Friday, August 28, 2009

But what about the farmers?

Following Saturday's column, I expect to get some flak for neglecting the fate of farmers and siding with environmental whackos — that I'd rather defend an endangered fish than defend the livelihood of farmers.

Not so.

However, I would rather defend a region that is home to 4 million people, fertile soil, a dynamite agricultural industry, diverse wildlife, a rich fishery (when it's healthy) and a supply of water for millions and millions of Californians than defend the continued growing of crops on marginal soils with heavily subsidized water.

Some of it's nativism, since I've lived in San Joaquin County my whole life and I have a personal attachment to the Delta. But some of it is also common sense. Much of the land that is going fallow, drying and dying was never really prime ag land to begin with and would be downright unfarmable (as we can well now see) without that irrigation.

This is not to say that irrigation is itself evil. Only a fool who ignores the blessing of a cheap, abundant food supply would contend such a thing.

This is also not to diminish the plight of the farmers and workers whose livelihoods are at stake because their farms and fields are now without water. Their suffering is real, and not to be minimized or made light of. Many could lose a life's worth of work and investment in the current aqua-logical climate.

However, when we talk about the Delta and what to do with its limited supply of water, we're talking about priorities — how can we most wisely use this precious resource? And that means undoing the poor decisions of the past and making some very painful choices for the future.

Maybe this is too easy for me to say, since my livelihood isn't endangered and my supply of water is not at risk. But it still strikes me that ignoring the difficult decisions ahead is like living in a fantasy world.

Mountain Housers on edge for school nod

Justin Lafferty reports in the Press that the next step in the unification process for Mountian House's Lammersville School District is up to the county. Then it's on to the voters.

(Quick refresher: Unification means that Lammersville School District would have its own high school, thereby actually breaking away from Tracy Unified School District, which now schools Lammersville's high school-age students.)

Once the county approves the unification -- which I'm willing to be will happen -- Lammersville voters will have the chance to OK the move.

Given the independent spirit of those in Mountain House, I'd be shocked if unification didn't pass handily.

There also could be a hidden benefit to Tracy Unified. Though TUSD would initially lose a significant amount of money when Mountain House-based students no longer attend Tracy schools, it could ensure that overcrowding in Tracy will not be an issue for many years.

Tracy's third comprehensive high school, Kimball, eased overcrowding at West and Tracy High schools. The departure of MH kids from the Tracy Unified fold -- in addition to fostering that windswept community's sense of pride -- will further thin the ranks at those schools, indirectly making the investment at Kimball last longer.

How's that for silver lining?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In the interest of liberty

This in response to the once-again-surfaced issue of the rights of detainees in the War on Terror, and America's ghoulish to-torture-or-not-to-torture question:

Some might wonder why some people defend the rights of the people at Guantanamo Bay — considered by many to be terrorists, even though few have been convicted or even tried for anything. Well, I think our friend Tom Paine — he of "Common Sense" fame — summed it up well (Courtesy of Glenn Greenwald):

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

It's the same idea that guides the thinking behind the First Amendment. Or, to paraphrase that famed First Amendment-user, pornographer Larry Flynt:

To protect the speech you love, you must also protect the speech you hate.

Hear, hear.

A jazzed-up downtown

OK, so I kinda stole the headline, but this story about another cool hangout in downtown Tracy is more welcome news for the city's epicenter.

First, the old JC Penney building found an occupant in Corral Hollow Realty. (Not the fit I had imagined, but the space looks infinitely more inviting now than it did when it was home to a scrapbooking store that just couldn't fill out the building.)

Then, we heard news that a pub-style establishment was taking over the Central Avenue-10th Street building formerly occupied by Gigi's Pizza and Hula Huts restaurant. (Three cheers for fresh local suds at the corner!)

Now, Main Street Music's plans to offer an Italian cafe with vino and light eats. (I just hope the cafe has outdoor seating to take advantage of our balmy summer evenings and cool fall and spring breezes.)

