Monday, April 30, 2007

What's outside Pleasantville?

A month's worth of news from that town with the functioning press:
  • Assistant city manager Emily Harrison is officially not a very nice person.
    "Harrison once flicked water in the face of an employee, 'engage(d) in loud and disruptive behaviors throughout the day' and taunted Republicans, fundamentalists and creationists, the documents state."
That's right, Palo Alto employs creationists. Posters on the Weekly's message boards are upset the city let Harrison's behavior go on so long, and some appear to be blaming the gay agenda, though it's hard to tell because they can't seem to figure out how to get their thoughts past the moderators.
  • The Stanford Marguerite shuttle is named after a horse that used to pull a trolley from campus to Palo Alto. In related news, Weekly editor Jay Thorwaldson is really old.
  • If you don't feel like reading Les Miserables, Sue Dremman's series on the Palo Alto family deported after decades in the community is a good approximation of it, except that nobody from La Migra kills themself in the real-life version. The story elicited a shock of recognition from Palo Alto residents of the harsh realities of immigration policy. Los Altos residents, meanwhile, were unaffacted by pet food contamination.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How does that categorical imperative work again?

When I was in junior high, I ran into my friend Chris Garcia and his dad on the mountain at Squaw Valley (yes, I'm sure our foreign correspondent will give me a hard time for skiing, too). Chris made some idle complaint about too many people being on the mountain that day. His dad, who was either a strident Kantian or just annoyed that he had to pay the "adult" ticket rate for an ingrateful oldest son, did not appreciate that. He barely let Chris finish his sentence before snapping at him, "And you're one of 'em. Don't you forget that."

Bob, if you're reading this and have some free time (which, if you're reading this, you must), could you please make your way to the Monta Loma neighborhood and have a chat with this week's batch of letter writers to the Mountain View Voice? Here's one example of the calls for a limit on the number of homes at Mayfield Mall:
"If this is not done, our environment will be choked from the exhaust from the added number of automobiles in the area.

A number of issues would arise by increasing housing units on the site. Already the Rengstorff, Thompson and Mayfield on- and off-ramps from Central Expressway to San Antonio Road, the left-turn lane to California from San Antonio Road, and the turn lanes entering San Antonio shopping center are a mess with heavy traffic. Those streets could not handle additional traffic from a high-density project at the Mayfield site. Where does the city propose parking the large number of cars in this area?"

It's been a while since I took philosophy, but I'm pretty sure that if your behavior would lead to an unsustainable situation if everybody were to do the same, you're supposed to change your behavior, not try to keep other people away from you. And if you happen to run into some kind of tragedy of the commons problem where no one else is willing to be as moral as you are, you get the government to step in. But you regulate the problem, in this case (as in most) cars, not people. Just don't forget you own of them.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Blame the Beef

If you've been reading the news about global warming lately in the UK, you'd think Ryanair and other low-cost airlines are to thank for the beautiful weather the UK has seen for the last two years. In the US, you'd probably think it was all those jerks in Hummers or big power plants that are melting the glaciers.

However, what the mainstream media has yet to cover is the fact that there is a much larger culprit (and possibly a more influential lobby) at work here. Cows. That's right those four-stomached bags of methane and all the processing it takes to get its flesh to your plate accounts for 18 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's put this in persepective. Low-cost "bad-guys" like easyJet and Ryanair along with their larger competitors (who are the real winners from all the bad press and new taxes slapped on air tickets) are responsible for only 2.5 percent of global emissions. Fossil fuel consumption from automobiles only amount to 5 percent.

What I'm curious about why there is so much attention on travel-related emissions and virtually none on the cattle industry. I'm not saying everyone needs to be vegetarian, but just eat less beef, that's all. That's a lot easier than telling someone not to go on vacation, right? And we can certainly forget about scientists coming up with "cures" for gasy cows.

So maybe a more effective solution would be taking aim at reducing beef consumption rather than transport, particularly when ecologically-friendly transport alternatives are slow in coming.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Spreading the good news

The Russian government apparently got a hold of the Town Crier.

It seems like the best explanation for the new policy requiring the country's radio stations to make sure at least half of their news is of the Los Altos variety. Turns out everything is once again looking up in my hometown, where the paper compliments the city for repainting a few crosswalk stripes and goes out of its way to say that it has nothing to complain about.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I oppose the death penalty

But find this guy and shoot him.

Mountain View police are searching for man who sexually assaulted a homeless woman early Monday.

About 3:30 a.m. Monday a resident near the 1000 block of North Rengstorff Avenue called 911 to report a woman screaming for help.

When officers around the woman, who told police she'd been sleeping in some nearby bushes when she awoke to someone trying to pull her sleeping bag off of her.

