Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kids Play Chase on Freeways Get Smashed

This just in from the USC Department of the Obvious: Living near freeways is not good.

From Thomas Maugh's article in the L.A. Times:
"In the largest and longest study of its kind, USC researchers have found that children living near busy highways have significant impairments in the development of their lungs that can lead to respiratory problems for the rest of their lives."
Environmental injustice. Not just for poor neighborhoods anymore. Towards the end of the story, Maughs delivers the punchline:
"All the researchers conceded that there is little that can be done to mitigate the effects of the traffic pollution now."
Little other than, oh I don't know, maybe drive less?

(Points to anyone who gets the reference in the title. "You like to make obscure references," while true, is not a valid answer.)

How Many Britishers Are There in China?

During my previous foray into journalism (at Foreign Policy magazine in DC), I was told never to use anything in a British newspaper to fact-check an article. Apparently there are more lenient standards for what gets printed in a newspaper in the UK than in the states.

I was reminded of this today while reading the Guardian, which was honored last year as newspaper of the year by the British Press Association. An article about Britons abroad asserted that there are approximately 3.5 million British citizens living in China. I found this curious because a BBC article on the same subject estimates 36,000 British ex-pats living in China. Strange that the Guardian figure is 100 times larger than the BBC's. Both articles note that roughly one in ten Britishers lives outside of the UK. However, if there actually are 3.5 million British citizens in China, then the numbers just don't add up right. There would have to be more than one in ten abroad.

Perhaps we should see how many Britishers the Guardian thinks there are in "Mauretania." According to the BBC, there are 1600 Britishers in Mauritania. So...roughly 160,000?

Goodbye to the Grant Road Farm (for now)

Add the Grant Road Farm to the list of places that once made growing up in Los Altos but now no longer exist. According to Daniel Debolt's story in this week's Mountain View Voice:
In a surprise move, the owners of the city's beloved Grant Road farm told the Schmitz family that it is time to leave the property — in all likelihood to pave the way for a housing tract proposed by SummerHill Homes last year.
I don't quite get the part about this being a surprise. Potential buyers had been making offers on the property for years before the owners finally closed the deal with Summerhill. David Schmitz himself told Debolt last summer that he realized the farm could be sold at any time. And when I wrote about the sale a year ago, the headline began with the word "finally." Schmitz seems at least somewhat hopeful about the future, but its not clear whether he's talking about the efforts of the Mountain View Farmlands group.

Meanwhile, the friends of the Rengstorff House (now out at Shoreline Park), are planning to save the farm's windmill. I can't decide if this is touchingly appropriate or just pathetic, like NASA's plan to mark the historical significance of Hangar One by drawing a chalk outline around its base.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Reprieve for apron parkers

Parking enforcement officers are delaying a plan to ticket "apron parking" in Westwood Village until the end of the spring quarter, according to an uncomfirmed report in the Daily Bruin this week.

This, of course, is a small setback for Michael Dukakis, Democratic nominee for President turned solver of local parking problems. It also, unfortunately, complicates Flexcar's plan to capitalize on the crackdown by heavily recruiting UCLA students.

Dukakis, at least, is not letting this development temper his commitment to public service. A Daily Bruin letter-writer spotted Dukakis picking up trash on his way to school this week.

At right: Dukakis overcomes reputation as soft on crime
and prepares to ticket apron parkers himself.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Haikus for the Hills

Dear secessionists,
Neener neener neener. Love,
Bullis alumni.

County board rejects
racist redistricting plan.
Too many white kids.

Lowland and Hill folk,
can't we all just get along?
We are all still rich.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Town Crier is keeping me down

Before I became a doctor of journalism, I had a hobby of writing at least one letter every week, to reporters, businesses or elected officials. One day, I thought, I'd compile them in a book called Jon Complains.

The Los Altos Town Crier ran about half of my newest installment, which criticizes the paper for rewriting local history in order to project its own image of my hometown. Ironically, the paper (perhaps for space) entirely cut out the portion of the letter where I accuse them of being silent on the story of Gregory Wagner. Here's the text of the original letter:
Dear Editor,

I enjoyed your year-in-review (Dec. 27) but was disappointed to see the paper's news judgment once again clouded by the publisher's politics. You wrote that the city council's rejection of a gay pride day proclamation drew fierce criticism "mostly from outside Los Altos." This is wishful thinking at best, and makes the Town Crier look like it's sticking its head in the sand. Students, business leaders, churchgoers and others from Los Altos all mobilized in opposition to the city council's action. The resulting parade was one of the largest political demonstrations in the history of the town. [The rest of the letter did not make it in]. The article should have read that the criticism came "mostly from outside the pages of this newspaper."