Downtown needs more businesses that give people a reason to stroll around, sit down, stay awhile and spend some hard-earned money. I know I'll stop by Main Street's new stop for a glass of red stuff — I just hope others do, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Damned if he does...

Rep. Jerry McNerney's taken some heat for his phone-in town halls regarding health care. Understandably, some constituents are frustrated by the lack of direct access inherent to this particular medium.

But the poor guy is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.


McNerney has seen what's happened across the country when other congressmen and -women have met face-to-face with the public. While a good portion of the people showing up want real answers to pertinent questions, you also get this, this and this. These folks sure know how to take the "civil" out of "civil debate."

That's probably something he doesn't want to deal with. And I don't blame him. It wouldn't take but one or two unbalanced folks looking to cause a ruckus to hijack the entire event.

On the other hand, not having a face-to-face meeting with the public makes it looks like he's trying to distance himself from his constituents. It could even give the impression that he's trying to control what questions get asked, which comes off as distinctly anti-democratic. (Remember, trust is something for friends and family, not politicians. Not even the ones you like and vote for.)

No matter how many phone-in town halls McNerney hosts, it will not be as satisfying as a face-to-face event. (Though in the eyes of some, even those meetings would not satisfy.)

Ideally, I'd like to see McNerney host an in-person town hall in a couple cities around the 11th Congressional District, allow people to ask questions, lend their support, voice dissent, even cause a scene.

The result might not be pretty. But it would undoubtedly make for some great theater.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quote of the day...

OK, this actually happened a couple of days ago, but it's so good that it still qualifies.

Rep. Barney Frank isn't exactly a perfect spokesman for, well, anything. But when it comes to health care reform, he deserves credit for being the first person in Congress to put the nutty "death panel" crowd in its place, albeit less-than-diplomatically.

The money quote from the openly gay, Jewish congressman, upon being confronted by a woman who asked why the representative supported President Obama's "Nazi policy" health care plan:

"I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and respond to your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? ... It is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. ... Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Test scores good, learning better

Good news about the Tracy Unified School District's standardized test scores. Across-the-board, the scores are up.

If only those scores meant something. Well, OK, so they do mean something. But not necessarily that these kids are getting a good education. (Though I'm sure, Tracy Unified officials and teachers, that they are.)

Talk to many teachers, and standardized testing is often described as a pain, if not something that actually prevents learning. Good scores on standardized tests don't just tell us that students know the subject material -- they more often reveal that students are good at taking standardized tests, not that they're prepared to enter the world after school.

These two things are not necessarily the same thing.

Consider all the time spent teaching specifically to state- and federally mandated tests. Now consider all the valuable things that could (should) be taught instead.

Things such as basic civics (you have no idea how few people understand that funding for school districts and cities do not, in fact, come out of the same general fund -- or who even know what a general fund is) or economic survival (it seems our credit-hungry society could use some schooling on home budgeting and taxes) or even writing (don't get me started).

Then there are the bygone subjects that imparted hands-on skills that even my generation never got to experience -- auto shop, metal shop, carpentry. It's more than just money problems that prevents these things being taught. It's also the time.

I realize that testing will always be a necessary part of school. Even standardized testing has its place, if judiciously administered. But preparing for fill-in-the-bubble tests, and their corresponding scores, should never be mistaken for true learning.

Friday, August 14, 2009

City Council meeting update

If you pay rigorous attention to the Tracy Press print edition "meetings" list on Page 6, consider yourself temporarily hoodwinked.

The regular City Council meeting this coming Tuesday has been canceled, in favor of a 4 p.m. special meeting. (The agenda is here.)

What's coming up, you ask? Something having to do with amending the plans for the Gateway Business Park. Not sure what it's about, specifically, but if it's part of the plan to draw more commerce to the business park...

Well, woohoo!

Who doesn't need an 'Internet happy box'?

If you've been reading a lot of the public commentary about health care reform (and you're still sane, that is) you probably feel like weeping silently into a very deep glass of whiskey.

Luckily, Stephen Pastis, creator of "Pearls Before Swine," has a cure.

