Thursday, September 16, 2010

TV attack ads - and campaigns - reaching new lows

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - As political campaigns heat up, so do the television advertisements that would seem to be even more wildly misleading than in the past.

Hard to believe? Probably not.

This TV ad - in the race for California State Treasurer, for Godsakes - is a good example of ugly, deliberately misleading campaigning:

What's wrong with that ad?

Well, to start, it's beyond a stretch to blame Bill Lockyer  personally for problems with pension systems, issues with government accountability, that some businesses have left the state, that unemployment is up - and state spending might be 15 times higher than it was 37 years ago. (That number is very suspect, by the way.)

But if that number is arguably true, well, could it be that the 37 million people who live in California today, (compared to 20.8 million 37 years ago) live in a world that is more complex - and expensive?

Regardless, Bill Lockyer didn't pass all the state bond issues, impose expensive federal mandates or push the state to pay for more and more services (and solve problems). Check his record. Oh, that would uncover how he has really performed as a public servant. Oops, silly thought. Sorry.

The ad, of course, is simply part of an equally simple (or is it simpleton?) nationwide strategy that says throw out anyone who has any experience in government and replace them with anyone who doesn't. (Check the results in the U.S. Senate GOP primary in Delaware for confirmation.)

And if the person running has no experience but is really wealthy (think Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina), well, that's even better.

As a journalist/witness to what has happened to the collective effectiveness of the California State Legislature since term limits have been imposed (by voters), I would suggest that this strategy of throw out the bums is simply nuts.

Just plain old nuts. No need to embellish. 

Perhaps after the elections some people will be able to fling their Tea Bags in the air and feel good about this. But will it be good for the public? Good for the state? Good for democracy?

Of course not.

But then we can blame the next batch of elected officials for all our troubles.

And that is just plain old nuts again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sacramento art-walk shootings revive safety debates

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The shooting death of a 24-year-old man and the injuries sustained by three other persons Saturday night - in an incident a few hours after end of the popular 2nd Saturday Art Walk - has awakened old notions that Sacramento in not a safe place after dark.

The art walk has been in good part credited with helping the revival of the neighborhood called Midtown, an area that fills most weekends with crowds of people mostly in their 20s and 30s. Complaints earlier in the summer led to an increase in police presence for the art walk Saturday when as many as 10,000 additional people swarmed the streets, visiting art galleries and creating an almost-Mardi Gras air.

Now, with a shooting that took place within a few feet of patrolling police officers, the safety question is back - and probably won't go away easily.

Already, the merchants who benefit from the art walk - and Sacramento's Mayor Kevin Johnson  - have been talking bravely that people should not let a thug or two destroy this monthly event.

That's a nice sentiment, but doesn't make people feel any safer who are considering joining the thousands of people who will be wandering that area in October.

The shooting element is what makes this incident so disturbing.

Had this been a brawl in one of the local bars that spilled out onto the street, it would be easier to dismiss. Bar brawls are a common outgrowth of too much alcohol and too many people packed into a small space. And people seldom die in those.

But when bullets start flying on public streets, people are going to think more than twice about putting themselves in the line of fire.

An old friend, stationed at Mare Island Naval Base in the early 1970s (now a resident of suburban Phoenix, Arizona), wrote to say that the incident is very different from the Sacramento he remembers:

"When in Vallejo many years ago, we'd jump in the '66 Chevelle and run up to UC Davis and/or Sacramento.  Sacramento would start with cruising J and K streets, and then going from there.  Sounds like a different place than when it was the '70s, long hair, beer, other substances, and no fear of violence."

Sounds like the good old days.

A 2nd Saturday art walk earlier in 2010

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Arthur C. Clarke's '3001' - a book to read for the future

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - 3001, The Final Odyssey, is the last book in the late Arthur C. Clarke's series that started with 2001, A Space Odyssey, which was a hit in both book and film versions.

Arthur C. Clarke

Sadly, 3001 has never been made into a movie, but it should have been. Maybe it still will be.

It's not a new tome - it was published in 1997 - but somehow it escaped my attention at that time  (I was off sailing somewhere, no doubt). So finding it on the shelves of the lending library at the Oakland Yacht Club last weekend was especially rewarding.

The book fast forwards to the third millennium using the same literary device Washington Irving did in his classic story, Rip Van Winkle. In Clarke's case, however, astronaut Frank Poole has been unconscious (some would say dead) for 1,000 years.

It is science fiction, after all.

The idea works nicely as a way to catapult the reader into the future, with the past shown in snippets as Poole learns about what changes have happened to mankind, and what is left of the Solar System since 2001.

Some of it is pretty ugly, but even then fascinating.

Apes discover the first monolith in 2001, A Space Odyssey

And for those who remember the original book and film's black monoliths, they figure prominently in this volume, too, in ways that would be a spoiler to mention here.

If nothing else, in 3001, Clarke shows that he didn't give any creedence to doomsayers who see the apocalypse coming in 2012.

But then, he didn't in his book, 2061Odyssey Three, published in 1987, either.