Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Eid al-Fitr (I hope ... )

NASA astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmidt (one of my heroes) during 1972's Apollo 17 mission to the (non-crescent) Moon.

I'm not a Muslim, but I'll be sitting with bated breath tonight to see if someone in the United States sees the new crescent moon, thus signaling the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr.

The non-religious reason I care is that my boss will be taking tomorrow off if Eid has begun and I get to come in on my off day and take his place. Normally -- like most people -- I wouldn't want to come in on my day off. But with my upcoming trip to Australia cutting severely into my work schedule, I want to take extra hours wherever I can.

Thanks to the fact that my boss follows the tradition where someone in the country actually has to see the Moon with his own eyes -- despite the fact that the phases and illumination of the Moon are predictable centuries in advance -- it's not known yet whether he will take Wednesday or Thursday off. Wednesday I can do, but on Thursday I have a doctor's appointment in the morning and have to pick Ian up from school in the afternoon. I want those hours, so I really hope someone sees the Moon tonight.

The most likely spot tonight for an American new moon (or hilal) sighting would be Miami, but the forecast shows that it will be rainy in south Florida this evening.

The end of Ramadan also means my boss can eat lunch with me again. We'd been alternating who buys and it's been stuck on his turn for a month!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Last day of the season, but do I care?

Appearances to the contrary, this man and I rarely agree.

It's the last day of the 2008 MLB season and there are still two playoff spots up for grabs. Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox are split by less than a game in the American League Central Division and Milwaukee and the New York Mets are tied for the National League Wild Card going into play this morning. Exciting stuff, with potential tiebreakers and makeup games in the mix tomorrow.

The scenarios are enticing, and it will be fun to watch the Twins and ChiSox (and possibly the Tigers if a makeup game proves necessary) battle it out. Less enticing to me is the possibility of the Milwaukee Brewers making the playoffs for the first time since Harvey's Wallbangers.

I just can't bring myself to root for the Brewers, despite them being the type of underdog I would normally support. I still think they belong in the American League, for one thing. But the biggest reason I can't support them is their long affiliation with the Selig family. Formerly owned -- in a huge conflict of interest -- by the commissioner but since sold, I still can't shake the affiliation.

Bud Selig has had hits and misses as commissioner, but I will never be able to forgive him for helping to push the Expos out the door in Montreal. It was a short-sighted move by someone who claimed he wanted to "internationalize" baseball, yet did nothing to help MLB's first international team. I was a strong supporter of the Expos in their final years and Selig's legacy will always be tainted by their failure.

So I can't root for the Brewers in any situation. Much like my irritation about the 2003 World Series, which pitted the Florida Marlins (owned by former [terrible] Expos owner Jeffrey Loria) and the New York Yankees (owned, of course, by George Steinbrenner), I can't separate a good team from their owner (or former owner).

Yet there's another problem. I used to attend as many as 10-15 MLB games per year (being in a two-team market made this easy). I cut my attendance back a bit when the Expos were shooed out of existence, but still made around five games or so per season. This year, however, I went to only two games (in San Francisco in April and in San Diego in June) -- I never even made it to Oakland this season (and I might never go again if they move form Oakland into a new, BART-unfriendly ballpark).

Major League Baseball hasn't quite lost its appeal to me, but with the steroid scandals, the movement of the Expos and other issues, it's going to have to try harder to keep me around.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Quick, send more coffee to London's Bush House!

Driving home from last night's football game, I had the BBC World Service on in the car, thanks to a simulcast on a local NPR station.

I think we need to up caffeine shipments to Britain, as the announcer stated, "It's 0420 GMT, and repeating this hour's top story, US presidential rivals John McCain and Barack* M'Gomba have faced off in their first televised debate."

Graveyard shifts are apparently tough no matter where in the world you are ...

* She pronounced if like an army "barrack."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Little stinkers

Stinker No. 1:

Ian at last week's Burlingame/Menlo-Atherton tennis match, which I covered for the San Mateo Times. The Burlingame tennis coach actually told me something along the lines of "I didn't discover watching girls playing tennis until I was in my twenties."

