Networks, Phones, and Black Magic

Old TelecomWell folks, sometimes other things intrude on my normal life stuck here in front of this computer screen. Today, it was a rather large “emergency” project for a company that found the network and phone system in their new office not working. I love that kind of work. It’s always exciting to troubleshoot these kinds of problems. Of course, it would be easier if these people would just hire us to do the stuff from scratch. But there is something wonderful to go in and see an old and complex system. It’s like archaeology. You can see how it all started and how things were added over time. And step by step they take a well designed system and turn it into a nightmare.

This one was especially interesting, because the initial stuff was professional hardware, and it was installed correctly. But absolutely no care was taken to document it. The patch bay had on it only a single cryptic number that didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything in the office area. Some of office outputs were labeled and some were not. And of course, there is the very old analogue telephone infrastructure there—the building is about 50 years old. It is still all hooked in, but of course none of it is being used. Now the phones and the network are all through cable coaxial line.

I was a little anxious when I got the call. I feel totally secure with computer networks regardless of how complicated they are. But it’s been a few years since I’ve dealt with telephone systems. I had nothing to fear. Telephones are simpler today than they’ve ever been. It did, however, take me a little while to figure out what exactly was going on. Here’s a pet peeve of mine: no documentation. When I set up a network, I create a log book that I keep with the data hub. That provides all the information about what connects to what. And then it acts as a diary explaining all changes that have been made. Here, of course: nothing. But I did figure it out quickly enough.

It’s sad though. In the old days of analogue telephones, it was kind of romantic. It takes me back to the original Star Trek and Scott being a “miracle worker.” The telephone systems were such a nightmare of tiny wires that it made those of us who knew what we were doing kind of wizards. Now, I think any reasonably intelligent person could take a semester course on TCP/IP and know most of what I know. Maybe add a little knowledge of UDP and some better ways to deal with realtime issues, and clients might as well hire them.

But the fact remains that most people still have trouble with even the most basic networking. And when you are talking about business phone lines and different subnets, they probably still see people like me as wizards. But we all know better. If you’ve never done it, you owe it to yourself to check out an old telecom closet. They are things to behold. And you’ll wonder, “How did they keep all that straight?” And the answer is that to some extent, they didn’t. It was magic.

I remember hearing these stories of American contractors trying to get the electrical system in Iraq back working. And after years, it was worse than it had ever been. All I could think was that there were a bunch of young, well trained engineers who understood the proper way of how to do stuff. But they didn’t understand all the creativity of countless men who were making that system work under less than ideal conditions. I don’t know what they finally did, but there were only two real choices. Either start over from scratch or hire back those Ba’ath Party members who understood the magical incantations of the electrical grid. We old timers still have our uses.


I’ll probably be working all day tomorrow, so not much posting except maybe in the morning and then in the evening.

Hopeless Search for Honest Conservative

Rick PerlsteinThere is a term that I’ve been using for a long time, and last week at The Nation in an article There Are No More Honest Conservatives, So Stop Looking For One, Rick Perlstein used it, “No more affirmative action for conservatives.” Actually, I’ve stopped using the term, because “affirmative action” applies to giving explicit opportunities to members of certain groups because of the excess implicit opportunities that members of others get. This is not the situation with conservatives in the media.

Of course, it is exactly the arguments that conservatives have made over the last five decades when they’ve labeled all media that is not explicitly conservative as “liberal.” They claimed that the reason there were so few conservatives in mainstream media was because of bias. What they avoided (or perhaps didn’t realize because of their own ideological bias) was that there were very few liberals in the mainstream media. Those outlets preferred flavorless reporters and commentators who had very middle of the road beliefs.

But before the rise of the internet, in reaction to this conservative “working of the refs,” we saw lots of conservatives get jobs in the mainstream news industry that were not matched by liberal hires. And that led to outrages like the PBS Newshour pairing the moderate, ever so slightly left of center, Mark Shields, with the 25 year younger, conservative ideologue David Brooks. Balance!

But Perlstein’s article is worth reading in full. The truth is that even the smartest and most conscientious conservatives show their true colors when it is to their ideological advantage. Perlstein specifically mentioned Sean Trende. Now you may know his work, because it is usually very good. He is an excellent numbers guy and he is very much worth reading. But coming right off doing really good work, Perlstein noted:

Then, last summer, he published a four-part series arguing that Republicans could regain the majority, not by recruiting more Hispanics but by flushing out the “missing white voters” who didn’t go to the polls from 2008 and 2012. It sounded like an interesting argument—until Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz pointed out at that the rate of “missing” minority voters who might have gone for Democrats was about the same as for whites who might have voted for Republicans. Trende simply cheated: “He adds back in all the missing white voters to the 2012 electorate while leaving out all the missing minority voters.” That, practically speaking, made his analysis as useful as cross-country skis at the beach—though it was ideologically useful to his team. Which is about as far as most journalists on the right care to go.

