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Saturday, January 20, 2001

The new administration took over with traditional ceremonies today in Washington. I promised to give them a chance to dazzle me, which I don't really expect, or at least not to make me cringe. (This is hard for me.)

President Bush's inaugural speech was surprisingly inspiring and eloquent, when he spoke in general terms about civility, community and compassion. When he got into specifics (taxes, defense), it was a striking reminder that his agenda is in many ways starkly at odds not only with the outgoing administration, but with the beliefs of a large segment of American society.

Most people, he'll have to remember in days ahead, didn't vote for him. He's on a short leash, and I've already written to both California senators asking them not to confirm Ashcroft. I strongly support the rights of protesters on the streets of Washington. But for all that, we can still hope for the best and applaud the tone of today's transition.

I have to admit, though, that Clinton's farewell speech at Andrews Air Force Base brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat in a way that nothing else I saw today could. We can't exactly say, "Bill, we hardly knew ye," can we? And he's not likely to let us forget him, either.

Enough of that. For now. In other news . . .

I'm not giving up my resolution to stop buying CDs until January 1, 2002, at 12:00:01 am, but I'm in a position to acquire some new music. I apparently earned this gift last year by purchasing so many shiny discs from one record club. I'm thinking I'd better use up these bonus bucks before they realize I'm not going to be buying anything for another 345 days.

Also, I'm sorry to have to report that I found a card I forgot to return by the due date, so I'll be buying the David Benoit tribute to 50 years of Charlie Brown. But! The due date was December 27, so technically it's a 2000 purchase and not a blot on my rap sheet. See? I can stick to this stupid resolution.

Actually, books are harder not to buy than CDs anyway.

For one thing, I have thirty music channels on my satellite system. Sadly, they are sponsored by an online CD seller who would like nothing more to tempt me to part with the precious dollars I need to keep the house heated. More sadly still, the relationship between the sponsor and the record companies seems to determine the play list. Anything they can't sell, they're not going to play. Makes sense, in a cold, calculating, corporate kind of way.

I've been listening to the Jazz Channel (840) and the Big Band Channel (830) for the last few weeks. And while I've never listened to either long enough at one time to hear the same song played twice, there are certain CDs and artists that I'm getting very familiar with. Sometimes that's good (they play a lot of Ella). Sometimes it's not that great (so many bands I've never heard of, so little Benny Goodman).

When I opened my mailbox yesterday, the PG&E bill was in there, coiled like a cobra. I didn't even want to touch it, much less open it, but I was awfully curious, considering what's been going on. For the third month in a row my bill is fifty percent higher than the previous month. This month I'm paying more than twice what I'd ever paid anywhere before last month. In my whole life.

In all fairness to Pacific Gas & Electric, I think the government has forced them to keep consumer power prices artificially low. The state regulates retail prices but not wholesale prices, and the power suppliers have jacked up these costs to their highest levels ever (some say by artificially manipulating the supply, but mostly it's just because they can).

On the other hand, it's hard to feel sorry for PG&E's financial situation when its parent company is showing record profits, in part because it's a power supplier itself, and it worked out a secret deal with the federal government to shield its other subsidiaries from PG&E's problems.

What this tells me is that my utility company is taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another pocket, then pulling out the empty pocket and telling me it's broke. It needs all my money or it'll have to let me freeze in the dark for the rest of the winter. I'm in outage block 14, and the last I heard they'd given blocks one through nine the "rolling blackout" treatment.

There's a lot more to it than simple supply and demand. My head is fairly swimming with what I've been reading about it, deregulation and reregulation, green power vs. brown power, and the various plans the politicians are floating to solve the crisis. Mostly it's a blame game, with each injured party pointing fingers in all directions and saying, "They did it."

Meanwhile, consumers (that would be you and in this case me) will end up paying for the mistakes and miscalculations of the utility companies that didn't plan ahead and the politicians who wouldn't let them. The only thing certain is that someone is making a lot of money at public expense. (Again, yours and mine.)

After the initial shock of the PG&E bill wore off, I took two courses of remedial action. The first was pretty obvious. I left the furnace off much later into the evening than usual. I pulled a blanket up to my chin as I curled on the couch watching Wings of Desire.

The other thing requires a brief explanation. The overhead light in the loft is apparently regulated by a timer of some sort. There is a certain time in the evening past which I can't turn that light on. I can flip the switch madly up and down, but it doesn't do any good. The time doesn't seem to be definite, and it either does or doesn't depend on other unknown factors. Since I like to read in the loft before I go to bed, I've been turning on the light early in the evening, at just about the time I can no longer read by natural light.

You can see this coming, right? Last night I left the light off until I was ready to go up and read. Flipped the switch. Nothing. Stomped my feet, pounded the walls, and cursed the unknown electrician who wired this place. Still nothing (except that I was no longer in a mood for sleep).

So from now on, crisis or no crisis, regardless of the cost, I'll be turning on the light at dusk, just so I can use it five or six hours later. (The landlord, by the way, knows about this problem and thinks it's "interesting," by which he means not only that it really isn't very interesting, but also that it's my problem, by default, due to his lack of interest.)

This went on almost as long as one of Clinton's farewell speeches, didn't it? But I'm finished for today.

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Did you know that LB of The Visible Woman is updating regularly now? Her January 18 entry is a gem.

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Trouble's where we're goin',
Trouble's the only place we've ever been.