Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Giants' ROI

I've frightened the dog with sudden whoops and with precipitous celebratory dances a couple of dozen times during the past two months as my San Francisco Giants pieced together a memorable and unlikely season.

They could somehow blow it this weekend and they could break the hearts of fans yet again. But this is a beloved bunch of Giants enjoying one of the franchise's most inspiring seasons thanks to a management group willing to spend to fix its product.

The Giants have been here before — a handful of times in my lifetime — but never with such a motley collection of screwballs, pot smokers, knuckleheads and castoffs. The season has been a dream, especially considering that the opening-day lineup offered little to inspire confidence among fans. I mean, really, did anyone seriously think the Giants would end up in the World Series with John Bowker in right field?

But that's why I'm especially grateful for the back-office boys at Willie Mays Plaza this year. In previous years, the Giants' bean counters expected fans to fill the seats simply because the brand-new stadium was cool or because Barry Bonds could hit home runs.

This year, management made mid-season business decisions that saved the team from another season of oblivion. They were the type of decisions that seemed counter-intuitive in today's slash-and-burn business environment.

Stuck with aging veterans who weren't performing despite their huge contracts, the Giants were struggling by the All-Star break. Attendance sagged and there was no buzz about the Giants, even among the hard-core fans.

Rather than whining about the economic environment, the existing huge contracts for non-productive players and taking their lumps, the Giants decided instead to get all revolutionary on us. Instead of trying to promote the chicken crap they had by calling it chicken salad, they decided to spend the bucks to rescue decent players from the MLB scrap heap. Imagine that! Spending money to improve the product! In this day and age!

Certainly, some of their acquisitions were simply steals. Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were under contract elsewhere and the Giants were able to pick them up for a song. The Giants brain trust made smart acquisitions, for the most part, but management had to know that they would be on the hook for huge new contracts with its new talent once the season ends.

Give 'em credit. The Giants bucked today's business trend. They gave their customers what they demanded. They weren't scaredy capitalists. And they've achieved success.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Take This Job and Work It

It comes as no surprise that Arturo Rodriguez can’t find many 100-percent born-and-bred Americans who are willing to take jobs in agriculture.

Rodriguez is president of the United Farm Workers of America, and its latest campaign, “Take Our Jobs,” invites U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farmworkers.

Rodriguez said the effort “spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled.”

The campaign is a political gimmick, certainly, and it has attracted fewer than a couple dozen hearty souls willing to do stoop labor in every type of weather condition to cut, hoe, shovel, sort, pack or carry loads of up to 50 pounds.

Gimmickry aside, the underwhelming number of citizens who are taking advantage of the UFW’s offer is testament to the hypocrisy that is part and parcel of ugly anti-immigrant sentiments now so chic among today’s politically correct. One would think that the immigrant slammers and the unemployed who whine about “the wets who are taking our jobs” would flock to the UFW simply to prove the bleeding-heart liberals wrong.

But they won’t.

They won’t because they are American citizens, and citizens of their stature should not have to endure farmworker conditions and farmworker wages. They’d rather bellyache about Steven Colbert than do an honest day’s work.

I’ve tried working the fields. Twice. Not because I had a political agenda or a comedy act, but because my family needed the money.

The first time out, I was a 14-year-old hired to work the fields by a friend of a family friend who was willing to turn a blind eye to child-labor laws to get me the job. I worked under the full broil of 110-degree Imperial Valley heat, bent over for 10 hours each day for $1.35 an hour with no benefits, except for the generous half-hour lunch periods each day. After day three, I couldn’t answer the bell.

Three years later, I was recruited along with a bunch of my high-school classmates to drive tractors. Seven days a week, 12 hours a day, crappy wages. After a month of under-the-sun drudgery without a day off, a work action ensued. The work stoppage wasn’t led by some fire-breathing socialist-Latino labor leader; it was forced upon us by the aggrieved Anglo son of the foreman who snuck into the tractor shed one night and poured sugar in the gas tanks because he believed we were being treated unfairly. It pissed me off because my family needed the income.

Fast forward several years, to 1978. I was back in the Imperial Valley, covering agriculture for the local newspaper (and earning a wage comparable to what I made during my short-lived career as tractor driver). The UFW initiated a strike, set to begin on a Saturday morning. The walkout came in the middle of the lettuce harvest season, a critical time for growers.

A local farm association leaped into action, organizing its own “take their jobs” event. A couple hundred locals — the unemployed willing to take on the farmers’ cause, housewives who sacrificed their contract bridge gatherings and high school students — gathered in the fields to replace striking farmworkers on that Saturday morning. They showed up with much enthusiasm that first day, but only a handful returned the next morning. It was just too darn hard, too darn hot.

So the farmers had to hire a bunch of immigrants to replace the local gentry hired to replace the strikers.

Good luck with your efforts to fill American jobs with American citizens, Mr. Rodriguez. But please keep their wages low so my iceberg lettuce remains affordable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's True, Of Course

I received an anonymous email today from someone wanting to know if Sam Farr is a socialist.

The question was accompanied by a link to, which announced (with no link or verification) that the Socialist Party of America has released a list of 70 Congressional Democrats who currently belong to the Socialist caucus. Rep. Farr is among those listed. Following the online posting is a parade of comments from intellectuals who subscribe to, mostly saying that the list will come in handy when meting out the beheadings once sanity is restored to the nation.

Having read the list online, I can only conclude that it must be true.

It's a shame that Joseph McCarthy did not survive to experience the wonders of the digital age.

Monday, September 20, 2010

You Gotta Be Squidding Me

Local coverage of important issues! The seething national political climate! The General Plan Update! Whatever the last letter writer happened to say about Israel!

All hot topics, to be sure. But nothing seems to arouse more passion among newspaper readers than the Comics page.

The latest raging controversy centers on "Squid Row," the local strip about fictional artists drawn by Bridgett Spicer. Some people don't like it and have taken time out of their busy days to write letters of complaint about it. Many of them punctuate their opinions about the strip with exclamation points! Still others have risen to Squid Row's defense.

Not that it really matters, but the complainants never ask me which comics I like. I would guess that most people think I'm some sort of Comics Dictator and that I only run the comics near and dear to my heart. As if I was some sort of Hagar the Horrible fanatic.

For the record, here's my assessment of The Herald's current comics lineup.

For Better or For Worse: Never a big fan, I dumped it when it went into reruns. Brought it back after I almost got run out of town.

The Family Circus: To paraphrase the level of humor here, yucky icky-poo.

Classic Peanuts: For those who whine about "Squid Row," I challenge them to look at the first several years of Peanuts and tell me the art is superior.

Zits: In my opinion, the best of the bunch.

Pickles: I find myself identifying with Earl more and more, but I'm an old guy.

Sally Forth: Never a laugh-out-loud moment.

Dilbert: Is it a comic? Or real life?

Adam@Home: Mildly amusing.

Bizarro: Caters to my own twisted sense of humor.

Garfield: Jim Davis has managed to forge a successful career with the use of the same three gags.

Arctic Circle: I never take seriously the Squid Row critics if they don't also urge me to dump this unfunny and badly-drawn comic. For reasons I don't understand, the complainers are more inclined to attack the local artist — a neighbor! — than something that comes from a syndicate.

Mutts: See Arctic Circule.

Dennis the Menace: Old and cornball, sure, but he's one of our own!

Doonesbury: Some story lines are better than others, but there's hell to pay if an editor messes with this one.

Hagar the Horrible: We keep this one to prevent readers who use phrases like "conniption fit" from having a conniption fit.

Beetle Bailey: Had its day back when Fort Ord was active, but I can't imagine that anyone in today's modern military would find it relevant.

Baby Blues: How come the young children are drawn to look like monkeys?

Blondie: I've never met anyone named Dagwood, but I've known lots of Mr. Dithers. Blondie continues to run in all American newspapers because of the nostalgia thing — and for fear that Earth would spin out of its orbit if a newspaper somewhere dropped the strip.

Sherman's Lagoon: A friend told me it's the funniest strip The Herald runs. Jim Toomey tries to keep it fresh, at least, which is a good thing when you're dealing with fish.

Squid Row: If I could get 20 people from Monterey County to send me a comic strip every day, I'd replace all our syndicated comics with locals. Except for Zits. And Dilbert.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Civilized Discourse

The Herald takes pride in the civilized discourse among its readers tucked away in the Letters to the Editor column each day.

For the most part, we let the dialogue run its course. The voices are diverse and mostly wonderful. It's a place for both the thoughtful and the kooks to make public their observations.

We try not to meddle much, but meddle we must at times. Unfortunately, we get letters that are too obviously loose with the facts, too nasty in their tone or too ugly in the ad hominem. Even then, we will work with the writers, asking them to provide proof of outlandish assertions or demanding that they tone down the ugliness.

