There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Big Daddy on the bus

Finished Bill Boyarsky's slim volume on Jesse Unruh, the legendary former speaker of the California Assembly who transformed the Legislature from a part-time vassal agency, subservient to the governor, to a professional, co-equal branch of state government.

Boyarsky sets his goal in the prologue:

"By studying his life and the story of the institutions he built, we can learn something about why government worked so well in his era, when it served both the poor and the middle class through institutions carefully built by a California government that confronted issues remarkably similar to those Americans face today."
But that's just too big a bite of history to digest in 224 pages. As a result, the book's examination of those events seems at best cursory. Complicating matters is the fact that Boyarsky covered much of this era as a wire service and newspaper journalist. By combining his personal experience with the history he tries to tell, what results is a muddle of biography and memoir that doesn't satisfy either.

Much like my muddled personal blog book reports.

My mother was an active member of the California Democratic Council, an organization that Unruh felt was too elitist, too detached from the realities of blue collar Democrats. I find it an interesting omission that Boyarsky's discussion of the CDC fails to point out that the organization was the outgrowth of the "Stevenson Clubs" established during Adlai Stevenson's idealistic, but unsuccessful campaigns for president. We learn in the book that Unruh favored Truman over Wallace in the campaign to succeed FDR, but where was Unruh in the Stevenson campaigns?

Coming as I did from an environment of liberal CDC politics, I grew up with a well-developed dislike for Unruh's down-to-earth politics, a politics where the goal was to acquire personal power ‌in the pursuit of good works. It was this type of politics that created a "Big Daddy" who could promote civil rights and fair housing legislation.

Today, having outgrown that liberal cocoon, I better appreciate the art of Unruh's work. Both as Assembly speaker and later as state treasurer, Unruh gathered to himself great power. He then used that power to both personally enrich himself and at the same time to make changes for the betterment of those less fortunate. His campaign against the "greenmail" tactics that roiled Wall Street in the 1980s and his efforts to establish shareholder rights are examples of the good works Unruh accomplished while raking in more than a million dollars in campaign gifts from people who profited from California bond sales managed by Unruh's office.

Unruh was California's equivalent of the East Coast political bosses or Chicago Mayor Richard Daley: He knew the rules and how to play the game. In an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter who sought to make something of Unruh's milking of campaign cash from Wall Street investment houses with business before the treasurer's office, Unruh said:
"[I] don't propose to talk about campaign financing. Your paper has written on it many times, and as far as I'm concerned we've been down though the list, and as a consequence, I've said all I have to say on that. Okay? Which is essentially that I don't like the way the game is played, and until we get some other alternative method, the only alternative to not using the present method is to lose."
And Unruh didn't like to lose.

Monday, December 24, 2007

See you next year

I'm going to be traveling in upstate New York until next year. I expect to return to blogging about my attempts to rely on Sacramento Regional Transit around Jan. 7, 2008.

Thanks for visiting, and happy holidays.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Assertiveness training

Do they still have assertiveness training classes today? Those were big in the 1970s at the dawn of the feminist movement as many women, trained to be docile and submissive, discovered they lacked the ability to assert their desires, needs and opinions.

The question occurred to me as I watched two women standing beside the bus in the mud on a street without sidewalks.

I'm reading a book about famed California politician Jesse Unruh. He was "Big Daddy" when the boys in the Legislature, far from home and family, were expected to play around and the young ladies on the staff were expected to play along. If nothing else, the book amply demonstrates the genesis of the feminist movement.

The meek young Asian lady on my bus clearly needs some of that assertiveness American women discovered in the '70s.

Today, the young Asian lady I wrote about the other day was joined by an Asian friend who also attends adult classes at Winterstein. They took a seat near the front of the bus.

When the bus crossed Hurley Way, the woman began watching out the window for the Amberwood stop while holding her hand near the stop request cord. She was frozen in anticipation.

I watch with my own anticipation from my perch in the first elevated row of seats in the back of the bus. The older woman who had helped her out the other day wasn't on the bus today.

As the bus lumbered down Morse toward the school, the Amberwood bus stop sign came into view. But instead of waiting until after the bus had passed the sign, the woman pulled the cord just feet in front of the sign.

