Sunday, August 27, 2006
Mississippi and Katrina - One Year Later
In Mississippi, everything along the Gulf Coast is gone. All that is left are skeletons - from the knees down. In Mississippi, the FEMA trailers tend to be grouped into communities that look just like trailer parks except they’re on what were formerly school grounds, parking lots or any other area that could be cleared of debris. In New Orleans, the devastation was primarily from floodwaters that remained for weeks – the debris came more from the homes’ guts being removed and piled on the streets – in Mississippi, there was nothing left to gut.
They are rebuilding. Like their counterparts in New Orleans, they’re a tough lot and not the type to simply give up and leave. It is a slow process. And like New Orleans, one of the most commonly posted signs states: “Now Open.” However, again like New Orleans, there is so very much left to do. And… there is more. It’s not just New Orleans and the surrounding area; it’s not just the Mississippi Gulf Coast; it’s everything in between.
There is devastation along Interstate 10 from New Orleans to the Mississippi state line. As far inland as 30 feet above sea level, their world was rocked. Although the flood waters from the storm surge came and left in one motion, combined with the winds she generated, Katrina showed no mercy. She was an equal-opportunity disaster and all that were in her path felt her wrath. The scars are healing, but Katrina has become the national standard by which all future disasters must be measured.
Now as the media, the government and the nation remembers the day that redefined so much, it is also time to remember not to forget. There was an impressive outpouring of support, financially and otherwise from a nation that was stunned, but it faded over time. The real work is being performed everyday by those who must to rebuild their homes and by the unsung volunteers that are selflessly giving more than just their money. They are giving something that is needed now more than ever – their sweat.
Many of these efforts are coordinated and administered by volunteer organizations, and I’m not just speaking of the likes of the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, although their efforts cannot be understated. I am speaking of the efforts of literally thousands of small volunteer efforts from small locales… and they are doing big things. Many of these groups are small churches whose volunteers pay many of their own expenses to help those who have lost everything. These are the people who are getting the job done – this is the kind of help that is needed most. They know how to get things done – by doing it.
Friday, August 25, 2006
After The Storm
Tonight, I will endeavor to bring something different – something besides the news bites of the Lower Ninth Ward, different than the racial rhetoric and not just another story of the various levels of government falling flat on its collective face. This will be a tale of observation. Indeed, this story will reaffirm some of what was reported in the national news and now, because of Katrina’s one-year anniversary, is beginning to make its way back into the headlines once again.
The pictures do not do it justice.
The trailers are smaller and bleaker than any picture could say. Although the power has been restored, many, many of the homes are not using it; they are uninhabitable. The streets are lit, but the homes are black. There are waterlines everywhere - high water marks and the fainter lines of the receding levels. OK, not everywhere - just in 80 percent of the New Orleans area – ok, everywhere. Piles and piles of rubble are on virtually every corner, and in between – still, one-year later. Signs are blown over and left hanging – siding is blown off, and yet there is life here.
In an odd sort of way, the tales of the deserted “ghost town” are true to an extent, but to view this as a barren wasteland would be grossly inaccurate. Did the government fail the hurricane victims? Perhaps. Has the rest of the country forgotten about New Orleans? Well… yes and no, but not right now with the passing of this milestone. (I’ll get to Mississippi tomorrow – literally and figuratively. I haven’t forgotten). What struck me first and hardest was something a bit more positive. It speaks to a quality about the people in this part of the country that cannot be understated and should not be underestimated.
Now Orleans is rebuilding. With or without the government, regardless of whether or not the news cameras document it and all the while keeping the faith, this city will be back. As much destruction as there is, there is the resolve to match. Work is slowly but steadily moving along. There is traffic and I have even experienced the ironic pleasure of being stuck in it. Although many businesses are still closed up and many homes are gutted, there is progress being made. The stores are opening and there are at least some homes that have been re-inhabited. Sooner or later, the trailers will be gone.
But there is so much left to do. Disasters, natural and otherwise occur, have occurred and will continue to occur forever. In California we have had earthquakes, floods and wildfires. However, nothing in California’s entire recorded history remotely compares to the destruction that Katrina did. This one was over the top.