Sadly, many of the more unreasonable writers of letters believe that the hogwash they've submitted deserves consideration as an amendment to the Holy Grail. And they don't take kindly to our suggestions that they take the hogwash out. Because we want to help prevent them from humiliating themselves in a public venue, they will accuse of us of being nutcase liberals, mouth-breathing conservatives, anti-semites, anti-Americans, anti-babies.

There's no limit to the ugly names we've been called by people over their incoherent letters — and the more incoherent the letter the more likely the writer will shower us with their bilge when we try to help.

In the end, we do try to let writers get as many of their deep thoughts into the paper as possible. Sometimes to a fault.

Last week, for instance, we let in an assertion by a letter writer that a clergyman with whom he's been sparring in the letters column called him a "bastard" in a private telephone conversation.

The rabbi insists that he did not use the word and the letter writer insists that that's what he heard.

And because The Herald had no way to verify who said what to whom, we should have eliminated the sentence from the letter before it was published. The editor involved, Royal Calkins, says he was simply trying to be fair to both of the feuding parties and had managed to persuade both of them to excise some of the more intemperate remarks from their letters. In retrospect, he agrees he should have pressed harder.

In the meantime, and at the risk of sounding like a prima donna, I suggest that letter writers take a deep breath and run a lap around the block before sending us your profundity wrapped in vitriol.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nine-Eleven, Went to Heaven

Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of America's slow decline into insanity.

The Associated Press story commemorating 9/11 this year, which The Herald will run Saturday, notes that the first eight anniversaries of the terrorist attacks were marked by somber, politics-free reflection. This year, it's quite a bit more zooey, contentious in ugly ways, with emphasis on a "Ground Zero mosque" and a kook who wants to burn the Quran.

Unfortunately, AP fails to mention that both the addled controversies were fueled by a national media that have apparently become increasingly comfortable raising daft rants up a flag pole in the name of advancing the "national debate."

From the outset, the nutjobs who whine about Feisal Abdul Rauf's proposed community center in Manhattan should have been ignored, just as the drooling Islamaphobe cult leader who poses as a Christian in Florida should be ignored.

The story of Rauf's community center was first written in the New York Times much earlier this year and was greeted with a collective yawn by New Yorkers — until political opportunists threw their rhetorical spin into the issue. And the next time you hear Newt Gingrich expound on the notions that government has no right to impede religious freedom or that Americans should be free to do whatever they wish with their property, remember that he unabashedly tried to bully the president of the United States to intervene to prevent construction of the center.

And why the media chose to follow the antics of the loon in Florida is beyond imagination. The guy has about as much credibility as the babbling liar at the next barstool. (First hint of lunacy: He's got a church in Florida.) But now the Rev. Terry Jones has generated a level of media cred and national publicity that a book deal is certain to follow.

The reflexive lurching toward the lunatic fringes bent on dividing us is unbecoming. And it should stop immediately.

In the meantime, the rest of America — the rational super-majority — will remember the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and the many thousands of heroes involved in the rescue and recovery efforts. We will reflect on a day in which all of us stood unified in mourning and resolve.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fantasy Baseball Tip

Fantasy Baseball Tip: When assessing your team for the final drive in the waning weeks of the season, rid yourself of all players wearing the orange-and-black of the San Francisco Giants.

Got Lincecum? Dump him. Thought Aubrey Huff would be the answer because he had an uncharacteristic mid-season power surge that turned out to be a mirage? Dump him. If the Giants really needed a schizophrenic bat and a player with no experience in games that really matter, they should have kept Randy Wynn.

Pablo Sandoval was a rookie sensation last year, but his sole contribution to the 2010 season is that he's gained even more weight during the hot summer grind and can barely waddle around the bases even when he manages to hit a ball over the fence. In fact, why is Sandoval still on the 40-man roster? So the Giants can sell more Panda hats to dimwits? (Overheard at AT&T Park on Saturday: "I don't understand the Panda hats." "I guess they'd be okay when you're hunting or something.")

Freddy Sanchez would never be a power hitter, of course, but the Giants curse has reduced this one-time batting champion into the Ray Oyler of the new millennium. I suppose you could keep Pat Burrell, if you get all enthusiastic for meaningless solo homers and bases-loaded strikeouts. And if you're ever looking for the always-exciting run-scoring bases-loaded double play, you might want to add Juan Uribe to your roster.

Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are capable of striking out a lot of opposing batters, sure, but it takes them at least 120 pitches and several home runs to get through five innings.

On the other hand, the obvious silver lining of this month's Giants collapse is that it will be impossible to justify Brian Sabean's tenure as the Giants' GM after mid-season trades that demolished the "magic inside." Mike Fontenot turns out to have been the only player the Giants could have picked up that makes their fans yearn for Freddy Sanchez's return to the lineup. And the best we can hope for from Jose Guillen is that he'll be suspended for the season by the MLB for some reason and Bochy won't have to force him into the lineup every day.

Fans sensed the Giants brain trust was aware that 2010 would turn into the disaster it has become when the promotions department looked through the roster and concluded that a Bruce Bochy Bobblehead promotion might be a terrific idea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hotel Paper

In San Francisco for the weekend, it occurred to me that there is one clear difference between quality hotels and operations that don't really care about the quality of their customer service.

The best hotels will deliver the local daily newspaper to the doorstep, or at least have a stack of 'em available in the lobby.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Larry Ellis

After 27 years at The Herald, I like to think of myself as a bona fide old-timer.

But I'm just a rookie to Larry Ellis, who has been kicking around this joint for 50 years. A succession of managers, ownership groups and operating systems have come and gone, but Ellis has been a constant at The Herald.

Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Ellis' hire at The Herald, and the event was celebrated a few days ago with a ceremony and the presentation of a watch.

Actually, it should be noted for the record, his affiliation with the newspaper started four years earlier, in 1956, when he threw The Monterey Peninsula Herald as a delivery boy. He was hired fulltime as a district manager in circulation in 1960. Ellis moved to the composing room three years later. Over the years and as the technology supposedly "improved," Ellis has learned seven different systems to produce and output type, from hot type to Linotype to whatever it is The Herald is using now.

With his low-key humor and his mellow demeanor, Ellis said he survives the stresses of daily deadlines with a "one-day-at-a-time" attitude.

For those keeping score — and Ellis is — the record for employment longevity at The Herald is held by Clark Bruce, who retired after 50 years and two months.

Ellis said he intends to break the record. "People generally can't survive in jobs that long anymore," he said. "When I started, longevity was considered a virtue."

In the meantime, Ellis said he was grateful to receive the commemorative watch for his 50 years of service, especially since the watch presented him on the occasion of his 25th year stopped working the day after he got it.

He also recalled that Clark Bruce had been eagerly awaiting the watch he would receive on his own 50th anniversary. Bruce had told his colleagues that he intended to wear his 25th anniversary watch and his 50th anniversary watch on both wrists, a matching set.

Alas, when it came time to celebrate Bruce's 50 years of service, the company presented him with a commemorative VCR.

Live and Lively

Me and the Pauls get together once a month to disagree about stuff.

The three of us gather at the AMP studios with Catherine Bowie on the second Wednesday of each month. Our little discussion is aired live on Comcast's Public Access Channel 24.

Bowie serves as host, and the Pauls are Paul Wilner, editor of the Monterey County Weekly, and Paul Miller, publisher of the Carmel Pine Cone. The one-hour show is simulcast at 5 p.m. on KNRY-AM and is produced by the Vossens, Jim and Mary Lou.

The daily Your Town show is a great community resource, an opportunity for local groups, agencies and chambers to get their messages out to whomever happens to be watching or listening at the moment.

But when me and the Pauls are on the show, a quarrel is sure to follow. During our monthly appearance, Bowie asks the collected media jackals about local issues our respective newspapers have been following and, as one can imagine, the three of us tend to disagree a lot.

The show last Wednesday heated up almost immediately.

Paul Miller and the Pine Cone have taken great delight in tweaking both The Herald and the Weekly for its coverage of the Rich Guillen controversy in Carmel, where the council recently settled a harassment lawsuit with nasty implications about Guillen for $600,000. In an editorial last week, Miller accused us, with some dripping sarcasm, of naively accepting the veracity of the claim filed by Jane Miller against the city. He also furiously defended Guillen — and then advocated that Guillen should probably be terminated from his job as city manager.

Bowie wasted no time to seize on the controversy, unleashing the trio of fuming journalists to rant at one another for the rest of the hour. Feelings were probably hurt and professional integrities were impugned. Nerves frayed.

We were jaundiced and frothing by the first break, but Bowie informed us that we had engaged in "great television."

Oddly, we'll be back in the studio next month.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Almost all the online news sites in America run meaningless interactive polls.

They are meant as an amusement, a diversion, something to generate a few more hits on the site. And they are about as scientific as the Flat Earth Society. (Discussion group on forum: Sometimes the Facts Don't Matter.)