Additionally, it was a glaring omission to once again leave out any mention of Gregory Wagner, one of two Los Altos youth leaders sent to prison this year for child molestation. It appears that the Town Crier would prefer to ignore anything that might reflect poorly on its coverage area, a goal made easier by the departure of those reporters who fought to keep the story in the paper. But the Wagner story has another side that is important for the community to recognize. That side of the story is about the former scouts whose courage in facing and talking about their past helped bring Wagner to justice. By repeatedly downplaying the story, the Town Crier abandoned those who most deserved the community's support.


Jon Wiener

Sudanese Police AKA Darfur Party Poopers

Sudanese "security forces" have been accused of a lot of horrible things in the "troubled" Darfur region. However, this time, they may be in the right. Apparently they broke up a party that was thrown by African Union peacekeepers and UN personnel the other day. UN workers complained of being detained and assaulted.

But, hey, you know what? If you want to party, don't go do it where the genoicide is at. And, if you do, don't be surprised if you catch a little beat-down.

Here's a safer alternative: wait until your little tour of duty is over and, when you're home, go use that generous UN salary of yours to buy yourself some booze. Then go drink it somewhere where there isn't sharia law or people dying all around you. Though it may be hard to find some AU soldiers to party with...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Standing up for their right to hit babies

Sally Lieber's plan to ban spanking children younger than three is probably not going to pass the State assembly, would be incredibly difficult to enforce and arguably will distract the legislature from more important legislative work.

But that's not what its detractors are saying. Instead, they are attacking Lieber, a former Mayor of Mountain View and the second ranking Democrat in the assembly, for being childless. (I'm still waiting for Tony Snow and Fox News to leap to her defense).

It turns out that Americans have a surprising predilection for hitting small children. At Palo Alto Online, Diana Diamond proudly tells the story about a "swat" she gave to her 13-month old, which doesn't seem like the kind of thing most people would brag about.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

UCLA faces lawsuit for Taser incident

The UCLA student Tasered multiple times for his failure to show idea is suing UCLA for violating his civil rights. Mostafa Tabatabainejad's complaint, which is supposedly on the Daily Bruin Web site somewhere (if anybody can find it, let me know), includes allegations of excessive force, battery and, curiously, an American with Disabilities Act violation.

Not surprisingly, the account of the incident in the complaint looks even worse than the original story. According to the complaint (or at least Sara Taylor's description of it in today's Daily Bruin), UCPD officer Terrence Duren fired the Taser more than once after Tabatabainejad was already in handcuffs.

Notably, the complaint does not raise an issue of racial profiling, an accusation which would seem difficult to prove given the facts of this case. I expect that a lot of people are likely to lose interest as a result. But the constitutional question has more significant ramifications. If Tabatabainejad can resist the temptation to settle and end up prevailing on that issue, it will put a lot of pressure on police departments across the state to prohibit the use of Tasers on suspects who are passively resisting.

Acting Chancellor Norm Abrams has released a rather bland statement, saying "We regret that Mostafa Tabatabainejad has filed a lawsuit at this time," and asking everyone to wait for the results of an independent investigation. No word yet on when those will be coming.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Add a circle of hell for the auto racers

People have long spoken out against the Paris-Dakar rally car race, but this may be the first time the Vatican has joined them. I don't usually agree with the Vatican and I won't make a habit out of it, but it's good to see it finally weighing in on the right side of something. The Vatican newspaper strongly condemned the rally Tuesday in an article called "Paris-Dakar: The Bloody Race of Irresponsibility."

The race is a curiosity for most Americans, but is, for some reason, considered a legitimate sport in Europe. We have a similar event, called the Baja 1000, where we tear up the closest foreign desert. But that's a Cannonball Run-style race of eccentric millionaires and other nutbags with a perverted sense of adventure.

The Paris-Dakar, on the other hand, is a race for "professionals" driving multi-million dollar prototypes from Europe and Japan's top car companies. The contestants, needless to say, are almost all Europeans (not counting South African Dirk von Zitzewitz). They race through some of the most impoverished communities on earth endangering anyone who might be crossing the "track" (i.e. the dirt road near their home) and sometimes wind up in horrific crashes that kill locals and competitors alike. If a prototype car crashes and the team is unable to repair it, they are under instructions to torch it, so as to prevent Malian villagers from taking note of the design and starting their own car company to rival BMW.

