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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.     

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Unfortunate Mixed Message in Sacramento

The governor and a strong Democrat majority in the California state Legislature are rolling the dice. They want the voters to approve higher taxes at the November election. At the same time, they have not dealt effectively with meaningful public employee pension reform and they have given the green light to the expenditure of billions of dollars of bond funds on a highly dubious high-speed rail plan which has been panned by every objective analytical body out there. Their own experts had urged that the tenuous fast-train proposal be shelved, at least for now. But, no. They went ahead anyway. The politicians on the Democrat side of the Sacramento aisle are risking another budgetary calamity with their perplexing behavior. If the new taxes are shot down in four months, draconian cuts, especially in public education, are expected to be forthcoming. The hand-wringing and wailing on the left will be palpable. But they can't say they haven't been warned.     

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Portola Valley District Chimes in

In a previous post (an important addendum to a column published in the San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times), 2010-11 salary figures for every public school district in San Mateo County were provided for the sake of comparison. One district was missing. The Portola Valley Elementary School District did not supply those numbers to the state's Department of Education. This week, a district spokeswoman pointed out that new 2012-13 wage statistics are available on its Web site. So, although it's not quite apples and apples due to the difference in fiscal years involved, here are some relevant data from that tiny, two-school South County entity: Lowest possible salary, $52,844; highest possible salary, $108,215. The average wage was not shown.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

High-Speed Rail Takes a House Hit

Federal funds for California's high-speed rail plan in the coming fiscal year were knocked out of a House of Representatives' spending plan last week. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Republican-dominated House took the action as the Members considered a transportation bill. The GOP has been extremely skeptical of the fast train proposal due to highly worrisome financial projections provided by a number of outside analysts who have warned that HSR in California would be budgetary folly. On the Peninsula, Caltrain authorities have been lobbying hard to grab close to $1 billion in HSR monies in order to electrify the commuter rail line. Whether such a move would be legal remains to be seen, however. As for the latest House vote, the next step in the process will come in the Senate which has a slim Democrat majority. Stay tuned.    

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Health Care Costs: Go Figure

Within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow 5-4 decision upholding most of the President's health insurance law, a telling example of why the American health care system is probably beyond repair appeared in the mailbox. It was not unexpected. A close relative had spent seven days (and nights) at Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, the result of a nasty fall and broken hip. We all knew the bill would be significant. But no one anticipated its magnitude. How does nearly $118,000 sound? And that doesn't include a variety of pending charges that are still to come. Now, in fairness, that mammoth figure was retail. Those with health insurance (like our patient) would pay a lot less. There was a shorthand breakdown in general cost categories but no itemized accounting. There was no detail at all. No doubt, such a complete tally would require any number of pages. So it was impossible to examine the bill with any sort of accuracy at all. There was no way to figure out what was valid and what wasn't. We had to take it all on faith. That seemed OK when the bottom line payout for this comprehensive care was just $200, courtesy of Medicare and a terrific supplemental group insurance policy. So, frankly, there was utterly no incentive at all to double-check the bill, to question it, to pore over it. Why worry? Other than the paltry $200, it was going to be paid, certainly at a healthy negotiated discount. It was another example of the lack of transparency in all of this. The system simply isn't rational. The consumer has no idea what he or she is actually paying for much of the time. It's a formula for economic chaos.        

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dredging Up the Past Isn't Always Productive

We came, we saw, we dithered. At the request of a former San Mateo Times editor, Belmont's Michelle Carter, a small group of ex-Times staffers converged on the San Mateo County History Museum today to try to sort through several boxes of old photographs dating back more than 55 years. For a time, it was thought that the memorabilia had been lost once the daily newspaper had been sold to Dean Singleton and his newspaper group in 1996. But they had been stored away by a private citizen who recently sold the collection to the museum. The bulk of the glossy pictures, mainly those of men, had already been filed away alphabetically, leaving the rest for a careful examination by the volunteers. Unfortunately, by and large, there were few, if any, striking finds in the material. There was only a very slim smattering of stuff with even a hint of  true historic value in the mounds of unlabeled photos. Not that we didn't try to find some gems. But, somehow, shots of the 1964 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace, unnamed recreation facilities, anonymous bureaucrats, publicity stills, etc. just didn't stimulate the juices too much. It was rather mundane. Nonetheless, the job is not complete. More work lies ahead. It's likely that we'll return to the Redwood City archive room fairly soon. We're hoping for a more productive outcome.     

