Saturday, July 28, 2007

It's almost two weeks since I read about this

and I still can't decide what's funnier: Los Altos Hills being bitter about its exclusion from Foothills Park, or Palo Altans being arrogant enough they would rather risk the park burning down than letting in outsiders.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fredo inspires

I did a strange thing today during Alberto Gonzales's speech to us DOJ interns: I held my tongue. Had I put more thought into things beforehand, I maybe would have tried to organize a walkout, or perhaps asked him how many applicants for our jobs had been disqualified because they were not loyal Bushies.

Instead, I sat by while he fielded the following "questions":

"I just want to thank you for your service. Can you tell us who your role models are?" (Answer: His parents, because they worked hard despite a lack of education; the President, because he's disciplined, funny and has faith; I was told he mentioned God, too, but I must have been laughing too hard to hear it).

"How has your relationship with the President changed since you became Attorney General?"

"I'd like to thank you for serving our country. How did your time on the Texas Supreme Court prepare you for this job?"

The most notable one was about how he planned to lure people with mountains of debt into public service careers when the private sector offers are so enticing. Aside from the fact that the person had yet to be hired but was already asking for a raise, he had also either miscalculated the cost of law school or how he would pay back his loans. A good answer would have been something along the lines of 'we are looking for people who want to serve their country, and the country will pay them what it can afford to.'

Instead, Gonzales encouraged us to work for the private sector. I wasn't taking notes, but I'm pretty sure the quote was, "When I talk about public service, I think two or three years is enough." Apparently, when then-Governor Bush first appointed him in Texas, Gonzales promised his wife he would go back to the private sector within a few years. I have to wonder if he's regretting the decision not to follow through on that.

My birthday card to Ken Ballard

As imagined in my head Saturday while at his grave in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Dear Ken,

Happy thirtieth.

You may or not remember me, seeing as how we never met when you were around. You might recognize me, though. I am the stranger who brought his cousins to see your grave last August. I am the guy who stood shyly to the side on Memorial Day while your family toasted you on the third anniversary of your death. I hope it's not weird for me to be here, but since your family couldn't be, I felt like I should.

Your family, as I'm sure you know, is again gathering at Cuesta Park today to celebrate you. I know your mother talks to you all the time, but it's my duty to let you know that she loves you very much. She's doing important work, you know, making sure that neither your town nor your country have forgotten you. I'm sure you'd be very proud of her.

I see that you have more company than the last time I was here, less than two months ago. Every time I've seen you, you've been surrounded by fresh graves. I'm sure next time I'm make the land behind me will be filled with more graves, mainly of people younger, poorer and less educated than I am.

I have to be honest: I have mixed feelings about this place. Whoever dubbed it our nation's most sacred shrine got it mostly right. John and Bobby Kennedy are buried here, immortalized by the soaring hopefulness of their speeches carved into the walls nearby. The memorial to the crew of the Challenger makes me cry the same way I did when I learned about it when I was 6. And the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, despite the throngs of tourists in obnoxious shirts, still represents the ideal that we aspire to honor all of those who gave their lives for our principles.

But despite all this, this place seems like it's ultimately a monument to the stupidity of war. It has been that way from the moment the Union Army commandeered the grounds around Robert E. Lee's mansion to bury its dead and remind Lee of what he had started. Half a million Americans died standing in lines across from each other and shooting rifles at their countrymen, over what was a political and economic dispute made ever deadlier by the pride of Virginia's generals. Many of them are buried here. Veterans of the Indian Wars, through which our nation's leaders stole a continent and nearly wiped out the remnants of a civilization, are here as well. The mast of the U.S.S. Maine, a symbol of yellow journalism and American imperialism profitting from tragedy, is preserved here. Even the graves of the Kennedys are reminders that some idiots thought they were justified in killing them.

It's true that every man thinks of less of himself for having been a soldier, and I am no different. I am humbled in the presence of you and all those who were not too afraid to have to trust my life to this nation, as part of a bargain that it would only be risked when it was necessary to defend the highest principles of this country. I wish only that we had upheld our end of the deal.

Instead, we continue to be mired in an endless war in which patriotism means slapping a flag decal on your car and going to the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier in a tank top that says "Exercise Freedom: I'd travel 8,000 miles to smoke a camel" while graves pile up.

I know I have failed to do my part as well. Even with a teammate of mine and a friend's little brother both killed in Iraq, I have made no effort to put a stop to this. I have not tried to get into a position where I could fix the mistakes we have made, nor have I organized in opposition to those that we continue to make. Instead, I have contented myself to visit Arlington and periodically vent my political beliefs to no one in particular.

