Rain records, North Korea and the USS Enterprise

Michael Raffety


March wasn’t as rainy as it usually is. Often it is referred to as a March Miracle. This year the Mountain Democrat only recorded 3.02 inches in March.

Nevertheless it boosted the total rain for the year to 59.40 inches, putting it in the top nine of rain years, with three months left to go before the rain year ends June 30. This is the 144th year of rainfall statistics compiled by the Mountain Democrat and PG&E.

PG&E abruptly stopped recording its weather stats in 2011.

The Mountain Democrat follows the National Weather Service definition of a rain year starting July 1. Water project managers use the U.S. Geological Survey’s hydrologic year that begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30. The State Water Quality Control Board follows the latter water year, and therefore has different years it calls record water years and is more prone to call a year a drought when in the foothills we would merely call it a low rain year.

In El Dorado County the state gets its rain data from Pacific House. For a hint of what’s happening at Pacific House I look for George Osborne’s rain gauge. Osborne lives in the upper reaches of Camino’s Audubon Hills subdivision. As of April 7 he had recorded 80.92 inches of rain.

. . .

The administration diverted the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson from a port of call in Australia to the Sea of Japan off the Korean Peninsula. All aircraft carriers are nuclear powered. When I was in the Navy there was only one nuclear powered carrier – the USS Enterprise. It was inactivated Dec. 1, 2012, and decommissioned the same day my daughter gave birth, Feb. 3, 2017.

The Enterprise was the only aircraft carrier to have two nuclear power plants. I happened to bring up the Enterprise at the dinner table I was sitting at for the American Legion’s monthly dinner and meeting. That’s when I learned from someone who seemed personally knowledgeable who remarked that the Enterprise could go fast enough to outrun its destroyer escorts. Maximum speed was pretty fast, fast enough that I don’t think it would be wise for me to put it in writing.

. . .

I don’t know if the carrier group is going to do anything but look menacing. One of the most effective deterrents was when President George W. Bush cut off North Korea from banking. Bush later eased off the banking ban. The banking ban ought to be re-imposed. Even though North Korea has an isolated Internet, it has been able to reach out to the outside world with thievery and mayhem. I wrote in an earlier column about North Korea using Swift, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, to try to steal $1 billion from Bangladesh’s Swift account at the New York Fed. It got away with $81 million. The Hermit Kingdom is also believed to have stolen money from Ecuador.

The April 11 Wall Street Journal reported that the state-owned Union Bank of India was infected with malware that allowed theft of $171 million. Investigators have linked the hacking modus operandi to the Bangladesh theft, and prosecutors are targeting North Korea. India blocked most of the transfer last July and recovered all money transferred to other countries within 24 hours. In recent months cyber attacks have targeted banks in Mexico, Poland, Great Britain and the U.S. Cyber experts have tagged North Korea for some of these. Remember that North Korea hacked and ruined the computers at Sony Pictures over a slapstick spoof of Kim Jong Un.

This is how the Hermit Kingdom makes its living – bank heists and counterfeit money, along with nuclear weapons and missile sales. The U.S. needs to disrupt North Korea’s hackers and its Internet.

. . .

The Enterprise has a long history beginning with a Revolutionary war sailing vessel on Lake Champlain. It was burned July 5, 1775, to prevent its capture by the British. Benedict Arnold commanded that navy and succeeded in preventing the British from using Lake Champlain to conquer New York State.

The more famous Enterprise was the schooner used in the first Barbary Pirates War. The first Enterprise carrier, CV-6, was built in 1938. It became the most decorated ship from World War II. The next Enterprise will be CVN-80, a Gerald Ford-class carrier due to begin construction next year and delivery due in 2025.

The aluminum caper

Michael Raffety

April 3, 2017

In 2015 someone flew over central Mexico and discovered a huge cache of aluminum stacked up and fenced in. The Mexico stash represented 6 percent of global inventories. After the stockpile was brought to light in the Wall Street Journal it was moved to Vietnam –- about 1.7 million tons has been stored there since 2015. It is valued at $5 billion.

