Saturday, December 29, 2007

A City Council irony

On Friday, the Press published to the Web a story about Councilwoman Irene Sundberg's association with a group that opposed the Schulte Road sports park. Of course, it's no surprise that Sundberg would join the group — we all knew she was staunchly against that site. And, as she pointed out in the article, she didn't exactly stand to benefit financially from the group's actions or from her vote. Her association was even vetted by the city attorney's office.

Now take this excerpt about Mayor Brent Ives' reaction.
Mayor Brent Ives said that he has seen no evidence that Sundberg would receive any money from the case. He did say that given the controversial nature of the project he would want assurance that all council votes are legitimate.
“Rather that leave the community guessing, it would be prudent to get it straight with the Fair Political Practices Commission,” he said.
Remember, it was Ives who was in murky waters with the FPPC regarding his work as a private consultant for many firms in and around Tracy, many of whom have official business with the city and the council.

Ironic indeed.

• Note to readers: Jon will be out of the office until Jan. 2 on a holiday ski trip. Give him a nice stack of e-mail to sort through over his break to And have a happy and safe New Year's.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Extremely badly, very badly, or really badly: How will the assassination of Benazir Bhutto affect the just-around-the-corner Pakistani elections?

• I'm guessing extremely badly: The last thing Pakistan needed was the murder of an inspirational leader who believed in the power of democracy.

• At least we can say "At least it's not Pakistan": Our candidates for president might not be a popular group, but they're probably not going to attract a homegrown suicide attack. (Let's hope.)

• Because Christmas should never involve running from a tiger: The San Francisco Zoo.

• Guess these priests missed the memo about "peace on earth, good will to all men": Police even had to break up the brawl.

• Thank God for small favors: It might be arbitrary, but the New Year is upon us. Which means we get a chance to actually get it right. Or screw up all over again. As usual.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "A new year... a fresh, clean start!" "It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!" "A day full of possibilities!" "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy... Let's go exploring!"

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hawkins bounces back

While moonlighting as a sports reporter Wednesday night (Chris Roberts is on vacation), I saw something special at the West High gym — Tom Hawkins, standing next to the court talking with fellow Breakfast Lions.

It's usual for Hawkins to attend at least a few games of the Tom Hawkins/Tracy Breakfast Lions Tournament, which was named in his honor. But this year, it took a bit of an extra effort.

Press publisher emeritus Sam Matthews reported several weeks ago that Hawkins was ill. He told me that Hawkins had congestive heart failure and his kidney function was touch-and-go.

But Hawkins bounced back for at least the first-round games of the Tracy and West high varsity girls basketball teams.

Photographer Enrique Gutierrez told me how Hawkins explained his presence just a short while after such serious complications: Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Downtown Tracy Fight Club

If you're a regular Joe, you might want to steer clear of Gillett Alley. If you're a police officer, you might want to visit a tad more often.

There's an empty lot on the corner of Gillett and A Street that's become a hangout for folks with nothing else to do. And the scene of numerous fights and other disturbances. There have been, of late, numerous reports of fights there between armed, angry groups of teenagers, one sighted and immediately called in to police by yours truly. (It didn't seem wise to rush in alone, as there were plenty of guys with sticks looking for something to hit.)

For now, I'm calling the barren spot the "Downtown Tracy Fight Club." No rules, except that it's every goon for himself. But it'd be nice if the police take an extra turn refereeing now and then.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

One final thought for Christmas

"Christmas is not about giving perfection — it is about receiving love. That is true, theologically and traditionally. It doesn’t matter what you know about Christmas. What matters is how you accept the gift of peace on earth and new life for a new year."

~ Courtesy of the esteemed Mike McLellan

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Eve...

"On window panes, the icy frost
Leaves feathered patterns, crissed & crossed,
But in our house the christmas tree
Is decorated festively
With tiny dots of colored light
That cozy up this winter night.
Christmas songs, familiar, slow,
Play softly on the radio.
Pops and isses from the fire
Whistle with the bells and choir.
My tiger is now fast asleep
On his back and dreaming deep.
When the fire makes him hot,
He turns to warm whatever's not.
Propped against him on the rug,
I give my friend a gentle hug.
Tomorrow's what I'm waiting for,
But I can wait a little more."

~ Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes)

Episcopal response

In preparation for my Dec. 21 column about the Episcopal schism in the San Joaquin Valley, I called our local St. Mark's for help. They referred me to the Rev. Bill Gandenberger, who shared these thoughts via e-mail about the split:

First of all, I was wondering how this decision will affect the average, everyday worshipper at St. Mark's (or at any of the churches). Will the normal churchgoer notice, or will it change their experience?
Our intention is that there should not be significant changes noticeable to the average everyday worshippers within our churches because of the action of our convention to realign with a different province of the Anglican Communion. Our people will have the same styles of worship, the same Book of Common Prayer, the same hymnals and newsletters, etc. As I have said before to some of our churches and to other reporters, "Look around. What has changed?" The most noticeable change, and one given as a direction to our churches by Bishop John-David Schofield in his Pastoral Letter of Dec. 16, is that we are now to include our Archbishop Gregory Venables to the Prayers of the People during our worship services.
[Here's the Web site for more information.]

Second, what message does the church intend the decision to send? Or, is this a move that was made purely because of a moral decision within the church leadership and isn't intended to make a "statement" at all? Do you hope others to follow the church's lead?
Your readers may not be aware that 60 percent of the other Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion [22 out of 37] have impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church because of actions it has taken, which have caused scandal or difficulty to other parts of the world. The purpose of Dec. 8th’s vote at our convention, therefore, was not to change anything within the diocese but quite to the contrary. With the status of the Episcopal Church’s membership in the Anglican Communion looking more and more precarious, the people of San Joaquin simply wanted to remain what we have always been, namely Anglican. The Province of the Southern Cone of South America offered us the ability confirm our positive status and to be in full communion with the rest of the Churches in the Anglican Communion immediately and freedom to proclaim the great news of Jesus Christ boldly and without compromise caused by confusion in the Episcopal Church.

Also, who had a say in the decision? I understand that a final vote was taken, but must admit I'd like a more specific idea as to who voted and how it was decided as to who would vote.
Every Church in our diocese sends delegates who are elected at annual meeting of each church. Ordained clergy in our diocese also vote. We have to assume that these issues were openly discussed at each church prior to the Convention.

Finally, in regards to criticism of the split with the American body, many people have remarked that this decision is a divisive one that overlooks Christ's message of inclusiveness and repeated Gospel passages of him reaching out to the marginalized, outcast, etc. How does the San Joaquin church respond to this?
To be clear, we are teaching and believing what we have always taught and believed —from our perspective it is the leadership of the Episcopal Church that is bent on breaking away from mainstream, biblical Christianity. We are simply choosing not to follow them. We continue to reach out to the marginalized and the outcasts as Christ himself did and as he commanded, but we do so not to affirm their current situation or personal choice of lifestyle, but to be part of their transformation in Christ that the Lord desires. We reach out to offer hope and freedom through Jesus Christ because we all want that for ourselves too. The Great Commandment in the Bible is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves and that is what we intend to do as earnest Christians who happen to live out their lives as part of the Anglican tradition.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The split that wouldn't stop

In response to a few who've wondered about how "historical context" matters to the Bible (in relation to my Dec. 21 column) — they ask if the Bible is supposed to mean different things at different points in history.

Well, no. And yes.

While the meaning intended by Biblical writers has not changed over the centuries, the meaning readers absorb from those passages has. Modern readers pore over the Bible with their own perspectives and prejudices (not to mention a bank of human knowledge that Ezekiel couldn't fathom).

So without knowing the historical context of the writers (and the society, mores and norms that influenced their metaphors and allusions) we can't possibly hope to understand their verses and chapters. Reading the Bible outside that context leads folks like you and me to pull out a much different meaning than what the writers put in.

Adding that key component makes the task of unraveling scripture less simple, to be sure. But we're gifted with brains. It'd be a shame to waste them.

Of course, the whole thing's moot if you believe the writers were merely metaphysical hand puppets. But besides trampling sticky concepts like free will, that's just creepy.

Friday random thoughts

• If you think the roads are crowded now: The total population of San Joaquin County as of July 1 was 680,183. Stockton's new growth plan puts the city at a population of close to 550,000 by 2035. That is pretty scary math.

• Time to grab your front-row seats: The 2008 Tracy mayoral election between Brent Ives, Celeste Garamendi and Evelyn Tolbert (not assured but overwhelmingly likely) promises to be a barnburner. Literally. Someone might get set on fire.

