Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last minute gift idea...?

It's Christmas Eve, have you done all your holiday shopping? Looking to make one last online order?

How about yourself... Are you set with a beautiful new photo calendar for 2010?

Well... my good friend Gary (aka aka Anakin1814) has organized the 2010 "As Seen on YouTube" vloggerhood calendar with 15 photos by our online friends (including myself).

This has been a fun project to be a part of, and I'm thrilled with how the calendar has turned out. It's a fifteen month calendar (Jan 2010 - March 2011), and each picture is spectacular.

The best thing? All creator royalties will be donated to the Nature Conservancy. What are you waiting for? Order a few right now!

... Purchase the calendar today! (only $18.99)...
... Get more info on the project (including thumbnails of the 15 images)...
... Get more info on the Nature Conservancy...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Right Policy Too Late?

Watching the President last night one thing is certain; you could see that he knew he was making the unpopular decision, that he was set to anger those who'd voted for him, and fail to appease those who didn't. One conservative friend commented via twitter, "Have to wonder what the cadettes sitting in the stands thought of this weak man before them." I, too, was wondering what the cadettes thought of him, but not because he was weak. I think it took a tremendous amount of strength to go forward with that difficult decision in the face of overwhelming opposition. But strength of mind does not make you right.

Beyond announcing the 30,000 troop surge to "finish the job" in Afghanistan and be back in time for July 4th fireworks in 2011, President Obama also went through great pains to tell us that a) the delay in announcing the decision wasn't really a delay since the plan he was asked to consider doesn't go into effect until January, b) we are progressing in the plan to get out of Iraq, even if we haven't really noticed any difference yet, and c) Afghanistan is where we should have been putting our efforts in the first place, as it was from here that Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks.

I don't think anybody can seriously argue against 'c' - whether or not you believe Iraq was justified or just a distraction, bin Laden is the confessed ringleader behind 9/11, and he was certainly on the run in Afghanistan. And, on at least one occasion following 9/11, we had him in our sight and failed to capture or kill him.

But that was 2002 and this is 2009. What makes us realistically believe we have a better chance at getting bin Laden or neutralizing al qaeda today? What makes us realistically believe that more foreign soldiers on their soil is going to help de-radicalize the Afghan populace? And by what magic leap of faith do we believe that 30,000 is the magic number of troops to finish it all up in eighteen months?

As eloquent and powerful as the words he spoke were, these are the questions that were left unanswered. Many good things were said, and much that I agree with. But it all fell short of selling me on the surge. Yes, if either war was justified it was the one in Afghanistan. But has the opportunity for success there passed? Is the mision still relevant? And do the American people have the will to support it? I'm afraid the time has passed. The right idea, just a few years too late.

Looking back at my archives here, I found my review of the speech in which President Bush announced his "surge to the finish" in Iraq, back on January 11, 2007. What I wrote about the Iraqi surge that day was;
... it's not exactly the same failed strategy. It's more of the same failed strategy. It's the same, but different.
Well, as they say, history repeats.

The one highlight last night was shortly after the  speech when The Onion came out with the headline Obama Tells Nation He's Going Out For Cigarettes. In the Onion story, the President gets a paragraph or two into his speech and says,
"Anyway, I'm going to go get some smokes, but I'll…be right back," added Obama, his voice trembling slightly. "Don't wait up."

We won't wait up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Am I Wasting Your Time?

Today, my good friend Tom Guarriello, asked a rather innocent question on Twitter, "Is it just me or are all Facebook apps really, really annoying?" He then commented on some of the responses he received in a post called What('s) A Waste Of Time? on his True Talk blog.

I'll get to his first question in a second, but first, more about his blog post... After quoting some dialog from Hamlet in which the title character defines Denmark as a prison while Rosencrantz says that it's not that bad, Tom comes to the conclusion that just as one man's prison may be another's paradise, the same goes for whether or not Facebook apps are an annoying waste or not.

But here's the part I want to comment on... Following the Hamlet scene, Tom writes:
... Western culture has a pretty sturdy set of guidelines about activities that are not, de facto, a waste of time:
  1. Economic - anything leading to personal financial gain
  2. Education - anything leading to fulfilling requirements for a diploma, certificate or degree
  3. Exercise - physical activity for the sake of maintaining bodily fitness (this is a relatively recent addition to the Western canon of acceptable endeavors)
Activities in either of these categories (let's call them "productive") are safe from the charge of wasting time.
Time spent doing things that fall in other categories is more "questionable," i.e., if you do, it's likely that someone or other will think that you are being "unproductive"; wasting time (and, by "thinking make it so").
  1. Entertainment - anything done for personal enjoyment/amusement
  2. Expression - any creative activity that is not directly tied to vocational/economic/educational/fitness purposes
  3. Exploration - anything done out of curiosity; i.e., doing things "for no good reason"
  4. Philanthropy - anything done for the benefit of others
As somebody who's spent his entire career pretty much in that final category, I'd like to suggest that the line between the two groups is not as clear cut as Tom might suggest. I'd say that even the three items in teh first group could be considered "questionable" by some.

Why is activity done for "personal financial gain" automatically useful, while activity done "for the benefit of others" is questionable? I can think of several professions that I would define as a drain on society (anybody want to post a comment defending telemarketers?). And I would defend true philanthropy - doing for others without any expectation of return or recognition - to be the highest calling to which any of us could aspire.

And, really, just where the hell do I fit into this continuum? After all, I work in the charitable/philanthropic sector for personal financial gain. Which part of that equation is the waste of time?

Now, I'm sure Tom didn't mean to imply that crime was "not, de facto, a waste of time" but it is, after all, purely for personal gain and not for the benefit of others (unless you're Robin Hood). And, while I believe in education and (occasionally) try to get to the gym, I know that there are many people who consider both education and exercise to be major wastes of time (probably to their own detriment).

Meanwhile, how much scientific discovery would have been stifled had the discoverers remained in the lab because they felt guilty about wasting their time by going out "exploring"? Curiosity may have killed that cat, but it's also led to a greater understanding of the world around us.

The truth is, everything is a waste of time - including Facebook apps - to the person who has no interest in it and everything is worth pursuing if the person doing the pursuing gets one moment of pleasure from it - including Facebook apps.

It's just fine that some (most?) people think that everything I do is a waste of time, just as my opinion of how they spend their lives is completely irrelevant to them (or, at least, it should be).

I'm sure I had more to say on this topic, but my crops are ready to harvest in Farm Town...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defending Sarah Palin

This isn't what you think it's going to be. No, I'm not going to bash those defending Sarah Palin's self-serving, ghost-written memoir. Nor am I going to comment on her book, or the controversy it's stirring up at all (beyond that first sentence). I'm actually going to defend Sarah Palin against an unfair attack myself. (Pause for the gasps from the readers).

The group American Right to Life (ARTL) has claimed that Palin secretly supports abortion rights based on her having appointed to the Alaska Supreme Court a judge who has served on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood. On their Prolife Profiles page on Palin, they have archived the press release about Judge Christen's appointment. The press release details many of Christen's qualifications, but makes no mention of her service to Planned Parenthood. But, what I did find very interesting, was the last sentence of the press release:
Under current judicial selection procedures, the Alaska Judicial Council received applications from six Alaska attorneys, winnowed the list to two names, and forwarded them to the governor.
So, only six people wanted the job, only two were qualified, and Governor Palin selected one of those two. Without knowing who the other candidate was, and what their "prolife profile" would say, how can ARTL crucify Palin for the selection she made?

Learning that Palin may have actually, in some cases, put her duties as Governor ahead of her personal agenda is something knew and interesting to me. Good for her!