Thursday, June 21, 2012

San Mateo County Public School Teachers' Salaries

                          2010-11 San Mateo County Public School Teachers' Wages

                     Lowest Offered Salary    Average Salary    Highest Offered Salary

Bayshore Elementary      $41,878      $60,337      $79,944
Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary      $46,668      $70,704      $88,854
Brisbane Elementary      $42,593      $65,467      $78,272

Burlingame Elementary      $40,352      $65,150      $80,948
Cabrillo Unified      $43,294      $64,696      $78,752
Hillsborough City Elementary      $51,590      $87,067      $115,456

Jefferson Elementary      $42,429      $59,416      $74,634
Jefferson Union High      $41,113      $58,421      $72,464
Pacifica Elementary      $34,626      $55,191      $71,146

LaHonda-Pescadero Unified      $36,550      $52,034      $73,200
Las Lomitas Elementary      $61,990      $90,643      $102,727
Menlo Park City Elementary      $51,966      $87,720      $103,060

Millbrae Elementary      $40,971      $65,440      $79,907
Portola Valley Elementary            (not available)
Ravenswood City Elementary      $42,460      $58,472      $79,325

Redwood City Elementary      $43,879      $69,270      $85,395
San Bruno Park Elementary      $39,125      $64,402      $75,155
San Carlos Elementary      $44,463      $65,614      $84,412

San Mateo-Foster City Elementary      $43,458      $65,069      $81,727
San Mateo Union High      $50,664      $84,416      $96,261
Sequoia Union High      $52,826      $81,768      $97,785

South San Francisco Unified      $43,879      $60,976      $86,745
Woodside Elementary      $52,103      $87,080      $106,696

Source: California state Department of Education

Hey, Larry, What About Half Moon Bay?

It came as something of surprise this week when it was announced that Oracle honcho Larry Ellison has purchased almost the entire Hawaiian island of Lanai. The exact price was not provided but it is believed to be in excess of $600 million. We don't begrudge Ellison his billions, not in the least. He has made his money the time-honored capitalist way. He created his own company and you know the rest. Good for him. Still, why Lanai? Think about it. Ellison, a citizen of Silicon Valley, could have kept his cash trove right here at home. He could have made a bid to buy Half Moon Bay, or at least a significant portion of it. The Coastside village is in deep financial trouble. It has been cutting and out-sourcing services for the last several years. Its municipal government is a shell of what it once was. It needs an infusion of big bucks. At one time, Ellison wanted to spend lavishly to acquire the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. The effort failed. Instead, it's Lanai. Too bad. Half Moon Bay could have used the boost.   

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Small Digital Miracle

After two months, this blog is back. Why was it MIA for so long? Simple. Your correspondent couldn't access it from his home computer. The precise reason was never really clear. However, this morning, by some digital miracle, it was again possible to log on. Needless to say, there was rapture in the hallowed household bunker where all important things electronic reside. So, on occasion, these musings will pop up for your tender consideration once more. Your faithful servant is geared up and ready.     

