Monday, February 26, 2007

Out of sight, out of mind

The conservative Southern California town of Simi Valley is considering a ban on public panhandling. It might not seem too radical on the surface. It's a business move that many communities have considered to decrease the number of beggars in front of businesses, and Simi Valley says it's a necessary safety measure to keep panhandlers from approaching vehicles and to keep them out of public thoroughfares.

But it also effectively makes it illegal for the destitute to seek alms publicly. It's a move that further marginalizes those who exist on the edges of society, putting an ugly and uncomfortable part of modern life out of sight and, in turn, out of mind for many people.

But the sight of those in need and passing them by without helping is uncomfortable for a reason — the empathy we feel for others is an important part of societal living, and it's one of the driving factors that makes people think of others instead of just themselves. By pushing further into the shadows those who rely on the generosity of others for a meager existence, we shield ourselves from the discomfort of having our empathy triggered, and we make it easier to make life choices that are essentially self-centered.

It's easier to ignore the poor and needy when we can't see them. And, as many will say, if we can't see the problem, it must not exist.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• To those who consider the United States a "Christian nation" and to those who think religion should be front and center in American politics: Can you please explain, then, why God is not mentioned at all in the Constitution, except for the date (Year of our Lord...) and a section stating that there is no test of religion to hold office in the U.S.? I'm not making this up. Anyone?

• For non-affordable housing fun: Visit this mortgage calculator and see how you can't afford a median-priced house ($520,000) in Tracy! If you can, congratulations. I hate you.

• Play ball? Tracy's Schulte Road Sports Park doesn't seem like it'll ever get off the ground. So maybe those Let Children Play — Now! folks should pick up rakes, shovels and implements of destruction and volunteer to build a field or two, if they're so gung-ho.

• The president can finally go after WMDs in Iraq: It only took four years, but there are finally weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as terrorists are using chlorine gas to attack soldiers and civilians. It's ironic that the WMDs only came to Iraq after the U.S. invaded, don't you think?

• Glimmer of hope? Some British troops are ready to pull out of southern Iraq and hand over control to Iraqis, which is exactly what we want to see happen with U.S. troops. The only problem is, keeping Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle under control will be more unfathomably tougher than controlling the relatively quiet south. Get ready for a couple more years before U.S. troops can follow the British's lead.

• And if the situation's so good... Then why is England's Prince Harry and his Blues and Royals comrades ready to deploy to Basra, the area from which some troops will be pulled out?

• Those Tour of California riders cut quite a dashing path through Tracy on Wednesday. It probably wouldn't hurt if more of us took to a bike instead of a car for quick trips around town.

• This week's shout out goes to those who plan to attend the Boys & Girls Clubs gala auction. I've helped host a similar auction for a Lodi Boys & Girls Club — it was a really fun night and the money raised went to just the type of program that helps keep kids of the street and on a path to success. Tracy's "magical" 2007 gala should be even better.

• The randomest thought of the week: "If it's too early in the morning for beer, try scotch."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "Why don't superheroes go after the more subtle, realistic bad guys?" "Yeah, the superhero could attend council meetings and write letters to the editor, and stuff ... Quick, to the bat-fax!"

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Have a heart on Valentine's week: Please donate extra blankets and food to local outreach groups and money to the San Joaquin County chapter of the American Red Cross, as the people left homeless by Wednesday's Sycamore Apartments fire will need all the help they can get.

• Thanks to all the good people who made it possible for the Poet Christian fifth- and sixth-graders to go to science camp. It's too bad that North Elementary, Kelly, and Williams Middle school students weren't able to go — it's a shame that prohibitive costs are denying some kids a great (and fun) educational opportunity.

• If I didn't say it before, happy Valentine's week! What better way to celebrate love than by buying kitsch at a cheesy store created to turn our most tender moments into a quick profit?

• I am now throwing away all my deodorant. A study at UC Berkeley found that a chemical in male sweat can boost mood, brain activity and sexual arousal in heterosexual women.

• A week's worth of top stories you don't expect in a city of 80,000: Police shoot a man who had in his possession a "replica" gun; An apartment fire possibly caused by PG&E negligence destroys 16 units; A funeral is conducted that both devastates and unites the city; Neighbors are on edge because of a string of pot busts linked to a region-wide drug ring.

• A top story you do expect in a city of 80,000: A cancer awareness event to "paint the town purple" can't be held downtown because of an ordinance prohibiting the display.

• John Adams' corpse is rolling, but J.P. Morgan's is smiling: Alert Tracy Press reader Timothy Michael "Moneybags" Case wrote an article this week about how there is no middle class in America, only rich and poor — and then goes on to defend the rich.

• This week's shout-out goes to The Press Institute, which is a San Francisco-based outfit dedicated to encouraging, training and equipping women journalists across the globe and is directed by one of my friends and mentors from my college newspaper days. Check out the Web site and attend their upcoming February 24 event and auction.