Stinker No. 2:
I finally had my first blowout tonight, as El Camino beat Jefferson, 30-8, on a foggy Daly City field. The fog was probably the only familiar thing, as the Jefferson field has been completely renovated. In a previous post I decried the new artifical turf at Terra Nova*, but this was a field that really needed it.

Jefferson High -- the closest thing to an inner city high school one will find in San Mateo County -- opened in 1922 and it seemed like it hadn't been tended to since. The old field was usually muddy, bare and poorly marked. The "press box" was a four-feet by six-feet shack and what passed for a track was a concrete-hard surface covered with blowing dust. But the new field -- the whole stadium, in fact -- looks great.

While it's still under construction, the renovated stadium has already brought a new energy to the school, new spirit to the fans and even the lights (donated by alumnus John Madden) seem a lot brighter than they once were. Kudos to the Jefferson High School District and school bond voters. While educational priorities will always be debated, this field and track will help keep thousands of Daly City youths healthy and greatly benefit the community as a whole.

* Four weeks into the season, I have yet to see a game on real grass this year and have another game on turf (Menlo School vs. Lowell at Woodside High) on Saturday night.

The Scotsman and the nun

I took Ian to Commodore Park in San Bruno after school yesterday in order to try and burn some of the sass out of him before I took him home. He was having a fine time climbing and jumping and didn't seem to need my interference, so I plopped down on a bench with an Australian travel book and began to read.

Along came an older man, probably early to late 70s, walking a small terrier (apparently the recent victim of an overzealous groomer). He stops when he gets to my bench, then asks -- in an initially hard to place accent -- "Didja hear the one about the priest and the nun in the desert?" I hadn't, so he elaborates (paraphrase follows):

This priest and nun were crossing the desert on a camel when the beastie suddenly dies. Reflecting upon their upcoming demise, the priest tells the nun he's never seen a woman's bare chest and asks the nun if he could look at hers. She reluctantly complies, then says she's never seen a man's genitals.

The priest happily unzips, only to have the nun ask "What's that?"

"This, sister," says the priest, "brings life."

"Well then stick it into the camel and let's get going."

Ah. This was followed by another "off-colour" such joke and some English-bashing and I'm finally able to determine this laddie's a Scot. We chat a couple minutes about his 20-plus years in Her Majesty's Navy and I grudgingly pat his dog. Ian by this point has climbed to the top of a small hill and is yelling in my direction, "Daddy, I'm ready to go now!" (No doubt wanting to visit the local Baskin-Robbins.)

I excuse myself, get thanked for "having a sense of humour, unlike some in these parts," and make my leave.

As I'm walking away, I make an assumption about his loyalties based on the Catholic jokes and exclaim, "Go Rangers!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Le programme de l'espace de la Chine a lieu derrière les temps

Quand la Chine, en 2003, a lancé son premier «taikonaut» dans l'espace, j'ai écrit une lettre au journal local énonçant simplement la «Bienvenue à 1961.» La petite capsule, avec faire simple d'occupant de seules 14 orbites, a semblé underwhelming pour une grande nation comme la Chine.

Cinq ans après, probablement dès que cette semaine, le Chinois lancera une capsule de trois-homme dans l'espace - partie d'un programme qui peut voir un homme chinois sur la lune en 2017. Il semble à moi comme la Chine encore gaspille des ressources sur examiner la technologie déjà prouvée au lieu de la poussée pour de plus grands avantages - tous au nom d'un certain sens mal orienté «de fierté nationale.»

Je suis un partisan fort d'exploration de l'espace, mais les ressources scientifiques potentiellement grandes de la Chine mieux seraient dépensées joignant un projet continu tel que projet international de station spatiale ou le de «Constellation» des NASA, qui non seulement atteindra par la suite la lune mais également Mars. La Chine devrait aider à pousser les limites de ce que l'humanité peut faire dans l'espace, plutôt que réchauffé ce que les Etats-Unis et l'URSS ont fait dans les années 60.

(Photo courtesy AP/Cornell University)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

So do I get paid any extra?

One of the interesting things about the growing consolidation of the newspaper industry -- which is great for cutting costs in the industry but not so good for preserving a diversity of opinions -- is that reporters often finding themselves writing for papers they never would have worked with otherwise.

