Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Unhappiest Place on Earth (my column in the Daily)

If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth then this must be the anti-Disneyland. For people of my vintage and origin—59 and Illinois—California represented a charmed destination bestowed upon the few. Sun, surf and the near absence of winter seemed unreal, but then Walt Disney decided to rub it in. Week by week we tuned into one of the three available channels to witness Disney’s construction of his namesake amusement park. Could life get any better than this?

Then came graduation from high school and its consequences. In those days the draft was in effect, every 18 year old boy knew that he had to confront the escalating conflict in Vietnam. I joined the Navy. Upon learning that I would be sent to Alameda, California I was delighted at my good fortune. We were at war—life was good. I vowed to return as a civilian and did so a few years later. As Robert Frost would say about taking the road less traveled, “And that has made all the difference”.

Last week my daughter graduated from Menlo-Atherton high school. The outdoor ceremony in the rain more resembled springtime in my Illinois hometown than what Californian’s have come to expect. Still, the weather didn’t dampen the joyful mood—until the student speeches began. The graduates and assembled families were forced to listen to joyless messages of hurt, hate and oppression. Victim-hood was the school mascot and it ran up and down the football field. One complained about restroom cleanliness, another about how her Canadian heritage was held against her and others held unnamed students and administration to account for slights and racism. Little was said about the joy of accomplishment or words of encouragement for fellow graduates. The personal and petulant were somehow seen as befitting the occasion.

Reflecting on my expectations for what would be appropriate to say on the occasion I began to wonder how we got to this point where a top rated school in a desirable community breeds such bitterness. Speakers were chosen by a committee of faculty and staff from whoever wished to tryout. Remember the revered role of the class valedictorian? Neither does Menlo-Atherton High School. You have to wonder if adult supervision might have been in order. Guidance used to imply more than how to negotiate complex college applications.

Adolescent angst has been prime material for countless songs, movies and books. What’s interesting is the disconnect between displeasure and reasons for having it. Although the country is at war, as the Marine color guard at the graduation reminded us, serving in the military is entirely optional. A greater portion of students will go on with their educations than ever before. Society, while imperfect, has never been as accommodating to difference. Listening to contemporary music you’d think the opposite were true. Reflecting on school reading lists going as far back as middle school is to believe that virtue is a conspiracy. Book after book was assigned that questioned parents, doubted society and wallowed in failure. About the only thing without fault was the message being sent to our next generation.

Over the past few months Governor Schwartzenegger and the California Teachers Union have been at loggerheads over the state’s budget. In these situations tempers can and do get out of hand, and yet, I don’t recall a similar level of vitriol being expressed by those who teach and model behavior for students. Reading their signs creates an impression counter to what a parent would want in their children’s teachers

Recently, a group of self-described anarchists decended on University Avenue in Palo Alto. They were assembled for good nihilistic reasons. According the Anarchist Action website "Every aspect of our lives is beyond our control. From where we work to where we sleep, when we go to school and where we play, outside forces dominate our environment, and our lives become repetitions of the same meaningless nothing.”

Marlon Brando played a member of The Rebels motorcycle gang in the 1953 movie The Wild One. In it someone calls out to Brando’s character “Johnny, what are your rebelling against” Brando responds “What d’ya got?” Fearing anti-social behavior, the movie was banned in England for 14 years and was cause for concern in this country as well. As silly as that sounds in this day and age, it does tell us how we once concerned ourselves with civility and virtuous conduct. Until we reserve complaints for genuine problems instead of manufactured ones, California high schools seem headed towards the title “unhappiest place on earth”.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

How the Palo Alto Brain Works

  • According the Sunday's Daily News, "Ilona Konevski, mother of one of the protest organizers was at the scene to make sure her own son did not get arrested." How humiliating. Having lost the struggle to control her child, she turns attention to controlling the police.
  • A group of high school aged girls attended the march and were noticeably taunting police. At one point they sat in the middle of University Avenue inviting confrontation. A reporter asked the girls if they were concerned about being arrested. The response reveals a surprising level of naivete; "Look at these faces...These are young female minors. They are not going to arrest us." Can we get a title IX ruling on that?
  • In response to last May's anarchist march that got out of hand the Palo Alto police department brought in police from around the area to keep the peace. No arrests were made, no violence and no injury--except for someone who was pepper sprayed to avoid spooking a mounted officer's horse. Police made no attempt to prevent people from marching or speaking. So all is well that ends well right? Not according to one resident, "It's so over the don't need horses and tear gas." Another said, "I don't feel protected, I feel intimidated (by the police). It's an overwhelming force." Forgetting that the point of having police is to prevent trouble, not having to round up more officers after the situation is out of hand.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Capitalist Couple

Capitalist Couple, originally uploaded by menlo.

