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Nuclear Giants

on a salty day tw

On A Salty Day painting by Nolan Winkler

“Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water.” Albert Einstein

Listening to the Giants bombard the Dodgers last week, I decided to pay a couple bills. This year, so far, for the first time since I was a kid listening to Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges doing the radio broadcasts, the boys are winning games with strong hitting rather than great pitching. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Alou were a scary battery for any pitcher to face in the 1960s, and today we’ve got Panik, Posey, Pence, Belt, Duffy and Crawford smacking the ball around the park, not to mention our ace Madison Bumgarner taking the loathsome Clayton Kershaw deep in their first meeting of the year.

So I opened our PG&E bill and found two notices of requests for rate increases. PG&E wasn’t asking for my approval of these proposed increases, they were informing me that they have asked the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) to allow them to jack up our rates again. These announcements always strike me as disingenuous since PG&E is not a public utility, though it should be, and the CPUC approves everything PG&E wants as a matter of course, though they shouldn’t.

Both rate increases are to gouge us for hundreds of millions more dollars to pay for PG&E’s ongoing nuclear power debacle, otherwise known as Fukushima Waiting To Happen Here. One of the increases will pay for seismic studies. You would think such studies were done long before they built the stupid Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, but apparently PG&E needs to confirm they built the idiotic thing on an active earthquake fault and in range of a tsunami because, I dunno, maybe they forgot. But since when does a seismic study cost a hundred million dollars?

The other rate increase is supposedly to help accrue the countless billions of dollars they will need to decommission (tear down) the nuclear power plant once they admit they never should have built the poisonous thing in the first place. It is one thing to shut down a nuclear power plant, and quite another to dismantle the massive radioactive structure and safely remove all the nuclear fuel rods that will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, no one has ever successfully dismantled a nuclear power plant and safely disposed of the remains, because the only way to successfully dispose of nuclear waste is to send the deathly stuff to the original nuclear mass, our sun. And that’s not happening any time soon. So for now let’s just put the nuclear waste, um, over there somewhere. You know. Way over there.

Meanwhile, the exploded melted down Fukushima reactors in Japan continue to pour radioactive matter into the Pacific Ocean, there to accumulate in the flesh of fish born and growing and caught in that now-toxic sea—for your dining pleasure.

Baseball makes sense. Nuclear power does not make sense. Baseball is the perfect combination of explosive physicality and pleasing ritual. Nuclear power is a horrible combination of danger and stupidity.

My choice for President of the United States, Bernie Sanders, has long opposed nuclear power, whereas his rival for the nomination, the odious Hillary, has been a cheerleader for nuclear power her entire political career. This alone should convince anyone of even moderate intelligence to vote for Bernie over Hillary, but I still know people who seem to be moderately intelligent who say they support Hillary because they feel she won’t change things too much, and they are deathly afraid of change, even it turns out to be good change.

I would not be surprised if nearly all Giants fans are for Bernie and most Dodger fans are for Hillary. When I listen to the games between the Dodgers and the Giants, I imagine the Giants are playing for Bernie and the Dodgers are playing for Hillary, that Giants fans are advocates of solar power and Medicare For All and an end to war, and Dodger fans think nuclear power is fine and they like amoral health insurance companies and they adore weapons of mass destruction.

So we took three out of our first four games from the Dodgers, and three of the four games were day games, so I weeded and gardened and chopped wood while I listened, and took my little radio to town with me on my errands. Life is good when the Giants are beating the Dodgers and Jon Miller is waxing poetic and the sun is shining down on the little town of Mendocino and the Bernie Sanders mobile headquarters is parked outside the GoodLife Bakery and people, young and old, are stopping to chat with the folks manning the mobile headquarters, selling T-shirts and informing people about how they can help Bernie keep winning.

Recent polls indicate that among Democrats, Hillary’s largest support comes from frightened shortsighted people over sixty-five, rich people, and people easily duped by slick dishonest advertising. Bernie is supported by brave, optimistic, intelligent people of all ages with good senses of humor and a deep appreciation for the irony and majesty of life. Where do you fall among these demographics?