The man, according to police, attempt to strangle the woman and she began screaming. He then sexually assaulted her.

The man is described as a Hispanic male in his 30s. He is clean-shaven with a smooth complexion. On the night of the attack, he wore all black clothing and a beanie-hat with two light-colored horizontal stripes on it. He speaks with an accent, police said.


Anyone with information about the Mountain View attack is asked to call the police department at (650) 903-6344.

UPDATE: Yesterday's Palo Alto Daily reports that homeless women are
uniquely vulnerable to sexual assault

Well we're safe for now. Thank goodness we're in a bowling alley.

Front-page news from my hometown of Pleasantville:
A rumored illness caused by pet food has affected unknown numbers of pets, but none in Los Altos.

Got that? Something may have happened somewhere else, but not in Los Altos. This could be the start of a great series: Things that are not happening in Los Altos. Send your ideas to

For true lack of perspective, see the San Jose Mercury's Web site, where the top story compares the Warriors making the playoffs as the last seed to victory over the Axis in World War II.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Our future leaders

Another great e-mail from the UCLA Student Bar Association:
Dear Class of 2009,

The vote for 2L President was marked by irregularities on both sides. SBA has investigated the situation and determined that it was not necessarily the result of any intent or bad faith on the part of the candidates. To ensure fairness and best honor the intent of the voting student body, however, a re-vote will be held. The polling process will last 24 hours beginning 4pm today. Voting will close on April 19 at 4:00 p.m


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Menlo Park Daily News of Silicon Valley

The Palo Alto Daily News, a longtime favorite of NOE, is leaving Palo Alto.

I'll be sad to see them go. As most readers know, I've had a longstanding grudge against the Daily News ever since their slanted coverage of the 2004 Scott Roche Invitational water polo tournament. However, media diversity is generally a good thing, and the Daily's been a source of so much good material.

Unsurprisingly, I can't find a single mention of this on the Mercury Web site. Here's the Daily's announcement. Talk about burying the lead.

I was going to say something snide about covering Palo Alto without having an office there (which is actually not too uncommon with small local weeklies). Then I realized that might be slightly hypocritical considering I live in L.A. and have a blog dedicated to Mountain View and Los Altos news.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

That must be some kind of Republican delicacy

Some weeks, even I don't read the Town Crier cover to cover. Luckily, former Town Crier reporter Burlybird does. Good thing, too, elsewise we would have missed this little nugget from the report on all the good news at Hidden Villa.
Young visitors peek into nesting boxes to count eggs and feel their warmth, and learn what a chicken looks like when it walks on two legs, rather than arriving at the table in a tomato sauce.
I'm curious, have any readers ever tried this? It sounds awful.

We're getting mixed messages here, guys

Good indicators that a news article is thinly sourced:
  • The headline uses the passive voice.
  • The thrust of the article relies on anonymous sources
  • The writer qualifies the second sentence with the word "purportedly."
  • A later sentence begins: "It was not confirmed how well..."
  • An editorial about the story states "it is not clear how such an action would work."
The Voice went 5-for-5 this week in a follow-up to the Town Crier impression it did two weeks ago, once again attacking the work furlough inmates for their ill-mannered rambunctiousness. At least this time we are given more information about the source of these allegations -- they seem to be little old ladies who don't very much like being around poor people outside of church.

In a schizophrenic editorial, the paper sympathizes with these anonymous sources but defends the program. This is all wrong. If you really want to be the Town Crier, you don't print things in the news section that readers might plausibly interpret to conflict with the opinion of the editorial. Otherwise, what's the point of running a local paper?

To be fair, it does take a certain level of Town Crier-ness to refer to a parking garage as "gorgeous" in a headline. That is how you do cheerleading right -- shamelessly.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I bet this made the Voice really happy

The parents of a four-year-old boy attacked by a squirrel in Cuesta Park are suing the City of Mountain View for $150,000 in medical expenses and emotional damages.

This seems likely to one day end up as one of the novelty cases that merit about one sentence in a torts casebook. If and when that happens, those of my classmates who are studying right now instead of reading the local news will have more intelligent analysis than I can offer. (I think it has something to do with sovereign immunity). In the meantime, though, let me be the first to snicker at the media circus that will surround this case if it makes it to trial.

Things I learned at law school this week

Wearing a tux, attempting to bribe a juror and accusing a defense witness of having 'San Francisco values' are not as effective ways of winning a trial as you might think. (The nine-fingered litigator I am not).

Poor bloggers can say just about whatever they want. (My next post: "The following people are gay.")

