Sunday, April 30, 2006

Deli stories

Three or four nights a year, Mr. Vaughn would show up at LAHS wrestling matches, grab the microphone, and make up nicknames for high school kids he had never met. These name weren't particularly creative -- I was "Oscar Mayer," our 215-pounder was "Mack Diesel." Whether he noticed it or not, the black kids on the teams always seemed to have race-based nicknames -- Willie "Night Train" Howard, Amir "Dark Prince" Noble, Tony "Lights Out" Suber.

Mr. Vaughn spent his mornings sitting outside the Italian deli, which happened to be owned by wrestling coach Nick Testa, who kept all the team trophies behind the counter. Last Friday, Jesse Lewin and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and take up Mr. Vaughn's old post.

We got some free shirts out of the deal, made the Town Crier's Sidewalk Interview and reminisced about favorite deli-related moments. Mine has to be when Bubba, in the middle of a lunch rush, loudly asked whether employee Arcia Dorosti was "the one with the 14-year-old girlfriend." (He was). Others include the day Nick sold the deli and gave away all the old trophies. I thought it would be cool walking through downtown Los Altos carrying a trophy, even if it was for something I had done in high school. For some reason, the girl lying in the park in a bikini did not seem to agree with me.

Her loss, I suppose.

Anyway, with the successful completion of Deli Day, two trips down Adobe Creek, and one embarrassing experience getting lit up on the court by a group of middle-aged Mormons, I fear I am slowly completing the list of clean Los Altos fun that doesn't involve high school water polo. I have a few more months left before I leave. Any suggestions?

A nation of mercy

Just got back from watching United 93, which unfortunately is at odds with the Bush Administration's official line on the military response to the hijackings Mark Bingham, was a Cal rugby player who joined other passengers on United Flight 93 in storming the cockpit.

In a statement to the national press after the jury in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial found that "the missing hijacker" was eligible for the death penalty, Hoagland said that she did not believe Moussaoui should be put to death, despite her support for the death penalty. She said:
"We in America can now demonstrate that we are a nation of mercy, as well as a nation of laws and justice. We've already demonstrated our justice by allowing him to condemn himself out of his own mouth. And if we can transcend the kind of hatred he has shown toward us by allowing him to live, we will have given him a higher standard by which to live."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ask what you can not do for your country.

Los Altos has chickened out on its plan to build a community pool complex, instead going ahead with plans for a 25y x 25m pool that is even smaller than the LAHS pool. It will leave enough room for lap swimmers but will likely squeeze out children, the elderly and less experienced swimmers.

The Rosita neighborhood has been trying to kill this plan for years, even though a pool complex would have been a much better community (and neighborhood) asset than the municipal operations center that was moved to make way for it. But this isn't really about community. Like most of Los Altos politics, this is about people wanting to be left alone to enjoy their money.
The Palo Alto Daily News quoted Mayor Ron Packard's comments as he cast the deciding vote:
I feel that any one neighborhood can only absorb so much burden for the common good of the community. ... I feel like that neighborhood has reached that limit, even with one pool.
Kennedy's inaugural address it isn't.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Los Altos politics: "Sanity amid a din of chaos"

A letter writer to the Town Crier praises the courage of the Los Altos City Council for passing an ordinance banning future proclamations on issues the Mayor finds offensive. I'll be honest, when the Gay Straight Alliance was founded my senior year at LAHS, their tactics came off as somewhat crude. The president, channeling Jesse Jackson without the rhymes, posted fliers with all sorts of offensive slurs: "We have been called pillow-biters..."

I can see the council's reasons for not wanting to pass a "Gay Pride Day" proclamation. Los Altos is, after all, Bigotville, USA. But the council easily could have ignored the students' request with no further action or recognized the organization without declaring "Gay Pride Day." Instead, officials went out of their way to send a message to the high school students who already fairly ostracized to keep their heads down. I just don't see how that counts as being brave.

A card for my colleagues

I couldn't find a "Congratulations on your new boss" card anywhere on-line, but I did come upon a message which I think does a good job of conveying my feelings for the staffs of the San Jose Mercury and the Palo Alto Daily News.

