Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Summer's (almost) here!

The hills southwest of town have turned from green to gold, which can only mean one thing — summer is just around the corner.

Time to roll out the welcome mat for swimming, sunning and balmy nights tailor-made for a shady spot and a freshly made mojito.

(Of course, it's also time to say hello to smog, sunburns and general oppressive heat, but we're trying to keep this positive.)

I say, break out the Coppertone, and get ready for another Valley summer. There's no place else I'd rather be. Except maybe Hawaii. Or Montana. Or Pismo Beach. Or...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Name that Bean Festival contest!

Several alert readers have wondered why there isn't a community contest to come up with a marketing slogan for the upcoming Tracy Dry Bean Festival, as the work-in-progress "Come vacation at home" hasn't exactly caught fire.

So here it is, Tracy. Starting today, I'll accept any and all slogans for the Tracy Dry Bean Festival. The best suggestions will be pusblished in my Second Thoughts column in the Tracy Press on May 31 (provided, of course, there's ample material). Write 'em here, e-mail, or leave your words of wisdom on my voice mail at 830-4231.

Let's get this Bean Fest rolling.

Monday, April 28, 2008

So much for a different direction

Guess that Sen. John McCain doesn't loathe President Bush so much that he doesn't want his help running for president. Check out this report of Bushies that are boosting McCain's campaign.

The longer the campaign has gone on, the more McCain has seemed to buck his "maverick" ways and toe the neo-con line, whether it be on Iraq or on tax cuts or general fiscal policy.

If voters want something radically different than the un-leadership of President Bush the Second, it looks like they might have rethink about supporting the Senator from Arizona.

More of the silly season

For those who were hoping for more serious analysis and less of this, I urge you to remember, this is a presidential campaign. So sit back, take your perscription medication and hunker down, because you're about to get more of, The Rev. Jerimiah Wright.

Yes, the biggest overblown distraction of 2008 is refusing to go away. His most recent tour of interviews, in which he insisted that Sen. Barack Obama didn't dismiss him as a person or as his pastor, thrust him right back into the limelight.

And that, of course, means a couple more circuits on cable news — anything to keep those wannabe journalists from, you know, having to do research or anything that would qualify as, you know, real work.

Ain't this season great?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Suspended random thoughts...

I'll be back to the normal posting schedule Monday. Till then, enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A military ride-along

Took a tour of West High with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Craig Barringer today. He spoke to two classrooms filled with students about the benefits (and sometimes the pitfalls) of joining the armed services.

It's hard to know what to think about recruiters working a room of high schoolers.

Staff Sgt. Barringer seems like a truly nice guy, and he believes in the mission and the opportunities the Army can provide. There was no coersion, no strong-arming, no fear tactics — just a man on a mission, trying to give young folks a view of the Army they don't get elsewhere.

On the other hand, such presentations don't show the entirety of military life. It can't express the camaraderie, nor can it express the hardship and danger involved in shipping off to parts and battles unknown. It is (along with every other view), an incomplete snapshot, which can sometimes give hopes that are beyond realistic.

It's a fine line to walk, a tough call to make.

And though I'm not sure how I feel about recruiters talking up the Army to high school students, I'm definitely glad there are men like Staff Sgt. Barringer who are part of our community.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Campaign advice from Monty Python

Possibly the best analogy for Hillary Clinton's continuing campaign can be found at MotherJones.

Essentially, she's the dead parrot in the famous Monty Python skit. As long as she says she's in the race, she's in the race. Since there are no experts able (or willing) to say otherwise. So on the campaign goes, and John McCain continues to run without opposition, and without scrutiny.

(You could also say she's the man from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who insists "I'm not dead! I feel fine! I feel happy!" and then gets put out of his misery by a club-weilding John Cleese. But Obama supporters can only wish.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Earth thoughts

In all the simple suggestions I've ever heard for saving the planet (which is really just another way of saying "saving ourselves"), they all boil down to one very simple concept.