Did I mention that online polls are meaningless? (Thursday's Quick Question on Have you undergone a full-body scan?)

Sometimes an online news site will ask a question that assumes that all its readers are swamis. ('s You Decide on Thursday: Will Kagan Tilt the Court Further Left?)

And sometimes the questions are meant simply to allow readers to vent their spleens. (Tuesday's poll question: Should Carmel City Administrator Rich Guillen be fired?)

In Carmel, there are few kerfuffles in town that aren't incapable of spinning a whole new network of dread controversies.

The Rich Guillen thing is certainly a bonafide fuss, worthy of the attention it has received. But now the The Herald's unscientific poll seems to have generated a whole new controversy in town.

As it turns out, some pest apparently ruined the fun and hacked the online poll. In a matter of a few minutes, nearly 1,000 votes were cast in Mr. Guillen's favor. The casual observer might conclude that 82 percent of online readers think Guillen should not be fired.

Outrage has ensued. Letters have been written. Phone calls have been placed. Declarations have been boldly asserted regarding the accuracy of the poll and the ramifications of the poll results on the future of Carmel.

For the record, the readers' polls on all media websites are unscientific samplings. And they are meaningless.

And it is possible to hack away at online polling sites to skew results. You can learn how with a simple Google search.

So if zealots and the naive are using the results of this meaningless and unscientific Guillen poll to support or oppose public policy in Carmel — and people are taking them seriously — then the political climate in Carmel is much worse than I could have imagined.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The 'Latest News'

As an experiment in counter-intuitiveness, we've tweaked The Herald's online home a bit.

Or, as more than one newsroom employee has asked, has the editor gone bonkers?

Now in testing mode, we've added a Twitter feed of local breaking stories from a variety of local sites, including our competitors.

"This is the weirdest thing yet," declared one reporter. In essence, she said, we have Twitter feeds on our website that take readers to our competitors' websites instead of keeping them here. How is that going to help our ad revenue?

To start backwards, there's not much that any newspaper has done that has resulted in an online advertising revenue bonanza. The newspaper industry essentially botched the online strategy 15 years ago when it started providing news online. And now that that cat is out of the bag, there is no good way to stuff it back in.

While providing the news for free online, newspapers have also allowed the aggregators of the world to eke out a living by scraping the good work that legitimate news organizations are producing. They don't consider news organizations their competition.

The Herald will never be on par with global aggregators like the Drudge Report or Huffington Post. But if you can't beat 'em, why not join 'em?

If nothing else, posting all breaking news stories emanating out of Monterey County on The Herald's online homepage gives readers a single place to go to find out what's happening in their community. If it means that serves as a launching pad to another site, so be it. But I'm confident that readers will return to The Herald's homepage to see what pops up next on our Twitter feed for their one-stop "shopping" of local news.

In the end, the convenience of seeing all the breaking news stories — including the competition's — is a reader/public service, which is ultimately what a newspaper is supposed to be about.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Local Authors

I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at the Barnyard Shopping Center on Saturday for Local Authors Live!

By all accounts, the event was a rousing success and the organizers now expect it to be an annual deal. Local writers were able to show off their talents, books were sold and the afternoon raised much-needed funds for local libraries.

Many thanks to Erin Clark of KSBW, for filling in for Dan Green to handle the emcee chores on short notice. The event included music and poetry, but it was also a unique opportunity for folks to spend time with local writers, a passionate and talented lot with a great diversity of interests.

I was fortunate to share a table and much of the afternoon with the inestimable Richard Burns, who wrote "Live or Die — A Stroke of Good Luck," his handbook for recovering from a serious illness.

The organizers of the event were kind enough to credit me with the idea for Local Authors Live! The genesis was an off-handed comment made during a conversation with Flo Snyder during last year's Authors and Ideas Festival in Carmel, and she ran with it. All credit goes to Flo, as well as the rest of the organizing committee, including Mr. Burns, Phil Bowhay, Patricia Hamilton, Michael Hemp and May Waldroup.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Crop Circles!! In Greenfield!!

We received a breathless email recently from someone at the BLT Research Team in Cambridge, Mass., alerting us to the recent discovery of crop circles in Greenfield. The email included a YouTube link of the discovery. The YouTube video was posted by a guy named ZuckerSucker.

(I'm not sure what BLT is an acronym for, but I assume it has nothing to do with deli sandwiches.)

We were excited about the news, of course, feeling that we might have a Yeti/Bigfoot/Loch Ness moment right here in Monterey County.

But upon further review of the video, entitled "Crop Circle found in Greenfield, California 6/22," we couldn't help but notice that the circles were found in a dry-farmed wheat field adjacent to a green field and that no familiar mountain range could be seen in the distance.

Nevertheless, one of our intrepid reporters made the telephone calls for further investigation. He discovered that there is another small(er) community in the Central Valley, near Bakersfield or Fresno or some other godforsaken spot, called Greenfield. And that's where the crop circles were discovered.

Better yet is the YouTube video that debunks the claim, called ZuckerSuckers Crop Circle IS FAKE????


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Deep Thoughts, At Least for a Newspaper

For a limited time only, and (semi)exclusively at your preferred hometown newspaper's web site, your favorite former SNL cast members are testing animated online comic strips. I like to think of it as the wave of the future for newspaper comic strips. The cast includes Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, David Spade, Jack Handey, Molly Shannon, Sarah Silverman, Norm McDonald, Colin Quinn and Craig Kilborn.

"Beyond the Comics" is the brainchild of Fred Wolf, former chief writer for Saturday Night Live and writer/director of "Grown Ups," which premieres on Friday. Fred lives in Carmel and grew up dreaming of being a comic strip artist. He ended up doing standup and writing for SNL, but he's maintained his love for newspapers. (Where else would comedians go to stay relevant?)

Please do check out the comics during the test run Monday through Friday of this week. Most important, we need feedback. We wanna know what you think. Which comics do you think are funny and which are duds? Will the comics play in Peoria? Are the links choppy? We need to know all that stuff, which is why we've included a "What Did You Think" Link. This is your chance to be an audience for a pilot show. Spread the word among your friends.

With this test run, we're not so much interested in generating lots of numbers and "clicks;" we're mostly looking for critical feedback.

Return to our home page and click "Beyond the Comics."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Sound of a Botched Lobotomy

So where's the vuvuzela concession?

I've wandered around Pebble Beach all week and haven't found find a single vuvuzela for sale.

This is a big sporting event, right? The U.S. Open is supposed to be the crown jewel of international golf, the ultimate test of sporting skill for determined athletes with steely dispositions and firm putters.

The Open oozes with significance.

All the greats and the potential greats of the game are here.

ESPN is here.

NBC is going all prime time on us on the East Coast.

Corporate tents line the fairways, creating what looks like Spangladesh on the ritziest real estate on earth.

Story lines abound.

So who do you have to know to find a vuvuzela around here?

On the other side of the world, another crown jewel of a sporting event is being played that also features determined athletes with steely dispositions. The difference is that the players in South Africa can't use their hands to grasp their putters (except during a free kick near the goal), and they can run around for hours before the whistle is blown and everyone seems satisfied that the match ended in a tie.

It's called the World Cup. The sport is soccer.

Or football. Or futbol.

Or whatever.

The best thing about the World Cup so far is that a guy named Tshabalala scored the first goal of this year's tournament, and I was happy to see that Tshabalala is making a comeback after Woodstock.

The next best thing about the World Cup is the open use of vuvuzelas.

Vuvuzelas are plastic horns which, when blown by 55,000 drunken soccer fans, sound like the swarm of 20 billion man-eating Marabunta ants that starred in the most excellent 1954 documentary called "The Naked Jungle," featuring Charlton Heston and a cast of sun-bleached skeletons.

In chorus, vuvuzelas sound like the aftermath of a botched lobotomy.

The best thing about vuvuzelas is that they drown out the World Cup television commentators, except for that guy on Spanish-language television who sounds like he swallowed an air raid siren every time some Tschabalala scores a goal.

If the fans at a big sporting event in South Africa can blow the vuvuzela, how come I can't find one at the Pebble Beach Golf Links?

I did manage to find U.S. Open hoodies, at a cost of $65, that I'll be able to find at Ross several weeks from now for $12.99.

I found an $8 sleeve of golf balls on sale for $14 because they've got the U.S. Open logo on them.

I found a Nike logo polo shirt selling for $90 because it also has the U.S. Open logo on it. And I found a Polo logo polo shirt with the U.S. Open logo that sells for $105.

I splurged and bought a $17 dork hat for $34 just because it has the U.S. Open logo on it.

According to news reports, the vuvuzelas in South Africa sell for only $7 each. And that's without the U.S. Open logo.