"Stop requested," said the bus.

Stop delivered.

Wrong stop. What to do? And here is where the assertiveness training might have helped: "Oops, my bad. Next stop please."

But instead, the two Asian women looked at each other and then silently rose from their seats and walked to the side exit. They left the bus and stood by the side of the road, looking up the street to the school, each holding a bag of wrapped gifts for their teachers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The day after a rather blustery day

We begin a day after we left off. Same route No. 82. Same newer style bus. But a different driver.

A meek young lady boards the bus. Today she is alone and takes a seat near the front. She slides to the bus wall, leaving the aisle half available for an anonymous rider who boards later.

The woman sits quietly, hardly moving, until the bus passes Hurley Way on its way down Morse Avenue to the Winterstein Adult Center at the corner of Morse and Northrop avenues. She is watching for landmarks. She isn't going to make the same mistake twice.

She looks out the window and then up at the display inside the bus that shows the date and current time and the next stop and then back out the window. Yesterday's public humiliation for pulling the "stop request" cord one stop early still stings.

Her head moves from the window to inside display to window at first slowly and then faster and faster as the bus rumbles down the street. The confession extracted by the driver has left its mark. Her anxiety is clearly evident even from my perch in the first elevated row of seats in the back of the bus.

Finally, the bus passes yesterday's fateful Amberwood stop, and she reaches for the cord. But before she can pull it, the bus announces, "Stop requested."

Across the bus from me another woman who takes classes at Winterstein, a woman more confident, more experienced, gathers up her belongings after requesting the stop.

As the bus pulls to a stop, the two women rise and exit.

The Winterstein Adult Center offers a range of entry-level career courses and classes for English learners and high school dropouts looking to earn their GED.

Most of the bus riders who get off at Winterstein appear to be immigrants. The meek woman is Asian; the more confident woman Hispanic. Several Eastern European matrons regularly ride the bus to the school. They are all part of the giant salad bowl that combines ingredients from around the world and serves up the latest iteration of what it means to be American.

These people work to fit in, even to the point of fretting about having mistakenly pulled the top request cord too soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Rather Blustery Day

Standing at the bus stop waiting for my bus to work, I was reminded of this Pooh story. At least, I was reminded of the English version. But even in Swedish, you get the idea.

Having made such a big deal about how standing in the rain was just fine for a transitarian, I get to do it at least through Thursday, according to the weather guessers. This is an example of karma.

My personal definition of karma: Every thought, word or deed plants a seed, either good or bad, that manifests itself later. This works for bus drivers, too.

The bus was traveling along Morse, headed for the Winterstein Adult School at the intersection of Morse and Northrup. A Winterstein student pulled the stop request, but didn't realize there was another stop before the school.

The bus stopped at Amberwood. The driver opened the door. He waited.

"Somebody requested a stop," the driver said.


"Who's getting off," the driver asked, his annoyance made clear by his tone of voice.

Finally, a meek voice from the very back of the bus admitted to the error, and the driver, having secured the confession of the miscreant, proceeded to the next stop, where a number of Winterstein students departed.

Perhaps, if the driver was paying attention to the events that followed, he noticed that he is not immune to error.

While driving down Northrop toward Fulton, a woman asked the driver which was the closest stop to Fulton. The driver, who is not the regular No. 82 operator, stopped at Jonas. The woman, who walked with a severe limp, was getting up to leave the bus and walk two blocks to Fulton when another passenger, a woman who regularly rides the No. 82, suggested that there was a stop closer. Sure enough, there are stops on either side of Fulton.

And if the driver failed to get the point, a short while later he rolled through the guy who chases co-ed's stop at Howe and Northrup with the "Stop Request" sign clearly illuminated.

"Hey, stop, stop," the guy yelled from the side door. When the bus did stop, the guy muttered "jerk" and gave the driver a quick middle-finger salute as he scurried off to work.

Finally, just to underline the point, the driver nearly missed the turn from Folsom into the 65th Street transit center. He had to brake sharply when he finally realized his mistake and was just able to make the turn using outbound traffic lane.

