Friday, April 29, 2005

Blotter Paper

Atherton: Tuesday, 300 block of Walsh Road; A "large brown animal" weighing more than 80 pounds was allegedly seen climbing down a tree and into an olive grove. The animal was not found.
..The Martini Coon has returned.

Palo Alto: Tuesday, 3900 block of Second Street: A man found a screw in his tire.
...And thoughtfully called the police to remove it. A screw is officially loose.

Menlo Park: Tuesday, Pine Street and Ravenswood Avenue: A 23 year-old Oakland man was ticketed on suspicion of driving without a drivers license.
...How does this work, someone looks like they don't have a license?

Let's Wire Les

Two stories occupying the front page of today's Daily News stike the Burning Squirrel as oddly related. The first story, "Budget details city layoffs" has to do with Palo Alto's budget shortfall and city manager Frank Benest's proposal to eliminate some city jobs in order to clean up the bottom line. The second story, "Robot, human teams foreseen" discusses NASA Ames Research Center mobile agent software project. This project intends to develop wireless communication between humans and robots for use in space.

You see where this is going--city employed robots dispatched wirelessly from the basement of city hall. Think of the savings in salary paid to city workers. In addition, no holidays, no workman's compensation claims, no work stopages, no working on private jobs using city equipment--the list goes on. Now all that has to be accounted for is the evil genius issuing orders.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dust Up With the Neighbors

Complaining about noise and pollution from garners using leaf blowers is a hearty perennial in these parts. A page 3 story by Jason Green about a community forum in Palo Alto once again highlights the issue. A Bay Area Gardeners Association representative at the forum suggested that improper training was partly to fault. Blowing dust and leaves into the street is indicative of how not to do the job.

That would address the dust problem but still leaves the noise issue to deal with. If leaf blowers are effective leaves have to be blown into a central location in order to be gathered up. Is there a secret to doing the job whereby leaves are moved without dust? And Palo Alto can train people to do this?

Considering the large numbers of residents using law care services, it seems reasonable for those doing the hiring to tell gardners not to use the devices, or hire based on who uses quieter machines. Juan Carlos Prado of the Gardeners Association wants residents to go around asking their neighbor about their gardeners practices. Sure Juan, that'll bring peace to the neighborhood.

Code Enforcement

Menlo Park's Willows neighborhood has a market--La Hacienda--that runs a check cashing operation. Because the store has been held up a number of times, residents are concerned about the situation and would like the market to stop the check cashing part of their business. Menlo Park's city attorney has told residents that the store's operation is legal and not much can be done. Today's page one story reveals how an enterprising citizen has located an obscure law which requires check cashing operations to obtain a license. La Hacienda, it seems, does not have the license. This gives hope to those wanting the store to suffer the consequences--as if the robberies were not enough,

Meanwhile, The Burning Squirrel can report findings of lesser concern to those in the Willows neighborhood-- Penal Code, section 211-215
Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.

Regardless how unfashionable it may seem, residents would be advised to pay closer attention to the penal code than the civil code. Holding the victim responsible for the crime just isn't right.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Irv Weissman is Mad

Professor Irv Weissman is mad. No he isn't mad because the Daily News didn't mention his various stem cell enterprises in the page one story--that's none of your business. He's mad because, "We are in an era now where funding of science and the practice of medicine has political, religious and ethical issues that do get in the way." I'm sure professor Weissman is seriously committed to developing cures for a host of afflictions, but to say that it is unique to this time that we have political, religious and ethical issues is absurd. The Hippocratic oath is an ethical statement. AIDS research was pushed to the foreground precisely due to political calculations.

What sets Weissman off isn't the lack of funds for stem cell research--his company Cellerant, has access to unlimited public and governmental funds because it engages in adult stem cell research. Weissman would like you to think that President Bush mandated a restriction on embryonic stem cell research out of religious conviction--at heart he engages in religious demogogery.

What Weissman and President Bush need to confront is the restrictions placed on the government by the Dickey Amendment. The amendment, passed in the 7os and continuously reauthorized, says that government funds cannot be spent to destroy life. President Bush was the first president to authorize federal stem cell funding of any kind. In order to do so he had to negotiate around the provisions of the Dickey Amendment.

There are no restrictions on Weissman's businesses except that portion of federal funds that are restricted. He is free to seek any venture capital funding. To that, expect some of California's three billion dollar windfall to end up in Weissman's ventures. Weissman does not like restrictions--financial or ethical.

Monday, April 25, 2005, get off of my cloud.

The Tuesday April 19th Daily carried an item about a talk to be given at Stanford by the administrator to the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer. Mr. Bremer was to discuss his views on Iraq and US foreign policy. Because the talk was closed to the outside community, the Daily did not follow up with a story about Bremer's appearance. The Daily might have hired a stringer from Stanford to cover the event, but the story failed to excite them. In the past, Executive Editor Diana Diamond has written a pessimistic assessment of Iraq following a talk by Hoover fellow Larry Diamond. As events in Iraq brighten the Daily seems unable to get out from under their perpetual cloud.