I am coming here to ask you for your forgiveness. I'd tell you to rest in peace but I'm sure it must be difficult. So I will just say that we owe you better than this, and let's hope we remember before too late.

With respect,


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beating Women and Torturing Dogs

Atlanta Faclons quarterback Michael Vick's penchant for dog fighting seems to be surprising and outraging everyone, even Senator Byrd.

While Vick should be punished if found guilty, the sad fact is that when professional athletes beat or sexually assault women, no one seems to care. No old Senator stands up in Congress to rave about it it, no official investigation by the professional sports league they play for, just a simple plea bargain or out of court settlement that allows them to continue to make millions and be adored by fans. Violence against women in professional sports is like a plague - look at Kobe Bryant, Ruben Patterson (how is attempted rape a misdemeanor, by the way?), Jason Richardson, Ron Artest (who also starved his dogs, but no one cared), and that's just a few and only in the NBA! When you dig a little more you find players from pro baseball, hockey, football all assaulting women. The list goes on and on.

Perhaps the best is example of the public caring more about dogs than women is that Vick is attracting much more attention now for his "Bad Newz Kennels" venture than for his crimes as Ron Mexico.

Maybe NOE can help once he completes his legal studies?

Aiming Low

This made me laugh.

I think its the administration's way of saying "A year from now, we'd like to have less people dying in certain areas."

Thursday, July 19, 2007


You guys remember how concerned I was when the Mercury continued cannibalizing itself in the name of high profit margins by firing 31 reporters a few weeks ago?


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

People I'm mad at this week

Welcome to the test run of what we're hoping we'll be a new feature here on NOE. Let's get started.

Who I'm mad at: The New York State Assembly.
What they did: Rejected a plan to charge drivers for entering lower Manhattan.
Why it's a problem:
$500 million in federal money is now likely to go to building new highways instead of a plan that would introduce some market mechanisms into transportation choices.
What they should have done instead: Been less petty and approved the damn thing.

Who I'm mad at: Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty
What they did: Decided to appeal the D.C. Circuit's cockamamie decision in Parker v. District of Columbia, striking down the district's gun control laws, to the Supreme Court
Why it's a problem: Given the current composition of the Supreme Court, governments around the country could soon lose much of their rights to restrict sales of guns.
What they should have done instead: Delivered the body of every shooting victim to the judge Laurence Silberman's house, perhaps with a note reading, "What part of 'A well-regulated militia being necessary' don't you understand?"

Who I'm mad at: The California Newspaper Publishers Association
What they did: Awarded the Los Altos Town Crier second place in the editorial page category of its annual Better Newspapers Contest.
Why it's a problem:
This, this, this and, most of all, this.
What they should have done instead: Started a blog making fun of the Town Crier.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Another loss for the school community

This week's Town Crier has an obituary for Ken Green, who collapsed at home two weeks ago. It is the first one I've seen, and it has been sad to see so little coverage of the life of my advanced biology teacher.

Principal Wynne Satterwhite's comments about him are right on:
Satterwhite described Mr. Green as "very student centered," a big guy with a full beard who appeared gruff on the outside, but was "a teddy bear on the inside."

Mr. Green "always made time for kids," Satterwhite said. She recalled Mr. Green's helping a young man who "people pretty much gave up on" this past school year.
He was fairly reserved around his students, though he never minced words when he thought they weren't performing to your ability or putting forth full effort. He clearly cared very deeply about their development as people. When I was still in college and spending my summers coaching at the high school, he was the first and only one of my former teachers to insist that I call him by his first name. He told me that I had graduated and was therefore now an adult. I told him that I couldn't quite bring myself to do that, so he agreed I could call him "coach" until I was ready.

The only time I ever saw him show much emotion was earlier this year when he spoke at Will Sigua's service. I think, in part, he was moved by the sheer numbers of people who had come out to celebrate Will together. It reminded me of my other favorite memory of him from high school -- gruffly telling Will's older brother Jon and me that, a year after our graduation, we would be lucky to still be friends with five of our high school classmates, and that five years later, we would only be friends with one. I mentioned that to him, telling him I had never been happier to prove someone wrong.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

They weren't kidding


I know it's not about a particularly exciting topic, but still, this is a huge step.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Goof" vs. "fuck-up"

"Goof" -- intentionally spreading false information for purposes of a joke. Saying that the city may change its name to Mountain Dew, California, or that it is recruiting a minor league baseball team to play in McKelvey Park are both examples of goofs.

