Stupidity is Alive and Well across the Nation

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 11, 2019 - 02:54:00 PM

A friend sometimes quotes her late father, complete with old-style Eastern European accent:

“The shtupids! Dey’re everywhere!

And indeed, this week’s news once again proves him right.

The stupids are everywhere.

First, let’s start with the cast of clowns that surround Donald Trump, now that all the putative adults have left the building, and with the clown-in-chief himself.

How can he/they possibly think that they can get away with it?

By “it”, we mean the whole megillah, but especially, not only withholding appropriated funds from Ukraine pending dirt on the Bidens, but also openly boasting about doing it.

Every day a new amazement. Yesterday, it was the appearance of two characters apparently acquired from Rent-a-Thug who set up a phony LLC to funnel money to Republican campaigns. Not only did they get caught, their prime candidates lost their elections.

But this show goes on daily, so by the time this is posted there will be a new outrage. So enough about that.

Instead, let’s consider the recent PG&E “event”. 

I love the terminology. An event is something that just happens, isn’t it? 

A surprise to all of us, right? 

Well, not exactly. As well as I can determine, what triggered the widespread power cutoffs this week was a prediction of high winds coupled with a prediction of low humidity and possibly hot weather. 

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s lived in California for the last year or so. That seems not to include PG&E’s newish CEO, Bill Johnson, who most recently worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority. 

As the cliché has it, “it’s not if, it’s when.” 

While we’re in clichéville, how about “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”? That’s a staple of contemporary corporate culture, touted by spin doctors as the way to dodge scrutiny of their cockamamie schemes to save money for shareholders by cutting dangerous corners. And Johnson’s performance this week was right on cue. 

"As a result of this, millions of people have been without a fundamental service they expect and deserve," Johnson said at a press conference. "This is not how we want to serve you and not how we want to run our business." 

Okay, so why do you do it? Stupid, or as Gavin Newsom said, greedy? Johnson’s base salary, before stock proceeds, is $2.5 million. 

Everyone in the affected area has their own stories about stupid PG&E tricks. 

From reader Christopher Adams, who lives in the Berkeley Hills: 


“Becky, with all that is going on, this is trivial but I can’t help kvetching. Any other readers feel the same way?  

“I have got this message twice in the last few minutes. Along with messages to my cell, etc. etc. 

To help officers and firefighters respond to the anticipated PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff and extreme fire danger in the hills, we need you to take steps to make our streets passable for first responders. 

Here are few things you can do to help with public safety: 

Do NOT park in the following areas: 

a. at red curbs 

b. posted tow-away zones 

c. posted no parking areas 

d. within 15 feet of fire hydrants 

e. within 15 feet fire station driveways 

f. and do NOT double-park 

“ I do not need a message to tell me to obey parking regulations. What are they trying to tell us? Does this mean it’s OK to park in red zones and in front of fire hydrants when there is not an AC Alert? This kind of thing is a classic example of bureaucratic overreach. And the reaction of people who are sick and tired of getting all this stuff will be like the story of the boy who cried wolf. We will direct our computers to send this stuff directly to the spam file and we will ignore all the phone messages that seem to be from AC Alert.” 


My personal favorite on Day One was the recorded PG&E phone message received twice in ten minutes, that told us that power might be shut off, but no indication of when or where or why. At the end it told me that for more information I could go online to a PG&E site and input a 12 digit number if I wanted to know more. 


And of course, that site soon went down, not that I could on the fly remember which 12 digits to type. Believe it or not, some people still don’t have computers, and many of those who do don’t have portables that can operate during a power outage. 

I tend to get my timely information from public radio, so I did figure out that this “event” was a calculated pre-planned response to the usual fall weather pattern. The only problem was that there was not a breath of wind in South Berkeley at the time the shutdown was announced, and none in Santa Cruz either according to my contacts there. The humidity was around 90%, but never mind. 

It was apparent that their predictive weather model was very poor, but they stuck to it regardless. 

And today, now that they’ve started winding down the “event”, the wind seems to have picked up, at least around here. Do they plan to do it all over again like Groundhog Day every time there’s a high wind? 

A few years ago we had a visitor from Martinique who’s an executive in their power company, the equivalent of PG&E, except that it’s government owned and operated. He was incredulous when he saw the big old wooden power pole with the wires and the transformer on it outside my house. 

In Martinique everything’s been underground for a generation. Is the United States becoming a Third World country? 

The transformer in front of our house has blown out twice since we’ve lived here. 

And the “vegetation control” gambit! Kurtis Alexander had an excellent piece in the Chronicle a month or so ago which documented the slap-happy way PG&E’s contractors have been needlessly cutting down valuable trees so they look like they’re doing something. 

A letter copied to the Planet made this point: 

“PG&E's approach to vegetation management
around transmission lines is drastic, destructive, and perpetuating the
problem they are trying to address, fire hazards. Rather than mitigating
fire hazards, they are creating new problems. Their clear cutting
approach leads to a wind tunnel which can fuel fires, dry flammable
brush that is more flammable than tree cover that holds moisture, and
greater heat from the loss of canopy.” 

When you see what’s going on with PG&E, it’s tempting to blame all our problems on its corporate masters. It’s possible to imagine government owned and operated public utilities, à la Martinique, which would work much better. 

But then, of course, thinking about the current state of the federal government, maybe not. But what’s the alternative? 

You can’t help thinking my friend’s father was right. The stupids, they’re everywhere. What is to be done?