Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• This begins with a sad memorial, first to my cousin, Becky Visser, who died Wednesday at the age of 21. And second, my condolences and thoughts go out to the family and friends of Michael Ucci, who was killed Saturday night in a car accident, and to the families and friends of Marie Ucci, Justin Baker and Bret Clifton, who were all seriously injured.

• Happy trails to columnist Molly Ivins, who also died Wednesday. The columnist (who I enjoyed reading very much) was famous for her quick wit, effortless turns of phrase and poignant critiques of the nation's most powerful, and her voice will be sorely missed. Her passing leaves a hole in the Tracy Press editorial pages, where her syndicated columns frequently appeared.

• Denial isn't so hot: An authoritative climate study concluded Thursday that it is 90 percent certain that humans are to cause for global warming. Watch the global warming naysayers to seize on that 10 percent uncertainty as "proof" that scientists aren't certain. But think of it this way: If a doctor said he was 90 percent sure you had a form of life-threatening cancer, would you start trying to make yourself better right away, or would you wait until there was 100 percent certainty and you might not have the time necessary to recover?

• We give a lot of grief to the education system when kids fail, but give individual students the credit when they succeed. So while Tracy High's adacemic decathletes surely deserve a round of applause, so do the educators and school system that make their success possible and give their ambition fertile soil to grow from.

• Our local representative, Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, has signed on to a bill that would pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq in six months. It might not be the best plan for the country's stability, but it's nice to see that at least a few in Congress are listening to the overwhelming public sentiment that the war needs to end quickly.

• A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal for residents of the state to buy and use traditional lightbulbs in favor of energy-efficient models. Is this the type of novel idea we need to clean the environment and reduce dependence on foreign oil, or is it one more step on the road toward an authoritarian government?

• Vice President Dick Cheney said Wolf Blitzer was "over the line" questioning him about how he feels regarding his lesbian daughter's pregnancy. I beg to differ Mr. Vice President. Cheney and the administration he is a part of have a record of benefitting politically from vehement opposition — even hate — of gay and lesbian individuals. That administration has even tried to make it unconstitutional for gays and lesbians to enjoy rights heterosexuals take for granted. So, Mr. Cheney, how about it? How can you profit from hatred of lesbians and gays politically and then say questions about your lesbian daughter are over the line?

• My weekly shout-out goes to the Los Angeles Loyolan, the entirely student-run newspaper of Loyola Marymount University (where I served as editor in chief for the 2004-05 school year). They're gearing up for the fifth-annual "First Amendment Education Week" and are inviting conservative blogger Michelle Malkin and liberal blogger Ariana Huffington to a friendly debate. Last year's event featured Ann Coulter and James Carville. Major props to the Loyolan and current EiC Natalie Nordseth for making this the type of event its founders envisioned and for keeping First Amendment issues alive on college campuses.

• Once I've read the final "Harry Potter" book, due out in July, how will I get my magic fix? If I start going to conventions, a-la Trekkies and Star Wars devotees, please kick me in the groin.

• My colleague, Christopher H. Roberts, wrote a thoughtful piece about last weekend's crash that killed a West High student. I recommend reading it here if you have time.

• This week's randomest thought, experienced firsthand during my recent vacation: There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want to.

••• This is the second installment of what I hope to make a weekly tradition. If you have any noteworthy, interesting or offbeat quotes or news items, please send them along to and look for your name to appear in this space. (See, instant fame!). •••

Fire in the hole ... and in the sky

In case you can't read the caption to this photo (sent to me by a concerned citizen and one that has run in the Press before), it shows a bomb test at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Site 300 in the 1960s. To my knowledge, it's similar to above-ground tests conducted today.
You can see bright tracers of material firing away from the blast at high speed in all directions in all corners of the photo. These are pyrophoric matierials, including Uranium 238 (the so-called depleted uranium) that has been the center of concern and discussion around Tracy lately, since the Lab is likely to use depleted uranium in upcoming tests.
Notice these materials are being hurled into the atmosphere at a great rate of speed and are likely to travel a good distance from the controlled and carefully chosen blast site. Where are they landing? I'm not sure, but seeing actual photographic evidence of harmful materials streaking toward the sky near Tracy gives me one more reason to think bomb testing on the community's doorstep is a bad idea.
If you think so too, there's a City Council meeting Feb. 6 and a hearing Feb. 7 that will deal with Lawrence Livermore's permit that would allow increased testing.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When it's news, it's news

Sometimes the fact that something is chosen as a news story is in and of itself newsworthy.

Take for example recent stories popping up in sports sections around the country that have examined from every angle Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, the respective head coaches of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, the two teams that will meet in the 2007 Super Bowl. The reason these two masterminds are making headlines (aside from the usual pregame hype) is that both coaches are black — the first time a black head coach has ever guided a team to a Super Bowl appearance.

That this is a story worthy of so much fanfare shows that the United States has not come as far from the days of Jim Crow as most of us would like to think. If race was as much of a nonfactor as many people say it is, the fact that a black coach is finally coaching in the Super Bowl would be no news at all.

But it is news, because racism and racial barriers still exist. Opportunities for the average Caucasian in the U.S. far exceed those of the average Latino or black American. This usually has more to do with socioeconomic standing than anything else, but it would be unrealistic to say that race plays no role. The root cause of our unequal society involves many factors like education, family structure, geographic location, available monetary resources, other available resources like personal power and social connections, and a litany of others.

But we know race is one of those factors because by extolling the breaking of a racial barrier, the press has implicitly acknowledged that many such barriers still exist.