Yes, it’s a long season and the Giants’ stellar start is certainly not predictive of the final outcome, but we have reason to be hopeful. I know baseball is a distraction from the ongoing horrors, but I do not separate baseball from the rest of life. When Brandon Crawford comes to the plate, he is batting for me and Bernie and an equitable tax structure. When Angel Pagan makes a diving catch to rob the Dodgers of a run, he is taxing the super rich to pay for healthcare services for low-income folks and inspiring millions of people to send Bernie twenty dollars.

In the end, Bernie will either win or lose, the Giants will win the World Series or not, and life will go on. But as Bruce Bochy implies during every post-game interview: Yes we love to win, but more importantly we love to play the game with passion and joy and integrity.

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Outage

Django In Dark

Todd and Django In the Dark photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” Robert Heinlein

The power was out in our neck of the Mendocino woods for nearly five days last week. Can we blame PG&E? I do. With the money they’ve stolen charging millions of people ten dollars a month not to have stupid, er, smart meters, combined with the billions of dollars they spend annually responding to multi-day power outages all over the state, they could easily have afforded by now to bury all their power lines and be done with outages forever. But that’s not how monopoly capitalism works.

“Knowledge is power.” Francis Bacon

Marcia, prescient wonder that she is, long ago chose the first four of those five days of outage to go jaunting to Santa Rosa to visit her mother Opal, indulge in cuisine not to be had hereabouts, shop for things unavailable in these hinterlands, take a workshop on musical improvisation from Joe Craven in Ukiah, catch Joel Cohen starring on cello with the Ukiah Symphony, and visit various far flung friends—leaving me in the dark with the cat.

Marcia returned for the final twenty-four hours of outage and made the best of the absence of electronic distractions—email, Internet, lights, hot water—to clean her office. Intimidated by her sensible approach to our altered circumstances, I decided to clean my office, too.

Attacking a mountain (no exaggeration) of paper on one of my tabletops, the mountain wedged between a large round rock (who put that there?) and a large glass former peanut butter jar crammed with dubious pens (where did those come from?) I found most of the mountain made of material sent to me by insurance companies urging me to buy Medigap insurance from them, and several hundred more pages of material sent by various government agencies to help me make sense of the material sent by the insurance companies—further proof of why Single Payer (socialist) Healthcare would be such a better way to go.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” Edmund Burke

Weary of office excavating, I ventured out into our storm-ravaged yard and discovered a large redwood branch had fallen from on high and seriously compromised a stretch of our deer fence, while another much bigger branch had torn off a chunk of our woodshed roof. Not good. On the brighter side, a large section of old wooden fence bordering the western edge of our property had been blown to smithereens by the tempest, something I’ve wanted to do since we moved here.

As I cleaned up the fence fragments, our neighbor, a chain saw savant, came over to see if we needed his services (we often do) but this time, miraculously, we did not. I spent another hour clearing the driveway of fence shards and tree branches, then suffered an energy outage and went inside to take a nap by the fire.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

I was just drifting off to sleep when Marcia reported that a friendly recorded woman at the PG&E outage number said the outage would either be over by midnight or there would be a new guesstimate at midnight of the duration of the outage. Marcia then suggested we cook supper (on our woodstove) before it got too dark.

I’d been cooking on the woodstove (we also heat our house with wood) for four days, so I was up to speed in that department. I brought in a pile of small and medium-sized kindling to enhance temperature control while I cooked, and ere long, just as darkness fell, we were gobbling a scrumptious meal of sautéed vegetables, Basmati rice, and one of Marcia’s superb green and purple salads.

Sipping her wine, Marcia opined that a day without electricity was a welcome respite from the usual order of business, and I agreed that a day without electricity was not a bad thing, but that five days (unless one intentionally goes wilderness backpacking) was perhaps not such a good thing, though certainly profound.

“Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

There was a time when a power outage meant the coming of deep regenerative silence. Not anymore. Now a power outage means people around the hood fire up their gas-powered generators (without mufflers) and simulate the sound of a major construction site in downtown Manhattan. Ah country living.