It should come as no surprise to any of my regular readers that I do not support ARTL's mission, but clearly these people are out of line and way overboard when they describe Judge Christen as "an abortionist" (she's not; she's a lawyer who served on a nonprofit Board), and just as wrong when they use guilt by association (and a rather tenuous association at that) to try to discredit Palin (and here's where I get in my digs; Palin does enough to discredit herself).

Okay. So don't let it be said that I'm a hypocrite of an independent who only sticks up for the liberals and leaves the conservatives out to hang when unfairly attacked. Now, excuse me while I go scrub my hands.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Can California be Saved?

There are those who would place all the blame on Hiram Johnson. It was Johnson, as Governor, and the Progressives who brought the great reforms of the Initiative, Referendum, and Recall (along with direct election of US Senators) to California nearly 100 years ago to break the monopoly on power held by the State Legislature and the corporate interests who owned the individual members of that body.*

The legacy of a century of Initiatives and Referendums is a state Constitution with over 500 amendments (often conflicting with or negating each other) that is the world's third longest (eight times the length of the U.S. Constitution), a practice of budgeting through the ballot box that has left the Governor and Legislature very little authority in dealing with fiscal emergencies, and a state that is considered by many on both the right and the left as being virtually un-governable.

Far from being a tool for the people to self-govern when leaders fail, it has become accepted that to pass any statewide ballot measure requires the backing of the same large monied interests that the Progressives sought to silence. And yet, we still cling to the progressive reforms. While nearly all see the need for reform in how our state is governed, virtually nobody is suggesting an overhaul of the Initiative and Referendum process.

In fact, a year from now, in November 2010, we are likely to have at least half-a-dozen reform efforts using the Initiative process to cure us of the problems caused by abuse of the Initiative process. Can Alanis Morissette write a verse about that irony?

Yesterday I went to a lunch meeting of the American Leadership Forum, Silicon Valley, to hear about the history of some of these reform movements, previous efforts to save our state, and to discuss whether too many reform efforts on the same ballot will doom them all. The guest speaker was Don Benninghoven, a former Executive Director of the League of California Cities, and the vice-chair of the Constitutional Revision Commission (1996-98) appointed by Governor Pete Wilson.

That Commission actually did recommend some changes to the Initiative process, including adding a requirement that the Legislature review all submitted initiatives and have the opportunity to amend them before being submitted to the voters. This was suggested as a way of cutting down on the law suits that inevitably follow most initiatives by having them conform to certain standards of Constitutional review. They also recommended that rather than be set in stone and require another costly initiative to amend once an initiative is passed, that there be a set time frame (five years?) after which the Legislature could amend initiatives without putting it before the people. By the time their report was finalized, however, a new Republican majority had taken over the Legislature and they shelved the entire project.

But on to November of 2010... Several organizations have submitted Initiative language to the State, and will likely soon receive approval to start collecting signatures for ballot access. They include...

The League of California Cities will have their "Save our Cities... Again" Initiative. Basically, their aim is to protect local jurisdictions (the only level of government that most citizens still trust) from having their funds grabbed by the State each time the State is in trouble. The League has been successful with this type of Initiative before.

California Forward has their 2010 Reform Plan as well. This will likely be on the ballot in two (or three?) different measures, including such reforms as changing the vote needed to pass a state budget from 2/3 majority to simple majority, holding legislators personally responsible for failing to pass a budget on time, and protection of local government, similar to the League of California Cities effort.

And then there's the biggie: Repair California's call for a new State Constitutional Convention (Repair California was initiated by the Bay Area Council, but has grown to be a statewide coalition). Rather than work piecemeal around this problem or that problem and just add to the clutter of our unworkable governing document, they want to start fresh. Of course, that fresh start requires two Initiatives to set in motion: One to amend the current state Constitution to allow for citizens to call for a convention, and the second one to actually make that call.

Of course, this is the Initiative (or two) that has me the most fascinated and interested. It could be the greatest thing to happen to this state politically since 1911, or it could be total chaos. Or both. Either way, it could be a lot of fun and something I want to take a part in, either as an official delegate or just as an observer.

And, of course, even if all goes well, and they come up with the greatest state constitution of all time, it will still need to be approved by the people. After all that work, if it contains too many changes to current law, or anything even remotely controversial, it could fail miserably, leaving us right where we are now. It is for this reason that many of the participants in yesterday's meeting did not want to support Repair California's plan. But for me, even with all the potential pitfalls, I'm drawn to it and feel we have to give a try.

Soon the signature gathering will begin, and assuming all of the above qualify for the ballot, it will be up to the good people of this state (and many of the bad ones) to decide which way to go. Personally, I see no conflict between them. We can amend the budget process (CA Forward) and protect local government (League of CA Cities) today, and work on a new Constitution for tomorrow.

* While Johnson was a forward thinking and progressive leader on domestic issues for the first half of the 20th century, first as Governor then as US Senator, he was also an isolationist and xenophobe who supported the California Alien Land Act, prohibiting Asians from purchasing property, and was the only US Senator to vote against both the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew - Thanks, but no thanks

Dear Starbucks,

Thank you very much for the free cup of coffee this morning, and the opportunity to taste test your new VIA Ready Brew instant coffee. While I didn't care for the VIA (more on that in a minute), your staff was helpful and nice, and I enjoyed the cup of real coffee.

First, a bit of background on what type of coffee drinker I am. I'm not a daily, gotta-have-it kind of guy. It takes an effort sometimes, but I try to keep it down to no more than a couple of times a week. I'd prefer to have an occasional cup of really good coffee than to be constantly swilling bad coffee. When I drink it, I like it dark and strong - same as I like my whiskey or my beer.

I have no patience for Miller Lite, and will pass on beer if that's all that's offered (Guinness, please!). Same with coffee; if Denny's Swill is all that's available, I'll have a Diet Coke, thank you. And, frankly, when it comes to the chains, I usually prefer Peet's over Starbucks, and when there's a locally owned and fresh roasted coffee shop around, I'll take that over any chain.

So, back to the VIA taste test... Your barista prepared the two cups for me, one of the VIA Ready Brew and one of your Pikes Peek and set them out for me. On sight alone, I could not tell which was which, and I was hopeful. Then I sniffed them.

One smelled like fresh coffee should, and warmed me right up. The other was, well, kind of rancid smelling. On second sniff I identified it as cleaning chemicals following a sewage spill. That was enough to identify it as the instant coffee, but in the interest of science I went forward with the taste test.

The taste of the one I'd identified as the instant was not as bad as the smell, but certainly not as satisfying as the taste of the real coffee. The instant was thin and weak, and lacking in any body. The Pikes Peak was quite satisfying.

The barista confirmed my suspicion of which was the Pikes Peak and which was the VIA Ready Brew.

I suppose if somebody is already drinking instant coffee, or doesn't care about flavor and only wants a hot drink with a caffeine jolt, it might be a good product if drunk from a lidded cup (to hide the odor). But it isn't for serious coffee drinkers, and should probably be kept out of serious coffee stores.

So, sorry about the failed product launch, but thanks again for the free cup of coffee.


- Ken

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another Annoying iPhone User is Born

I have joined the ranks of annoying iPhone users. You know, those people who can't stop playing with their phones because they're so cool and do so many things, and they're really happy about it, and the rest of world wishes they'd just shut the heck up already. I know. I know because last week I was one of you.

Here's how it went: For many years I was a Sprint customer for my cell phones. I was never thrilled with Sprint, but the service usually seemed decent enough. I was also pretty sure I only wanted a phone to be a phone, and not to be a camera and an organizer and a game unit.

But, as time went on, I became more and more annoyed by Sprint's problems. Large areas where they claim to have service where there's no signal at all, and calls that I never receive until I get the notification that somebody left me a voice mail (sometimes hours later). I also got used to the idea that having several uses to a single gadget could be a benefit. But I still wasn't convinced that I wanted to go with AT&T, the only "legal" carrier for the iPhone.

