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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Local Moment of 9-11 Reflection Marred

This morning, at the moment the Twin Towers in New York City collapsed 11 years ago during an Islamist terror attack, a bagpiper played in front of Burligame City Hall. A small gathering of somber people, including firefighters, stopped to reflect. Not so a nearby gardener. He had no clue whatsoever. He kept his annoying leafblower going at full throttle throughout the brief ceremony. Slowly but surely, the enormity of the events on the East Coast on Sept. 11, 2001 is fading away as life goes on. Perhaps it should be emphasized that those attacks and subsequent loss of life represent the worst such combined events to hit the mainland of the U.S. since the War of 1812.    

Monday, September 10, 2012

AT&T Garlic Fries: A Formula for Colonic Disaster

Attending a Giants' baseball game at AT&T Park is like going to a party. The promotions and marketing people who work for the professional ballclub outdo themselves on a regular basis. It doesn't matter who the Giants are playing. The score is almost irrelevant. The fun and games off the diamond are really where it's at. Baseball purists aren't thrilled about some of the ludicrous activity (think Panda hats, awkward Ball Dudes, the former unlamented Melkmen, Gamer Babes, etc.). But the paying customers, especially kids, seem to enjoy it. Which is fine. But there is one aspect of Giants' ballgames that needs some attention. The AT&T garlic fries have become exercises in gastric distress. Whew, when they say "garlic," that's what they mean. In spades. A small amount of this ballpark menu item can keep your wobbly stomach and tender colon gasping for relief well into the following day and night. Your breath is unsuitable for the Caltrain ride home. The chefs might as well just call it "garlic with fries as an afterthought." Belching later isn't just an option, it's required. There's enough trapped gas after a game adjacent to McCovey Cove to fuel a PG&E power plant for a fortnight. Bring on the Beano. We've got an emergency here.    

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thank Goodness for the "Declinists"

Opponents of California's high-speed rail program have been dubbed "declinists" by Gov. Jerry Brown and his Democrat allies in Sacramento and elsewhere. The moniker is meant to portray those critics, many of them on the Peninsula, as unthinking and uninspired neanderthals who prefer to see the state slip and slide down the economic pecking order. Frankly, if you care to gaze at the big picture, the declinists are actually trying to wave a caution flag at the direction California is taking, or at least slow down the inexorable fall. Let's get real here. California is a big-time mess. Its budget is in constant deficit, its population is sharply divided between the wealthy and the needy (and the legal and the illegal), its unfunded, long-term public pension responsibilities are crippling and the business climate is, to say the least, less than welcoming. Brown's fast-train foes are seeking to do him a favor. They are attempting to save him (and his profligate  supporters) from himself. "Declinists?" "Realists" would be more like it.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Who's Really a Journalist Anymore?

It's a touchy subject. In today's world of instant communication, who, precisely, is really a journalist anymore? Twitter, Skype, cellphone cameras, e-mail, blogs, you name it, are all perfectly suited for anyone wishing to record an event, report, opine and disseminate stuff worldwide in an instant. So who needs a professional journalism training program? Maybe that's one big reason for the demise of the College of San Mateo's set of journalism courses (plagued by low enrollment), along with the abrupt retirement of their instructor, this month. But there's a flaw in that logic. Any writer, photographer, film-maker, reporter, page-designer and the like needs an editor, an experienced man or woman to monitor and shepherd ideas and raw material to a polished conclusion that's appropriate for public consumption. Good editors are like gold. They are indispensable. It's their job to make authors and journalists better, to guide and protect them in their work. Typically, they do so in grand and relatively thankless obscurity. With cutbacks savaging the editing ranks at newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, websites and associated endeavors, it's getting increasingly hard to make the case for this important craft. The bean-counters simply don't see much value in it. And that's truly a sad state of affairs. In the process, quality work is becoming a rare commodity indeed.   

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Where Was Mandy-Rice Davies?

We are indebted to the organizers of the 2012 Olympic Games for their generous and somewhat informative opening presentation Friday in London. It was nothing less than an attempt, sanitized though it was, to present a rough history of Great Britain. While it most definitely tried to put a happy face on the long and complicated story of the rise of the Anglo-Saxons and the ensuing glories of the former British Empire, there was a lot missing. Certain, shall we say "unpleasant", details were not to be found. For instance, some of us longed for at least a brief smidgen of coverage of the War of 1812, the Sepoy Mutiny in India , the Irish Potato Famine, the Boer War and the naughty behavior of the lusty Mandy Rice-Davies way back in the sleazy 1960s. Surely, some bit of production time could have been found for a depiction of the impressment of American sailors on the high seas, late afternoon gin and tonics during the era of the Raj and a peek at Winston Churchill's vast supply of transported whiskey as he participated in the late, lamented 19th century conflict in South Africa, among other vignettes. But no, it was not to be. It was one more example of a missed moment. Frankly, the Parade of Peasants and the array of soot-stained iron workers from the Industrial Revolution, while curiously revealing in a strange way, were, in the end, tedious. How unfortunate. It was a lost opportunity. But, thank you, NBC and BBC for giving us all a chance to view it anyway. Nothing is perfect. Especially those dancing national health care nurses and the latter-day, cellphone-deprived Romeo and Juliet. Good lord. Who's idea were they?                

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let's Ask the Citizenry for More Money

The synergy was too stark to ignore. One day after the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury warned that the county's public employee pension and retiree health insurance benefits were too rich and should be trimmed back to a more reasonable level, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted, 4-1, to ask the voters to increase the county sales tax by a half-cent in November. Dave Pine voted against the proposal. He was the sole negative voice on the board. He preferred to go for a quarter-cent hike in tough times. While the board majority spoke earnestly of the public programs in need of a cash infusion from the taxpayers, they tended to avoid the obvious: The worrisome analysis provided by the Civil Grand Jury the day before. In essence, then, what the board majority wants to do is to secure fresh funding from the taxpayers to support, in part, those impressive pensions and retiree health insurance packages that are draining money away from ongoing public welfare programs and other county efforts. It's a subject few board members want to discuss at a time of stressed budgets and ongoing deficits. The election will be held in just over three short months. There will be a blizzard of proposed tax increases on the ballot. Lots of luck.   

Monday, July 23, 2012

Local Tax Measures May Be in Jeopardy

With each passing week, there are indications that public entities in San Mateo County are leaning toward placing tax measures on the upcoming November ballot. That may be a mistake. The timing is not good. That's because of increasing evidence of unhappiness with California's governor and Legislature regarding the state's financial condition and their desire to raise taxes with November ballot measures. Support for those taxes appears to be minimal at best. Will those requested state levies pull down local tax hikes with them? That's the fear. Public school districts much prefer to ask voters to back construction bond measures in a general election. That's because approval needs to meet only a 55 percent threshold, rather than a two-thirds requirement. Still, the November election looks to be decidedly problematic.