At nine o’clock, the stars fantastical in the absence of porch lights, the phone rang and a nice recorded man said that PG&E hoped to restore our electricity late the following evening. I asked him if he would like to smell my armpits after four days without even lukewarm water for a shower (our hot water heater is electric) and he thanked me for my patience and said he was sorry for the inconvenience.

“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” William Gaddis

Marcia suggested we drive into downtown Mendocino, get some ice and potato chips and a chocolate bar at Harvest Market and see what was happening in our beloved burg. So we hopped in the car and coasted down the hill, noting various uprooted trees and bushes along the way, and found the amply stocked grocery store with lights blazing, only a few shoppers availing themselves of the cornucopia.

We bought our goodies and then toodled up and down the streets of Mendocino—every house and business sans lights, save for the town’s three drinking holes: the Mendocino Hotel, Dick’s, and Patterson’s. Those holy places were ablaze with light—their bartenders busy quenching the thirst of outage-weary sojourners.

And for some reason, seeing those booze joints jumping while everything else was shut down brought to mind that famous Sixties slogan: Power to the people, right on.

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Mean Spirits

rangda

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“Unless you become more watchful in your states and check the spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.” Andrew Jackson

Yes, I read the unattractive little slips of paper that come with our monthly PG&E bill, and I have no doubt PG&E hopes most customers will toss these little slips without reading their tiny print. Why? Because most of the little slips announce rate increases for things customers should not have to pay for. There is a government entity called the CPUC, which stands for the California Public Utilities Commission, that is supposed to protect the consumer from unnecessary and unjust rate increases, but the CPUC does not protect us because they are in bed with PG&E, literally, and approve anything and everything that PG&E wants to do.

Last month’s bill contained notices of public hearings at which PG&E customers can express their thoughts and feelings about PG&E’s latest proposed rate increases that will garner the private utility company 1.2 billion dollars by raising our electric bills 5.2 percent and our gas bills 15.3 percent. But wait. Because of the nationwide fracking insanity, America is now exporting vast quantities of natural gas to Japan and elsewhere, so PG&E should be lowering gas bills, not raising them, and that same cheap gas is making the generation of electricity cheaper, too, so our electricity rates should be going down, not up. But that won’t stop the CPUC from approving PG&E’s request for rate increases. And what are we going to do about this crime?

Well, I wrote a letter to the CPUC reminding them that they are supposed to be serving the public, not facilitating PG&E’s thievery, and that the rate increases are outrageous and uncalled for. I also sent a copy of my letter to our governor Jerry Brown and asked him to make a fuss about PG&E’s latest proposed theft. No responses so far, and I won’t hold my breath waiting for any. You can write letters, too, or attend public hearings, but that won’t do any good.

Then with this month’s bill came a notice of Phase Two of PG&E’s proposed rate increases, which seems to say they will raise our electric rates even more than the previously noted 5.2 percent—something more like 8 percent. Why? Because they are greedy and amoral and want more and more money all the time and there is nothing we can do to stop them. In many California communities PG&E has a suffocating monopoly on the delivery of electricity, and in the absence of any sort of help from our government, the public is helpless to resist.

“Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” James Thurber

In related news, my phone line went dead on Friday evening, while Marcia’s phone line remained vibrantly alive. Why me, Lord? In any case, since the blessed line ceased to work on the weekend I had to wait until Monday to report the outage to our friendly local MCN (Mendocino Community Network) through which Marcia and I get our phone and internet service. Within a few hours after my call to MCN, a cordial fellow arrived to check our lines and determine that the problem was not my fault. He said that AT&T, the owner of the telephone lines, would have to fix the problem since it was AT&T’s line that was not hooked up properly.

So a few hours later, a taciturn AT&T guy arrived and I told him which number was dead and which was alive, and he nodded and checked the connections in the box on the side of our house and went away and came back and climbed a pole and went away and came back and spent about two hours doing whatever he was doing. Then he announced there was nothing wrong with Marcia’s line, which we already knew, and that it was my line that was dead.

