Thursday, July 31, 2008

NOE 1, Taxi driver 0

"The case is closed."

An officer with the San Francisco Airport police taxi division proudly informed me last week that he had cited a driver, suspended him without pay for a day, sent him to taxi school, and made his company refund my money.

"He took advantage of you," the officer explained.

"I bet he won't do that again," I replied.

"If he does," said the officer, "he'll be terminated."

So, what did the poor driver do to me to deserve such vindictiveness?  If you guessed "failed to inform you that a trip to Los Altos would cost meter-and-a-half, which didn't really matter because Koland's company was covering your travel expenses anyway, and you probably only cared about it because your dad made you feel like a pushover afterward and your mom told the driver that you were an attorney and wouldn't let him get away with this," you were right.


McCain's price has risen 20% in the last two weeks. Not coincidentally, it was two weeks ago that McCain and the GOP embarked on a slathering of attacks on Obama.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy Belated Birthday Ken Ballard

I'm all for hoisting conservative "hatemongering a-holes" (as one local newsperson described them) on their own petards. But it was still disappointing to see chickenhawks Michelle Malkin and Melanie Morgan get coverage when they came to town a month ago to dumb down our national discourse, while a heartfelt birthday celebration for native son and actual patriot Ken Ballard go ignored.

I had the privilege of joining Ken's other Karen Meredith along with other family and friends Saturday at Cuesta Park, who gathered to hear stories and release gold balloons in his honor. This somber annual tradition is documented in Neil Young's new film "CSNY: Deja Vu," now playing at the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

I had the privilege of meeting two of the other Bay Area Gold Star Mothers in attendance: Mary Tillman, whose new book about the simultaneously inspirational and infuriating story of her son Pat just arrived in the mail, and Nadia McCaffrey, who made international news when she invited the press to see her son's flag-draped coffin and is in the midst of launching a hospice for veterans in upstate New York. These mothers are linked in their loss, their antiwar activism, and the indignity they suffered when the Pentagon lied to them about how their sons died.

I did not get a chance to talk to Dolores Kesterson, who was also there, but the 2005 interview in which she humiliated Bill O'Reilly through the simple act of remaining sane is still a revelation to watch.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Now you guys are just baiting me

The days appear numbered for La Costena, a fixture in the Latino community for decades. Naturally, the Voice article quotes only a customer with a Jewish last name.

The paper also boldly refuses to examine the factual claims it attributes to the restaurant's owners.  One would think that, of all publications, the Mountain View Voice would look in its archives to see whether the restaurant actually has won eight Best Of contests in a row.  (It hasn't).  On the other hand, a very quick check of the Voice website also confirms that Las Costena did in fact set the record for world's largest burrito.  But who has five minutes to look these things up? 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Next week: An in-depth look at the greenness of our lawns

In more than two years at the Voice, I'd estimate I wrote around 500 articles. Perhaps 15 times did my my editors allow me to write 990 words on any particular subject. These were stories about the city's legal battle with Clear Channel, the effort to clean up Moffett Field, the police department's use of Tasers on unarmed (and often intoxicated) suspects who were doing little other than resisting arrest, the fight over BART-to-San-Jose, the push to open a medical marijuana facility in Mountain View, feature stories on immigrants and firefighters, and a drugging at a downtown bar. I also wrote one about bird-watching, but thankfully it doesn't seem to be online.

The Town Crier's Mary Beth Hislop just wrote 990 words about a hole.

Locals sustain injuries in city parking lot

To be fair, it's not just any hole.

Let me start by wishing a speedy recovery the nice-seeming old ladies injured in this non-news event. That being said, let's get back to aimlessly rambling about how this article is too long.

Instructor Barbara Klee is known to bring the students in her Stretch & Flex classes at the Hillview Community Center to their knees with floor exercises. But on April 17, Klee and friend Marjorie Lins were apparently brought to their knees -- by a hole outside the Los Altos center.

The awkardly forced irony -- a style known as Sutcliffian to baseball fans -- is but one of the paragraphs this article could have done without. The worst offenders might be the paragraphs of weird, irrelevant and barely readable legal jargon at the end, or perhaps this one:

"I put my arms around her," Klee said. "As I stepped back on my right foot, I could not find the ground to place my foot on because my was over the hole. ... I lost my balance and, hanging onto my student, we both fell and crashed onto the asphalt pavement."

Put another way, they fell. I know it's sick, but I couldn't help thinking of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. when I saw the incredible level of detail here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There's a place in hell for you Angelo Mozilo

While driving back to work, having just secured an apartment for our esteemed publisher, I saw this.

Foreclosures take place in even the best times. The jobless rate is a fluctuating number. A run on the bank is (at the very least) an unmistakable sign of a crisis in public confidence. I feel bad for the people spent their entire day waiting in line hoping they could get all their money back.