Perlstein ended by saying, “Time to stop the soft bigotry of low expectations toward the right.” But sadly, that is not going to happen any time soon. There are a couple of reasons. One is simply that the mainstream media are determined create balance among the parties. If Republicans were in favor of killing poor children (which they pretty much are) and Democrats were not, ABC News would have a panel with one pro-child killer on the right, one anti-child killer on the left, and a moderate in the middle calling for a compromise of maybe just killing the ugly poor children.

Another, and I would say even more difficult problem, is that the Overton Window of our political discourage has been skewed. Now it is shocking to hear someone on a mainstream outlet talk explicitly and positively about redistributing wealth from the top to the bottom. But neo-fascist discussion of “helping the job creators” or libertarian discussion of abandoning the poor are common and considered just fine. Since true liberals, much less socialists, have been left out of the conversation for so long, they shock the senses of viewers, even when the viewers themselves are more in agreement with their ideas.

There is one other issue, but I don’t know how important it is. Now that the right has its own sealed off media system, they can push stories that no one outside is even paying attention to. This just doesn’t happen on the left. The mainstream media outlets want to keep conduits to the world in case they stumble upon a real story. But this does seem like a minor issue. After all, George Will may now be on Fox News (where he should have been all along), but for decades he was both on ABC and at the Washington Post.

We will see a good example of the problem in the upcoming Benghazi! hearings. Regardless of the coverage, which I am hopeful will be largely dismissive, there will be plenty of airtime dedicated to conservative hacks screaming about, “Four dead Americans!” Even though the scandal, such as it is, has nothing to do with that. It will be more conservative operatives masquerading as journalists throwing anything possible out, hoping that something sticks. Meanwhile, real news will go un-covered and editors will continue to look for the “honest” conservative.

Coal Is About Profits Not Workers

Coal MinerDean Baker wrote another one of those blog posts, If Kentucky Is a Coal Mining State Is it Also a Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction State? What he’s getting out is that The New York Times (although they are hardly alone), refers to Kentucky as a “coal state.” But the entire coal industry in the state is responsible for only 0.6% of all the jobs. There are actually more jobs in heavy and civil engineering. So why not, “Kentucky, a heavy and civil engineering construction state, would benefit greatly from a federal jobs program focused on infrastructure building”?

The truth of the matter is that newspapers to this day refer to Kentucky and West Virginia as “coal states” because the coal industry has been so successful at lobbying. They like the image of the hard working coal miner like you see in, Harlan County, USA. It’s great PR, because how can you not admire those hard working people doing the most dangerous of jobs. But most of those jobs have gone. And they haven’t gone away because of government regulation. Some of the lost jobs have just gone because of market forces—coal is losing market share to other energy sources like natural gas.

But the big change comes from the changes in how mining is done. The industry itself doesn’t want to pay a small army of people to dig down into a mountain. So now there is far more surface mining that doesn’t require nearly as many workers. In an article four years ago by Bill Bishop and Tim Marema of The Daily Yonder, they noted, “What’s interesting is how the national press constantly overstates the importance of coal to the economies of eastern coal states.” And they provide this amazing graph of coal employment in southern Appalachia:

Coal Employment in Southern Appalachia

So I get angry when when anyone complains about moving away from coal, which produces a whole lot more carbon-dioxide per unit of energy than do most other fossil fuels. They scream about the job losses. But who has been screaming about the job losses the management of the industry has been involved in over the last three decades? No one. Because all the wringing of hands has nothing to do with workers’ jobs; it is all about company profits.

I haven’t had time to get into all of the new EPA regulations for power plants, but at first glance, it looks very good indeed. In fact, it is a win for everyone, except for the owners. Forcing power plants to upgrade and retrofit will create jobs. We should have been doing this for a long time, but again, it will hurt profits of the already rich and so generally our government won’t do anything.

But it is true that people who work in and around the coal industry have been harmed and will continue to be harmed. But it would cost us almost nothing to help them. So if conservatives claim to be worried about these people (and we know that mostly they don’t), they should be for providing welfare and job training and even government jobs for these people. That’s what you do if you care about the coal miners. And you should care. We should all care. But the coal industry owners? They are doing just fine and can take care of themselves.

Traitor Jefferson Davis

Traitor Jefferson DavisIt is such a difficult choice for birthdays today. Last year I wrote about Allen Ginsberg. It’s Memphis Minnie’s birthday, but I’m planning to write about Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley later today. I was seriously considering Chuck Barris who is 85 today. He is such a genius and yet also responsible for so much cultural decay. Then he wrote a really interesting “unauthorized” autobiography in which he added a second life as a CIA assassin, that for some reason, otherwise serious people insist upon pointing out is not true. And then he wrote a very candid book about his troubled daughter who died over an overdose at 36. He is a really interesting man. But I said no to all these fine people and went with a traitor.