• Why the moral high ground is so important: Stories of extremist torture chambers in Iraq are chilling reminders of the people we're fighting, and they make you wonder what kind of person would endorse such tactics. Oh yeah, people like this. And this. And, though he's officially on the fence, like this.

• Hide the vodka — 49ers fans have one less thing to cheer for: Bryant Young, the last active member of SF's 1994 Super Bowl winning team and quite possibly the classiest guy to ever wear Gold and Crimson, will probably hang it up after the team's dissapointing 2007.

• Suzanne Tucker's newest protege: SF Mayor Gavin Newsom said he was in touch with many folks following the oil spill in the bay. Of course, he won't let us see that correspondence, because it was on a "personal" cell phone. Maybe he was texting his newest mistress?

• The sad thing is, we proably need it: Some fear the Schulte Road land will now revert to federal hands and become a prison.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Hey, yeah, I did something GOOD! We're talking jackpot! We're talking multiple trips from the pole to haul it all!" "Your selflessness is the hope of the season."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A subprime solution

The governator and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson visited Stockton this week with a few words of encouragement for those facing foreclosure: ride it out.

Not exactly what folks were looking for. But really, what else is there to do?

Congress and the government can take on predatory lenders for the good of the economy — folks who were in business actively deceiving and fleecing buyers don't deserve to be in business any longer. But a bail-out for Average Joe or Average Corporation doesn't seem like good business.

I hate to be heartless here, but the subprime mortages were business ventures that came with inherent risk. It's like the stock market. If I sink $5,000 into a company and it goes belly-up, I'm not entitled to government compensation for my poor investment. (And if I was willfully swindled by that company, it's the company, not the government, who owes me compensation.)

The same principle applies to the mortgage meltdown. This is the predictable outcome of people entering into loan agreements which they couldn't possibly live up to. To punish lenders — or taxpayers — for the good-faith bad business decisions of these homeowners makes no sense whatsoever.

To bail out the corporations who bundled these risky mortages as investment vehicles would be even worse. That's rewarding high rollers for making edge-of-the-knife decisions that are likely to go bad. What's to prevent them from repeating the practice when Uncle Sam's waiting with another check? These financial "gurus" knew what they were doing. Their crocodile tears don't impress me.

I believe the government should help people, and I believe in a fair playing field. But this is one instance in which government help will ultimately hurt. My heart goes out to all the people facing the loss of a home. But the government shouldn't be responsible for covering a risky bet that both borrowers and lenders lost.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Police scanner item of the night

"A Moons Over My Hammy and a hot chocolate."

And Tracy's Denny's was safe for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No winners in sports park battle

Here I thought the Schulte Road sports park was a done deal. (The proof, sadly, exists here. I swear, I never wrote that.) Silly me.

Tuesday, the City Council proved me wrong, when Evelyn Tolbert joined Irene Sundberg and Steve Abercrombie in rejecting the construction contract for the park. It surprised me. But it probably shouldn't have.

Tolbert was the obvious swing vote coming into Tuesday's meeting, and she swung on the side of the folks who said, "Who cares about the pipelines — this park just doesn't make sense." It was a common-sense vote from a politician who prides herself on common sense.

But the troublesome fact remains that in this battle, there were no real winners.

The push to put the sports fields at Schulte Road was misguided from the start. It was a crappy location for a bunch of children to play at, as noted (in nicer terms) by many at Tuesday's council meeting. But the campaign steamrolled ahead. Supporters poured themselves into it, and others poured themselves into its opposition. And for several years, nothing got accomplished except posturing and bickering.

Now, the council has decided what many did a long time ago — that the Schule Road site didn't fit the needs of the community. Not a bad decision, but such a "victory" should leave us feeling hollow.

After all that energy, time and money spent, after all the animostiy and emnity generated, we're at Square One when it comes to building places for young athletes to play.

Hopefully, we've learned from this mess and will make a better go of it the next time around. And there's no time to waste in getting started.

Break out the umbrellas

It rained here early today, but for those not attached to the Weather Channel, more's on the way.

I spent the better part of two hours driving through heavy rain in the Rustbucket today as I headed in to work from Santa Cruz. It's on its way here. And then, hopefully, to the mountains to shore up a snowpack that we desperately need for summer water supplies (not to mention skiing).

So be careful out there as the rain continues.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas lists worth sharing

Most of the Letters to Santa the Tracy Press has received from local kids have been the usual — dolls, video games, etc. A few, though, ask for much less, and much more at the same time.

I thought this one, in particular, was from a kid who really deserves her Christmas wish to come true.

"Dear Santa.
"I want a puppy for Christmas beause sometimes I am very lonely. Even though it takes a lot of responsibility, at least I would no longer be lonely. If my wish comes true, I will still not forget my other responsibilities. If I don't get a puppy, I'll try harder next time.
"I think it's cool that you know when I'm sleeping or awake. Even though I've become older, I will still believe in you no matter what. You rock Santa Claus! I wish I could go to the North Pole to see your factory and everything!
"Sincerely, Bianca ~ Bethany Elementary fourth-grader"

Santa, if you're listening, please bring Bianca a puppy.

Friday random thoughts...

• Look on the sunny side ...: If the Schulte Road site for a sports park is abandoned, let's turn as much of it as legally possible into a solar farm.

• ... And take a walk on the wild side: The rest of it could be used as a wildlands park, much the same as Oak Park off 8 Mile Road north of Stockton.

• Finally put the money where his mouth is: Al Gore.

• Should we blame the journalists again? Without the dedicated, investigative work of two reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle, it's quite possible baseball's steroid addiction never would have been brought to light.

• After much ado, they return to find that they're out of a job altogether: Except for the reruns of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," I'd never have noticed Hollywood writers are on strike. Maybe TV really isn't that important, after all.

• Christmas consumerism watch: 6 gifts for 10 subjects. I'm looking good headed into the home stretch.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baseball's bombshell — close to home?

Villainry most vile!

It's the sound of the Mitchell Steroids in Baseball Report hitting the airwaves, naming baseball players who've taken banned substances to boost their performance on the field. But the reaction, so far, has been pretty lame.

First, anyone who didn't think tiny Marvin Bernard (formerly of your San Francisco Giants), let alone Mark McGuire or Roger Clemens, wasn't on juice wasn't paying attention. So the righteous indignation should be directed to the image in the mirror — that's where the tacit support came from. And yes, I cheered on Barry Bonds just like every other guy who bleeds Orange and Black.

Secondly, who can blame these guys for trying to gain an edge when there was no testing in Major League Baseball? Belive me, if there were some sort of substance I could take to improve my job performance, I'd be sorely tempted. *takes long sip of coffee*

No, this report should only be troubling because it shows just how prevalent abuse of hormones and drugs is in sports. And you can be sure it's trickled down. Even to high school.

In any community where prep sports are big, you'll find rumors, hints, suggestions about who's taking what to be bigger, faster, stronger. Just like the pros, because the competitive spirit is the same.

We need to look at our own athletes, coaches and sports programs to see if any of the problems that MLB turned a blind eye to are also getting a free pass right here at home. Not to condemn the kids. Not to turn them into miniature scapegoats like Bonds. But to help them.

We will hopefully find that none of that is going on in Tracy, because the stories of young men and women sharpening their minds and bodies through dedication and hard work deserve to be recognized as such. But that self-examination is necessary.

We need to take the next step. And that step is focusing the spotlight on ourselves and our community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Feeding the monster to the north

Seems like some folks just don't learn.

Fresh off a suburban building orgy in the 1990s, Stockton is set to do it again. This week it adopted a growth plan that would see its population double by 2035. That means more than 550,000 people living in Stockton in another 30 years.


That means thousands of acres of land will be gobbled up by concrete and tract homes. That means more strain on social services in a region of the nation already hard-hit by poverty and crime. That means a likely merging of Stockton and Lodi to the north, and a possible merging of Stockton and Lathrop to the south.

Say hello to the future of the valley -- where cities bleed into one another, traffic jams are part of life, and infrastructure groans under the increased burden.

Why the folks to our north think this is a good growth model is beyond me. There are hundreds of examples up and down the state that should have given city planners pause for thought. But it looks like sensible planning was jettisoned for a blueprint that gets developers work and gets the city more fees.

And San Joaquin County residents get sold out. Again.

Nonprofit status

Let Children Play Now, depending on what type of nonprofit they set up, might not be able to actively campaign in the upcoming election. Which could make yesterday's supposition irrelevant (see below), although it's still, in my opinion, a spirited read.

