Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving

The blog will return after the long weekend, unless I change my mind and post sooner. Until then, I'll leave you with my family's favorite Thanksgiving prayer...

O Lord, this day we thank you:
For food, as we remember the hungry,
For health, as we remember the sick,
For friends, as we remember the friendless,
For freedom, as we remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
that our many gifts may be used for others.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A case study for Tracy crime

If you're one of those neighborhood activists who's long held to the Broken Window Theory — that small instances of blight beget worse blight — consider yourself vindicated.

A team of researchers in Holland has conducted an experiment that confirms common sense — allowing a little graffiti or a touch of public disrepair only encourages more people to behave less lawfully. A clean street could be the best way to deter everyday quality-of-life crimes.

This goes hand-in-hand with an approach to policing that puts a large amount of the onus on community members, not just the girls and boys in blue.

We all have an opportunity to keep Tracy safe and clean. Now we have scientific proof that our small efforts can make a huge difference.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Canal still on the periphery

It might have slipped below the radar during the Longest Election Known to Man, but plans for a new Peripheral Canal continue to pick up speed. And proponents.

Even Sunne McPeak, a former Contra Costa County supervisor and vociferous opponent of the canal, has changed her tune. Not good for those trying to protect the Delta and those living in it.

She related in an interview published this weekend that her support changed because conditions have changed from the 1980s, when her opposition was key in defeating the Peripheral Canal at the ballot box. The levees are worse, there are more demands on the Delta as water source, and the entire ecosystem is in peril.

But the canal will solve none of these problems.

Not while those in Southern California continue to insist on Delta-watered lawns in the middle of a chaparral desert. Not while we have insufficient water storage to tide us over from wet years to dry ones. Not while we seem to believe that better conveyance and increased storage will yield an unending supply of water.

The underlying factor to the state's water crunch — namely, that too many people and farms exist in an unsustainable fashion in places where water doesn't naturally occur in abundance — will not be addressed by a Peripheral Canal.

Judging by McPeak's change of heart, the lesson doesn't seem to be sinking in...

Long lines, sad signs

An annual food giveaway in Stockton this morning drew hundreds hoping for a brighter holiday.

Tracy's houses of help are experiencing similar high demand.

Luckily, there's plenty those of us not in need can do this season and every season.

Each trip to the grocery store, if you can, purchase one, two, five extra nonperishable food items to donate. This time of year, many supermarkets have collection barrels sitting just beyond the check-out lines. And other times of year, save up the goods and take a drive once a month to Tracy Interfaith Ministries at Parker Avenue and Grant Line Road.

Consider it my New Year's resolution, made 1½ months early.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My own Armistice

Sam Matthews' column in the Nov. 15 Tracy Press brought back my own World War I memories, though I was born some 65 years after the conflict ended.

My great-grandfather served in one of the American telegraph units stationed in France, and while he was there, he sent home plenty of postcards to his bachelor-for-life brother, Ernie Jaeger.

Here's a few views from the Western Front, as well as handwritten proof (if you can read it) that the Doughboys really were "whipping the Huns."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Part of a vast media conspiracy...

Evidently, I'm deeply embroiled in an insidious media conspiracy. And no, I'm not talking about the right wing's toothless saw about the "liberal" media.

Nope. I'm part of a below-the-radar pattern of keeping photos of black people as inconspicuous as possible in the Tracy Press.

I am not making this up.

Today, a very nice — albeit misguided — woman asked why her son's picture was on the Web site but not in the newspaper, and why it was taken down from the Web site. All the while she suggested that a clear pattern had emerged at the Press, wherein pictures of black athletes and persons were continually (though probably not purposely) downplayed or excluded.

I explained that the Web issue was a mistake, and that the story in question had accidentally been posted twice, once with the photo and once without. )The picture-less duplicate has since been removed from the Web site.)

As for the photo not appearing in the print edition of the Tracy Press, the photo selection process is complicated, imperfect and often done during last-minute deadline.