Earlier this afternoon, they officially learned that they would be working (or perhaps not working) for new owner MediaNews, which apparently had run out of papers to ruin and felt like testing the government's stomach for antitrust cases. Soon, the paper CEO Dean Singleton called "the crown jewel" of Knight Ridder (hint: he wasn't talking about the Daily) will be another notch in the company's bedpost, right along with the Berkshire Eagle, the Oakland Tribune, the Fremont Argus, the Houston Post (R.I.P.) and the San Mateo County Times. After buying the Times, MediaNews the company forced all of the paper's editorial employees to resign, rehired only 75 percent of them and paid them at reduced salaries.

There was much celebrating at the Palo Alto Weekly offices today for breaking the story this morning, which again reminded me how little readers care anymore about who has a story first. I'm not saying I wouldn't have done it myself, but reporters' compulsion to pat themselves on the back for being the first to publish something is similar to all the hand-wringing over the sale of KR, in that we overestimate how much readers care about it.

As the Economist wrote about Katie Couric's jump to the CBS Evening News, in this week's feature story on the new participatory form of media:
Those in other countries, as well as Americans under 30, may be forgiven for thinking that a news story about a newscaster is just a spectacular bout of navel-gazing. Of course it is...

On the other hand, "Oooh, look at me, I read the Economist!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Hills are alive

A group of Los Altos Hills residents claiming to be a silent majority opposed to redrawing school district boundaries packed the inappropriately-named multipurpose room at Bullis Elementary Monday night.

The folks who want to create what would be an all-white district in Los Altos Hills clearly have a couple of strategic problems on their hands, particularly that it's difficult to argue with a group that says it represents a silent majority. Behave yourselves, as redistricting proponents did for most of the meeting Monday, and you appear to be outnumbered. Try to yell louder, as they did towards the end (and in their e-mails to me), and you've justified your opponents claims of intimidation.

If the negotiations fall apart and the redistricting plan does wind up going through, look for Mountain View-Los Altos High School officials to "play the race card, big-time," as one told me last night. They might have a point -- in seven years at Bullis, I met one Latino student, and, not knowing the difference, assumed he was black.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Everybody hates El Camino Hospital

State Assembly member Sally Lieber announced Friday she is sponsoring legislation that will force El Camino Hospital to operate more like the public agency that it is. Critics said that is inappropriate to write laws specific to a single agency, and hospital officials dismissed it as the work of the union.

Usually close-mouthed Jon Friedenberg -- who appears to have usurped Judy Twitchell's role as hospital spokesperson after her antagonistic behavior towards an unnamed reporter resulted in a public records lawsuit against the hospital -- was apparently spouting off to reporters during Lieber's press conference Friday.

As the Daily News wrote yesterday:
"A hospital spokesperson said Lieber was simply beholden to unions and her proposed legislation was simply a union tactic."

True on both counts, perhaps, but that doesn't really have anything to do with the issue. Just because all the people allied against the hospital (at this point that includes SEIU, Lieber and the Voice editorial pages) happen to be on the same side of other issues, that does not mean the hospital has the right to keep public records secret.

One note on the Daily story: Mountain View City Council member Laura Macias is quoted in support of the legislation. The story omits the fact that Macias is a paid staff member at Lieber's district office.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Wal-Mart gives woman heart attack

The letters section of this week's Voice is the most ironic in months. First state Senator Elaine Alquist claims that her bill to exempt manufacturers from state sales tax is in fact not a bill to exempt them from state sales tax. Then a woman forcefully argues that because she has a job, her son is incapable of biking or walking to school.

But by far my favorite is the last letter, in which a woman thanks the employees of the Mountain View Wal-Mart (her "favorite store on earth") for the actions of its employees during a heart attack she suffered last month. The employees called 911, asked her if she was okay, and then proceeded to sell her groceries while she was doubled over in pain.

Having never had a heart attack, I can't say this with any authority, but it seems that you may want to delay any purchasing decisions you can until after you've recovered, regardless of any great low prices you may have found. Given the tone of this leter, financial considerations did not seem to be a problem for this woman, but I imagine enough Wal-Mart has enough uninsured people among its millions customers that at least some of them may have to cut back the chotchkies they buy in order to cover the cost of an extended hospital visit.

