Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wiener Family Holiday Letter 2006

Dear Friends (and blog readers),

Fifty years from now, when history textbooks will be written by those with a vague understanding of 9th-grade geometry, 2006 will be remembered as a point of inflection. Like Jethro Tull once predicted would happen to a train, the spread of evil across the nation and the world did not stop, but it did slow down. [Sentences deleted in light of Letter's prospective interviews with the federal government].

Meanwhile, states continued to amend their constitutions to outlaw gay marriage, but those who waste the nation’s time on such vitriolic demagoguery met defeat for the first time, and in Arizona of all places. Others continued to react, defensibly, to the Supreme Court's Kelo decision by moving to ban the use of eminent domain for private economic development. Many activists tried to capitalize on the public’s disgust with corporate welfare by coupling such bans with crippling restrictions on environmental regulations, but the good people of California and Idaho saw through the ploy.

But we here at the Holiday Letter don’t want to waste your time telling you things you already know. We want to waste your time telling you about ourselves.

In the Wiener household, 2006 will always be known as The Year Our Fourth Cousin Emunah And Her Allergies Kept Us From Finally Getting A Dog.

In addition, Karen and Bruce became empty-nesters, after 29 years with at least one child at home (26 with two). This fall, they celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary at Incline Village in Lake Tahoe. Said Bruce, “You know, things were actually pretty good before you came along.” More on him, and Karen, later.

Matthew, whom many of you may remember from previous letters as Bubba, graduated from Los Altos High School this June, ending a 15-year run of Eagle Wieners. Despite breaking his wrist and getting kicked off the swim team (only to be let back on by order of the school administration), he was named co-Athlete of the Year for the senior class and also earned the inaugural Ronald Grady Burke scholarship for leadership on his sports teams and in the community. “I feel like I’ve been pretty awesome this year,” said Bubba. “Haven’t I?” This summer, he introduced the town children to water polo and once again worked as a lifeguard. And in September, he started his freshman year at UCLA, where he played on the club water polo team, rushed a fraternity and still managed to get a higher GPA than the Letter ever did. However, the Letter does not remember having to buy his friends. Did the Letter mention that Bubba joined a fraternity? Cause he did.

Andy wrote an honors thesis, took the LSAT and graduated summa cum laude from Brown this spring. (Everybody but Emunah came. Although, in her defense, she did have Red Sox tickets). Then he put it in cruise control for the next six months, tutoring SAT classes and getting good at frisbee golf. Right now, he’s lying on a beach in Peru with his girlfriend Annie, and probably will still be doing so by the time you read this. Their “plan” is to go to Buenos Aires with his girlfriend Annie and teach English, despite the fact that a large percentage of the residents of that city who can afford to learn English already have. As per usual, readers of the Letter will miss out on the most interesting stories about Andy’s year under the terms of various confidentiality agreements.

Jon, in the words of a respected neighbor and friend, “quit f***ing around” and finally moved out of his bedroom and enrolled in law school. Unfortunately for Bubba’s efforts to change his name to Matthew, Jon is also at UCLA. Living in Los Angeles is probably some sort of karmic payback for the bitterness Jon spread on his blog this year. Jon further cut his umbilical cord to Los Altos by leaving the Western Hemisphere for the first time and spending three weeks aimlessly wandering around Europe. He also added left ankle to the list of body parts that his brothers cite as evidence that his body is broken.

Joc still writes about the plight of the poor for the Sacramento Bee, which recently decided it doesn’t want its readers to have to think about the plight of the poor. “Try to avoid getting me fired,” said Joc. She still enjoys turning happy stories into sad ones, such as the one about a homeless man who tracked down two young men who attacked him and brought them to justice (she focused on the effects of the violence on the attackers’ families). And she continues to date Will, who spent the year publishing hatchet jobs on federal judges simply for illegally ruling on cases in which they had secret financial interests or giving a few thousand bucks to the people who are supposed to be evaluating their credentials. Joc and Will went to the Kentucky Derby together and acted like dandies. Afterwards they toured rural Appalachia and mocked its newspapers.

Karen has asked the Letter to highlight “my desire to make the world a better place. For women.” Karen also plans to rekindle her interest in her job teaching resource classes at Gunn High School. To aid her in achieving this goal, her students would be well advised to act more like stocks – talk back less and be easier to trade over the computer. Karen recently learned how to text message and sends a nightly note to Bubba (and a monthly one to Jon).

Bruce turned 60 this year, and the family celebrated with a trip to a surprise location in July. This was particularly frustrating for Bruce, who hates it when he doesn’t know everybody else’s business, let alone his own. Ultimately, the family arrived in San Diego, joined by Emunah, Will, Bruce’s sister Carol and her children. The highlight of the weekend came when Bruce saw his nephew Joey floating out to sea, swam out to him and used his superior shouting ability to attract the attention of a nearby surfer. In a related story, Bruce reneged on his agreement with the Letter to become a water polo referee. He will undoubtedly blame this on someone else, namely Jon, who can tell Bruce when the certification clinics are scheduled but cannot attend them on his behalf.

Doris, known to all as Gammy, saw the most changes this year. After recovering from a broken hip, Gammy has moved into the assisted living facility at the Hyatt in Palo Alto. “I have nothing special to say other than that I’m a very proud grandmother,” says Doris, who has apparently yet to read the Letter.

Best wishes from all of us for a 2007 marked by good health, peace of mind, and, as always, the triumph of the opposition.


The Wieners

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Person of the year: My dad

Time magazine's annual Person of the Year edition arrived yesterday. For those that haven't seen it (spoiler alert), the cover consists of a reflective strip, with a caption underneath that says "You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world."

