It’s Math, Governor

Are politicians born stupid or do they develop that skill in Law School?

This is a sample of many articles on the subject of power outage problems in New Jersey and New York:

http://politicker.com/2012/11/governor-utilities-could-lose-license-if-electricity-isnt-quickly-restored/

Governor: Utilities Could Lose License if Electricity Isn’t Quickly Restored

By Colin Campbell 11/01 6:58pm

[...]
Mr. Cuomo then described his selection of penalizing tools he can use against any utility companies that are overly sluggish in this job.

“The state regulates the public utilities. The state certifies the public utilities. Their performance in this operation I believe is germane to their regulatory status,” he continued. “If the state believes they were not diligent and aggressive in their activities to restore power, they could be subject to monetary penalties. They could even lose their certification. I have communicated this orally to most and we are also releasing a letter that I sent them today. I believe, as I said, most of the companies are working very hard and are trying their best. But this is not just about effort and good faith effort, this is about getting the job done because a lot of New Yorkers are relying on them. If they want to be a utility in this state, if they want consumers to pay the bill, if they want to be licensed by the state, certified by the state, then they have to perform.”

Perhaps the Governor is not skilled in math. Perhaps long division escapes him. Take the number of downed lines, flooded switches, blown transformers. Take the total hours to repair. Divide by the staff hours available per day ( there are only so many licensed and approved linemen and electricians who are also members of the ‘right’ unions in your state, so allowed to do the work). That’s how many days it will take to complete. Oh, and like it or not, somebody has to be the last person connected.

So you can change WHO is that last person, but not when.

The only way around that is higher costs. YOU can pay a lot more in every single bill, keeping staff ready and on call, keeping extra spare parts paid for in inventory, waiting for the once ever 50 year event. OR, you can accept that in this kind of expected and not exceptional, but infrequent, event; it will take a long time to rebuild a broken system.

There are things that could be done longer term to make this problem easier to fix, but New York is not known for being bright about such things. For example, YOU could waive union rules and licensing rules during disasters and allow crews from other States free license to join in the repairs. (There have been news reports of crews turned back for not having union cards, for example). YOU could change the permitting and building codes such that large buildings do not have their electrical switch rooms below grade, where a minor storm surge results in a flooded and destroyed electrical room. Or just don’t let so much be built on sand bars and coastal flood plains. (YOU can change the building codes…)

Furthermore, perhaps it isn’t a reasonable expectation that if you live in a flood zone on a sand bar, someone ELSE is responsible for your rescue and restoration inside days after a hurricane. Perhaps YOU ought to be letting people know that when they make stupid decisions on where to build, it isn’t someone ELSE who is responsible to ‘fix it’, and pronto too.

Now, does that mean you must be heartless about such folks? Not at all. I’d suggest that you send caravans of busses through those area and offer a “one time one way trip” to a shelter that has warmth and light. There ought to be plenty of those that are not in the mile or two coastal areas. YOU could also offer a bulk purchase of portable generators (cost to be added to their property taxes) and a daily fuel truck to deliver fuel (credit cards accepted). That could be done by contracting with larger vendors (perhaps even out of state, so not affected by the storm). Likely you could be up and running inside a day or two.

But I suppose that’s just not good politics. Better to curse someone else for the darkness than to light a candle…

Cold Hearted?

No, not at all.

I’ve lived in the country where we had power outages every winter.

I’ve lived through a 7.x quake where lots of the place was out of action for about a week. (We all just pitched in an ‘fixed it’ ourselves. We didn’t bitch about the folks who were already working hard to fix things; we helped.)

I’ve lived through the Democrat Governor Grey (out) Davis and rolling power outages every summer (and occasional outages in winter). Bought 2 generators. One small one for initial use, one bigger one for more extended outages when running the major appliances was needed.

It’s called “self reliance”. Something I was raised with.

So first and foremost, perhaps you ought to start running an “education campaign” on how to be self reliant? Add in some nice old fashioned free markets and the place would be humming with power generation and clean up crews. Think with a public announcement that for 3 months anyone could ‘do business’ in those areas without a license might encourage a few thousand unemployed folks with gloves, shovels and pickup trucks to drive in with a truck bed full of generators, gasoline, and stoves /food?