For those who are interested, here is how Bremer's talk was covered by the Stanford Daily.

The Big Cell

The page 3 headline reads, "Stem cell talk will be focusing on science". The Daily News tells us that the speaker, Stanford Professor Irv Weissman, is a pioneer of stem cell research and is the director of the Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at Stanford. They tell us that Weissman has advocated further research and a lifting of restrictions for federal funding. What they won't tell us is that Weissman is a founder of Stem Cells, Inc., Cellerant, Inc. and SyStemix, Inc. and he stands to profit enormously from government research grants. Of course his talk will stick to the science.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

OFF on Page 10

The 'Around the Globe' section of the Sunday paper prints an item regarding the resignation in protest of two investigators into international corruption. The page 10 story deals with corruption charges over the UNs Oil for Food program. Both investigators disputed a recent report into the matter that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan claimed to have cleared him. The report was issued by Annan's handpicked committee headed by Paul Volker. A parallel investigation is underway in the US Senate headed by Senator Norm Coleman (R) MN.

The Burning Squirrel acknowledges this in light of previous complaints.

Mayor Blames Victim

The La Hacienda market in Menlo Park has been held up three times in the last seven months. The Daily News front page has a photo of a local woman holding a protest sign in front of the store. With a nod to the illogic of many such efforts, hers reads; "More Food, Less Guns". With that residents have been forewarned to refrain from using their guns at the store. Whether the store plans on offering more food in exchange is unknown. Also unknown is if thieves have taken heed and will now resort to holding up the story without weapons.

Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler..."told the Daily News yesterday she'd like to see city oficials and store owners sit down to discuss ways to keep large quantities of cash out of the store." A goal the robbers seem to be working towards.

Vibrating Tree

The Palo Alto city council is considering a request for a new cell phone tower on El Camino Real near Barron Park. Some residents fear the potential damage from radio frequency emissions. Complaints first surfaced over proximity to high voltage electrical transmission lines, then from television transmission towers and now cell phone antennas. Study after study consistently finds no harmful effects beyond what would be found normally. And yet, cities repeatedly entertain complaints from those who will never accept these findings. It should be pointed out to those who complain that their computers, televisions and nearly every electrical device they use emit that which they fear. Any chance they'll give up those?

Assuming that the project gets the go-ahead, we'll then have to confront ways to disguise the antenna. Currently, the proposal calls for the 40 foot antenna to masquerade as a broadleaf evergreen. Expect motions be put forth to ensure that the fake tree will not resemble a non-native species.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Town Without a Name

When Albertson's closed in the Alma Plaza shopping center, some hoped that Trader Joe's would be a willing tenant. We learn today (page 4) that Trader Joe's has decided to move to an unnamed city near West El Camino Real and Showers Drive. Welcome to (insert city name here)! If it isn't too far away some residents of South Palo Alto might want to make the trip.

Update: A reader points out that Whole Foods would be establishing a new location in an anonymous city--not Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's has a store near the unnamed location of the future Whole Foods store--where ever that would be. (Mountain View)

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (look it up)

Because the Mineta Transportation Institute chose to exclude Mountain View city councilman Greg Perry from an event--Perry opposed Institute efforts to bring BART to San Jose--they were successful in making a one day story into a much larger issue.

Today's Daily leads off with a story and photo about Perry confronting BART supporter Carl Guardino CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Note the people in the background sporting signs that say 'We want BART!' Those aren't riders, they're people who hope to make money building it.

The Burning Squirrel thinks that Perry is right on the issue. The costs associated with purchasing right-of-way, building stations and laying track is a giant waste of money. Even with high gasoline costs and in higher density areas BART ridership has stagnated. San Jose views BART as a boon to development. Didn't they say that about the nearly empty lightrail currently sucking money out of taxpayers pockets?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The hands tell a story.

Note to Diana Diamond; Isn't the idea of writing an editorial to take a clear position? Today's dancing effort spills over two pages--why?

Check Please

The headline reads 'Accused officer's pay tops $200,000'. What the Daily news really would like you to believe is that officer's Kan and Lee are guilty and should have been fired prior to the trial. Because the mistrial didn't deliver the verdict the paper wanted, they've chosen misleading tactics to suggest that the officers themselves are reponsible for the costs for which they had no control. Costs are partly a function of the time it took the case to go to trial. The officers had no say in that. Go blame the courts.

In the middle of this story we catch a glimpse of the reporter Whitney musing about questions she hasn't asked..."it was as yet unclear what the legal ramifications were in firing the pair, but there was no indication from the Police Department that Kan and Lee would be fired". It's a bit of a stretch to fire them after the internal investigation cleared the officers. But it doesn't mean the Daily can't suggest otherwise.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Losers Decide

The Burning Squirrel likes Ed Taub's letter to the editor.
"The Republicans are planning to launch the "Nuclear Option," overturning 200 years of Senate tradition that has protected the rights of the minority from being trampled by the majority."--Ed Taub, Mountain View

With you 100% Ed...the winners only get good office locations. That's why the Democrats insist on losing. They know it really means winning the important stuff. I thought everyone knew that.