So I decided to seriously study which cell services were the best. I asked everybody I work with. I posted the question on Twitter and Facebook. I also checked articles on CNet and elsewhere for reviews of the services from the "professionals." I only found one other person who still used (and liked) Sprint. The AT&T and Verizon supporters were pretty much split, with Verizon coming out slightly ahead in the reviews.

AT&T (and I believe the others as well) will allow you to cancel an account within 30 days without penalty and return a phone for a refund, less a 10% restocking fee. I figured that fee would be worth it to take the iPhone for test drive and see if AT&T service would suffice. If it failed, I could always go to Verizon. So I picked up an iPhone a little over a week ago.

I tested the phone from the Santa Cruz pier, to my home in the mountains, to Los Gatos and Sunnyvale, and up to the Stanford Mall in Palo Alto. The only place I had no signal was in the dead center of the Ikea store (but it worked closer to the entrance). I can't say that AT&T is vastly superior to Sprint, but it's certainly no worse.

Beyond finding the service acceptable, I've been loving the device itself. I love that the calendar and address book on my Mac automatically syncs with the calendar and address book on the iPhone using the MobileMe service. I love having my email with me, wherever I am. I love the camera - far better than any other in-phone camera I've seen. And I love the apps (checking movie times while out and about, posting to Twitter whenever I like, and, yes, the games).

And so, this last Friday, I returned to the AT&T store and had them re-assign my Sprint number to the iPhone, picked up a new phone for the wife, and canceled our Sprint account. Like there was any possible way I was going to return the iPhone once I had it in my hands.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Term Limits? No, thank you.

Back in May, I wrote here of my fantasy of repealing California's Term Limits. Term limits, I wrote:
... only help [the politicians] escape the blame. If any of them had a long-term interest in keeping their seats, they'd work out a budget compromise, as they did in the days before term limits. Now, they are on to the next position before the full estimate of the damage they've done currently is in. Musical chairs may be fun to watch and keep score, but it has left the lobbyists and political consultants in charge of neophyte electeds. It has failed the people and bankrupted our state.
Yesterday, one of my YouTube buddies, Frank (aka Ockteby), made a vlog reviewing the problems of entrenched politicians; representatives who no longer represent. I agree completely on the problem, but not on the solution. Here's my response to Frank:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Myth of Health Care Rationing

Of all the idiocy being spewed against any attempted reform of our health care system in an attempt to cover all Americans is the myth that any government provision of health insurance (not care, mind you, but just the payment for it) will lead to rationing.

Contrary to what some idiots on the right will tell you, all properly functioning free markets lead to rationing... by design!

If this were not true - if we could all easily afford anything we wanted without work, saving, or sacrifice - we'd all be driving Porche's to our weekend homes in Aspen before hopping on our private jets for dinner in Paris.

It's called supply and demand and for most products and services it functions well and gives us an incentive to work harder. Freely functioning, self-rationing markets, lead to innovation, competition, and economic growth. God bless America.

Then there are those few things we deem necessities and so we allow government tinkering to make sure rationing doesn't occur. Public education (that helps us all by providing a [minimally] literate workforce), housing subsidies (not just HUD, but development incentives, mortgage interest deductions, etc.), and food subsidies (from Food Stamps to agriculture supports, etc.) are a few items that spring to mind.

At this stage in US development, however, we've done more to ensure that everybody can afford a pint of milk and a loaf of bread than a visit to the doctor. I'm pleased that we consider hunger unacceptable (at least, for those with dependent children), but I'm horrified that we still consider a basic level of good health to be a perk of success.

Leaving the provision of health care coverage entirely to the private sector and market forces has - as it is designed to do - left us with a situation where health care is currently being rationed, with tens of millions of Americans - many with good jobs and families - left out, unable to pay for their own or their loved ones' medical needs.

Now, I'm not 100% thrilled with the current Obama plan or the way it's been handled politically, but I still say that overall, it's about damn time we step in to stop the rationing of health care that our free market has left us with.

(Oh, and thanks to Phil aka "Fantastic Babblings" for inspiring this post)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Behind the Orange Curtain

This morning I left the liberal comfort of the Bay Area to take the 90 minute flight into John Wayne Airport in Orange County, then grabbed a taxi to just outside of the Disneyland Resort, where I'll be spending the next five days participating in Indie Fest USA, where my short film Gravehunting With Steve: A Journey Beneath Los Angeles will have its theatrical premiere Wednesday night.

Today was about getting here, getting settled at the hotel, and checking in with the Festival folks to pick up my "VIP Filmmaker" passes. The Festival is taking place at the AMC Theaters in Downtown Disney® - a place that did not exist the last time I went to Disneyland, well over 20 years ago.

Downtown Disney® is an outdoor mall/restaurant district placed between Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure on one end and the hotels of the Disneyland Resort on the other, featuring such restaurants and shops as House of Blues, Rain Forest Cafe, Sephora, and at least three different Disney stores that I could count.

If bad haircuts, inappropriate shorts, and fanny packs are in this year, then this is definitely where all the cool people are hanging out. I was also warned ahead of time that the rules of conduct on all Disney property is quite strict, so I checked ahead on the FAQ of What items are not permitted within the Downtown Disney® District.

On that FAQ I was surprised to see "Cremated remains (e.g., urn, vase, box)" included on the forbidden list. Luckily, my friend Bill enlightened me at to why it was necessary. According to the Mice Age website, there's quite a problem with people wanting to spread their loved one's cremains around the Happiest Place on Earth (scroll down to "A Pirate's (After) Life For Me"). The Haunted Mansion is the top choice, followed by the Pirates of the Caribbean, but some tone-deaf Disneyphiles actually choose to spend the rest of eternity listening to It's a Small World.

Of course, not only do they not spend eternity at Disneyland, but they rarely spend more than a few hours on their favorite ride as Disney "cast members," armed with special vacuums with HEPA filters, quickly dispatch them to their true final resting place - somewhere decidedly less campy, and certainly without the animatrons and constant music.

Anyway, Indie Fest starts in earnest tomorrow, and I'll spend the next several days watching movies non-stop - a favorite activity I haven't indulged in like this for several decades.

If you're in Southern California, and are willing to brave Downtown Disney®, please consider joining me Wednesday night for Gravehunting With Steve. Click here for ticket information....

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Happy [Fiscal] New Year?

July 1 is the start of the fiscal year for many businesses, as well as the state of California and our neighbor, Arizona. Besides a border and fiscal year, CA and AZ share another thing in common: they will each begin issuing IOUs to their employees, vendors, contractors, and others due to the inability of our elected representatives to agree on a state budget. In fact, 19 states are on the verge of such financial calamity.

Some cheer this as a bit of political anarchy and showmanship. I, however, am not alone in finding this grandstanding mockery of the democratic process to be an irresponsible dereliction of duty.

My friend in Arizona, JR Snyder, Jr., has blogged about his thoughts on the state government shutdown. Although from the opposite side of the political spectrum on many issues, JR and I are agreed on this fact. From JR's blog:
If you choose to take the position that the state needs a shutdown to get it's house in order, know the consequences no matter which side you're on. Social services may be distasteful but the answer is not abruptly halting them without some thoughtful unwinding. The chaos ensuing affects all citizens, because the ripple of destruction will run through the state economy on all levels.

Destruction is not the same as Disruption.

There are good reasons why even a partial shutdown is a very bad idea right now. A shutdown will destroy the state's credit rating. We are already insolvent and any money borrowed to operate will have to be paid back at higher interest rates due to bad credit. The entire state economy is in a precarious position and even a 24 hour shutdown will have a negative impact and far worse if protracted. The law suits against the state alone will hinder us for decades.
Many find these state shutdowns to acceptable because of the assumption that it will only hurt either "welfare queens" or faceless bureaucrats. And wouldn't it be fun to think of this as our way of getting revenge on that idiot at the DMV who kept me waiting in line for three hours?