Some of the places that the rally course passes through are so forsaken by the press that even spelling their names is a challenge. Today's edition of the Guardian (UK) featured photos from "Mauretania," a mistake that appeared twice, including once in the headline, even though a map had the correct spelling.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Another vanity museum for Mountain View

Let's nip this in the bud before it goes any further: John Mozart is not a "car mogul." Just like I am not a baseball card mogul.

Mozart, who I am sure is a perfectly nice guy even if his son did used to get rides to Bullis in what I believe was a Rolls Royce, is a rich developer who collects fancy old cars. Fine, good for him. But please, let's not give his plan to show off those cars any more attention than absolutely necessary. We don't need to be encouraging this sort of behavior.

Rose-colored cataracts in Los Altos

I love playgrounds as much as the next guy. I even campaigned for student body president in college on a platform of "No homework, longer recess," and promised to install a twisty slide if elected. (I wasn't). I'm just not sure that the fact that Los Altos is getting some new playground equipment is one of the biggest stories of the coming year.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On the other hand, we got a green light for our baby-killing policies

UCLA has "at least one policy" that substantially restricts freedom of speech, including, apparently, the freedom of reporters to explain what the hell they're talking about.

I thought the speech policy in question, bizarrely never mentioned in the front-page story in today's Daily Bruin, might be the one that prohibits hanging signs out from the windows in college-owned housing.

I'm sympathetic to those who think that colleges can do students a disservice by trying to protect them from challenging, offensive or even stupid views, especially since my brief turn as the campus racist at Williams. I suspect the reason so many of my fellow alumni become Republicans is that few of us had to justify our beliefs in college. When we eventually discover that those beliefs have weaknesses, some people feel betrayed or perhaps wiser.

But Freedom and Individual Rights in Education, the group who issued the report cited in the Daily Bruin article, doesn't specify how UCLA's student codes are illegal. That is the reason the article doesn't specify which code it is or how it infringes on free speech. The blanket allegations make it close to impossible to come up with an informed response. The report, it's worth noting, was already at least six months out of date when it was published in December, as it still listed Albert Carnesale as chancellor.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

David Lazar is about to blow your mind

Over at Gold Star Mother Speaks Out, Karen Meredith is pleading with readers to write to Congress in opposition of the President's call for an escalation in Iraq. I'll probably do that myself, but first I figured I'd make fun of this schmuck named David Lazar who writes for the undergraduate Daily Bruin here at UCLA.

Iraqis can be unified through separation

Here we go. Try to look past the non-sequiturs, as they'll distract you from the brilliance of his arguments.

Saddam Hussein's execution is a pivotal event, one which calls for a re-evaluation of the positive consequences of the American-led invasion of Iraq, as well as our present strategy of attempting to rebuild Iraq.

It's pivotal because now we can finally settle the question of whether those positive consequences have been just awesome or super-awesome.

The U.S. has achieved several crucial accomplishments in this war, primarily the liberation of millions of people, which are downplayed in the pessimistic media environment as most reports focus on the ongoing sectarian violence.

So far, it looks like

The current violence, though, requires that we consider a more comprehensive political solution than simply deciding whether to increase or decrease the number of U.S. troops. Rather than establishing a single democracy which forces bitterly warring sects together, it should instead consider more of a loose confederation with autonomy for each group.

We. It. The important thing is to get these bitterly warring sects out of a republic and into a confederation.

Within hours of Hussein's execution -- a seemingly key positive event -- media outlets reported that the event could serve to increase violence, something that has yet to be clearly manifest.

Can you believe the nerve of these cut-and-runners?

But the same reporters have been spreading these claims for some time, playing up reports that the removal of Hussein's regime and the continued American presence destabilizes the region into open violence. Some even suggest that Iraq was more peaceful under Hussein's brutal regime.

But you'll show them, won't you?

Yet thousands died in the mass graves of Hussein's brutal regime, including 5,000 Kurdish villagers killed in a single 1988 attack. Some accounts put the total number murdered under Hussein's regime at more than 200,000.

For comparison, puts the number of Iraqis killed since the U.S. invasion between 53,000 and 59,000, and even that number may be inflated due to its heavy reliance on unofficial eyewitness accounts.

