Thursday, March 29, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• More McNerney: While my Friday column attempts to inform consituents a little more about their Congressman, don't think I'm trying to present the end-all tale of Rep. Jerry McNerney. There's plenty of his platform that I didn't explicitly mention. But don't worry, there will be a lot more that's known about McNerney the statesman in November 2008 from which voters can make a decision.

• Alert reader JimF sent in this gem from Wednesday's Tracy Press: "This woman (above) is complaining because she wants another sound wall. She bought the house in 2003! Perhaps the blinds on the window were closed when she came to look at the house? Looking at the photo, I imagine her moving boxes into her new home, and opening the blinds, discovering, GAH, there is a freeway out my back window!"

• So much for gender equality: A Grayson woman pleaded guilty to having sex with her teenage son's underage friends and giving booze to teenagers who later ended up in an intoxicated car wreck. She'll serve a maximum 1 year in prison, and likely no prison time at all. If this were a man having sex with underage girls and supplying alcohol, any bets as to how many decades of prison time he'd be serving?

• Forlorn hope? Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian and Merced County Planning Commissioner Jack Mobley are making runs at seats in the state Senate and Assembly, respectively. Aghazarian might have a chance, but Mobley is going up against Cathleen Galgiani, who doesn't look like she's ready to be unseated.
• Gulf of Tonkin II? Iran is holding British sailors captive. The U.S. just finished war games with two cruiser groups in the Persian Gulf. Is this the way the war with Iran starts?
• Double-edged sword: Either this thing with Iran is going to blow up in our faces, or it could serve as a door-opener to increased diplomacy. Let's hope it's the latter.
• Two Rottweilers that have terrorized a Tracy neighborhood for more than a week will be put to death. But their seven puppies are being spared. Let's hope that the pups are raised better than the parents.
• An Iraq war spending bill is between a rock and a hard place. Bush and Republicans won't budge. Neither will the Democrats. So I'm guessing that the whole "bipartisan cooperation" thing they were talking about two months ago is pretty much over.
• Most random thought of the week: "I am totally not qualified to do this!"
• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "Someday the neighbors will look out and wonder why there's a grown man wearing kids' clothes on our roof."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Trying to do the impossible?

Today, Tracy Rep. Jerry McNerney and every other congressional representative voted to give more funding and attention to wounded and sick veterans.

McNerney, via press release stressed a particular piece of the legislation: “I am particularly pleased that this bill will also address post traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related injuries – some of the hallmark injuries of the Iraq war,” Rep. McNerney said. “The bill requires the Department of Defense to develop a plan to help prevent PTSD from developing in servicemembers.”

Unfortunately, post-traumatic stress disorder might not be preventable. War is a horrible, ugly, grisly thing, and as long as people continue to fight them, people will continue to be killed, injured, and psycologically maimed. It's the reality of the human condition and the reality of war.

It's good that our lawmakers are trying to take better care of our society's warrior class. So thanks to Rep. McNerney and all the other representatives.

But it is dangerous to pretend that we can go to war without death or injury. We have been led to believe that war is easy, and so we have become eager to escalate conflict. If we realize the reality of war and its impacts, we might not be so eager to fight in the future.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday random thoughts...

• Randomest thought of the week: "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

• Panic attack? Residents of Elissagary Ranch, one of Tracy's safest subdivisions, are embarking on a database effort to inform and secure their neighborhood in case of a fire, flood, tornado, earthquake, crime wave or some other disaster. I never knew the suburban outback was so perilous.

• The great unifier: Mayor Brent Ives' State of the City speech focused on community unity and forging a future for the benefit of everyone in the city. The test of the talk will be in whether or not city policy benefits Tracy's blue-collar workers as well as the white-laced East Bay transplants.

• Who's supporting the troops now? The president insists he will veto a war spending bill that includes a timeline for troop withdrawal, even though the troops desperately need the funding and the vast majority of the American people want troops out of Iraq.

• Playing politics: Speaking of supporting the troops, isn't it disrespectful to the men and women in uniform to use them as pawns in a propaganda war? On both withdrawal and stay-the-course sides, maybe the focus should be on what is good for the country, leaving the servicemen out of it. After all, isn't management for the good of the country the proper realm of politicians?