The USGA is missing a bet — and an agreeable markup — by failing to make vuvuzelas available at Pebble Beach.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Golf Snort Victory a Fiction

Editor's note: Yesterday's sports feature about Vernon Snort's legendary win at the 1939 U.S. Open in Philadelphia should have been labelled "fiction."

Also, anthro-sociologists and golf historians have never said that Snort's performance at the Open that year "defied the odds" and "was by far the most astonishing accomplishment in the hallowed annals of hoary golf narratives."

Snort was also mischaracterized when the author called him "a crapulous lout with a slatternly demeanor who willfully breached the etiquette of America's finest country clubs with his mere presence."

Snort did not in fact design and craft his own golf clubs from salt cedar trees that lined the fairways of his native Broken Femur Golf Links in Gottknows, Alabama.

Similarly, Snort did not whittle a useable putter from his wooden leg with a Buck knife, nor did he ever use his prosthesis to strike a ball on a golf course.

Vernon Snort was not an accomplished banjo player.

While true that Snort was a local legend at Broken Femur, he never won the Golden Splint tournament at his home course. Also, he never shot a 12-under 61 at Broken Femur while carrying only a ginty and a pool cue in his bag.

Snort did not enter the U.S. Open qualifying tournament in 1939 on a bet; rather, he participated on a whim. The qualifying tournament that year was played at Swamp Noggins Country Club, not the Country Noggins Swamp Club. He won the qualifying tournament by 38 strokes, not 42.

Vernon Snort was 42 years old when he travelled 728 miles by donkey to get to the Philadelphia Country Club for the Open, not 38.

The Philadelphia Country Club is in Pennsylvania, and it was simply over-heated hyperbole that led the author to write that the golf course, beautiful though it may be, was located "in the Sublime State of Paradise."

Archival research and anecdotal recollections do not support the assertion that Snort was "throwing-up drunk" when he teed up for his Thursday morning round.

Snort did not bogey each of his first 36 holes during the first two days of the Open tournament. Anybody with a fundamental grasp of the sport would know that no player could possibly "make the cut" with such abysmal opening-round scores in a championship tournament.

A bolt of lightning never struck Snort as he walked off the 18th green on that fateful second day of the tournament, and the lightning storm in Philadelphia that afternoon did not infuse him with "super magical powers" during the balance of the Open.

Byron Nelson was indeed a skilled professional golfer of the era, but it was technically incorrect to refer to him as "the tour's eminent goofball."

In fact, Nelson actually won the 1939 U.S. Open, while Vernon Snort won $24 with his 78th-place finish. It was Snort's only appearance in a major tournament. Inasmuch as he never actually had his "moment in the limelight," it was presumptuous to state that he "faded once more into obscurity" following the Open.

The use of the word "luminous" in the context of Snort's achievements in 1939 is unwarranted.

Byron Nelson was not an accomplished banjo player.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Deep Concentration of Golf

Turn off your smart phone, fella, and throw a muffler over your leather lungs. You're at a golf tournament, after all.

The U.S. Open starts in earnest on Thursday, prefaced by all the excitement of practice rounds starting Monday.

The pages of The Herald will be ablaze with every turn of the Open screw at Pebble Beach during the coming week, and for that I make no apology. The U.S. Open is huge, one of the top events in the sports world. The Open oozes with significance and all the greats and the potential legends of the game will be here, grasping their putters and monitoring wind conditions. And it only comes to Pebble Beach every 10 years.

ESPN will be here. NBC is going prime time on the East Coast. Corporate tents line the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Story lines abound.

This is an exciting time on the Monterey Peninsula. But you'd never really know it from the deportment of golf fans, who are required to watch in stony silence, as if they were listening to a Presbyterian sermon or tiptoeing their way across the public library.

As the Open begins, true sports fans will also be engrossed in the World Cup in South Africa and, perhaps, the seventh game of the NBA championship finals. Fans at these events go bonkers, the noise level in the arenas is deafening and the magnitude of enthusiasm is off the charts.

But at least the athletes in those arenas manage to compete at a high level despite the distractions of their pesky fans.

Certainly it takes intense concentration to hit a contorted three-pointer with a hand in your face when your field of vision is awash with the motion of a thousand Thunder Stix. And I might never understand how a midfielder can ever think to find an open attacker against the cacophony produced by 50,000 vuvuzelas.

So why can't a professional golfer manage to drop a five-foot putt if someone in the gallery lets loose with an ill-timed sneeze?

Don't get me wrong. I fully appreciate the challenge of golf and I marvel at the abilities of the professional stick-swinger. But I guess I'll have to repress all that enthusiasm this week.

Assault of the Church Lady

Despite my best efforts, The Herald might soon become a forum for the temperate judgments of religious extremism. The Church Lady, damn her, is doing her condemnatory best to impose herself and her priggish attitudes upon The Herald's newsroom and its readers.

This is an alarming development. As much as we strive to offer a variety of ideas and opinions, we are concerned that Mrs. Church Lady might be too shrill for our sophisticated readership.

I am seeking an appropriate counter-balance to her self-righteousness. Fortunately, Old Hippie has lifted himself from the smoky haze of his groovy existence to make himself available, but I fear he'll be no match for Church Lady.

I'm not certain how this will play out, what readers might think and how this will impact newsroom morale.

But I guess we'll find out, starting June 21 at

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Election Rap

Several eye-opening developments emerged from the local tundra of Tuesday's primary election.

Of course, the biggest surprise came out of the sheriff's election. Incumbent Mike Kanalakis emerged with the lead, but he fell far short of his bid to end it all in the primary by failing to capture a clear majority of the votes.

There's still a lot of votes left to count — about 24,000 — but by the end of the count early Wednesday, Kanalakis had a 767-vote lead over challenger Scott Miller. Kanalakis says publicly that he is happy to come out of the primaries with the lead, but he can't be thrilled with the numbers.

It's reasonable to believe that the incumbent dearly wanted to win it all with the first ballot, which is likely why his campaign turned so negatively unbecoming against Miller in the final weeks. Also, it's hard to overlook the fact that a solid 63 percent of the voters in Monterey County favored his opponents.

So while he did come up with the most votes on Tuesday, he's got his work cut out for him if he hopes to retain his job in November.

Interestingly, the third man in the race, Fred Garcia, is not yet conceding. He apparently believes that about 40 percent of the late absentee ballots will go his way, which — assuming that Kanalakis continues to take his 37 percent share of the yet-to-be-counted votes — is about what it would take for Garcia to overcome the 2,127-vote lead that Miller now has for the second runoff position. As of Wednesday morning, Garcia had only managed less than 29 percent of the votes. Don't bet on Garcia's chances.

Another stunning development was Ron Holly's abysmal performance in the treasurer-tax collector's race. I doubt if anyone saw that one coming.

Holly is well connected and spent a bunch of money to get elected. (The Herald's advertising department is already adjusting its first-quarter budget now that Holly won't be around to spend more in the general election.)

While true that he shot himself in the foot when he called himself a lawyer on his official candidate's statement, even though he is not a lawyer, conventional wisdom had it that he'd be able to overcome the resulting bad publicity with his vigorous spending and the stalwart support from each of the county's five supervisors.

Holly is an intelligent fellow with much political gamesmanship. But the lawyer thing proved a mortal misstep, and John McPherson, a financial consultant from Salinas, and Mary Zeeb, the assistant treasurer-tax collector, took the top two spots while Holly lagged far behind.

Not so surprising were strong showings by two local incumbents, Superintendent of Schools Nancy Kotowski and 2nd District Supervisor Lou Calcagno. Both faced vigorous challenges and both easily outdistanced their rivals.

Finally, veteran poll watchers were astonished at how the trends of the vote count did not change significantly as the results were released over the course of Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

While the numbers of actual votes increased (of course) throughout the evening, the percentages of votes cast for each of the candidates barely changed. The first batch of votes counted were from the absentee ballots delivered to the elections office before last weekend. The rest of the evening's results represented votes cast at polling places. There was no significant difference.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


So we're coming up to 11 p.m. Tuesday night, election night, and we haven't seen an update from the Monterey County Elections Office for almost three hours now.

We're all for accurate counts and we know that the staff and the volunteers in the office are working very hard, but you'd think that they'd want to issue updated reports on the outcome of some very intense local races as quickly as possible. There's a whole bunch of candidates, voters and others who are anxious about seeing some results — and some of us have nothing better to do in the meantime but update their blogs by whining about slow results!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pull It, Sir!

For those who get the earlier editions of Thursday's paper, we apologize in advance for the stunningly ironic misspelling of "Pulitzer." Fortunately, it got fixed before we embarrassed ourselves to the ENTIRE county.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Relevance, Community Character & Animal Stories

Peter Funt, one of our local Opinion Page columnist, nailed it with his piece today about local newspapers.

Funt is partial to The Newseum's online presentation of daily front pages from newspapers across the United States.