Vox Populi

From the moment Pope John Paul II shuffled off his mortal coil on April 2nd editors at the Daily allowed readers uncluttered thinking about the Catholic Church. To that end a local supervisor offered to supervise the selection, polls told us what changes would be popular, the executive editor felt her advice was needed in the form of an editorial and even a popular Jewish cartoonist knew best. It tended to be uniform in approach.

Today, following the naming of Cardinal Joseph Ratsinger as the next pope, the Daily suddenly finds 'mixed reaction'. Stop the presses--who knew anyone had other ideas!

So now, because other people's business is really all of our business, it seems reasonable to extend the offer for editorial guidance in all matters of religious thought. To the editors--Would you kindly tell us what other church leaders you support. Have at it:
  • Southern Baptist
  • National Baptist Convention
  • United Methodist Church
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • Evangelical Lutheran
  • Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod)
  • Congregational
  • Assemblies of God
  • African Methodist Episcopal
  • Episcopal
  • Hindu
  • Judaism (reformed)
  • Judaism (conservative)
  • Judaism (orthodox)
  • Shikh
  • Unitarian Universalist
  • Baha'i
  • Islam
  • Scientology
  • Eckankar
  • Wiccan/Pagan/Druid

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

All Points Bulletin

A page 7 story about a 19 year-old woman was shot at a party in East Palo Alto Friday night describes the shooter as an African American man, about 160 pounds, six feet tall and wearing a black hooded jacket, black pants and a black ski mask.

The Police Blotter on page 22 has the following entry for Saturday in Menlo Park; Four black males wearing dark hooded sweatshirts, blue jeans and black bandana covering their faces allegedly robbed a store. Two were wearing black eye masks as well.

Those wishing to avoid questioning adjust your wardrobe accordingly.

Beating Case

The main story in today's Daily reports that a hung jury and therefore a mistrial has resulted from the trial of two Palo Alto Police officers charged with felony assault and misdemeanor battery. Officers Craig Lee and Michael Kan were in the beating of 62 year-old Albert Hopkins.
Hopkins, according to reports, had refused a request to show identification and had become belligerant. Earlier both officers were cleared by an police department internal investigation. The jury deadlocked, with four members voting to acquit and eight voting to convict.

Racism charges had been leveled by Hopkins' defenders owing to the fact that Hopkins is an African-American and the officers are not--both officers are Asian. Attorney's for both sides asserted that the case was not about race; A situation the defense would never acknowledge even if true, and one which the prosecution would be hard-pressed to deliver on. Some of the jurors said that the verdict was in fact due to racism. The basis for that belief seems to come about because the the jurors voting to acquit were Asian. The Daily News does not say what the race was of other jurors or if they were probed about their racial opinions.

During the trial comparisons were made between the Hopkins case and the Rodney King beating. The Daily News awkwardly frames the matter like this:

"Hopkins was sitting in his parked car with his shoes off when police aproached him. He said he was resting on the way home from work. Los Angeles police were videotaped beating King in 1991, after a 110 mph car chase on the freeway."

In this case the comparison simply means one sentence following another.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Bells and Whistles

Sunday's society column carried a story about the Peninsula Lions Club honoring police and firefighters. The last time positive comments about our public servants was allowed in the local paper was when the Palo Alto police department was taken over by the girls. Today we're back to questioning these dangerous occupations with a story about worker's compensation claims. Police and firefighters get injured more frequently? Say it ain't so! To this add racial profiling charges against officers and the coverage of officers accused of beating a citizen. I'm beginning to think the Daily might look into response times to newspapers located near firestations.

But where will bums sleep?

I see that the Palo Alto City Library will be loaning laptop computers to library users. Thinking out loud here; What would the break even point be for closing all the libraries, digitizing whatever isn't already available online and then only loaning laptops or iPods for audio books? Meet your new librarian.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lesh Filling

The Grateful Dead started here and alot of people enjoyed their music, but does that make it a Sunday front page story when a member of the band writes a book and decides to flog it locally? Somehow a reporter's hobby will always merit special treatment. When do you think the next time you'll ever see the Daily send a reporter up to Marin to snag a book review?

Even so, the Phil Lesh interview does demonstrate a studied ability to disconnect cause from effect. Lesh offers up his brand of anti-materialism. But, once you've got yours it's easy to tell the next guy how bogus the whole money thing is. So will he advise his Kepler's audience that they can get the book for $17.13 or less at Amazon?

Next, Lesh discusses the band's drug use soley in benificial terms. Small wonder, the band was originally sponsored by LSD entrepeneur Owsley Stanley. Sure they used drugs and in the process had alot of psychotic visions that made them wealthy. When the topic shifts to Jerry Garcia's own drug use leading to his death, the Daily reporter allows Lesh to bat it aside by merely calling it a waste. Forget any questions relating to the drug abuse by the band's followers let alone the death of band mate Brent Mydland. Parents looking to get their kids interested in reading papers have got to love that.