If LCPN chooses to become a 501(c)3, the most popular type of nonprofit under federal code, using its funds for lobbying purposes could be difficult, if not illegal. According to a local expert on nonprofit business and accounting, they could still engage in "educational" effort. But these activities would have to be reported to the government during tax time, as nonprofits are supposed to operate "pretty much above board."

It will be interesting to see how this group organizes itself, what classification it files taxes under and who is on the board of directors. Not to mention where its funding comes from, if it has any at all.

Regardless of what happens, LCPN play to become a bigger player in the local political landscape could have quite an impact (or, depending on its funding and organization, absolutely none at all). Welcome to the Tracy exurban jungle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And they keep on playing

I asked in last week's column where Let Children Play Now went to. We got a response.

One of the group's organizers sent in a letter to the Tracy Press. The letter makes clear the intent of the group to form as a nonprofit organization, characterized in the letter as an extention of the drive to get a sports park built on Schulte Road come hell or highwater.

The group's nonprofit standing (depending on what type of nonprofit they file for) could add a new wrinkle to the upcoming Tracy mayoral election between generally pro-growth Mayor Brent Ives and slow-growth advocate Celeste Garamendi. As a nonprofit, Let Children Play Now would be free to funnel as much cash into the election as it wanted — as long as it was not "coordinated" with any specific candidate's campaign.

Any bets on if the group donates?

Let Children Play Now received support from one of the developers offering sports facilities in exchange for guaranteed building rights. Aside from being trade bait to secure a future payday, the sports parks were beneficial to the builders in and of themselves — they're serious amenities that would be located near or in the proposed Ellis and Tracy Hills developments.

Remember that Garamendi has been an outspoken critic of these plans. And despite her loss in the 2006 mayoral election, she and her political allies have continued their work to convince the City Council that the deals (and at times the developments themselves) were bad for the city and that the Schulte Road location is not the best option for a sports park. Now that she's running again against Ives, who consistently backed the developer agreements, the developers' projects and the sports parks, you can bet the groups with vested interests in the success of the developments will come after her just like in 2006, when Ives was the beneficiary of a concerted ad blitz against Garamendi.

Now developers have another way to insert their will into the campaign. And the middle man could be an independent nonprofit that they helped get off the ground in the first place.

This, of course, is speculation. But the connection is there, and so is the possibility. The question is, will it become reality?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sporks park saga continued

In my Dec. 7 column, I related how Councilman Steve Abercrombie had already made up his mind regarding a vote on the Schulte Road Sports Park.

No mistake there.

But since the column ran, the councilman has evidently been deluged with phone calls by folks wondering why he's voting in favor of the plan. That part wasn't in the column, but evidently people drew their own conclusions from the following graphs:

The drive culminated with Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker’s Nov. 6 exhortation to move up the vote to the Dec. 4 meeting — those worried about the safety of the Schulte Road location had experts lined up to attend the Dec. 18 affair.

But it’s a moot point. Councilman Steve Abercrombie said Nov. 6 he already knows what his decision will be. Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert agreed to move up the meeting to give the community “a resolution.” Tucker said the council has had enough community input: “We’ve heard enough from the community. … We want input from staff.”

To clarify, Abercrombie told me he plans to vote against the sports park in its current form. Want to know why? Check out the Dec. 14 Second Thoughts.

Oh, and Abercrombie also happens to be a really nice guy.

Friday random thoughts...

• 66 years ago: In remembrance of Pearl Harbor.

• Please, put away that sword: Even if the National Intelligence Estimate is faulty (remember that whole Iraq WMD business?) President Bush and all the other blowhard war-hawks should shelve the rhetoric. Military action against Iran is a very, very, very bad idea.

• A short (and by no means comprehensive) list why it's a very, very, very bad idea: It would send oil prices through the roof. The military would break if we invaded — and a draft would be necessary. It would alienate our few remaining allies in the region (excepting Israel). And, worst of all, it would galvanize support for radicals like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who really isn't all that popular with his people.

• Beware the intrinsic contradiction: Mitt "Made for TV" Romney said in his faith speech that "We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny." Ironic, seeing as how many of the voters he's trying to woo would like nothing more than to make the U.S. a Christian theocracy.

• Let me be the lowest bidder: For significantly less than the $1.2 million California will spend to build a Delta smelt refuge, I promise to buy a couple of high-quality fish tanks and make the little guys my personal pets.

• The journalist costs WHAT? Good thing no one rounded up any Tracy Press folks for the Brighter Christmas jail and bail. As one of my colleagues said, we'd still be out there.

• The weekly Christmas consumption watch: My total shopping bounty = 2 presents for 10 subjects. Retailers are weeping. I'd better step it up.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Tis the season to advertise."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Truism of the week

"Your character is revealed by how you act when no one but you will ever know what you did."
- Gregg Easterbrook,

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fuel efficiency boom's a bust

The House votes today to "dramatically" improve the fuel-efficiency of U.S. cars.

This legislation promises that by 2020 U.S. auto fleets must achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon. It also stipulates that electric industries will get 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020, and strips $21 billion of oil industry tax breaks.

Sounds good, so why the dramatic in quotation marks? The legislation only sets the end-time deadline, so Detroit automakers could stall for another 12 years and improve fuel efficiency in 2020. Also, the time lapse between the bill being signed and the standards being enacted allows auto and energy companies to appeal the standards, apply for waivers, and basically shirk the standards altogether.

Why not enact something that begins raising fuel standards incrementally in 2008? Your guess is as good as mine, but as a national commentator wrote Tuesday: politicians like to claim huge success without actually achieving anything.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Hanukkah

The eight-day Jewish celebration began at sundown today. Typically engulfed by its outsized younger sibling, Christmas, most folks don't know much about Hanukkah besides dradles and menorahs. So here's the holiday's history.

Here's to eight crazy nights.

Finally, a little bit of wet

For only the third time since June, Tracy saw rain.

We got 0.10 inches of rain between Monday night and Tuesday morning (I know, I checked the Tracy Press rain guage at 5:03 p.m.). With our mini-drought, of course, we need more.

Alas, ranting and raving about the need for rain won't do much good. Talking to the TUSD board about getting the proper name on the Tracy and West football fields, that a newspaper man can do. But who do you berate to get more showers? I have a feeling the Big Guy Upstairs doesn't appreciate demands from earth-bound desk jockeys.

So, I guess there's nothing to do but wait patiently, with the skis set firmly in the furthest reaches of my closet. Unless, that is, anyone knows a good rain dance.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Can't get enough Abs

Officer Abs — aka Councilman Steve Abercrombie — is hoping to get the City Council a little more face time.

For about $2,000, the five council members can decide Tuesday to put their mugs on the walls of seven different government buildings around Tracy.

One of my colleagues suggested the pictures be hung in the Post Office — you know, where they keep the wanted posters.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

What's in a name? In today's column, I suggested the West High stadium and pool be named after West football coach Steve Lopez and West swim coach Pinkie Phillips. But I'm open to other suggestions. E-mail your thoughts to, or share a comment below.

Out with the old, maybe: The TUSD rules state that existing names of buildings and schools are not to be changed except under extraordinary circumstances. So while the Peter B. Kyne Field moniker is likely to stick at Tracy High, expect the surrounding bleachers to soon be known as "Wayne Schneider Stadium."

• Give me two pints of new blood, stat! Celeste Garamendi and Larry Hite announced this week they'll both be running for City Council. With many people clamoring for a change in governance, it's a promising start to the local campaign season.

As stiff as his hair product: Anyone else catch Mitt "Made for TV" Romney's imitation of a waffle during Wednesday's Republican debate? (It's about 1:34 into the clip.) The indecisive-flavored syrup was especially delicious.

• And the bar stayed open! Despite the ruckus in front of the Shamrock this past Tuesday night, 45 minutes after the brouhaha, the place was still open. Now that's a place I can patronize.

• The weekly Christmas consumption watch: My current shopping bounty = zero presents for 10 subjects. Not a bad start, if I do say so myself.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn't make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? If the guy exists, why doesn't he ever show himself and prove it? And if he doesn't exist, what's the meaning of all this?" "I dunno... Isn't this a religious holiday?" "Yeah, but actually, I've got the same questions about God."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Let the race begin...

Right now, Rep. Jerry McNerney is sitting in the Tracy Press conference room chatting with a reporter and members of the editorial board.

Earlier this year, Dean Andal — likely McNerney's Republican challenger in 2008 — had a similar meeting.

It's a sure sign that the campaign for California's 11th Congressional District is getting into gear.

The most wonderful time of the year

I've decided that this is my favorite time of the year.