"Every Saturday morning, just for fun and without spending a dime on gas, I take a trip to roughly 100 American cities and towns," he writes. After scanning the various newspapers across the country, he concludes that local newspapers still capture our remarkable diversity.

I know what he means. I can't imagine rolling into a new town anywhere in this world without picking up the local rag. If I'm a citizen of this planet and interested enough to actually visit a region, I like to know what makes the area tick. The local newspaper is my best guide.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors has launched a series of columns, written by newspaper editors, in an attempt to bust the myth that newspapers are a dying breed.

According to the doom-and-gloomers, newspapers were supposed to have disappeared by now.

(N)ewspapers still have a lot going for them," insists Margaret Sullivan, editor of the Buffalo News in New York. "As sources of news and information, especially in the role of government watchdogs, they continue to outshine Web and broadcast outlets."

In her ASNE column, profits and readership are down, but local papers will plug along as long as they remain committed to investigative journalism and rigorous reporting. That's the service local newspapers provide for a community that can't be duplicated anywhere.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Neighbor

Juanita Keenan of Prunedale wrote this week to note that The Herald has spent much effort covering the treasurer-tax collector campaign, particularly regarding candidate Ron Holly's unfortunate statement that he's a lawyer. The Herald published a story about the controversy last week, I wrote a column about the situation on Saturday and The Herald endorsed Mary Zeeb on Wednesday.

Keenan also believes that "something is fishy" because I happen to live near Lou Solton, the incumbent treasurer-tax collector who is not seeking reelection. She believes I should have excused myself from the editorial review board when we did the treasurer-tax collector endorsement.

"I don't know Holly from Zeeb, but I would like to before I vote!" Keenan wrote. "Apparently, your being a good neighbor to Solton outweighs your responsibility to your employer and to the readers of your paper. You owe it to both to find out the whole story and let us make up your own mind."

The whole story in a nutshell: Holly's official campaign statement declares he's a lawyer. He is not a lawyer.

If a newspaper editor thinks that a story about a candidate who issues misstatements on his election papers is not a legitimate news story and an issue deserving of comment, the editor should be sacked.

Solton is indeed my neighbor. Since we've all got to live somewhere, sometimes we end up with neighbors who happen to be somebody. Should the guy who runs KSBW have excused himself because he's the sheriff's neighbor before airing his furious defense of the sheriff against a story The Herald published that was critical of the sheriff several weeks ago? I don't think so. And I won't be surprised when KSBW endorses the incumbent sheriff.

Fun side note about being the tax collector's neighbor: Since I'm the treasurer of the small water cooperative in our neighborhood, I get to demand payment from him. Not-so-fun side note: I wasn't real enthusiastic about the proposed (and, thankfully, now dead) water project in North County that Solton was promoting to his neighbors.

So, yeah, Solton and I are friendly neighbors. We talk about things. Usually, when he talks about government finance, municipal bonds and other subjects unfit for neighborhood conversation, my eyes glaze over and I steer the conversation to our shared gopher problem. And when I talk about the scary twists and turns of the newspaper business, his eyes glaze over and he steers the conversation to pickup trucks. (We live in Prunedale, if you haven't guessed by now.)

I've got other neighbors, too, incidentally, with whom I never talk business. In fact, I'm reasonably certain that my nearest neighbor has no idea that I work for a newspaper. It never comes up. Why should it? Good neighbors are neighbors who don't yammer on about the crap that happens at work.

Anyway, getting back to Holly and conspiracy theories . . . Keenan is correct that we've run more stories about the treasurer/tax collector race than is typically seen for an "office most people don't care about," as characterized by Keenan.

Because it's inconvenient to her conspiracy, Keenan doesn't mention that The Californian — not The Herald — broke the story about Holly's lawyer problem. The Californian beat us to the story. I hate to admit it, but The Californian scooped us. Dammit! I'm embarrassed about it. I'm pissed about it. I never want The Californian to scoop us. But they beat us with that story and we had to chase it.

As it happened, our editorial review board interview with the treasurer candidates was scheduled the very morning The Californian ran its story. We naturally asked Holly about the lawyer issue. His inability to explain himself plausibly left us dumbfounded.

Example: "Did you ever attend law school?" our opinion page editor asked. "Yes ... well, no," was the answer.

Another example: Holly took full responsibility for the foul-up, but then wondered aloud, accusingly, how Zeeb managed to find out he wasn't really a lawyer.

It went on and on like that.

Dumbfounded is not the correct word for it. Outraged is. In fact, the vehemence of the outrage among the rest of the editorial review board in regards to Holly was unanimous and unprecedented.

The Herald traditionally streams our editorial review interviews with candidates online, and we post the interviews on our online opinion page. When planning for this particular interview several weeks ago, we figured that the treasurer-tax collector candidates would be an especially boring lot, so we didn't book Wave Street Studios. Boy, were we wrong, and now we're kicking ourselves that it wasn't recorded for the world to see.

In the end, we knew we couldn't support Holly. So we went with Zeeb, for reasons stated in our editorial. Personally, I think John McPherson is a perfectly reasonable alternative who would likely do a good job if he's elected. But the entire board settled on Zeeb.

For the record, I don't give a rip who Solton supports, except in the context that he doesn't support Holly despite what Holly was telling people. Just like I don't really care if Solton supports some North County water deal that I don't want to pay for.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Big Al, The Deniers & The Basement

Random thoughts about Al Gore's appearance at the Panetta Institute lecture series on Monday:

* I accepted an invitation to serve on the question review team for Gore's appearance. The question review team, usually comprised of local journalists, wades through questions written by members of the audience and selects the best. From the dozens or even hundreds of questions submitted, the celebrity host interviewer usually gets about a half-dozen of them asked.

* For Monday's program with Gore, the institute also invited several scientists to participate on the question review team. They included Stephen Palumbi, director of the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove; Chris Scholin, president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing; and Robert Danzinger, a local scientist, consultant, entrepreneur, musician and bon vivant. We dug through the questions from the funky confines of the Golden State Theater's basement.

* The Panetta Institute changed its usual format for Gore. Typically, the institute finds good intellectual folks representing both sides of a particular issue, folks who are willing to engage in good debate instead of screaming matches. Gore was the only fellow on the card, and it was up to CNN newshound Frank Sesno to serve as a foil. With that in mind, the question review team felt duty-bound to push through more of the critical questions, and we were relieved that Sesno asked them.

* Gore answered the critical questions candidly. He didn't seem too hesitant until Sesno pushed him about losing the presidency. "This is beginning to sound like Oprah," Gore said. The former vice president said that losing the 2000 election was not half as bad as the trials and tribulations that most people in the world endure. "I've long since moved on," he said, adding that "you win some, you lose some . . . and there's that unknown third category."

* Gore is accomplished at the talking points of his climate-change issues — and the frustrations that science has become a political football. "Before we solve the climate crisis, we need to solve the democracy crisis in the United States," he said.

* Regarding the latest environmental crisis, the Gulf oil gusher, Gore minced few words. "I know a cover-up when I see one," he said. Gore criticized officials at BP for refusing to allow the scientific community to determine just how much oil has gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

* The usual suspects arrived outside the Golden State Theater in protest of Gore's appearance, so folks showing up to see Gore had to run the insult/chant gauntlet to get inside. The protesters seem to be convinced that evidence which leads scientists to conclude that Earth's climate is changing is an elaborate hoax. The protesters (they were referred to as "deniers" inside the theater) are also convinced that Al Gore is public enemy number one for perpetrating the hoax. During a 20-minute audience with the question review team earlier in the day, Gore said he hopes and wishes the deniers are correct, but he's not convinced the science supports them.

* Al Gore's critics will need to find a new personal blemish to insult him with. It looks as though he's lost a lot of weight recently.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Don't Even Play One on TV

I was an altar boy and learned Latin at St. Mary's School. So now I'm a bishop.

I played a lot of baseball and now I'm the starting first baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays.

I can balance a checkbook, so I suppose that must make me a certified public accountant.

Ron Holly took correspondence classes from a non-accredited diploma mill of a law school, so he's a lawyer.

Okay, I'm not the bishop, a ballplayer or a CPA. And Ron Holly is not a lawyer. According to Holly, he's only the sort of lawyer who gave legal advice when he was at the Securities and Exchange Commission and, you know, people who do that may as well be referred to as a lawyer.

I've watched politicians and bureaucrats in Monterey County for almost 30 years now. And I don't believe I've ever been more insulted than when I heard the evasions and excuses emanating from Ron Holly when he and two other candidates for the Monterey County treasurer-tax collector showed up at The Herald on Thursday to seek our editorial board's endorsement for his candidacy.

On his official candidate statement, Holly lists himself as a lawyer. Seeing as he's not a lawyer and that candidates must swear an oath under penalty of perjury that the information on the statement is correct, the statement seems fraudulent. I won't call it fraud, though, because I'm not a lawyer. And neither is Holly.