“Yes,” I said, trying to remain calm. “That is what I told the fellow from MCN, and he confirmed that. And that is what I told you when you arrived.”

“Well,” he said, shrugging, “MCN put in an order for me to check the number I checked, and since you’re not an AT&T client we can’t fix the other line until MCN puts in an order for that other number.”

“But I told you which number was dead and which was live,” I said, doing a little jig of annoyance. “And you acknowledged that information and then spent two hours looking into the situation, so I don’t see why you can’t…”

“Somebody, probably me, will come back tomorrow or the next day,” he said, shrugging. “But since you’re not an AT&T customer, I can’t fix the line until MCN puts in an order for the other number.”

And I thought to myself Herein lies the problem with monopolies and the privatization of essential services, which was followed by the thought I wonder if this some sort of punishment for changing our local service to MCN and not continuing to pay the usurious rates charged by AT&T for that same local service?

The sad truth is that PG&E can triple or quadruple our rates any time they want to, and we would have no choice but to pay them unless we want to live without electricity. Indeed, we recently paid a large initial ransom and continue to pay a monthly penalty for not having a Smart Meter radiating us twenty-four hours a day, and our rates were increased to pay for the Smart Meter program (and our rates did not go down after all the radiation devices were installed.) Remember: PG&E is a private company, not a public utility, and therefore we should not have to finance their infrastructure costs on top of paying our monthly energy bills; but we do.

In the case of telephone service, I doubt that AT&T likes sharing their lines with little locally owned companies that provide excellent service for much less money than AT&T charges for similar service. Sadly, when we dared switch to MCN for our local phone service, AT&T punished us with huge fees for stopping service at our previous residence, transferring service to our new residence, and hooking up with MCN. We had no choice but to pay those entirely arbitrary and exorbitant fees if we wanted to avail ourselves of the much more affordable local and long distance phone service, as well as groovy fast internet, all from MCN.

Alas, we do not have an MCN equivalent to provide us with greener and less expensive electricity than PG&E provides, and that is because PG&E and Southern California Edison spend many millions of our dollars every year influencing legislators and running entirely false ad campaigns to make sure alternatives to their monopolies have little chance of succeeding, and they do so with the collusion of the CPUC and the legislature and our governor. Can you say corporate oligarchy? Or if that is too abstract, how about a king and his vassals plundering the peasants whenever they feel like plundering?

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” Ralph Nader

In my most recent yet-to-be-published novel, one of the main characters is the co-founder of a worker-owned cooperative that installs solar panels on the rooftops of a very sunny California town at no cost to the rooftop owners. When we meet our hero, he and his cohorts at Sky Blue Solar Farms have installed state-of-the-art solar panels on nearly all the rooftops of the medium-sized town. The profit split for the sale of the surplus solar electricity back to the grid is 50% for the homeowner, 30% for the township, and 20% for Sky Blue Solar Farms; and the township has grown so rich from the sale of surplus electricity that they now provide the citizenry with fabulous free public transportation, a superb and absolutely free community college, a vast community farm growing superb organic fruits and vegetables and grains, excellent free health clinics, and, of course, a booming economy—all of this made possible by simply changing the laws governing the production and sale of electricity that currently hold sway in California and do not allow such wonderful fictional things to come true.

But such fiction would swiftly become reality if we could change the current laws that serve the greedy few and penalize the rest of us. That, I think, is the most frustrating thing about so many of the obstacles to a transformative technological and societal and ecological revolution: the solutions are readily available but the kings and their vassals are loathe to relinquish their mean-spirited monopolies.

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Good People

Mr. and Mrs. Magician and their son Mischief by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2011)

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” Abraham Lincoln

Our maternal grandfather Casey died when he was eighty. He was institutionalized for a year prior to his death because his worsening dementia made him too unpredictable and uncontrollable for our diminutive and frail grandmother to handle. I visited Casey several times in that sad institution where he spent his last days, and though my parents always prefaced my visits to him by saying, “Casey just spouts gibberish now,” I invariably found him cogent and funny in a rambling sort of way.

