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."