During his editorial board interview, Holly shrugged it off as an "honest mistake." Unfortunately for him, the more he explains the mistake, the more disingenuous he seems. And now he and his buddy, Supervisor Dave Potter, have the gall to accuse his opponent, Mary Zeeb, of smear politics for exposing it.

According to Holly's tangled explanation, he was not aware that the current Monterey County treasurer, Lou Solton, wasn't running for reelection until days before the campaign filing deadline. So he rushed into the Elections Office at the last minute to declare himself a candidate, and to file his candidate's statement by the March 12 deadline. Someone else — a "friend" — wrote his candidate's statement. Holly said his mistake was only in not proofing the sworn document well enough to see that he would be lying to the electorate.

(It begs the questions: Why would a friend believe that Holly is a lawyer? What else does Holly tell his friends? What other "honest mistake" might be on his candidate's statement?)

Not five minutes earlier, Holly had told the editorial review board that Solton had consulted with him several months earlier, asking if he'd be interested in running for the office. Solton's intentions were no secret. He announced early that he would not seek another term. The Herald had run a story — last August — saying that Solton wasn't running for reelection. Holly works in the county Auditor-Controller's Office. It strains credulity to believe that he hadn't heard about Solton's retirement in time to work on an accurate candidate statement.

Giving Holly the benefit of the doubt, the best conclusion we can reach is that he doesn't know what's going on around him and, given that he allowed an obvious lie to appear on his campaign statement, he apparently doesn't pay much attention to detail.

The job of treasurer-tax collector requires precise stewardship of a public portfolio worth hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. It's scary to think that votes might be cast for a guy who is either egregiously sloppy or a flim-flammer. It's also frightening to hear that the Board of Supervisors still supports this guy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How 'Facts' Get Started

As one might imagine, we get virulent calls from dear readers who disagree with our editorial positions, with the opinions of our columnists, with the judgments of our letter writers and with the caustic nature of our cartoonists.

We often imagine the poor caller, sitting alone in the parlor, temples throbbing and teeth grinding. We are grateful for such calls, happy that we live in a society where disagreement is woven into our national fabric. We don't mind the debate, at least up to the point that the caller resorts to throwing the f-word around as though the f-word validates his/her argument and underscores his/her disgust.

Unfortunately, I wasn't in the office yesterday when one particular hostile reader called the desk to vent her spleen about an editorial we carried on Sunday about immigration. Immigration is an issue that sparks the sort of unrefined rage I have not experienced since I was in high school back in the early 70s, when I worked as a loader of bread trucks with a bunch of older white men who became particularly unpleasant whenever the topic of segregation came up, which was often.

Yesterday's spleen venter professed, with a certainty that was absolute, that at least 80 percent of the alleged felons rounded up last week in Operation Knockout were illegal aliens. She concluded that crimes and gang violence would virtually disappear from Monterey County if all the illegals were rounded up and sent back where they belong.

Everyone has an opinion, but I wondered how in God's name she came up with that 80 percent figure, to the point that she was confident enough to assert it as fact. With even my piddling knowledge of Nuestra Familia, the gang organization targeted by Operation Knockout, I was aware that the NF is populated by a multi-generational line of thugs who have been around for decades, and not the newbie gang thugs that only recently snuck across the border.

As it turns out, the percentage claim was a screwy rumor that got morphed into "fact" after someone mentioned it on a television news broadcast last week. The "fact" gained traction among the yammering spreaders of rumor and innuendo who lurk on online comment sites and radio talk shows.

We will be publishing a story Friday that clears up the assertion, a story that uses local law enforcement officers and immigration officials as sources. Jail and immigration officials say they know of only one of the arrestees who is an undocumented immigrant. Forty people were detained in Operation Knockout. That's more like .025 percent.

Unless law enforcement and immigration officials are part of some evil conspiracy to give illegal immigrants a break in the court of public opinion, I'm inclined to believe them.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Maldonado Moment

It was like Stephen Colbert didn't have a clue what Abel Maldonado was talking about.

For those watching who ever had the pleasure of attempting to communicate with Maldonado, Colbert's interview with California's newly-minted lieutenant governor last week was a deja vu moment. I suspect that virtually everyone — constituents, colleagues, journalists, his parents, his dog — comes away from Maldonado conversations with a WTF look on their faces.

After being asked about his proposal to open up primaries so that voters can vote for everyone on the ballot, Maldonado meandered aimlessly about helping people and sleeping under his desk. "What are you talking about?"

We've all had the same question.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Senior Over-Achievers

Identical twins from Stevenson with identical curriculum vitae. Kids who rushed through high school in three years. Students who arrived in the United States with no grasp on the language and cultures. Captains of their sports teams. Musicians. Volunteers.

Probably the most fun I have at The Herald each year is the presentation of our Senior Achievement awards.

The event this year is Thursday in Monterey and it recognizes the 62 highest-achieving high school seniors from throughout the county. Each school, from North County High to King City, is represented. The students are enthusiastic, grateful and . . . well, brilliant.

Look for the list and photos of this year's honorees in The Herald on Thursday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tom Wieder

Tom Wieder was old school, the sort of newspaper guy who showed up to work each day in a white dress shirt with sleeves rolled up and a narrow black tie. He was unflappable, precise and willing (and able) to debate the smallest detail because, when it comes to newspapers, small details matter. He was a soft-spoken gentleman, so his wry humor always snuck up on you.

Tom died on Saturday night at the age of 84.

He had been at The Herald for 40 years, leaving his career in journalism when he opted not to reapply when Knight-Ridder took over paper in 1997.

I worked with Tom when I first showed up at The Herald 25 years ago, on the copy desk. At the time, the copy desk was filled with the wise and wizened veterans of The Herald, guys who had been roaming the Peninsula since the days of Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck and Minnie Coyle. It could be frightening for a journalist of the new age to join a desk with the accumulated experience of that old copy desk, but guys like Tom made me feel welcome. Guys like Tom allowed me to connect with the history of Monterey County and The Herald, and I'm the better for it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Link to Reynolds' Appearance

For those who missed Julia Reynolds on KQED-TV on Friday, click this hyperlink.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reynolds on KQED

Reporter Julie Reynolds is scheduled to appear on KQED's "This Week in Northern California," a live news program that features journalists who discuss the prominent issues of the past week.

Reynolds will be talking about Operation Knockout, the historic raid on Salinas Valley gang members that resulted in 37 arrests.

The show airs at 8 p.m. today on KQED.

Reynolds was interviewed on Thursday by KQED radio about Operation Knockout. Thursday's interview can be heard at .

Jarring Consequences

A big dumpster rolled into the newsroom this week to encourage spring cleaning. I don't believe we've dumped anything since we moved into Ryan Ranch almost 20 years ago, so we've uncovered some incredibly historical items, a whole bunch of useless items — and at least two dozen unused staplers.

Digging through the stuff in my office, I found my favorite correction ever written in a file of oddball journalistic screw-ups I've collected. I didn't date the thing, unfortunately, but it's from an edition of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian more than 25 years ago. This is how it reads:

"In a news story yesterday, the telephone number for Davis Memorial Chapel was inadvertently listed as the number to call for further information on a class to familiarize prospective patients with surgical procedures. The Register-Pajaronian regrets the jarring consequences that may have occurred due to this typographical error and hastens to inform readers that the correct number to call is 724-4741, ext. 255."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Friends Take Friends to Salinas

Our editorial review board talked about promoting a "Take a Friend to Salinas" campaign.

The discussion was sparked by a letter to the editor from a Carmel woman who declared that she would stop seeing a dentist she admired in Salinas because of all the violence. Several of us live in Salinas; I've spent the majority of my career at The Herald in our Salinas bureau. Many of us have children who played — or who are playing — youth sports in Salinas. My own son played PONY baseball for a Salinas team.

Now comes word that Monterey PONY softball teams won't play in Salinas, that neutral ground is being sought to play Salinas-Monterey games. Pacific Grove PONY is considering a similar move.

Perhaps it's my familiarity with the city that makes me feel this way, but I've never felt in danger in Salinas. I worried myself sick when my kids were finally old enough to drive and had to navigate through certain areas of Prunedale, but I've never feared for their safety in Salinas. Of course, I do believe the dental patient and the PONY parents are overreacting, but I don't blame them for their concern.

It is frightful to think that a 6-year-old can be killed by a random bullet while he's standing in his kitchen. And that a 10-year-old girl was shot in the leg by another stray bullet while walking with her mother. The constant drumbeat of news about the horrible violence that emanates out of Salinas eventually takes its toll.

But risks lurk everywhere — and the risk of infusing a child with misplaced paranoia can also be damaging.