Live your life like you have to share the planet. Because we do.

Your Mother is not happy

38 years ago, some worldly people gathered together with the notion that the Earth's inhabitants were finally ready to care for their planet.

Turns out, we're still waiting.

But while governments and major polluters drag their feet, there are smaller things that can be done.

Like rediscovering the clothesline. Or buying locally grown foods. Or by giving up bottled water for what comes out of the tap.

Oh, voting for candidates who actually care about the environment helps, too. And if you want to put your money where your mouth is, there are several mutual funds specializing in "green" companies (some of which you've actually heard of).

So be green today. And tomorrow.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Get your Relay on

Relay For Life organizers remind us there are only two weeks left to sign up for the Tracy event.

Our relay at Peter B. Kyne Field (soon to also be Wayne Schneider Stadium) has a reputation for being one of the most well-attended in the area, not to mention one of the most lucrative for the American Cancer Society.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up at the RFL Web site today (you don't even need to join a team), and I'll see you at the track.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday random thoughts ...

• The European odyssey continues: My golf clubs are finally stateside, but my father's ... well, they're still having the time of their lives. Somewhere. Thanks to British Airways.

• No one declares we're defeated but us, dammit! Check out a report about Al-Qaida's newest press release.

• Maybe the time for holding back has passed: I can't help but think that more than a year after the Mike Ucci tragedy, the time had come for it to be a fully poignant teaching moment. Evidently the folks at West High don't agree.

• Vandalism vigilantes on the verge? With all the complaints about incivility (and outright lawlessness) on the Voice page, I wouldn't be surprised to hear of our very own vengeance mob. Not that I'm hoping for it.

• If you don't hug a tree, at least don't kick a plant: Celebrate Earth Day at Stockton's Victory Park on Sunday. Or don't, since driving from here to Stockton to recognize environmental awareness would kind of defeat the purpose.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Tracy Press sandwich

Next time you're over at Gerard's Deli on Central Avenue, grab a slice of the Tracy Press newsroom.

It's called "The Kelsy," named after the copy editor who custom-created the sandwich, and it's on the unofficial menu. (We're working on the official part.)

What you'll get is toasted ciabatta bread with turkey, sundried tomatoes, spinach and provolone cheese. With light mayo.

It's putting the deli back in delicious.

A mighty tall order

With budget deficits looming the next several years, the city of Tracy has put out the following fiscal goals:

• Maintain a general fund reserve of at least 15% of the operating budget
• Balance the city budget
• Build up the economic uncertainty fund
• Maintain service levels between now and 2013
• Layoff no employees between now and 2013

I'm taking bets (of a friendly nature) as to which of these goals won't be met. Remember when placing bets that one of the city's stated long-term fiscal strategies is "assesment of potential service level reductions." Any takers?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

International random thoughts...

Several thoughts still bouncing around my head from my trip to Scotland:

• I might be in Tracy, but my overseas adventure continues: I still don't know where my golf clubs are, more than 10 days after checking them as baggage.

• The Brits know how to ride escalators: Anyone who's ever been trapped behind someone treating the local escalator as a ride at Disneyland should travel abroad, where the slowpokes actually stand aside and let the walkers pass unmolested.

• The Brits don't know how to run an airline: My Terminal 5 experience is just begging for someone to remake Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day."

• Ignorance is bliss: Just one week removed from the 24-hour cable/Internet news cycle, and I already feel happier and more well-adjusted.

• It's good to be home: I was only gone about seven days, but even that's enough to help you appreciate home. And how good we really do have it in the U.S.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Getting out of Dodge

I'll be on a golf trip to Scotland beginning today, and I'll return to the office on April 15.

I can't wait to get back to writing, but I really can't wait to hit the links.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Every development has its problems: Building in the Bow Tie area might be a better option than Tracy Hills or Ellis, but first it needs to be cleaned up. The Bow Tie is contaminated, and it could take millions of dollars to have it comply with residential safety standards.