The $5 billion aluminum cache belongs to Chinese aluminum magnate Liu Zhongtian, age 52. He is chairman of what the Wall Street Journal describes as an aluminum “behemoth” -– China Zhongwang Holdings Ltd.

To get around the limit of taking no more than $50,000 out of the country annually Liu has used different companies, including one run by his son to shift boatloads of aluminum out of the country.

In a Dec. 29, 2016 Wall Street Journal article by Scott Patterson, it was revealed that Liu’s real motivation is to see the aluminum stockpiles as his retirement plan. He already spent 650,000 Euros to buy citizenship from the Mediterranean island of Malta, a member of the European Common Market. Liu’s real plan is to retire in Switzerland. This was uncovered in some emails. Of course, Liu denies all this and denies he knows the law firm working on his retirement plan.

Trying to import some of his vast horde of aluminum to the U.S. from Mexico or Vietnam is a different matter. The Commerce Department found the company received illegal Chinese subsidies and was “dumping” the aluminum below market prices. That puts it in the category of a 374 percent tariff.

Chinese aluminum production in 2015 added up to 55 percent of global output, up from 24 percent a decade earlier. U.S aluminum output accounted for 2.7 percent from five aluminum smelters operating at the end of 2016, down from 23 smelters in 2000.

Just before the inauguration of Donald Trump the U.S. government seized a “vast aluminum trove,” according to the headline in the Jan. 14 Wall Street Journal. The value of the seized aluminum was $25 million. The aluminum belonged to a company founded by Liu’s son and now run by one of Liu’s “close business associates.”

Liu’s spokeswoman denied Zhongwang Holdings Ltd. had any connection to the company.

The Vietnam horde by this time amounted to 14 percent of global inventories, shipping records show.

The seized aluminum, in shipping containers, was actually aluminum pallets, something airline shippers use to reduce weight. And others use the aluminum pallets to hold heavy weight. The pallets are actually exempt from the anti-dumping law. Pallets are shaped aluminum welded together. Homeland Security released 164 containers but retained 552.

The aluminum pallets were shipped from Vietnam.

The seized shipping containers remain so, as far as I can determine. Also left hanging is Zhongwang Holdings Ltd..’s $3.5 billion bid to acquire an American aluminum company. President Obama’s Treasury secretary was set to do a review of this acquisition as detrimental to national security. Both the seized containers and the corporate acquisition are left hanging by the transition and Senate Democrats’ slow walking every Trump nominee.

Rain year and vulture spring


April 3, 2017

Michael Raffety

The San Jose Mercury wrote March 8 that this year’s rain broke a record that held for 122 years.

The actual record sounds puny to us in the foothills. The record for October 2016 through February 2017 is 27.1 inches. That figure is actually an average that comes from the National Centers for Environmental Information, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

More specifically it’s a “weighted average of values observed at weather stations across the state,” Nina Oakley told the Mercury News. Oakley is a California climate specialist with the Western Regional Climate Center, also part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By the way, the California average record for a rain year was 40.41 inches in 1982-83.

Here’s how Daniel Swain of the Weather West’s California Weather Blog put it: “Now that we’re more than 2/3 of the way through California’s wet season, it’s pretty clear that much of the state has experienced its wettest 3-6 month period on record. Virtually every corner of the state is above average to date, though anomalies have been much more impressive in the north. The Northern Sierra watersheds are currently sitting at just above 200% of average precipitation for the season to date–a rather extraordinary statistic. If California receives at least average precipitation for the rest of the season, 2016-2017 would become the state’s wettest Water Year on record.”

The state and federal water managers use a rain year that starts in October. The Mountain Democrat, using a more traditional rain year that begins July 1 and runs through June 30 of the following years. This is the rain year that Western States Power Co. and its successor PG&E used.

As of the end of February the Mountain Democrat has recorded 56.38 inches for the 2016-2017.

The 143-year average for the four months remaining in this rain year totals 10.79 inches. If every month hits its average, the rain year could end June 30 with 67.17 inches. That would be a lot of precipitation but not a record. Hitting 67 inches is doubtful at this point. March is not looking like it will even hit its average of 6.16 inches.