"Fuck-up" -- spreading false information while thinking it's true. Maintaining that Mountain View has made approval of Home Depot's proposal to move into San Antonio Shopping Center contingent upon the company paying the city a quarter of a million dollars to establish a permanent day worker center, or that Home Depot has given the city a quarter-million unsolicited -- that is a fuck-up.

[UPDATE 7/13: This post has been edited in response to criticism in the comments section].

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Earmarks might be better

Remember how happy some of us were feeling back in November when the Democrats took control of both Congress and my liver?

That was before the new majority (in a miscalculated act of political cowardice) failed even to prevent the war's growth. It was also before loyal NOE reader Will Evans blew holes in all that Congressional bloviating about earmark-free spending bills.

The Center for Investigative Reporting is reporting today that hundreds of members of Congress have been privately pressuring federal agencies to keep feeding pork to their home districts.

Check out CIR's growing catalogue of public records to find out how your representatives have attempted to pervert the spending process. And don't worry if you don't see their names. Only five of the 13 federal agencies who received Freedom of Information Act requests actually responded. So the fact that Eshoo, Feinstein and Boxer are not currently implicated doesn't mean much -- chances are the picture this story paints of Congress is altogether too rosy.

Don't Even Think About Leaving the Country

While the middle of the country floods and the West burns, some of us may be entertaining crazy ideas of leaving the country.
However, don't do it. Don't even think about it. Let's all make like NOE and just stay put here in the good old US of A.

Washington's commitment to a weak dollar hit another high note Tuesday with both the euro and pound hitting new highs against our battered greenback. This means that traveling like Rick Steves in the safety of Western Europe is now totally unaffordable for many of us. Hell, even a burrito (a bargain for the Brits) at BigDra's place in Cambridge will seem like a fortune.

And don't even think of going to the cheaper parts of the world. I hear there are terrorists and Mexicans there.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The wrong way to fight a drought

From Wednesday's New York Times article about towns throughout the country cancelling fireworks shows because of extreme drought conditions:
In Breckenridge, Colo., the mountain resort 65 miles southwest of here, children will be treated to an afternoon of water fights by the Fire Department, but the evening fireworks have been called off. The show, which has been offered for 20 years, was canceled once before, in 2002, also because of drought.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Our foreign correspondent is too polite to write about this

But we can't let it go unremarked that even a country like Mauritania -- where young girls are forcefed in order to make them obese, and in some cases tortured when they refuse -- still has far fewer overweight women than the U.S.

I can say this only because Megan is 3,000 miles away, but it sort of makes me think the Onion was right.

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom ... of the press ... to destroy itself

The Mercury News celebrated Freedom Day by firing 31 reporters Monday, seemingly weakening our democracy once again. Together with the 15 people who voluntarily took severance packages in the last months, the Merc lost about 20 percent of an editorial staff still recovering from many rounds of cuts.

This is a shame. Many of those reporters -- S.L. Wykes, Kate Folmar and Dylan Hernandez come to mind -- are particulary good at their jobs. But the simple fact is that news is continuing to get cheaper. Consequently, the news-gathering function is worth less and less. Before anyone (Joc) replies that this is all the fault of greedy owners, please read the Mountain View Voice story about the city's lawsuit with Shoreline Amphitheater auditing firm Daoro, Zydel & Holland and ask yourself how much time it take for you to get this information yourself?
Mountain View city attorney Michael Martello "announced" the trial date.
What appears to have happened is that the judge announced the trial date, and at some point Martello told the Palo Alto Daily News (which not located in Mountain View, nor Palo Alto, for that matter), which wrote a story and thereby alerted the Voice. While I don't have a reason to think Martello's lying, I decided to confirm it with the court's Website. I timed myself. Took me two minutes.

Daoro attorney Farley Neuman "is a self-described specialist in accounting malpractice."
In fact, Neuman has written several articles on the subject, so we shouldn't be relying on his own descritpion of himself. Type his name into Google and follow the first link.

"He said he has filed a summary judgment [sic] that describes in good detail the complex accounting issues that go back over a decade."
First of all, he has filed a motion for summary judgment along with a brief in support of it, which isn't a huge error but does indicate either shoddy editing or a lack of effort to understand this (or any) case or both. More significantly, this sentence makes it clear that the reporter never even looked at the document, nor knows for sure that it exists, despite what appears to be an invitation to read it. (It doesn't appear to be on-line yet, but it's not difficult to ask the lawyer for a copy of it or go to the courthouse).

