember (which did happen to some balloons, including one in flight).

The teacher held the flue over the wood-burning trashcan to direct the hot air. I held the balloon neck over the flue opening to fill it up. After I tied off the neck with a rubber band and let it go, the balloon floated 20 feet into the air and out of the courtyard to everyone’s astonishment. A group of us chased after the balloon two blocks down the street from the school. That’s the furthest any balloon went that day.

The teacher announced at the end of class that my balloon was a kludge—something that worked when it wasn’t expected to work. That was the happiest day for me in the eighth grade.

Kids today don’t know how good they have it when doing engineering projects. A weather balloon filled with hydrogen can carry a mounted camera to transmit video of a test object going into space. Like the video of this inflatable sex doll that went up 102,000 feet, exposed to extreme gamma radiation and the low surface pressure of Mars, and crashed somewhere in the Nevada desert.

Gives new meaning to the old Star Trek engineering motto: “She’s gonna blow, captain!”