But, as I commented on JR's blog, the IOUs will be going to more than just these usual political scapegoats. They'll be going to suppliers and contractors to all sorts of state run or funded institutions and offices. The companies that supply food to the prisons, or who have maintenance contracts with the universities, or provide linens to hospitals (etc., etc.).

Those suppliers, in turn, cannot pay their staff with IOUs; they need money. Many of them are small, local businesses that will be forced to lay off staff, and possibly shut their doors for good, if the budget impasse continues for more than a couple of weeks. This will slow down local spending and hurt the economy in communities up and down each of the 19 budgetless states, and far beyond the state capitals or the homes of bureaucrats from the other party.

Demand your representatives do their jobs and pass a budget! Whichever side of the political fence you're on, our legislators have a duty to run their states in a responsible manner. Political grandstanding that costs regular citizens their livelihood is wrong, from the left or the right.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Don't Cry for He, Argentina

Over the last twenty-four hours I've posted variations of the following in comments on various other blogs, vlogs, and emails, so I suppose I may as well put my feelings on Governor Mark Sanford (R, South Carolina) in my own blog as well...

#1 - I don't care about the affair - That's between him, his wife, his large-breasted girlfriend (did you read those emails!?!), and her husband (unclear right now whether or not she's still married). An affair just makes him human and flawed, and who am I to pass judgment.

#2 - That he skipped out of town for a quickie on the weekend of father's day is what makes him a class one SOB in my book. I pity his poor kids and the years of therapy they'll be facing as a result of this public humiliation.

Summary so far: Dump your wife? Fine. Dump your kids? Screw you. But...

#3 - What makes this whole thing a public affair, and what makes Sanford unfit for public office, is his skipping out on his elected duties as governor. His staff couldn't reach him, the Lt. Governor didn't know he was in charge... What if there were an emergency? A train wreck, plane crash, flash flood, terrorist act, Columbine style massacre, etc., etc. Shit does, in fact, happen. Even in South Carolina.

Yes, Chief Executives deserve vacation days. But there's a proper way to do it that allows the State to continue to function under its Constitution. He walked away from those duties and the Constitution; he should be removed from office.

And to those who question whether or not my outrage is partisan in nature, I'll remind you of this: When Clinton was under investigation what I said then was that an extra-curricular blow job was not an impeachable offense, but lying about it under oath was.

BTW: Mark Sanford thought that the blow job was the impeachable offense.

I'm very tolerant about perversions - I'm not very sympathetic to hypocrites.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Ode to Silicon Valley

From "plump, purple plums to shiny silver apples" and "fading start-up t-shirts filling Gold's gym" to traffic on 101, 280, and 85, and don't forget the food from pho to falafel... it's the Silicon Valley, for better or worse, exposed bare, dark underside, shiny future, the entrepreneurs and the laid off (and sometimes both), coming together in Santa Clara County's first official poem, "A Family Album, Santa Clara County, 2009."

County poet laureate, Nils Peterson, (does your county have an official poet?) assembled the poem from lines submitted by 500 county residents, ages 11 to 80. About 100 of the submitted lines, each with nine to 13 syllables, made the final cut.
"This poem captures the heights and the depths of life in Silicon Valley," said Peterson, professor emeritus at San Jose State University, who was moved to tears as he recited "A Family Album, Santa Clara County, 2009" at a press conference at the county government center. "We are reflecting the family of Santa Clara County, that's our extended family, and we are lucky to have each other."
Listen to Poet Laureate Nils Peterson reading the first official Santa Clara County poem:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fifteen Songs Meme

More FaceBook/Blog memes... This time we play "Fifteen Songs"...

To play along, here are the rules:

(1) Turn on your MP3 player. (What, no MP3 player? What century you living in, man?)

(2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode.

(3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up--song title and artist--NO editing/cheating, please.

(4) Choose some people to be tagged. It is generally considered to be in good taste to tag the person who tagged you. Feel free to participate even if not tagged.

These are my 15 songs:

1 - Poets Into Space - Peri Urban
2 - Come Away With Me - Norah Jones
3 - Hot Sun - Adrian Belew
4 - So What (live) - Miles Davis with John Coltrane
5 - Permanent Hurt - John Hiatt
6 - House of the Rising Sun (live) - Bob Dylan & Tom Petty
7 - Dirty Life and Times - Warren Zevon
8 - Dave - The Bears
9 - Winter Sun - Lem Kuper
10 - Jesus is Vlogging for Me - Peri Urban
11 - Giving - Dave Davies
12 - Rollin' and Tumblin' - Eric Clapton
13 - Worried Life Blues - Eric Clapton & B.B. King
14 - Bandit of Love - Carlene Carter
15 - Accidentally Life a Martyr (demo) - Warren Zevon

I just gotta laugh that my buddy Peri Urban came up twice - purely accidental. Not surprised by the duplicates of Zevon and Clapton, but I am surprised that one Dave Davies cut was the only Kinks-related track.

Over-all, though, I'm pleased with all fifteen songs. It was tough hitting the "next" button to make the list - I wanted to sit and listen to them all!

Okay - Tagging aside, if you want to do a Fifteen Songs post, go ahead, if you don't, I truly understand. No tags here.

(BTW - The picture of me is from the debut and final performance of the Mutant Armadillos, Sacramento, CA, 1997.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dr. George Tiller, 1941-2009

For the first time in over a decade, a doctor has been murdered for providing abortions. Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed this morning attending church in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller had previously been shot (and, obviously, survived) in 1993. He led one of the few clinics in the country where late-term abortions were performed in cases where the health and safety of the mother were in jeopardy, putting their health above his own life.

Anti-Abortion group, Operation Rescue, immediately put out a statement saying "We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down... We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family..."

Now, on the face of it, that may seem like a benign enough statement. They're denouncing violence - even though they help to incite it - and they pray for Tiller's family. And yet, even in this tragic moment, they cannot bring themselves to refer to him as "Dr. Tiller." Even in death, they insist on insulting him and belittling his work. Nothing like turning a murder into PR moment.

I've said it before in various ways, and I'll say it again: The terrorists I'm most afraid of are born and raised in our own backyards.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eat, Drink, Blog

I've started yet another blog, this one called Drink, Eat, Blog (, obviously about food and beverages. So far I've only posted reviews of a couple of local restaurants and a re-post of a winery review that originally appeared here.

For a long time I've wanted to do something like this, but haven't because of the geographic limitations. Why would somebody outside of the Silicon Valley/Santa Cruz area care about where I'm eating? But finally, I realized that although my blogs are read "far and wide," the main reason I write them is just for myself anyway. So, maybe nobody will bother reading Drink, Eat, Blog, but I'm going to write it anyway.

And, yes, I'll continue to write on this blog as well. I've just been out of the writing mood the last couple of weeks since the car accident, but that's all getting settled, I have a new car now (I'll blog about that later), and I'm feeling much better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Car Accident!

A funny thing happened on the way to a meeting Wednesday morning...

I was cruising along Summit Road, minding my own business, when I came up behind a car signaling to make a left turn. I stopped a safe distance behind her and was patiently waiting when I was suddenly hit from behind by somebody who must have been going full at least 40-50 mph.

My first thought once it was over and I caught breath: "Where's my damned airbags?"

Second thought, once I glanced into the rear view mirror to see who hit me: "Where's that asshole going?"

Yep. He was pulling out and speeding off down the road. Probably no insurance, no license, who knows what else he lacked or had (warrants? guns? drugs?). Whatever it was, he didn't want to share with us. But I got a description of the vehicle and a partial license number. (Older white pick-up truck, possibly Ford 250, license starts with 7L9...).