It's hard to tell if this is a book review, an audition for Entertainment Tonight or merely a love-in.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Moore or Less a Law

An AP story on the business page talks about Gordon Moore one of the founder's of Intel. Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Moore's Law--the predicted rate at which semiconductor capability would advance. The rate has variously been stated as doubling every year, every 18 months or every couple of years.

A few years back I had a photo assignment to photograph Moore. As it happened, on the way to the shoot a radio story about Moore and his law settled on the 'every 18 months' version. In fact, for several years doubling every 18 months was the only version many people heard. Now he says it's dead.

During the photography the topic came up about his law and the story on the radio. What surprised me was how readily Moore acknowledged giving out various accounts of his 'law'. As much as saying; "It was never strictly a law--just a casual observation that I've played with over the years. The press has their own version and they won't give it up--and I've quit trying to explain".

(The photo was taken during that assignment. For the record--this is an in-camera double exposure--no PhotoShop.)


Wendy's is still fighting the image of a finger in their chili; The headline says "Wendy's finds finger unfunny". Officials of the company are worried that the brand has been seriously damaged and they're determined to find out how the missing digit ended up on the menu. Sales are said to be off--except for comedians.

I may be out to lunch on this, but it seems to me that Wendy's is missing an opportunity. Rather than presenting the image of Wendy's as sluths with slicers, they should embrace the inherent humor of the situation. Its time to lighten up--develop a menu that includes 'finger food, hand out wind-up toys that look like missing fingers. For goodness sake rename the ketchup 'Dave's Digit Dip'. After all, halloween has not been known as a good time to go on a diet. Wendy''s time knuckle down and get to work, but never let 'em see you sweat.

Comparing Apples to Invisible Oranges

While California Democrats get together this weekend they have a right to be encouraged (page 1) about the declining poll numbers for Governor Schwarzenegger. Although the numbers aren't good for box office, it would be interesting to compare them with those in the field of possible contenders--Steve Westly, Phil Angelitis or Bill Lockyear, or even the combined numbers of all three. Until voters get around to focusing on the policies of any replacement the polls mean little. You can't beat something with nothing.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Off the Rails

A story on today's front page discusses how the Mineta Transportation Institute has disinvited one of its members from a Commonwealth Club event. The member, Mountain View city councilman Greg Perry, was booted, according to some, because of his opposition to bringing BART to Silicon Valley.

What caught my eye was the name 'Mineta Transportation Institute'. When you name yourself after the bone-headed secretary of transportation, it should not come as a surprise to publicly humiliate yourselves.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Lost in the Shuffle

It's common knowledge that the Daily News likes to billboard certain allegations while hiding others. Recently an investigation of the UN Oil for Food program revealed billions of dollars of fraud. The head of the program Bennon Sevan and Kofi Annan's son Kojo were implicated. As a result Kofi Annan's position in the UN is tenuous. Yet the Daily News didn't want you to know.

Earlier, the Daily News thought it was worthy to devote a bold headline to complaints against supreme court justice Antonin Scalia who had accepted a ride on the vice president's airplane. Since the vice president was central to a matter under review, some called for Scalia to recuse himself from the decision. When it was pointed out that justice Ginsberg had far greater ties to pending judicial decisions no equal concern was forthcoming.

Today the Daily News feels it's important for readers to know about ethics charges against Rep. Tom DeLay. It is proper to learn of such charges, however, similar charges against others go unreported. Convictions of some house members are of even less interest. In the interest of fairness to Rep. DeLay it should be noted that the charges against him are themselves ethically challenged. Here's the proof.

Funny how we only get half the story.

Pope Replaced--Editor Departs

Reams of newspaper stories and editorial pleadings (Thursday's editorial) have had their effect. The College of Cardinals, on whose shoulders the task of selecting a new pope rests, have given in to demands that they name a pope who will follow the dictates of his flock. Historically, educated and tested leaders have resisted the urge to follow. All that is about to change; much like modern universities and newsrooms, where a wide variety of thought exists co-equally. Consequently, instead of a single pope, the position will consist of a committee of popes--three of whom must be 'different gendered' and one from the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club anticipated the move and named their executive director to the position.

A faxblast announcing the naming of the new popes--the telltale puff of toxic white smoke having given way to anti-pollution laws--was followed by Cardinal Ratzinger's public statement. "As many of you know from reading press accounts, the Catholic Church has failed to keep up with sweeping social changes. We have decided to loosen up and in days to come these should become apparent. For one, modern technology, coupled with the entertainment industry, has allowed us to move from a top down to a bottom up mentality. The success of wireless voting on American Idol should prove useful--and fun!"

Owing to her insightful analysis of the failings of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican announced the appointment of Diana Diamond, recently of California, to the newly created position of message coordinator. Diamond will begin by assembling a 'message team' from members of the American Society of Newpaper Editors (ASNE), the BBC and China Daily.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Purple People

It's interesting to see a cash strapped city, run by Democrat politicos, having to fend off one of their constituent groups--labor unions. The Service Employees Union Local 715 (SEIU) is looking to tap into city coffers to get them to pay part time workers benefits. Let's wait and see how long it takes for those services to be contracted out. Then we'll begin to really see the purple people.