So, maybe a little sympathy or at least a little tolerance for the erroneous stop requests by adults taking classes at Winterstein might offer some karmic relief for the driver. That, of course, assumes a certain self-awareness, a measure of enlightenment, and that wasn't exactly in evidence on the run today.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fair Game on the bus

Finished "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House," Valerie Plame Wilson's attempt at a memoir, an attempt that the CIA vigorously worked to undermine. Simon & Schuster, the publisher, had to resort to hiring Laura Rozen to produce a 78-page "afterword" that seeks to fill in some of the blanks left by the CIA censors. (See this post by Rozen.)

When this whole affair first started I was aghast that the administration would stoop to revealing a covert CIA officer's identity as a part of an effort to undermine a critic of the administration's march to war. Having read even the redacted description of Valerie Plame's work in the CIA, I am even more angered by what was done. But I am not surprised. After all, this is the same administration that has worked so hard to turn the Justice Department into an arm of the White House political machine, that has bent the environmental protection laws to favor mining interests and has turned the nation's energy policy into corporate welfare for the oil industry.

What's one spy's life and the damage her outing has caused to national security when there are political scores to settle?

There's more than a little irony in the fact that Plame was outed by the White House trying to stifle dissent. She was a strong supporter of the work to gather the intelligence on Iraq's nuclear program and other weapons of mass destruction.

Writing these pages in 2007, four years after the invasion of Iraq, and the evidence of the manipulations of intelligence and failures of the intelligence community prior to the war, it is easy to surrender to a revisionist idea that all the WMD evidence against Iraq was fabricated. While it is true that powerful ideologues encouraged a war to prove their own geopolitical theories, and critical failures of judgment were made throughout the intelligence community in the spring and summer of 2002, Iraq, under its cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority.
The book contains full pages of material censored by the CIA. Since all of the material the CIA cut out is already in the public domain -- news articles, other books, even the congressional record -- one is left to suspect the political appointees at the top of the CIA still have a score to settle with a woman whose husband had the audacity to speak out. She is not even allowed to say how she met her future husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Click on the image of Page 64 from the book for my favorite example of what the CIA felt safe to reveal.

Page 64

I have never understood the claims of supporters of the White House, who argued that Wilson's assessment of the Niger "yellowcake" evidence was somehow undermined by the fact that his wife worked as a CIA operative on WMD and played a role in getting him the pro-bono trip to Africa. Rozen expresses my own sentiments in the afterword:
It's not easy to understand how an unpaid week interviewing ex-officials in the second-poorest country on earth could be construed as a boondoggle by even the most avid political operative, and the nepotism talking point did little to neutralize Joe Wilson's fundamental and still-compelling claim: that the White House exaggerated the case for war to the American public. It's a claim that teams of CIA-led Iraq weapons hunters did nothing to dispel when they delivered their findings to Congress shortly thereafter that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Even with the redactions in her memoir, Valerie Plame Wilson comes across as a dedicated, patriotic public servant who served her country to the best of her ability, sometimes risking her life in the process. This is not James Bond stuff. This is the nitty-gritty work of intelligence gathering, the very necessary and very valuable effort required to ensure our national security.

That she was paid back in the way she was is just a crime.

In the book, she makes reference to a photo that appeared in TIME's 2005 retrospective focusing on "People Who Mattered." A photographer had come over to shoot her husband. When one of her twins wandered downstairs, she came after the child in her pajamas. She paused a moment, pushing her hair out of her face. The image captured speaks volumes about two people who stood up to an organized political attack.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A guy and his doll

The towheaded preschool girl arrived first, lifted into the bus by her father in a familiar demonstration of the parental weightlifting version of the two-arm cling and lift.

The little girl was dressed in pink shoes and pink pants and a pink and purple coat. Her shoulder-length wispy blonde hair was kept from falling in her face with a barrette. On her hands were pink knit gloves with purple flowers. She stared in amazement as only a child can. You could imagine that this was the first time she had been inside the big bus. Wow.