The days are crisp and clear, the nights are cold and bracing, and the trees are nature's fireworks on display.

If you haven't been outside lately, the stately trees lining the streets of the city — at least the parts of the city old enough to have trees bigger than saplings — are bursting with a yellow-gold glow that seems to radiate the very warmth of the sun.

It adds a smile to my day (and a worrisome distraction to my drives).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

And now, an act of desperation

Desperation. It's the final act in a president's term, typically coming after the Scandal and Spin Act. It especially is part of the two-term president, when by the last year in office, there's nothing to lose.

The setup, as well as the result, is pretty formulaic.

When a president's political capital is spent, when the approval ratings are circling the drain, when staff members are bailing faster than the rich folks on the Titanic, you can count on one policy announcement — "I'm securing peace in Israel and Palestine."

It's like clockwork. With about a year left in office, all but the most powerful and charismatic presidents know their domestic agendas are going nowhere. Their staffs are disintegrating under the rush to be on the next president's bandwagon. And there's nothing that will be lost after the inevitable failure. The basic logic model: "I've failed at most other stuff, so now I'll tackle this problem."

President Clinton took his turn. Now President Bush the Younger is taking his shot. With 14 months left in office, Bush has invited players in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to resolve their decades-old (some say millenia-old) grievances. No one should be grabbing their head saying: "I never saw this one coming."

It's a worthy goal, to be sure. Hopefully, it works. And Bush would be hailed as a genius for actually getting it done.

In the real world, however, where success is admittedly doubtful, it's nothing more than a political last-ditch effort to secure a legacy that doesn't involve waterboarding. Although, come to think of it, that might be the only way to really get these sides to agree to anything.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Some Christmas shopping sanity: In the face of pressure to push the Yule season closer and closer to the Fourth of July, Nordstroms has stuck by its policy of not putting up any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving.

The memory continues: Some folks noticed that the so-called "Mike Ucci Memorial Pole" in front of West High was replaced, but testimonials are already being written on the new one. No word yet as to what's happening with the old one, but some folks had an idea earlier this year.

• Where are the strings attached? Tracy Hills wants to give Tracy $5 million for a guarantee that the development will go forward as laid out in the general plan. Isn't a guarantee standard practice? And do we really trust money changing hands between the city and developers when so many deals before have proved somewhat shady, or even downright illegal?

Abandon all hope, if you have any left: Those who thought this presidential race might be different from the Swift Boat campaign are probably weeping silently over a bottle of gin.

• Kings of the molehill: For Tracy's youth football players, congratulations on doing something constructive and athletic with your time whether you've lost or won. For Tracy's youth football parents, read this column, and make sure your kids aren't more mature than you.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "(Mom,) want to read my letter to Santa?" "All THAT?!" "I hope I don't forget to ask for something I want." "This is alphabetized." "Yeah, and I cross-indexed the accessory items he'll need to get. I try to help him out." "This says, 'Volume One.'" "'Atom Bomb' through 'Grenade Launcher.'" "You're going to be one sad little kid on Christmas morning."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thankful nation

After my family, friends and health, this is what I'm most thankful for:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Down on the Farm Bill

San Joaquin farmers are probably paying attention to the Senate. The upper house rejected a $286 billion Farm Bill on Friday.

The failure should send the authors back to the drawing board. Not only does the bill focus too little on nutrition programs, food stamps and relief for farmers suffering the wrath of Mother Nature, it gives far too much support to agri-business farms raising crops like soybeans and corn, which don't need hard-earned tax dollars to survive.

Some family farms around our neck of the woods and across the country, however, are a different story. These smaller guys live a tenuous existence.

In 2005, San Joaquin farms received more than $14.9 million from the government in farm subsidies, with D&D Hirsch Family Partnership taking the biggest chunk, at $490,290 (Tracy's biggest, an outfit called Crimson Valley North, claimed $99,168).

That's a far cry from what's claimed by the Midwest big boys — some taking in more annually than San Joaquin County as a whole — that are no more endangered than rats in New York or lobbyists in Washington.

It'd be nice if legislators took this rejection as a chance to strip the largesse from the Farm Bill and make an effort to put the money where it makes the most impact on farmers, not on vote totals.

But with so many farm-country votes on the table during an election year, I'm not optimistic.

Friday random thoughts...

Note to readers: This edition of Random Thoughts goes out to Thursday's Democratic debate. Because what better fodder is there than presidential politics?

• So what's so great about the frontrunners? Look, I like Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards, and Sen. Hillary Clinton's OK. But the others, Biden, Richardson, Kucinich, Dodd, were the stars of the debate.

• Someone's got a sense of humor. Wolf Blitzer: If you aren't nominated, will you support the Democratic nominee? Sen. Joe Biden: Hell no, I wouldn't support any of these guys.

• Ready for a shock? As far as actual issues go, Rep. Dennis Kucinich actually had the best showing Thursday night.

• So, who's Obama's jockey, and who's riding Edwards? I've become increasingly concerned that the post-debate analysis is really just a bunch of folks telling TV viewers who the "winner" was. I thought analysis was supposed to sift through the politikspeak and tell us who said what in everyday terms.

• (For all you Vince Vaughn fans) The five D's of debating: dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge. Obama and Clinton both had their moments.

• If you thought this one was funny. Can't wait to see the Nov. 28 Republican debate.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "You can tell this article's important because it's next to the graph."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Fr. Kelly update

I recently spoke with Fr. Mike Kelly, the priest who once ministered at Tracy's St. Bernard's Catholic Church and is now accused by a former Stockton parishioner of abuse some 20+ years ago.

He said that he thanks his supporters during a very difficult and lonely time and that he intends to fight the accusation against him, which he says is utterly false.

The past month has been, without saying, tough on Fr. Mike, and I'm guessing it will continue to be so. There's no word on where the investigation is going, and things like this tend to be dragged out quite a bit. It could be months before the community — not to mention Fr. Mike and his accuser — receive any closure.

Here's hoping that justice is served. As terrible as it would be for a true victim of molestation to be declared a fraud, it would be just as bad for an innocent man to be thrown under the bus.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday random thoughts ...

Keep your hands off my words. Some folks, like this letter-writer, seem scared to death that "under God" might be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance or "In God we trust" off our currency. I'd say if such things threaten your faith, you probably have more important things to worry about than words on money.

And then, let's beat up the disabled people. Speaking of the above-mentioned letter, who else thinks we should "show minorities ... who's boss"? Sounds like pre-Civil War Southerner talk to me.

Tracy rewards rampant disloyalty! Acting City Manager Maria Hurtado was originally hired by the city about 18 months ago as Parks and Recreation manager with a salary of about $128,000. She left for the city of Santa Cruz in June, but quit that post after seven weeks and returned to Tracy's payroll, where she now earns about $163,000.

• Save money to avoid being blown up. A Japanese company has invented a piggy bank that "blows up" if you don't keep feeding it. I'm not making this up.

• Nah, higher commuter rates don't affect voting. Mountain House became a separate entity with only about 24 percent of the town's registered voters casting ballots. Out of that meager total, about 70 percent voted absentee.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "A philistine on the sidewalk." "Genius is never understood in its own time."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What we're fighting at home

Why are some people in the United States deeply concerned about the Bush administration's consistent attempts to consolidate power in the executive branch? Just look at what's happening in Pakistan.

The "president," Gen. Pervez Musharraf, eliminated a supreme court justice and sent the military to take over the capital, Islamabad, because of a "threat of terrorists."

Musharraf is using the specter of terrorism to seize power and eliminate political enemies who would see a more democratic, less authoritarian, Pakistan.

It sounds oddly familiar to those who have watched President Bush and his cohorts push for warantless wiretapping, secret renditions, and even forms of torture (though we don't call them torture) with the threat of terrorism used as an excuse.

Recall the paraphrased words of Ben Franklin: "Those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither."

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Share your resting places

Attention alert readers!

In this city of on-the-go commuters, I'm looking to find your favorite public resting places.

Whether it's a quiet park bench, a peaceful place under the willow trees on the San Joaquin River, a scenic public square or your local coffee shop veranda, let me know where it is you like to spend a bit of down-time. Especially the ones that most folks seem to overlook.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Anyone who hasn't checked out the Grand Theatre art galleries really should. My stroll through while doing research for today's column was one of the most enjoyable hours I've had in a long time.

• Anyone who still supports the United States' use of waterboarding or who says it isn't torture, read this article from a former Master of the U.S. Navy survival school and then get back to me.

• There's something wrong with the justice system when some people get a third strike for relatively petty crimes and guys like this float in and out of jail for years. At least he's turned himself in for his most recent alleged crime.