Tale of Two Cities

Auto dealers are very important to the tax base of any city in California. Some cities, such as Fremont, have done very well for themselves by developing large tracts of land for several auto dealers. Other dealers, noting this, have expressed a desire for the same accommodations and have announced plans to move--while two complacent cities slumber.

Menlo Park is looking at land in its Belle Haven district to house one or more dealerships. Meanwhile, Palo Alto has authorized a task force (Wednesday, page 1) to find out what is available and to stem the tide of dealer defections. Toyota of Palo Alto as well as Cadillac Buick Pontiac GMC of Menlo Park are two dealerships that have announced plans to leave and both could end up a the same location, but it isn't likely that either will end up in Palo Alto or Menlo Park.

A quick look at a map of Palo Alto's available land shows little likelihood appropriate development along 101. Menlo Park has a location, but would need to relocate business and clean up the land. Both cities have sat on their hands while the dealers formulate their plans to move. Palo Alto's task force was only voted on after the Toyota dealer announced its plan to move.

When newspapers editorialize about doing something to keep auto dealerships it's a sure sign the time to act has long past. Both Redwood City and Mountain View would have to be considered prime locations, and both have proven to be far more nimble in developing the lands at their disposal. Give the nod to Mountain View.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Bogey on 16

Tuesday, page 1: Al Kornblum was golfing with two friends on Monday when a miltary aircraft taking off from Moffett Field dropped a package that nearly hit Al. The threesome was playing the 16th hole of Sunnyvale Municipal Golf Course when the 3 foot long parcel dropped nearby. They called to report the incident and within minutes it was retrieved by officials of Moffett Field.
According to Rule 24 of The Rules of Golf; Obstructions are either artificial or man-made objects that are classified as movable obstructions or immovable obstructions. Movable obstructions anywhere on the course may be removed. With immoveable obstructions; You may drop your ball away from an immovable obstruction if it interferes with your swing or stance.
Clearly, Daily News writer Edward Carpenter should have consulted a sports writer or the Clerk of Course to determine if Mr. Kornblum was entitled to either move the object or take a drop on his ball.

Checkbook Journalism

I've been remiss in failing to acknowledge the column that Don Kazak wrote about The Burning Squirrel Report in the Palo Alto Weekly. Thanks Don...let me know if you have problems getting that check to clear.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Rich Gordon's Wedgie

San Mateo County supervisors are set to vote on a resolution in support of legalizing same sex marriage. Supervisor Rich Gordon, himself a homosexual, introduced the measure and describes the issue as a civil right. It is widely seen as an attempt to curry favor with an extreme wing of the Democrat party who attempt to frame the whole history of marriage as misbegotten.

Previous efforts by officials supported loosened marriage laws such that the current state of marriage is a mess. On this thin reed they claim expertise. Supporters of the San Mateo vote describe the measure as 'same sex' marriage, however they are unable to say on what rational basis others could be excluded. Anyone claiming ongoing 'love' would meet the new low standard. The mind imagines all sorts of novel arrangements. In any event, the measure would be advisory.

Forget the advice of Prop. 22. In the year 2000 Californian's adopted the Defense of Marriage act which states that only marriages between a man and a women are valid. The propostion passed by a 23% margin and was supported by over 61% of the voters.

Following a tough fought San Francisco election in which Gavin Newsom barely won election, Newsom attempted to rally support by enacting a policy of issuing marriage licenses--the idea having come to his attention by way of court decisions in Massachusetts. Many Democrats felt it hurt their party's chances in the presidential election of 2004, but insisted that it was President Bush who drove a wedge between the electorate with his stand against same sex marriage.

Although California's Supreme Court later disallowed homosexual marriage, activists continue to drag the issue before courts in an effort to deny the will of the voters. Newsom, like fellow politicians everywhere, is unable to enact meaningful legislation, and instead chooses to promote unpopular cultural issues. Thus supervisor Rich Gordon follows in the footsteps of the dim-bulb San Francisco mayor. As a representative of the people, Gordon seems less interested in representing anyone but his own special needs. He yearns to give voters a wedgie.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Rampaging Architects

Saturday's all day design scrum in Menlo Park has interesting ramifications. 75 architects and designers held a gathering for the purpose of re-designing downtown Menlo Park. Two obstacles were identified, the way in which the CalTrain tracks and El Camino Real create a barrier between areas of town. Left unsaid in the page one article was any mention of what such design improvements would accomplish--beauty, harmony, functionality?

I missed the event--my qualifications would hardly rate an invitation. However, that doesn't prevent the Squirrel from having a whack at this nut. My solution? Create an elevated railroad tack made up of the sort of early 20th century steel construction typically found in older cities. The uglier the better.

Here's how it would function. First, it would amplify train noise. All the hiss, groans, sparks and squeals would be felt from above and beyond. Train whistles would become unnecessary but people love noise so long as its connected to nostalgia.

Second, streets below the tracks create the possiblility of urban like settings--smelly bars, rowdy motorcycle hangouts, off-track betting parlors, flop house hotels. People seek out real urban texture. It would also re-couple the city.