Her father showed his Sacramento State student ID with the bus sticker to the driver and then did the familiar parental herding maneuver that part pushes and part guides kittens in the general direction desired. Eventually the little girl was left standing in front of the first front-facing seat in the bus as her father took off his backpack. The acceleration of the bus departing the stop sat her down on the seat, and she scooted next to the wall to make room for her father.

The father looked as unsure about the bus trip as his daughter looked amazed. Twenty-something, short hair, glasses and wearing a black trench coat -- I've never seen him on this bus run, certainly not with the kid in tow. And, frankly, you don't see very many unaccompanied fathers with their children on the bus. An observer from another planet, might assume bus travel required a minimum of one mother, with the father an optional accessory.

The father rummaged in his backpack for some school papers and then read through them. The little girl sat quietly and watched the pageant as the bus stopped and started and people arrived and departed.

From my perch in the back of the bus I saw the girl ask her father something. This brought a smile to his face, and he replied. The last I saw of the pair, the father was putting on his backpack as he walked into Sac State with the little girl trailing behind.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Measuring bus drivers

I walked to the front of the bus after pulling the "stop request" cord. As the bus slowed and moved toward the curb, the driver closed her cell phone and said, "I hate when they ask me that."

I had no idea what she was talking about.

"How big is five inches?" she asked. "Guys know these things."

I smiled and considered that silently.

"No, no, not that. That's not what I'm asking," she quickly added.

I offered my estimate of five inches, holding my index fingers apart horizontally.

"Then, how big is a foot?" she asked.

"Well, it's going to be a little more than twice that," I said, and moved my index fingers apart. And then I remembered that my shoes are 12 inches from heel to toe and raised by right foot and said, "That's a foot."

I think she thought I was making fun of her question.

The bus stopped and the door opened. We said our goodbyes and I left the bus to walk home.

Who says riding the bus isn't interesting?

Tonight the guy who regularly drives this run from 65th Street to American River College had been replaced by a woman driver. There may be a rough outward similarity between tonight's driver and the one I wrote about yesterday -- both blonde, about the same age -- but as drivers, they are worlds apart. No, universes apart.

As I boarded the bus with a half-dozen other riders, a guy stuck his head in the door and asked when the next No. 87 bus would arrive. "Let me check," she said. She looked up the information while people continued to board. "That will be 6:30, hon," she said.

To people who don't ride Sacramento Regional Transit buses, that may not sound like such a big deal. Ask for information; get an answer. But it is rare that a driver will do that. More likely the driver will hand over the bus schedule book so the rider can figure it out for himself. But most often the drivers just say they have no idea, and some of those drivers make sure you appreciate just how much they don't care.

During the ride, a passenger went to the front of the bus, apparently to check whether he would be able to make a connection. She did some checking and told the guy it was possible. She'd see what she could do. But then when the bus reached the Kaiser Hospital timing stop she had to wait to catch up with the schedule. And at the Watt timing stop, the same thing happened.

"If I could get you there before then, hon, I would," she told the guy. It was a gesture of sympathy just as rare as the directions she gave.

I don't know if the guy made his connection. But when I got off I was sure his driver would give it a shot.

Some drivers really do deserve to get awards for their service.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Driving a bus and caring for riders

Last night I needed to make a quick grocery store stop on my way home. I had a choice: Go to Safeway at 19th and S streets and then catch light rail at 16th Street, or take the train to my regular bus and then go to Raley's at Watt and Marconi. The deciding factor? The choice of bus drivers.

There is more to driving a bus than, well, driving a bus. Some drivers make riders feel welcome on their bus, while other drivers just check your fare. But occasionally you have a driver who is so unpleasant that you just don't want to ride the bus.

Last night's choice came down to riding with a nice guy or a woman who lacks any people skills.

My first introduction to this driver occurred some time back. My outbound train was late arriving into the 65th Street station. Making matters worse, the inbound train was even later. Everyone transferring from the outbound train to buses had to wait for the inbound train to leave. By the time I was finally able to walk across Q Street, the No. 82 bus was starting to leave. I waived at the driver, but the bus continued to leave. Finally, I stepped off the sidewalk and stood in the path of the bus with my monthly pass held up in front of the bus windshield. The driver grudgingly stopped and allowed me and several other passengers to board.