Liberal estimates of the number of Iraqis who died under 25 years of Saddam exceed the conservative estimates of Iraqis who have died from the violence in the nearly four years since the U.S. invaded. Definitely super-awesome.

Hussein's government-sanctioned killings have been decisively put to an end. Many of his murders occurred under a brutally enforced veil of secrecy in which his opponents simply disappeared.

Probably just awesome. The government-sanctioned killings still go on but they are no longer Hussein's government-sanctioned killings, plus the bodies are no longer being hidden.

The situation is far more positive than media reports let on; there is no question that Iraq is far better off than it was under Hussein.

Too bad awesomeness doesn't sell.

There is the lower death toll achieved by removing a tyrant who massacred his own people and who invaded Kuwait. The U.S. eliminated an exporter of terror -- Hussein harbored terrorists and funded suicide attacks in Israel. In addition, Iraqis now enjoy priceless freedoms, as well as healthy economic growth, which the Global Insight firm estimates had a gross domestic product growth rate of 17 percent for 2005.

Let that sink in for a while. ... Iraq had a gross domestic product growth rate of 17 percent for 2005. 17 percent! I'd like to see the Defeatocrats try to spin that one.

...But, in light of ongoing violence, rather than continuing to forge a country from such fundamentally different groups such as Sunnis and Shiites, the U.S. should look into creating a confederacy in which each of the sects would be largely autonomous....

David Lazar took a class on Iraq once. Or maybe he looked on Wikipedia. Either way, he knows about Iraq.

There is some precedent for such a system of representation based on consensus between self-governing regions. Termed consociational democracy by political scientists, the system seeks to resolve struggles for control between ethnic groups within a country, according to Michael Thies, assistant professor of political science at UCLA. He mentioned Belgium, Switzerland and Lebanon as possible examples of the strategy's success.

We should probably call it New Lebanon.
By the way, David Lazar also knows what "consociational democracy" means.

The fact that the control over oil is at the center of disputes lends itself to a relatively easy compromise. According to Thies, "Oil is a resource that is sold for money, which can be distributed easily, since it is infinitely divisible."

Wait, there's oil there? Perfect. I can't even think of the last time a dispute over oil wasn't easily resolved.

Establishing a system of this sort would not be admitting defeat, but it would be acknowledging past errors -- which the U.S. did not commit -- in the creation and brutal enforcement of the borders of a country which only really existed on paper.

As long as everyone agrees that we didn't make any mistakes or lose or anything like that.

Lasting peace would then be within reach because, as the cliche goes, good fences make good neighbors.

What do awesome fences make?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sam Bennion wants to give you a special treat

That's NOE's favorite Mormon channeling Teddy Pendergrass, and, as promised, making their panties drop at the American Legion Hall in Redwood City on Friday night. This performance was immediately followed by me singing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," by the Animals. Speaking of which, here's a short but growing list of songs I'd recommend against performing on karaoke night at the American Legion Hall:

1) Eve of Destruction, Barry Maguire
2) Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen
3) We Gotta Get Out of This Place, The Animals

Friday, January 05, 2007

How to write a column in five steps

1) Open your gmail account.
2) Click on the Ask Yahoo! link across the top of your inbox.
3) Click on a random embedded link to make it look like you did further research.
4) Flesh out the column by copying and pasting an e-mail from a reader. Say it is your New Year's resolution.
5) Congratulations. You are now a Professional Journalist.

2006: The year our peace was shattered by a bunch of gays

The Town Crier is making one last effort to remind readers of all the good news in Los Altos in 2006.
"Some stories didn't impact schools or pocketbooks yet made big headlines, such as the controversy over a Los Altos City Council move not to issue proclamations pertaining to sexual orientation - an action that seemed in response to previous Los Altos High School student requests for a Gay Pride Day. Reaction, mostly from outside Los Altos, was fierce, leading to a gay pride parade downtown..."
I suppose someone at the Town Crier might be able to explain how a decision made specifically in response to a request from a Los Altos High School student group "didn't impact schools." But the only way they could believe that the resulting negative reaction did not come from within the city would be if they got their information solely from the paper's editorial pages. Besides the students, plenty of business owners and local politicians organized in opposition to the council's decision. The members of a local church marched in support. And let's not ignore the influence of this blog.

