Archive for September, 2004

Congratulations, Reuben!

Earlier this week Reuben Martinez won a MacArthur Fellowship for his work to promote literacy in the Latino community. (Details in the LA Times and OC Register.) Martinez owns Libreria Martinez Books and Art Gallery on Main Street in Santa Ana. Libreria Martinez Books focuses on

Former Asst Sheriff George Jaramillo Arrested

It looks like the DA’s finally brought charges against former Asst. Sheriff George Jaramillo. The Register’s all over it (registration):

SANTA ANA — Fired Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, who once hoped to become the county’s top cop, was arrested Wednesday and charged with using department resources to benefit a company that paid him $25,000 in consulting fees.

Jaramillo, accompanied by his attorney, surrendered to Santa Ana City Jail at 11 a.m., where he was booked on six counts of felony misappropriation of public funds and four counts of misdemeanor conflict of interest.

He later pleaded not guilty before Superior Court Judge Marc Kelly in Santa Ana and was released on $25,000 bail.

(Love the mugshot they plastered on the frontpage, by the way.)

I’ve followed the Jaramillo story with considerable interest. I’ve actually met the guy on a couple occassions, and I can confirm rumors. He was power hungry. He was the Sheriff’s strong man.

For me, that’s more an observation on the way Jaramillo carried himself, and the duties to which he was routinely assigned by Sheriff Corona. There was an attitude, often implicit, those at times explicit– Jaramillo was a man who could get things done, if you were willing to play ball.

Kudos to Larry Welborn, Tony Saavedra and Aldrin Brown, they paint with broad strokes and deliver on the big picture. Which involves much more than Mr. Jaramillo.

There’s every indication that the impropriety extends all the way to the top. And from the looks of things, it sounds like George is primed to roll over.

Another Sunday At The ACP Computer Swap

I hadn’t been to the ACP Computer Swap Meet in about a year and a half so I decided to check it out this past Sunday. It was just as I remembered it – packed full of sweaty geeks who hadn’t seen the sun since the last computer show. But I didn’t come for the freak show, I came for the bargain basement prices – and that’s exactly what I got. I walked away with:

  • A $5 6 foot 6-6 pin firewire cable
  • A handful of 1800mAh rechargables for $.75 a pop
  • Two throwaway knives [AKA “Exhibit A”] for $5

I managed to walk away with everything on my list for $15. It’s a good thing I steered clear of the porn tent [that smells like desperation, if there is such a thing] or else I’d have spent double.
The ACP Compter Swap Meet is a bimonthly event. The next one is Sunday, November 28th. Bring some noseplugs.

The Right to Vote

As a Californian, you have the right to up to two hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day. Here in faux-libertarian Orange County, your boss may squeal about Big Government interfering with his right to keep you from the polls “for the sake of the business”. Your right to register your opinion on candidates and issues trumps that, however. All of us who are citizens have the right to participate in the electoral process.

Here are the specifics as described by Time to Vote:

Employees who do not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote may take as much time as they need to vote.

Employees must apply for leave at least two days before Election Day.

Employers may specify the time during the day that leave can be taken.

Employers are required to post a notice advising employees of their Election Day leave rights at least 10 days before Election Day.

Employees are entitled to up to two hours of paid leave.

See also the California Elections Code.

Also note that the deadline for voter registration is Thursday Monday, October 18 2004. Get those forms in!

New cashierless checkout isles at Albertsons

The other day I went to Albertsons to stock up for a party. This Albertsons, before Henry’s moved next door, was the closest grocery store to my apartment. This Albertsons has also traditionally had extremely long lines (mainly because of understaffing). However, the other day I noticed four new self checkout isles. Well, I’m a fairly tech-savvy guy, and I didn’t want to stand in line, so I decided to check out this newfangled technology.

Before I tell you about my experience with these particular cashierless checkout isles, let me tell you of my only other experience with one of these automated wonders. It was at Home Depot quite a while ago, and I was buying a single sub-dollar item. I scanned in my product, inserted my dollar, got my change and the change somebody else had left, and I was on my way. A pleasant, quick experience had by all (except maybe the guy that left his change in the machine.)

These Albertsons self checkout machines were not nearly as easy to use. They only provide you with enough space to put three smallish items, so you can’t unload your entire cart before scanning in your items. Then, they only provide enough space to put six smallish items after you scan and bag them, so they end up having to put them back in your full basket.

So here is the quite tedious process you must go through to scan in a basket worth of goods. First, unload three items from your basket. Scan in your three items and place them in a bag. Remove three more items, scan them in, and place them in a bag. Shift around some items in your cart to make room for the bags you just filled and place the bags in the cart. Tell the computer that you have removed the items from the bagging area and that you would like to continue scanning in more items. Repeat this process until you have no more unscanned items left in your cart. Then you pay for your goods and leave.