I was willing to leave that be. Maybe she was having a bad day, like the one I wrote about when she was standing on her horn through most of the trip. But there's a pattern that just can't be ignored. On one occasion she snapped at a guy who had asked politely for some information. He rightly took offense and the situation got very tense before he finally returned to his seat.

Now she has come up with an especially infuriating tactic.

At the 65th Street station, buses enter the transit center from a side street off Folsom. The buses then stop at their designated stops and passengers transferring to light rail must cross Q Street to get to the station.

This driver skips the Folsom route and goes down 65th Street to Q Street. She enters Q Street and stops beside the train station. After all of her passengers leave, she drives to the far end of the transit center and parks next to the toilet provided for RT employees.

There is more than a little irony in the fact that I suggested to RT that all buses enter the transit center at Q Street to make it more convenient for riders transferring to the train. I was told that wouldn't work.

It is obvious that this driver's motivation to take the detour isn't the convenience of her passengers. By taking this route she can avoid dealing with the people waiting to get on the bus.

I appreciate that drivers are allowed breaks between runs. But most drivers park the bus at the stop, turn off the engine and let riders wait inside the bus while they walk over to the restroom.

Standing at the bus stop, stamping your feet to keep warm while watching your bus park 100 yards away is just not good for the overall thrill of riding Sacramento Regional Transit buses. To make matters worse, this woman routinely waits until after the official departure time before bringing the bus to the stop.

On Monday, I watched and waited and looked at my watch and counted the minutes as I tried to keep warm. When the bus finally arrived two minutes after its scheduled departure time, I boarded only to find a bus that seemed colder inside than outside. As the bus was leaving the station, a woman walked forward and asked the driver to turn on the heater. I didn't hear the actual response, but whatever the driver said sent the woman quickly back to her seat, now both cold and hot.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that the heater started working later in the run, when nearly everyone had left the bus.

What do I want? I want RT to invite people to tell them what makes a good driver. What special effort makes one driver stand out from the rest.

From 17 years of experience handling letters to the editor, I know that people only write when they are angry, not when they are happy. Unless RT asks to hear from riders, all they will get is disgruntled riders with tales like the one above. Without positive feedback to balance the overall picture, the negative reports can't be put in perspective.

And maybe if drivers such as the woman above were exposed to the "good" feelings that some drivers routinely generate, perhaps the drivers could better appreciate what they could do to make the ride more enjoyable. I've never driven a bus, but I'd be willing to wager that a bus full of happy riders is easier to drive than one filled with a sullen crowd.

But this idea won't work if the riders don't get some feedback. RT should publish a list of the "best practices" that the riders suggest each month. It could become a regular feature in RT's newsletter. Engaging the riders will make them feel that RT cares. That's important if RT really wants to stop the decline in ridership.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Richard Brautigan and The Old Bus in Germany

Are you from Germany and looking for something about Richard Brautigan's short story "The Old Bus" from his "Revenge of the Lawn" collection? Leave a comment explaining what brought you here. I'm curious.

OK. For the rest of you, let me explain. Each day, one or two people from Germany visit this blog after searching for "the old bus richard brautigan" on Google. My post, The young bus and the old guy, is on the first page of results but far from the top and obviously not authoritative on the topic. But still these people in Germany continue to arrive.

I'm assuming that there's an American Literature class somewhere in Germany that is using Brautigan. I'd love to know how the teacher introduces him to the class. He was my favorite writer in high school, but I'm at a loss to imagine why he would be of interest in Germany today and especially that particular short story.

As an aside that moves this post even more off topic, I want to say "Wow, that's neat" to the Google Translate people. One of the Germans who visited today used Google Translate to read my post in German. Here's the link to the German translation. What's fun here is the ability to click on a sentence and see what the original text said. If you don't like the translation, you can click on a plus symbol and add your recommended translation. Needless to say, I don't know anything about German and have no idea how accurate the translation is.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Transitarian Gore

I remember the first time I saw a news report years ago about a celebrity who arrived at some gala function in a Toyota Prius, making a point about the need to do what we can to reduce our personal environmental impact. Soon lots of celebrities were driving Priuses, and Toyota couldn't keep up with demand.