At the tail end of my last visit to Casey, about a week before he contracted a virulent flu and died, he said two things that have stuck with me for thirty years. We were sitting side-by-side on a concrete patio in a little pool of sunlight when Casey arched his eyebrow (he reminded me of Groucho Marx in appearance and voice) and said, “You know, this is a very exclusive university. It’s extremely difficult to get in here. But eventually, everyone does.”

We laughed about that and then Casey said, “Listen. When you find yourself with the bad people, get away from them and go to the good people.”

“Nothing can be more readily disproved than the old saw, ‘You can’t keep a good man down.’ Most human societies have been beautifully organized to keep good men down.”  John W. Gardner

So what makes someone good or bad? Or are good and bad essentially useless terms, since one nation’s mass murderer is another nation’s hero, and the town harlot turns out to be a tireless advocate for women’s rights, and that usurious money lender is the beloved grandfather of a girl to whom he gave a pony? I took Casey’s advice to mean: if I find myself entangled in unhealthy relationships, I should, as swiftly as possible, get out of those relationships and seek healthier ones. But maybe that’s not what Casey meant. Maybe he meant there really are bad people, and they should be escaped from and avoided; and there really are good people, and they should be found and hung out with. Or maybe he was just speaking gibberish.

“I’ve never met a racist yet who thought he was a racist. Or an anti-Semite who thought they were anti-Semitic.” Norman Jewison

We recently saw the wonderful movie Temple Grandin, a fictional rendering of the life of a real person. I knew nothing about the real Temple Grandin before we watched the movie and that made the story all the more fascinating to me, so I won’t tell you what the movie is about. But I will say that Temple Grandin confirmed in me that being an insensitive conformist is bad, and thinking you know everything is also bad, but insensitive conformists and know-it-alls are not necessarily bad people.

“If we’re bad people we use technology for bad purposes and if we’re good people we use it for good purposes.” Herbert Simon

As is my habit, I examine the little slips of paper that come with my PG&E bill because these little slips often presage rate increases for what I consider bad reasons. These slips foretold the coming of Smart Meters and explicated how we, not the private corporation PG&E, must pay for those stupid things with greatly increased rates. These tiny missives announced rate increases to repair and re-license disaster-prone nuclear power plants that never should have been built (with massive government subsidies) in the first place. Now this month’s bill brings news of yet another rate increase to pay for PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric forming a so-called partnership with…drum roll, please…Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, on a project entitled California Energy Systems for the 21st Century.

Dig this verbiage. “The partnership seeks to leverage the joint resources of the Utilities, California agencies and California research laboratories and institutions to develop the necessary technologies and computing power necessary to expand and enhance the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency resources for the benefit of California consumers, businesses and governments. The consortium will employ a joint team of technical experts who will combine data integration with the nation’s most advanced modeling, simulation and analytical tools to provide problem solving and planning to achieve California’s energy and environmental goals.”

In other words, three massive private corporations, each with more wealth than most nations, are going to jack up our rates yet again to pay for their use of public institutions, which you and I also fund with our taxes, to figure out new and more efficient ways to bilk us out of even more cash in the name of doing for the state what the state is now too bankrupt to do for itself. Leverage the joint resources? Puh-leez. How about plunder the dying carcass? I may barf, but then I’ll pay those higher rates because I prefer life with electricity.

For my money, literally, the people behind this latest PG&E extortion (the same people who brought us the exploding gas lines in San Bruno) are bad. Why are they bad? Because they know what evil they perpetrate, and they carry out their perpetrations self-righteously and with utter contempt for those they pretend to serve. So maybe that can be one of my definitions of a bad person: someone who knowingly does harm to others when he or she knows they are doing that harm for unnecessary self-advantage. I apply the adjective unnecessary because I can imagine someone who is starving to death doing harm to others to get food, and I might judge that person desperate rather than bad. The bad people of PG&E, however, are already so rich they should be ashamed of themselves for scheming to steal more.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wonder how Martin Luther King, Jr. would have defined a bad person. I’m guessing he believed in the essential goodness, or the potential for being good, in all people, but felt that racists were infected with racism and therefore had gone bad, as food goes bad when tainted with poisonous bacteria.