But instead we see “anti gouging” laws. Sounds good. Politically smart. But, if gas is selling for $3.50 / gallon and can at most have a 10% rise or you get punished, that’s $3.85. That won’t pay the freight (literally) to haul in gasoline or generators from remote locations. That you then would also penalize the folks doing the fuel and generator delivery for “business without a license” (and who knows what other legal crap) and, well, there’s just no incentive for private folks to “fix it”.

I can only conclude you would rather sit in the dark and bitch, smugging about price gougers getting spanked and threatening the ‘limited allowed approved licensed union dues paying utility workers’ for not having feather bedded enough in the last 50 years to be able to cover this as ‘Business as usual’.

Yes, you can be happy that lots of folks have managed to get “control” of their domain (regulators, unions, politicians). That this then breaks the ability of a market system to adapt and respond to unexpected events is only natural… To then complain about the system YOU have constructed is interesting theater… but perhaps not in the way you think.

In Conclusion

I continue to be amazed at the “Extraordinary Power Of Stupid”.

I grew up in a place where being stupid was your right, but only you would be responsible for it or pay for it. We had “stupid”, but it was contained in small patches. Now we have “shared stupid” and “organizational stupid” and even “systemic governmental stupid”. The ability of Stupid to cause general havoc has never been stronger. And the result shows.

From the Federal Food Insurance program that now “socializes” the cost of flood stupid to everyone (and is painfully in deficit) encouraging massive building in flood plains (guess whey the are called that?) and on mobile sand bars (as they all are), to the over regulation of commerce that breaks flexible and innovative response, to the selling of privilege for political favor; we have a new Power Of Stupid at work.

But do I really have to listen to Stupid complaining about the system they built? If Bloomberg and Cuomo are an example, apparently so.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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20 Responses to It’s Math, Governor

  1. John Robertson says:

    You can be sure the politicians are not wet, cold and living in the dark ruins of their homes.On wuwt I saw a rant(self-styled) about global warming being a great cover for an unprepared government.Ditto for the regulator class, they are rampant and useless.

  2. Probably, whilst fixing those outages, the engineers also have to fill in multiple-page forms to send to the accountants. Where political considerations don’t apply, the engineers would choose a shortest route that connected the things they had to fix, thus maximising time on site and minimising time spent driving between them. It’s possible that this may also have been interfered with to get the “highest priority” faults fixed first.

    Back in my sysprog days, after the 6th or so phone call in an hour “how long before it’s fixed?” I told a manager it would be fixed quicker if I didn’t get so many phone calls. Instead of having a new a$$hole ripped, the system was changed a bit so the boss’s secretary filtered the calls and gave out updates. Some people see sense if you make things clear. Looks like in NY some clarity like this may be helpful.

  3. Mark Miller says:

    Daniel Flynn, who recently wrote, “Blue Collar Intellectuals,” talked about, at the end of one of his speeches, the memes he had seen floating around our age. One of them was, “Stupid is the new smart.” There’s a lot of truth in that, as a criticism of our age. It used to drive me up the wall to the point of causing me to question whether I needed psychological help, when I’d hear people who are unable to think call me “stupid.” Now I just think it frustratingly ironic, reality mocking me.

    Here’s an excerpt from Flynn’s book talking about this:
    http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1807