• Maybe this guy should pick up a rifle: President Bush, for saying that he's "a little envious" of the men and women fighting the "romantic" wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Too bad he didn't think Vietnam was quite as nice.

• Me rite gud: California students evidently aren't improving on writing tests like their national peers. The bright side for a journalist? More job security!

• Are regional rail improvements anywhere on the agenda? The annual One Voice delegation to Congress is headed out soon to plead the case for the county's transportation needs.

• Whatever happened to dirigibles? Between airlines canceling flights for safety reasons, the baggage snafu at London Heathrow and FAA failtures, I'm very confident regarding my upcoming transatlantic flight.

• Pointless Coverage of the Week Award: If this is your top story, it's time to quite calling yourself a journalist. I'm looking at you, Fox (Might Contain Actual) News and CNN.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I'm learning real skills that I can apply throughout the rest of my life ... procrastinating and rationalizing."

The smog hits the fan

My Rustbucket's days as a country cruiser might be numbered. (Or so I thought, until receiving a comment from an alert reader with better comprehension skills than I).

A bill in the State Senate could mean the joy of fixing up an old Classic Car goes the way of the dodo. It would require cars built before 1976 to be smog tested every other year, and the cars would have to pass for them to hit the roads. (As the reader noted, this would apply to those buying said cars after Jan 1, 2009)

As much as I hate to admit it, this sounds on the surface like a good idea. The Central Valley is the worst smog spot in the nation, and those old Bel Airs and Mustangs don't have the benefit of all the exhaust recovery gadgets that later models do.

But that brings up the question of how much will people have to spend to make the cars street legal, and how much impact the bill would really have. Most of these classics aren't daily drivers and probably account for a small amount of the soot in the air. Also, this bill reportedly would only affect cars in the Central Valley.

Still, every bit helps. And if this means the Rustbucket's country road driving days are over, I guess that's how the ecological cookie crumbles.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The kindness of strangers

Pursuing a story today about the building of a Sikh temple on Clover Road, I made a journey far outside city limits to the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Prakash — an existing Sikh temple — to find someone to talk to.

Turns out the guys at Gurudwara have nothing to do with the proposed temple, which faces the approval or rejection of the County Planning Commission tomorrow. But I can't say they weren't helpful.

With the assistance of a translator, the temple elder, two others and a mysterious man on the phone, I traced down somebody who might eventually be able to answer some questions about the to-be-built temple. If, that is, he returns from Oregon.

Not efficient, but man, talk about friendly. They even offered me tea and lunch.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fr. Kelly saga continues

Two weeks ago I wrote a column basking in the apparent exoneration of my friend Fr. Michael Kelly, a former priest in Tracy who was accused of abuse. I might have been premature in thinking his troubles were over.

It became clear the saga will continue when the news broke that Fr. Kelly's accuser was filing a lawsuit for the pain and suffering caused by the alleged abuse, a suit that not only again accused Kelly but also blamed the San Joaquin Diocese for reinstating him.

This brought to mind an e-mail I received from a reader after that column:

"I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes people aren't whom they appear to be."

Pretty much everybody who's known a priest convicted of abuse has said they were fooled. But I will repeat here what I told this reader.

"... lacking other evidence, we must all trust to our own judgment. Mine is out for all to read, and it speaks to a man whom I trust. That is my position until I am proven otherwise, which I sincerely hope I never will be."

Personal feeling aside, an issue that two weeks ago seemed laid to rest has suddenly become much more messy. And it will probably only get worse.

Oh, the fun that awaits

FYI for my alert readers: I'll be across the pond in Scotland from April 5 to April 11, so the Second Thoughts blog will be temporarily on haitus.

But, my pending trip brings me to today's topic, namely, the Baggage Claim From Hell.

Yes, there are thousands of bags without owners at London's Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. And yes, I will be flying through said terminal. Twice.

They say with travel, getting there is half the fun. But I think I'd like to avoid any unecessary adventure.
* Picture courtesy