You can see the problem, you don’t have enough room to place your items either before you scan them or after. Which means you need to have scanned and unscanned items in your basket at the same time. What Albertsons needed to do was provide us with a full checkout isle, just replace the checker with the self service computerized cash register. What I’m saying is I want the conveyer belt to put my groceries on and another one after the canner to take my groceries to the bagging area.

Here is my advice, self-checkout counters are great, if you only have a few items. If you have more than just a few, wait for a cashier, the time saved is not worth the hassle.

West of Denial

Back in the spring of 1965, I woke up on the train in the San Bernardino railroad station after a long night’s ride from San Bernardino. I was 7 years old. My mother the nurse noticed a redness beneath my ears. She followed it down the neck, opening my shirt. A raised, red rash exploded on my chest. I felt hot to the touch. She knew what this was: measles.

Seven to fourteen days before, someone in my school had coughed out the rubeola virus. Along with most of my classmates, I’d sucked it in. During the week I was out of school, attendance at Holy Rosary dropped to a mere handful. Out of the entire first grade — two separate classes totalling more than 30 students each — only two students appeared for their lessons.

That was an epidemic.

Having lived through this, one of the last uncontained outbreaks of measles in American life, I read closely the details of the West Nile infection now pounding the public with its headlines. I concluded several weeks ago — after I saw the first signs warning about the appearance of mosquitos at Peters Canyon — that while a few people were at risk for the worst case scenario of the virus, the overwhelming majority of us who were infected would feel mild or no symptoms at all.

Late in July, I took the Visalia Times Delta to task for overstating the danger from West Nile. Noting that only one in five people who are infected by the virus show any symptoms and even fewer were afflicted with life-threatening illness, I went on to caution the media in general against sensationalizing this story:

Journalists, as a class, are not idiots but they are poorly trained in basic sciences, psychology, social sciences, and statistics. They often lack the skills and the historical perspective to be able to separate valid evidence from hogwash and lies. They do not know how to question or research stories or vet out bias or recognize snake oil. Their errors transmit from mind to mind via the vector of television, radio, newspapers, and the nets. And the public, having also not been well educated in these vital life skills, do not question what they hear and read except on a very superficial level as in “the press has a liberal slant”, “they lie”, and the post-modernist “different truths” fallacy.

The price we pay is mass histrionic behavior. And is that good for our health?

On Friday, The OC Weekly “broke” the story that there might denial about the danger posed to the public health by West Nile Virus. “[C]onsider the possibility that your preeminent public-health agency—sentinels of public safety—may themselves have little more than a hazy picture of this epidemic still in our midst,” John Underwood proposes, using a tactic reminiscent of the infamous CNN speculation about the modem tax back in the late nineties. When you have no firm facts and you feel a bit on the paranoid side, ask a what if. What if we have misread the significance of this new disease?

Their primary source for the panic is a press conference held by Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Fullerton) who couldn’t understand why, with all the thousands of acres of marshland spread across the southland, health officials could not walk out to a specific plot and say “This is where the first West Nile-bearing mosquitoes will hatch.” Spitzer ignited a fear frenzy over West Nile Virus that the Weekly stoked to the max.

And it’s all that damned government. There’s got to be a coverup.

Hardly. First, it is true that West Nile Virus has come to California in a big way. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported that 45 people — 14 of them here in California — have died from WNV. (The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 16 people have died here in California. For purposes of comparison, sixty three people died in Colorado and thirty seven died in Texas last year.)

Second, it is important to realize that while most people experience mild if any symptoms, a few people can be severely stricken. The Times tells us:

Although the North American strain of West Nile is more virulent than its foreign cousins, most people who become infected with the virus have hardly any symptoms, and the vast majority of cases are never diagnosed. Because the virus attacks the brain and spinal cord, however, the worst-hit victims experience brain inflammation (encephalitis), which can cause symptoms that last a year or more. These include severe headaches, muscle weakness or paralysis, fatigue, tremors, balance problems, memory lapses and mental disorientation.

Third, there is reason to feel that the micro-epidemic is over for this year. Mosquitoes don’t breed well in cold weather. Besides that, most of the lowland marshes that the Weekly warns us against are salt water. Wigglers don’t do brine. I suspect that the greatest danger is posed to those who live alongside the Santa Ana River or downstream from the Prado Dam in San Bernardino County.

That medical facilities may not be equipped to adequately diagnose WNV is probable. But WNV is petty in comparison to other public health problems in the county such as deaths from guns and automobile accidents. Perhaps the problem need not be laid at the feet of the Weekly but at that of public officials who have become desensitized to the human cost of OC’s lousy public health system. As goes the Board of Supervisors and the Register, so goes the public. The Weekly may think itself doing a service by hyping this relatively minor threat to the county well-being. I disagree if that is the motive, but I do feel that one of the most important things that a government can do for its people is to provide them responsible information and networks so that health care providers can deal effectively with new scourges out of Africa, Asia, or wherever.