And, according to my Constitutional Law classmates, Reagan "liberated" mentally disabled patients, voting equals political power and social welfare programs are evidence that the poor have a strong voice

Monday, April 09, 2007

Take that, ducks

Two years ago, I published a story about a group of ducklings falling through a storm grate on Shoreline Boulevard. A reader sent me the following photos from a different incident.

If ducks had newspapers, I'm sure they would write a story about what happened to my sister yesterday. Given that she's an award-winning journalist, I'll let her tell it in her own words.
Will and I went for a stroll yesterday afternoon. I had been to an Easter service in the morning for a story I am working on, and was wearing a blue summer dress, a flowered straw hat, sandals and carrying a purse that held my wallet and cell phone. This information will be important later.

We decided to walk through the park, which was packed with Easter celebrants out playing basketball and barbecuing.

That's right - packed.

We walked for a while, admiring the roses and the barbecues we were not invited to.

Then we started to head back, past the duck pond.

The duck pond - please visualize - is an opaque teal green, dyed that color because its contents would otherwise render it quite disgusting looking. (Picture the moats at your average mini-golf course. It's that color.) There are ducks and geese everywhere.

Now, picture this:

A child's ball goes spinning past Will and I (still in summer dress, straw hat, etc). I pause a second, then decide - "I should get that ball."

I decide this because I see a woman glance at me and at the ball and I read into it.

But the ball is moving quickly.


Toward the duck pond.

I run for it.

But the gap between me and ball is not closing.

I think to myself "it would be really gross if that ball went into the duck pond."

I run faster.

The ball is getting very close to water now.

I think: no one ever fell into a duck pond chasing a ball.

I reach my arms out as the ball spins into water.

I think: Oh shit, I am falling into the duck pond. I must prevent this from happening. What can I grab? Oh God, there is nothing to grab.

My hands and arms are in now.

I try to prevent the rest of me from going in - but apparently this defies physics laws I forgot about it.

My head -- in straw hat -- goes in.

The rest of me -- in blue dress -- goes in.

Handbag with cell phone and wallet goes in.

Will's last image before I plummet to bottom of duck pond is of my feet, in black sandals, in the air. Then I disappear.

Remember -- this is Easter Sunday. The park is packed.

A lot of people are watching.

I rush out of the water. Most adults are too embarrassed to say anything or approach. But I do hear a lot of laughter. Will and I sit in the dirt in hysterics.

A cluster of little boys come up to counsel me.

One asks: "Did you get any water in your mouth? Because if you did I would brush my teeth for like two hours."

Another advises: "If you got any water in your mouth, that would be really gross."

All want to know how deep the duck pond is (given it's color and ingredients, one cannot see the bottom.)

I apologize that I forgot to pay attention.

Will spends the rest of the day -- and perhaps the rest of my life -- calling me Duck Girl.

He likes to point out to everyone that I did not, in fact, get the ball.

The weekend's best quote

"Michael and Jon are here for the bisexual girls."

-- a classmate, explaining our presence at an Outlaw party.

Second place: The kid who told my sister to brush her teeth "for, like, two hours " after he watched her fall face-first into a duckpond while chasing down an errant ball).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Hints, allegations and other things left unsaid

The Voice continues to repeat the allegations of anonymous letters (sound familiar?), this time accusing senior administrators at the elementary school district of bribing HR director Stephanie Totter and CFO Rebecca Wright in order to help inflate their own pensions. The gist of the story is that Totter denies Wright's recent retirement announcement has anything to do with the allegations. That's better than the original article, I suppose, in that at least somebody was given a chance to respond.

But by repeatedly printing denials, the press can create the illusion of a scandal despite lacking the any direct evidence of one.

Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld said, that's not the same as the evidence of absence. This is particularly true when the people responsible for finding the evidence don't really seem to be trying very hard to find it. (While news reporters often fit this description, weapons inspectors do not).

To be fair, the state pension board is looking into matter. But the board didn't make a determination that the allegations were credible. It responded to a request from the superintendent, who may have been simply trying to ward off pressure from the media.

The next time the Voice questions somebody on anonymous allegations, I hope they respond with my favorite line from Blue Chips (one of my least favorite movies). Nick Nolte answers a reporter's question about alleged incidents of point-shaving by his basketball team by saying:
"How long are you gonna keep this bullshit up, Ed? Huh? You know Goddamn well there was no such incident. There was an alleged incident which you invented. In the same way that if I assert that you sleep with sheep, than it is alleged that you sleep with sheep.
(And yes, I realize that I don't exactly have clean hands here, given what my coverage of the allegations about the city attorney Michael Martello's relationship with the head of the garbage company. But, despicable as that coverage was, at least we were clear about the source of the allegations and ran a front-page story when they turned out to be unfounded).

