Sunday, July 30, 2006
Saturday, July 29, 2006
This is the same question world leaders must have been asking themselves earlier this week. Surely they weren't doing any leading. Perhaps they were too busy looking at all the Bernini sculptures and pretending they, too, were Harvard symbologists. In any case, the 20-nation "peace conference" here has ended, and Israel remains free to bomb innocent civilians without even the threat of criticism from the West.
So I spent the day touring around Rome's monuments to death and destruction and then had dinner with my old nemesis, the irreplaceable Matt Neely, and his wife Erica. The Zidanesque Neely recently moved to Rome after giving Mountain View the finger at his last city council meeting.
At the bar later, we happened to run into MVHS special ed teacher Kathy White (now Brenner) and her new husband, who I had met earlier at the Roman fora while he was searching for the Temple of Virgins.
One thing led to another, and eventually the discussion turned to the sex lives of city council members and school board politics. "You don't know who Rose Filicetti is?" I asked her, oblivious to my own nerdiness.
"Write me when you're coherent," Matt said as he got into the cab. Some day, I will be.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
It doesn't take long to realize that "The Heineken Experience" takes itself a little too seriously. In case you don't figure it out from the history lesson at the beginning of the tour, the life of a Heineken bottle simulator -- in which you watch a screen while the floor tilts gently in various directions -- pretty much clinches it. But 10 Euro for three beers and a bottle opener isn't such a bad deal, so former Lucky's Chinese deliveryman Tony Chan and I decided to pay a visit.
The Doha trade talks collapsed right before I arrived, as the farm lobbies of Western Europe and the United States once again have managed to convince their governments to go back on their word not to screw poor countries, at least not so obviously. Being in Amsterdam, we opted not to discuss this depressing turn of events and instead explore the local customs.
Luckily, this was the last time the camera worked before I left Amsterdam, so nothing too incriminating could be caught on film.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
I arrived here just after Floyd Landis took his victory lap down the Champs Elysees, which immediately thereafter resumed being overrun with mimes and other French stereotypes. To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from Futurama, the food in Paris is like sex, except I'm having it.
As good as the food is in Paris (and Rome), it's surprising that people are so much thinner than in the U.S., even compared to U.S. city dwellers. One main difference is that streets are built for pedestrians, so distances seem closer and driving is a pain in the ass. Of course, despite huge warnings on cigarette packaging, people undo all the health benefits of walking by smoking. It can also make you thin, but is more likely to kill you than being fat.
Los Altos can learn a lot from Barcelona. For instance, Lincoln Green ought to be topless. We can work out the details later, but I think it's an idea that at least needs some studying.
(The same reader, who has requested to remain anonymous, saw the photo and right and suggested that 18-year-old Brazilian girls are likely more sexually experienced than I'll ever be, so I shouldn't worry about looking like a pervert.)
In addition to titties, Barcelona features its very own separatist movement, not too surprising considering that Spain was fighting off military coups as recently as the 1980s. In fact, the city does a pretty good impression of the third world -- the grocery stores are sorely lacking, the locals speak a strange dialect, and the place is crawling with sex tourists. Sure, they don't call themselves that, but how else do you explain the popularity of Porto Olimpico -- the strip of tourist clubs at the site of the 1992 Olympic Village. It is a place where you can memorize the words to Shakira's latest song in the course of 20 minutes even if you're not paying attention, and people freely sing along to The Weather Girls. While I was there, I couldn't help thinking of Hunter S. Thompson's description of Circus Circus from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: "what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis has won the war. This is the Sixth Reich."
Of course, the subway system still puts anything in the U.S. to shame -- cars are air conditioned, run frequently, and arrival times are displayed on an electronic screen. You gotta hand it to those fascists, they did public transit very well.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Coincidentally, the Mercury News is scheduled to come out with its preview of the Grand Prix in a few days. The Merc is a sponsor of the event (as is the City of San Jose), so don't expect anyone there to call it what it is -- an unconscionable exercise in polluting air that is already unbearably smoggy for many people.