Football fans, however, might be one step ahead. When they watch Sunday's game (I'll be one of them) they won't be remarking about how that black Tony Dungy is managing the game with a no-huddle offense or how that black Lovie Smith made excellent halftime adjustments on defense (trust me, both of these game strategies will happen). They'll simply be nodding their heads or shaking their fists at the strategy in play, the fruits of the coaches' labor, or, as Martin Luther King Jr. might have said, the content and character of their game plans.

Football fans get that the accomplishments and successes (and failures) of these two coaches have nothing to do with their skin color. The question is, when will we know the same thing goes for everyone else?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Random thoughts, cheap shots and bon mots

• The Tracy Press ran an article Thursday about a filmmaker exploring the causes of violence in high school. It's no surprise to anyone who remembers high school that guns and massive school shootings get the media airtime, but that the day-to-day violence that often instigates those horrible outbursts — especially in the form of verbal and emotional abuse usually shrugged off as "kids being kids" — is the true plague stalking secondary education.

• Primetime newspaper: The past two weeks local TV news crews have picked up stories that first ran in the Tracy Press.

• Don't blame city planning for the City Hall delay. Unlike the Grand Theatre delay — in which a seemingly impractical request for an automated curtain-opening system pushed back the finishing date — the setback with the Civic Center was totally beyond the city's control.

• To the drunken man who tried to pick up his car from the police station after it had been impounded following a DUI, maybe driving shouldn't be an activity you should be concerned about. And you might consider purchasing a bicycle, because the police should make sure you can't get your car back — sober or not — for a very long time.

• No medicine for this congestion: Decreasing truck traffic on local Interstates would require increasing train traffic through town.

• Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert's Friday shout-out to the city's workers is well-deserved, especially the city's planning and engineering department. According to a recent survey, they are "overwhelmed and exhausted with work," owing to understaffing.

• There was no snow in the San Joaquin Valley to add a whimsical edge to a miserable cold snap. And while valley farmers blew warm air over their trees to try to stave off frost damage, a homeless Bakersfield woman died from the cold, and many more probably suffered as much as those million-dollar trees.

• California's legislature could soon consider a proposal that would make a parent's spanking of a child younger than 4 punishable by up to a year in jail. I thought abuse laws already covered violence against youngsters — wouldn't this law just make a judge or police officers have to decide between a spank, swat, or a comforting tap on the bum?

• On my last day at work before a 10-day vacation, I wrote a column admonishing others for making "creative constructions" of reality. That's a little bit of irony.

••• As I mentioned, I'll be on vacation and hopefully entirely unreachable except by helicopter for the next week and a half. I'll be writing my next column for February 2 and will be blogging again on January 29 — hopefully with many boring tales about what I did on a Mexican beach or a Sierra Nevada ski slope while most other people were at work •••

Friday, January 12, 2007

When garbage is more important than people

In a Jan. 13 commentary, alert reader Cathy Decker voiced concern that many people scavenge through garbage and recycle bins to collect recylables so they can be turned in for money.

Imagine poor people trying to collect enough garbage from the homes of the wealthy to survive. The horror.

Evidently, Mrs. Decker, the wife of city code enforcer Jim Decker, is concerned that "these low-income people" are earning "tax-free income" at the expense of helping Tracy meet its state-mandated recycling goal. She's especially concerned that they are rifling through the garbage she painstakingly separates and that they are stealing from the city's blue recycling bins. She even goes so far as to say that recycling centers should check IDs and try to weed out the freeloaders.

Nowhere, however, does Mrs. Decker's letter show any compassion for those whose only income comes from searching through the refuse of others. If I understand correctly, Mrs. Decker would rather ensure the sanctity of her garbage than help out needy people whose only source of income is to turn in recyblables for money.

Not only that, but her stance seems to miss the point that these folks are actually helping meet society's goal of recycling more cans and bottles. The city might not directly benefit from this recycling pattern, but the environment certainly does, which is the purpose of the state mandates in the first place!

There's no harm to me if someone decides to take some recyclables out of my garbage — or even out of the sacred blue bins. I don't generally condone lawlessness, but the right of people to survive is of higher moral value than my right to protect my garbage.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

I haven't posted in a while because I've been battling a rather nasty flu bug. But nothing that good ol' virus could dish out makes me as sick as the type of rubbish I've read the past few days.

The first was in a Tuesday letter to the editor by David Kerst regarding myself and a coworker — reporter John Upton. It wasn't the disagreement with my point of view (or even pot shots at my professionalism) that got my blood boiling. That kind of thing comes with the territory. Rather, it was his wanton use of the words "liberal" and "hippie" regarding a topic that really has nothing to do with politics.

The second came in a Wednesday article (coincidentally by John Upton) in which South San Joaquin Republican organizer Frank Aquila was quoted as saying the Democratic majority in Congress will cause "the economy to go south, illegals to go north, taxes to go up, employment to go down, terrorists to come in, tax breaks to go out, social security to go away and terrorist rights to come to stay."

All rhetoric, all ad hominem, all bluster. No substance. This is what passes for political discourse? It makes me weep silently at my keyboard.

Evidently, name-calling didn't go out of style after fifth grade. In the political arena, I find this type of "argument," if one can call it that, is the refuge of people with weak ideas and weaker communication skills. If one uses blanket concepts that gloss over facts, truth, detail and nuance — things that people tend to consider important in policy debates — it's pretty easy to make a point, compared with laying out a foundation of thought, careful consideration and analysis.

While easier than actually exercising critical thinking, introspection or questioning oneself, calling someone a "hippie" or a "facist" rarely improves any situation. It's polarizing and offers nothing constructive, not to mention being petty and insulting.

Unfortunately, as long as people keep listening to the folks who exchange thoughtfulness for banality, we'll just hear more of the same. Which is why I say, tune them out.