• Will we learn from others' lessons?: In California, the land of plenty, water shortages seem like a temporary inconvenience, something that isn't really that serious. For this Tennessee town, it's a very real problem.

• If you believe the retailers, Thursday was the beginning of the Christmas holiday season. Happy shopping.

• Rep. Jerry McNerney is putting forward a much-needed reform to the estate tax -- for all the merits of the estate tax (I believe there are many) it shouldn't punish family farms and businesses. More on this one later.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Well, when you look into infinity, you realize that there are more important things than what people do all day." "We spent our day looking under rocks in the creek." "I mean other people."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Be afraid on Halloween

Top item of Halloween 2007 to come over the Tracy police scanner:

• "Someone in a Michael Myers mask walking around with a real kitchen knife."

This is why I don't mind working the swing shift.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Franklin's follies

Sometimes, it's best to take one's punishment with dignity, especially if there's a pretty clear understanding of guilt. My parents called it "building character."

Seems the Stockton Unified School District doesn't believe in character building.

Franklin High was found to be in violation of more than 50 recruiting rules for enticing players from American Samoa to play for the Yellowjackets football team. So, the state athletic governing committee pulled away three years' worth of wins and said the ineligible players must not play. The Stockton Unified School District instructed the players, under coach Tom Verner, to take the field anyway, and the trio of ineligible Frankling players helped the Jackets crush Tracy High last Friday.

Coach Verner might have his name on the school's football stadium, but that doesn't make him and his team above the rules. So, the school's football program is essentially being disbanded until 2010.

Of course, the district superintendent, Jack McLaughlin, is playing the "we deserve to be treated better" card.

Perhaps the students deserve to be treated better. After all, their coach and district superintendent screwed their chances at playing football for Franklin and, possibly, their chances at playing football beyond high school. But there's no chance in hell the so-called grown-ups — the ones supposedly instilling life lessons in their young charges — are getting any sympathy.

The whole affair is the fault of administrators who broke the rules and then refused to take their just desserts. What a great example they're setting for their students: Cheat. Get caught. Refuse punishment. Continue cheating. Get more severely punished. Whine about it.

Helluva lesson, guys.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Yup, these are my readers...

Alert readers unite! A small unedited sample of my mailbag, because, well, you have to read some of it to believe it.

"people used to get [ermits from the Forestry to cut dead and down trees in the Forrests of california, yet more and more this efficient way of clearing Dead dry wood from forrests is Blocked by Eco-Nazi calif Laws...the result? Tinder-Box conditions that make forrest fires even worse!"
- From Dave Kerst

He gave me an "F" for my analysis, but I wonder what grade his elementary school English teacher would give him?

"The Onion reports! In The Know: Are America's Rich Falling Behind The Super-Rich?"
- From Mike McLellan

Speaking of the super-rich, there's a Russian plutocrat who is buying one of the new super-sized Airbus planes for himself. It's not enough to have a normal wasteful private jet to show how much money you have, it must be as wasteful and utterly impractical as possible. And, if you like football analysis mixed with thoughtful tidbits about stuff that matters, please check out Tuesday Morning Quarterback (note the patented "Boss Button). The author's latest tirade about super yachts is a serious dovetail with McLellan's link — just scroll down till you find the photo of an obscenely large personal dinghy.

"I think the purpose of Jon's article was to stir up the s$%*@ and let the ill-informed have at it. Thats usually the way works, prey on the minds of the weak and feeble minded who are willing to believe all the crap he writes." "Point well taken. I just think the author's writing style left a bit to be desired. I just didn't like the sarcastic part thats all. ... Thanks for straightening me out and to Jon .. I am sorry."
- From Ubbo Coty

Mr. Coty, no apologies necessary. And we're glad to have you back from Iraq.

"The school is shoving it's sexual agenda down the througts of the children like cattle being lead to slaughter without regard to the kind and amount of information is given, in what manner children are taught, and if they are even mature enough to understand what is being presented." - From Tracy Parent/Grandparent

I'm glad I didn't go with my first sex-ed column idea: Hands-on classes led by Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy.


Attention alert readers: Send your random thoughts and Web links to

Friday random thoughts...

• It's good to have great neighbors: Kudos to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines in San Diego (not to mention the firefighters), who are doing everything they can to help fight the fires in Southern California.

• I'm waiting for Pat Robertson to tell us the fires are "the wrath of God." Maybe God's upset we're destroying the environment?

• I want to believe the Fox News Network is a credible news source. I really do. But the "reporting" makes it so damn hard sometimes. Note: Fox News will now be known as the "Fox (Warning: might contain news-like substance) Network."

• Matches of Mass Destruction: Despite the network's lack of realiable news content, Fox's explanation for the SoCal wildfires is probably the most plausible kind of attack a terrorist could launch. It is, after all, a lot easier than smuggling nukes through JFK Airport.

• Quote of the week, from a Tracy-area student: "Students should be allowed to chew gum during class, because ... it kills bad breath, so you won’t be lonely." Guess those gum ads work after all! (The full letter to the editor is here).

• Two main reasons the Roman Empire collapsed: an untenable empire and foreign engagements, and a focus on personal decadence above social responsibility. Sounds too much like the United States for my comfort.

• Shameless plug alert: My sister's starring in the Loyola Marymount University production of "The Rocky Horror Show."

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I've been thinking, Hobbes." "On a weekend?" "Well, it wasn't on purpose."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A terrorist by any other name

It seems they're only "terrorists" if they attack our allies.

How esle to explain how the Bush administration has classified the PJKK, the arm of the Kurdish PKK that has continually attacked Turkish armed forces and has been labeled a terrorist organization.

The PJKK has not been labeled a terrorist organization, even though it is the exact same thing as the "terrorist" PKK. The only difference: the PJKK operates in Iran.

I've heard that "an enemy of my enemy is my friend," but ignoring one set of terrorists (even condoning it) and actively opposing another that are, in reality, one and the same group, sets a terrible double standard. Seems this administration couldn't live without them.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The return of random thoughts...

• Why did City Manager Dan Hobbs leave City Hall like a nest of hornets was on his back? It could have been that his micromanaging, power-hungry style finally caught up with him.

• Or maybe it was because folks finally thought better of having a city manager who couldn't change his own car tire.

• President Bush spares no expense continuing the war in Iraq, keeping Guantanamo open or in cutting taxes for top income-earners. But when it comes to giving low-income American children health care? It's simply too expensive.

• I wonder if her mind's already made up? According to those at the meeting, Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker made coffee, chatted with others and laughed it up while some folks were busy offering serious testimony about the safety of pipelines under a proposed sports park.

• They would have known if they were in school and reading: Some 32 truant students were rounded up during a sweep the day the Tracy Press announced the sweep would take place.

• What a novel concept: People in Tracy have acknowledged that to recieve better government services, taxes must be raised. I never would have guessed.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone's expectations."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another Tracy teen crash...

Less than one day has passed after this most recent Tracy teen reckless driving accident, and already the judgements are flying. (Check out the story and the comments thread here.)

It certainly seems like this is another example of an invincible teenager testing the limits and not knowing where to stop while embarking on a night of thrills. That the initial report indicates alcohol seems to be involved makes it even worse.

That many community members exhibit a lack of sympathy shouldn't be surprising. Mike Ucci died in January, and Bret Clifton lost his legs, in an accident (story here, my column here). There was a huge community campaign to try to get teen drivers to drive more responsibly after that accident. It seems the effort hasn't quite taken hold.

There was another crash involving a young driver who obviously didn't think about the potential consequences of his actions.

Now, a third, all in the span of eight months.

In the eyes of adults, that makes the results of the most recent crash almost deserved. "Well, didn't you see the previous results? What did you expect to happen?" Of course, many teenagers, young adults (hell, even many older adults) don't think like that. It's a case of "it will never happen to me" syndrome, because I am smarter/quicker/a better war planner/fill in the blank than the previous guy -- you can pretty much apply it to anything.

Ultimately, the actions of the driver and passengers in the aftermath of the accident are what should determine how we view this. Who knows -- they, like others before them, could turn this into a learning experience and become champions of safe driving.

Mike Ucci's father, Ken, and Bret made it their mission to get other teen drivers to not repeat Bret's mistake and reckless behavior. That's why I wrote this column in support of their efforts, because they took a tragedy and tried to find something positive in it.

Hopefully, that comes out of this accident, too. Although, judging by the initial judgements, that seems unlikely.