A Great Night in San Mateo

The San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau scored again Wednesday night in San Mateo. The Bureau, under the leadership of CEO Anne LeClair, presented the 22nd Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet at the San Mateo County Event Center. About 250 people attended the affair, held in conjunction with the San Mateo County Fair. Ten individuals were added to the Hall of Fame. They included: Chuck Bradley, Nancy Dinges, Jim Harbaugh, Charles Lowery, Katie May, Edwin Mulitalo, Paul Noce, Mark Reischling, Warren {Locomotive) Smith and Erica Reynolds Woliczko. They bring the grand total of inductees to more than 220. Wednesday's guest speaker was Mark Speckman, new head football coach at Menlo College and a graduate of Carlmont High School in Belmont. Born without hands, Speckman noted that, as a youngster growing up on the Peninsula, his football coaches had to get used to the idea that not all techniques would work for him. For instance, tips on how to catch a football properly (setting the hands/fingers in a diamond alignment) was not exactly relevant for him. He had to learn things his own way. The Hall of Fame is located at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hi, Welcome to Keokuk and Cape May

Peninsula residents got a surprising taste of spring/summer weather in the Midwest and East Coast last night. Yep, that three-hour thunder and lightning show was a real attention-grabber. Who knew that residents from Pacifica to Pescadero and Brisbane to Portola Valley were going to feel like they were residing in Keokuk or Cape May in mid-April, one day before the opening of the Major League Baseball season in San Francisco? Holy cow, this correspondent has not experienced such a sustained assault by Mother Nature in 65 years living in these parts. Homes were shaken to their foundations by some of the thunder blasts. Small children and animals were similarly affected. Car alarms were firing up with regularity. It was quite a show. Now, let's all get back to normal ASAP.

Fast-Train Foes Must Depend on the GOP

In Democrat-heavy San Mateo County, there is an unsettling conundrum afoot for foes of high-speed rail these days. Voting for their favorite political party in November will help to solidify the controversial fast-train's future in the Golden State, including the Peninsula. That is becoming increasingly apparent with each step taken by the governor on down to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It doesn't seem to matter how many severely critical and damning analyses of the high-speed program are published. The Democrat-dominated power base in California appears to be fully committed to the project regardless of financial and environmental realities. That's where the Republicans come in. If, by some miracle, the skeptical GOP manages to hold onto the House of Representatives, re-take the Senate and capture the White House (where the president is a big backer of high-speed rail), the federal money-spigot will be turned off and Gov. Jerry Brown's dubious program will come to a screaming halt. It will be the end of the line. It's ironic, but true.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Berms Still Appear Possible on Caltrain Route

As residents and property owners in San Mateo and Burlingame cast their eyes on a Caltrain plan to electrify its Peninsula route, with considerable financial help from monies earmarked for high-speed rail, there is a certain sense of guarded relief prevailing right now. One reason is that there is now serious pressure being exerted to maintain the commute rail right-of-way as a two-track setup, for the most part. That would seem to satisfy many critics who fear that a four-track system to handle both Caltrain and high-speed rail, and an attendant viaduct, would devastate portions of the Peninsula. The so-called "blended" approach for the two systems, sharing two tracks, seemingly would alleviate those worries. But will that be the eventual reality? Maybe not. If you take a good look at towns like San Mateo and Burlingame, it becomes obvious that an electrified, two-track Caltrain corridor, shared with high-speed trains, would require grade separations (underpasses and berms) at many key points. For instance, from the San Mateo Caltrain depot south to Ninth Avenue there are four rail crossings. And, from the Broadway Burlingame depot south to Peninsula Avenue there are six more such crossings. Something will have to give. Keeping all of this trackage at current grade level seems to be highly unlikely. The obvious solution would be berms, similar to what exists now in Belmont and San Carlos. They aren't pretty but they're effective. The huge Hillsdale underpass is another type of option. Construction engineers are being tasked with dealing with the alternatives right now. Their recommendations probably won't be entirely satisfactory..