Pictures do not do it justice.
Monday, August 21, 2006
The Rest of the Story
One of my regular readers, Lee Ann, commented that she has paid $120 for shoes many times and she would again – but not for thongs. I absolutely agree. I have too and hold the opinion that when it comes to shoes, it pays to shop around and get the best possible. It is an expensive attitude, but worth it. However, it does not apply to thongs. Thongs are the t-shirt of the shoe world where three or four sizes really do fit all. Those thongs pictured look far better than they are… aside from the “designer” signature (on just one) and the rhinestones, these are identical to 50-cent drug store thongs.
My friend and co-worker has lived and knows the Wilshire Boulevard lifestyle as well as the practical, modest trappings of a small town mountain community. She is not one to waste her herd-earned money in this fashion. How could it be that she did indeed shell out this kind of cash and become the not-so-proud owner of this lovely footwear? As it turns out, a combination of factors contributed to what can only be characterized as a mistake, a very expensive mistake.
It all started out with a company Christmas party. A $100 gift certificate to a boutique was among the “give-aways” at the party. My co-worker ended up with this “prize.” When she went to the boutique, she found that very little there had a price tag under $100. She managed to find an over priced $80 t-shirt which was only worth it because of the gift certificate. However, that left her with a $20 credit. She saw a basket of what appeared to be drug-store thongs near the cash register and picked up a pair.
She was amazed that the price tag on these designer thongs was $20, but purchased a pair to use up the rest of her credit – after all, they were essentially free. She used her credit card to cover what she thought was just the sales tax and went back up the hill. It was not until she returned home and looked at the receipt that she realized she had just paid $120 for those thongs – the $100 gift certificate had just cost her $100 of her own money. The mistake is a logical one… it’s easy to miss the numeral “1” in a $120 price tag when everything in one’s mind says that a $20 price tag is outrageously expensive, but plausible - $120 just couldn’t be. Plus she left her glasses at home.
When she realized the terrible mistake, she immediately tried to return the shoes. No dice! The boutique had a firm “no return, no exchange” policy. She was screwed. What she is left with is one pair of over-priced thongs and a tragically funny/sad story. Sad though it may be, it’s not nearly so sad as those who actually paid $120 for those thongs knowing what the price really was.
Now for the results of the experiment: There were a number of search hits on the term “thong.” Some came from the U.S., but others came from Spain, the U.K., France, Slovenia and Greece. I expect there will be more, but my curiosity is satisfied.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Thongs & Thong
I’ll let you decide. Toward the end of this post is a picture of these thongs so that you can decide. Sexy, practical, opulent? It is a personal, perhaps even a private decision that we must make for ourselves. So, without further ado, here are the thongs:
The novelty and the amusement is coming up… the experiment will be revealed through my hit counter – and perhaps in the form of comments by a few who were sucked in. Allow me to explain the premise. I read on another post a few months ago that if you want to generate hits, put a few popular search terms in your post. One of the most popular, according to the post, is the word “thong.” As you may have noticed, that word, in both the singular and plural forms, shows up repeatedly. Thong. There it is again.
Just for good measure I threw in “ass” (as in “dumb ass”), “sexy,” “private,” and “personal.” So we’ll all see together how many new visitors stop by based on these popular search terms. SiteMeter (the paid version) allows me to track my visitors based on the search term – let the games begin!
These thongs really did cost $120. How do I know? It's an amusing little story about a boutique and a friend of mine... perhaps I'll tell it some day.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
When It's Time Not To Be Nice
Wednesday, August 16, 2006 6:35 PM PDT
Ten questions were composed and delivered via e-mail last Friday afternoon to four of the five candidates. Although the filing deadline was Wednesday, the deadline I had to meet was Monday. Therefore, I required that the answers to the questions be returned to me no later than Monday evening.
The fifth candidate, Mark Viscia, filed his papers late Friday and I didn't become aware of his candidacy until Monday morning. When contacted Monday morning, he voiced concerns about the short notice, but agreed to complete the questions by Tuesday.
