Leaving the driver at home

Ummm. About this robotic car business. Everyone says its day is near, and halleluia. Governor Jerry Brown, with a recent stroke of his pen, made it legal in California. According to the Los Angeles Times, driverless cars are already legal in Nevada anyway, and under consideration in Arizona, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Florida. (Further recent news from MVTrac suggests that if you fall behind in the payments on your robocar the repo guy might send a robotrack to snatch it back home. Clearly, people may become extinct.)

I am all in favor of driverless cars that allow passengers to catch up on business en route to that urgent presentation, or finish dressing the kids on the way to school. Computers are certainly less likely to kill me in the crosswalk than all the drivers loose in the land today who are eating hamburgers, concentrating on cellphone conversations or texting their buddies while I’m trying to cross the street and wishing they would notice.

But there are bugs to work out. Have the robocar people ever gone on vacation with two preschoolers who need to go to the bathroom right that minute? Do they have any idea how frustrating it is already to argue with the obnoxious GPS lady who insists you take Geary Blvd wherever you’re traveling east-west in San Francisco, when you know darned well the lights are timed on Bush and Pine? And can they figure out how to program a sudden rainbow, or the view of the beach just several blocks away, or even an aberrant pull-over to watch goats grazing in a field?

The Driverless Car Gets Stuck on a Curb

The Driverless Car Gets Stuck on a Curb (Photo credit: Melody Kramer)

 

The car manufacturing people say not to hold our breath for driverless vehicles. They’ll figure it all out, I’m sure, before this latest wonder comes to American roadways. But in case they need a consultant on really important details, I could make myself available. For a fee. And perhaps a drive down the coast.

 

 

Sarah Palin stirs up California

Sarah Palin speaking at a rally in Elon, NC du...

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Sarah Palin flew in for a much-ballyhooed speech Friday night, at a price still undisclosed — and which may never be known. Therein lies the rub. It also, as Palin is inclined to do, decidedly pumps up the politics.

Palin was invited some time ago to speak at  a fundraising event for the Cal State University Stanislaus Foundation‘s 50th anniversary celebration. How much she was paid — the event raised $200,000 for the school’s endowment — became a subject of much controversy and high political drama. Eventually it invoked an investigation by State Attorney General Jerry Brown, now facing off for Governor against gazillionaire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, into whether public disclosure laws are being broken by the university’s refusal to say what she got paid. Along the way, sides are being drawn by incumbent U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, whose opponent former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina rather famously criticized Boxer’s hairdo a little while ago and said more recently she is honored by Palin’s endorsement; and by Democrats in general who see the Palin Effect as fine ammunition to aim at state Republicans.

In other words, as San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci commented in today’s update, “They don’t call Sarah Palin the Thrilla from Wasilla for nothing.

After months of buildup, including investigations, outrage and celebration, the former Alaska governor’s trip to California’s farm belt over the weekend proved beyond a doubt that she delivers – for Republicans and Democrats.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown probably will be grateful that he was the focus of the 2008 vice presidential candidate’s barbed criticism as he investigates her compensation from the Cal State University Stanislaus Foundation for her speech Friday night at the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary event at the Turlock (Stanislaus County) campus.

Brown’s office is looking at whether the campus foundation violated state public disclosure laws by refusing to make public the terms of Palin’s contract for her appearance.

In her speech, Palin quipped of Brown: “This is California. Do you really not have anything better to do?”

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s response: “I don’t think she understands the process. It’s about the operation of the foundation to see if they handled things professionally.”

The Palin Effect played well in Republican primaries, but may not be quite so welcome as candidates now seek to broaden their appeal.  All of which makes watching the political high-wire balancing act, though sometimes tiresome, never dull.

Boxer’s campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, called Palin and Fiorina “two peas in a pod” and released a Web video aiming to remind voters that the Republicans’ “shared positions are out of step with Californians.”

On the GOP side, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina said that while she couldn’t meet with Palin on this trip, she was “honored” to be endorsed by Palin, who characterized Fiorina as a “commonsense conservative.”