For example, last night I covered the Monterey/Half Moon Bay football game for the San Mateo Times. And, it turns out, the Monterey Herald -- yet another of the all-encompassing Media News syndicate that basically now controls all non-Hearst papers in the San Francisco Bay Area (and surroundings).

Thanks to my Times affiliation, I've had stories run in (relatively) local sister papers such as the Oakland Tribune and Palo Alto Daily News, but never have been syndicated as far as Monterey.

(When I was with the Glendale News-Press, I often got into the local sections of the Los Angeles Times before the News-Press was outright sucked into the LA Times after I left. And I'm not counting one-off stories I've done straight for papers like the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Visalia Times-Delta when their teams have come out here.)

The game itself was decent -- three weeks into the season and I haven't had a bad game yet. One thing of note was that in the San Mateo Times, my story -- heavily cut for space -- just led the weekly roundup of "minor" games. But in the Herald, my story ran complete as a stand alone.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when I submit my invoice to the paper, as stringers such as myself get one rate for "roundup" stories and another, slightly higher rate for "standalones." I will be charging the full standalone rate for last night's work and I'm hoping that they will honor the request, despite my officially being on assignment for the Times (where it ran in the shorter form).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Metrolink spokeswoman resigns -- was she pushed out for telling truth?

It was with great disappointment today that I read (in the LA Times transportation blog) that Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell resigned last night after being disavowed by the rail agency's board of directors.

Tyrrell was put on the spot by revealing that Friday's horrible head-on Metrolink/freight train collision that killed 26 people was likely caused by the Metrolink's engineer having not stopped at a red signal. While the reason the Metrolink didn't stop hasn't yet been determined (inattention, faulty signal, medical problem), there has been rampant speculation (including that the engineer may have been texting someone!).

Studying journalism in college, my classmates and I were warned about the moral dilemmas one might face in taking a public relations job. Trained year after year to get the truth out in an as unbiased manner as possible, many journalists who migrated to PR work (common enough as "real" media opportunities continue to dry up) were faced with the problem of putting their employer's best interests over their natural instinct to share information. God knows it was difficult for me to hold my tongue while I worked in law enforcement.

So did Tyrrell do the right thing? Terrell's words, as quoted in the LA Daily News, were:

"We believe it was our engineer who failed to stop at the signal," said Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell. "When two trains are in the same place at the same time, somebody's made a terrible mistake."

Obviously, Tyrrell opened Metrolink to a lot of liability when she said an engineer had missed the red signal. But she didn't say why the signal was missed and there would have been hundreds of millions of dollars worth of lawsuits anyway. Metrolink will be sued, Union Pacific will be sued, the state of California will be sued. All of this will -- and would have -- go through whether or not Tyrell made her rather non-committal statement.

I've had an interesting relationship with Metrolink over the years, despite having moved to Northern California 13 years ago. In 1992-93, I used to ride the line the short distance between the Burbank and Glendale stations to see a friend. In 1994, I wrote a post-earthquake story for the Glendale News-Press about how people were taking the train to avoid quake-damaged highways (sadly, that didn't last). And, of course, Metrolink's previous worst "accident" took place in Glendale in 2005 when a suicidal man placed his pickup truck on the tracks -- causing two trains to collide.

Five-car trains going as fast as 60 mph in urban areas is always going to come with some risk. The problem in last week's crash came across mainly because there is only a single track in the area where the collision occurred. Thankfully, that's not a problem here in the Bay Area with Caltrain, which has a minimum of two tracks all the way through (and I ride two days a week). But it certainly makes a case for some sort of automated control of the trains as Caltrain undergoes electrification come 2012 or so.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Samtrans fare increase likely in February

With the rising costs of fuel making it all-but inevitable, the SamTrans board of directors on Wednesday set an Oct. 15 date for a public hearing to take input on a proposed fare increase.

SamTrans staff is proposing a raise in the $1.50 base fare to $1.75 per trip. Monthly pass prices would rise from $48 to $56 and a pack of 10 tokens would increase $2 to $14.50. Senior, disabled and youth fares would stay at their current levels. If approved, the new fare structure would take effect on Feb. 1, 2009.

When the matter came up before the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (of which yours truly is a member) last week, I think we all understood the inevitability for it. The price of diesel fuel has increased by more than $2 per gallon since the last SamTrans fare increase in 2005. I think the CAC knows that we can't hold the line against raising fares forever.