  4. BobN says:

    Life is about adapting! When I grew up in South Dakota bad storms were a way of life. lose power for a week, just dig out the old generator. cold Snap, get up a bit early so you can put a pan of Charcoals under the differential so it would turn. The snow was pretty deep all the time and to save money they just plowed it into the center of the streets, that ended when the women got together and complained about it ruining the coats, diving over the snow banks 9picky-picky). wanting to make the women folk happy they collected all the snow and piled it in the baseball fields. Pure genius until July when it still hadn’t all melted. Those cleats on the shoes sure came in handy running on those mounds of snow.
    I lived in Almaden (South San Jose) during the rolling black outs. After the 8th night of losing power I called the utilities and said I thought it was different areas so we all share the burden. I was told they were afraid to lose the power in certain parts of town because of looting and crimes, live with it. I was POed at the time, but in retrospect it was probably a good decision. Is life fair, no, one needs to expect the worst and prepare.
    I own a demolition company and I contracted to take a bridge down during certain days. The day came to start and the EPA steps in and stops me because the fish were running and we might kill them. I have a contract in hand and a crew being paid by the hour and no work for a month, sorry!
    When we started the job a person from the EPA sat and watched the whole time, his job was to report the number of Fish kills. We ended up a month late and just broke even, but proudly they reported ZERO fish kill.

    Anyone that runs a business of any sort knows of the insanity of government rules. Most of them defy logic and make no sense. I could write a book on this stuff, but no one would read it, they already know the stupidity, just fill in the blank on the location and the rule.

  5. Richard Ilfeld says:

    Everybody in Florida knows the first 72 hours are going to be your responsibility, and the PUC actually allows our utilities to include spare poles and transformers in the rate base. Of course, the number of people crowded together on the East coast, and the futility of evacuating in place in a high rise with no backup for electricity or water and windows that don’t open couldn’t possibly have been anticipated.

  6. Heretic says:

    Are … [Dimocrats] … born stupid or do they develop that skill … [later]?
    Well said, EM. Personally, I pick ‘born’.

  7. Heretic says:

    Sorry, I meant ‘Dimocrazies’

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Heretic:

    Sure you did… ;-)

    Freud’s a bitch some times 8-0

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    “Born stupid”, I don’t think so, That level of stupidity has to be taught over a lengthy period.
    I believe cult indoctrination or brain washing is the term. pg

  10. John F. Hultquist says:

    This one article explains a lot.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324073504578109432290566760.html?KEYWORDS=long+island+power

    LIPA – the government-owned utility
    poor communication with crews;
    25-year-old mainframe computer;
    spends $2 on debt service for every dollar it spends . . . ;
    $6 billion debt it inherited from Long Island Lighting Co.
    . . . because of a felled Shoreham nuclear plant;
    been without a CEO for more than two years;

    There’s more.

  11. p.g.sharrow says:

    Thanks John:
    “LIPA is a government Utility, Members of LIPA’s governing board, which approves budgets and utility rates, are appointed by the governor and legislature. Many of the trustees are lawyers, real-estate developers and local officials”.
    Seems like that says it all. pg

  12. adolfogiurfa says:

    ….CAN´T BELIEVE IT!, In our “under-developed countries” electric companies have to pay fines in these cases.

  13. DirkH says:

    One NY Thai restaurant figured out solution to keep the lights on during power outage.
    http://live.wsj.com/video/no-electricity-no-problem-for-one-ny-restaurant/A74EEFB3-C10D-4FA4-B9D1-7A587F8D55C6.html?mod=wsj_article_tboright#!A74EEFB3-C10D-4FA4-B9D1-7A587F8D55C6

    They use their van and an inverter.
    And this is so remarkable that WSJ does a video about it.
    The total helplessness of the average New Yorker is remarkable.

  14. p.g.sharrow says:

    What surprises me is that some city official has not put a stop to this and fined the owner for unsafe electrical work! pg

  15. adolfogiurfa says:

    @P.G. Perhaps someone already read your post and it´s just going to do it. :-)

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @DirkH:

    I carry one of these in the car any time I go anywhere:
    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/minimalist-emergency-power/

    It is astounding to me that it was thought “newsworthy”…

    @P.G.:

    The owner is at risk of a ‘trip’ lawsuit for the wires, too. But give the “officials” time, now that it is in the news an “inspector” can know about it and show up. Hope he has ‘permits’ for the mandated union electricians and paid his required inspection fees…

    @Adolfo:

    So having the company pay a fee for structural stupid is better how? I just moves more money from rate payers to the government. (Now if it was a rebate to the rate payers…)

    @BobN:

    Yes, the “rule makers” never appreciate the unintended consequences of their choices. Nor the complete lack of coordination between various rules and rule making bodies.

