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.