Saturday I was encouraged to see the small story in The Bee's World Digest: Gore uses Oslo mass transit.

OSLO, Norway -- Former Vice President Al Gore skipped the traditional airport motorcade and took public transportation when he arrived Friday in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize he shared for his campaign against global warming.

Gore will accept the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize he shared with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at a ceremony in the Norwegian capital on Monday.

Longer versions of the Associated Press story included this:
Before his arrival with his wife, Tipper, Gore told his hosts that he would not need the traditional motorcade from the airport, preferring to take the high-speed and environmentally friendly airport train, and then walking to his downtown Oslo hotel.

"I use public transport when I can. It isn't always possible," Gore told The Associated Press while walking to his hotel. He said the train was much faster than a limousine, but that it was also a symbol of efforts to reduce pollution in hopes of slowing climate change.

"It is a gesture. It is also one of the changes we are all going to have to be doing anyway," Gore said about the need to change travel habits.

I'm not completely sold on Al Gore's new role as environmental guru. He is certainly profiting handsomely from it. (See this Dec. 9 TimesOnline article: A convenient £50m for green Gore.) But if Gore can convince more people that riding transit is a socially responsible, environmentally sensitive thing to do, then more power to him.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been riding Gore's coattails, trying to get a little of that popularity that attaches to all things green today. Now that Gore is riding transit, one can only hope we'll see a similar transformation of "The Evil Transitator."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Curveball on the bus

Finished "Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War," by Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin. This book details the story of an Iraqi defector who was the sole source of America's claim that Iraq possessed mobile labs capable of creating deadly biological toxins for bombs. These mobile labs were the keystone of Secretary of State Colin Powell's evidence against Saddam that he presented to the United Nations.

As Drogin explains:

Curveball's case occupies a singular place in U.S. history. After 9/11, critics complained that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement failed to connect the dots of evidence that might have prevented the terrorist attacks. But in this case, the CIA and its allies made up the dots. Iraq never built or planned to build any mobile weapon labs. It had no other WMD. The U.S. intelligence apparatus, created to protect the nation, conjured up demons that did not exist. America never before has squandered so much blood, treasure, and credibility on a delusion.

It was interesting to read this account of how the nation's intelligence community had failed to fulfill its mission at the same time that the reversal of the assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons program was in the news.

As Drogin explains:

As the rhetoric rose in intensity (in 2002), the White House pushed Congress to authorize use of force if Saddam did not disarm. Anxious Democrats asked to see the current intelligence estimate on Iraq. There was none. The White House had begun gearing for war without any strategic-level intelligence assessments on Iraq.

The next day, officials from the six agencies that collect foreign intelligence gathered at the National Intelligence Council office, at the other end of the hall from Tenet's suite at Langely. A National Intelligence Estimate represents the best collective judgment of the entire intelligence community. Preparation of an NIE, as it's known, normally requires six to ten months of drafts, debates, and more drafts. The deliberative process is designed to weed out bias and produce unvarnished assessments, regardless of whether they conform to U.S. policy. No other intelligence document is considered more important.

The council cranked out the Iraq NIE in nineteen days flat.

Compare that with this week's news reports concerning the new NIE that says Iran's nuclear weapons program was abandoned in 2003. The Iran NIE was in the works for more than a year. And, more important, when new information arrived, a full reassessment was done. Just the opposite occured prior to the invasion of Iraq. As more an more questions arose about Curveball, the Iraqi defector in Germany, the CIA specialists in biological weapons refused to consider that maybe a mistake had been made. Curveball's story about mobile biological weapons had to be true -- the analysts' reputations were riding on it.

As a Los Angeles Times report in The Bee about the Iran NIE noted, "As U.S. intelligence officials Tuesday sought to explain the remarkable reversal, they pointed to two factors: the emergence of critical new information over the summer, and a determination to avoid repeating the mistakes that preceded the war in Iraq."