The steps:

The photographers go through their hundreds of photos (especially for a sports shoot) and choose their two to five favorites based on composition, clarity and which photos best fit the story as they understand it from either a reporter or assignment editor.

These top shots are reviewed by the sports or news editors and then given to the copy editors (that'd be me), who try to pick the photos that fit the space already prescribed by advertisements and that best tell the story, all while keeping in mind that stories and pictures on one page often affect how stories and pictures are placed on other pages. (Individual pages, contrary to popular belief, are not designed in a vaccum.)

To be honest, when I see a photo, I don't even register the race or gender of the person in the photo, except to make sure we don't call a "him" "her." I see an item that needs to be put on a page (along with advertisements and most times another story, more photos and headlines) in a logical manner with an accurate caption — and done in a few seconds. On deadline, it's strictly business and accuracy.

And every once in a while, the best photo — for reasons of space or just because we made a mistake — doesn't make it into print. The perfect combination does not always materialize, but a sincere effort is there. Our mistakes are very public, and we take pride in the job.

One of my college's administrators, Dr. Lane Bove, had a way to describe this kind of incident: "A teachable moment." So I tried to explain all this, and I assured the kindhearted woman on the phone that there was no conspiracy at the Tracy Press.

Since my account did not seem to mollify her much, I can only guess that sometimes what a person wants to see overshadows what we might be able to teach one another.

It's that time of year

The gossamer veil hanging over Tracy today isn't the tule stuff of mid-January, but the fog has returned.

There's a pleasant chill in the air that suggests a coat without demanding it, the kind of autumn day in San Joaquin County that makes you happy to live here (despite several reasons to not feel so kindly about it).

After a long, dry spring and summer, I welcome the cooler clime. And pray that more rain and snow are soon to follow.

Here we go again

Another commentary in the Tracy Press argues that allowing same-sex marriage would have been an assault on religious freedom.

File Mrs. Jan Haws' Her Voice under "Point, Completely Missed."

I fail to see how the state granting secular same-sex marriage threatens religion. Under California law before Proposition 8 was passed, churches were not forced to marry same-sex couples, and churches’ definition of marriage would hardly have been changed by the failure of Proposition 8.

If it had failed, the only definition that would have changed is in regards to the definition of "marriage" in the secular state government. In the USA, that is not the same as religion.

All that would have happened is that two people who love each other — in a sometimes cruel world that seems to stack the deck against love and happiness of any kind — would be able to marry regardless of the equipment between their legs.

It is ironic that Mrs. Haws voted Yes on Proposition 8 because she wants to protect freedom of religion, when that very vote breached the separation between church and state. In essense, Mrs. Haws is saying that there must be religious freedom — as long as people are only free to obey the laws of Mrs. Haws' religion.

It is this faction of religious believers imposing their will on same-sex couples, not the other way around.

Besides, the only way to justify the ban on same-sex marriage is to rely on religious precepts, precepts that are not even held by all members of the same religion. This is shaky ground for a Constitutional amendment.

The approval of Proposition 8 encroached on religious freedom, setting the precedent that it’s perfectly OK to start establishing a theocracy if a bare majority supports it.

Freedom of religion means that everyone’s religion is treated equally by the state, and that is best done out of arm’s reach so that the state cannot become an arm of religion and so that religion does not become a tool of the state.

Religious freedom is a very, very, very good thing. But only when it's truly religious freedom.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gotta love that spirit

This past weekend, a group of dedicated citizens took the steps of Tracy's City Hall protesting California voters' collective decision to classify same-sex love as second-class.

Their cause might be righteous, but it's no surprise if their calls went unheard, as City Hall is rather unoccupied on Saturdays.

Even if their protest was scheduled for midday Wednesday, the effort would merely be symbolic. It's the county clerk who issues marriage licenses, not the city.