When discussing the two concerns with my editor (short notice and writing the story before the filing deadline), we agreed that although these might be legitimate concerns, they are not valid.
A short notice would perhaps be a hindrance if the nature of the questions required the formulation of new policies, positions or ideas. However, these candidates are running for City Council and the questions are directly related to this elected office. The answers should have been well thought out prior to the decision to run for City Council - they should be automatic. They are not difficult questions - it's not too much to ask of those who are asking for your vote.
Furthermore, we're pretty sure there won't be any surprises. We keep our nose in everybody's business - it's the nature of our business and we are fairly certain that these are the five candidates we'll see on the ballot this November.
This questioning of the Record's judgment in writing and publishing a story on the election has found its way under my skin. Stockwin's rationale was, "There could be two or three more candidates filing between now and Wednesday." Perhaps, but that's our problem - we'll deal with it. There is a greater principle involved that may be lost on many outside this business, but is held dear by those within it.
Although the following does not pertain to Stockwin, the election or even Colfax specifically, they have everything to do with the vital role of a free press in America and illustrate the sacred duty the press has in any free society. It is absolutely where I'm coming from.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads in part: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Indeed, not only has Congress made no law abridging the freedom of the press, it has enacted several enhancing it.
Perhaps the most far reaching at the federal level is the Freedom of Information Act. Enacted in 1966 and strengthened after the Watergate scandal in 1974, the FOIA is a powerful tool to force federal agencies to release documents that would otherwise be withheld from public scrutiny. According to a Public Broadcasting Service Web site (www.pbs.org/now/politics/foia.html), FOIA requests are responsible for:
- The Department of Transportation being sued for information on the infamous Ford Pinto gas tank explosions and the subsequent recall of the Pinto in 1978.
- Law students at George Washington University sued for the release of some 2,500 pages of documents that led to the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Closer to home, here in California, we have similar laws regarding public access to information held by governmental agencies. One of particular note to those of a journalistic ilk is the Ralph M. Brown Act of 1953. Named for its author and signed into law by Gov. Earl Warren, it too has been strengthened over the years (www.thefirstamendment.org/brownact.html).
The Brown Act was enacted to end secrecy of local public agencies and allow for the participation in the public policy and decision-making process. Among its key provisions are:
- Public and regularly scheduled meetings of local agencies such as a city council or board of supervisors.
- Public officials cannot discuss agency business outside of the public meeting forum dictated by the law.
- All public records provided to the body must be provided to the public without delay.
The burden to acquire the information that our public officials don't always want to part with has been the traditional and sacred role of the press since the formative years of our nation. I take this responsibility seriously. Next time I am asked to explain why, how or when we cover the news, my response will be much more concise: It's my responsibility. In this case, my job includes covering the local politics of Colfax - that's why.
Michael Althouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Libraries and Librarians
City libraries hold much value and are gratefully preserved
By: Michael Althouse, Record Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 9, 2006 6:45 PM PDT
My grade school library was the first I ever set foot in. I was about five. Just learning how to read, the library opened up a brand new world to discover.
I was mesmerized by the sheer quantity of books in that little library that was perhaps half the size of the Colfax library. That amazement has reignited over the years as my path has taken me through much larger libraries.
My school's library today is a little bit bigger than Colfax's. It serves a student population of 548. There is a computer lab in a much larger building separate from the library. The two combined resemble a mini version of the library I frequent most often these days - the California State University, Sacramento Library. It's huge and virtually free - sort of.
Of course it costs money to operate a library ... to stock it, equip it and staff it - the money has to come from somewhere. But shouldn't access be free? It feels to me like free library access is decidedly American. It's the counterpart to the First Amendment. What's the use of a free press without free access to the products of the press? Although library costs are paid by tax dollars, getting those dollars to the library requires community support - especially in a small community like Colfax.
However, the funds required to run to these bastions of a free and unabridged press are always the first on the fiscal chopping block. The personnel needed to keep the doors open require ongoing funding. The bottom line is simple: Libraries need librarians.