The state’s big rain year was 1982-83. In El Dorado County PG&E recorded 72.88 inches in Placerville in 1982-83. That followed 1981-82 rain year that saw 63.64 inches recorded. In 1983 a huge hillside gave way from the PG&E canal down. It was part of an ancient landslide that slid again. It blocked the South Fork of the American River, creating a lake, and it buried Highway 50 for 75 days. The lake is gone, but there is a real wide spot in the road there now. PG&E replaced that damaged flume section with a tunnel.

That rain year had real consequences, but it didn’t break the record. The biggest rain year was 78.13 inches in 1889-90.

This rain year, with 56.38 inches as of the end of February, puts it in the top 13 out of 144 complete rain years. By June 30 it could whittle that down to a smaller number of years.

This year with heavy and steady rain in January and February hitting almost 18 inches each of those two months, the damage has been substantial. El Dorado Irrigation District has a rough estimate of total damage of $15 million-$18 million. El Dorado County’s road and bridge damages are in the same ballpark, but I’m guessing it will be more like $20 million to $25 million for road and bridge damages.

Despite the mudslides and disappearing roads and bridges, it is spring. At our house that means vulture romance, which includes a lot of swooping low and perching in nearby trees.

What I did not expect to see was actual mating, an event that took place on a large rock about 20 feet away from our side deck.. After it ended the male flopped down the rock, looking exhausted. I half expected him to smoke a cigarette.

Monet: The Early Years

Michael Raffety


An art museum can never go wrong putting on a show featuring more than 55 paintings by Claude Monet.

The paintings on display at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco now through May 29 is the first of its kind by concentrating on his early years from 1858 to 1872. The latter is two years before the first Impressionist Exhibition.

Monet was 24 when he sent his first painting to the Paris Salon and it was accepted.

“By age 31 he was famous to a very small group,” said Max Hollein, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The year 1872 is also when Monet completed the painting of the port of Le Havre called “Impression Sunrise.” Entered in the 1874 Impressionists Exhibit, it was ridiculed by an art critic as “impressionism,” but the sobriquet turned out to be a boon for Monet’s paintings.

This exhibit shows how he progressed from a standard scenic painter at age 18 to paintings more recognizable as having impressionist elements that were uniquely his by the age of 32. With the advent of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, which included the siege of Paris, Monet decamped to England, where he continued to paint, including a side trip to Holland before it was safe to return to Paris.

“We believe Monet: The Early Years will be a revelation to our visitors, even to those who think they know Monet well,” wrote Hollhein.

This exhibit of these early Monet paintings was collected from museums and private collections around the world and was organized by George Shackelford of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. In 2019 Shackelford will mount an exhibit of the last 10 years of Monet’s life when the artist reinvents himself. Shackelford will work with Jim Gantz, curator of the Achenbach print collection at the Legion of Honor.

“The paintings from Monet’s early career are profoundly daring and surprising,” said Esther Bell, Curator in Charge of European Paintings at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. “You see his mastery of light and texture everywhere -– in his depictions of large and small moments, with friends and loved ones, in the solitude of forests and fields and in the quiet scenes of everyday life. Every stroke commands our attention.”

This is Bell’s last exhibit in San Francisco. She is taking the position of senior curator at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass.

While Monet was in London he established a relationship with art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who mounted exhibits of French painters and especially Monet, who continued to exhibit with him in London after Monet returned to France in 1872 and continued that through 1874.

The year 1872 was the artistic tipping point for Monet. Ten years later was his last group exhibit with the Impressionists. Thereafter he exhibited on his own and had won financial independence through his paintings.

UARP – a missed opportunity in the 1920s

By Michael Raffety


Three EID communications directors ago I was asked to research the founding of the El Dorado Irrigation District, which took place in 1925. Incidental to that research I came across a few stories about Congressman Harry Englebright.

Interestingly Englebright won a special election in 1926 when Congressman John Raker died in office. Raker, is most famous for the Raker Act, passed in 1913 and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. The Raker Act authorized damming the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy Valley to assure San Francisco of a water supply.