Relatedly, for the second year in a row, the story of a Los Altos Hills scoutmaster confessing to nine counts of molestation apparently was not worthy of a mention in the year in review. I'm sure this is purely a news judgment that this story is less important than the other items that did make it in, such as the monthly fee for a sewer connection increasing by $2.75 per home.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Yet another reason to visit Somalia now

Somalia has always been at or near the top of places I want to visit. The Horn of Africa has so much to offer and Somalia in particular -- over 1,000 km of coastline on the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, quick, easy, affordable citizenship, and, as if that wasn't enough, the price of an AK-47 has just dropped from $300 to only $120.

After dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, the country descended into chaos as regional warlords divvied up the country. About 6 months ago, the Union of Islamic Courts took control of the capital and brought a measure of stability along strict enforcement of Draconian laws. However, now the fledgling government attempts to establish itself further after wresting control of the capital city, Mogadishu, from the Union of Islamic courts last week with the help of the Ethiopian military and US financing. The government now wants citizens to turn in their arms. Since the government did not offer financial incentive to do so, many have taken to selling off their guns rather than surrendering them to the government and not seeing any cash in return. This has flooded the Mogadishu arms market, which led to the fall in prices.

So, instead of heading to Wal-Mart for your gun needs, why not take a vacation to Somalia? You'll get more firepower than anything legally available outside of Nevada at a good price as well as the chance to pick up dual citizenship and hit up the beach - just keep an eye out for the pirates.

Introducing NOE's foreign correspondent

One of Nemesis of Evil's goals this year (besides being more less reactive when it comes to relationships) is to give readers news about a broader range of topics (beyond, say, what I did the previous night). To that end, it is my pleasure to introduce NOE's first correspondent, former Los Altos High School valedictorian and Bullis class of 1992 graduate BigDra. Many readers will already be familiar with his regular comments and his burrito-making abilities.

BigDra's responsibilities as foreign correspondent will include third-world dictatorships, the expatriate community and how these things relate to our time at Bullis Elementary. He has been to nearly 60 countries, and once wrote of a Mexican state, "This place is not different enough to be interesting, just different enough to be annoying."

So, to paraphrase President Bush: Drew, I guess you're the best asshole who knows about the world. Tell us why we should care about Turkmenistan.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why we loved Greg Perry

So it has come to this for Greg Perry. The local paper can not find a single person to offer a comment in its farewell article. A more likely explanation is that the Voice never bothered to ask, but it doesn't take much imagination to see Perry's colleagues invoking the "if you can't say anything nice" rule.

In his one term on the seven-member city council, Perry was alone on the losing side of so many votes that my coworkers and I began using the phrase "6 to Perry" as a shorthand description of council decisions. Perry proposed more ordinances than anyone else, falling just short in two of his most controversial attempts -- proposals to eliminate the prevailing wage requirement for city construction contracts and the affordability taxes on new housing developments. He accused council candidates of ethical misconduct, questioned fellow members' motives and commitment, and criticized city staff more often than others. He exposed the free VIP tickets city council members receive for Shoreline Amphitheatre concerts, and took his job so seriously that he once reported $6.25 worth of buttons as a campaign contribution.

At one point or another, Perry antagonized pretty much every interest group in the city. His behavior and outspokenness alienated his colleagues, who often trashed him in the elevator or even on the dais. But it made him popular with reporters (whom he was always quick to call back). The Mercury ran a biographical story about Perry in which it embarrassingly dubbed him "Mr. Fight City Hall, From Within." And, after this story, a jealous colleague of his introduced me to a city staffer as "the reporter from the Mountain View Greg Perry."

But it wasn't just that Perry was always good for a quote or a story idea. He was also the kind of diligent public servant society needs. He more than once put his political career on the line when he cared about an issue, and frequently paid a price for it. Admirably, though, the losses never seemed to discourage him from trying again.

And in looking back at his four years on the council, it's important not to lose sight of his victories. At a time when few public officials had the courage to oppose VTA's push for a BART extension, Perry was calling attention to serious concerns about the agency's funding plans. And long before neighboring condo owners organized an effective opposition to the location of the city's child care center, Perry was speaking up on behalf of Rengstorff Park. And he was a constant force pushing the council towards its defining achievement (or sin, depending on whom you ask) -- the significant increase in the number and density of new housing projects.

Sure, he may have lost more votes than anybody else, he may have been distrustful at times and politically tone-deaf at others, and he may have more than occasionally made a mountain out of a molehill, but the people of Mountain View should thank Greg Perry. They were lucky to have someone so dedicated to serving the community.