“It’s the question of how she will play to the political middle. Will she take away votes?” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

He said that a close connection with Palin may be a concern for candidates like Fiorina, in part because Palin manages to stir it up, no matter what her forum.

“If you think people are tired and worn down by politics, Sarah comes into town and the circus follows, and the arguments break out,” he said. “Wherever she goes, there’s a dustup. … It gets everyone angry and yelling, and it stirs up divisiveness.”

It’s going to be a long, hot summer in California.

Palin’s Stanislaus visit shows political power.

The aches & pains of medical marijuana

An article in Sunday’s New York Times details the struggle in Los Angeles to regulate the cannabis dispensaries which have proliferated around the  city over the past six or eight years, raising the old medical marijuana questions about how to control, whether to tax and how useful it is in the first place. Reporter Solomon Moore cites Oakland, California’s Harborside Health Center as the place to which many are looking for a model.

‘Our No. 1 task is to show that we are worthy of the public’s trust in asking to distribute medical cannabis in a safe and secure manner,’ said Steve DeAngelo, the pig-tailed proprietor of Harborside, which has been in business for three years.

Harborside is one of four licensed dispensaries in Oakland run as nonprofit organizations. It is the largest, with 74 employees and revenues of about $20 million. Last summer, the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance to collect taxes from the sale of marijuana, a measure that Mr. DeAngelo supported.

Mr. DeAngelo designed Harborside to exude legitimacy, security and comfort. Visitors to the low-slung building are greeted by security guards who check the required physicians’ recommendations. Inside, the dispensary looks like a bank, except that the floor is covered with hemp carpeting and the eight tellers stand behind identical displays of marijuana and hashish.

There is a laboratory where technicians determine the potency of the marijuana and label it accordingly. (Harborside says it rejects 80 percent of the marijuana that arrives at its door for insufficient quality.) There is even a bank vault where the day’s cash is stored along with reserves of premium cannabis. An armored truck picks up deposits every evening.

City officials routinely audit the dispensary’s books. Surplus cash is rolled back into the center to pay for free counseling sessions and yoga for patients. “Oakland issued licenses and regulations, and Los Angeles did nothing and they are still unregulated,” Mr. DeAngelo said. “Cannabis is being distributed by inappropriate people.”

I don’t know where Los Angeles will go with all this, or how well Harborside will continue to operate for how long. What I do know is that marijuana serves a real medical purpose. Probably serves a real recreational purpose too, and there’s the rub; but since I missed the pot party — thank heavens, as I am addicted to anything that comes down the pike, and please don’t try to tell me one cannot get addicted to marijuana — I can’t address that issue. Everything I know is anecdotal, but convincing.

Decades ago my beloved sister was suffering acute gastro intestinal distress, much later identified as a symptom of celiac disease but this was before anybody really knew anything about celiac sprue. One day she said, “You know, everybody at X High School either smokes pot or knows where to get it. Could you get me some so I could at least try it?” Well, even though the statute of limitations would probably protect the surviving players I think I won’t go into details of this adventure. But what I learned was: buying and selling illegal pot is a little scary for the novice, but the deal was easy and nobody went to jail. It did indeed give relief to my suffering sister. Though both of us wished she could have that relief on an ongoing basis, we reached a mutual conclusion that the risk was not worth the reward, and that was the end of that.

Fast forward to the 1990s, when everyone I knew with AIDS knew how marijuana could relieve some symptoms of the disease, and most had a supply. I was in San Francisco by then, and celiac disease pales in comparison to AIDS. I don’t even recall how legal it was for this relief; too many other issues were more important. But again, I saw its usefulness.

The Times article quotes Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, as saying his office is getting calls from law officials and advocates around the state asking for clarity on medical marijuana laws. I know that’s tough, and that the answer will in many cases be left to the courts. I also know that legalizing marijuana, whether here in woo-hoo California or elsewhere, raises a multiplicity of sticky issues.

But still. It’s a useful drug. If Big Pharma were producing and marketing it, it would probably come in a little pill that costs a fortune and would be covered by expensive insurance policies. Every governmental body in the U.S. needs money. Taxes raise money. Are there not some dots that could be connected here?