"Zru the nait"

I walked into the Day Worker Center yesterday around 11:30 to find those workers who had not been hired yet (which tends to be the large majority) preparing for a May 1 demonstration by practicing the words to "God Bless America." Even though I will always associate this jingoist song with Pat Buchanan (who clearly did not know the words after winning the 1996 New Hampshire primary) and the Yankees, it was a rather touching scene.

The May 1 demonstration, part of a nationwide mobilization by immigrant groups, will include a march from the Day Worker center to City Hall via San Antonio Shopping Center. Some local businesses are already planning to close because so many of their workers will be attending. It is interesting to watch small businesses across the country accomodate their workers' freedom to assemble while larger ones are firing them.

Weekend update

May you all celebrate Earth Day by getting outdoors while managing to abstain from driving and red meat.

How are others celebrating? Well, a rather insensitive joke in one corner of the office is that every white person in Mountain View will come downtown tomorrow for the Spring Family Parade (which is sort of like the Boston marathon, except with more bare-assed Brazilian dancers and fewer men with bloody nipples -- seriously, there are bloody nipples), while much of the rest of the city heads to Los Altos High School for an AVID fundraiser.

More than you ever wanted to know about rafting Adobe Creek

He's reliable for a great number of things, but if I ever need someone to take a joke way too far, I am going to call Jesse Lewin, formerly of "Apple Computer," (by which he meant he sold iPods and fixed people's gadgets). Together with Minnesota Joe Monzel, who reprises Shelby Foote's role fro the Ken Burns "Civil War" series on PBS, Jesse compiled 11 minutes of footage of a recent trip from the O'Keefe pump station to Shoup Park.

The sequel is apparently coming soon.

(As long as you're checking inane videos on-line, here's a Nintendo RBI Baseball-based reenactment of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, which does a good job of apportioning the blame to the Red Sox players responsible for the first time I ever saw my mother cry).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

We can't all just get along

Apparently, calling for a spirit of cooperation is tantamount to political suicide in Los Altos Hills these days. That's why you won't find Los Altos Hills Mayor Breene Kerr's name on the letter circulated to local papers last week by his counterparts in Los Altos and Mountain View.

Reportedly, Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard requested Kerr sign the letter. Kerr indicated he had no problem with the letter's message, but that Bullis was still such a sore subject with Hills voters that he did not want to be making public statements in conjunction with lowland officials.

Let's just stick with Joe Hill for now

Now that the SEIU is suing El Camino Hospital for release of executive contracts and other information, it may be time to come up with a better chant than ""Try to sell our union short/See you in the labor court."

How SEIU comes up with its slogans, or knows when to instruct members to start marching in a circle, could be its own story. This one has a few things going for it, mainly that it touches on the hospital union's suspicion that its members could benefit materially from forcing the publicly-elected hospital board to act like, well, a publicly-elected board. On the other hand, it's a little disconnected in between the two lines, and I doubt this case will go to a labor court as opposed to a more regular kind.

The suit is similar to the lawsuit the Mountain View Voice brought against El Camino a year and a half ago, after disgruntled doctors suggested asking for executive contracts, knowing the inevitable refusal would make the hospital look bad.

The hospital, which said it needed to protect details of its operations for competitive reasons, eventually gave up virtually everything the paper requested, but refused to admit any obligation to do so. Instead, the district claimed that it has discretion in determining when it does and does not have to behave like a public agency.

Let's hope the SEIU case answers this question. It will be good civic education for all of us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Judge Edwards and the 12 pool balls

Few people would turn down a nearly guaranteed seat in the U.S. Congress in order to work with troubled children on the wrong side of the Law. Judge Len Edwards did.

When political parties approached Edwards about running for the congressional seat his father Don held for more than three decades, he turned them down, choosing instead to continue his service as a juvenile court judge for Santa Clara County. Now that he is stepping down from the bench, he will spend his retirement travelling around the state helping other judges reform their courts with the goal of being as successful as he was.

The cover story in this week's Town Crier reminded me of a riddle he used to ask that nagged at me for years.