Let's not pretend like we couldn't get the same quality of information from someone getting paid half as much in Bangalore or, for that matter, somebody getting paid nothing at all and writing on their blog.

As a sidenote, the top story on the Voice's Web site right now is about 7-11 doing a promotion for the Simpsons movie.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

If a child-molesting scoutmaster from Los Altos had helped President Bush trick the nation into supporting the invasion of Iraq

Would we have seen this article a year ago?

Bush spares Wagner 280-month jail term

President Bush spared Gregory Wagner from prison Monday, commuting his 23-year-and-four-month sentence while leaving intact his conviction for molesting children.

Mr. Bush’s action, announced hours after a judge sentenced Mr. Wagner, former scoutmaster for Los Altos-based Boy Scout Troop 31, came as a surprise to all but a few members of the president’s inner circle. It reignited the passions that have surrounded the case from the beginning.

The commutation brought immediate praise from conservatives, who hailed it as a courageous step to avert a miscarriage of justice, and condemnation from Democrats, who said it showed a lack of accountability and respect for the law.

The president portrayed his commutation of the sentence, which fell short of a pardon and still requires Mr. Wagner to pay a fine and be on probation, as a carefully considered compromise.

“I respect the guilty plea,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Wagner is excessive.”

Mr. Wagner, who was a Boy Scout leader for Troop 31, will still have to pay a fine and remain on probation for several years. He will most likely never again be able to lead Boy Scout troops.

The president’s decision means that Mr. Wagner, 43, no longer faces the prospect of leaving his wife and two children to report to prison.


Mr. Bush’s decision drew warm support from Mr. Wagner's friends and supporters, who had created a defense fund that drew the support of dozens of prominent Republicans, including a half dozen former ambassadors and several former government colleagues. Former Senator Fred D. Thompson, now an undeclared candidate for president, held a fund-raiser for Mr. Wagner.

“This is not a man who deserves to go to jail in any sense of the word,” said Kenneth L. Adelman, a former Defense Department official and longtime friend of Mr. Wagner, who stayed at his Colorado vacation home before his trial.

“Whatever he did wrong, he certainly paid,” Mr. Adelman said referring to Mr. Wagner's resignation from his prominent position and his public humiliation. “This is a good person who served his country very well and is a decent person,” he said.

[UPDATE: July 4 (Freedom Day), 1:27 p.m.]
Today's New York Times makes the point more clearly, and Joe Biden has the government's position in a more analogous case on his blog. Both, however, lack the local angle NOE readers expect.

Monday, July 02, 2007

John Ashcroft: Savior of the Jews

Balak was the King of Moab. Worried that the Israelites were about to overrun his lands, he hired Balaam, a prophet, offering him riches galore to put a curse on them. Balaam warned Balak that, being a prophet, he could not say anything contrary to what God told him to say. After conferring with God, Balak chose not to put a curse on the Israelites and instead blessed them three times.

This was the subject of the Torah portion my second cousin Joshua read this Saturday at his bar-mitzvah, where I had the honor of carrying the Torah as Josh's way of making fun for dropping him on his head when he was six months old. The portion ended with some whoring and impaling, and Balak's worst fears were born out, but we're not going to focus on that right now). Josh gave a thoughtful impressive sermon about listening to your own voice for guidance when faced with tempation.

Enter the rabbi. Perhaps I should say reenter. Earlier in the service he had stopped praying every time somebody walked in late, glaring at them until they sat down and he restarted. (Apparently he's never heard of "Jewish Standard Time.")

Following Josh's lead, the rabbi said prophets are like the people who make Hebrew National hot dogs: they answer to a higher authority. The same thing is true of many professions nowadays, he pointed out. Regardless of what you offer a lawyer, for example, "there are some things you can't hire a lawyer to do." To drive home his point, he told the story of a modern-day Balaam -- the Pentecostal Christian who lost his Senate seat to a dead guy.

Granted, the man did do one decent thing in his life, and the rabbi was just giving him some credit for it. But my family was hearing none of it. Whispers ran through the audience. Josh's grandmother walked out. At the reception/reunion afterward, 'What the hell was that stuff about Ashcroft?' was an even more popular question than 'How old are you now?'

My second cousin-twice-removed said it best when talking to my brother. "I've been to seven bar-mitzvahs. But this one... wow."