Jun 03

Ronnie looks like the Terminator, and it’s freaking me out a little

Maybe it’s just me, but the similarities between Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late Ronald Reagan are getting downright scary.

First, they both came to fame on the silver screen and were Hollywood stars before entering the political galaxy.

Then, they both ran for office and became governors.

And they became governors of the same state. reagan statue trib 1.jpg

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, how the next logical similarity — if it weren’t barred by the Constitution — would be for Arnold to one day become president.

But we’re not even close to finishing that last big arc of the circle.

We can, however, add another shared circumstance between the two. 

In the movies, Schwarzenegger played the Terminator.

And now, in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., Ronnie’s playing the Terminator too!

I’ll be damned if the new bronze Gipper isn’t the spitting image of that molten T-1000 fellow who chased Arnold around in “T2.”

Can’t you just picture this metallic Ronnie melting into a puddle on the floor like Robert Patrick, seeping under a door and then popping up behind Nancy Pelosi?

Boo! Run, liberals, run!


Speaking of Nancies, perhaps that’s the thought that’s going through Mrs. Reagan’s head in the photo below.

Either that, or it’s the fact that she has to schmooze with Mr. Personality, John Boehner, who doesn’t need a team of special effects experts to turn him into a walking statue.

reagan statue trib.jpg

Photos from Associated Press and Carolco Pictures  

Jun 01

Poly ballplayers can hold their heads high

Gotta send one last set of props out to the Cal Poly softball and baseball teams for a fine year.

Even though the endings didn’t turn out quite as well as we all might have hoped, it was a landmark year in many respects.

The softball team put up a good fight in its return to the NCAA tournament and knocked out two other teams before falling to Stanford on the final day of the regionals.

The baseball team, making its first-ever appearance in the Division 1 tournament, spent much of its two days in Tempe getting knocked around. That is, up until the ninth inning of the second game, when the Mustangs put together a stirring 7-run rally and very nearly turned a 10-2 deficit into a win.

For both teams, these playoff appearances were a learning experience, a chance to see what the next level looks like so that they can be more comfortable and prepared next time around.

There is no reason why these two programs can’t grow to reach the elite level of college sports.

Hopefully, we will see them back here next year, and the year after that, and so on as they build up a resume that can’t be ignored on the national stage.

And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think one day the national champion will call Cal Poly home.

May 29

The state is dreaming if it thinks it can keep us off our beaches

The Most Ridiculous Claim of the Week comes from Nick Franco, superintendent of our State Parks district, in Kathe Tanner’s recent story regarding how possible closures of our beloved beaches might occur.

Franco told Kathe that he doubted physical barriers would be erected but that signs might be posted to indicate closed areas. Then, people caught trespassing could be tossed out or cited.


The speciousness of this comment is so offensively obvious, I’m having a hard time not falling out of my chair laughing. There are more holes in this assertion than the chain link fence they could run across Pecho Road to keep you out of Montaña de Oro.

Let’s just think about this for a second.

Pismo State Beach runs from the beginning of the Oceano Dunes SVRA to the south to the caves at the far north end, with ramps and staircases offering access all over the place. Without the beach, Pismo probably doesn’t exist, the importance of tourism being so critical to the city.

Morro Strand State Beach runs from Highway 41 at the south all the way to where the beach hits Highway 1 at the north, again with access points all over and scores of homes fronting the sand. Another stretch parallels Highway 1 leading into Cayucos.

Morro Bay State Park includes acres of land surrounding two major roads and providing access to trails, the marina, the golf course and the Museum of Natural History.

And that’s just three spots, not even mentioning the miles of newly opened shoreline along the Hearst coast, at the Estero Bluffs, and at the Harmony Headlands.

The fact is, we have built a treasure of public lands, and people will come.