If all good people were clever,

And all clever people were good,

The world would be nicer than ever

We thought that it possibly could.

But somehow, ‘tis seldom or never

That the two hit it off as they should;

For the good are so harsh to the clever,

The clever so rude to the good.

This verse by Elizabeth Wordsworth is to be found in the Foreword to Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path and is preceded by Bucky writing: “This book is written with the conviction that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people, no matter how offensive or eccentric to society they may seem. I am confident that if I were born and reared under the same circumstances as any other known humans, I would have behaved much as they have.”

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Luke 14:13

When I was a young vagabond, I decided to read The Bible. I felt something was missing in my understanding of our society, and I thought I might find that something in The Bible. I thought this because I kept meeting people who would quote from The Bible and paraphrase the words of Jesus as His words were reported therein, and many of these people were kind and generous to me; so I spent several months plowing through the book, reading every word, though many of those words struck me as redundant and ill-conceived.

The Bible, as you probably know, is composed of two distinct halves, the Old Testament and the New Testament, each an anthology of booklets. Many authors contributed to both halves, and some of the booklets are far more interesting and better written than others. The editors of each of the two anthologies shared a well-defined agenda, and so excluded any gospels espousing beliefs contrary to that agenda, which was to increase the power of the Church and her operatives by making the case in booklet after booklet that the only way to access God was through the Church and her operatives, otherwise known as priests and ministers.

In the Old Testament, the pronoun He with a capital H refers to God, and in the New Testament He with a capital H refers to either God or Jesus, and depending on which booklet you’re reading Jesus is God or Jesus is the son of God. In any case, when I finished reading that enormous tome, I was most impressed by the command that is repeated dozens of times in the legends of Jesus in the New Testament; and that command is to be generous and kind to those weaker and less fortunate than we. Indeed, I think I could make an impregnable case that sharing our wealth with those less fortunate than we is the primary message of the New Testament, which is supposedly the guiding light of American Christianity, though sharing our wealth with those less fortunate than we is definitely not the guiding principle of the majority of representatives in Congress who claim to be Christians. Isn’t that odd?

“The young man said to Him, ‘All these commands I have kept; what am I still lacking?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” Matthew.19:20

I love the word complete in that quotation. Complete. Whole. Connected to others in loving ways. For when compassion and generosity propel our actions, don’t we feel good? And when fear and greed propel our actions, don’t we feel just awful?

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Extortion, Anyone?

(This tidbit appeared originally in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2011)

So I opened this month’s PG&E bill and out fell a little piece of paper with the news that if I don’t want to have a radio active Smart Meter (radio active is PG&E’s own Freudian slip of a term), PG&E will turn off my Smart Meter, the one I don’t want, and I will be spared any possible deleterious effects of a radio active Smart Meter. However, for the initial deactivation of the Smart Meter, I will have to pay PG&E two hundred and seventy dollars, and fourteen dollars a month thereafter. That’s one hundred and sixty-eight dollars a year on top of the initial two hundred and seventy, for a grand total of four hundred and thirty-eight dollars for that first year of non-radio active living.

Oh, yes, and if I choose to pay that ransom for deactivation, I agree to be charged an exit fee should I ever vacate the premises where that Smart Meter was deactivated. The little piece of paper that came with my bill didn’t say how much the exit fee would be. I suppose they are still calculating how much they need to cover corporate junkets and golden parachutes and such. Luckily, they tell us, the Smart Meter deactivation program will be entirely voluntary, and if I allow them to keep my Smart Meter radio active, PG&E won’t charge me anything except the increased charges for the installation of the Smart Meters no one wants. Isn’t that great? Just thought you’d like to know that PG&E is always on the lookout for new ways to…what would you call it?