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A High School District Joins the Revolution

Not long ago, the San Francisco Examiner touted the SF city public schools' decision to purchase a huge supply of personal computers for its students. The thrust of the piece was that this move was something of a landmark. Really? PC's are so yesterday. The name of the game today is wireless. Just look at all of the young people sporting iPads and the like. They are remotely hooked up to wifi. It's natural for them. That's why the San Mateo Union High School District is out in front. Its trustees recently decided to spend $500,000 annually for 10 years to create a complete, all-embracing wifi system for the entire district, every classroom, every gymnasium, every cafeteria, every property. When the setup is up and running, it's expected that, for the most part, PC's will be obsolete. The wifi revolution makes sense in the academic realm for sure. Teachers and students can communicate seamlessly any time of the day or night with their portable devices. Textbooks, presumably, can be imported into the machines as well. Those 75-pound backpack burdens should become ancient history. The benefits are many and obvious.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Big Night in a Small County Town

The California state high school basketball tournament is a massive undertaking. It involves five enrollment-based divisions for both boys and girls. Virtually all of the Golden State's 1,700 or so public and private schools have a shot at being involved. Beginning this week, only about 275 of the best remained. Playoffs in the northern and southern halves of the state commenced Wednesday night. It's a big deal, especially for small schools and small towns. Witness Half Moon Bay. The hometown team hosted Calaveras High School from the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada foothills. More than 1,000 rabid Half Moon Bay fans jammed the renovated high school gymnasium for the NorCal first-round Division IV tussle. It was just the third time in school history that such an event was hosted there on the hillside campus. The sterling sound system was in fine fettle. Music throbbed. Pre-game introductions featured a darkened gym, a roving spotlight and a creative PA announcer. The Cougar cheerleaders did their thing. At halftime, there was even a pint-sized break-dancer going through his manic paces on the sidelines. The ballgame itself was something of a letdown, unless you enjoy a royal pasting. Coach Rich Forslund's boys routed the visitors from Mark Twain terrritory, 67-29. There was a running clock through much of the final period. It was Half Moon Bay's first victory in state tournament action in school history. The Coastside rooters loved it. Calaveras fans, not so much. The Cougars move on to a Saturday night engagement with top-seeded and heavily-favored Salesian in Richmond. A reversal of Wednesday's euphoria could be in order for Half Moon Bay. That's the nature of the tournament. Regardless, the experience is quite a ride.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Checking in on the Cricket

It didn't last long but it made its presence felt in downtown Burlingame more than 40 years ago. The Cricket, a bar featuring nude female employees, operated under rather heavy scrutiny until perplexed civic authorities found a way to shut the joint down. It had a brief lifespan, less than a year. The dive was a focus for the curious on Burlingame Avenue during a moment in Peninsula history when such prurient diversions were not unknown. Four miles south in San Mateo, in fact, a larger version, Easy Street, was in full swing. Unclothed female dancers writhed for customers until San Mateo officials put the final clamps on it. The Cricket's existence came up last weekend during a gathering at the Burlingame Public Library. The occasion was a trivia contest, part of a meeting of the Burlingame Historical Society. Most in attendance could not recall the little bar. But one man, a former Burlingame police officer, certainly did. As he put it, "We checked up on the place every hour." No sense missing a "performance."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tom Martinez: He Was One of a Kind

Tom Martinez died Tuesday at the age of 66. It was his birthday. His death, sadly, was not unexpected. He had been ill for many years. In fact, he reported that his physicians had declared that he was dying this past summer. He was correct. Martinez was best known as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's tutor. But Martinez was much more than that. His long career at the College of San Mateo was studded with milestones, not the least of which was his staggering total of 1,400 victories in three sports. But he wasn't just a coach. He was a teacher. He had literally thousands of students during his tenure at CSM and at Jefferson High School before that. Martinez was a man for all seasons. He could provide opinions and perspective on just about any topic, especially if it was related to young people and their habits. He could, and did, talk for hours if his companions were stimulating enough. He had a wonderful sense of humor and he was often the butt of his own wry jokes. He didn't suffer fools well at all. Martinez will be greatly missed. He was one of a kind.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The County Grand Jury: Does Anyone Listen?