If State Parks officials think they’re facing a shortage of resources under Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts, they’re on crack if they think in that same new, austere reality that they’ll be able to patrol miles of San Luis Obispo County’s coastline, rounding up walkers and picnickers, herding them off the beach and dumping back on the asphalt all hopping mad and squiggly like a bunch of surprised sand crabs.montana de oro.jpg

Instead of making inane assertions that are so clearly impractical and never gonna happen, the state should just come clean and tell us how this budget cut might really go down, like so:

Beaches that stretch for miles with unlimited access will remain open. They require little staffing oversight as far as managing infrastructure is concerned.

This is the strategy State Parks has already taken at Estero Bluffs, knowing they had only enough money to nail up several irritating “no dogs” signs but not a penny more to actually service the area. Why would that not work elsewhere?

More intensive operations, like the campgrounds at Montaña de Oro, San Simeon and Morro Bay, may be another story, both because of the staffing required and the fact they can be easily closed.

While it would be a blow to the local economy and a terrible loss for visitors who want to spend the night here affordably, enjoying our unique stretch of California, it would seem temporarily closing these more demanding facilities might make more sense.

Whatever happens, this is the second time in less than two years that Schwarzenegger has saber-rattled about closing local state parks.

Nothing happened then. Something may happen now.

But at the least, the state owes us thoughtful, timely information and a plan that doesn’t merely compound the money problem while being a logistical nightmare at the same time.

Tribune file photos: Walkers at Pismo Beach, above, and horseback riders at Montaña de Oro State Park, below

May 27

Hey, Gov, need to close a state park? Start with the Oceano Dunes

So now we’ve reached the point with the Oceano Dunes where even the selfless people who come to the rescue of others are dying.

Such is the case of Christopher Meadows, the EMT who was killed in an ATV accident while rushing to the aid of an injured Dunes visitor.

christopher meadow.jpg

In his haste to reach the scene, Christopher descended a hill too quickly and lost control. He was then hit by another rescue vehicle trailing behind him.

This is yet another example of a life lost needlessly at a state-sponsored park where users’ recklessness is a way of life and serious injury or death may lurk behind any sand dune.

How many people have to get killed in the name of goofing off before something changes?

If you want to rip around like an idiot on your quad, go buy a little plot of useless land in the desert where the only one who will suffer from any of your stupidity will be you and you alone.

Do it where we don’t have to hear your whining engines, where you won’t pop a wheelie over a ridge and land on someone’s head, where others don’t have to pick up your empty beer cans and potato chip bags, where threatened birds and plants don’t live, and where we, the taxpayers, don’t have to pay to try to keep you safe.

Basically, do it somewhere else.

On a related note, the latest news from the governor is that he wants to slash the entire $145 million State Parks general fund budget in two years in his continuing effort to pull California out of its pit of red ink.

This could result in result in the closure of 80 percent of our state parks.

I would say he can start with the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Unfortunately, thanks to some budget foolishness, it appears the Dunes are immune to the state’s current problems because the park’s money comes from gas taxes.

How awesome is it that some of the money we all pay to fill up our tanks apparently gets siphoned off to subsidize zones for off-road joyriders, while our other “gentle-use” state parks are forced to rely on the general fund and visitor fees.

Not awesome at all.

May 25

The best reason to abolish the Greek system

In my world, there would be no frats.

No sororities.

No Kappas, no Betas, no Thetas, no Omicrons. No Greeks, whatsoever, on college campuses, period.


The death of Carson Starkey and the arrest of four members of Cal Poly’s now-suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter expose this sorry social system for what it truly is: a bunch of mental juveniles — appallingly unwise beyond their years — whose insecurity compels  them to organize dangerous tournaments of peer pressure as a means to separate those who will win the right to buy a clique of friends from those who won’t.

With that right, they also earn the privilege of continuing the cycle of abuse on the class that comes behind them.

Yes, there goes the bathwater. And the baby can go right along with it.

Any arguments otherwise (that the system builds brotherhood, that Greeks would just go underground, that Carson was an adult and responsible for his own behavior) are nothing more than the hollow words of apologists.

Carson Starkey was a boy, 18 years old, a few months removed from leaving home, just beginning to figure out life on his own.