What's safe (unlike people's deposits above exceeding $100k) is the bottom line of the bank's founder, Angelo Mozilo. Mozillo, who also founded subprime uber-predator Countrywide Financial earned more than $200 million in salary and bonuses from 2001-2006. As of press time, he has made no plans to use a portion of those earnings to replace borrowers' lost savings.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's scaring us: Art & Wine edition

I've been a little under the weather the last few days, so it feels like the right time for a linkdump, in the form of a list of things people are afraid of this week:

Speaking of which: Jesus.
Congress: Big campaign donors being unable to use "I was just following orders" as a defense for helping the government spy on citizens.
Los Altos Hills residents: Toni Casey running for office
Personally I hope she does, because I am curious whether Los Altos Hills is conservative enough that her affiliation with George Bush might actually be to her advantage.
Los Altos residents: Mountain View residents
Don't worry Mom and Dad, the police think she was adopted.
Mountain View residents: Brown people, and also gays
Last week, I lamented that people were more upset about the Voice's use of the non-word "preggers" in a headline than they were about a double-murder that orphaned an 8-year-old boy. Readers of the Voice site responded (with some prodding from yours truly) in a flurry of posts insanely blaming the tragedy on low-income housing and federal immigration policy. (Not a single poster said anything along of the lines of 'I hope the police catch the people responsible for this.')

Monday, July 07, 2008

For sale: Coverage in The Economist ($1,000 obo)

The 2003 California Recall Election offered one of the best values for shameless self-promoters in recent history. For $3,500 and 65 signatures, your name and personal statement would reach tens of millions of people as a candidate for Governor.

This bar-lowering allowed people often left out of gubernatorial politics, such as brewers, satanists, pornographers, railroad car brake operators, prop-based comedians and tiny thespians, a chance to get their name and message across in an arena where millions were likely to notice.

Fast forward to 2008. This time it's The Economist offering low cost publicity.

Attempting to justify an article attacking Senator Jim Webb as a poor choice for Barack Obama's running mate, despite neither Webb nor anyone in Obama's campaign suggesting he's under consideration or would take the position, presented the following explanation:

"No one but Mr. Obama knows whom he will pick, but the buzz around Mr. Webb is loud enough to make in the favourite on Intrade, a betting website. So it is worth examining his weaknesses, too."

The problem with this is that only about $1,000 was actually wagered on Jim Webb via InTrade. Don't tell Gallagher.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

They don't know how to haggle

Last week's settlement in the Westwind Barn lawsuit closed an embarrassing chapter in the history of Los Altos Hills. It takes a lot to embarrass Los Altos Hills, but allegations that the ranch hands at such an iconic location endured racial slurs, lived in unventilated rooms and worked overtime without pay should be enough to do it.

Interestingly, the plaintiffs alleged $500,000 in damages only to wind up getting $675,000 from the settlement. This is probably because the lawyer could have filed an additional claim for attorney's fees, but I prefer to attribute it to an inability to haggle on the part of Friends of Westwind Barn. I imagine the negotiations went something like this:

Friends of Westwind Barn lawyer: How much will it take to make this case go away?

Plaintiffs' lawyer: Since the City of the Town of Los Altos Hills already settled with my clients for $75,000, they are willing to deduct that from their overall claim, bringing the total request to $425,000.

Friends of Westwind Barn lawyer: How about $600,000?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

MOSPR ad absurdem

If Mountain View has ever made a more ironically misguided decision than Tuesday's vote to hold the new train depot tenant responsible for creating new parking spaces, I can not imagine what it might have been.

Personally, I can't see myself interrupting my commute for "artisan cheese," shrimp scampi and oysters, but I suppose it's better use than the train museum idea readers used to suggest to me.

As embarrassing as it was to see the place lying empty for the first six years after the city spent millions to build the plaza, imposing $54,000 of extra costs for minimum off-street parking requirements is especially indefensible.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

'Preggers' headline shocks city

A gruesome double murder last week left two siblings dead in Mountain View last week, after the 911 system completely failed them. While a little boy slept in the next room, Omar Aquino and Teresa Sanchez became the victims of Mountain View's fourth and fifth homicides this year. The tragedy came only a few days after Leonardo Dizon Hilario was stabbed to death at his girlfriend's home.

Also, the Voice used an arguably inappropriate word in a headline.

Guess which one readers are upset about.

Don't get me wrong: I thought the "preggers" headline was juvenile and the article -- a short breaking-news type of story about the fact that women have babies -- was pointless. But also: really? That is the thing we're all concerned about?

I bet they thought this was over

Remember Rickenbacker?

Erik Koland does.

Now that his crusade has turned the company into the subject of an investigation into a potential class-action lawsuit, I don't think Rickenbacker will be forgetting about him any time soon.

(I want to assure readers that I have done some research into the Sturdevant Law Firm and have reached the conclusion that it is an actual place with real lawyers and not just something Erik made up to get mentioned on the blog.)

Let this be a lesson to readers: just because the way you might have wronged Erik was trivial in no way guarantees that he will pass up the opportunity to avenge that trivial wrong later.

(Disclosure: Erik sometimes claims to be a correspondent for this blog).