Two lucky things:

First, a witness. A resident who just happened to be out on her front porch heard the crash, saw the truck speed off, and called 911 for us.

Second, a good Samaritan. The first person to drive by and stop happened to be a volunteer fireman. He got out flares, helped push my car off to the side of the road, and started checking our vitals even before the paramedics got there.
Ambulance Ride! on Twitpic
Once the EMTs did arrive, they got my neck in a brace, strapped me to a body board, and loaded me into the ambulance for a ride down to the hospital for x-rays. Nothing broken, but neck very swollen, and sore lower back. They gave me a couple of prescriptions, untied me from the board (after 2-1/2 hours), and sent me on my way.

I'm fine now, other than continued soreness in my neck and lower back, but not half as bad as it could have been. Went back to work today and barely made it through six hours. Tomorrow morning I see the chiropractor.

Still waiting to hear from the insurance if they consider the car a total loss or not. The fun never ends, does it?

For a couple of photos of the damage to the car, click here.

Friday, May 01, 2009

California's Sham Election

On May 19 California voters will have special election on six propositions (1A-1F) placed on the ballot by the legislature in an attempt to solve our enduring budget crisis (we are now ten months into the fiscal year, with no final approved budget). Of course, the legislature could have actually done their jobs and come up with a workable budget solution on their own, but they've now, once again, failed to do their jobs and have put it to the citizens of this great state to do it for them. Can you tell that I'm just a little upset about this?

Prop 1A - Rainy Day Stabilization Fund - NO
On the surface, this sounds like a good idea; put money away in a special fund in case of a fiscal emergency. Except, the time to start this fund would have been a decade ago. It's pouring now, and yet 1A would immediately grab control of a chunk of the state's non-existent budget, forcing further cuts in needed services. Further, according to the League of Women Voters of California, "If Prop. 1A passes, the Governor would be given new power to make mid-year cuts and suspend COLAs in state programs without legislative oversight."

Prop 1B - Education Funding Re-payment - NO
Some years ago California voters approved a measure that would guarantee that Education's share of the state budget, as a percentage, would never be decreased. For the last several years, however, the Governor and legislature have broken that rule, "borrowing" billions from education with the unfulfilled promise to pay it back. 1B again promises to pay back the $9.3 billion owed... but not until 2011. The legislature already has the ability and the obligation to pay this money back, the proposition only grants them more time, and another two years to ignore the will of the people from previous elections.

For me, this is the most upsetting of the measures, and it is galling because the CTA (California Teachers Association) is endorsing this nonsense. Basically, the school bully took their lunch money on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday the bully took their money again. Then, on Thursday, the bully said to CTA, "We'll pay you back next week if we can have your lunch money again today." And now the CTA is telling the principal that bully is their best friend. Fear of deeper cuts if 1B fails is what drives this, but why should these guarantees be any more valid than the guarantees the legislature and Governor have already ignored? The CTA are fools and are complicit in the legislature's abrogation of their duties.

Prop 1C - Lottery Modernization - NO
Okay, if it were just "modernization" of the lottery, that would be fine. But they are so convinced that modernization is going to bring in new revenue that 1C will allow the state to borrow $5 billion (IE: sell bonds) from these future earnings to balance this year's budget. Never mind that most reasonable financial experts say that in the current market we probably won't be able to sell the bonds, or that the interest we'd pay if we do sell them would be unbearable, or that the lottery money was already guaranteed to education (see 1B, above). Idiocy upon idiocy. We're close enough to bankrupt already, thank you.

Prop 1D - Children's Services Funding - NO
How could I recommend a "no" vote on a proposition with a title like that? Because it's a lie. It takes away Children's Services Funding. 1D allows the state to take back the money that now funds each county's First 5 Commission and programs (as approved by voters in Prop 10) and use it to "achieve state General Fund budgetary savings" (according to the official voter information guide from the state). First 5 does great work throughout the state, and I've been pleased and proud to work with several First 5 programs in both Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties; programs that will likely close down in July if 1D passes.

Prop E - Mental Health Services Reallocation - NO
As with 1D taking back voter approved funds for Early Childhood Education, 1E takes back voter approved funds for Mental Health. As with this entire package of propositions, it demonstrates the Governor's and the legislature's disregard of the will of the people while at the same time asking the people to approve of their disregard. They have failed to do their job, and are now looking to us take the blame. They cannot accept responsibility for cutting spending (or raising taxes) and so they've wiped their hands clean and when First 5 folds, and mental health facilities close, and classrooms return to overcrowding, and the state's credit rating takes a [futher] dive from pawning worthless bonds, they can say, "It was the will of the people."

Prop 1F - Elected Officials' Salaries - YES
This, like the rest, is completely unnecessary. Elected officials have (in theory, at least) enough common sense not to give themselves raises in years of fiscal emergency. But, one self-serving State Senator thought it would score him points with voters to put it in writing. Ordinarily I'd like to tell him screw himself and recommend a "no" vote here, but I'm afraid that if 1F fails the legislature will take that a showing of support and give themselves unearned and undeserved raises.

So, what happens if 1A-1E fail? We don't know. Certainly nothing good. The legislature will certainly have to cut programs, and it won't be pleasant. But that is the job we elected them to do. We have let them slide, with late budgets, and ignoring previously passed propositions, for far too long.

But they are using this uncertainty to get our support for propositions unfairly. A co-worker of mine said it was like, "They're holding a gun to our heads." We agreed, pretty much, on the above analysis of the situation. She's giving in to the fear and voting "yes" on the full slate; I'm daring them to pull the trigger and voting "no."

So, what could help now? What propositions should they have put on the ballot?

Fantasy Proposition 1 - Majority Rule!
California is one of only a handful of states that requires a super-majority (2/3 vote) to pass its annual budget. This allows a minority of legislators (34%) to hold the majority hostage. In this way, both parties have become complicit in a dance that doesn't allow them to blame others for fear of taking their share of the blame. And there's plenty of blame to go around. The stalemate has to end, and the way to do it is with a simple majority rule, like we imagined a democracy would be. If the minority party wants to have a say, they've got to come to the table to work, not just be obstructionist babies.

Fantasy Proposition 2 - Repeal Term Limits
I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me here, and say that term limits help us remove these do-nothing politicians. On the contrary, it only helps them escape the blame. If any of them had a long-term interest in keeping their seats, they'd work out a budget compromise, as they did in the days before term limits. Now, they are on to the next position before the full estimate of the damage they've done currently is in. Musical chairs may be fun to watch and keep score, but it has left the lobbyists and political consultants in charge of neophyte electeds. It has failed the people and bankrupted our state.

More information:
League of Women Voters of California election site - Their press release is one of the best written analysis' of the measures I've seen

no on proposition 1d
no prop 1d & 1e coalition
courage campaign
vote no on 1a

Saturday, April 25, 2009

RFK Jr.; Crimes Against Nature

Last night we had the opportunity and pleasure of seeing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. give a keynote address at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, as the opening to the UCSC all alumni weekend. The theme of his talk was Crimes Against Nature.

It's rare that any modern orator (particularly one that suffers from spasmodic dysphonia) can hold an audience's attention for 90 minutes without a break, but Mr. Kennedy did just that, and did it handily, pausing only for a sip of water when the audience was applauding one point or another.

His comfort with, and mastery of, the keynote medium was evident from the start, when rather than stand behind the lectern with a pile of notes, he stood in front of it and started right in. That the talk was extemporaneous was brought home when, about 75 minutes in, he said, "And the point I wanted to start with, before I went off on that tangent, was..."

"Show me a polluter and I'll show you a subsidy." Mr. Kennedy made a point of saying that he's a free market capitalist, but that environmental destruction is a result of breakdowns in the market. If we were paying the true cost of gasoline, it would be around $12/gallon. Instead, the oil companies externalize the true costs in the form of billions of dollars spent defending foreign oil fields, making local communities pay for the clean up of their polluted waterways, direct subsidies in the form of tax breaks from the Federal Government, and so on.