Just six months earlier, he was in high school. Would anyone say he would have been equipped to make these decisions then? So how much did he mature in half a year?

Tragically, not nearly enough, because he ultimately made the deadly decision to trust the character of his supposed new “friends,” and not a one in the bunch was there to help him when he needed it most.

Sadly, we only hear about the worst of these cases. And despite Cal Poly’s efforts to crack down, the university cannot police every party in a town sprinkled with unofficial “frat” houses.

I don’t expect to see a world without fraternities, but I do hope Cal Poly pairs its new Greek advisers and awareness programs with a no-nonsense, zero-tolerance approach to offenders.

Any hint of hazing should be thoroughly investigated, rooted out, and if proven, result in a ban on the offending organization.

Anything less is an insult to Carson’s memory.

My thoughts are with the Starkey family as they continue to cope with Carson’s death and work to fight hazing in the Greek system. To find out more about their efforts, visit withcarson.com.

May 20

Alas, poor swine flu, we hardly knew ye

Was it only a few short weeks ago that the world was in a death grip of swine flu pandemic fears, with schools barricading their doors, parents casting a wary eye at every sniffle, the country of Mexico in a near quarantine with no pasty American tourists arriving by cruise ship to scarf up cheap sombreros, and face masks flying off store shelves faster than coupon downloads for free KFC grilled chicken?

It seems like only yesterday — the way health experts were portraying it — that the next cough from our cubicle-mate would catapult us to an early, pneumonia-wracked grave.

japan swine flu.jpg

But the news moves fast, and when H1N1 could hardly scare up a handful of deaths in this country, you knew the clock on its 15 minutes of fame had hit 14:59.

This is no way to run a pandemic.

If you’re going to cry Stage 5 global crisis in which the virus mutates to a point that it can travel by iPod app, at least deliver a few million high fevers!

Last week, my tummy was a little queasy. I think I may have had the swine.

It has now been declared by our local authorities that this dreaded outbreak is apparently no worse than any other strain of seasonal flu, the likes of which we somehow managed to survive, one century after another, without blasting Lysol at our mail carriers should they dare touch our box without first wrapping themselves in latex.

I read one story back in those dark, early days of May that said 36,000 Americans die every year from influenza complications.

But apparently no one was listening to that guy. I think the CDC duct-taped him and threw him in a storage closet.

Death toll from the swine flu so far nationwide: a whopping 8.

Fact is, this is life. We live in a world with tiny bugs and pests who might possibly do us harm.

That’s what white blood cells are for.

Of course, by writing this, I may have not merely tempted Fate but out and out taunted her, wagging one long finger at her like some NBA poser after a blocked shot. In which case, should I contract the swine, you’ll know exactly why.

If I’m going to panic over something, though, I’ll take foolish superstition over hype-mongering science every time.

Associated Press photo

May 19

Good God! Enough "God Bless America" already

There was a time before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when baseball was a more carefree and innocent game.

Before the first pitch, the home team would send out a special guest to perform the national anthem, everyone would turn their attention to the flag, and the proper moments of patriotic observance would occur.

Then, a couple innings later, during the seventh inning stretch, the stadium announcer would lead the crowd in a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the whimsical bit of pure Americana enjoyed with equal exuberance by young and old alike.

From Yankee Stadium to the smallest Single-A ballpark, the song is one of those classic baseball traditions, a universal truth of the game that applies wherever 9 innings are played.

Then came Sept. 11, when tragedy and national mourning spawned such a wave of near-mandatory patriotism that it seemed teams across the sporting world felt compelled to fill any quiet moment with some kind of somber tribute.

Immediately, for baseball, this meant adding the singing of “God Bless America” to the seventh-inning interlude, in a moment of honor for all the lives lost.

In the beginning, this was fine, even though the song — musically and lyrically — is feeble, simplistic, monotonous and uninspired, while also being wholly absent of any soaring melody worthy of so much repetition and regard.