Beyond Orange County exists the CDC which has an extensive site documenting the dangers from WNV. Wielding WNV as the weapon for fighting a skinflint Board of Supervisors may place unnecessary additional strains on an overextended and underfinanced hospital system. Back east, people were reporting to the Emergency Room for mosquito bites. Is it a service to those who have pressing problems to flood the system with such calls? I think not. Our best instrument is knowledge of WNV is and how it can be prevented. The Five Myths page at the CDC is a good starting point.


OC a SUV haven?

Last Friday’s OC Register reports that Orange County SUV sale are up (7.3% when compared to last year) while the national average is declining (down 1%). They cite Orange County’s above average income as a shield against increased fuel prices. The article also has this quote:

“You are the No. 1 luxury and high-performance car market in the world, and not just for sales, but for trend setting. You’re very image- conscious here,” said Gordon Wangers, president of Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc.

Thanks Gordon, as much as I enjoy cruising to my favorite bistro (Del Taco) in my high-performance luxury automobile (’86 Toyota Camry), I think you just called me a vain sonnnavabitch. Personally, I think the OC register has part of the equation right. But I also think the ultra-plush wide streets, and relatively convenient parking has something to do with the 5 Hummers on my neighborhood streets. Who knows, someone might decided to get one of those CXTs.

When Angel Fans Attack

There were 40,000 people at the Angel game last night and I think every one of them stood in front of our seats and obscured our view at some point during the game. It

“Not Valid in Orange County”

The airlines are not our friends. We know this. The exhorbitant fares they charge for the routinely subpar service they deliver is just short of criminal. But in Orange County, we get the added benefit of being restricted from taking advantage of virtually all discounted rates offered by the airlines.

I heard the commercial again this weekend. “Southwest Airlines now offers 94 daily non-stops to [city] for just $4. Offer not valid in Orange County.”

Why is this? Why must we pay full price when everyone else gets to take advantage of a lower fare? I presume it has something to do with the anxiety-inspiring flight path over Newport Beach, whereupon pilots must basically kill the engines shortly after takeoff so as not to disturb the beach-dwelling snotholes during their hot rock treatments at the spa. But what does that flight path have to do with fares?

I demand an investigation.

Taon and Sholeh at Tebot Bach

Outside of the club scene, beyond the strip mall, and almost entirely off the InterNet exist venues where the captives of society converge to spend some time in a world not driven by the dollar or peer pressure. The pressed white shirts and the cellulose pundits scoff and think the name for these events –“poetry readings” — is reason enough to dismiss them as unnewsworthy. So far, the writing about them in The Orange has been at best advertising copy drummed out as if we still all banged at typewriters for a deadline. With this, I hope to change that, to speak of the experience of hearing and seeing poets in the rough.

On Friday night, I dragged my wife and a muttering Windblown to the monthly Tebot Bach reading in Huntington Beach which takes place in the Community Room at Golden West College. Tebot Bach is one of two organizations dedicated to poetry outside of the universities and the bookstores which carries the clout of nonprofit status, the other being Casa Romantica. Led by Mifawny Kaiser, Tebot Bach strives to demonstrate “the power of poetry to transform one’s life experiences”. The venue features open mike readings and featured poets on the last Friday of every month.

And there I go, sounding like advertising copy.

We shuffled in twenty five minutes late due to an accident in the fast lane on the 405. A silence between open-mike poets allowed us to slip around to the far the only table with three open seats. I got comfortable as host Daniel MacGinn introduced the evening’s first guest, Aaron Roberts.

Aaron belongs to a class of poets whose published work cannot be found through the usual book search engines even though they bear an ISBN. His presence at the podium is self-effacing. He begins his reading by reciting the work of another poet, then reaching into his sheaf of loose notes, a stapled blue-covered chapbook, and his permabound volume Reinventing Taon for the substance of his sharing. I call it sharing because Aaron does not strike me as a performer. He does not stand on tables or wear outlandish clothes, walk up to members of the audience and shout in their ears. He comes to the reading to read. This is his poet’s schtick, founded on humility, shyness, and very neatly trimmed facial hair.

His poetry speaks of contemporary life as he lives it. The title poem of his first truly published collection comes from a misreading of his name as he signed it to a painting. “Taon” represents his creative side where

I am both the puppeteer
And the marionette
Pulling my own strings
As memories crash
Through my mind
Riding side-saddle atop
Landslides of emotion.

It is emblematic of Aaron that when he signed my copy of Reinventing Taon that he wrote:

Thank you for buying the work of another poor poet struggling to live in Orange County.

In Aaron’s world view, we all strive and in this we are equals.

Another local reviewer of poetry said of the principal feature of the evening:

One doesn’t get more exotic or international that Sholeh Wolp

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