Like teachers, librarians are undervalued in our society. They are charged with the responsibility of cataloging and indexing the information of our world. It is a huge responsibility. We seem to expect these professionals to do this task almost as a labor of love, out of the charity of their hearts or due to some sense of civic duty. Truth be told; like teachers, many of them do. And the sad truth is that we, as a society, take them for granted.
We pay them part-time money for full-time work. In Colfax, the library is open 24 hours per week, yet three part-time employees account for just 40 hours per week of paid employment. Although community volunteers help, if it weren't for employees with a strong sense of duty, the work could not be done.
The biggest problem with cutting funding to libraries is not manifested in what is actually inside the building itself, but in getting inside it. A library is useless if the doors are closed.
All the online access to information in the world will never substitute for the hard copy. Books have legitimacy and credibility; they have an odor and a feel - each one a little different. There is continuity from reader to reader; each leaving the subtle mark of his or her passing that can never be replicated by electronic text.
It's librarians like Gunda Pramuk in Colfax that keep it all in order, but they do so much more. They know how to find information; the methods and the tricks of the trade are their art. A dying art? Perhaps. The ease and comfort of never having to leave the home may be the death knell for the library and the librarian. Perhaps the library is becoming nothing more than a literary museum of sorts; a curiosity of how we used to store thoughts and ideas before the digital revolution.
Or, perhaps not. The Placer County Board of Supervisors has recently committed a significant sum of money to the preservation - indeed, the expansion of the county library system. What does that mean to little Colfax? Physically, it means a library with about double the space by 2008 - maybe sooner.
But beyond the physical, it represents an ideological shift - a statement by our elected officials - driven by communities big and small - that libraries are important.
Libraries are not the books they contain; they are not the computers, not the periodicals or the encyclopedias, but rather, an environment. They are academia. They are progress. They are the outward, bold and public statement that this is the land of the free. The collective knowledge of mankind is housed within those walls, free for any who seek it. Our librarians are the trusted stewards of all that wisdom. They are there to share it with any who ask. Any takers?
Thursday, August 10, 2006
93 Years of America
He and those few left of his generation are living history… of WWI, the great depression, WWII, the beginning of the cold war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War at it’s height and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. He was present for the boom period of the Industrial Revolution, the shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy – the population shift from the farms to the cities. The automobile replaced the horse. The digital revolution was the last epoch for him. He witnessed the cultural revolutions of almost 100 years – a significant portion of this nations history was shared with Granddad.
Much of that died with him. I regret not absorbing more than I did from him. Often are the times that the magnitude of the opportunities missed are only realized in retrospect – and tragically, all too often it is too late. I don’t know if he is “in a better place,” no one who went there ever came back and told me. However, based on the quality of his life toward the end, it would be difficult to imagine a worse place.
There is a silver lining to this story – a tale of fate that would be difficult to predict, never mind orchestrate. It came in on the heals of this country’s worst natural disaster and in a name – Katrina.
Granddad was living in New Orleans at an extended care facility. My Aunt and Uncle live nearby and were able to care for his needs in his twilight years. All escaped Katrina safely and compared to many others, relatively unscathed. However, Granddad had to be evacuated for an extended period of time. It was during the immediate aftermath of Katrina and my Aunt and Uncle were not well positioned to care for him. My mother and father stepped in to care for his needs at a similar establishment to what he had in New Orleans, not two hours from me in California.
Even a year ago, he was very frail and, honestly, at an age where anything could happen. Although he could not see, hear or walk very well at all, he still had a sharp wit. It was, however, all hearsay combined with memories from two or three years prior. I had no regular, first-hand interaction – until Katrina.
He was able to visit on Labor Day weekend last year. It was an occasion in which my whole family (sister/hubby/three kids – brother/s.o. – parents and Granddad) got together for the day at my house for my middle son’s 18th birthday. It was a rare occurrence and one I’ll always remember. Granddad was alert, but tired. Not tired sleepy, but tired of the aging process. He offered some advice to his great-grandchildren (six were there!)… “Don’t ever get old like me.”