Still, it's good to know the cause is alive. Too bad there wasn't more of this fervor before Nov. 4.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Creepy, creepy Santa Claus

As many already know, Christmas carols and synthetic garland are already filling local retailers. (I personally heard holiday tunes at the MacArthur Drive Rite Aid two weeks before Halloween, and the workers there said they were sick of it already.)

In this age of Christmas creep, when magazines sell their Santa wares from July through January, at least one space will be holiday-free for a little longer.

There will be no more Christmas-related items at Second Thoughts until Thanksgiving has passed. You're welcome, you're welcome.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's all in how you say it

This came through the fax today, regarding the Tracy Cougars youth football team:

"A few of our kids came down with the stomach flu the night before (the game), however they were determined to play. All our kids left everything they had out on the field."

Hope at least they felt better afterwards.

Religious calling out

In the past few weeks, religious groups have gotten a bad rap. And rightly so.

Many religious groups and churches were the driving force behind Proposition 8, the voter initiative that now means the love between some people is worth less to society than the love between the rest of them. Hardly "love thy neighbor as thyself" stuff.

However, that's not the whole story of the religious community.

These groups also do a good deal of good.

Take a look at the Our Town support groups listing -- almost all of the groups meet at churches. Churches and groups give to charity and perform corporal works of mercy year round, even though the general focus in the rest of society is centered on charity during the holidays. They provide a support network for their members. Some even open their community halls on Election Day as polling places.

Without this kind of kind-hearted dedication, our cities would be much more desperate places to live.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What goes around...

The nasty little cold that's going around has taken hold at the Press.

The blog will be back in business as soon as its author can breathe through his nose again.

Thanks for the patience. And get your flu shot, if you haven't already.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Really, there is cause for optimism

If anyone thought today's column was overly negative, that wasn't the intent.

There are real problems in Tracy, however, and a real change of direction is needed. Building more houses and dedicating limited resources to that kind of development does not make sense in the current climate. Pretending that isn't the case won't help.

Yes, eventually, we will need more houses. But that eventually is not now. And the priorities of the City Council must reflect that reality.

I'm an optomist about Tracy. I think that with the right decisions and foresight, this good community populated by great people can become even better.

But the betterment of a family, neighborhood, city, state or country often requires adjustments of trajectory. Tracy is in need of one of those right now.

I also think that our elected officials — long-sitting though some of them are — have more than enough ability to accomplish that. I know that some of them have the desire.

The question is, will they actually do it?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Random election thoughts...

• One step closer to the Taliban: Congratulations California voters, you have just written discrimination and a narrow religious precept into the state constitution by passing Proposition 8.

• Big. Hypoctires: According to Prop. 8's writers, the initiative was meant to be retroactive, meaning that folks peddling themselves as defenders of marriage purposefully took it upon themselves to try and break thousands of unions asunder.

• Now the real work begins: Barack Obama won the election, but those celebrating need to keep in mind that it could take a lifetime — let alone four or eight years — to fix what hath been wrought. Progress will be slow and measured, not sweeping and grand. Get ready to pitch in and help. Change won't happen if we just sit around and expect the politicians to do it for us.

• The work is local, too: Mayor Brent Ives is back for at least another two years, and it's up to us to give him the support he needs to steer Tracy in a better direction. And speak up if he wanders off course.

• An investment in Tracy's future: An educated town is more likely to draw serious consideration from potential employers, and the passage of the Measure S school bond on the heels of Measure E is a sign that locals are serious in building a strong community, from the kids on up.

• Guess it wasn't so brilliant after all: Selecting Gov. Sarah Palin was an instant shot in the arm for John McCain's campaign, but her complete unreadiness for the job ened up a deal-breaker for many voters.

• Good to know the spin machine is still well-lubricated: Obama's 7 million vote margin isn't a mandate, according to Robert Novak. Of course, he said Bush's 2004 margin of 3.5 million was.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

After the election

Today, a tired, election-battered community and country wake to find a brand-new future, even though almost everything is the same as it was 48 hours ago. A little encouragement to get through the day...