But I brought up what seemed to be a strange proposed pricing structure -- $14.50 for a pack of 10 tokens, $56 for a monthly pass. What's with the off-kilter odd amounts for those items? It turns out staff simply multipled the prices for those items by the same amount they increased the base fare. The CAC asked that the proposed rates for those items be rounded down to $14 and $55.

Staff members seemed receptive to our suggestions. In addition, I noted that there was no pricing proposal related to the "day pass," that we have been discussing to come online next Fall when SamTrans installs new fareboxes on its buses. I noted that, according to plan, day passes would arrive less than nine months after the proposed fare increase and it was time to start figuring out how they would fit into the SamTrans fare structure. Staff agreed, but I got the impression they thought it was still a little early to think about such matters.

When our esteemed chair, Wayne Kingsford Smith, summarized our discussion to the Board of Directors Wednesday, he basically told them that the CAC had “decided to sleep on it” and return with our recommendations in October. True, for the most part, but I wish Wayne had given the Board a little more regarding the concerns with the pricing structure. Oh well, it’ll look better coming in as part of a comprehensive report in October.

In any case, the staff report to the Board of Directors mentioned our request to round off the costs of tokens and the Board approved the Oct. 15 public hearing date. I hate fare increases, but I haven't heard any better proposal to help make up the increasing structural deficit in the SamTrans finances.

Remembrances of Sept. 11, 2001

Yesterday marked seven years since the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93 (wow, the time went fast). The usual hemming and hawing came from all sides of the political spectrum ("We should never forget," "This shows how evil our enemies truly are," "This tragic event has been used to justify illegal wars," "9/11 was an excuse to take away our civil liberties," etc.).

There are some who say that Sept. 11, 2001, was the most traumatic event in American history -- bigger than Pearl Harbor, even. While I think there are certainly similarities to Pearl Harbor, I think enough time has passed for me to begin to put Sept. 11, 2001 (we really gotta come up with a better name than "9/11") into a proper historical perspective.

For anyone in their seventies or better, there will be nothing more traumatic than Pearl Harbor -- which is my nominee as well. I think a lot of the "9/11" hysteria is coming simply because of both the live nature of the event and the fact that it happened to their generation. Outside of new air travel difficulties and the fact there are no longer trash cans in subway stations, I don't think my life is much different than it would have been without "9/11." (People in New York or who've lost a loved one in combat, etc., might understandably feel different.) Pearl Harbor, however, changed the face of the world. It brought in a new global power scheme, massive economic upheavel and was one step on a road that cost 50 million lives. Now THAT's impact.

I'm not saying forget the lessons of "9/11," and certainly let's not let our liberties be eroded either by terrorists or the government in its wake. But let's try to get a little perspective.

My experiences on Sept. 11, 2001: I woke up to a phone call about 7:05 a.m. It was Michelle Gibson, one of my fellow San Mateo County Civil Grand jurors, telling me that our tour of the Sheriff's Honor Camp near La Honda had been cancelled because everyone was on high alert. I thought maybe there had been a fire or something and asked Michelle what was going on. "You haven't seen the news? Watch the news," she said. I flipped on the small bedroom TV to KTVU, which was simulcasting CNN.

I saw an image of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, with a bug underneath stating there had been terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. There was a explosion (it turns out it was a replay of the second plane hitting) and I briefly thought that terrorists were using small rockets like the ones they periodically attack Israel with. A cut back to a live shot showed a huge amount of smoke and dust and I did not even register that a tower had fallen until the voice over said so. I quickly checked online, trying to get a WTC webcam I had bookmarked (obviously it was off-line), then returned to the bedroom and sat with Claire just in time to see the North Tower fall.

The rest of the day was a blur. I heard the incredulous news that all air travel was suspended and only then noticed the deathly silence outside -- we then, as now, lived by the flightpath of San Francisco International Airport. I took a shower thinking "We're at war," and watched news coverage the rest of the day. Of all the wall-to-wall coverage that day, one of the most surprising news sources was MTV, which was simulcasting CBS coverage. I immediately thought Osama bin Laden was the most likely suspect (I was probably one of the few Americans who knew who he was prior to "9/11") and even got out some frustrations by playing a Harpoon computer game, in which the scenario was to destroy terrorist bases (albeit in Libya in this case).