Friday, October 12, 2007

True tax reform

Republican candidates for president are falling all over themselves to stake out the position of biggest, bestest tax-cutter. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have been especially vocal trying to convince voters that, if they are elected president, more Americans will see more money in their pocketbooks.

If only it were true.

Giuliani and Romney aren't really interested in the bank accounts of average Americans. If they were, they'd be screaming at the top of their lungs about repealing or altering the alternative minimum tax.

The AMT is this well-intentioned law that says if your income is above a certain level, you must pay at least X amount in income tax. It was designed to prevent the wealthy from finding loopholes in the tax code and not paying their fair share.

Good idea. Unfortunately, the AMT did not adjust for inflation, which means now more and more middle-class Americans are being hit by a tax not intended for their relative income level. Of course, this doesn't seem to bother the Republicans candidates.

Taxes that hit the elite but not average Americans, like the estate tax (must inherit millions to be affected), are at the top of GOP cut list. But if the Republicans were serious about tax breaks, they'd champion a change to the alternative minimum tax, a ture burden on the middle class.

Then again, tax relief for everyone has never really been part of the game plan for the GOP. So why start living up to their own hype now?

In an ironic twist, Hillary Clinton proposed a tax break for the middle class (in the form of a tax decuction for middle class families to encourage private retirement savings) that Republicans soundly denounced as — get this — not helping American taxpayers.

I can't even think of a joke. The satire essentially writes itself.

A crisis of faith

• Note to readers: Random Thoughts will take a break this week, as the following story has taken precedence.

Father Mike Kelly, a man I have known for almost 20 years, is now embroiled in a three-part tragedy that has torn apart the Catholic Church.

Act No. 1: Hundreds of young boys and girls are once molested or abused by priests. They carry their scars, usually tell no one, and drift apart from the church that should have been a comfort. They are betrayed by people — representatives of God — that they should have been able to trust with their darkest secrets, hopes, dreams and spiritual journey. Many people suffer.

Act No. 2: The church finally comes to terms with a problem it ignored for far too long. High-publicity trials are conducted. Priests are outed as molesters, their superiors revealed for covering up their subordinates' known abuse. The church, rocked by scandal, loses the trust of even more of its flock. And the accusers relive, but get some closure about, their past abuses. Many people suffer.

Act No. 3: Priests with good names get caught in the frenzy. One accusation is enough to tarnish a lifetime of good work, even if exoneration swiftly follows. Many clergy become unwitting victims. Many who were truly abused and who try to seek redress are scoffed at as "fakers." Many people suffer.

The tragedy hit home for me Thursday when the story broke that Fr. Kelly, one of the people I respect most in this world and an acquaintance since childhood, was accussed of sexually abusing a youngster while he was a parish priest in Stockton, sometime between 1984 and 1986.

A little background: I attended Annunciation School from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was bapsized in first grade, of my own volition (my parents are a nonpracticing Episcopalian and a nonpracticing "whatever") at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, which is attached to the school.

Fr. Kelly was a figure there since I can remember. By the time I was a kindergartner he had moved to the Sonora parish. He still came and visited Annunciation. Once each semester, he'd visit each classroom in the school with a quiz — usually about movies or music or some such frivolous thing — for the older classes to compete against each other. To the younger kids, he read stories, though he very rarely read the words that were actually printed in the book.

He was a friend of my grandparents (my grandmother was head of the Annunciation Altar Guild for a time, and my grandfather was an usher). Even when I grew up and he moved away and I went to college, we had a rapport. He, to this day, keeps in touch. And he does it with more former parishioners than just me, and he puts in the type of effort into his relationships with communities that many priests simply do not.

So yes, I am biased. Fr. Kelly is a good friend of mine, and I do not try to hide that fact. I believe, in my heart, that Fr. Kelly is innocent. But, lacking facts, I have only my intuition and my knowledge of the man to inform me.

I don't know Fr. Kelly's accusser. I don't know his credibility, I don't know his history, I don't know anything about him.

But I cannot imagine the sweet, caring, gentle, strong and wise man I have known for 20 years betraying the trust of his flock, those he took an oath to serve and lead.

I hope, at the very least, that Fr. Kelly gets a fair investigation and hearing free from a frenzied rush to reveal the next scandal. He deserves that much.

Just as it is a shame that thousands were abused by people they trusted, it would be a shame if this tragedy caught a good priest unecessarily in its sordid plotline.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tortured words, tortured logic, tortured morals

I've said this before, but the whole torture "debate" among our leaders — and some of the so-called politically minded among us — sickens me.

What's there to debate? How is this even acceptable? To actually contemplate the worthiness of subjecting other human beings to simulated drowning and insufferable levels of heat, cold and noise — let alone the unnamed "enhanced interrogation techniques" — is chilling. It says something about the values of the people who insist that our country continue such actions.

The language being used by those who support these practices is straight out of a George Orwell book. We don't torture in this nation, says President Bush. Waterboarding can't be torture because we do that, and what we do isn't torture. Our very language is being turned meaningless!

No matter what detainees, prisoners, terrorists or anyone else has done, someone in the charge of the world's leading democracy should not fear for their safety, even if they are being punished. The golden rule should be extended to everyone — remember that Jesus did not make exceptions about turning the other cheek.

Because he knew then what some of us still know now — treating detainees as they would surely treat us makes us just as morally bankrupt as they are.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• What was that saying about a woman scorned?: If you're running a counterfeiting operation out of your home, shouldn't you know better than to also cheat on your girlfriend?

• Although, as it turns out, it isn't too smart to finger a counterfeit if you're one of the parties involved.

• Some folks have suggested the Tracy wine strolls are for the hoity-toity. Even if they are, the continued success of such events is a good indication that this community is thirsting for more cultured entertainment. And that is an encouraging sign, because not everyone's happy calling The Great Plate the pinnacle of the local social scene.

• What's amazing to me about stories like this is that even when someone has been wrongly jailed for years, the state wants to keep that conviction on that person's permanent record. That's shameful and outrageous, even if it is to prevent a lawsuit.

• So maybe this is why the City Council dias is bulletproof.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "People who get nostagic about childhood were obviously never children."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Vietnamization of Iraq

Iraq is looking more and more like Vietnam. Not in actual battlefiend conditions, necessarily, but in how the powers-that-be are selling the success of the war.

Early on in the war, the president himself said that he didn't deal in body counts, that that was not an effective way of measuring success in Iraq. With the war going sour — and the president with fewer and fewer selling points — he has resorted to telling us how many insurgents the surge is killing each month since January.

There are a lot of problems with that. The first is that it's likely not all of the "killed insurgents" are insurgents. With almost everyone in Iraq (who has any common sense) packing heat, it's a sure bet that increased pressure to up a kill count is leading to more civilians killed by troops who are thinking they're taking out insurgents.

The second is that in a counterinsurgency effort, racking up piles of bloody bodies is counterproductive. Winning grassroots support is at the heart of breaking an insurgency, but that's difficult when you're blasting people away.

The third — and by no means the least or the last — problem is that body counts don't really tell us we're succeeding. We killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese insurgents but didn't achieve any meaningful strategic victories. And Bush has said his surge is all about strategy, giving the government time to jell.

I'd actually suggest this axiom: The more we hear about enemy body counts and the more people U.S. troops kill, the more likely we're not achieving anything meaningful in Iraq.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

No tears for failed bio-lab

Maybe Tracy residents weren't so crazy for opposing a biological research facility at Site 300.

A recent Associated Press report details that since 2003, more than 100 incidents involving accidents or missing shipments of material have occured in United States laboratories that handle the world's deadliest germs.

Guess that answers some of the questions Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials wouldn't answer about the safety of such facilities.

All in all, these facilities are pretty tightly regulated. I think that, in the end, it was officials' unwillingness (or inability) to answer the questions of concerned citizens in a straightforward manner that turned the tide of Tracy opinion against the bio-lab.

That's probably why most folks didn't think they could trust the folks handling deadly germs and radioactive materials.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Almost, but not quite

An annonymous alert reader sent me the link to what was said to be my previous column taking the city to task for not participating in a countywide homeless count event. Unfortunately, it was a link to an article by Bob Brownne, a Tracy Press reporter.

It still echoes my most recent column, which talks about homelessness in Tracy and the people who are actually willing to do something about it.

The thing that galled me most about Tracy not participating in the count is the message it sends about the pulse city leaders have on the community. Action to address the issue would be nice, but given recent history, I guess I'll settle for it being acknowledged.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Before any angry city officials call me about my Friday column, I have this to say: If you were one of the few tackling homelessness and poverty issues head on, why are you coming after me? Your record will speak louder than I can.