Thursday's Spare the Air Day will be the fifth this summer. They are only declared when the smog is so bad so that people with respiratory problems can not go outside.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
But the city's argument looks even better after reading a profile on Zanotto's in Sunday's Mercury News, a typically positive piece which briefly mentions that the downtown San Jose store went out of business after the City of San Jose co-signed on a $1.65 million loan (no mention of how much of the debt San Jose had to cover).
Of course, this experience hasn't stopped San Jose from giving away money to lots of other private businesses, but at least somebody learned from its mistake.
Ballard, 1995 graduate of Mountain View High and only son of Karen Meredith, was killed in An-Najaf on Memorial Day in 2004. Everyone I've ever met who knew him has only positive things to say about the man, and his personal story is mainly that of a war hero who won several medals and deeply touched many lives. But, through no fault of his own, it has also has become inextricably tied up with the poor planning and misconduct of the Iraq war.
Ballard's was one of the first units to be extended as part of the military's "stop-loss" program, a direct consequence of the Pentagon's decision to ignore officers who said more troops would be needed for a post-war occupation. He was killed by an equipment malfunction when his tank struck a tree during a firefight in An-Najaf, part of the insurgency that military planners refused to consider as a possibility. His mother was unable to even see a picture of his coffin, and was fed a false story about how her son died for more than a year. (Visit her blog at Gold Star Mother Speaks Out and make sure to read the post on Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey's vigil).
The most striking thing about Ballard's section of Arlington is the amount of open space nearby, as if it being kept in reserve for thousands of more dead soldiers from this misguided war. At one point two years ago, Ballard's was the last row of his section. More recent graves have soldiers as young as 19, and the grass has yet to grow over the newest of these.
The day before, at the World War II memorial, I was struck by two quotes I found engraved on the walls there.
"They fought together a brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation -- the obligation to insure that their sacrifice will help to make this a better and safer world in which to live."
-- Admiral Chester Nimitz
“We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”
-- Army Chief of Staff George Marshall
It was impossible not to think of them again as I said thanks to Ballard and his fellow soldiers, and marvelled at the enormity of both Arlington itself and our unmet obligation to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers buried there and the millions of their comrades whose graves are elsewhere.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Attention local reporters and headline-writers: it's time for another Nemesis of Evil contest, this one to see who can use the most over-the-top movie puns in their coverage of the campaign. Prizes will be given for both sheer numbers as well as most shameless. To get you started, here are some ideas from The Onion and The Discovery Channel.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Of course, give those kids an inch and they'll take a mile. For the perspective of the square community, we turn to the award-winning (seriously) editorial pages of the Los Altos Town Crier, which implores readers to "Grow up and leave the cows alone."
Regardless of how we feel on the subject of public education in Los Altos Hills, we can all agree that stealing and defacing plywood cows erected on town land is beyond the juvenile.
The cows, conveying the "Got Milked?" message of discontent following the 2003 closure of Bullis-Purissima School, are continually vandalized, according to their creators, and the incidents go up or down depending on the surge of publicity regarding town public education issues.
Some cases are the work of pranksters, but others surely result because perpetrators don't like a message that conflicts with theirs. Such protest and debate belongs in open public forums, not played out in petty, stealthy acts of vandalism. We strongly urge the guilty parties to recover their maturity and leave the cows alone. If town residents choose this option to express themselves, so be it.
I have to say that it speaks poorly of the investigative abilities of the reporters at the Town Crier, Daily and Mercury that not only can they find nothing better to write about, but that they also can't seem to sleuth out the fact that the people behind this dastardly political espionage are just a bunch of bored high school kids.
By the way, this might be a good time for me to apologize to Patricia Williams and other city council candidates whose campaign signs we removed in 1994 and hid in another candidate's bushes.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Re: Loving the smell of your own farts
Please stop writing letters to the editor about how great you are for buying a Prius, like the one in today's Mercury by Mountain View's own Dave Stein. Many people in the country only know the Bay Area through South Park and the O'Reilly Factor. The least we can do is make those shows' writers come up with their own punchlines.
