Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Crash with a wild pig nets motorcyclist $8.6 million

MONTEREY, Calif., USA - This story is one of those that late night comedians will likely have some fun with, for some time.

  • Wild pig crash

  • But it isn't really funny, for any of the injured parties. (The motorcyclist, the wild pig and the taxpayers of the State of California.)

    I have a great deal of sympathy for the motorcyclist who was hurt in the crash. He is in a wheelchair and is unlikely to walk again.

    But how the state of California came to be found responsible for the accident is beyond me.

    Wild pig
    Wild pig, acting pretty tame

    It's true, state highway officials were (and are) aware that wild pigs - as well as other creatures like humans, pheasants, rabbits, raccoons, snakes and the occasional coastal deer - sometimes wander across that stretch of state Highway 1.

    They still do. (The animals, not the state officials, though they are free to do so...)

    But what exactly should state officials do to ensure the safety of people riding motorcycles at night along dark stretches of rural highways? Close highways after dark? Shepherd all wild animals to special animal crossings with guards wearing bright yellow uniforms to hold up traffic?

    A few years ago, a good friend of mine had to swerve to miss a deer on a highway in Northern California. In the process of dumping his bike on the road, he racked his ankle sufficiently to put him in a wheelchair for months, then more months on crutches and finally some physical therapy. He also has several metal pins holding his ankle together.

    He didn't file a lawsuit against the deer - or the state of California for not issuing enough hunting licenses to keep those dangerous does off the highways. He spent a lot of time recovering, paid his medical bills (with the limited assistance of his insurance company) and rode on, making him luckier than the motorcyclist who hit the wild pig.

    Perhaps I need to read the transcripts of the trial to see how the jury came to its conclusion in awarding the $8.6 million in this cyclist vs. pig case.

    Might make fascinating - and/or disturbing - reading.

    Sunday, March 29, 2009

    Living in 'The Long Emergency' - horrible at best

    UERTO VALLARTA, Jalisco, Mexico
    - A friend of mine - familiar with what we are doing in Mexico - recommended a book to me called The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler.

    Thanks a lot, Randy... As if I needed more material for nightmares.

    It's not a novel, or a work of fiction. But it is more frightening than anything Stephen King or Dean Koontz has pumped out. And it's unlikely they will be able to top it, unless they spin off what Kunstler has written.

    Why? Well, because much of what he predicted is already happening, just a few years after the book was published.

    Cover of The Long Emergency

    The book's major premise is that we are running out of oil (no duh...) and that as that happens, most of what we know will either completely disappear or have to be transformed in ways that are not pretty. I've read some of this before, but not with such dramatic, clear analysis and portraits of what life is likely to be like for the balance of the century.

    (Good luck my children and grandchildren.)

    Take the suburbs. If there isn't enough oil to make gasoline - and gasoline for cars - how will people commute to work? Or shop. Or get to the doctor? Or? (Forget trains and buses, at least in the U.S. Our systems can't handle the few people who want to use they now.)

    Kunstler's grim world is one in which we all will end up going back to the basics of agriculture and subsistence living. The job openings - maybe in just 20 or 30 years - will be for farm hands, not public relations practitioners.

    American Gothic - in 2030?

    More to the point, he also talks in detail about the entire house of cards built by most of the world in which we have been depleting resources at a rate so fast it makes you dizzy. He also talks about the U.S. housing situation that tipped the scale so neatly, catapulting the U.S. into its current downward spiral and recession.

    Before you dismiss all of this with a wave of that magic wand that says 'alternative energy and new technologies will save us,' read his analysis of why that magic wand won't be nearly enough to save billions of people in the world from starving to death.

    And for anyone who thinks government - that of the U.S. or any nation - will be able to keep life as we know it afloat, perhaps a listen to the short interview might convince you otherwise.

    In case the book seems, well, a little too much to chew on, Kunstler also wrote a sort piece for Rolling Stone that sums up most of the themes of his book.

    Sweet dreams, y'all

    Here's the link to Rolling Stone:
  • Rolling Stone article
  • Tuesday, March 24, 2009

    NY Times puts Mexico's troubles into perspective

    Just a few days ago, I wrote about CSU, Sacramento and UC Davis telling students to avoid Mexico for spring break, out of fear that the violence in some border towns somehow threatened their vacations in places a thousand miles south of the border.

    A New York Times article published Monday, puts much of hysteria about Mexico and safety into perspective.

    I won't repeat it here, but it well worth reading to get some balance to the hyperbole being pumped out by media outlets - and apparently even California universities who should know better.

    Here is the link:

  • NY Times on Mexico
  • Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Puzzling out how dangerous Mexico travel might be

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I wondered how long it would be before fears about safety in Mexico would reach Central California.

    Sacramento is almost always somewhat behind the curve on this stuff.

    But in response to some U.S. State Department travel advisories about dangers in border towns, CSU Sacramento and UC Davis have jumped on the fear bandwagon, urging students to skip spring break in Mexico because of the situation in some of the border towns.

    The border towns.

    One more time?

    The border towns.

    Nogales border
    Downtown Nogales border fence

    Now I don't mean to suggest that these students - or me either - should go hang out on a street corner in Ciudad Juarez or Nogales, or even Tijuana. Maybe especially Tijuana.

    I would also advise these same students to stay out of parts of Oakland, Calif. at any time of day, thank you very much. Ditto for New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and most other U.S. metropolitan cities, all with their own safety issues - at least at certain times of the night.

    But, please! Mexico is a huge nation, full of interesting places to visit. Many safe places, I might add. I've been to many and expect to go to many more.