Cheap "clean coal" at only 11 cents/kilowatt is anything but cheap or clean when you consider that the mercury used in mining, that's now flowing through our rivers, has raised mercury levels in American's bloodstreams to the point where a sizable percentage of American women have doomed their future offspring to cognitive disabilities, or that the effluents from burning coal (despite laws to install scrubbers) cause over a million asthma attacks each year and a million lost days of work, or that the mountains, valleys, and waterways of West Virginia are being filled in and leveled - a feat that not even the last ice age could accomplish - to extract the coal that will then have to travel on special, re-enforced, 18-inch thick roadways, built, again, at public expense.

Meanwhile, the American Southwest is "the Saudi Arabia of solar." An area of Arizona, 85 miles by 85 miles square (smaller than the area currently being strip-mined in Appalachia), could in theory supply enough solar energy to power the entire country. The Great Plains are the "the Saudi Arabia of wind" with some of the windiest places on the planet.

But that farmer in the Great Plains cannot build wind turbines and start selling energy, and even if massive solar fields were installed in Arizona, they can't power the nation, because of an antiquated power grid, and archaic rules that don't encourage innovation or the entry of small entrepreneurs into a market dominated by oil and coal and the politicians they control.

There is hope and reason for optimism, however. Those nations that gone carbon-free have thrived. Contrary to all the warnings of the naysayers, those that have taken bold moves to rapidly get their power grids off of oil (or, at least, foreign oil) have had booms of innovation and entrepreneurship that lifted entire national economies, as well as increased quality of life through environmental stewardship.

Mr. Kennedy estimates that the United States could be off of foreign oil by "the end of Obama's second term" and off of oil completely in 12 years. While this may sound pie-in-the-sky, and too rapid, we have many historical examples of where we've made and met just such challenges.

In the lead-up to World War Two, FDR said we'd build "a ship a day" and airplanes and tanks, etc. We built them, and it helped lift the economy out of the depression. But "the assets we built were taken to Europe or the Pacific and blown up." This time, we can put the economy to work building new assets - clean power plants, a modern power grid - and keep these assets here, working for us, providing the clean, inexpensive energy we require without digging, blasting, drilling, or importing a thing.

Following the 90-minutes speech, and a standing ovation, a 20-minute Q&A session was held, moderated by Vinod Khosla (founder of Sun Microsystems), who had also introduced Mr. Kennedy.

One of the questions from the audience asked about those who use religious arguments to refute global warming or to oppose environmental legislation. Mr. Kennedy said that his reading of the bible, and other religious texts, always points to taking care of the earth and all its inhabitants. "God didn't say to Noah, 'Get two each of the animals that are profitable.' He said, 'All my creatures are worthy of saving.'"

The final question was a request for one thing we could each take away from evening and do immediately, to which Mr. Kennedy answered, "Sometimes it's more important to change your politician than your light bulb."

Mr. Kennedy stayed after, in the lobby, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and talking to members of the audience. It was an honor to get to thank him personally (and have him sign my ticket stub).

As long as this post is, I'm afraid I only touched on a few of the important points made, and facts presented. That there was a lot of technical information is true; but it was presented with warmth, humor, enthusiasm, heart, and a spirit that held us rapt, and inspired us all to be better stewards of our planet, and better citizens of our country.

Odd-Uncomfortable Historical Note: The venue for last night's speech was the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Santa Cruz. Cocoanut Grove (with the same, old-fashioned spelling, coco-a-nut) was also the name of the nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where Mr. Kennedy's father was assassinated in 1968, although the site of his final speech was the Embassy Room.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Human Race '09

It's almost Human Race time again in California, coming right up on May 9. The Human Race is a number of different events held by the Volunteer Centers in most California counties as fundraisers for local nonprofits.

This year, I'll be walking in the Santa Cruz County Human Race for Mountain Community Resources, a family resource center in Felton providing a variety of social services and emergency preparedness programs, and where I'm currently serving as the Interim Executive Director.

And, of course, I'm looking for pledges... If you'd like to support me in the Human Race this year, please click this link and then enter an amount and click the donate button. (If it asks for the Agency number, it's #140 - "Mountain Community Resources"). Thank you in advance for your help!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wine Tasting with Hitch

Yesterday my wife and I went up to Heart O' the Mountain Winery above Scotts Valley for a special tasting event. This is a relatively new winery that only does Pinot Noir, and has only had two publicly available releases (the '05 and the '06) but they've both been gold medal winners and very well received.

The wine is great, but the really cool thing about Heart O' the Mountain for me is that they're on the former Hitchcock estate. This was Alfred and Alma's weekend getaway from about 1940 to about 1970 or so (they sold it in '74, but hadn't been up for a few years before that due to declining health).

I'd actually gone in search of this house before, but not quite found it. Turns out, I was on the right path, and had identified the correct driveway, but that there were still two or three locked gates between me and actually seeing anything.

As a life-long Hitchcock fan it was a great thrill to finally be on the estate property and see the house and courtyard, which is still pretty much the same as when Hitch was there entertaining Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, and Jimmy Stewart.

Unfortunately, none of the wine is from Hitchcock's vineyard, or the original 1881 vineyard. By the time this family bought the place in '78, those vines were all dead and buried, so they've had to replant the entire estate over the last decade.

Yesterday we had some of the '04 (unlabeled and never for sale), the '06 from the bottle ('05 is now sold out), and '07 from the barrel. All very yummy, and the progression promises that Heart O' the Mountain will be a leading contender in Pinot competitions for some time to come.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sharing Three Things...

Yet another meme. I was tagged by Maria on Facebook. Here's the drill:
Now, here's what you're supposed to do... Create a new note or blog, copy and paste this message, delete my answers and type in yours. Then tag 23 good friends (I ain't tagging nobody) INCLUDING the person who tagged you. The theory is that you will learn one new thing about each of your friends. Do the questionnaire if you want to...
Ken, Ummm.... Ken?, Stephen-David-Kenneth

Record store manager, Music video production assistant, Political canvasser

Newton, MA, Grover City, CA, North Hollywood, CA

Hell's Kitchen, House, Ace of Cakes

Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Washington, DC

Scotland, Russia, Tahiti

BBQ Chicken, BBQ Ribs, Any kind of red meat set on fire, I suppose.

Finishing this meme, Going to dinner, Getting a good night's rest

Big George, Eartha Kitty, Mr. Flash (all cats)

I ain't tagging anybody, so I really don't know

Tom Petty, The Kinks, Eric Clapton

Does Iron Chef count?

Manhattan, Single Malt Scotch (straight up), Guinness

Okay - I'm done. Your turn! (and something about doing this made me hungry...)

Thursday, April 09, 2009


A deliberate act of expertise vandalism is now being blamed for the phone system outage that today stifled electronic communication through Santa Cruz and parts of Santa Clara and San Benito Counties along the southern edge of California's Silicon Valley.

Last night, at around 2 AM, cables were cut in several locations throughout the area using specialized equipment:
"... saboteurs had to use a piece of equipment to lift heavy manhole covers and climb down several feet to get to the cables. They would have to have been equipped with heavy-duty cutting equipment to slice through the thick cable coating."
The outage effected most cell phones, many land lines, and much internet traffic in the region. 911 emergency lines could not be reached, and fire departments took to hillside perches to scan the area for smoke or other signs of problems.

The good news is the lack of panic. While stories are now emerging of people frustrated by the situation, and people driving to hospitals who otherwise would have called ambulances, there was no vandalism or crimes reported (yet) as a result. Banks allowed only a customer or two in at a time, issuing hand-written receipts, stores and restaurants hung "cash only" signs on their doors, and life went on as usual. Well, usual for 1975.