In short, it’s a crappy song. (How it became No. 1 on the patriotic playlist is beyond me. Anyone ever hear of “America the Beautiful”?)

But there we were, bleating it out day after day.

Then, month after month.

Now, year after year, until approaching a decade later, we still are forced at the seventh-inning stretch to observe this moment of melodramatic flag-waving as it encroaches on the beauty of what used to be a simple and happy-go-lucky moment, when even if your team was down, you could join with your fellow fans in a rousing tribute to the game, rather than the nation.

Imagine that, sports as an escape from the real world!

Even today, almost eight years later, televised broadcasts will hold off the commercials till the song is done, as if to not do so would be un-American. Then, before a single strain of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” can be delivered, they’re off to schlepping Taco Bell burritos and Geico car insurance.

Just like that, a beloved tradition is marginalized and politicized, leaving a new generation of kids to think this is the way it’s always been when in truth that’s so very much not the way it’s been … or should be.

With all due respect to the victims and survivors of Sept. 11, it’s time to move on.

So to Major League Baseball, all its teams and any other sport who’s still choosing to cram this prefab patriotism down our throats, please stop.

Return “God Bless America” to the musical dustbin where it belongs, and give the seventh inning back to the fans.

May 15

Bring back Bill O'Reilly!

In the wake of Fox frontman Bill O’Reilly’s removal from The Tribune’s Opinion page, a spirited debate has sprung up among letter writers arguing for and against the decision.

Count me in the column of those who’d like to see him back in print on Saturday mornings.

Here’s why:bill o'reilly.jpg

Contrary to the opinion of those people who would judge first and listen/read later (or rarely or never), O’Reilly is not the mindless, irrational, conservative jackass that some make him out to be.

That title belongs to Rush Limbaugh.

Back in the days when SLO County actually had a selection of morning talk radio options, O’Reilly’s show offered morning commuters a fresh, down-to-earth, albeit-somewhat-right-leaning take on current events. Since then, he has discontinued “The Radio Factor” and now focuses his energy on the the cable TV “O’Reilly Factor.”

Yes, sometimes he could be a jerk, sometimes he would revert to the mentality of a 5-year-old, slinging names (Pinhead!) and hanging up on callers who soured his mood on a given day.

Sometimes he would seize on curious social crusades (remember the rants against any stores that dared to take the word “Christmas” out of their Christmas marketing?), thumping home his point day after day and blustering at those who disagreed with him.

Nevertheless, if you listened then or watch now with any regularity, his “who’s looking out for you?” mantra — the unvarnished fight for the little guy — eventually comes through as his primary theme.

O’Reilly is not mouthpiece of the Republican Party.

He’s not a talking head for the religious right.

He can be course and hard to stomach, but usually in a thoughtful way that emphasizes traditional, though not necessarily conservative, values.

He has also been a champion of the less fortunate, leading a nationwide push to get states to pass “Jessica’s Law,” which mandates tough sentencing for first-time child sex offenders, and vigorously donating to many worthy charities.

For these reasons, his voice rings authentic and independent in a media world filled with polarizing figures who tend to line up on one extreme or the other — shoulder to shoulder with their allies, nose to nose with their enemies.

That’s a voice I can respect. That’s a voice I’d like to hear more of.

Hopefully we’ll see him back on the Opinion page one day soon.

May 13

No way can a Wal-Mart come to SLO

So the latest chatter around town is that two particular retailers appear to have the most interest in bidding to replace Gottschalks: J.C. Penney and (gasp!) Wal-Mart.

And so it comes to this.

Just when you imagine the options can’t get any worse, in waltzes the grand poobah of crummy, discount mega-stores.

If you think half of Atascadero flipped out over the possibility of Wal-Mart coming to town, just think what SLO will do.


Remember that ordinance I wanted banning stores with initials in their names? Well, add to that, stores whose hyphenated brands include abbreviations of their founder’s surname. If you’re not proud enough to put your whole name on there, or even if you just think it sounds more catchy, I don’t want to shop at your store.

