Cultural, personal commentaries

"The terrible burden of too much stuff," column in the San Jose Mercury News: "My neighborhood near Highway 101 and Julian Street in San Jose is crowded and cluttered to the max: cars double parked, yard-less kids playing with toys in the streets, families of five or six children and all their belongings shoehorned into apartments of 500 square feet. Clutter of a different sort afflicts wealthier parts of the Valley. Up Highway 101, in well-to-do cities such as Palo Alto, folks are tackling it head on. They've formed support groups -- or 'simplicity circles' -- for people to discuss how to downsize and tidy up their lives ... "

"Minnesota boy stung by California stormin'," column in the San Jose Mercury News: "Crrrreak. Crrrrack. Crrrrash. The noises from breaking and falling tree limbs kept stopping me cold in my tracks on Lodge Road, the snow-covered trail that leads to my cabin just outside Big Basin. This was Monday, when the worst winter storm in a quarter century was whitening the Santa Cruz Mountains. Now I'm still nursing the hit my Midwestern pride took because I had to take a snow day -- in California. I started out for San Jose in my car, but ended up retreating home on foot because of falling trees. There was too much snow for the redwoods and oaks, and their branches were snapping down all over the forest and on the runt of a road that leads home ... Possible TV news bites filtered through my head. "A member of the Mercury News editorial board is flattened by a killer redwood. But, first, let's go to a live shot of kids on Mount Hamilton making snowmen ..."

"Like a Provocateur," column in the San Jose Mercury News: "The party-hardy Clinton years were tough on Madonna. America didn't need to rely on her to cause a commotion with randy Bill in the White House. I've missed her rattling the nation's social proprieties. Madonna is my guilty pleasure. She bounced into the pop culture when I was in high school in the early '80s and has clung on ever since. Prince, Michael Jackson and other of her musical contemporaries have flamed out. But, together, Madonna and I have gone from vinyls to cassettes to CDs. Oh, and through lots of tempests ..."

"No survivor is an island," column in the San Jose Mercury News: "There are two camps -- or in Survivor-speak, two tribes -- of you out there. The bigger one, perhaps 200 million Americans, tuned out the fuss over the CBS reality series. Maybe on Wednesday night you read an interesting novel or finished revising your start-up's marketing plan. You're a productive lot. You've earned the right to sniff at the rest of us. We wasted away the evening watching a pompous corporate trainer from Rhode Island walk off with a million-dollar check and a new SUV. But we also witnessed something more ..."

"Training Ground of Corporate Lawyers," column in the San Jose Mercury News: "From Berkeley to Westwood, the state's public law schools will hold graduation ceremonies this weekend. Mine will be Sunday at UCLA. No doubt, we'll hear speeches meant to encourage an inspire us to do good works with our impending J.D. degrees. Use your education to help the working poor. Provide people with affordable legal representation. Enter government services and rewrite unjust statutes. These are worthy causes, but the speakers should save their words. Three years of law school in the UC system have solidly indoctrinated too many of us into the moneyed life of corporate law. Not everyone started out down that road ..."

"Virtual visitation," column in the San Jose Mercury News: "Who says frumpy judges can't be Internet hip, maybe even a bit too with it? Not Kyron Henn-Lee. She's a divorced mother from New Jersey who got a tech job offer in Southern California. The only problem was that she'd need to move her daughter Katherine a continent away from the 9-year-old's father. The mom's solution? Build a Web site. Buy her husband a Web cam. And, click click, the dad would be able to communicate 'directly with Katherine on a daily basis and review her school work and records. (He) would be afforded daily face-to-face communication with Katherine, albeit through an electronic medium." I pulled these words from a decision by an appellate court in New Jersey. The approving judges called this approach to child custody creative and innovative. I call it callous and troublesome ..."

"Gang crisis," column in the Santa Barbara News-Press: "Perhaps one of the most pathetic cases of spin or over-reaching by local elected officials had to do with how the Santa Barbara City Council responded to the stabbing death of a teenage boy last March. There's a crisis in the neighborhoods. Police say Santa Barbara has 768 documented gang members. Gang stabbings and other violent acts are all too common. But the council since 2002 has had a history of cutting resources for cops on the street. This has been a festering problem and requires serious thought. But how did some council members respond after the March stabbing death near State Street? They hoped the problem would just go away and looked for a sound bite to give to reporters ..."

"Thousands of Working Poor," editorial in the Monterey County Herald: "Appalachia. The Mississippi delta. Pine Ridge. Watts. President Clinton's tour hit many spots that people instantly think of when they hear the words 'America' and 'poverty.' But Clinton's choice of the most glaring and obvious examples of this country's poor communities deflects attention from the the persistence of poverty around the rest of us. Take Monterey County, for example ..."

"Public faces of hatred," editorial in the Oregonian: "A ragtag crew of neo-Nazis, skinheads and Klansmen decided to live out the Constitution's free speech guarantees in a Saturday morning march through the Idaho town of Coeur d'Alene. Their open exercise in hate provided more unwelcome evidence that intolerance of racial and religious minorities is fast becoming a larger part of our public life. Hate groups are growing at a breakneck pace across the country ... The hate and anger that found public expression in Nazi uniforms and Klan robes on main street was a reminder of something far from the march's intended goal. They showed that intolerance and hatred doesn't only exist in the hidden crevasses of private life."