Claire went to work at the San Francisco State University bookstore, but was sent home around midday. We then went to the inlaws' house for dinner, where we ate pasta and watched the news.

Funny thing is, we didn't normally watch the morning news then and I was unemployed at the time. If not for the Honor Camp Tour (which I had completely forgotten about), I would have slept through history, not finding out until I turned on the television around 11 a.m. or noon, Pacific time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Statement in support of California High-Speed Rail

At today's meeting of the SamTrans Board of Directors, the board expressed a resolution in support of Proposition 1A (the High-Speed Rail bond measure). A couple of NIMBY cities in the county, Menlo Park and Atherton, have joined a lawsuit seeking to dismiss the project's environmental impact report. No doubt they're concerned that a year of construction related to the project will lower their average home value from $2.7 million to $2.4 million. Sigh.

Before the vote, I gave the Board the following testimony:

"I hate pitting constituency against constituency, city against city. But I hope that this Board and the JPB (Caltrain Joint Powers Board) at some point find an appropriate time to decry the lawsuit joined by the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton opposing High Speed Rail.

"This is an extremely positive project for San Mateo County as a whole, with great benefits from proposed stops at San Francisco International Airport and a possible stop in the South County. In addition, this project can assist Caltrain with electrification and grade separation projects.

"I used to live in San Mateo on East 40th Avenue, one block from the tracks, so I understand their concerns. But there is a big picture and I hope that this Board can remind Atherton and Menlo Park of that big picture."

I had at least three Board members (to remain nameless because I can say things they can't) thank me for my support at the end of the meeting, as well as a couple SamTrans/JPB employees.

The Beeb (jail)baited me into it!

I don't listen to the radio much anymore, maybe a little news, sports or comedy in the car when I don't take the bus/train, but I do use the wonders of the Internet to listen to BBC Radio 1 at work now and then.

Thanks to the BBC, I've discovered a lot of artists I would never hear in California (i.e., Alphabeat, Gabriella Cilmi, MGMT) or discovered them months before they made news in the States (The Ting Tings, Duffy, Estelle). So when they recently began playing a new, fun pop song with an infectious beat and fun lyrics that you can't get out of your head, I thought I'd made a new discovery.

But when it turned out to be from an artist whom -- as a 36-year-old man who grew up on the sad stylings of Depeche Mode, Erasure and the Cure -- I'm not all supposed to like, one who by the stylings of society I'm even encouraged to ridicule, I paused. But then I threw caution to the wind and bought the song -- which is now in circulation on the iPod. More specifically, since I couldn't quite get myself to spend money on this tune, I went to Amazon and traded Pepsi Points for it.

Darn the torpedoes, it's just a good, fun, innocent pop song and I'm not ashamed to own it.

And that's how I became a fan of Miley Cyrus' "See You Again."

(Just be sure to get the updated 2008 version (aka the "Rock Mafia Mix"), which is a lot better than the original.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Greetings from the Bya Aera (sic)

I'm usually a staunch defender of the (non-tabloid) media, and not one to point out simple typos, but I found this one on the Sydney Morning Herald's website tonight a bit funny. You'd think "the oldest continuously-published newspaper in Australia" (per Wikipedia) would know how to spell the name of the city in its masthead.

I made an interesting typo on a headline a few years back when filling in for the vacationing editor of the Redwood City Tribune/Independent. We ran a three-column subhead in two different newspapers about the expansion of the "Dumbarton Bride." Of course, I meant traffic across the southern end of San Francisco Bay would be better, not that Mrs. Dumbarton was getting fat.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Old school X-Men -- Neal Adams is the man!