Nationally, the results of the "voting" that day were equal parts horrifying and disastrous. But, at the local level, the Republican Party suffered two very significant losses.
The first -- Sally Lieber's crushing victory over Marie Dominguez Gasson in Assembly District 22 -- was no suprise at all. Gasson, a Santa Clara University student who turned 21 on election night, said herself that she was a sacrificial lamb. (Interestingly, she won about the same number of votes from Mountain View voters as did George Bush, indicating that the decider-in-chief had no qualities to recommend him beyond a 21-year old college student.)
Gasson raised several hundred dollars for her campaign, much of which she sent to Steve Poizner, the charming moderate billionaire that the GOP was hoping would lead them to a victory in Assembly District 21. That didn't happen either, of course, and, despite what his altered state, it didn't take Mountain View City Council member Mike Kasperzak long to grasp the lesson that even billionaire Republicans can not win state office in Northern Santa Clara County.
This is not because we have such good taste or such good candidates around here, but that the state legislature has so gerrymandered the electoral districts that seats almost never change parties in either house. (Bonus prize to anyone who can explain why we have two houses in the state legislature).
Kasperzak (right) and others tried to use this as an argument for letting Governor Schwarzenegger appoint some retired judges to redraw the district boundaries. Voters realized this wouldn't really accomplish much and rejected the proposal. A better idea comes from Steve Chessin, a Mountain View man active with Californians for Electoral Reform, a group promoting multi-member districts and instant run-off voting as solutions to what we have now.
Of course, the corporations, trade groups and unions that control the parties don't like this either, because they would lose their stranglehold on state politics. (Newspaper editors don't like it because it's complicated). So, long story short, Kasperzak changed his party affiliation this morning, leaving behind the party that was once grand but is now just old in favor of the one that is neither, at least partly in hopes that he can keep his political career alive.
Welcome to the losing team, Mike.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
One of the things I like least about Los Altos is that, while in other parts of the country and at other times in history the term "embarrassment of riches" actually had a literal meaning, it is basically impossible to be too rich here.
So I think the woman who is trying to sell the Winbigler estate at the top of S-cuve is right to target those people with more money than shame. In other communities, it might be poor form to advertise the land you are trying to sell as an ideal location for a megahome. Not here.
Luckily, for prospective buyers, the former owners have already done the hard part, illegally knocking down the house that was there. The two sides just settled the resulting lawsuit, although "settled" may be a misnomer since neither side appeared to get anything from the other. But it does allow Los Altos Hills to focus on newer outrages and injustices against its people.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Tasers, like all police weapons, tend to be disproportionately used on minorities. But police frequently fire them at non-violent suspects who are disobeying orders (the link is worth reading just for the story of "Dan-o" Curran). Imagine if they said that every time they asked for more.
Local police have a few handy stories that purport to prove the necessity of Tasers, disingenuously saying that the presence of a Taser saved them from shooting a suspect.
Sometimes, though, the stories appear to bear this out. When police did not have a Taser to subdue a crazed machete-wielding man in Los Altos Hills, they wound up shooting him. (The man survived, but the Palo Alto Daily did not get the memo, leading the next day with a story along the lines of "Police shoot, kill machete-wielding man." Instead of issuing a correction, the following day the paper ran an interview with the man. I believe the headline was "Machete-wielding man tells his side of story.")
As long as we're making fun of newspapers here, a Google search for Los Altos and Tasers turned up this barely comprensible article from the Town Crier's archives.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Down here in San Diego, where I'm celebrating my dad's 60th birthday, the aging hippies in Ocean Beach are preparing for the 20th annual beach marshmallow fight. (I will have to report this out and post more info later).
And this comes via text message from Fort Benning, where 2nd Lieutenant Patrick Neal is still awaiting an honorable discharge for challenging the Army's handling of an $8,000 signing bonus recruiters promised in apparent violation of U.S. code.
"New Peaches album: Impeach My Bush."
God Bless America.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
You know what this means? I can now claim to have broken international news.