"I read that scientsits are trying to make computers that think. Isn't that weird?? If computers can think, what will people be better at than machines?" "Irrational behavior." "Maybe they'll invent a phsychotic computer."

"Mom and dad say I should make my life an example of the principles I believe in. But every time I do, they tell me to stop it." "I'm not sure that total self-indulgence is really a principle."

"Our lives are filled with machines designed to reduce work and increase leisure. We have more leisure than man has ever had. And what do we do with this leisure? Educate ourselves? Take up new interests? Explore? Invent? Create?" "...Dad, I can't hear this commercial."

"Why do I get the feeling that society is trying to make us discontented with everything we do and insecure about who we are?" "I suppose if people thought about real issues and needs instead of manufactured desires, the economy would collapse and we'd have total anarchy."

"Everything is so darn hard! I wish I could just take a pill to be perfect and I wish I could just push a button to have anything I want." "The American Dream lives on." "Why should I have to work for everything?! It's like saying I don't deserve it!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The party's over

California polls just closed. And already the major networks are calling the whole shebang for Barack Obama.

Our local races will take some time to sort out, but one thing is clear — at least nationwide, a message of "change" took root. (After eight years of the President Bush fiasco, who can you blame?)

We'll see if similar sentiments reign closer to home. Check back at for updates. I'll be back with you tomorrow, alert readers.

Enjoy the evening.

My voting snafu

Turns out the soggy folks in Virginia aren't the only ones with voting problems.

I strolled into the Tracy Community Center to cast my vote today — same place I cast my primary ballots in February and June — and was summarily instructed to go to the Grace Baptist Church. My polling place had been moved, and I hadn't paid close enough attention to notice.

So I walked to my car, drove down to the Tracy Boulevard polling place and, after two screwed-up ballots, cast my vote.

And I wasn't the only one. At least two other people at Grace Baptist had stories to match mine.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The lay of the land

With one day to go, we decided to take a survey of the local electoral landscape.

Congress, 11th District:
Incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney is poised to reclaim his seat -- a poll taken two weeks ago gave him an 11-point lead over challenger Dean Andal, but the conservative from Stockton is known as a strong closer. Andal was the underdog in previous races, especially for his first campaign for an Assembly seat, and he has always pulled it out in the end.

As I wrote this, my phone buzzed with another mayoral phone ad. Conventional wisdom has the three-way race for the mayor's seat whittled down to two main contenders: Mayor Brent Ives and challenger Celeste Garamendi. Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert, though widely popular, has simply been dwarfed in the fundraising category this election cycle. Her pledge to not take more than $99 per donation -- that happens to be the threshold above which donations must be reported -- hampered her in comparison to Ives and his backers (he's also been given plenty of "independent" support from a PAC called For A Better Tracy, which was organized by developer Tony Souza to batter Garamendi and Councilwoman Irene Sundberg) and Garamendi and her coalition of donors. This race might be too close to call on Election Night.

City Council:
A five-man race for two seats is largely down to three contenders: Councilman Steve Abercrombie, Councilwoman Sundberg, and former police captain Mike Maciel. While challenger Larry Hite is well-known in the community and Larry Gamino has done some great work as a South Side activist and earned a Tracy Press endorsement, it would be a real shocker if one of the two Larrys pulled off an election victory.

Polling data doesn't exist for Measures S (TUSD bond) and T (term limits for mayor and council), but there's been neither sight nor sound of organized Measure S opposition. Tracy Unified has proven itself extremely reliable in handling the money from its most recent bond issue (Measure E in 2006), and voters will probably trust the board of trustees again to use taxpayer money wisely to upgrade middle and elemetary schools. As for Measure T, term limits have been popular in other jurisdictions, passing almost every time they appear on a ballot. Again, no polling data exists for this specific measure, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tracy voters gave it a green light.

The most contested one on the ballot is Proposition 8, and it's coming down to a dead heat. The question seems to be: how many social conservatives vs. how many social liberals will come out for this initiative given that the presidential race for California is all but decided.