As I write this, a huge phalanx of law enforcement officers is sweeping through Salinas to round up the most powerful gang members in the Salinas area. The governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown joined local law enforcement officials to discuss the results of the raid, which has been named Operation Knockout.

Whether the sweep will make a difference in out-of-towners' impression of Salinas remains to be seen.

In the meantime, those of us who know and admire the city would love to take the fearful to Salinas someday, to take you to dinner, to visit the schools and churches and to shop with the local merchants who deserve our support.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bucking the Trend

Everyone complains that the media only focuses on the negative, that the press goes off, half-baked and without a clue.

So when the media opened its doors to the public to sound off on the great issues of the day, the result has been online message boards and an upsurge of letters to the editor filled with negative expressions of half-baked ideas. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but most of the opinion we hear these days is that the other jerk is an idiot scoundrel socialist Nazi communist tea-bagging left-wing nutjob godless mouth-breathing racist. Fill in the blanks. It doesn't matter anymore, because the audience is sick of the noise.

And this stuff is everywhere. TV. Radio. Blogs. Tweets. Facebook. It doesn't enlighten. Everyone talks over one another. Everyone plays under the assumed rule that the loudest screamer wins. Civic discourse these days more closely resembles a blatherer's version of a bar fight.

Call it diabolical, call it un-American, but we believe that the majority of our readers adhere to higher standards. We may be bucking the media trend here, but we shall insist on civility in the expression of opinions.

Several weeks ago I promised that we would do a better job deleting the maddening anonymous posts that are simply nasty diatribes from our online comment boards. And on Tuesday, Royal Calkins described The Herald's new commitment toward civility in Letters to the Editor.

"(W)hile we will continue to publish some of the lesser letters, at least those of them that don't sink too close to slander, libel or horrible taste, we will redouble our efforts to give priority to those that explain positions, that provide information, that amount to more than an adult version of name-calling," Calkins wrote.

Our message is simple: We welcome your disagreement. We admit that our perspective might be different than yours. You can disagree with the last letter writer. We'd love to hear your informed opinion about things. But, when you do, don't publicly demean yourself — and others who might otherwise support your position — with the personal attacks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

California's Ink-Stained Wretches

Our friends and colleagues from newspapers across California blew into Monterey on Thursday for the annual three-day California Newspaper Publishers Association gathering.

While virtually all the attendees represent newspapers that readers have traditionally picked up off the driveway each morning and held in their hands, a significant amount of time is being spent at the convention this week about ways that newspapers can take advantage of their presence in the digital marketplace.

The kickoff luncheon speaker was Andrew Davis, executive director of the American Press Institute in Reston, Va. The focus of his message was the future of news, and all of it concentrated on the possibilities that the web, social networks and e-commerce have to offer. Several other general session presentations this week have similar themes. There has been a lot of talk about the wisdom of asking readers to pay for the content they view on newspapers' digital sites.

We are, of course, very interested in those presentations. Despite all of the "bad press" that newspapers generate about their own alleged pending demise, the truth is that most newspapers attract more readers now than ever before. Not all of it is the printed product — and circulation figures are certainly down for most every newspaper in the country. In The Herald's case, for instance, the combination of newspapers in circulation and the unique "hits" our website attracts each day exceeds the circulation numbers The Herald boasted back when I started working here 25 years ago, when only a print edition was available.

I believe people still hunger for news and good stories — and that newspapers are ultimately the primary source for most of the stuff readers eventually find on TV, on the web, on the radio and on their social networking sites. The problem is that no one has yet to figure out how to lasso a workable revenue flow from online readers or from the aggregators who steal our stuff. And newspapers were never able to respond to the success of free-classified sites like Craigslist.

SIDE NOTE: I was happy to see that the California Newspaper Pubishers Association hired from the local talent pool while filling out the entertainment slots for its convention. Among the performers who are appearing at the convention are Taelen Thomas, who roamed the dinner crowd Thursday as John Steinbeck, the Dizzy Grover & Crover Coe jazz ensemble and keyboardist Scott Brown. And the culinary team at Monterey Plaza Hotel was scheduled for a cooking demonstration for the CNPA crowd Friday afternoon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Cream of the Court

The Herald's top dribblers once again destroyed the competition on the basketball court, winning the championship trophy at the Good Old Days media tournament in Pacific Grove over the weekend.

The Herald won the tournament for the second year in a row, and it defeated the team from Monterey County Weekly in the title game.

Player/coach Royal Calkins says the key to The Herald's success is that Joe Livernois never gets involved in the tournament.

This year's team included Laith Agha, Jon Ordonio, Marc Cabrera, Mary Barker, Daryl Thomas and Michelle Taylor.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Old-Guy Manifesto

I don't want to be that type of old guy.

The kind of old guy I don't want to be has become an issue I've contemplated in recent weeks, now that I stand at the precipice of actually being an old guy. The signs are clear. I'm starting to experience the onset of wobbly old-guy ailments: aching joints, fallen arches, forgetfulness, graying temples, a hankering for VapoRub, the tendency to use words like "hankering."

Of course, there exist certain conditions to being an old guy that are unavoidable. And I am willing to accept the conditions over which I have no control.

For instance, I will suffer through the indignities of scheduled prostate examinations and will follow the doctor's directions for good prostate health. And, since I don't want to be one of those old guys, I hope that I won't constantly bore friends, family, casual acquaintances and random strangers with every last detail of my prostate situation and how the Medicare process worked.

Also, I don't want to be the old guy whose only social concern is his tax bill. What's up with those old guys, anyway? These old guys have enjoyed the full experience of an abundant life in the greatest country in the world, yet all they seem to care about in their sunset years are taxes? Age and a cantankerous spirit should not be a license to stop caring about others.

In fact, if I ever get to the point that all I do all day is whine about taxes, my family has permission to lead me out back and put me out of my misery.

I wouldn't mind being a cantankerous old guy, incidentally, but I don't want to be the old guy who is bitterly cantankerous all the time.

I don't want to be the old guy who sadly clings to the notion that he's still a teenager.

But I hope to be the old guy who has refined — and not abandoned — his teen-aged sense of justice.

I don't want to be the old guy who listens to AM radio when the game's not on.

But I would like to be the old guy who is still capable of making a fool of himself on the dance floor.

I don't want to be the old guy who limits his selection of literature from whatever happens to be on the shelf at Walmart.

But I would like to feel secure pulling a volume from the "satire" section of the local bookstore.

I don't want to be the old guy who surrounds himself with like-minded old guys.

And I hope you won't mind if I delete those stupid batch-forwarded e-mails that espouse insipid world views you've sent me with instructions to pass them along to all my other old-guy friends.

I don't want to be the old guy who stops caring about public education now that my kids are out of school.

But I'm not going to assume that I've suddenly gained transcendent wisdom just because I'm an old guy.

I don't want to be the old guy who only dines out at chain restaurants in a rigorous campaign to avoid surprises.

I expect I'll always savor a home-cooked meal.

I don't want to be the old guy who simply settles for whatever happens to be on television that night.

But a subscription to the MLB season package on DirecTV would be great in my dotage.

Speaking of which, I don't want to be the old guy who draws his final breath before seeing the San Francisco Giants win a pennant.

Friday, March 26, 2010

One tough week

It was a difficult week in Monterey County, with inexplicable tragedies.

The mystery of the woman who burned to death in a quiet Monterey neighborhood on Monday has been solved — partially, at least. Police say the 61-year-old woman apparently doused herself with isopropyl alcohol and lit a match. The woman was described as a "recluse" and it is unlikely that anyone will ever know what brought her to such a sad end.

And then, on Tuesday, a group of thugs sprayed bullets all over an East Salinas neighborhood, and a stray bullet killed a 6-year-old boy.

Tragic, senseless, outrageous . . . there are not enough adjectives to describe what happened to Azahel Cruz Alcantar. And there is not a place in the afterlife miserable enough to accommodate the wretches who continue to wage ugly violence in Salinas neighborhoods.

Azahel's death had a profound impact on his family and friends, but also on the police, rescue personnel and others who were forced by their profession to respond to the shooting. And that includes the Monterey County press corps; many of the reporters and the photographers who covered the shooting are distraught.

We offer our love and our prayers to Azahel's family.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Latest News on News

Calamity. Gloom. Doom. Despair.

That's pretty much what you read these days about the modern state of journalism. In true navel-gazing form, much of the gloom and doom is documented in the news media, by journalists who have proven to be more aggressive tracking the demise of its own industry than it did in watchdog pursuit of the more complex and ultimately more devastating economic debacles of the past several years.

Most of the headlines have centered on the declines in print media. But a report released this week by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism points out that television and radio are also in a free fall, with revenues down 22 percent in 2009. Newspapers saw revenue decline by 26 percent last year, which brings the total loss over the last three years to 43 percent, according to the report.