On this day in 1808, the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was born. I am not a vindictive man. Slavery and the Civil War are two great tragedies of our history. But he was a traitor to his country. Even if you accept that the government trying to take away what he considered property (which were even at the time widely considered human beings), and that this indicated that the government had become tyrannical, the government was in fact not taking away his “property” and his treasonous acts were a totally unjustified preemptive strike.

Here’s something you may not know. Today, seven different states celebrate the traitor Davis’ birthday: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. These people are celebrating a traitor. They seem to have forgotten that they are part of the United States of America, not the Confederate States of America, which has not existed for a century and a half. What’s more, in addition to everything else, his mismanagement of the Confederate States caused the starvation of many people he was supposedly serving. So even if you look back fondly on the Civil War as the “war of northern aggression,” he was no hero of the people.

By the start of the Civil War, he owned 113 slaves. And while in the Senate (before becoming a traitor), he was an outspoken advocate for slavery in the US Senate. Even after the Civil War, he never changed his views, although he was quiet publicly—probably because he was afraid of being thrown back in jail. And his vision of the new south was very much what it became: segregation where whites could do just about anything they wanted to blacks, along with prison work camps for blacks that were just slavery by another name.

Most of all, after the Civil War and Davis’ two years in jail—far less than many today get for minor drug “crimes”—he went on to have a very good life filled with acclaim and money. And he lived to be an old man: 81 years. Rich white men can never be allowed to suffer in this country. They are the “right” kind of people. All that silliness about the Civil War and all the death and destruction it caused, well anyone could have made that mistake. Even at the very end, Davis thought the move was constitutional. So he didn’t even have to live with the thought that just maybe he was wrong.

Happy birthday traitor Jefferson Davis!

How I Voted Today

I Voted TodayWell, it is election day here in California, and I suppose I should tell you how I’m voting, because that’s what I do. None of this should be shocking. And it is kind of a boring election. Partly, this is true simply because I think that things are going reasonably well in the state. But going through everything has really made me realize that I need to pay more attention to what’s going on in education in this state. There is so much money to be made off educating California’s children, I have real questions about a lot of the people who are swarming around trying to “help” failing schools. Of course, I think the whole school reform movement is a joke anyway and I have radical ideas about education—namely that it shouldn’t be about providing the best labor force for the economy. We are educating citizens, not factory workers, or even worse, grill managers.

Anyway, away we go…

Jerry Brown—not because I agree with him, but because he’s been a very good manager and he has shown that we need a governor who knows what he’s doing. Politics isn’t a job for amateurs—at least not at this level.
Lieutenant Governor
Eric Korevaar—because he’s a Democrat and he’s not Gavin Newsom. I don’t know, but when I look at Newsom, I see Mitt Romney.
Secretary of State
Derek Cressman—but I can’t remember why. I think I just liked his statement.
Betty Yee—because she seems to be the only serious Democrat.
John Chiang—he seems to be doing a good job and I’m a Democrat
Attorney General
Kamala Harris—Why break up a good team?
Insurance Commissioner
Dave Jones—I’ve given up on third parties, even though I do have a fondness for those kooks in the Peace and Freedom Party.
US Representative: 5th District
Mike Thompson—because he’s the only Democrat. I don’t have a problem with Thompson, but I do think he is too conservative for the district.
State Senate: 2nd District
Mike McGuire—Because I met him a long time ago and he seemed all right.
State Assembly: 2nd District
Jim Wood—because I have a bad feeling about John Lowry, who may be a perfectly good guy.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Tom Torlakson—because I don’t think Lydia Gutierrez is yet up for the job, and Marshall Tuck worries me.
County Supervisor: 4th District
Deb Fudge—because she’s the establishment Democrat, even though it is a non-partisan office.
County Controller
David Sundstrom—because I don’t like Gary Wysocky, who again, may be a perfectly great guy.
District Attorney

Jill Ravitch—because Victoria Shanahan is literally in bed with the Sheriff’s Department (she’s married to a deputy sheriff).
Proposition 41
Yes—I’m always for building homes for the poor.
Proposition 42
Yes—local governments are screwing with citizen rights.

There you go. Not too exciting and some of my reasons are petty. That’s democracy, folks!

If you live in California, you need to vote today. As far as I’m concerned, you owe it to me, just like I owed it to you and every other Californian. Citizenship is a responsibility. Find the time. Vote. However you vote, we as a country and a state are better for it.


For the record, I have not yet voted as I write this. It is not even 3 June 2014 yet. But this is how I will vote, and by the time you read it, it will almost certainly be how I did vote.

Update (3 June 2014 8:21 am)

Well, I’ve voted. This was a weird election for me because for some reason, I got a mail-in ballot. I didn’t ask for one and I don’t like them. I like going to the polls—it’s fun. But I found out that you can get a mail-in ballot and still go to the polls. It’s actually a lot easier because there is no transcribing of my choices from the sample ballot. But since I’ve never done it before, it stressed me out. I had dreams about poll workers treating me hostilely. In one of them, she insisted upon weighing me and measuring my height to make sure I was the right person.