Randomest thought of the week: Two Clintons are better than one. Think of the possibilities: "If I had known then what I knew now, I never would have had sexual relations with that woman."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week (in honor of my 24th birthday on Feb. 15): "Ever notice how the older people get, the slower they do things? I wonder why that is. I would think that the less life you had left, the faster you'd want to do everything, so you could pack more into the remaining years. You can bet when I'm a geezer like Dad, I'll be going like a maniac."

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Earth to elected leaders in Washington...

Sen. John McCain, for all his intelligence, courage and patriotism, seems to be unsettlingly uninformed or worryingly disingenuous (along with quite a few of our elected leaders).

He has stated that a Tet Offensive-like surge of violence in Iraq would turn American sentiment against the war in Iraq.

That would make sense if the American public wasn't already overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq and in favor of bringing the troops home. Until now, I thought Mr. McCain lived in a nice Arizona house. From his recent statement, I can only guess that he's been living in a cave.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• The TUSD-city of Tracy agreement to share the to-be-built West High School pool is just the perfect arrangement that can satisfy our need for aquatics locales for our youth without giving even more power to developers through illegal deals that tie the city's hands for the foreseeable future. Now, if only we could find a similar creative solution for soccer, baseball and basketball fields.

• To anyone upset with my "please raise taxes" column that published today: I pay taxes, and I'm one of the people who will suffer and pay more money under increased capital gains taxes (yes, I invest as heavily as I can in Wall Street), and I also might be one of the people who will have to suffer and pay more money under the estate tax. Sure, it's money I'd love to have, but I believe my societal responsibility and moral calling to contribute to the good of society outweigh my selfishness, even though those taxes will make it harder for me to eventually buy a house.

• All wet: It's finally raining in Tracy. That's good for this season's rain total and snowpack. But with California growing by the year, not even wet winters will be able to sustain our thirst for water if we don't do something about mandatory conservation.

• A Texas statute defines a fetus anywhere between fertilization and birth as an "individual." But it doesn't make sense. How can abortion be legal while a 23-year-old man can be convicted and sentenced for murdering the unborn fetus of a teenager? (He was also convicted and sentenced to death for killing the teenager.)

• Joining the Spaced-out Lovers on the tabloid racks, I mean front pages of reputable newspapers this week: the sad ending to the life of Anna Nicole Smith. Only in America could the passing of a woman made famous for bearing her pneumatic cleavage be the biggest news of the day.

• GOP screechers and news outlets (even the Press) have pounced on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "need" for an Air Force jet to take her coast to coast at high cost to taxpayers. They're leaving out two critical pieces on info, however. No. 1: It really wasn't Pelosi's idea, but the idea of the sergeant-at-arms, and Pelosi hasn't had anything to do with the negotiations. No. 2: Pelosi herself offered to fly on commercial airlines — a much cheaper option — but the Department of Defense said no.

• Happy trails (for now) to the Press' hard-nosed political reporter John Upton, who will be taking a vacation of indeterminable time and might find brighter pastures somewhere else. Here's hoping that he comes back — the Press won't be the same without the man who tackled Richard Pombo and the Site 300 explosions increases.

• Randomest thought of the week: I wish I could balance my checkbook the way the president is trying to balance the federal budget.

• "Calvin & Hobbes" quote of the week: "They say idle hands are the devil's workshop." "I resent that. We work darn hard at this!"

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Hooray for cable news

A coworker of mine in the sports department has sworn off ESPN (the ubiquitous sports news organization) because it homogonizes content and encourages a lack of original sports content.

Maybe it's time I took his lead and swore off cable news. After all, when a workspace love triangle is front-page news on Fox and CNN — even when the workspace is NASA — it just might be a sign that our supposedly vaunted commercial news organizations are interested in profits more than responsible reporting.

I know, I know, how could this possibly be true? News networks owned by millionaires and billionaires who were ruthless in their acquisition of capital couldn't possibly put dollar signs over the issues that really matter in our lives, right? Silly me to question their integrity.

Of course, maybe it's just coincidence that the Spaced-out Lovers (as this site will now refer to the NASA threesome) were a good excuse to wipe off the front page: GOP leaders refusing to debate the merits of an Iraq war strategy even though it's at the forefront in the minds of many Americans; a budget that assumes the middle class will in future years pay an even higher percentage of the country's income tax because of the increasingly burdensome Minimum Alternative Tax; and that global warming is indeed a human-created event but that we're still unwilling to institute the changes necessary to save our planet.

That's just a sample. I can go on. But I think you get the idea.

Trust cable news to provide you with the hard-hitting reporting on things you need to know about. So long as a single mayor isn't canoodling with a friend's wife or a crazed astronaut isn't attempting to kidnap a romantic rival.