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury this week issued a new report criticizing a vote by two members of the Board of Supervisors that prevented an extension of Cal Fire services in San Carlos. The Grand Jury's analysis indicated that the action prevented significant savings for local taxpayers. You can bet that the revelations will be greeted by a collective yawn. The report has no teeth whatsoever. Every time the Grand Jury, with the best of intentions, comes out with a damning conclusion involving one of the county's multitude of public agencies the impact is more fleeting than a vote by the Greek Parliament. It's strictly a case of here-today-gone-tomorrow. It has the lifespan of a gnat. That's not to say the Grand Jury's work is utterly pointless. It's just that it has no enforcement mechanism; it's advisory only. Targets, whoever they are, can take it or leave it. They usually do the latter. One of the best examples occurred not all that long ago when the Grand Jury produced a report detailing how the county's public health care system featured some of the most generous benefits in California for illegal immigrants and their families. The result: Nothing. It was kissed off as barely more than an interesting set of data. Ho hum. Time to take another nap.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Limbo: A Place for the Undefined, Uncertain

During a recent discussion with friends in San Mateo, the subject of Limbo came up. For Catholics of a certain age, Limbo was something of a strange conundrum. It was a vague place where certain souls wound up. It wasn't Hell and it wasn't Heaven; it was something in-between, a final destination for those of an undefined spiritual nature. In a sense, it was an agonistic's delight because it was so cloudy. It was neither black nor white; it was grey. Booted out of the Church's lexicon some time ago because of a distinct lack of relevance, Limbo hasn't really gone away. At least not in a political sense. In an era riven by harsh idealogues on the left and right, there is no middle ground for rational debate. If you listen to politicians and pundits on both sides of the great American divide, you come to realize that shades of nuance are quickly lost in the rhetoric. You aren't allowed to hedge even a little. There is no home for you. In effect, you are back in Limbo as an Independent. Maybe that's OK. You still get to vote.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Will Tom Huening's Voice Be Heard?

San Mateo County's government operation based in Redwood City is often a one-trick pony. Serious debate on major issues frequently lacks much staying power. That's because the overwhelming majority of the decision-makers speaks with one political voice which leans heavily liberal and Democrat. This circumstance tends to constrict any sort of healthy give-and-take on important matters of substance. That's where Tom Huening comes in. As a generally conservative County Controller, he's regarded as something of an alien in the halls of county administration. So there is a real question as to whether his latest alarms will be heeded, especially by the Board of Supervisors. He's been warning about two potential budget-busters for some time: Unfunded government employee pension liabilities and the annual cost of debt service for a proposed new County Jail. He has plenty of facts and figures to back up his red flags. But it will take some real gumption on the part of the supes to act on his findings. Are they paying attention? Dave Pine certainly is. As for the rest, well, we're waiting.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Just Ride That Airborne Pony for All It's Worth

When the UAL pilot says there won't be a beverage service on the early-morning January flight from SFO to LAX because of rough weather, you know you're going to be in for an interesting trip. That was oh, so true today. Wind and rain, both up north and all the way down south, made for a very lively journey aloft. The roller-coaster at 29,000 feet was in full swing, literally. Not that there was anything resembling a serious problem. There wasn't. But those of us in the white-knuckle brigade needed to find some sort of diversion from the non-stop rock-and-roll. And that's precisely what came to mind: Music. That was the ticket. Snap on the headphones, find some upbeat tunes and just ride that pony 400 miles straight to the plastic wonders of the Southland. After all, it lasted just 55 minutes. How bad could it be? With the occasional Dire Straits and Alabama providing the interludes, the wintry flight, with all of its imperfections, was less than traumatic. Thank you, Mark Knopfler. We'll have one more round of "Sultans of Swing."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Forget Miss Manners at NFL Games