My own experience of the day was seeing a headline about the outage early this morning, and not really thinking about it until I got in my car, turned on my bluetooth headset and realized that I had no signal. My first stop was to meet with some people at a coffee shop in Ben Lomond.

That's when I heard more about the outage, but, somehow, their wi-fi was working. Although I couldn't use my personal email because my ISPs server was rejecting connections, I was able to get some messages out through Gmail, and Twitter gave me connections to a few friends.

After that it was on to my client's office. By then phone lines were restored for local service only, but no long distance calls were getting in or out, cell phones were still not working, and the Internet connection was down.

A motive for the sabotage is still unknown, and systems are still not fully functional after nearly 20 hours.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Iowa

By now pretty much everybody has heard the news that the Iowa State Supreme Court has ruled that the state's law limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of equal protection. And, if you've been to this blog before, you know that I agree with that ruling.

But, while I agree that this is an important ruling, and a step in the right direction toward the inevitable recognition of marriage equality nationwide, I'm not exactly partying like it's 1999 over this.

Basically: We've been here before. We, in California, have certainly been here before. And if the California experience teaches anything, it's that the pendulum swings both ways before finding its resting position.

The Iowa Court found that their current state law does not fit within their current state constitution. There are two ways to fix this. Either amend the law to recognize same-sex marriages. Or amend the constitution to clarify and cement the ban.

I applaud the Iowa Supreme Court for their unanimous decision, but all they've really done is select the stage for the next big battle. The war is far from over.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wayne's World No More

The local access channel on our basic cable line-up is something we all take for granted. From cheesy local shows (as parodied in Wayne's World) to gavel to gavel coverage of the local planning commission's meetings, we may not have ever watched it much, but it was comforting to know it was there.

These stations (known as PEGs for "public, educational, and government") are now a dying breed. According to
California and Illinois are among 20 states that enacted laws allowing cable companies to end their support for PEG studio facilities, equipment and staff, and giving control of programming to state agencies rather than local communities.

When California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act took effect Jan. 1, Los Angeles closed 14 studios.
The article from Newsdesk, "Access Denied to Cable Viewers", goes on to describe pending legal action against AT&T and Comcast, who have sponsored the legislation that makes it easier to take local views and ideas out of the broadcast spectrum.

The future of Wayne and Garth is secure on YouTube. I'm not worried about them if PEGs vanish completely. But losing coverage of local city council, board of supervisors, etc., would be a great loss.

Yes, it's true that these meetings are open to the public, but transportation and other considerations make it difficult for many to get to them on a regular basis. On the PEG stations, these proceedings are often repeated several times, giving citizens many opportunities to check in on their local elected officials.

I don't mean to raise an alarm that if these stations go, it will give rise to fascism and tyranny in local politics (insert your own rude remark here). But anything that diminishes public oversight of government affairs - even the slightest bit - does diminish democracy in the end.

Broadcast and cable licenses are a public trust. They are a valuable commodity, and big business, with very little asked for in return. One of those things is public access to the airwaves. I think it's worth preserving.

Monday, March 23, 2009

50 Things About Me

Another traveling meme, this one came to me on Facebook, but I'll post it here. And, no, I'm not tagging anybody - if you want to do it, fine, but I ain't forcing anybody...

Here's the instructions I received: "Copy and paste these questions on your own 'note' replacing my answers with yours, then tag 25 people to do the same thing. Remember to tag me back so I can see your answers!"

Yes, my mother's uncle, the bigamist. Well, they didn't know he was a bigamist at the time, but years later information about his "other wife" from back in Russia showed up quite unexpectedly. But they tell me he was a very nice guy. Really.

Since we had to put our cat, Big George, to sleep about six months ago there's been quite a few tears shed whenever we think of him. Like right now, dammit. Don't get me started.

Depends. If I want to read it again later, then no way. If I want to write it and forget it, it's just fine.

Roast beef, usually. Pastrami, when it's done right (rarely is). And ham, on occasion.


Well, that would depend on who else I was. I'd probably find me pretty annoying.

No shit.


I think that time has passed. I like vacation activities that don't include the possibility of hospital visits.

I'm not wild about cereals, but I do like a Clif bar in the morning. The Apricot one is my favorite.

If they have laces, yes.

I'm sure she unties her shoes too. What was the question?

Cherry Garcia is pretty damned good. Chocolate chip cookie dough is always welcome. I wouldn't mind a bowl of Espresso Chocolate Chip right now either.

Their height.


I have an annoying voice. (Yes, I know, that's not all).

Big George.

If I have to, so do they.

Blue jeans. Brown shoes.



Ribs on the smoker.


Maria? Oh, she's alright ;^)

Iron Chef America. Well, I consider it a sport.

Dog shit brown (okay, I haven't looked in the mirror for a decade or so, I assume it's still brown).





The Reader. (Excellent, btw)

Blue & grey.


From whom?

Apple pie, the crumbly kind.

Well, I ain't tagging anybody so... Steve?


I'm not reading a book right now. I'm typing up 50 things.

I don't use a mouse pad (I don't use a mouse).

Celebrity Apprentice.

Waterfalls, fountains, the tide coming in.

Which year? Probably Beatles, but tough choice.

The Netherlands.

Of course.

Boston, MA.


Astronomy class at UCSC. She thought I might be smart enough to help her pass the class.

Don't they offer free refills here?

Thomas Jefferson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charley Parkurst (aka "One-eyed Charlie"), Francis Coppola (well, gotta pick somebody who's still alive), and you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama on Leno

Last night I broke my boycott of the Tonight Show to watch the interview with President Obama. As annoying as I find Jay Leno to be, it was worthwhile viewing. No abundantly serious hardball questions, but a mix of light banter and non-threatening inquiries into the state of the nation, which the President answered in an engaging and thoughtful manner.

And then there are the naysayers. "It's beneath the dignity of the Presidency to be on late night TV." "Speaking with comedians diminishes the office of the President," "Yadda, yadda, yadda." I'm amazed that a) people still think that way, and b) that it's taken so long for a sitting President to do the late night circuit.

In an age when more people under the age of 40 get their news from Jon Stewart than from Katie Couric, what better forum is there for exercising the bully pulpit of the presidency than a show like Leno's?

That we have a president who wants to avoid the isolation of the beltway and engage the general public in an ongoing dialog about our nation's future is something that I find refreshing and inspiring. Having a leader who meets us where we are and talks with us, rather than over or around us, is reassuring and gives many of us hope.

Then, this morning, I heard a commentator complaining about the expense of Obama's Tonight Show visit. What? The President was already in California to meet with the Governor. The expense and trouble of having the Secret Service protect him at NBC was probably not much different than if he had visited a school or a factory, and I never heard anybody complain about any Presidents making those types of appearances.

But I guess the "serious news person" giving that analysis was simply upset at being bypassed for a washed up former stand-up comedian with an over-sized chin.

Late night TV appearances are no substitute for serious, in-depth interviews and news coverage. But if this is the worst complaint we have about this President, I'm pretty happy.

For those who missed it, here it is on

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Very Progressive (no surprise)

The folks over at American Progress have an Interactive Quiz: How Progressive Are You?. The quiz consists of 40 questions which you either agree or disagree with on a 10 point scale.

My final "ideological score" was 297/400, which makes me "very progressive." The average score, according to American Progress, is 209.5, with Obama voters averaging 244 and McCain voters at 169.

So, just in case you hadn't noticed from the previous 1,100 or so posts here: I lean slightly to the left. As if we needed this quiz for proof.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Premio Dardos Award Winners

I was recently notified that I am a recipient of the coveted "Premio Dardos Award." Not familiar with the award? Let me quote:
"Nobody knows who came up with the Dardos Award, but it is given in recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."
The rules (I'm quoting what was sent to me):
  1. Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
  2. Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.
Well, first of all, yes, I graciously accept this award, which was given by my brother, Steve, author of LA's Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P. Is it cheating if your brother gives you the award? Let's assume not and continue...