A Wal-Mart in SLO would be like a slightly better organized indoor version of  a Midwestern swap meet, which has been pried up from its foundation somewhere in the wasteland of Indiana and plopped down on Madonna Road, much to the surprise of the ghost of Alex Madonna, who I would hope might just cough up a slice of pink champagne cake at the horror of it all, despite being the man whose inn put the “ack” in tacky, albeit in a delightful, authentic and exceedingly business-savvy way.

Seriously? A Wal-Mart?

Will we really be faced with the possibility of store shelves jammed with nickel-off Twinkies, fluorescent-colored Velcro sneakers, and every bit of assorted, knock-off flotsam and jetsam you can imagine?

If there ever was a time to stand up, you defenders of SLO, now is the time.

I’m specifically talking to all you people who killed the Dalidio project, which would have brought a creative, elegant shopping experience to town instead of the likes of extreme capitalism we face now.

And don’t let little details like the fact that a store is already there and already zoned for retail and whatnot.

Get out there, even if it means you have to chain your bodies around Gottschalks like you’re Greenpeace and it’s a giant sequoia and the smiley-faced Wal-Mart trucks are the evil loggers.

Yes, I just equated the Gottschalks building to a sequoia, because in San Luis Obispo, that kind of space is about as rare.

Yes, it has come to this.

P.S. If you’re wondering what the significance of the photo is, it’s from a 2004 protest against Wal-Mart building a store in Teotihuacan, Mexico, within view of the famed Temple of the Sun pyramid. The character is asking on which pyramid the Wal-Mart will be located.

McClatchy Tribune photo

May 12

These are the real Cal Poly ballers

For some reason, most of the really big attention given to Cal Poly sports teams
goes to football and men’s basketball.

Sometimes it’s deserved, like for the football team this past year.

Sometimes it’s not, like for this year’s basketball squad, which managed to not even qualify for the conference tournament thanks to an embarrassing last-place finish, the Big West basketball tournament being like the NHL playoffs. Everyone and their grandma makes it in. If you somehow don’t, you’re really, really not good.

Anyhow, even if these teams perform beyond our wildest dreams and make it to the post-season, they’ll never win the biggest of big NCAA enchiladas, because the football Mustangs play in the second-tier FCS and can never, you know, play USC for the true national championship, while the basketball Mustangs come from a Cal State school in San Luis Obispo where the sun shines too darn much for anyone to want to play sports indoors that much.

Final Four, here we don’t come.

This, however, is not the case with the baseball and softball teams, who, if you haven’t noticed, are putting together quite the impressive pair of seasons, AND at the top collegiate Division 1 level.


Just this past weekend, the softball Mustangs wrapped up their season with a lofty 39-10 record and a Big West Conference title, earning them their second trip to the NCCA tournament in three years. If you got a chance to make it out to a home game this season, you likely witnessed some major domination of the opposition. They lost but one game at Bob Janssen Field all year and at one point were 14-0 at home.

The baseball team, meanwhile, improved its record to 33-15 by salvaging the final game of a three-game series against Cal State Fullofitself and is now ranked No. 18 in the nation by Baseball America. With a strong push in the final two weeks, they could earn their first-ever bid to the Division 1 baseball tournament.

What that means is, when (for the softball team) and if (for the baseball team, cross your fingers) they go to the 2009 NCAA playoffs, our Mustangs will be in the fields competing to be No. 1 in the nation — no conditions, no exceptions, the best, bar none.

That’s pretty damn cool.

Plus, it further solidifies both programs as rising forces in their respective sports. And why sh  ouldn’t some of the best baseball and softball in the country be played at the top-pedigreed university in the CSU system?

What does Fullofitself have that we don’t (except those national championship banners)?

If you still need a re  ason to cheer, do so because baseball (and softball, by relation) is the national pastime and the greatest sport ever created, and if you don’t think so, you’re un-American, like one step up from the Taliban.

So there.  

Now get out and support our teams.

 Tribune photos by Joe Johnston (top) and Jayson Mellom (bottom)

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