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

••• Attention alert readers! Don't be content with comments! Send quips, quotes and things you find ridiculous to Help me make my pending reader feedback column in the Tracy Press better than anything I could come up with on my own. •••

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A special interview

Note to readers: This is an accompanying piece to my Friday column" Will our dark time reappear?" My "Friday random thoughts" blog will appear on Monday, then return to its normal Friday slot.

• Wednesday evening I talked on the phone with Elsie Kagehiro, a Tracy resident for 50 years and a survivor of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. We talked for more than 30 minutes about her experience in the Granada, Colo., camp and her subsequent readjustment to life after internment.

The following are several quotes transcribed from this interview that I feel express the sadness, wisdom, resolve and amazing lack of bitterness personified by Elsie. Some of these also appeared in Friday's column.

"These boys volunteered to show their loyalty."
She said the saddest part of her internment was watching other people's brothers enlist in the U.S. Army, and then "when the generals came to deliver the news" that these young men had died.

"To be enclosed with a barbed wire fence with soldiers guarding us was a sight to see."

"Since I was younger, my feeling was to get ahead. I didn’t have much bitterness; I was just thinking to get ahead. I’m sure that was the thinking of all the younger people. ... I really felt bad for the older generation"
She said that her experience was not nearly as bad as that of her parents and grandparents who had worked so hard to eke out an existence and even learn English, then to be stripped of everything by their country.

“I felt that I just had to go on with my life. Even among friends I don’t even talk about it, really. We were too busy getting on with our lives.”

"At that time we didn’t have Japanese-American leaders what we have now."
There was no one to speak up for those being interned.

"We were citizens and we were taken away, and that was an injustice I think. Definitely. And I think a lot of people are going through that more or less, now, I think. I feel for the Muslim people, definitely."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fox's false choice

Fox News Network on Monday aired a segment about a student who was suspended from school after he held a banner proclaiming "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at an Olympic torch relay while not on school property. The student is now taking action against the school for infringing upon his First Amendment rights.

Fox posed the question "Free speech or just out of line?" in an interactive poll. Aside from this being a pretty obvious legal question — I don't see how this isn't an example of a school over-reaching its authority in censuring student speech — the poll is obviously flawed: It presents a false choice that doesn't benefit a nuanced exchange of ideas.

Why can't something be free speech and out of line at the same time? I bet the pundits at Fox News never thought of this, but it happens. Frequently. Not everything is pure, unvarnished truth or a vile, despicable lie. There's a lot of stuff in between. And when it comes to freedom of speech, pretty much everything's fair game, which includes a lot of things many people would consider "out of line."

For instance, there's a religious group that attends the funerals of U.S. soldiers and holds signs thanking God for the deaths because the deaths are America's punishment from God for inching toward equal rights for gay people. Out of line? Any reasonable person would think so. Protected by the First Amendment as free speech? You bet. See, both at the same time!

When nuance is defeated in favor of absolutes, discourse becomes a matter of who can shout the loudest. It's a wonderful world with infinite shades of gray, it's just too bad those framing much of today's political debate see the world only in terms of black and white.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• On Tuesday, a Tracy Press editorial quip called a Democratic Party plan to give workers 7 garaunteed sick days a year "anti-business." I never realized keeping employees healthy, happy and productive was "anti-business."

• The Press was paid a visit this week by South Dakotan "Care" MacMurchy. Hanging around someone who's happy not to be buried in two feet of snow really made me appreciate the beautiful spring-like weather we're having.

• A double high-five to Jim Bush, member of Heartland Church and the Tracy Fire Department chaplain, for offering his phone number (830-7275) and services to those affected by the Sycamore Village Apartment fire. That's taking the golden rule to a wonderful place.

• Tracy wants a sports park, a college, a grand Grand Theatre, and all the other hallmarks of a "top-teir" city. But has anyone thought about how Tracy's infrastructre, already strained by too many people and too many cars, is going to handle these grandiose next steps?