Before entering politics Englebright was a mining engineer, which meant he could recognize water projects. Englebright tried to convince El Dorado County to develop what is now known as the Upper American River Project.

The board then lacked the vision or chutzpah to follow his suggestion.

Instead the Sacramento Municipal Utility District won a federal power license 30 years later. It wasn’t until 1985 that the last dam and powerhouse was built. UARP, also known as the Stairway of Power, has 687 megawatts of power and impounds 430,000 acre-feet of water.

All El Dorado County got was contracts for 40,000 acre-feet of water by tapping into the White Rock Penstock on the South Fork of the American River. They are dated 1956 and 1961.

Now the El Dorado County Water Agency is trying to make good on those contracts for 9.3 percent of SMUD’s UARP water. Estimates it will cost $8 million-$10 million to win water rights from the state under the 1927 area of origin rights.

If El Dorado County had committed to bonding that much in the 1920s it could have laid claim to the whole URAP project from the Rubicon to the South Fork and all its related tributaries.

In the 1920s that money would have gone to engineering and dams. Today it goes to attorneys, consultants and environmental studies all aimed at convincing the State Water Resources Control Board to give El Dorado County the right to the water it contracted with SMUD for 60 years ago.

In 1941 The Army Corps of Engineers put Englebright Dam in operation. Its main purpose was to catch hydraulic mining debris. A concrete arch dam on the Upper Yuba River, it provides 70,000 acre-feet of recreation and 294 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Congressman Englebright was Republican minority whip from 1933 until his death in 1943. You can bet he got that dam authorized by Congress.

Raker, Englebright – Congressmen got real project accomplished. Too bad El Dorado County had to wait 90 years to actually try get some benefit from the Upper American River Project.

Missing the point

Michael Raffety


My grandmother wrote everything with a fountain pen. I’m pretty sure my grandpa did also, since as a justice of the peace he would have to log his decisions or sign marriage certificates. Though I visited his basement office and occasionally he let me sit in on a case I didn’t noticed his fountain penmanship so much as his ability to hit the spittoon farther down the long oak table that was his judicial bench.

It was my grandmother who wrote to her grandchildren. I recognized her neat penmanship on the back of photos of my mother as a young child and then teenager. She would note the names of people in the photo, taken with my grandfather’s Kodak Junior, and note my mother’s age and the two younger daughters’ ages at the time the photo was taken.

Neither my mother nor myself have managed to equal that allegiance to labeling family photographs, though I have improved immensely since joining Facebook.

My mother gave me that fountain pen, which I gave to Snowline. I would never use a fountain pen. It’s too easy to make blotches and blobs on the paper and you have to have the right kind of ink blotter.

I couldn’t imagine trying to make notes of a meeting as a reporter with a fountain pen. A person would wind up with ink on their hands and their clothes and it’s pretty hard to get fountain pen ink out of a shirt. Ballpoint pens are the only way to go.

Pencils are no substitute. The only time I used pencils was for making the department budgets on a green spreadsheet before we got computers and spreadsheet programs.

In a Wall Street Journal column Jan. 18 by David Feith, who is a Journal editorial writer based in Hong Kong, I learned that the Chinese don’t know how to make ballpoint pens, which are ubiquitous in the Western world.

The ballpoint pen was invented in 1931 and commercialized in the 1940s, according to Feith, and yet the Chinese have to import the points in order to manufacture ballpoint pens. The ballpoint pen you are using today was probably made in China, but the point was imported from the U.S.

Feith noted that China makes 80 percent of the world’s ballpoint pens, “some 38 billion,” but 90 percent depend on imported points.

Why does China not make the points for ballpoint pens? My guess is because they are accustomed to using brushes or gel-filled Kanji pens to write Kanji, which are the logogrqphic symbols used by China and Japan. Japanese elementary students must learn 1,000 Kanji characters. Even fountain pens are used to make Kanji characters.