Rejoice, online refugees. Rejoice.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Health care makes my head spin

Researching an upcoming series of Tracy Press editorials regarding health care reform has been an eye-opener, and no surprise.

Aside from getting confirmation that several stated concerns about current reform proposals are truly bat s--- insane, it's obvious from a little research that the problems facing America's health care system are deep-seated and massively complex.

In fact, it's tough to figure out where to start, especially with the disinformation and unruly rhetoric surrounding this issue. That's why the Press will give its official take and health care reform primer in the coming weeks.

So stay tuned, alert readers. You might learn something. Or at least find something to write in about.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Peer behind the newsprint curtain

Ever wondered what kind of conversations go on in a newsroom?

This Web site gives folks in the journalism world a place to post some of the more-quotable (and less-suitable-for-public-consumption) newsroom utterances. It's well worth the trip if you have time to waste or some sort of print-o-phile curiosity.

Note, this is not recommended for those without a slightly morbid sense of humor. Or bourbon.

Not as bad as advertised

It's been repeated by many that California's most recent drought is putting tens of thousands of people out of work.

As pointed out before, the University of the Pacific has found that is a vastly overstated claim.

But don't expect The Associated Press — or the "self-interested" parties often interviewed for such articles — to stop citing the drought as a major motivator behind the Central Valley's high unemployment rates.

Traffic tangles

Reports in from the first day of school at Kimball High are mixed.

Seems as though traffic tie-ups on the one-lane-each-way stretch of Lammers Road are going to be common until the city is able to expand the road and beef up the turn lanes.

Until that day comes, expect serious delays getting in and out of Tracy's newest high school. And avoid the Lammers Road-11th Street interchange if at all possible between 7:45 and 8:30 a.m.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Get up and go, Master Green

Eric Green of West High has a great opportunity.

He can go to a premeir basketball high school on the East Coast, get a bigger platform to ball on, add a couple years to his high school experience and challenge himself academically.

What's not to love?

I suppose if you're a Wolf Pack booster, you might feel a bit burned because your only returning starter from last year's varsity basketball team is suddenly skipping town. But that would be awfully small, considering we're talking about a huge opportunity for a 16-year-old kid.

So let's wish him a bon voyage, instead of begrudging the young man his crack at success.

We're glad this is a big deal

Why be glad that the second killing in Tracy in less than a year (prudence and legality prevent me from writing the M-word) is hogging media attention?

Consider the alternative.

Tracy is a pretty peaceful town, despite a spate of high-profile cases and what seems to be a burgeoning tagging scene. A suspected homicide here is a rare thing.

That means, when someone is apparently beaten to death in her own home, it makes headlines. Thank goodness it's not a run-of-the-mill thing. Because, in some American cities, it is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

West Nile strikes equine community

This is what we're talking about when we at Second Thoughts write that West Nile virus is something to watch out for.

The short story: A horse in Tracy died from the virus.

The bad news: That means the virus is alive and well in the south county.

The good news: Horses are much more likely to get a severe case of the bug than humans, according to the CDC. It's only about 1 in 150 infected humans that contract a bad form of the disease, and not all of those are doomed.

So don't go into conniptions every time one of the little buggers sucks your blood. Just use common sense if you feel ill. And some of this.

It's a small (depressing) world

This column about the redevelopment starts-and-stops of downtown Stockton penned by The Record's Mike Fitzgerald has an interesting personal twist for me:

The protagonist, Anne Marie O'Toole, was my neighbor growing up in Stockton.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The catch-22 of public transportation

Driving through downtown Tracy just minutes ago was an empty Tracer bus. Well, I shouldn't say empty. It did have a driver. But you get the idea.

It's the catch-22 of public transportation.

People often don't use public transportation because it seems (or is) less convenient than driving in your own car, whether because of public transit schedules with long wait times or a lack of destinations.

And as long as the powers that be see empty buses, they'll be unlikely to add extra buses, routes and other public transport options. Which can perpetuate the cycle.

The city of Tracy is making small efforts to break this cycle. But it might take a return to $4 gas to really make public popular in Tank Town.