• By the way, I wrote a column (which I can't find online to post for you) about the city's refusal to participate in the federal homeless count ealier this year, back in January. Maybe the city will change its tune and do something next time.

• Thanks to frequent Press contributor for blowing the lid off the failure of the 2006 bean festival — revealing that the Chamber of Commerce's didn't want to take the fall.

• Some folks have forgotten what it's like to be a kid. Or, maybe more accurately, they haven't forgotten.

This is what headlines look like when people are fighting for freedom.

• What's the point of the U.S. debt limit if Congress keeps raising it as soon as it comes into play? I wish I could do that with my bank: "My credit card is maxed out. Give me more credit so I can rack up debt I don't intend to pay back." Yeah, that'd go over real well.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I think we'd know normal if we saw it."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Riding tragedy to victory?

You have to be either seriously impressed or deeply disgusted (or possibly a little of both) about what Rudy Giuliani has done with his political career in the past six years.

His biggest claim to fame is that his city was attacked by terrorists and he didn't climb under his mayoral desk in fear that day. That day, he appeared a pillar of strength, even while his city was covered in soot and he could do nothing to stop the disaster. Unfortunately, his actual record in preparing New York City to deal with a terrorist attack is a far cry from that image.

Even after seeing the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Giuliani failed to speed through a plan that would have allowed different rescue departments (police, fire, etc) to communicate through one unified system. Instead, communication on Sept. 11, 2001, was an absolute nightmare. And it's only one example of how his claims as a terrorism fighter don't mesh with his actual record. (For a more detailed examination of his record, read this.)

That hasn't stopped Giuliani from making his "experience with terrorism" the focal point of his campaign. But when you think about it, it's like me saying my house was once burglarized, so I'm now qualified to be the head of the Tracy police's crime scene investigation unit.

How well has he connected himself — and his political future — to the Sept. 11 attacks and people's emotional reaction to that day? His supporters are organizing a "$9.11 for Rudy" campaign, in which donors will be asked to chip in 9 dollars and 11 cents.

How touching. I'm sure the victims' families are honored.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Faith into action?

"It’s an opportunity to stand up for your faith and put it into action."

So said Millennium High School senior Chelsea Facciolla, when asked by a Tracy Press reporter why she and other teens would pray around school flagpoles before class early next week.

I always thought the best way to put faith into action was to go do something, like volunteer your time to causes that help the hungry, the poor, the sick and the lonely.

I think one of the problems about certain religious sects is the focus on praying. Praying and meditation is great for centering yourself, but don't expect God to magically do what you can accomplish with your own two hands.

Isn't that why we were gifted with brains and brawn in the first place?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• To convince the California High Speed Rail Commissioners that the bullet train needs to go through the Altamont Pass, I'm extending a chance to see the problem firsthand. I will offer free weekday commuter excursions to any CAHSR commissioner between Tracy and Oakland beginning at 7 a.m. If that doesn't convince them, nothing will.

• Overheard quote of the week: "I shouldn't drink this morning. I'll be the designated driver." (at 9:30 a.m. Sunday before a SF 49ers game.)

• The kids at West High have already seen how powerful the "Invisible Children" movie is. If you haven't watched it, you should.

• What's wrong with this picture?: Enlisted military personnel in the service of their country get put on trial when they're suspected of wrongly killing civilians. Blackwater USA types, who aren't subject to the standards the military is, get an "investigation" and a free trip home from Iraq.

• Mountain House is getting its very own library to go with its golf course. Now, if it only gets a supermarket, a gas station, and maybe a restaurant, and it'll be a real town.

• At the risk of sounding repetitive, you should really check out the new Grand Theatre if you haven't. You'll forget you're in Tracy. Seriously.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "The days are getting colder." "Yes." "Bugs are dying by the truckload! Ha ha ha! Good riddance to 'em all! ... I like fall."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Grand evening indeed

The glitz and glamour of Friday's gala at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts made me wonder if I was still in Tracy.

The theater itself is beautiful, a tasteful mix of classic art-deco, modern, and modern-retro styling that makes use of the existing architecture and buildings while giving a sense that there was, indeed, some major effort put in to make the place worthy of its name.

The deco and modern lines melted away once inside the main theater, however, yielding a classic stage and seating, complete with box seats and a literally glittering dome.

The event that switched on the neon for the first time in 30 years was memorable, too, with Central Avenue turned into a tented enclave that hosted some of Tracy's most notable (and most self-important) people.

But you take the good with the bad, and for all the self-importance and conspicuous consumption of the celebration, it was a worthy pat on the back for the folks who have given Tracy a crown jewel downtown, even if some of us only tagged along for the ride.

Let's hope that the general public embraces the theater like the crowd Friday night. It would be a shame if the theater again has to close its doors.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• End of the hype: The Grand Theatre's opening tonight, and I'm going to be there. Given the opportunity, I couldn't pass up the most-anticipated event in Tracy this year.

• A blow to totalitarian regimes right here at home: The California Supreme Court ruled that a high school had no right to ban a school newspaper editorial that painted English-learning students as illegal immigrants. After all, being insulting is an American right.

• My how quickly things change: It wasn't long ago that West High was the strongest football team in town and Tracy High was lucky to score a touchdown in a game.

• Frankly, I'm not sure Americans need any more incentive to watch vapid TV programming.

• A positive, albeit vague, first report: Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert says she's got a small residential developer planning to build green when it builds senior housing units for various income levels. No word yet as to who it is and where the project will be, though. More later.

• I'm guessing PG&E was hoping that its waiver for a pipeline under a populated area would never be challenged. That way, it could apply the same standard to other sites all over the state, and probably save a ton of money in the process.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Trusting parents can be hazardous to your health."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Save Sen. Craig

Republican Sen. Larry Craig has been thrown to the wolves by his own party because he tried to solicit a stranger (who turned out to be a police officer) in a men's restroom.

Don't let the statements fool you. They're doing this because it appears shameful for a member of the GOP to be engaged in any same-sex activity, given the party base's strict no-gay stance.

He isn't being forced to resign because he pled guilty to a crime (if he were in a bar fight and busted a guy's nose, Craig wouldn't be able to fit his Senatorial supporters into his office). And it isn't because he was committing adultery. (if he were caught cheating with another woman, people would say they were disappointed but to leave it alone because it's part of his personal life.) This is simply because of the event's tie to homosexuality.

Yes, Craig has proven indiscreet in his personal life, and, just judging from this lone incident, he might not be a great husband. But that's not nearly enough to effectively exile him from Congress, not when folks who likely committed real crimes against the public interest (Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, to name one) remain in the Capitol.

Voters should have the chance to accept or reject Sen. Craig based on his record, his public decision-making and his integrity in office. Unfortunately, his colleagues have decided that that isn't as important as publicly shaming a man who's been associated with homosexuality in one lone instance.

Now that is truly shameful.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sept. 11 has passed again

Six years later, and all have figured out that America needs protecting, but many still haven't learned why America needs protecting.

My thoughts are here.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• If you look carefully, you can see the newest lane of Interstate 205. Although I get the feeling that we'll need 4 lanes in each direction as soon as teh 3-lane model is up and running.

• Will the city's new "high performance training" yield high performance results?

• Downtown's being turned into the center for all things bean in California. And you know what? I'm actually looking forward to it. Some more chili cooks wouldn't hurt, though.

• It's completion was always a foregone conclusion: Tracy Hills is back on the City Council's radar. And Evelyn Tolbert's abstention from Tuesday's vote might even be a signal that she's ready to run for mayor and away from that contentious issue.

• Friday night lights tonight mean fall's here, regardless of the calendar. And I've been waiting since mid-April. Because that's when the S.F. Giants' season was effectively over.

• I can't wait to see how everyone spins this one. Let the shirk-off and BS-fest begin.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I don't need to compromise my principles, because they don't have the slightest bearing on what happens to me anyway."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tolbert's coming-out party?

Tuesday's upcoming meeting of the South San Joaquin County Republicans will serve as a campaign kick-off as well as a remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001.

My guess is that Tracy Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert will be there and will use the opportunity to announce her candidacy for mayor in 2008.

Anyone care to bet against it?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Credit wipe out

It appears thiefs need only a little water and a cotton cloth to wipe your signature clean off your credit or debit card.

Just moisten your card and let it sit that way for a couple hours. Then, wipe clean. And viola! No more pesky signature to get in the way of identity theft.

How did I discover this? Well, my cell phone took a dive into the Stanislaus River at about midnight on Labor Day and I dove in after it (without removing my wallet, mind you). The next day, I decided to dry off my cards with my shirt as I discovered they were still damp while buying iced tea. And now, to go along with my ruined phone, I have a T-shirt with a beautiful blue streak on the stomach.