Third, it would provide a context in which to view other overhead development along El Camino Real and leading towards Santa Cruz Avenue. The bulk of city revenue comes from sales taxes on business. Opportunities to grow the base of business is limited in the downtown area unless vertical options are considered. A 'back to the future' theme would create a significant visual separation between competing communities.

The re-design effort has real potential. Next we should offer volunteers the opportunity to re-do other aspects of city life. These might include city government, libraries, parks, roads or your neighbor's house paint choices.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Mixed Blessing

A photo on page 1. shows women supporters of a fertility doctor who made the mistake of mixing up embryos. Both women are holding children and it is inferred that the children were produced with the aid of Dr. Steven Katz. The women are described at domestic partners. Their support of the doctor comes with the understanding that neither woman could have been affected by such a mix up--having provided only half of the ingredients. I'm sure Dr. Katz appreciates the support, but it is of no comfort to either of the other two other couples affected. The photo mixes apples and oranges.

The Whirlwind

When the Key Market off El Camino in Redwood City closed the other day much of the story revolved around day workers loitering in the parking lot as the reason for the closure. Customers were put off by large groups of men hoping to pick up work from passing contractors or even super market shoppers. Today's news points out the markets high labor costs. Invariably, fewer customers or higher costs will at some point be bad for business. When both happen the process accelerates.

Of course, day laborers are a function of illegal immigration and the willingness of contractors to pad profits with cheap labor. Residents benefit with a ready supply of inexpensive manual labor while also complaining about increases in the cost of government services to illegals. Unionized workers attempt to hold economic realities at bay--ultimately to lose.

San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley realizes that his hands are tied. The great number of illegals makes it impractical to make arrests and policies at the state and federal level have made such laborers defacto legal. He calls for the establishment of a day labor center but the history of such centers is decidedly mixed. Meanwhile, citizens complain about the mixed message official support to illegals gives.

Despite the popularity of state proposition 187 mandating the denial of medical and educational services, it was ruled illegal. Elected state representatives count on the support of a large Hispanic population that doesn't want to tackle illegal immigration; So they do nothing.

At the federal level relations between the United States and Mexico are testy when it comes to immigration. Mexico needs the pressure valve of turning a blind eye to sneaking across the border, while US officials talk about fixing the problem and get hammered from both political parties over any course of action.

The Key Market closure is merely a local manifestation of a much larger, more contentious national issue. It touches on compassion, labor market forces, globalization, taxation, law enforcement and national security. No consensus exists at any level of government. The Mexican/US border wealth differential operates much like a weather front with extreme temperature differences on either side. It is a force of nature ready for destruction and incapable of being stopped.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Squirrel Eats Crow

In it's editorial today the Daily News endorses Palo Alto's storm drain tax and in so doing makes my post suggesting otherwise look silly. The editorial makes it clear that they would prefer that the city fund this kind of expense through general revenue, but the city council has proven unwilling to make tough budget cut decisions. Hence, the Daily News endorses a plan which allows the council to continue being irresponsible.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tragedy in EPA

The shooting death of former East Palo Alto's mayor Gertrude Wilks' grandson leads off today's news. Tony Avelar's photo of the grieving Wilks and a comforting friend is shown prominently. This is the kind of story often missed by big city papers whose specialty is covering the larger region. It's one great reason to support local news.

The shooting victim, Jason Dawson, 20, is described as someone who fell into unsteady work and a life of petty crime following the death of his grandfather, Gertrude Wilks husband. I find that formulation somewhat unconvincing--Dawson turns to crime due to sadness and hurt? Grieving relatives aren't likely to engage in a thoughtful assessment of the situation. I suppose reporter Luke Stangel had an obligation to tie some of the facts together regardless if it made sense.

We also learn that the death of Gertrude Wilks' grandson has lead her to "renew her work toward ending violence in town." She isn't able to end violence in her own home. How does a 78 year-old woman have a prayer of a chance outside her home? It makes this story very depressing.

Sorry Cardinal Arinze, you'll have to move to the back of the Popemobile.

I'm almost done with pope stories, but yesterday an Associated Press item ran that had me do a double take. The headline read: "Islam may help shape debate over next pope." This particular story advances the notion that one possible successor to John Paul II is the black African Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. According to the AP, Arinze would be good in dealing with Islam because his was raised in a country with a large number Muslims and, goodness knows, those childhood memories are powerful. This is what caught my eye;
"The Vatican is also alarmed about inter-religious clashes in Nigeria that have claimed thousands of lives since the late 1990s. But Arinze would require a history-shaping act by the generally conservative College of Cardinals: naming the first African pope in modern times."--AP
There you have it; being religiously conservative either means being predisposed against a black person or looking at Vatican history books is like ordering off a menu. Forget Arinze's decades of service at the Vatican..."If we knew the guy was black we'd have had him shine our shoes or recommend he convert to Anglican."