Why mince words? If you are going to attend a National Football League game, especially a playoff event like this weekend's Giants vs. 49ers encounter, don't expect to see a lot of customers who behave right out of the Miss Manners handbook. Etiquette is not in the cards. There is plenty of excessive drinking, foul language, threatening gestures and, yes, fights. What a surprise. Have you checked out what's happening down on the field? There, every play features multiple examples of violence and intent to commit bodily harm. If these behaviors were to occur out on the street, they would be considered felonies and the perpetrators would be arrested. But it's all legal in the NFL, or almost so. It depends on the referees. Meanwhile, back in the stadium (whether it's Candlestick Park or any other NFL venue) far too many civilians seem to feel that they, too, must get into the hyper-competitive act. The parking lot is no bargain either. That's where much of the heavy boozing occurs. In fact, you can almost gauge the importance of the impending ballgame by the amount of liquor being consumed around the arena prior to kickoff. With all of that alcohol consumption, it means that restrooms and other public facilities are landmines. Say the wrong thing, wear the wrong sweatshirt and you may find yourself up against a wall. What's the solution? Stay home. Watch the game on TV. Why endure the abuse? Save your money.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Pop Music Solution: No Lyrics

If you have attended a high school basketball game in the last decade or so, you may have noticed a phenomenon which has tended to stain the experience: Offensive pop music. Some modern musical offerings, especially those of the hip-hop genre, include wording that is, to say the least, offensive. It can range from outright hatred for women to calls for violence against police authorities to sexual suggestions that are downright crude. The F-bomb is common currency all too often. Well, it has taken awhile for school authorities to see the light, but, finally, there is a movement underway to control, or simply ban, this stuff. A number of San Mateo County high schools have found the answer. They permit only songs without lyrics. Perfect. What could be more prudent under the unhappy circumstances? If nothing else, it spares the sensibilities of those who want no part this material. Maybe reasonably good taste isn't dead after all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Let's Keep Engineering Standards High

Here we go again. The diversity police are on the march once more. They now are fretting about the ethnic makeup of UC-Berkeley's engineering students, among other concerns. In a nutshell, there are too many Asians, whites and males. Too many Asians? Too many whites? Too many males? Who cares? What matters is whether these ambitious young people are outstanding pupils in an outstanding program that demands high standards and rewards excellence. We want our future engineers to be challenged by rigorous academic offerings. We don' t want those requirements to be watered-down or reduced to accommodate some sort of socio-political agenda that has nothing whatever to do with keeping our buildings and bridges upright and our airplanes aloft. Would it be nice if there were more "under-represented" minorities (how women are somehow classified as "under-represented" at UC continues to be a real head-scratcher) enrolled in the UC engineering school? Of course. And, if these students can gain admission to that sterling program, more power to them. It's up to their elementary, secondary and undergraduate instructors (along with their families) to assist them in their quest. UC does not discriminate. Let's hope its engineering school doesn't do so in the opposite direction by allowing the unqualified, or marginally qualified, to gain admission over those who meet the entrance requirements but happen to be, heaven forbid, Asian, white or (gasp) male.

What Is It About a Hamburger?

There's just something about a hamburger, preferably a good one. It's an all-American staple (particularly when it's combined with french fries), the staff of suburban life in many ways, much to the despair of vegans and some other ultra-health-conscious critics of anything smacking of red meat. So it is no surprise that the grand opening of a Five Guys burger outlet in downtown Burlingame this week has generated big crowds, minor traffic hassles and satisfied customers, young and old alike. Five Guys, the first of its kind on the Peninsula, is located in the new Safeway shopping complex at the corner of Howard Avenue and Primrose Road. Here's a tip: Park a block away; it's just much easier that way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Let's Make It Tit for Tat in Sacramento

Politicians just can't sit still. They have a genetic urge to create, and pass, laws, whether they are needed or not. Many fall into that irrelevant latter category. Even Gov. Jerry Brown agrees with that. This year, there are 745 new laws on the books in the Golden State. Brown admits that a slew of them are useless and address no pressing need whatsoever. But he signed them anyway in a sort of feel-good effort to placate the pols. It has gotten to the point where several legislators, Peninsulans Joe Simitian and Jerry Hill among them, encourage their constituents to come up with proposed new laws every year. Again, a happy exercise to help the voters stay involved. That's fine. However, given the obvious fact that we have far too many laws already, it ought to be part of the process to get rid of a law if you decide to create a new one. A tit for a tat, as it were. Then the governor wouldn't have to go through his annual signing charade.