• Irony of the week: U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claims responsibility for mistakes in prosecutorial firings but forces one of his subordinates to step down. Does the buck stop anywhere in the Bush administration besides with "someone else"?

• "I want you to be clear here: Don't be dropping it at the president's door," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Friday. Don't worry Mr. Snow, President Bush hasn't taken real responsibility for any of his failures in office. We wouldn't expect him to start now.

• Seems unclear thinking is epidemic in the Bush administration: First "Scooter" Libby couldn't recall his conversations regarding a CIA leak. Now the White House claims its high-ranking officials have "hazy memories" that prevent them from recalling exactly how federal prosecutors came to be fired for political reasons.

• Closer to profits: Halliburton is moving to Dubai. Coincidence that a new Bush-supported Iraq draft bill would make all oil wells and fields discovered in the future available to private energy firms? Maybe it's just too much to expect Halliburton to pay U.S. taxes after gaining record profits on the back of all those U.S. government no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq and administer Walter Reed's outpatient program.

• Randomest thought of the week: "Almost anything is edible if you slather enough butter on it."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "People never focus on one thing to enjoy it or do it well. ... We focus on doing nothing at all."

••• Calling all alert readers! Let me know you're there! Send your quips and quirky quotes to or leave them as a comment on this blog. •••

Monday, March 12, 2007

An exercise in logic

President Bush has said Iraq is the front line of the War on Terror.

President Bush and other members of his administration have said that the War on Terror is a war with no end.

Vice President Cheney today said that planning to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq is the same as "telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out."

Logically, therefore, we can never pull American troops out of Iraq without admitting defeat, because Iraq is the front line of the War on Terror and our work in the War on Terror will never be over.

Logically, therefore, the Iraq War is one without end.

The Bush administration is making the case for the U.S. to lead a never-ending war. The circular logical framework exists to prepetuate itself and to paint anyone who disagrees with the attack plan as a defeatist.
But if someone besides the president does not set a firm timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq, withdrawal might never happen, because the president apparently won't call for one (if he follows his own logic). So maybe the Democrats' plan for a "rigid" "inflexible" "arbitrary" timeline isn't that crazy after all.

Let's just hope someone has the logical wherewithal to get U.S. troops out of Iraq sometime before the Second Coming.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Local quandry: Former Rep. Richard Pombo is now working for a firm backing the same special interests who lobbied Pombo to gut the Endangered Species Act and drill for oil in Alaska. An instance of shared goals that happily coincide, or evidence that Pombo was always in the pocket of special interests? The answer probably depends on the perspective of who you ask.

• Irony of the week No. 1: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich acknowledged he was having an extramarital affair, even as he led the charge to impeach President Clinton over his Monica Lewinsky affair. Gingrich later divorced his wife while she was undergoing treatment for cancer.

• Historical ignorance? George W. Bush, in my opinion, is not a good president. Terrible, actually. But comparing him to Adolf Hitler, like protestors in Brazil did Thursday, might be a wee bit over the top.

• From alert reader "MM": Maybe the "Holy Drinking Water" being sold out of Linden should be taxed as "spirits."

• I could rant for days about the Walter Reed hosptial scandal, and probably will in a later blog. But for starters, does anyone find it unspeakably appaling that politicians who say over and over how important it is to support the troops they sent to war have the gall to make excuses and pretend they had no way of knowing this was going on?

• Rep. Jerry McNerney's first bill through the House, H.R. 700, encourages conservation of energy, one of the goals he laid out during his campaign. Let's hope he doesn't forget ethics reform — another top campaign trial priority — now that he's an incumbent.

• Irony of the week No. 2: Walter Reed Army Medical Center is run by a department in the executive branch of government. Press secretary Tony Snow said the White House — the head of the executive branch and where responsibility should ultimately lie — referred reporters to sources farther down the chain of command for answers.

• Tracy has a new sports park plan. Forget the senseless worries about the PG&E pipeline that runs through the property. What about the off-the-cuff decision by the council and Mayor Brent Ives to add two synthetic turf fields that a previous staff report concluded would cost more money in the long run?

• Randomest thought of the week: "I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "Something doesn't feel right here, and I think it's me sitting in this box."