This is the kind of non-story that circulate around US presidential elections. "Sources have told this reporter that the Vice Presidential candidate will be coming from a large cheese producing state." Reporters are paid to write--even if they have to make it up.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Working Late

The Daily News editorializes about how thoughtfully they consider tax hikes. Sometimes they endorse them, sometimes not. But it always involves deep thought.
"The Daily News looks at each tax request individually, seeks a lot of raw data (such as the salaries of employees), and often asks campaign committees on both sides to visit the paper to make a presentation."--editorial
Can't you just imagine green eyeshaded publishers earnestly spending nights bent over city spreadsheets?

Currrently, Palo Alto would like citizens to tax themselves to fix storm drains. The Daily News assures its readers that it hasn't made up it's mind about an endorsement, but they're also getting heat for being perceived as anti-tax in a region that likes being taxed. Because of that, the editorial tips its hand about this endorsement. If they supported the tax they wouldn't need to soften the blow. Don't look for a storm drain tax endosement.

Tarnishing the Brand

Nicholas Kristof's column on the editorial page today chastises President Bush for not following papal advice on "standing up to evil", by which he means the genocide in Darfur Sudan. Funny, previous New York Times talking points always cast Bush as a repressive theocrat. Now, hoping to close the values gap, and forgetting his past maddeningly schitzophenic reactions to Christianity, Kristof grabs the pope's robe in order to bash Bush for not being religiously obedient enough. How pathetic.

Nevermind that the pope called on the government of Sudan to halt the violence--not the US. What Kristof wants isn't US action anyway; He'd be happy to have us give money and logistical help to a UN force which would then "protect the weak". Europe no longer provides those services having chosen to offer criticism instead. Unaccountably, Kristof forgets recent UN history in which 'peacekeepers' were the predators. Wouldn't want to tarnish the brand by calling attention to it would we.

Reminding Readers of Lawyer Joke

"Fish spawn in cement creek" reads today's main headline about Matadero Creek. Adding bottom-feeding heavy metal-eating carp to the story merely raises the disgust factor . The whole thing sounds freakish. (By the way, when does a creek, when turned into a sometime skate park/landing strip, get renamed as a slough, trench or culvert?) Although, I'm aware that carp are common to this country, I did not know that they are non-native--having been introduced by pre-war German spys pretty much to upset future mid-peninsula residents hyper-sensitive about which animals were assigned to live here...effectively settling the evolution argument.

When asked whether the fish could be caught, officials were uncertain. This is a tip-off that they weren't real officials. Officials would always answer--no. This would be followed by appointing a blue ribbon commission to determine what obstacles could be expected upstream from Portola Valley residents. Department of Fish and Game were busy with more pressing business.

Q: What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?
A: One is a scum-sucking bottom feeder, and the other is a catfish.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pencils Down

I'm amused by a letter to the editor from a teacher. The second paragraph reads;
"Given that most teachers work at least 55 hours per week, I make $28 an hour; a first-year teacher makes $21 per hour. We spend an average of $1200 annually on classroom and professional supplies. As for health insurance, coverage other than an HMO is not free to teachers and we all pay higher co-pays than we used to."
The letter sounds like a beginning to a math problem. It presents a number of facts that seem to beg an answer. Actually it's a horizonal list. Now I understand why story problems were so difficult for me...Because my teacher drove a car 10 miles to school at 50 miles per hour. Gasoline cost 75ยข a gallon. What time did she arrive at school? (Answer: too late to have a cigarette.)

Fuzz Fuzzy on Flap

The headline says, "Officer alleges gender bias, Complaint filed against police chief for discrimination." But the story says that Palo Alto police chief Lynne Johnson isn't sure, "It's written in a convoluted way...It's probably against me." (Meaning: We probably turned him down...because we couldn't figure out what he wanted. Want proof--just look at his complaint.) Meanwhile the Palo Alto Peace Officer Association declined to confirm or deny that a complaint had been filed.

This story isn't quite what is advertised. Either the chief was charged or she wasn't--is it too hard to write a headline that accurately conveys the story? How about asking the cop what he meant?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Power Up

Last week Larry Magid wrote about Terri Schiavo from an unfamiliar perch on the editorial page. Today Magid writes about the deceased pontiff's ways with technology--the internet, cell phone text messaging, as well as His Holiness' favorite Fender Stratocaster (joke). Magid even published the pope's vatican email address (no joke).

Magid writes well and knowledgeably about such things. However, coming so soon after death, his column seems off--as if pressured by the force of breaking news. Interestingly, the article mentions that the church is searching for a Patron Saint for the internet and computers. Is it possible that Magid was making a case for the position?