If you've paid any attention at all, you are likely aware that reductions in news resources have naturally followed the revenue losses. Fewer reporters, photographers, editors and support staff results in a diminished ability to chase stories that deserve to be told. According to the Pew report, the newspaper industry has lost $1.6 billion in annual reporting and editing capacity since 2000, or 30 percent.

The Monterey County media are not immune to the issues, but the bleeding in this region is not as severe as it is in many of the larger markets. We are all fortunate to be providing uniquely local news to a readership and to a viewing audience that is engaged in the community and interested in what is happening in their cities. Most of us have managed to hang tight, without the outrageous wholesale reductions we read about at newspapers and television stations in urban areas. The economy here is as bad as it is elsewhere and local media outlets are certainly not what they once were, but at least we're not losing readers and viewers and revenue at the same pace, on the same scale.

Among the more telling elements in the Pew study this year was a content analysis of newspapers. It showed that smaller newspapers devoted much more of its print news hole to covering the economy last year than their larger counterparts — and they were "able to cover the overarching impact of the recession at the grassroots level." Smaller newspapers also focused more attention on health and medicine storylines than did larger newspapers, according to the study.

Also during 2009, Michael Jackson's death accounted for only 3 percent of all newspapers' coverage in the month following his death, while the economy and Iran's presidential election dominated print media. Across the media spectrum, Jackson's death was ranked the ninth most important story of the year, but it did not rank at all among most newspapers' top 20 stories.

There are, of course, two ways of looking at that content analysis: Either newspapers are missing a bet by not bowing to the pressures of the lowest common denominator or else they still managed to provide readers with responsible journalism about issues that truly matter, despite the gloom of their own industry.

If only it was that easy! If only newspapers could take solace in the knowledge that they are sinking under the weight of the high ground.

Consider how the mainstream press stacks up against the so-called new media — how the mainstream seem to be providing what it believes citizens need to know, as opposed what citizens are actually interested in. For the first time in its annual report, Pew was able to analyze the differences between the popularity of mainstream media stories and the hot topics in the new media. It found that in the 47 weeks studied during 2009, blogs and the mainstream press shared the top story just 13 times. Of course, most of the hot blog entries were nothing more than opinionated analysis expressed about certain hot-button topics.

More telling, perhaps, is the differences between the mainstream and Twitter. On Twitter, the top story was the same as the mainstream press in just four of the 27 weeks studied. As the Pew study points out, the vast majority of Tweets were not opinionated or analytical at all. (There's not much opinion that can be packed into a message with only 140 characters.) Most of the Twitter posts were simply designed to alert people to something interesting, to pass along information, according to the Pew study. Of those Twitter feeds that contained news links, the vast majority tend to simply repeat the headline from a website.

With those comparisons, it appears that the mainstream media is providing news that does not reflect the interests of the majority of its potential readers.

In the end, it may not make much difference, even if Twitter-like sites only provide simple and populist facts so popular among Tweeters. Twitter recently exceeded the 50 million-Tweets-a-day mark, a five-fold increase in the past year. Newspapers boast a daily circulation of 30 million, or 40 million on Sundays (readership is at least twice that as newspapers are shared in homes or in the coffee house). And while newspapers' numbers are declining in both circulation and revenues, Twitter still hasn't figured out a way to make money, even with its rapid ascent.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kevin Howe: 40 Years Later

We took time out in the newsroom last week to mark an astounding accomplishment: Kevin Howe's 40th anniversary with The Herald.

With all that has happened over the decades at this newspaper, to have survived for four decades is a testament to perseverance. Kevin is the lunch-box minimalist type, but he has also long been The Herald's go-to guy on a multitude of subjects, ranging from the military and veterans issues to guns 'n' horses to the survival of the California condor.

His stories about young Danny Holley about 20 years ago led to abundant changes at the old military installation at Fort Ord. Holley was a 13-year-old boy who committed suicide so he would not be a burden on his struggling military family, and Kevin's stories not only resulted in more military housing at Fort Ord, but it also inspired The Herald's own Operation Christmas Cheer.

Also over the years, Kevin was "embedded" with Fort Ord troops during various foreign incursions and occupations, covering their actions for The Herald.

Beyond all that, Kevin is one of those characters who makes working in a newsroom so, well, surreal.

Preparing for Kevin's celebration, I had fun digging through old copies of The Herald, comparing and contrasting the old "Monterey Peninsula Herald" with today's editions. I was able to find Kevin's first byline at The Herald, which turned out to be a feature story about a local "Up With People!" appearance.

Among the interesting differences between the old and the new (besides the decidedly gray appearance of the 40-year-old Herald), was the near-total lack of local stories on the front page of the paper. I know that when I arrived here "only" 25 years ago, it was stressed upon me that very few events that take place on the Monterey Peninsula could rival the importance of national and international issues, and that The Herald's front page should reflect that understanding.

Of course, that was all before cellphones, the internet, CNN and news radio provided national and international headlines 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Order in the court

Editors from the various competing news outlets in Monterey County don't generally hang out much together. We're cordial when we happen to bump into one another, and we might swap stories about our latest headaches. Or tell small lies about how well we're all doing.

But several of us had occasion recently to come together to consider strategies against a potential threat to our ability to gather news on behalf of our readers and viewers. The situation played out in the Monterey County courts last week when the defense attorney representing Jesse John Crow convinced a judge to rule, at a single court appearance, that no image of Crow be broadcast or published that shows him in his jail-issue orange-and-white striped jumpsuit. The attorney, Tom Worthington, believes that Crow would not be able to get a fair trial if jurors have seen Crow dressed like an inmate.

Crow is being held in Monterey County Jail on a homicide charge in connection to the death of his young wife, Ryann.

The local media professionals were alarmed by the ruling, but we are also aware that, according to the rules of the court, a judge has discretion in such matters. We were worried that the order would carry through to all of Crow's court appearances, so three of us, including Lawton Dodd of KSBW and Anjanette Delgado of the Californian, showed up in court a few days later to voice our concerns.

While we knew that a judge indeed has discretion in limiting photographic depictions within a courtroom, we also suspected that Worthington might throw new kinks into the works.

Just days earlier, Worthington had asked a Santa Cruz County judge to prohibit media from using photographs and images of suspects he represents in another homicide case, photographs that had already been obtained during previous appearances of the suspects in court. The Herald's sister paper in Santa Cruz, The Sentinel, challenged that motion, and a Santa Cruz judge rightfully ruled that Worthington was seeking an unconstitutional prior restraint on the press.

Fortunately, the issue also played out favorably in Monterey County Court. The issue of depicting Crow in his jail garb became moot when Judge Russell Scott ruled that the defendant could dress in "civilian" clothing during all of his court appearances, so that all future images of Crow in court will depict him in a sports coat. Also, Worthington did not ask the judge to bar the publication or airing of images of Crow obtained legally by the media, including the defendant's booking mug shot or the now-familiar video captured by KSBW showing Crow throwing stuff into a dumpster at his house before he was arrested.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

From Candorville to Squid Row

I'd like to welcome the newest addition to The Herald, the local crew from Squid Row. The Herald is the first newspaper to feature the daily comic and I'm proud to showcase the artist, Bridgett Spicer, on our pages.

The comics pages have long been Spicer's passion, and she has been producing Squid Row for a couple of years, refining characters and story lines. Adding her to the comics lineup was a natural: She produces the strip out of her studio in Salinas, Squid Row's fictional locale is "Cypress City" but it looks very much like Monterey County, and Spicer has studied the craft long enough to know the demands of delivering a daily strip. We are happy to have her and we have already received several favorable responses to the comic.

Monterey County has produced an abundance of legendary cartoonists, including Hank Ketcham, Gus Arriola and Eldon Dedini, and we wish Spicer good luck in her Squid Row endeavor.

With space on our comics page limited, I had to drop a strip to make room for Squid Row. The choice I made was Candorville, by Darrin Bell. Losing a cartoon is not a decision I take lightly — I learned my lesson when I foolishly decided to drop For Better or For Worse a couple of years ago.

I personally prefer Candorville over many of the comics we now run in The Herald, but I also learned from the For Better or For Worse debacle that my personal tastes aren't always consistent with the more rabid comics fans among The Herald's readership.

In the end, I decided to drop Candorville for several reasons. Candorville was the most recent addition to our comics page — and the only responses I ever received were negative. The critics I heard from seemed to feel that Candorville's inner-city perspective was out of character with rural little Monterey County. Also, I often hear complaints from readers when an advertisement appears on the bottom of the comics page; the complainants are outraged when the ad supplants Arctic Circle, but I never heard from anyone who complained when the ad replaced Candorville.

I could be all wrong about this, of course. By now I've received only six calls or emails from folks who are upset about losing Candorville, compared to the hundreds I received when For Better or For Worse disappeared from The Herald.

On his Web site, Darrin Bell has initiated a write-in campaign among his fans to convince me to save his strip.