Friday, April 06, 2007

So the pool will be heated?

I'm not picking on the Town Crier here, just taking advantage of another opportunity to expand the vocabulary of our readers.

Hearty = warm and friendly
Hardy = able to withstand frost, generally in reference to plants

Mission Accomplished

Major combat operations in the battle of Cuesta Park have ended. The City of Mountain View, and its allies (see right), have prevailed.

But now that last throes of the squirrel insurgency are over, the liberal local media is still trying to downplay the threat.

Just look at this week's editorial by the squirrel sympathizers in the Mountain View Voice. According to the Voice, the danger posed by Cuesta Park squirrels is "hardly in the same league" as Yosemite bears or Palo Alto mountain lions. The Voice blames the problem on the human beings and says its the work of a few bad apples. Meanwhile, unable to let any good news go unpunished, the Voice is reporting on a swarm of bees invading downtown.

This kind of reporting is demoralizing to the city recreation staff and comforting to the enemy. I think we should demand an apology.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Supreme Court: Global warming exists (Scalia: So does farting)

Q: How is Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens like Rich Harden's elbow?
A: Everything is riding on their continued health.

Stevens' majority opinion in Massachusetts v. EPA was the subject of today's talk at UCLA Law by Pat Gallagher, legal director for the Sierra Club and national hero. (PDF version here). The case, one of two high court victories for the forces of good on Monday, held that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. If the EPA refuses to do so, it must justify the decision based on Clean Air Act concerns about health and welfare.

It may not sound like such an earth-shattering decision, but, as Gallagher said, "this result exceeded our wildest dreams."

After all, Chief Justice John Roberts fell only one vote short of getting an official ruling from the Supreme Court that the science behind global warming is uncertain. (Antonin Scalia wrote a separate dissent to say that, if CO2 is an air pollutant, "[i]t follows that everything airborne, from Frisbees to flatulence, qualifies as an ‘air pollutant.’” Seriously, he wrote that.)

However, as Vin Scully would say, Gallagher might have been looking at the opinion more with his heart than his eyes. In particular, he downplayed the significance of Stevens' discussion of Massachusetts right to sue on behalf of its citizens (under the doctrine of parens patriae). Stevens made a strong case that Massachusetts will lose state-owned coastal land as a result of rising sea levels, constituting enough of an injury for the state to bring suit. The dissenters argued, poorly, the science is not clear, the U.S. is not to blame for rising sea levels, an China and India are not signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. The EPA also argued that the Bush administration has done enough to respond to global warming, but that didn't seem to get much traction.

But the dissent may have got the better of the weird and nerdy debate about parens patriae. Gallagher said he didn't know what to make of that discussion, and suggested it was just dicta (a legal term meaning, roughly, mental masturbation). Most likely, Stevens included this justification so that he could get a majority to agree on the standing issue and move on to the larger question. As a result, the case seems unlikely by itself to broaden standing for individuals under environmental laws as much as Gallagher and others would like.

Still, two very important results flow from this decision. First, even though the Bush EPA will drag its feet and ultimately do nothing, the next administration will now have the authority to regulate CO2 (which could be necessary if Congress stalls). Second, despite automakers' attempt to spin the decision, they are going to have a hard time arguing that California's emissions laws conflict with federal fuel economy law.

Monday, April 02, 2007

My new favorite game

"Guess what I snuck across the border in your car."

I have to say that I prefer my spring break trip to Mexico over Bubba's. But that's only because I don't think free travel, lodging and food is worth having your feet full of sea urchins. And I do mean full. (Pictures to come soon).

You go to print with the facts you have...

A great day, today. My cousin Sarah gave birth. The Supreme Court rebuked the Bush Administration for its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Baseball started. And it was the first night of Passover, allowing us to remember a time when we didn't start all of the wars in the world.

So let's ruin the mood with some mean-spirited blogging...

In rather unsurprising news, Santa Clara County is looking to ax its work furlough center in Mountain View. It basically works like jail, except the inmates get to leave to go to their jobs (and this happens less). The probation department first proposed eliminating the program two years ago, but changed its mind in response to political pressure.

Unfortunately, it seems that somebody from the Town Crier snuck in a paragraph near the bottom of the Voice's recent story:
Though Whisman has always been a mostly industrial neighborhood, a recent letter to the Voice indicates that new residential development in the area could lead to complaints about the facility. The anonymous letter claims that some inmates are prone to "yelling, spitting and making comments towards women who are waiting at the light rail station" in the early morning.
I can't decide what's worse: openly speculating on the basis of a single anonymous letter, or using the news section to reprint allegations that wouldn't have been allowed in the opinion section.