Sunday, June 29, 2008

Swellness abounds

The Merc's special "report" on Los Altos describes in detail the way in which nothing bad ever happens here. The article begins by glorifying the asinine practice of staking claims on downtown streets in advance of the Festival of Lights Parade, while the map accompanying the story makes the two cities appear to have two country clubs and only one school.

It's a different story in Mountain View, where the city just experienced its fourth and fifth homicides of the year.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Clash of the Genocidal Powers

The final four teams in the UEFA Euro Cup 2008 are familiar names to students of modern history. Turkey (Armenia), Germany (Jews, Gypsies, Gays, etc.), Spain (all New World indigenous peoples) and Russia (Ukraine and their own) made it through to the semifinals from a wider field of European nations vying for this years cup.

Germany dispatched Turkey late yesterday and Spain and Russia are now set for the kick-off. I sit amused as I listen to the Russian anthem play since it is sung to the tune of the old Soviet anthem thanks to a change Putin made in 2000.

Perhaps our Predictive Markets Correspondent can figure out some odds for this game and the final based on the scale and date of the genocides?

When you are engulfed in flames

KQED radio's traffic reporter said yesterday that "the Bay Area is surrounded by fire."  For a split-second, I thought Armaggedon was here, albeit slightly sooner than I thought.
Today, with 800 fires raging and the air quality only getting worse, I asked BigDra to finally put his world travels to use for someone other than himself and share some lessons about living in a ring of fire.

His suggestion: "Go to Peru."

Speaking of unfortunate juxtaposition

Seen next to each other on the table in the reception area at my office on Monday:

Headline from the front page of the New York Times: Obama camp closely linked with ethanol

Headline from the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle: Oil drilling question looms as election issue

Essentially, our presidential candidates are competing to see who can offer the most counter-productive solution to our oil addiction.  One day I would love to see a candidate suggest people drive less.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Working People Lose Again; Big Business Wins

Today's Supreme Court decision to drastically reduce ExxonMobil's fine for its 1989 Valdez oil spill in Alaska is just another in a long line of decisions by Our Nation's highest court to reduce punitive damages for large companies at the expense of the environment and Working Americans.

Its also interesting to keep in mind the record profits that this company has been reaping in recent years. For an flurry of articles published on ExxonMobil's record profits over the past 7 years click here, here, here, here, here and here. Be sure to note the dates and profit numbers in each articles.

Perhaps I'm missing something

Last Friday, the Mercury's top story was about immigration status of the driver who killed a 12-year-old bicyclist in front of her school on the last day of class.  The Merc made a self-fulfilling prophecy about the story "renewing the debate on whether undocumented people should be allowed to apply for driver's licenses."  Lo and behold, after some interviews suggested they should be, several letter writers wrote to argue the point.  Voila: debate renewed.

Appearing immediately below this story was an article about the sheriff's deputy who killed two bicyclists receiving only misdemeanor charges.  (This is not a surprise.  Given our district attorneys' track record of failing to prosecute drivers for killing bicyclists and pedestrians, the easiest way to kill somebody and get away with it is to do it from behind a steering wheel.) Nowhere did the article suggest that we should have a debate about whether sheriff's deputies should be allowed to apply for driver's licenses.  

Perhaps we should be debating whether people who kill other people with their cars be allowed to have driver's licenses.  I will start: no.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Travels in the Colonies

I've recently become a big fan of visiting modern-day colonies. My first experience with a formal modern-day colony was in New Caledonia, the most populated Non-Self Governing Territory in the world (some readers may be familiar with my work on mining impacts in New Caledonia) Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a couple other Pacific colonies. Although not formally on the United Nations Decolonization list, some people on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) clearly think they're a Chilean colony (see photo at right) and French Polynesia certainly has that anachronistic colonial feel - complete with impoverished indigenous peoples next to the mansions of the rich white French.

So if you're looking for a holiday with a little more edge - perhaps something with a bit more social tension, economic disparity, or disenfranchisement look beyond your local Native American reservation and perhaps book travel to one of these exotic modern-day colonies in the Pacific. Plus, there's also Western Sahara.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The child molester's guide to junior high school graduations

Courtesy of the Merc.

No no no no no no no no no.

*Exasperated sigh*

Parking structure downtown necessary

Rather than buying a gift for my dad, I spent a good part of Saturday analyzing all the logical fallacies in this editorial. (Sorry Dad). However, I'm not exactly a logician, so I deleted them and will just give you the gist:

It's wrong.