Back when I was in elementary school, on a camping trip with his son Don (who is memorialized by a tree and plaque on the front lawn of Bullis Purisssima school), Len posed us the following riddle. I think I was in high school by the time I figured it out, but I was so proud that I called him up to tell him the answer, hoping he'd be impressed with me. Here it is, in honor of perhaps the only deserving winner of the title of Los Altan of the Year.

You have twelve virtually identical twelve pool balls and one balance. The balls are all the same color and indistinguishable by touch or sight, but one of the twelve weighs slightly more or less than the others.

Using the balance only three times, can you identify the odd ball and whether it is heavier or lighter than the others?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Settlement in Shoreline case

The long-awaited (by me, at least) trial over Shoreline Amphitheatre may not happen at all, after weekend settlement talks brought the city and concert promoter Live Nation close to resolving the case.

Judge Randall Schneider announced Monday morning he would delay the trial until May 15 in order to give the sides more time to rewrite their lease agreement. Schneider, who had just emerged from a meeting with the lawyers on each side, said the parties had reached an agreement on the contentious issue of past rent.

Friday, April 07, 2006

How not to spend your weekend

A last-minute phone call from lawyers for LiveNation (formerly Clear Channel Entertainment) breathed life into seemingly dead settlement talks in the scandalous (!) case of fraud and accounting abuse at Shoreline Amphitheatre. The city council will hold a special, closed door meeting Friday afternoon to discuss its negotiating strategy and position.

We'll have an idea how those talks went by Monday morning, when the two sides are scheduled to meet in a San Jose courtroom and -- if a deal is not imminent -- proceed to trial.

City attorney Michael Martello said that it will take more than a weekend to settle the case, and that any settlement would involve renegotiating a complicated lease that is hundreds of pages long.

"He's going to get the paper he deserves."

Town Crier reporter Kathleen Acuff is quitting the paper in protest over publisher and Republican activist Paul Nyberg’s groveling apology of an editorial last week. The editorial followed Acuff's (still accurate) story that former City Council member King Lear was accusing the current council of violating the state's open meeting law, privately agreeing to tell a group of high school kids to go screw themselves (because at least that's less bad than being gay).

When someone with as few enemies as Kathleen Acuff leaves because the paper is afraid to cover the news, it’s a pretty good indication that your paper is afraid to cover the news. The Town Crier's other three news reporters have less than six months of combined experience, and are unlikely to fight Nyberg over all the good news the paper chooses to cover. Her departure further ensures that the only controversial reporting in the Town Crier will be in the sports section.

As long as Nyberg is apologizing, by the way, he ought to beg forgiveness from God and public for the paper’s disgraceful 2003 editorial backing the invasion of Iraq, particularly the use of a garbled sports cliché to justify the bombing of a third-world country. (The best offense is a good defense, not vice versa). If you think that’s bad, you’re right, first of all. But you also should have seen the print version, in which the last sentence was cut off.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Los Altos Hills taking ball, going home

A closed-door meeting yesterday between officials from all over ended boringly, according to this morning's Daily News, with Los Altos Hills mayor Breene Kerr telling a crowd of people who had nothing better to do than wait outside that there was a "reasonable chance for agreement" over the town's threat to form its own school district.

I suppose there might be a "reasonable chance" that The Heights Hills town council is serious about all of this, and is not just trying to annoy Los Altos Elementary into permanently reopening Bullis (which is just as decrepit and overly paved as it was when it was closed three years ago). But given the previous stunts apologists for my alma mater have tried, this looks like just another ploy.

Unfortunately, my father didn't fare quite well enough in last year's election to win a seat on the school board (you should have stuck to the talking points Dad). So, for the best analysis I have yet seen of this issue, we'll have to rely on the board's original message rejecting the application to form Bullis Charter School:

"Education is the child's right, not the parent's."

Fatality on Caltrain

Trains stopped at 7:30 this morning and are now "single-tracking" after a man reportedly jumped in front of a train at the southern end of the downtown station.

Caltrain's Web site says trains will be delayed 20 minutes each way until early afternoon. The San Mateo County Sherriff's office is investigating.