"Why I relish the PG&E power fiasco" and "'2001': The real odyssey"

Readers respond to stories by Cary Tennis and Greg Papadopoulos.

By Salon Staff

Published April 10, 2001 7:30PM (EDT)

Read "Why I relish the PG&E power fiasco" by Cary Tennis.

The California energy shortage is corporate blackmail. When energy suppliers cut back production 40 percent, while their profits are up 80 percent, can we really believe this is a real shortage? Meanwhile, PG&E's parent company is making billions in profits. We must wonder why PG&E starts talking about monetary problems one week before George W. Bush takes office, with nary a word before. [The power shortage] is being used to undercut Gov. Gray Davis' popularity in California, to strengthen Bush's plan to drill for oil in Alaska and other public lands, to build more power plants, to eliminate Environmental Protection Agency rules and to enrich [Bush's] oil buddies' bankrolls, which heavily funded his campaigns.

-- L. Sparks

Companies have no incentive for discouraging sales of their products? Sure they do. Look at the water utilities. During the droughts, heavy fines were imposed on consumers who used more than their fair share. It worked. Less water was used -- and the water companies made less money. They increased rates and justified it by saying that less water usage reduced their income and they could not maintain the same level of service without the increase. Then, when water became (questionably) more plentiful, did they reduce the rates? No. In fact, in my city, they raised them again "to protect against future droughts." (Pad the books?) The collusion between big business and government is not new.

-- Mikhail

The writer of this article is coming from an incorrect viewpoint. The reason PG&E was telling people to use less electricity was because it was losing money on any power that it did not generate itself. PG&E was losing money because the state regulations would not let it raise rates. It was literally selling the power for less than it was buying it from outside suppliers at. This has nothing to do with the inherent strengths or weaknesses (be they as they may) of a large company. Therefore, the only solution, from a PG&E standpoint, would be to tell people to use less electricity.

The article, to be factually correct, should instead have been wailing at the economic incompetence of state regulators.

-- Todd Alverson

The author is right. The new weasels on the block are the private power companies. But PG&E was not as much of a timid victim as might be suggested. It socked away billions from the utility to the parent company before being felled. This bankruptcy may just be a court-ordered way for PG&E to screw California citizens for a few more billions racked up in debts for power bought from the weasel power generators.

The real victim at the moment, as usual, is the consumer, held by the throat by the private power companies. Though screwed out of at least $20 billion to $30 billion so far by them, the citizens of California are not quite as in the headlights as the author. There's a pretty good chance the voters may have a chance to vote for a power generation system on the next ballot that puts the building of power plants and regulating rates in the hands of the state. The private generators may have killed their own goose in the Golden State. In the meantime, we have the big Bush tax cut to offset our soon-to-be-outrageous power bills, right?

-- Rich Williams

I don't often read news articles twice, but this piece was poetic.

We're in Ohio, and it's the very same corporate culture here. As PG&E goes, so go many more of these monopolies further to the east. Who says they can't go under as well?

-- Jim McIntyre

Read "'2001': The real odyssey" by Greg Papadopoulos.

I share Greg Papadopoulos' enthusiasm for "2001: A Space Odyssey," a terrific movie that I made a point of seeing just before the new year. Artistically, it's every bit as striking as when I first saw it in 1968.

But I have to disagree on the movie's success as a predictor of things to come. Moon bases? We took a few jaunts on the moon's surface and left. Space stations? We're slowly building a collection of uninspiring canisters instead of a wheel that can produce artificial gravity. Civilian space liners? An Earth-to-moon shuttle service? Real soon now.

You might think that the biggest misprediction is the talking, perhaps sentient, computer, but it's not. Rather, it's the belief that by 2001 we'd be able to develop a combination of computer hardware and software so reliable that its slightest misbehavior would be sufficient cause to decommission it. But who could blame Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Clarke for failing to foresee that computers in 2001 would be about as reliable as a Model T? Had the story been written today, Poole and Bowman wouldn't have furtively discussed turning HAL off. They'd have walked to the conveniently located reset button and pushed it, just as so many of us do every day.

"2001" fascinates not because it was an accurate predictor of what we'd achieve by the new millennium, but because it gave us a sense of what we might do if we had the vision, smarts and nerve. It's not too late to start trying.

-- Bob Perlman

Let's hope Sun Micro gets a chief historian sometime soon, because its chief technology officers, whether Bill Joy or Greg Papadopoulos, betray no understanding of anything that happened more than six months ago!

The prediction that a chess-playing computer could beat a human was neither bold nor even a prediction. Claude Shannon, father of information theory (someone Papadopoulos ought to be familiar with), anticipated how this would be done in 1949!

Programs that could defeat casual players already existed in 1968. The rest of Papadopoulos' evaluation is similarly flawed.

-- Andy MacTavish

There must be better ways to suggest that Clarke and Kubrick's vision was on the mark than the idea that HAL beat a crewmember in a game of chess. Computers have been able to beat most humans in chess for decades.

-- Rick Crawford

Greg Papadopoulos observes: "Here we are, almost halfway through 2001, and the movie that etched that date in our collective imaginations has yet to reappear on the big screen. I find that odd."

The newly restored 70 mm print of "2001" will screen Wednesday, April 25, on the opening night of my Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The movie will go into general release in the autumn.

"2001" lovers will recall that HAL 9000's final words include a memory of being born in the computer lab at Urbana.

-- Roger Ebert

Not to quibble with a technology expert over film criticism, but it is simply inaccurate to say Stanley Kubrick had an "inability to get strong emotional performances from human actors." By all accounts (and there were many following the director's death two years ago) Kubrick's rehearsal process was quite deliberately and intentionally designed to make actors less "emotional." Now many find that style not to their liking, but it was indeed an artistic choice, and a consistent one at that. There's a big difference between a failing, or "inability," and a conscious aesthetic. If HAL turns out to be the most "human" (whatever that means) character in the film, could that maybe have been Kubrick's point?

-- Garrett Eisler

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------