Two days before this editorial ran, the city council told the high school administrators they needed to do more to encourage students to make more responsible transportation choices. Now, inspired by the putative failure of completely baseless parking regulations that ignore basic principles of economics, the city is considering a massive subsidy to encourage people of all ages to drive to downtown, which is about half a mile from the high school.

To briefly engage in my own fallacious ad hominem attack, the best information I have on this subject indicates that Town Crier employees are among the worst offenders at evading local parking regulations, so I guess we shouldn't expect objective analysis.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let them eat tacos

Note to self: speaking at city council meetings may be more effective than wearing a paper bag over your head.

The taco truck survived, for now, as Megan Satterlee and David Casas joined Ron Packard in opposing an ordinance to force mobile food vendors away from school property. Mayor Val Carpenter and Council member Lou Becker were silent on the issue.

MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves presented the problem to the combined city council and school board, and seemed perplexed that people would see this as an issue of social justice. I followed by reminding the council of the last time it got in the business of telling people where they could stand and pointing out that cities with laws against gypsies need to be extra careful when passing discriminatory ordinances.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I almost missed it, but this:


just happened again.

Does anybody know if there is a reason the openings in storm drain grates are duckling-sized?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Journalism is the new baseball

Two weeks ago, the law firm where I am working this summer took us to Palo Alto Bowl. Shamefully, I rolled an 85 and a 90. My team averaged 107, which, while far better than my own scores, should not have been good enough for us to finish third among the 10 teams that were there.

The Palo Alto Daily News -- which is not actually located in Palo Alto, contains a regular feature dedicated to unsourced rumors, and has gotten so bad even by its own standards that its founders have started a competing paper -- pulled off a similar feat last week, winning 17 awards from the Peninsula Press Club, including one for general excellence. (I know what you're thinking, but there was not a category for Falsest Story.)

This may actually be even less impressive than our bowling prize, as more than 43 percent of entries in this contest win an award. (I have not found out how many the Daily submitted). As Michael Lewis once said about major league baseball front offices, "there really is no level of incompetence that won't be tolerated."

UPDATE, 6/16: I forgot to mention the paper's history of plagiarism.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Local News Almost as Bad as LATC...Almost

So there's an oil spill off the coast of Buenos Aires, but you wouldn't know it by watching local news here. After being sent the BBC article by a friend, I flipped to the numerous local news channels available here. I saw plenty about the continuing farm protests and also an interesting piece on a photo of Pamela Anderson without make-up. But nothing about the oil spill...

Monday, June 02, 2008

"The proposed ordinance smacks of socio-economic discrimination."

Tensions are rising (with an assist to the Daily News) over a rejected proposal to discuss term limits for board members at next week's joint meeting between the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District board and the Los Altos City Council. Just imagine what they will say when they actually do discuss something.

Next Monday's meeting will feature a long-awaited decision on the high school district's request for the city to do something about all those damn taco trucks.

Council member Ron Packard, whose position on this issue won him the blog's endorsement in the fall, e-mailed his reasons for opposing a potential ban to colleague David Casas. He is so thoroughly correct that I am going to reprint them here sans commentary. (Also, I can't think of anything funny to say.)

The proposed ordinance smacks of socio-economic discrimination. Students with vehicles can drive and eat wherever they want. Those without vehicles cannot. If the major concern is quality of food consumption, then the District should consider alternatives (whether closed campus or whatever) that apply to all groups, not just one.

The city has already had to allocate police time and efforts to enforce the parking restrictions around the high schools due to the District's approach to student parking. I suspect the high school would be a vigilant complainer each time the vending vehicle exceeded its limited stay. As such, the city's police resources would often be removed for other important functions to enforce the vending vehicle restrictions during school day. I do not feel that is a wise allocation of our police resources.

While nutritional eating habits are important, here the market-place has met a need for the less-mobile, which is already met by other means for the mobile. Let the District go back to the drawing board to come up with another solution that doesn't tax our police department and smack of discrimination.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A skull-cracking analysis of what ails the Mercury News

After trying and failing to explain to a confused out-of-town guest why the news section of the Saturday's San Francisco Chronicle consisted of only eight pages, I sat down this morning to thumb through a hard copy of the Merc for the first time since I got home two weeks ago. My mom took the front and my dad took the "local," leaving me with sports. A teaser on the front page of the section read:
"The Giants' young lineup did not score till the ninth inning."
There are far better reasons to mock the Merc, but none that require so little work on my part.