I had a couple of questions, too, like, "Who is Premio Dardos anyway?" I'm pretty sure it translates roughly to "dart prize," which makes no sense at all.

The next thing that interested me was that Steve did not give me the award at what I consider my main blog, Random Thoughts, Notes, & Incidents (hosted, but at Now, it is true that I have a blog at Vloggerheads, I use that site mostly for posting videos. Of course, I've pretty much been ignoring the Random Thoughts blog for months...

So, did Steve mean to give me the Dart Prize for vlogging? But the rules are very specific that it should be in recognition of "creative and original writing."

Does it make a difference, or are blogging and vlogging interchangeable? Most every vlog starts with an idea and some thoughts in mind before the camera starts to roll, even if it's not all written out. And, frankly, even those that are shot randomly, end up being scripted in the editing. Perhaps, by the time it's posted, you could say video blogs require more work and preparation that a typed blog like this.

Both are legitimate means of communication, of getting our ideas out to others, or simply to clarify things to ourselves, and both are worthy of Dart Prizes if done well.

So, I'm expanding the prize - Instead of awarding it to five blogs - I'm going to award to both bloggers and vloggers and people who do both ...

I am now honored to present to you the latest five winners of the Premio Dardos Award:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

WTF Are Internet Friends?

Diesel Bodine wants to know about the difference between "real friends" and internet friends. His main focus is on the expectations - how online we "present" to each other through videos, but off-line we converse without notes. I see that more as a quirk of the medium than a measure of the depth of a friendship.

See, I don't see much difference between online or offline friendships. We have "friends" at work, or in our neighborhood, that are only friends because of a situation, an accident of place or time, and when you move, or change jobs, you never see them again. And then there are your real friends you keep forever. The Internet just puts that process under a microscope, and maybe speed it all up, but it's really not all that different.

There are friends we expect to come visit us when we're sick, and there are friends who we expect nothing more than to be sitting on a particular bar stool when we meet at the neighborhood pub. There are people you dearly love and care for, but if you have to put up with their crap today you'll end up killing them. There are people you expect to stay and help wash the dishes, and there are people who constantly surprise you with what they do - or do not - do for you.

Friendships online can be just as real as all that, and it has nothing to do with clicking a "friend" button. There are people online that I've had to my house, or that I've been to their house. There are people I've traveled some to see and be with. There are people I consider my brothers. And there are people who if they vanished tomorrow I'd barely notice the difference.

But that's not so different than "real life." Real life friends change interests, drift away, whether by boredom or a change in their situation. Somebody got a different job, a new house, got married, had a kid, joined a different gym, whatever, and we don't see them so much anymore.

You run into them 18 months later at the 7-Eleven and it's really awkward as you stand there, shuffling your feet, until one of you says, "Well, I'll call you, okay?" and the other replies, "We'll grab lunch at that place we used to go" and you both know neither of you ever will.

And then there are the friends who've moved half-way across the country and you only speak to on the phone once every few months, but when you do get together every couple of years, it's four days of nonstop conversation and laughs and not a beat is missed in knowing you're still on the same wavelength, and they'll always know you better than you know yourself, and your wives think you're each crazy, but it's okay 'cause you're with your friend.

It's kind of like that.

(Originally posted at during my break from blogging here.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Pink Friday in California

No, "Pink Friday" has nothing to do the ongoing battle to overturn Proposition 8, or anything to do with Gay Rights at all. "Pink Friday" refers to termination notices, often called "pink slips," and that the California Constitution mandates that local school districts notify teachers of any layoffs for the coming school year by March 15 each year.

As the last workday before March 15, today is the day when an estimated 25,000+ teachers throughout the state will receive notice that their services will likely not be needed for the 2009-10 school year. Well, actually, they'll be needed; they just won't be funded.

In Santa Clara County it will be about 1,000 teachers receiving their pink slips today. But that 1,000 will not be evenly distributed throughout the county. In the Cupertino district (where my wife works), they have managed to make other last-minute budget adjustments, and last week announced there would be no teacher layoffs this year. Needless to say, districts that aren't also home to companies like Apple or Hewlett Packard will not fare as well.

In many parts of the state, there will be protests today in support of teachers. But they're not likely to do much good.

Like the March 15 mandated deadline, the budget crunch is coming from Sacramento, where legislators "solved" their budget deadlock by overturning the people's commitment to funding schools and early childhood education.

Although we're now nine months into the 2008-09 Fiscal Year, the budget (which was only passed last month) will not be official until after a May 19 special election, which will ask the people to ratify the legislature's reworking of five previous ballot measures. These include voter approved minimums for funding K-12 education, early childhood programs (First 5), and mental health funding, as well as "borrowing" against future lottery earnings.

Not among the special ballot initiatives: modifying the 2/3 vote requirement for the legislature to pass a budget. California is one of only a handful of states that requires such a super-majority to pass its annual budget. This 2/3 super-majority has allowed a vocal minority (34%) in the legislature to stalemate and bankrupt the state.

And on Pink Friday, it's teachers who get to pick up the tab. Oh, and the kids? They'll do just fine as class sizes increase ... won't they?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

50 Days In

No, not 50 days since I've posted a blog here (actually, it's been a little longer than that), but 50 days (plus a couple) since Barack Obama was sworn in as President, and I know you're all just dying to find out what I'm thinking. Is the honeymoon over? Do I regret my vote? Am I loving everything he does?

No. No. And No.

The honeymoon is not over, I think he's doing a great job in a very difficult situation. I'm still pleased with my choice, and have no regrets over not sticking with an independent or third party candidate. But, no, I'm not thrilled with everything.

But I'm fine with not being thrilled with everything (and, really, who can be seriously paying attention and agree with any politician all the time?). The point is that even where I've disagreed or had a different opinion on something he's proposed, I can at least understand where he's coming from. It may be a different approach, or a different degree of attack than I would have preferred, but I can agree that it's for reasons that I can at least respect.

I'm still finding this a refreshing change from the previous administration, where it was not simply an honest disagreement with a particular detail of a policy, but where I was constantly being outraged with what I perceived to the wholesale destruction of all of what I believe to be great about this country. But back to Obama...

Example one of my disagreement: Obama's tax plan will cap the tax deduction for charitable contributions at 28 percent (current cap 35%). The positive side: this is to help pay for some rather expensive, but needed, health care proposals. The negative: this could put a damper on on major donor giving at a time when the nonprofit sector is being hit on all sides with reductions in revenue coupled with increased demand for services.

As a guy who lives in the nonprofit sector, this concerns me. But I'm not as panicked about it as some people are. The truth is, we won't really know how much of a hit this will bring to the nonprofit sector until long after it's happened, and it's being done for all the right reasons. Taking a hit to fund health care reform feels a whole lot better to me than taking a hit to give billionaires another tax cut.

Another area of disagreement is in Education. My wife is a teacher, and she and her co-workers are upset about the President's recent speech on the topic of failing schools and education reform. Obama crossed in front of a few sacred cows and promised more of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies that failed so miserably before.

Again, my wife and I (and many others) believe that NCLB was a failed policy from the concept (other than a nifty title), and that the problem was not simply "not doing enough of it." But, as I reminded my wife at dinner tonight, we knew this was coming. Obama, the candidate, was clear about his support for NCLB. This was a trade-off we made back in November so we have no right to start acting surprised or hurt by it today.

So, am I still drinking the KoolAid and thinking that President Obama can do no wrong? Absolutely not. But I'm still willing to give the man a chance. Overall, I'll give the First Fifty a strong 85% approval rating. Will it remain that high for the next four years? I doubt it, but I'm enjoying this moment while I can.

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