The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Mayor Newsom, the Bay Bridge, and more!

Tuesday 3 November 2009 at 11:34 pm
  • I am very late to this link, but if you haven’t seen this comic explaining why Obama won a Nobel Prize, you should!
  • I’m also late to tell the story of the first (and only) rain the San Francisco area has had this season: basically, it was a piddling mid-size shower, and yet it shut down major roads and cut power to thousands of homes :-)
  • In other San Francisco news, the foggy city’s mayor dropped his bid to run for California governor next year. Gavin Newsom has made plenty of people unhappy already (city residents complain about things like crime and homelessness, for instance) — but even after losing his Mr Sheen status, he still stood out amongst a fairly lacklustre field. There seems depressingly little hope for a leader who can drive home the changes California needs to, y’know, function properly.
  • Speaking of the governor — the current one, that is — there’s been plenty of chatter online about the hilarious letter he wrote to exercise his veto on a recent bill.
  • And speaking of San Francisco, allow me to put small worries like an ill-planned triathlon in Perth into context. Until yesterday, the main bridge into the city was closed for almost a weekdumping n00b riders on an already-busy subway system, and throwing egg on the face of the state agency responsible for its (still-delayed) reconstruction. Nobody’s happy that it took so long to fix a crack that was already supposed to be fixed, at least until it got windy …
  • And finally, I’m saddened that it took an (admittedly spectacular!) fire to draw attention to the great big oil spill off the West Australian coast. It’s clearly screwed up the ocean environment (hopefully temporarily, if the oil is cleaned up), so I assume there’ll be consequences for the company involved? So far all they’ve had is part of the bill and some bad PR, and I don’t see strong signs there’s anything more to come.
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Randomly: card games, airport security, trains!

Wednesday 1 July 2009 at 6:10 pm
  • Two weeks ago, a small town on the outskirts of Phoenix in Arizona held a local government election. They counted exactly equal votes for the candidates — so in equal parts publicity stunt and tie-breaking process, the two guys involved drew high cards. Courtesy of an obscure and not even that old Arizona law, the decision is totally legit!
  • Something else I missed last week: on Monday, a company called CLEAR that ran separate security lanes at most big American airports shut down abruptly. Their service always struck me as questionable — pay us money and we’ll overlook normal security measures! — and they never did get all the official approvals they needed, so I’m amused that the recession has killed their little scam. (Heck, second-tier frequent flyers get much the same benefit; maybe that’s why I’ve never seen anyone use a “Fly CLEAR” lane.)
  • According to my local papers, an equal (or bigger!) issue than the California budget is the proposal to build a high-speed railway to LA (which won financial backing at referendum last November). It’s a curious thing to watch Bay Area residents whine about whether to spend billions on above-ground tracks or billions more below ground, while around them the state runs out of cash. (Admittedly, the project has a good chance of getting federal money, and the planning phase has at least a year left in it, nevermind the ten-ish years scheduled to build the thing.)
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State got no money again?

Tuesday 30 June 2009 at 2:56 pm
  • Sometime tonight, the government of California will either reach a budget agreement, or (far more likely) continue in stalemate and stop paying creditors just like they did in February. The funny thing is that literally everyone who’s involved or watching agrees it’s a terrible train-wreck of a situation, and yet there are scant few people interested in addressing root causes like unsustainable spending growth ten years ago, or the state’s ridiculous limits on tax increases. (Oh, and this is a fun exercise …)
  • Meanwhile: late last week, slipping under the media radar courtesy of Michael Jackson (and Iran’s mild case of unrest before that), the US House passed a bill to establish cap-and-trade emissions controls not too far removed from Kevin Rudd’s plan for Australia. I’ve seen a few different places make this out as a big thing (heck, even the Fox News anchor last night was freaked by it). Yet this decision is nothing, because the law still needs to pass a hostile Senate — so, months at the very least. Given current conditions, I’ll be surprised if the US government actually implements any action on global warming before Obama’s term expires in 2012.

I can has budget?

Friday 20 February 2009 at 1:45 am

Just under 24 hours ago, sense prevailed over enough of California’s governing body that they finally agreed to pass the state budget (eight months late!) … thus allowing staff to continue working, tax returns to be paid, roads to be maintained, colleges to stop turning away students, and other generally useful activities to happen.