Riding the bus home from work this afternoon, I finally got around to reading a comic I got at Comic-Con in about 2006 or 2007. It was a reprint collection of X-Men 59-61, cover-dated August 1969 and subsequent. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

A lot of folks opine that the first great era of the X-Men came in the original Chris Claremont run, specifically from about issues 100-215 (interestingly, Claremont got his first X-Men credit with a "plot assist" in issue 59). But I think that the first really good X-Men run was the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams teaming 50 issues earlier. In this collection we had a couple decent, straight-forward Thomas plots chock full of action. The stories are a bit simplistic in places (Cyclops fooling a group of Sentinels into attacking the sun because -- as the greatest source of radiation in the solar system -- it causes mutation), but it's action-packed classic 1960s Thomas. A neat trivial point: Thomas not only displayed his well-known love of literature, but also confirmed in-story a long suspicion of mine that the mutated pterosaur Karl Lykos was indeed named "Sauron" after the Lord of the Rings character.

But the real revelation was the art of Neal Adams. I had previously seen his classic covers from the era (example: X-Men 58 below), but didn't know he had such a good storytelling style. The action flows smoothly, even with Adams' creative layouts. Great linework. I was really excited. It was work up there with the best of late 1960s Marvel.

How I would solve society's ills

After the previous political post (and in preparation for one ready to drop in a couple days), I just thought I might clarify my own positions on some of society's issues. Basically, I'm a hard-edger. Neither fully liberal or conservative, but taking positions from the edges of both sides.

For the record, I am not a member of any political party. In California, however, that goes on the voter rolls as "decline to state," instead of "none" or "non-partisian," which I think is disingenuous as it makes it sound like I have a party leaning but am afraid to let people know. Not the case.

I lean a bit to the left, which in the Bay Area makes me a "cold-hearted conservative" and everywhere else a "flaming liberal."

My positions on selected political issues:

Social Issues

  • Abortion, euthanasia/assisted suicide of the seriously ill, and the death penalty should all be legal. Or all should be illegal (I lean toward legal). I think it's a bit hypocritical to be for or against one and not the others. Frankly, there are not enough executions to make it a worthwhile deterrent and too many "unwanted" children barely cared for by people unfit to be parents;
  • Anyone -- male, female, whatever -- should be able to marry anyone else they want: male, female, whatever, as long as all parties are of legal age, fully sentient and marrying of their own free will. Adam and Steve's relationship down the street has absolutely no effect on my marriage, nor does it make mine any less special. For those who are going to ask what's next: Polygamy? (Sure, as long as it follows the rules above -- although I'd limit the tax benefits.) Child marriage? (No, check the legal age requirement.) Bestiality? (Only if the animal is fully sentient, e.g., a gorilla with a transplanted human brain or a really smart dolphin.);
  • Teach abstinence in schools. It is the most effective way of preventing the spread of disease and pregnancy, and frankly might slow the rush of some kids who are just not ready for the responsibility. But be realistic -- kids are going to have sex, lots of it if they can. Teach the facts of life and hand out free condoms in a welcome pack at the beginning of every semester;
  • Guns. To me, the text of the Second Amendment is clear: "A well-regulated militia ... " You want a Glock? Fine. Join the National Guard. Anyone not serving in a militia should hand in their firearm, save for the occasional licensed hunting rifle. I'm fine if the angry red states want to form "citizen volunteer militias," or something like that, so long as it's government-monitored and has frequent lessons about gun safety and ethics. (Really, does anyone in the gun lobby think that their guns are going to save them from a truly oppressive government? Ask David Koresh.)

National Security

  • The United States should leave Iraq and send every last one of those troops to stabilize Afghanistan;
  • If you're a terrorist and you want to attack civilians, you're fair game for the American military, whether you're in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan or Canada (or any other country, ally or otherwise);
  • If you're an alleged terrorist and we catch you, you get every single right that we give imprisoned Americans, including legal representation, an appeals process and open hearings.

Legal issues

  • Legalize medical marijuana and treat it as a controlled substance, like Vicodin. Get a real doctor's prescription and tax the hell out of it;
  • Continue tough persecution (yes, I do mean persecution, not just prosecution) of criminal street gangs, with limited suspension of the Fourth Amendment's search clause of convicted gang members and those who associate with them. Yes, I know you cannot force someone to give up their constitutional rights -- this suspension could be included in plea bargains and volunteered to by those convicted;
  • There should be a federal shield law for reporters. The press is probably the only defense against government malfeasance that is still effective.