Vatican Mum on Supervisor's Suggestions

The Pope's death has moved mostly to inside pages with the exception of San Mateo County supervisor Mike Nevin's statements--"This pope brought good will over the world in his papacy. But he's pretty conservative for me". Nevin goes on to say that he would like to see a more humanistic approach, specifically regarding celibacy and the ordination of women. Not being a Catholic myself I'll leave it to Nevin to to make those judgments--except to note that it seems Nevin is holding back. Is he saying that the only thing that causes him to back off supporting Pope John II is because this pope maintained the longstanding policy of the Catholic church? For whatever reason Nevin doesn't want to say what those other humanistic values are but it could include this as opposed to this. The article concludes by introducing a thought that I hadn't encountered previously. "Nevin described the pope as the church's spiritual leader, and dismissed any notions of doing away with the the role of pope." I never heard anyone suggest that before.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope Spec

Strong coverage of the death of John Paul II today. I especially enjoyed Diana Diamond's first person account of meeting this pope in 1987 during his visit to San Francisco. Speculation on who is likely to become the next pope continues on page 6, "Cardinals will soon chose the next pope". Included is a handy chart showing the top six as well some brief personal information. Of those, Austian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn is identified as being born in 1945 making him 58, however the accompaning article says he is 69 years-old possibly making him a man for all seasons. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi is described as "not well travelled" and "some critics believe he could impose too strong an Italian outlook"--what, in heaven's name, does that mean? Not listed in the chart but mentioned in the article is Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels who I assume has no connection to this.

(Correction: After pointing out the different ages given to Cardinal Schoenborn I too messed this up. If he was born January 22, 1945 he would be 60 years-old.)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Holiday From Hate

Pope John Paul II has died and along with that event comes a period of respectful reflection even at our humble local paper. Comments will be solicited expressing deep affection for the holy see that will seem to convey a respect that comes only in death. Most assuredly that period will end because this Pope, Karol Wojtyla, was generally disliked by the working press and their target audience of like-minded readers.

He is described as very conservative, right wing and not respectful of other voices--not that they respected his, mind you. His views on social issues ranging from right to life to personal morality was an unwelcome challenge. Ask those in the news business and they will claim no bias--only the bias of presenting the news fairly. Self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate--especially in matters of religion. Selections from recent Palo Alto Daily News issues make that point:
  • "The religious right and their friends in Congress are quick to come to the aid of Terri Schiavo along with unborn fetuses, but where are they when it comes to the millions of children who are living in dangerous conditions?"--Larry Magid, March 21st column
  • "The fundamentalist Christians controlling the GOP have moved another step toward their goal of forcing an ultra conservative Christian theocracy upon the nation. This is as despicable as the Taliban imposing extreme provisions of Islamic (Shariah) law in Muslim countries--Robert B. Burns, Mountain View, March 23rd letter to the editor
  • "Ashley Smith, the 26 year old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God's messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren's bestseller, "The Purpose Driven Life." But if she's speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the Church council president arrested in Wichita's B.T.K. serial killer case?"--Frank Rich, March 28th column
  • "But it is also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group and wield great political influence."--Paul Krugman, March 29th column
  • "We should demand that Congress stop grandstanding in behalf of extremist religious groups and start protecting true moral values."--Rachelle Marshall, Stanford, March 3oth letter to the editor
  • "The fanatics that come in the name of religion trouble me the most."--Toni M. Villa, Mountain View, April 1st letter to the editor

The period of mourning will end followed by the usual editorial policy of allowing free voice to nearly any ill-tempered anti-religious bigotry. Rest in peace Pope John Paul II.

Blotter Paper

  • Los Altos-Tuesday, 800 block of Fremont Ave., 8:48 a.m.: Someone was taken to the hospital for a 72 hour mental evaluation. (Come to think of it has anyone seen King Lear lately?)
  • Palo Alto-Tuesday, 700 block of Homer Ave., 2:44 p.m. Someone was taken to the Valley Medical Center for a 72 hour mental evaluation. (Ditto Victor Frost.)
  • Palo Alto-Tuesday, Police Station, 6:15 p.m.: A 59 year-old Menlo Park woman was given a notice to appear in court for an outstanding Palo Alto warrant. (Civic pride is a thing to behold.)

Money Down the Drain

Letter writer Dick Alexander makes good points on what seems to be a management heavy Palo Alto government payroll and a proposed tax increase designed to address storm drain back-ups. Upward mobility is an ideal that seems to have reached near perfection in these parts. In Palo Alto out of 800 city employees 300 are management. To that add salaries tipping $100,000 for 150 of these managers as well as generous holidays and assorted other non-work days. Thoughtfully, Alexander provides the solution; Tightening management and zero-base budgeting. Respectfully, I would like to offer an alternative--make everyone management and deploy them without regard to title to handle storm drain issues with their executive leaf rakes.

Friday, April 01, 2005

World at Peace

According to a page 5 story, the Raging Grannies are staging a protest outside of a local Ford dealer. The above photo captures a participant in the act of monkey wrenching a 1923 Apperson Jack Rabbit. Seems the Grannies want more hybrid and electric cars. I'll take that as a sign that all is right with the world.

The Carpal Tunnel

According to an page 1 article, after spending $3.4 million, including $722,000 spent on a pre-construction study, the new bicycle tunnel at Homer and Alma in Palo Alto has created a new hazzard; one pedestrian was nearly run over by a cyclist. All of which makes the $250,000 grant for the tunnel from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation seem like a clever way to drum up additional business. But now we're asked to consider ways to prevent such accidents, including further construction. Wouldn't a mirror and sign solve the occasional problem? Maybe that could even be paid for by asking for a return of some of the funds spent on the flawed study.