It spoke volumes. I remember him better when I was a child and the family get-togethers were more frequent. He was a giant. He had an airplane and flew it! He had power windows in his car (don’t laugh – most cars didn’t have them back then). He had a car phone before cellular was even invented – real James Bond stuff! He let me drive a forklift. That was cool. From what I understand, he took chances that sometimes paid off and sometimes didn’t. He was a maverick.
At 93, I guess it’s a job for a younger man.
Rest in Peace, Granddad.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Just a Number
We live in an 11-digit society. Ok, ten digits. I never really understood why we had to dial that pesky “1” when calling outside the area code. Isn’t that why we dialed the area code in the first place? And it’s always a “1,” can’t they just add it on at the factory – why bother us with it? Whatever – that’s not the point. WHEW! Regroup…
Ok, we live in a ten-digit world. Area codes don’t even designate area anymore. It’s just that there are so darned many phones, faxes, cell phones, modems, dial-ups, and on and on that we need 10 digits just to direct a call across the street. It wasn’t always that way and in some places, it still isn’t. Where, you say? How about little Colfax.
Two-two-three-two. That’s my number at work, 2232. City hall is 2313. Colfax is still a four-digit town. Maybe it’s still that way where you live. Just before I moved to Truckee, it was a five-digit town. The two possible prefixes were 587 and 582. My phone number might have been 7 1234 or 2 9876. Five digits. Yes, dialing the number required all seven or sometimes ten, but the designate – the pure essence of our local identity could be represented in four or five easy-to-remember digits.
When I was young, phones had no buttons. When we “dialed” a number, there was actually a dial. I used to know how that old switching technology worked and have since forgotten, but some of the remnants of that old switching system are still with us today. For instance, when I moved from one side of Fair Oaks to the other, I could not keep my phone number. My new house was in a different “local exchange” meaning I had to get a different prefix. And I thought that prefixes were largely meaningless much the same as area codes are becoming. Whoops! That’s almost an epiphany. That was close!
Whitecliff 1 -1234 or Whitecliff 8-1234. That is where the first two numbers of the prefix of my hometown came into existence. 941 or 948, 9 for “W” and 4 for “H.” That’s right, look at the buttons on your phone. In the old days… the really old days, you would tell the operator “Whitecliff 1 1234” and she (it was always a she) would route your call at a switchboard. When the automated switching equipment came into existence, they had to change those routing areas into something a machine could understand – numbers.
Why my hometown’s exchange was referred to as “Whitecliff” is anybody’s guess. A very long time ago, there used to be a Whitecliff Market downtown – but I can’t say if it was the chicken or the egg. I do know this: There ain’t any white cliffs anywhere close. It’s interesting though. And now the opposite appears to be occurring. As more and more digits are added, the sheer number of numbers is becoming overwhelming.
Perhaps there is hope. Not for the four-digit towns like Colfax. Like it or not, the 10-digit world has already overtaken it. The hope lies in the trend away from numeric identification altogether. True, we are just numbers and for the machines to track us it is the way it has to be, but as far as relating to each other – by phone – it’s changing. Today phones have progressed way beyond just buttons. They have screens and memory and are in all actuality mini computers with more power than the room-sized computers of yesteryear.
We scroll to a name and push a button. When the phone rings, it displays a name – sometimes even a photo of the party on the other side. I used to have at least 50 numbers stored in my head. Today? Maybe five. I don’t need to commit that memory anymore. I have an electronic device that does it for me. Several actually. Can I use that memory for something else? Dunno, but I do know that although I may be just a number, when I call someone - I’m vowels and consonants too.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Backwards as forwards, energy flowing from thought into word is transferred into stored energy. Spoken words, or symbols of sounds, may be transmitted to one, to thousands, to millions. Indeed, this energy storage and transmission is not “renewable,” it’s inexhaustible. As the symbols and codes exist, so too does the power – readily available to be converted again. And again. The collected wisdom of mankind is available and ready; be it via known languages or long forgotten tongues, the energy is there, waiting to be released.