    In the meantime, in addition to Sacramento-area colleges urging students to avoid heading south, one area church was highlighted in a Sacramento Bee article published today. Its leaders are pulling the plug on a 13-year-old help project for a Mexican city in which about 700 young people - young people who annually have helped build houses and do various good-will projects in Guadalupe Victoria, Mexico. Instead, a contingent will travel to Fresno to help the needy there.

    Good for them for donating their spring break time to do good works.

    But, as they say in Mexico: Cuidado! (Watch out!)

    There are parts of Fresno that might have their own drug cartels and wars going on.

    Downtown Fresno
    Downtown Fresno by day

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Labor union releases names of staff let go from Bee

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - While I haven't heard back from the editor of the Sacramento Bee about my request for the release of the names of the persons most recently laid off, I did discovered that the Guild, the labor union representing most of the people, has published a list.

    It's available at:
    Guild Website

    Many of the names on the list are familiar to me, but one hit particularly hard, a woman named Debbie Meredith.

    Debbie and I worked together when I was a consultant at the Bee, working as fill-in editor of the Forum section, taking over from Bill Moore.

    Bill Moore left last year, just ahead of the tsunami in the first wave of buyouts and layoff. He is having a ball writing and working as a freelancer.

    Debbie kept a lot of wheels spinning smoothly in the editorial pages section, and no doubt will be missed. I hope the next chapter of her professional life turns out as well as Bill's has.

    My first official post to The Sacramento Bee's 'Street Talk'

    The Sacramento Bee started a new feature - today - in which it has asked some readers to comment on what's going on in the community.

    I used my first posting to ask Sacramento Bee editor Melanie Sill to release the names of the people who have been laid off by the newspaper - a list she has refused to let loose, citing privacy concerns of the people involved.

    I have sympathy. But for those folks whose names have appeared on the front page of the newspaper (in their bylines), I think readers have the right to know.

    But that's what I said below:


    his new Sacramento Bee feature called Street Talk – the one you are reading – is supposed to help prompt dialogue about the city.

    So I apologize - in advance - for making my first comments about The Sacramento Bee itself, and for publicly asking editor Melanie Sill for a favor, on behalf of the community.

    No, I am not going to go off on the newspaper for being either liberal or conservative. (I would not characterize it as either.) And really, The Sacramento Bee is a huge part of the community, in good part because it helps define the city and its people.

    That’s why the travails of the plummeting advertising revenues – which has now translated into layoffs and buyouts of longtime news employees - is such a tragedy. The reporters and editors of the newspaper represent a collective historical record that is immediately lost when they head out the door.

    In my years as a journalist in Northern California, whenever I moved to a new newspaper in a new town (which I did frequently, much to the chagrin of my children and wife) the first person I sought out was the police reporter. I wanted to know what areas of the city or town were safest.

    Since last summer, the Bee has been hemorrhaging staff, including news reporters and editors who are taking valuable knowledge with them. More to the point, these are people who regular readers of the newspaper have come to know through their bylines in the newspaper and come to trust (mostly).

    And though editor Melanie Sill has done a fair job of reporting about changes in the newspaper, the only way readers know that a staff member has left (either voluntarily or through a layoff) is their name disappears.

    In my case, I usually figure it out when I ship off an email and bounces back, telling me the person does not exist.

    So, in this first Street Talk posting, I want to send a message directly to editor Melanie Sill: please tell us who is leaving. These staff are more than just employees of your newspaper and the corporation. They are our neighbors, often friends, and certainly people about whom we are as curious as the endless doings of the state legislature.

    I did receive one comment from Dan Weintraub, who is the editor/controller of this feature.


    Mike--Melanie has her hands full this week so I am not sure she is going to respond here. In case she does not, let me tell you what she has said both publicly and privately about this issue: Some people who are laid off want their names to be public, and some don't. Some think it will help them get new jobs, others don't care about that or simply don't want their job status to be broadcast in public. Also, many of the people who have lost their jobs are not public figures at all. They work in circulation or production or advertising. Would you suggest we post their names as well? Finally, being a resourceful journalist yourself, I bet if you googled long enough you just might come up with the list you are looking for.


    News staff whose bylines have been published in recent years, certainly. Why deny the Legislators - who have been skewered - the knowledge that their most vigilant observers are headed to the unemployment lines? Ditto for photographers...

    Wednesday, March 04, 2009

    The Sacramento Bee's bad news just keeps on coming

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - These are sad times for journalists and journalism in general, even more so for The Sacramento Bee.

    After so many years of being a company that took care of its employees like they were family, it has had to resort to cannibalism to patch a ship that is sinking so fast, most industry observers believe the McClatchy Company will go bankrupt by the end of the year.

    Those people are the optimists.

    In one of Dan Weintraub's 'conversations' the whole issue of the future of newspapers is being kicked around, most often with the focus on content. The contributors routinely gripe that The Bee's news coverage is biased (liberal or conservative). They have a point. News stories have become so laden with writers' opinions and biases, it's impossible to ignore.

    But forget content.

    Newspapers - like The Bee - are in a death spiral because their advertising revenues have been seriously depleted, thanks to the same economy that is savaging housing and everyone else.
    If there were still advertising revenues, The Bee would not be getting ready for another astounding round of layoffs, furloughs - and even pay reductions.

    After so many years of having a virtual monopoly - and rolling in advertising cash - the whole concept of pulling back has been foreign to The Bee management.

    But The Bee needs to be more open about what's happening inside 21st and Q Streets. Certainly if it were any other major organization in Sacramento (public or private) reporters would be swarming over the debris to tell the stories.

    For a look at what The Bee management has offered its employees, this url tells the story:
  • Bee union news