Kudos to Time for figuring out that its readers are so self-absorbed that we would cancel our subscriptions if it didn't name us all persons of the year. (If Dustin Picasso is reading, you can not put this on your resume).

But, unfortunately, the mirrored material on the front is rather cheap. So when my dad got the magazine, he stared at it for over a minute. "Who is that?" he asked.

Thanks to Pat Neal for pointing out the likelihood that Time's "decision" committee got the idea while getting high and watching the Big Lebowski.

Andronico's bans bellringers

Andronico's has jumped ahead in the race to be the snottiest establishment in Los Altos, with an unprecedented move to ban Salvation Army bellringers this Christmas. As we wait for Bill O'Reilly to seize upon this as further evidence of "San Francisco Values" and the "War on Christmas," let's take a quick look at the scoreboard in the grocery store division:

1) Andronico's
2) Draeger's
3) Whole Foods

The Duke of Westwood

John Kerry. Al Gore. George Bush I. Jimmy Carter. You probably have have heard from these presidential runners-up recently. Some of you may even have a vague notion of what Walter Mondale and Bob Dole have been doing with their free time. Michael Dukakis is a different story.

On the night Dukakis lost the 1988 election, I echoed the chants of the audience at his concession speech by defiantly scrawling a block-letter " '92 " in pencil on the wall in my bedroom (where it still visible). But it was not to be. Dukakis did not run again, and few, outside of Massachusetts or the community of Amtrak aficionados, would ever hear from him again.

Until now. Dukakis is capping off his post-candidacy political "career" by sparring with spoiled UCLA undergrads over so-called apron parking in North Westwood Village (a college town apparently designed by 16-year olds). Apron parking, which is illegal in California, basically works like this: landlords sell tenants the right to park their cars in front of their apartments with their noses in the driveway and their butts in the street. This creates a ridiculous situation in which landlords are renting out land they don't own for illegal uses and in the process encouraging driving and creating hazards for disabled residents and pedestrians. But the police have not enforced the law out of fear of inconveniencing those students who can't be bothered to walk, bike or ride the bus the mile or so to campus.

Some students, like those on the editorial board of the Daily Bruin, say things should stay this way, because, well, no good reason, but we really want to be able to keep our cars wherever we want. Maybe it is unfair to students who are in the middle of their lease terms and are unlikely to get a rent abatement from their landlords. But that's a problem between the students and the landlords, not a reason to ignore the law and dedicate every possible square inch of Los Angeles to parking spaces. It shouldn't take a former presidential candidate to explain that.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Remembering a hero

1st Lieutenant Nate Krissoff, U.S.M.C.

It is easy to look at Nate Krissoff's life and call him a hero because of what he accomplished. He was a tremendous athlete -- captain of the water polo and swim teams at Williams, a phenomenal skier and world class kayaker. He was studious and ambitious, becoming commissioned as a marine officer and serving as a counterintelligence officer for his battalion in Okinawa.

But Nate's heroism was more subtle than that. It was in many ways his defining personality trait. It derived from the unfailingly loyalty he showed to friends and family, the courage he demonstrated in the face of adversity, the seriousness with which he approached life and the joy he took in everything he did. Few of us will ever even hope to match his deeds. But all of us can aspire to those characteristics that made him what he was.

To a friend and hero. Rest in peace.

Read more about Nate:
Reno-Gazette Journal, 12/12: Reno Marine killed in Iraq
Monterey County Herald, 12/12: Stevenson grad killed in Iraq
Sierra Sun, 12/13: Son of area physician dies in Iraq roadside bombing
North Adams Transcript, 12/13: Williams grad killed in Iraq

UPDATE 5/26/07: The North Tahoe Bonanza reported last week that Nate has been awarded the Navy and Marine Commendation Medal with the Combat Distinguishing Device for Valor.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Mercury News is a slu-ut

Hola Amigos.

Please accept my apologies for my failure to comment in recent weeks on all the big local news: An anonymous water polo teammate's devious scam finally led to the collapse of Tower Records. My fellow UCLA students organized a protest against the police department's multiple uses of a Taser on an unarmed and non-violent student only to implore rally-goers to "talk to your parents [and] have them call the chancellor." (Viva la revolucion). San Jose Mercury News reporters were told to wait by their phones to find out if they would keep their jobs. And the corner bar across the street from my apartment changed ownership but still refused to add a single window.

Yes, much has gone unremarked. Luckily for you all, today's Mercury News has something that is just too good for even a diligent student like yours truly to pass up without commentary.

According to the story, Stephanie Herrerra -- a "Christian mother with values" -- was terribly mortified to discover the toy Little Mermaid doll she bought her daughter as a present was saying impolite things about her daughter's sexual habits. Herrerra was appalled, but the worst part is that now her daugher got stuck with some lame nativity scene instead.

The funny part about this story is that it took an astute reader to point out the very strong possibility that Herrerra is using the Merc in order to drive up the price for the dolls she had already been planning to sell on E-bay. I suppose it's possible the writer may have been trying to hint at that in the story as a way of getting back at whoever assigned it to her. Or maybe debasing the paper is some new hardball strategy in the labor negotiations with MediaNews. Still, somebody should have caught this before the story ran.

Not so long ago, the Mercury was shining light on the toxicity of consumer electronic waste and linking the CIA to the spread of crack in the inner-city. Now it is giving ink to small-time con artists like Herrerra and Anna Ayala, the woman who falsely claimed to find a finger in her bowl of Wendy's chili. Ayala got on the front page at least 11 times last year. So we probably haven't heard the last of Herrerra.