Apparently the local Republicans are so insistent on not raising taxes that they refused to vote for an emergency bill, without which the state was literally days away from going broke. So strong are their convictions that the last member to change his vote fears a backlash, and the first was dumped as leader — yet for all the bickering, the Republicans failed to present a workable alternative. Months ago, they proposed $20-odd billion in spending cuts, but the state was hit so hard by the financial crisis that that’s now barely half the deficit. (Today’s compromise combined $15 bn of cuts with $24 bn in taxes and debt.)

Lest this make the Republicans sound like the villians, I should point out that California’s Democrats are far from blameless — they refused to cut back on spending for months at the beginning of the dispute, and were largely responsible for getting the state into this mess in the first place.

And this is all apart from the practically Byzantine rules of California’s political system — rules that require a supermajority to approve spending (the same two-thirds approval needed to change the constitution), or rules that require a full-blown referendum for pretty much any tax change (and thus any big new spending).

I seriously wonder how anything happens around here, what with the state’s leadership caring so little for its welfare …


Playing catch-up, again

Monday 12 January 2009 at 10:29 pm
  • Let’s start with the American car industry bailout, since I neglected to comment on the give-the-plebs-some-cash stimulus packages that happened in both the US (where a second is coming!) and Australia. I was not a fan of the $13.4 billion move, and public opinion was clearly against it, although that was mixed with perceptions that spread blame for the industry’s woes far and wide. And so Ford, for example, felt it necessary to go to the lengths of a flashy PR campaign to tell people “no, honestly, we’re not all bad, we deserve the money”!
  • I find it hilarious, and also more than a bit terrifying, that the state government of California is so heavily screwed by its inability to get a budget together that the governor is talking about reducing the school year, and the state’s biggest paper is suggesting a Commonwealth-style rule to force an election after blocking supply. (Ha!)
  • The big news story of the week in the Bay Area is that a seemingly innocent dude (who, by the way, was black) got shot by railway police after New Years celebrations, which has been enough to stoke a few protests (particularly among San Franciscans who see themselves as above such things) and earn blanket coverage on commercial TV.
  • The new president’s inauguration hasn’t even happened yet (though on that note, I’ll be there and will post photos on this blog!), but on Facebook I already see folks gearing up for the next round of elections! Thus both San Francisco’s mayor and a Valley billionaire and sitting member are already gaining support for upcoming runs on the California governor’s office. And Facebook’s ad system is even deigning to show me ads for specialised software for managing election campaigns!

Voting for hope and change and stuff!

Wednesday 5 November 2008 at 2:39 am

It wasn’t a close race, in the end, but none of the Obama supporters I know felt comfortable until it was finally, definitely confirmed.

And how! Dripping with symbolism and references to the past, I thought the victory speech was amazing (did he sound more like Martin Luther King, or more like John Kennedy?). It was delivered with a skill of oration that few other world leaders could ever match, and was dignified far beyond the weakness of McCain’s concession speech.

I was particularly interested in how the Internet played out in the victory! Within minutes of the “Obama’s won” announcement (led by CNN pretty much on the dot of west coast polls closing), my Facebook news feed was filling with celebratory status messages, nevermind expected channels like Twitter and the blogosphere. Everybody I know of used the Web to keep up with results. And the Obama campaign sent a thankful e-mail to everyone on their list ten minutes before his speech!

Amidst all of this, my housemates were entertaining to watch! It was one thing to see people holding signs at traffic lights and train stations saying “vote Obama” or “yes on proposition 8” (see below), but it was quite another to see otherwise sensible people go insane with cheering and dancing and other expressions of having their faith restored, simply because a different party won an election!

(Although I was in Sydney and Melbourne during the last rounds of the campaign — both of which showed me an awesome time, yay for walking the bridge at 1am! — it didn’t seem to matter that I missed them. As far as I can tell, the biggest factors were losing trust in the Republicans because of the financial crisis, and never having gained trust in Sarah Palin.)

But California, oh, what were you thinking? Counting is incomplete but it looks like the vote is for a ban on gay marriage?! (The county map is telling: “no” votes centre entirely on the Bay Area …)