With the new age of technology and the pace of development in today’s world, the accumulated energy is so great that no one person is able to release it all. But imagine if one could… to have all that collected wisdom – the discoveries, the inventions, the creations – it boggles the mind. However, what if... what if technology could release that power? What if the power in those words and works were available, in an instant, to all who sought it? Could it be that the questions of all time, the riddles and the puzzles are already solved if one only had all the known information?
I have often wondered about magic. Fairytale magic, witchcraft, sorcery, incantations, natural, spiritual, scientific or physical – I don’t care – just magic. Why? To get “there” faster? Yes, there was once a time. To solve unsolvable problems? Sure, mine as well as yours. To make the world a better place? I’m not sure even magic alone could do that. To accomplish the impossible? To travel to the ends of the universe or… to travel to another one? Would magic be able to produce answers? Could it be an aide to finding the solution, or would it render the solution moot?
So, I have come to some conclusions that are, of course, subject to change without notice. First, there is no “Harry Potter,” magic wand brand of magic. That leads to several other conclusions that are similar regarding witches, warlocks, vampires, alchemy and a host of the other “classical” views of magic. I could be wrong, but the evidence as I see it is overwhelmingly lacking. However, the term “magic” is subject to interpretation and with a sufficiently accommodating definition, magic is very real indeed. It operates continually and forever. It cannot be extinguished or exhausted.
It is pure power. The energy that goes into and flows from words, coded from thought, born of magic. Pure magic. Whether it is defined by the electro-chemical nerve impulses firing from one nerve to next one ad infinitum or the vastness of all we have yet to learn or the miraculous progress we have made in the last ten, 20, 50, 100 years, magic is present. And it all stems from a means of translating the energy from one to another – of conveying the power that we as humans possess alone – the transmission and storage of unlimited, unbridled and unimaginable power.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Congress, Boards, Bikes and Beer
Guess who got the call? That’s right, your humble and intrepid reported got a brief, but very cool five minutes with republican Congressman John Doolittle. So after scrambling to get my stories just right before deadline, I had about… oh, 15 minutes to relax before heading to the VFW to cover his speech and try to get a few minutes afterward. SCORE! The upshot was another 11 hour day jam-packed with about as much learning experience as I could possibly handle. Very cool.
And Doolittle? He’s seems like a very nice guy. Almost too nice for politics, but if I have learned anything in my two score and three years plus, it’s that looks can be and often are deceiving. That doesn’t make him not a nice guy; it just means that nice guys don’t always finish last. Anyway, being that this was my first encounter with Mr. Doolittle, and since it wasn’t the forum for hardball questions… and because I had zero time to research, I did not ask about Abramoff, DeLay or any of that other nastiness. There will come a time, this was not it.
By 9 p.m., I was done. Story written, pictures attached and emailed to my editor. It was a fluff piece. Doolittle’s purpose? I believe it was simply to be visible in his district. You know, to get his name bandied about… maybe in the local paper. Don’t get me wrong, the pretense was to interact with his constituents and address their concerns, in this case veteran’s concerns. I believe that those concerns will be addressed – he was not just paying lip service. All the same, I think even that plays into his congressional popularity contest. He now has a new juice card – when they say “What have you done for me lately?” he can tell them. “Remember on August 1 up at the Colfax VFW…”
In other news…
As promised I have some pictures of the Truckee skatepark and the Black Fly’s Freeride competition. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place. Not only was the skate competition in full swing, it happen to coincide with New Belgium Brewery’s “Le Tour De Fat,” a celebration of bicycles and beer. I couldn’t imagine how the festive atmosphere of the skateboard competition could be better complimented. Music was courtesy of a band called “March Fourth.” I have never heard of them before and only caught three of their tunes, but I will be buying their CD shortly. I you want to relax, this is not the music to listen to – you WILL move to it, guaranteed.
And now, some pics.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any of Le Tour De Fat, next year for sure. I do have this, however. Guess which lake this is.
If you guessed Lake Tahoe, well… that would make you WRONG!! Haha.
This is Donner Lake, just on the eastern side of Donner Summit and one of the places the Donner Party had their famous picnic…
Oh, I AM sorry!