This couple, promoting a pro-capitalist message with a spoof on the idea of capitalist devils, marched every step with the anarchists.

Recording Helicopters Overhead

Recording Helicopters, originally uploaded by menlo.

This guy was doing a running commentary about the events as helicopters hovering overhead bullhorned the order to disperse. By raising the mic 18" higher he was able to obtain much better sound quality.

Palo Alto Mayor

Palo Alto Mayor, originally uploaded by menlo.

Palo Alto mayor Jim Burch enjoying a relaxing moment listening to a shrill screed.

Fake Blood

Fake Blood, originally uploaded by menlo.

Slow day for being beaten so he had to add some fake blood.

Police Confront Anarchists

Police Confront Anarchists, originally uploaded by menlo.

Pony rides for protesters...who's next?

Leading the March

Leading the March, originally uploaded by menlo.

I'm conditioned by old cowboy movies to think of people who wear bandanas as the guys you root against.

ET (extra therapy)

ET (extra therapy), originally uploaded by menlo.

The serious message has a way of getting lost when stuffed movie collectibles are involved.

Baby Faced Hater

Baby Faced Hater, originally uploaded by menlo.

Didn't realize that sporting goods stores now have a 'protester department'.

Guarding Cheesecake Factory

Guarding Cheesecake Factory, originally uploaded by menlo.

What? Anarchists can't eat in Palo Alto.

Never Comply

Never Comply, originally uploaded by menlo.

Hard life soon to follow.

Fashion Faux Pas

Fashion Faux Pas, originally uploaded by menlo.

She missed the email about dressing in black.

Turning on to University Ave.

Turning on to University Ave., originally uploaded by menlo.

Don't tell them, but there isn't actually a 'war machine'. It's lots of people using lots of different machines. But we understand the desire to keep it simple for simple people.

San Jose Police Horse Patrol

San Jose Police Horse Patrol, originally uploaded by menlo.

Multiple Message Man

Multiple Message Man, originally uploaded by menlo.

When you can't focus on a message this is what it looks like.

Uncle Sam the Anti-Semite Man

Uncle Sam the Anti-Semite, originally uploaded by menlo.

These protest groups tend to cast a wide net. In this case a guy dressed as Uncle Sam. Probably not an anarchist since he avoided wearing black and was of a certain age.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Apology You Didn't Hear

The Daily News has in the past reported charges made about national figures Justice Scalia, Tom DeLay and Trent Lott. Frequently these receive prominent display in the paper befitting serious concern. When similar charges are made against prominent Democrats the Daily News can't find space in their paper to tell that story. The pattern is repeated over and over.

Recently, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois compared treatment of detainees at the US Military base in Guantanamo Cuba to actions by Nazi's and the killing fields of Pol Pot's Cambodia. These remarks were supported by Democrat leadership but denounced by the White House and various Republican legislators. Censuring Durbin for his remarks was being considered while Durbin continued to defend himself. On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daily said of Durbin, "He is a good friend of mine, but I think it is a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military acts like that. Read the history of the Holocaust...Nothing can compare with the Holocaust...It is so disrespectful for all the victims of the Holocaust." Suddenly everything changed and Durban was back on the floor of the senate issuing an apology while leaving his defenders with egg on their faces. Unlike other national political stories the Daily News didn't report this controversy, so it shouldn't surprise anyone when they also failed to report the apology of the Senate's second ranking Democrat.

Today the Daily News reports on remarks by Karl Rove that cast liberals in a bad light. Democrats reacting to the story, and assuming that liberal is synonymous with Democrat, denounced the comments and called on the Republicans for an apology and/or resignation. Still ignoring Dick Durbin's apology however.

Change is Good

Change is good, in fact, while out walking the dog last night I found a good chunk of change. (If you think it's yours contact me.) I've also enjoyed the change that came from my decision not to make daily posts on this blog. Recent activities may cause me to change back to more frequent activity. The Daily News very kindly asked me to consider writing occasional opinion pieces for the paper. I submitted the first one yesterday. After they publish it I will post it here and invite your comments.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sanity and Pleasure

You've got to hand it to the press; writing, editing and tracking stories only to do it all over tomorrow is like living on a treadmill. I seriously don't know how they maintain sanity. (Perhaps the answer is hidden in the comment.) Not posting regularly while doing other things has been very pleasurable. I've put out a call for other locals to follow my lead--without response. This might be the time to follow that lead instead.