One can hope that the difference between the NIE on Iraq and the NIE on Iran means the nation's intelligence community has returned to its proper job as an adviser to the administration and abandoned it's co-conspirator role.

If the Iraq war were not so tragic, the bumbling intelligence effort that started the war would be funny. Prior to the war during the U.N. inspections:

Analysts studying satellite imagery kept reporting Scud missiles hidden on farms. Each time, a U.N. convoy would race to the site. ... But the missile always turned out to be a rotating steel drum for drying corn. Or a poultry shed. "Chickens in Iraq are kept in a long, low half-cylinder coop," Casagrande said later. "We inspected a lot of chicken coops." ... Fed up with wild-chicken chases, Casagrande had a shop print thirty souvenir T-shirts. They showed the U.N. symbol over the words Ballistic Chicken Farm Inspection Team.

During the hunt for WMD after the invasion, an Iraqi tribal sheik approached the Americans and swore that Saddam's aides had buried a cache of biological weapons in farmland he owned. A CIA analyst named Rita took the bait. The CIA team searching for WMD went to the guy's farm with front-end loaders, mobile chemical and biological testing gear and emergency demolition and disposal teams. The crews dug out one enormous hole and then another. After nothing was found in the third hole, the CIA gave up. Drogin reports, "Rita drove back to see the sheikh two weeks later and discovered he had pumped water into the holes and filled his three new ponds with carp for a commercial fish farm."

I'll be on a spy theme for the next several books. I'm now reading Valerie Plame Wilson's book, "Fair Game," which touches on the same pre-Iraq war intelligence fiasco.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Oh, what happens when it rains?

While waiting in a drizzle for the bus this morning, it occurred to me that I know why people who oppose public transit say things like "Oh, what happens when it rains hard, which does happen?"

Now, if only a little splash of water could eliminate the racist agoraphobe demographic and the other transit naysayers.

I will keep a bucket of water handy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

First one, then another and pretty soon . . .

The Los Angeles Daily News has a feature article that begins:

Two years ago, Simon Pastucha - an urban designer and planner for the city of Los Angeles - left his Mercedes SUV at the dealership and hasn't looked back.

But how does a professional with children and far-flung meetings survive in car-centric Los Angeles without owning an automobile?
Read the full article here and then come back. I lived in the San Fernando Valley before Interstate 405 replaced Sepulveda Boulevard as the commute route to Los Angeles. Back then, the Daily News was a throw-away paper known as the Green Sheet. (The front section and some other sections where printed on green newsprint.) I left and moved to Northern California well before the Los Angeles commuter rail started operating.

The guy featured in the Daily News article used to lease a Mercedes SUV for $500 a month. This is not a guy forced onto public transit because of "mobility" issues, unless you count the lack of mobility associated with gridlocked Los Angeles freeways. From a transitarian point of view, this is the perfect story. First one guy, then another and pretty soon you're talking about lots of people.

Which brings us to my favorite blogger du jour. He's the guy I ranted about in my "Dictatorship of the 33" post. He's the one who tipped me off to the Daily News article. I don't use his name or his Web address because I don't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing how much he annoys me. However, I think he offers an opposing view that illustrates the thinking (loosely defined) of transit foes.

He starts with a very telling headline: Living a Minimal Life Without a Car

And what is so minimal about life without a car? Well, according to this blogger, "This man and his children are hostages to public transportation."

I simply don't see it. I must confess that I don't think I could go completely carless. The guy in the article rents cars on the weekend when he needs one. But going from a two-car to a one-car family is more than possible, even with Sacramento's less-than-ideal bus service.

Probably most telling was the blogger's suggestion that a little rain keeps people from using transit:
Would you like to live his life? Oh, what happens when it rains hard, which does happen? Does he stay home from work? Does he rent a car? Dos he ask a friend to drive him into downtown LA? Or does he do all that walking in a heavy rain? Would you want him as a friend?
Sorry, but the last time I checked people are not water soluble. And, in any event, it is not as if transit riders sit on top of the trains and buses. They ride inside, which is just as dry as the inside of a single-occupant car. A hat and coat or an umbrella offer more than enough protection when not actually riding transit. And a hat and coat or umbrella are still required by the blogger when he drives to the mall and has to walk a half-mile to reach the stores.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Blog stats addicts anonymous

Hello. My name is John, and I am a stats addict.