Writing on politics and government

“No time for cowboy justice," editorial in the Santa Barbara News-Press: "Patriotism after Sept. 11 means never criticizing the president's war plans, no matter how misguided they might be. At least that's the thinking of the Bush administration and military hawks. But the Constitution still guarantees free speech and political dissension regardless of today's political climate. Now is the time for Americans to speak up and question President George W. Bush's plans for Iraq. Every day brings more news reports, White House leaks and speculation that an attack might be coming ..."

"Witness to an execution," editorial in the San Jose Mercury News: "Strapping a condemned prisoner to a table and hooking up the lethal injection takes 15 minutes or more. For five years, California has been on a stubborn and misguided campaign to keep those minutes secret. The government's official reason -- worries about the security of prison guards -- is contrived. Reality is that informing people about the details of executing inmates would be bad publicity for the Department of Corrections ..."

"Dried-up promises," editorial in the Monterey County Herald: "The scene made the perfect photo op for Bill Clinton and Al Gore: The two men -- with Monterey Bay waves splashing in the background-- gingerly stepping over the rocks at the tide pools. Newspapers across the country couldn't resist the picture last summer. The accompanying stories delivered reports from the National Ocean Conference in Monterey about protecting the country's marine ecosystems. 'We have not learned everywhere the lesson of Cannery Row,' Clinton told a crowd at the tide pools, referring to the sardines that disappeared from Monterey Bay more than a half century ago. Words full of hope. But a year has passed since the country's first meeting to give top-level government attention to marine problems. And today politicians -- predictably -- seem more preoccupied with playing the blame game over the National Ocean Conference's unkept promises ..."

"Portland's homeless camps," editorial in the Oregonian: "New proposals by Portland's homeless advocates go far beyond the usual request for the city to ignore make-shift encampments under bridges and freeway overpasses. They want Portland to sanction people living in cars, back yards and church parking lots. But these latest efforts do nothing to solve the social problems underlying homelessness in Portland."

"Cult of Caruso," column in the Santa Barbara News-Press:
"Many people have abandoned their support of L.A. developer Rick Caruso's present plans for the shuttered Miramar after they've learned the true extent of the height and bulk of his proposal. Public debate has exposed the games the plan played with the proposed development's square footage, its parking and traffic measurements, and the under-counting of the number of employees needed to run a five-star hotel ... Perhaps it's the cult of Caruso that explains why some people are ignoring the reality that this developer's Miramar scheme needs to be revised to meet the community's standards. Caruso Affiliated's environmental troubles with other commercial projects should be enough to give any rational person a reason to pause. Or perhaps the evenings of private parties, or free food and drinks at Birnam Wood Golf Club, are responsible for the lack of concern of some people about the over-development of the Miramar site. I would have thought that folks in Montecito wouldn't be seduced by the wine-and-dine approach of planning."

"City raises are a slap in your face," editorial in the Santa Barbara News-Press: "Here a raise. There a raise. Everywhere a raise, raise, raise. And here a holiday. There a holiday. Everywhere a holiday, holiday, holiday. You've heard it before, but welcome again to the world of Santa Barbara City Hall. There's a global economic meltdown. The recession has forced numerous businesses on State Street and elsewhere in Santa Barbara to close up shop. Layoffs across the county are mounting ... You'd never know it at City Hall ... The council over the past weeks has doled out raises to hundreds of employees. It created a new holiday."

"Taxin' Jackson did herself in," column in the Santa Barbara News-Press: "Hannah-Beth Jackson, try as she might, couldn't escape her record as an Assemblywoman. She couldn't escape her history of sour interactions with constituents. It all came back to haunt her, and she's lost her bid to become a state senator. ... The results suggest that a solid bloc of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters in this county couldn't stomach voting for Ms. Jackson ... The Tony Strickland campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads and campaign mailers to remind voters of Ms. Jackson's record exposed in the 'Taxin' Jackson' editorials in the News-Press. That moniker is one reason why Ms. Jackson went on her own personal jihad against this newspaper ..."

"His 'I'm Latino' fibs," column in the Santa Barbara News-Press: "Das Williams isn't able to sit still, politically speaking. In the midst of his first term on the City Council, he tried to jump to the Board of Supervisors. He was trounced in that 2006 race for the 2nd District seat, despite putting his all into it. He moved across town to be in the 2nd District. He and his friends even set up a third-party political action committee to funnel money to support his campaign. They failed to file the proper paperwork on time in an apparent effort to keep the public in the dark ... You can expect more of this with his bid for state Assembly ... But his past words are coming back to haunt him. There's growing concern about how Mr. Williams misrepresented himself to win his first political office. I and others in the local media in 2003 gave him a free pass, even as one critic was shopping around a story about how Mr. Williams wasn't Latino. Mr. Williams certainly had been giving the impression he was through subtle comments and inferences about his past. In 2004, Mr. Williams took it to the next step ..."

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