So now you know how a thief can easily wipe off your signature. And not to jump into bodies of water with your wallet. Unless you want a stained shirt.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• The government snooping on its citizens is a worlds apart from citizens trying to keep tabs on what their government is doing. One is the tool of a tyrannical state, one is a feature of a democratic republic.

• For the transcript of the Tracy Press v City of Tracy decision, visit Cheri Matthews' blog here.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Virtue needs some cheaper thrills."

• Things don't look to great for our county neighbors to the south: "If the San Joaquin Valley were to become a new state in the country, we would rank last or second to last in per capita income," said state Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno. "I think the figures show that our people are worse off even than those in the Appalachians."

• Those Iraq WMDs were finally found — in New York City.

• A sign of the apocalypse? President Bush today uttered these wise and compassionate words in announcing a new government program: "It’s not the government’s job to bail out speculators or those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford. Yet there are many American homeowners who can get through this difficult time with a little flexibility from their lenders or little help from their government."

• Can't help but wonder if Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and other torture proponents would have the same views if they went through what Sen. John McCain did...

• Hope it lives up to the hype: This year's bean festival sure is getting a lot of publicity. The Saturday "Our Town" is even dedicated to the upcoming celebration.

• And Enjoy the final Saturday publication of the Tracy Press. (Until we decide to change publication schedules again.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The belief of the beholder

Since people have believed in God, people have been seeing the image of God in many things: clouds, shadows on a wall, even jars of peanut butter. This week, a Lodi woman says that an image of Jesus has appeared in her backyard fence (as shown, with the help of my Photoshop skills, below).

I think it goes without saying that in this case, as with other Godly sightings, the image of Christ is in the belief of the beholder. To some people, it's a discolored patch on a fence. To Ana Garcia, a devout Catholic, and other believers it appears to be her Savior.

Put it another way: When a friend of mine first saw this picture, she said: "It looks like the Geico caveman!"

It goes to show that rather than being "out there," God might really be in us. (Interpret that how you will).

Monday, August 27, 2007

A picture is worth how many lives?

Reckless drivers take note. This is what your car looks like after a 100 mph crash:

I hope someone sees this and decides not to be a little more sane next time they're out for a joyride. Tracy's had enough auto-related tragedy already this year.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A loophole to drive a truck through

Friday, Aug. 24, the Tracy Press lost its lawsuit to compel Vice Mayor Suzanne Tucker to release e-mails regarding council business.

Judge Lauren P. Thomasson, by denying this Public Records Act request, has essentially neutered that law as well as voter-passed Proposition 59, which are designed to make government actions transparent — and therefore make government accountable.

This ruling essentially means that any public officer or agency, if they use private equipment to conduct public business, suddenly make their business beyond the public purview, even though these dealings clearly impact their role as public servants and not their role as private citizens.

Thank you, Judge Thomasson, for giving shifty government officials a way to evade oversight. Richard Nixon is applauding from his grave.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• Believe it or not, the Tracy Press' move to a 3-day-a-week publication schedule and online focus puts it on the cutting edge of what newspapers are doing. This is the wave of the future.

• Teaching kids about religion without indoctrinating them? This new TUSD program might have just stumbled on something really smart.

• On Thursday's "Daily Show," Lt. Col. John Nagl said that the Iraq conflict is a "thinking man's war." Too bad there wasn't more thinking before the war started.

• Sunday is the fifth anniversary of the day Vice President Cheney began the march to war with a speech delivered to the VFW. Read his speech with the benefit of five years of hindsight here. The Iraq stuff begins about halfway down the page. It's gold. Pure ironic gold.

• For those who merely say "illegal is illegal" when it comes to issues like illegal immigration: Something is not automatically immoral just because it is illegal. Just food for thought.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "You know, before there was television, kids actually did things on nice days like this." "Times sure change, huh?"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cagey council consent

Some branching, beautiful shade trees that give character to Tracy's downtown are probably going to be chopped down.

That's because of the passage of a consent item on the City Council agenda regarding a contract to rebuild the sidewalks and pavement of 10th Street between E and East streets (as reported here in the Tracy Press). It was not debated. It was approved unanimously.

It's assumed the green beauties will be ripped out with the aging concrete that makes up the 10th Street sidewalk.

Which is too bad, because the lack of mature trees in the rest of the Downtown Streetscape area is one of the project's most glaring shortcomings. It makes the place terrible to walk around in during the summer. And wasn't the point of the whole project to make people want to walk around? The city's ripping off its toenails after buying a multi-million dollar pedicure.

It will be a real failure if the trees of 10th Street are cut down during this project that is supposed to enhance, not deflate, Tracy's downtown.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pismo Portuguese

While taking a weekend vacation in Pismo Beach, I was witness to the St. Anthony's parade.

There were the standard brass bands and girls in dresses that likely cost as much as a wedding gown, but there was also the unexpected: representatives from Tracy.

OK, so it wasn't like there was a whole troop marching down the main drag (in fact, it was two men with a "Tracy" banner and one guy in a modified bike with an orange flag sticking up from it). But Tracy was represented nonetheless.

I didn't get a chance to track down the intrepid marchers from Tracy. But if anyone knows who those guys were, I'd sure like to know.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• This morning's LAFCo meeting could be pivotal for the city's future growth. In my opinion, Tracy should just accept the guidelines the agency's laying out. After all, isn't it reasonable that a city shouldn't be allowed to expand unless it can prove it can provide the necessary infrastructure?

• I guess the cows are more crafty than the inmates: On Monday morning, 59 bovines escaped from the Deuel Vocational Institution. No prisoners were able to follow suit.

• Although it probably turned out for the best that no inmates followed the cows to freedom — more than 20 of the cows were killed by a train and a big rig. And, it is rumored, a CHP cruiser.

• Credibility? Who needs credibility?: The White House is going to interview U.S. commanders and then report to Congress about the progress in Iraq in September. Something tells me Congress won't get the unvarnished truth.

• The $250 per ticket pricetag at the Grand Theatre's Friday, Sept. 14, opening night charity fundraiser is drawing flak. I guess some folks forgot that Saturday's events are mostly free, and "Gone With the Wind" is showing Sunday for 25 cents.

• United States citizen Jose Padilla was convicted Thursday of "helping Islamic extremists and plotting overseas attacks." Of course, he was arrested for plotting to set off a radioactive bomb inside the U.S. — nevermind that that original charge was so bogus his attorneys weren't allowed to bring it up in court.

• Overheard quote of the week: "How come we don't run Molly Ivins' column anymore?" "Because she died." ~ overhead at the Tracy Press

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I think we'd know normal if we saw it."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No more big boxes

Earlier this week, Stockton became one of a growing number of cities to ban stores of more than 100,000 square feet that have a grocery component — they're looking at you, Wal-Mart.

I honestly wouldn't be sad if Tracy took a similar stand. The market's great, and so is competition, but Wal-Marts tend to drain some of the soul from communities. I'd rather see the the city's current businesses — especailly the lagging grocery sector — solidified before a giant enters an already saturated marketplace.

An expanded Wal-Mart — or some other impersonal big-box store — just doesn't add that much to the community. Maybe if they tried adding a Miller brewery...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Selling points

Another story that shows how bad the housing market has become.

I park my 1966 Rustbucket in my grandparents' garage when I'm not trying to kill myself by driving it. My grandparents have been trying to sell this house for the past six months or more, so quite a few people have seen both the house and the car.

They've received more serious offers for the car.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday random thoughts

Another installment of the weekly random thoughts, cheap shots and bon mots.

• "I'm not dead! I'm not dead!" Mayor Brent Ives is breathing political life back into the Tracy Hills project/development deal. The matter will appear on a future City Council agenda.

• My broker gave me this advice Thursday afternoon: "After today I think a diversified portfolio of canned goods and bottled water might be most appropriate." Yeah, Wall Street might be in trouble.

• The folks who live near Bakersfield are not surprised: The town of Arvin is the smoggiest town in California.

• A recent poll says fewer Americans trust the media than did 20 years ago. That might be true, but I still trust the media a whole lot more than politicians. Well, maybe except for stuff owned by this guy.

• Random thought of the week: "Exercise. Eat Right. Die Anyway."

• Cavlin and Hobbes quote of the week: "If mom and dad loved me at all, they'd buy me a pair of night-vision goggles."

• Attention all alert readers!!! Send me your own random thoughts for publication in a column (if I get enough) or for posting right here on the blog.