Daily -- and much too often hourly -- I check the visitor statistics for this blog to see who is visiting -- I see you guys at RT at But what's most fascinating is why people who don't live in the Sacramento area stop by.

Yesterday, someone in the Ukraine searched Google looking for: reading in the bus is bad for eyes doctors

And, of course, what's the No. 1 Web site on the subject of reading on the bus and the potential impact on your eyes, doctor?

You guessed it: My blog post "Can I do it just until I need glasses?"

Gee, it's wonderful the way the Internet can connect people with the information they need.

Am I good, or what?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bus Driver Appreciation Day

It was early in the No. 82's run from American River College to Sacramento State. It was the second stop after I boarded and took my customary seat in the very back on the driver's side.

The bus had stopped to let a couple of passengers board and was just pulling away from the curb when I saw a head bobbing up and down and a hand waiving just outside the bus. Someone was running to catch the bus.

"You have a runner," I yelled to the driver.

"Thank you," said the driver as he stopped the bus and opened the door to let the young Sacramento State student board.

The other day after the SACOG meeting, I was discussing Sacramento Regional Transit bus service with two women as we all waited for the next No. 30 bus. One of the women had absolutely nothing good to say about RT bus drivers and especially those drivers who arrive at a stop early and then refuse to wait for runners.

"I've been told by drivers that I have to be at my stop five minutes early," she said. "If I'm not, I'm out of luck. Drivers have refused to open the door when I was standing beside the bus."

I tried my Pollyanna act and told her of the time a driver waited while a passenger ran across the street to get change, but it was only a half-hearted effort to apply lipstick on the drivers who don't mind leaving people behind. After all, it had only been a couple of weeks since I last watched a driver deliberately leave someone behind even after he was told he had a runner.

It was nice to start my weekly commute with one of the RT drivers who cares.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dictatorship of the 33

The Bee went out of its way Sunday to say how sensible it was for Placer County officials to read the poll numbers and abandon a proposed 2008 effort to win voter approval of a sales tax to pay for transportation funding. Missing from The Bee's editorial was any mention of the dysfunctional system of governance that allows a minority of the population to override the majority's desire.

Yes, the support for the proposal had declined from 70 percent to 58 percent. But were it not for California's ridiculous requirement that 67 percent of voters approve tax increases, the majority could decide the issue. Instead, 33 percent decide.

This provision doesn't protect the minority; it empowers fringe elements of the community. Take this argument against the tax posted on a local blog that praised The Bee's editorial:

"This proposed tax increase in Placer would have taken at least 18% off the top for union controlled, government run transportation, that would have been a deficit run system—made up for by general tax dollars...and if the unions decide to strike—as they have in LA, SF and many cities in California, Placer would have been held hostage by radicals."
The "18% off the top" this guy finds so objectionable is the woefully inadequate portion of the tax proceeds that would have gone to transit. Of course this guy doesn't want a dime going to anything but road improvements, but even a tax just for that wouldn't meet his requirement:
"Maybe the voters would approve a straight road fixing measure—if the most qualified, lowest price bidders were allowed to bid on the projects. Instead, due to union control of the process, the taxpayers would pay a premium to use union only firms. In a four billion dollar deal, upwards of one billion will go to higher benefits and wages for union members—that is one billion less to fix the roads."
Ah, yes, don't dare pay living wages when corners can be cut, when contractors are more than happy to take advantage of the hoards of less skilled workers ready to take these jobs. I'll bet this guy also has an opinion about illegal immigration and the jobs they take from Americans. But it doesn't appear to matter as long as he gets another gridlocked highway lane.

It was not sensible for Placer County officials to abandon efforts to raise money for transportation infrastructure. It was a depressing sign of the abysmal state of local government, victims of the dictatorship of the fringe 33 percent. I can only hope that voters in areas served by Sacramento Regional Transit will be more enlightened when tax increases are proposed to fund improvements to the system.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Happy Elf-ing Holidays