Civic duties/voting

  • In order to vote, you must be at least 16 (not 18) years of age, a citizen and possess a high school diploma or higher degree (with classes in government and economics a necessary part of the curriculum). I'm am aware that this proposal will bring up comparisons to the "literacy tests" that were used to deny the vote to blacks in the old South, but that's a false comparison. Those laws were based in racism -- my proposal is based on the ability to think critically. Critical thinking is a necessary part of voting and if you don't understand the process, you should not participate in it. I will grandfather in those already voting without a diploma or degree;
  • If one is convicted of a felony, they must serve the term of their prison sentence, complete any probation or parole and then wait one year before they are again allowed to vote. Any conviction regarding bribery of a public official, malfeasance while a public official, assault on a public official or voter fraud will impose a lifetime voting ban;
  • Everyone (male or female) must serve at least one year of national service before the age of 25 years old. This requirement can be satisfied by service in the armed forces, Ameri-Corps, the Peace Corps, teaching in a public school or certain other government employment. Those who have not satisfied the requirement by their 25th birthday get drafted into the armed forces.
  • Everyone who has at least a high school diploma, citizen or non-citizen, should serve at least one week of jury duty each year. Their employers must continue to pay regular wages during the service and the courts shall provide at least minimum wage, a lunch stipend and mileage in addition to whatever the juror's regular employer pays.

Energy policy

  • No new oil drilling. The problem isn't really foreign oil, it's just plain oil. I once heard my father exclaim -- while in a heated conversation -- that "The Liberals want to take away our cars!" No, I want your car to run more efficiently, produce fewer (or no) greenhouse gases and eventually use an alternative fuel. Save the oil to make plastics, which are the true bulwarks of the American economy; to make things go, use ...
  • Nuclear power. Despite the protests of many I respect, the evidence suggests to me that nuclear power is safe, efficient and more productive than wind, solar etc. Nuclear power is like air travel -- it's statistically very safe, but on the very few times there is an accident, it's a friggin' doozy!;*
  • Solar power. Nuclear love aside, let's see massive tax credits for anyone who wants to put solar panels on their roofs. Let's take every building we can off the grid during daytime hours.

Evolution vs. Creationism

  • Feel free to teach creationism. In church. To people who think that the world is flat, the Sun revolves around the Earth and a great flood killed all the unicorns. In schools, stick with natural selection. It's observable around us every flu season, when a drug-resistant strain becomes prevalent. Some try to dismiss evolution as "just a theory." Those people weren't paying attention in science class, else they would have heard how much observation and experimentation and evidence is needed to turn a hypothesis into a theory. By way of comparison, gravity is a theory. So is a2+b2=c2. Pythagoras hasn't been proven wrong yet.


  • "Illegal" immigration is wrong, but so is scapegoating or forcing the migration of undocumented immigrants. While I think we should keep regulating our borders, I'm not prepared to triple the price I pay for produce, clothing, lodging, janitorial services or many of the other occupations traditionally manned by undocumented immigrants. Let as many guest workers in as industry needs, make them pay taxes, give them some services and then send them home after a few years to allow new guest workers to rotate in. No "amnesty" for non-documented immigrants currently here, but give them first dibs in the guest worker program. I really don't see why immigration is the issue that it is for some -- I've never met a single person who's lost a job to an "illegal immigrant" and don't expect to, despite living in a very Latinized area.
  • Reform legal immigration. Go to a point system, like Canada, Australia, etc. Give people points for education, business acumen, prior service, etc. Immigration lotteries are just dumb, where people get something for nothing.


  • School years should be longer, there should be a mandatory grade 13 and two years of optional, free community college should be given to every recent graduate. Most of the extra time in education should be used to teach foreign languages and science, technology, engineering, and math. This country isn't educated nearly enough as it is and more education will be needed to keep the American workforce the best in the world. No, I have no realistic idea how to pay for such an extension of school, but in the meantime, though, let's work in more of those STEM classes.


  • In the early days of my college education, I wrote a short opinion piece in the college newspaper about how not saying the Pledge of Allegiance was my own protest against the forces of rampant nationalism. We paid our taxes, and that was allegiance enough to warrant protection and services from the government, I argued. My opinions have changed. While I still think nationalism for nationalism’s sake is wrong and the wording of the Pledge is not necessarily how I would I put things, I say the Pledge now. If anything has dawned on me in the past 16 years, it’s that the United States is one of a rare breed among nations – one can express any opinion they want in this country, including how displeased they are with the government or the country’s overall direction. It is this freedom of expression that certainly warrants my allegiance. So I now say the Pledge, not because I would do anything the country asks without question ... but because I actually don’t have to.