••• Attention alert readers! Send me stuff you find funny ( I'll post it on the Web or turn it into a column. •••

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Why I "disdain" religion...

I've received more than a few comments regarding a statement in my most recent article that read (taken horribly out of context): "... I generally disdain organized religion ..."
Because of popular demand, I've written a brief explanation of the statement that, hopefully, will help those understand where I'm coming from.

Yes, it might seem like an ironic statement in the flow of the article. But it was written to make a point. I was hoping it goes to show that even if one is cynical about a certain institution, like I am regarding religion, that doesn't excuse the ridiculing of a person who subscribes to that belief system. The beauty of this country is that we are all free to worship (or to not worship) pretty much as we please. And that should be respected.

As for a little personal background that might help to explain the comment further, it isn't so much that I am against organized religion per se. That's painting with too broad a brush, something I try not to do and something that I really abhor. (Yes, that's a mea culpa.)

Religious groups do a lot of good in this world, and religious groups are some of the world's leaders in reaching out to the poor, comforting the sick, reaching for social justice. (If you must know, I was raised, Baptized, and Confirmed as a Catholic and have a big predisposition toward Liberation Theology).

But I have come to be skeptical of many organized religious groups (and people who call themselves religious) because I feel in many cases religion and faith have been hijacked in this country to achieve political purposes that are often in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus, who is the best role model I know of in terms of social justice and in teaching people how to be good to one another.

Religion and faith are personal, private, and deeply important. However, the politicization of religion in this country denigrates that sacredness and turns it into something to be exploited by the likes of Karl Rove. And that I truly do disdain.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Nothing too sacred...

Want proof that money makes the world go 'round?

Look no further than Linden, a little hamlet a few miles east of Stockton, where bottled water is now being blessed and sold as "Holy Drinking Water."

Nothing is so sacred that it can't be turned into a cash cow.

Hopefully, this entrepreneur's dream of turning the bottled water into a nonprofit fundraiser happens. Until then, it's just another of many attempts to turn a buck by peddling faith.

How holy, indeed.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• Neighbors in need: Please, if you have the means, donate to the San Joaquin American Red Cross and help the victims of the Sycamore Village Apartments fire, many of whom have been left with nothing.

• Not coincidentally, the shout-out of the week goes to all those people who called the Tracy Press wanting to help after reading Thursday's article explaining the plight of the above-mentioned Sycamore Village residents. It's caring, giving people like that who make communities special.

• Hooray beans! The Tracy Dry Bean Festival is back, and this year, it won't be fenced off, it won't charge admission and it might actually be coordinated with downtown businesses. What a concept.

• New revelations about the crash that killed Mike Ucci and injured three other West High students suggest that street racing was a factor leading to the accident. So, where's the other car, and who was the driver? And why did it take until now for the story to come out?!?

• On any one night, there are about 750,000 homeless individuals in the United States.

• On any one night, there are as many as 3,000 homeless individuals in San Joaquin County.

• That warm, fuzzy feeling's back. John McCain said he misspoke when he remarked that U.S. lives were being "wasted" in Iraq. He meant to say "sacrificed." Either way, many Americans have paid with their lives for the mistakes of many lawmakers who have never seen and will never see a battlefield.

• Maybe the White House is finally getting the message that war alone doesn't solve the issues of the world. Iraq has invited the U.S. to talks including Syria and Iran that could help bolster security in the region. Let's all hope this works.

• You have to love Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's partisan-busting rhetoric. Talk about a fresh approach that I wish other politicians would emulate. But let's not forget his hostile and very partisan attempts to gut the political power of his then-opponents in a bungled 2005 special election.

• Irony of the week: I spent all last Saturday driving and skiing in a blizzard and was warm, dry and uninjured the entire time. Then I fell down the stairs to my cabin and spent the next two hours cold, wet, and in pain. As my partner in crime said: "This is going well."

• Randomest thought of the week: "All things in moderation. Including moderation."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "Go do something you hate. Being miserable builds character."

••• Attention alert readers! E-mail your quips, quotes and quirky news items to If I get enough of them, I'll turn them into a column. If not, they'll at least show up here. Seriously, I promise this time.•••