    Wonder how many of those fish were subject to being hooked just up stream of the bridge… I grew up in a place with both Salmon and Shad runs. LOTS of fishing then… Maybe you just needed to get a fishing license too ;-)

    @John F. Hultquist:

    So one branch of government is blaming another branch? Ok… Does explain a lot, though…

    Wonder why the non-finanical media are not pointing that out… oh, yeah, “government good / industry bad” filter in place…

    @Mark Miller:

    The new smart, eh? Something for me to look into… could explain a lot.

    @Richard Ilfeld:

    Here in Quake Country we’re regularly told to expect to be on our own for the first 3 days to a week (depending on how big a quake). Doesn’t mean most of the ‘average person’ understands is, does anything to prepare for it, or won’t complain when it happens…

    @Simon Derricutt:

    We had phone calls sent to the “computer operators” who mostly changed tapes and watched for power / fire / whatever alerts, along with printer care and feeding. That way the sys progs could get things done… As manager, any escalation came to me, which was a problem when I was doing ‘on call’ duty ( I did my turn with everyone else to show that it was ‘reasonable’ to carry the duty pager). Eventually I just took it 24 x 7 for two years (minus vacation) due to the political value.

    On one occasion a manger in Engineering tried to say the I.T. dog ate his homework … in front of his V.P. in their staff meeting which I attended. I then put the duty pager and cell phone on the table and asked “How hard do you try to get service? This has been on my belt 24 x 7 for two weeks.” He then tried to bluff that he didn’t know the number and I got to point out that if he called the HELP line it was a ‘push a button’ option and that the phone number of the helpline was H E L P on the buttons…and published…and the number you called for ALL services… Never had another “I.T. dog ate my home work” complaint ;-) After that I figured it was worth it for me to just always be the ‘duty pager’… Surprised some folks when the Director of I.T. answered at 2 am for some silly complaint or dodge… cut down a lot on “I’ll escalate to your manager” threats too. ;-)

    @John Robertson:

    Saw one news blurb about crews being redeployed to remove a tree from the home of one of the govt regulator class… so at least some of the ‘me first’ is being uncovered. Even if nothing happens as a result.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    @Mark Miller:

    What a marvelous link and write up. So much explained in such good prose in so small a space.

    For one, I know what my “problem” is:

    “By way of comparison, Americans spend about twenty minutes per weekday reading and about fifteen minutes “relaxing/thinking.” How we spend our leisure time is largely a waste of time.”

    As I spend hours each day reading, and as much time as possible ‘relaxing / thinking’ (even overlapping ‘thinking’ with things like the shower, making bread, walking the store isles…) and my “leisure time” is usually crammed full of non-waste (growing food in the garden, maintaining a seed library, the ‘news jump loop’, learning a new skill like smoking meats, doing LInux port evaluations) I’m clearly a mis-fit for the new ‘stupid’ norm…

    I also finally found out why the question was asked “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

    Dwight Macdonald, for instance, held that “there is something damnably American about Midcult.” Virginia Woolf threatened, “If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat or half-crushed worm dares call me ‘middlebrow’ I will take my pen and stab him, dead.”

    Very sad to read the bit about the drop of library status. Our local library has joined the flood of folks getting rid of ‘old books’. If it isn’t “popular” it goes on the disposal shelf. So the library is slowly turning into a pulp romance / pop culture wasteland. It has forgotten it’s purpose as archive of knowing….

  18. Mark Miller says:

    @DirkH:

    A lot of people in New York City don’t own cars, so I can see how it would be seen as newsworthy. One would think, though, that since they’re *so* into “green” tech that they would think of it, because to hear hybrid owners tell it, your hybrid’s battery can be used as a store of energy for your house when you’re home from work.

  19. Mark Miller says:

    @E.M. Smith:

    There was also this excellent article by Craig Bernthal, called “Weaponized Romanticism.” It was written in March, and I originally got interested in it because it helped explain something I had struggled to understand for years. It explains our last election pretty well, too.

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