That's my two cents.

* Note: This post was written before Fukushima. Obviously.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Similitudes entre l'Ossétie et au Kosovo

Les actions de la Russie dans Ossetia du sud sont quelque peu semblables à ce qui s'est produit dans Kosovo -- la superpuissance extérieure est intervenue militairement pour aider un congé de région de sécessionniste une nation souveraine qu'il n'identifie pas éthniquement avec. Ainsi je figure que la Russie (et les USA pour cette matière) a obtenu d'identifier l'indépendance des deux régions ou d'identifier la droite de la nation originale d'exercer sa souveraineté dans les deux cas. Les deux blocs de puissance sont un peu hypocrite dans ces sujets, à mon avis.

It's all over but the equinox

It's still blazing hot, the days are still much longer than the nights and Fall technically doesn't start until Sept. 22, but summer's over for me.

Technically in the Bay Area (at least the north Peninsula), you can tell it's the end of summer when the weather actually begins to get warm. But for me, the traditional end of summer is the start of the high school football season. Last night, I covered my first game of the season for the San Mateo Times.

It was actually a decent kickoff for the gridiron season. Terra Nova scored a touchdown in the last 65 seconds to beat visiting Burlingame, 15-10. You can read my story online. (As an aside, whenever I have a game at Terra Nova, I have a ritual of eating my pre-game meal at the world's most awesome Taco Bell, literally built on stilts above the beach in Pacifica, near Ian's school).

The only disappointing thing was the new field at Terra Nova. There was a beautiful Field Turf carpet, but I think Terra Nova was one of the few fields around here that didn't need one. Unlike the ratty fields at, say, our local high school (which shall remain nameless), Terra Nova's had a well-drained, lush field of green grass -- which is what the game should be played on.

Sometimes I get a tad depressed that I'm again doing the same primary job (security) that I had 13 years ago, despite getting a pair of bachelor's degrees. I don't, however, have a problem writing about high school football year after year after year. Covering football is a tradition, one I've had every fall since 1992 (except 1996, 1998 and 1999 and not counting spectator attendances in 1987-1991 and 1995). The weird thing? I don't even really like football all that much -- at least above the high school level. But covering football takes me back to my (relatively) youthful days, when I thought I was either going to be the world's most dashing sports writer or foreign correspondent.

Or maybe walking the sidelines with high schoolers every Friday night just helps me forget that I'll be 40 in three years.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

So that's why I pay taxes ...

I picked Ian up from school at 1 p.m. today, wary of the heat -- which probably hit the mid-90s F here in South San Francisco and 100 elsewhere in the Bay Area. I say "wary" because I promised Ian a trip to the park if I got a good report from his teacher today (which I did).

Driving back from Pacifica, I asked Ian if he wanted to go to the "inside park" (the well air-conditioned indoor playground at the nearby Tanforan Shopping Center) or another park. Ian insisted multiple times on Orange Park -- the largest local park. Orange Park was no doubt the choice due to the fact an ice cream truck circles the playground every half hour.

With sunstroke worries on the mind, we drove to the park and got out. As the oppressive heat hit me, I prepared to tell Ian (the only kid at the playground) that we would only stay for 10 minutes. No sooner do I open my mouth, however, do I notice that the sprinklers are on at the adjacent athletic field! Well, as you can guess, we both made a beeline for the grass and were soaked (fully clothed) within seconds. We ended up staying for about 20 minutes, laughing and sliding on the grass, before we went to the blessedly air conditioned library a few blocks away. (It was so hot that we were almost dry when we got there.) Sadly, for once, I didn't have a camera with me.

Now, normally I'd be the crotchedy old man and complain to the city that one shouldn't water the lawn at the hottest time of the hottest day we've had in a while, especially in a time of drought (evaporation and all). But why do my tax monies go to parks? For recreational purposes, and we sure did "recreate" today. Tax dollars well spent.

Darn kid needed a shower, anyway.