Bureaucrat Beat Maneuvers Voice Menu; Credit Cards for Dogs; Remembering Heston

The bureaucratic highlight of the week for us here in the dark recesses of the Bureaucrat Beat newsroom? A gnarly adventure through at least 8 voice menu systems in search of the possibility of identity theft.

That’s right. A service that is supposed to watch credit card activity sent us a letter warning that something that happened looked like it might be fraudulent. Oh, swell. Might be fraudulent and now what?

So, we started calling around. No one, including the monitoring service, knew how we could really check out the situation. Each voice menu system sent us through torturous turns of questions and palaver which produced a state of mind somewhere between ugly rage and slight insanity. In the end, seems that the alleged fraudulent activity was really a routine monthly action by a bank.

Let us re-visit a much earlier suggestion. The person who invented voice menu systems? He or she should be charged with some felony. The right one does not spring to mind, but these systems have turned our once pleasant day to day world into frustration and anger. I suppose, in some ways, the businesses who use them would prefer we just not call them.

In the course of this maddening maize, we learned about a colleague’s strange credit card come-on experience. Seems one of the banks sent an offer to apply for credit to a dog. The letter was addressed to Basil Woods. Our Tom Woods’ family pet.

How do they come up with these things?

Enough of hyperventilating over phone systems. How about quick breaths over the Inyo water issues. Here’s a letter from Daniel Pritchett who says dry years do not automatically mean lower water tables, unless they are low to start with.

Dear Editor:

One of DWP’s most pernicious and self-serving mis-statements is, “During this year of below normal runoff the water table can be expected to decline naturally throughout the valley.” Versions of this statement were included in DWP’s annual pumping plans for the years 2000-2003. The statement is pernicious because it intuitively sounds true, when, in fact, it is not true for the Owens Valley meadow zone. It is self-serving because it implicitly absolves DWP’s groundwater pumping from its role in water table declines.

According to Jon Klusemire (Inyo Register April 26, 2007), “[Tom] Brooks said that in a dry year such as this one, runoff and recharge (in this case the lack thereof) are the biggest factors influencing aquifer and groundwater levels.” Inyo County Water Department Director Brooks re-phrased DWP’s mis-statement without correcting it.

If based on statistical modeling, Brooks’ statement is unjustified because it ignores the fact that the relative importance of runoff/recharge is site-specific. In the 20 indicator wells specified for the Interim Management Plan (IMP), for example (IMP Exhibit A), the relative contribution to changes in depth-to-water of runoff/recharge compared to those of groundwater pumping varies from well to well. In some wells runoff/recharge is important but in others groundwater pumping dominates. Furthermore, the relative importance of runoff/recharge isn’t contingent upon whether it is a wet or dry year – the equation is fixed. The IMP modeling doesn’t support Brooks’ generalization.

If Brooks intended to make a conceptual – rather than statistical — statement, he was extremely misleading because he failed to note that runoff/recharge influence on groundwater levels is associated with pumping-induced drawdowns. The importance of runoff/recharge in influencing changes in groundwater levels is best described as an artifact of groundwater pumping — not a “natural” phenomenon.

Water tables under Owens Valley meadows were formerly stable from year to year. They neither declined greatly in dry years nor rose greatly in wet years. This was well-documented by DWP’s engineer Charles Lee in 1912. Data from the period of limited pumping (1935-1960) corroborates Lee’s observations. USGS hydrologist Wes Danskin explained them in 1998 as an example of “hydrologic buffering.”

DWP’s massive, sustained pumping since 1970 has lowered formerly stable water tables and reduced the aquifer’s buffering capacity. As a result, variation in annual runoff/recharge has become an important influence on groundwater levels in areas of drawdowns. By failing to point out that pumping-induced drawdowns are a prerequisite for runoff/recharge to have an important effect, Brooks gave the false impression that DWP’s pumping is not involved.

When the Director of the Inyo County Water Department unwittingly repeats DWP’s self-serving mis-statements, it doesn’t bode well for the future of our groundwater dependent meadows.
Daniel Pritchett
Bishop, CA
And, we will close with a brief writing from John Heston, my long-time friend and mentor in the news business. Heston would have loved to sit in the Bureaucrat Beat newsroom – smoke a few cigarettes, sip on some whiskey and talk news. He wrote brilliantly, and here’s a piece a wrote for those of us who would write for radio and television. Heston said that we should not use fancy words but words of one syllable are best. It goes like this:

Do not write for the sake of words, but for those who wish with all their hearts to hear you. The crowd out there has an eye that is clear, his ear bent to hear and to trust you. He will know if you talk down to him and he will turn from you, bored or hurt, when you do. He will close his ears to your fine words.

Put a spike a dart in what you have to say, a laugh or a tear to cheer or warn. If you do this, you will laugh or weep with the crowd and so by your own words you too will grow and your mind will soon be more clear and you will come to know the great depth of truth.

All one syllable words. Thank you, John. And, so we will continue the work and try our best to talk to you every day.

Copyright 2007 Sierra Wave


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