The point of Feith’s column was that the Chinese are determined to make their own points for ballpoint pens. It took funding from the Ministry of Science and Technology for a state enterprise called the Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group master points for ballpoints. Feith wrote that the state media referred to this as a “breakthough.”

And that’s the trouble with China. So much of its economy is based on state-owned corporations, businesses and conglomerates. They have to have state funding to achieve any “breakthroughs” and financially prop up losing businesses.

By contrast, Western society advances through the enterprise and inventiveness of individuals and private companies. Practical ballpoint pens came about because of a Hungarian newspaper editor named Lazlo Biro who became frustrated with ink smudges and constantly having to fill up fountain pens. He noticed that newspaper ink dried faster than fountain pen ink. With his brother Gyorgy, a chemist, they developed the ink formula that made ballpoint pens successful and filed a British patent in 1938.

When the Biro brothers and friend Juan Jorge Meyne fled Germany for Argentina in 1941 they formed a ballpoint pen company and their pens are still known as Biro and Meyne in Argentina.

Their new design was licensed by the British government, which produced them for RAF pilots during WWII because fountain pens were a leaking horror to use at high altitudes.

Improvements led to U.S. patents for Papermate, Parker pens and the ultimate cheap pen, the Bic, which wound up in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

China is one big government monstrosity that gets in the way of innovation. I also note the cultural difference between writing Kanji characters with a brush compared to writing based on an alphabet that began with the Greeks and was expanded by the Romans.

It took Taiyuan Iron & Steel five years to figure out how to make ballpoint pen tips, according to Feith. That Chinese company produces 10 million tons of steel annually, adding to China’s glut of steel flooding the world markets.

 News items

Michael Raffety


Jesse Watters of Fox News did a segment about a Satanic display complete with a pentagram near a Nativity scene. Of course, everyone is upset about it, but Boca Raton, Fla., city officials said they couldn’t do anything about it – free speech and all that.

The real problem is the crèche scene was set up in a public square — city property.

It’s unusual for any city these days to sponsor or allow a religious scene on city property. Doing so invites atheists and provocateurs. And pentagrams.

Nativity scenes are customarily set up at churches or businesses. That way nobody gets to complain or force some alternative.

But what was our Democrat-majority state Legislature thinking? For the first time in four decades the State Capitol this year featured a nativity scene. The result is as predictable as tock following tick. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation set up cutouts of Ben Franklin and two other founding fathers plus a Statue of Liberty staring a copy of the Bill of Rights. No pentagrams, as yet.

. . .

In Detroit there were 782 more votes cast than the total number of voters. Hillary Clinton still didn’t win Michigan. President Obama’s Justice Department has fought every state that has tried to pass voter ID laws. There are 32 states with voter ID laws of varying levels, with not all requiring a photo ID.

California does not require an ID to vote. I was going through some old ID cards and ran across my voter ID for Amado County, issued in January 1978. It didn’t include a photo, but it did bear my signature and an ID number issued by the Amador County Elections Department.

The back of my card read, “Voter Identification Card. Keep this card as evidence of your registration. Your name will appear on the index kept at the polls.”

. . .

The State Water Resource s Control Board issued its draft plan for permanently conserving water Nov. 30 and gave local water purveyors until Dec. 19 to respond. Rather short notice. The state’s plan is to limit residential users to 55 gallons per day for inside use and 45 gallons per day for exterior use. The state water board’s plan also calls for aerial surveys of everyone’s property and setting evapotranspiration rates. That is really getting down in the weeds.

The governor and the state seem hung up on the water saved during the 2015 drought being enough to “provide 6.5 million Californians with water for one year.”

As noted by EID Interim General Manager Tom Cumpston in his response to the water board, there is no reservoir to hold all this saved water. In fact, the state water board is a dam holding back transfers of water from agencies like El Dorado Irrigation District that have a surplus to water to agencies that have a shortage of water. EID’s managed to transfer make one transfer, but that seems to have been a one-shot deal. The rest of of EID’s saved water flowed out of Folsom Dam to the sea. That may have been the state’s real plan. The new long-term conservation plan is looking more like a water rights grab.


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