A Bloody Summer In San Jose

San Jose Mercury News

I’m not sure if San Jose is turning into the Old West or the next Oakland with seven people murdered—some in broad daylight—in the past week. The 31st homicide took place last night with a stabbing inside a Safeway on Story Road. Even when I lived in downtown San Jose during my college years in the 1990’s, where the most violet incident was a blotched robbery that ended with the getaway driver accidentally shot himself in the foot with a shotgun and crashed the car into a telephone pole, this violent trend has been unprecedented.

Most of the homicides took place on the East Side of San Jose, which my late mother called “the wrong side of the railroad tracks” (the North-South lines that runs parallel to Monterey Road) and journalist Geraldo Rivera once called “the ghetto side of town” on national TV. This is where the gang bangers, poor and immigrant families can be found. Ten of the homicides are suspected to be gang-related and the gang prevention task force has been mobilized.

My neighborhood in the San Jose City College area was peaceful with no homicides. (The 2012 homicide map shows an empty space below the 280 and between the 17 and the 87 in the lower left corner.) When I moved into my apartment complex seven years ago, I reported every incident of gang graffiti, suspicious teenagers hanging out in the carports and the theft of my car antenna. Gang bangers have never established a foothold here. A killing under the golden arches last year was literally around the corner and the closest murder to my home.

Why the sudden up tick in shootings? Gang members could be earning their street creds by killing each other (not necessarily a bad thing). The understaffing of police officers due to recent budget cuts have left patrols stretched thin throughout the city. Prisoners being moved from the state prisons to the county jails to relieve overcrowding under court order, which in turn forces the early release of criminals back into the community. Or it could be a statistical fluke where everything happens at once for no particular reason.

Anyway, whatever the reason, the 2011 record for 39 homicides will soon be broken if this violent trend continues unabated.

Shredding The Papers Of My Late Father’s Life

After my father died from lung cancer three months ago, I went up to Sacramento County to clean out his trailer home before putting it into storage. Seven boxes of nick-knacks, dishes and paperwork was brought back to Silicon Valley. I very much wanted to put the boxes into my storage unit to avoid dealing with the papers of my father’s life. But something important might lie somewhere in this mess. I finally went through all the boxes and found some surprises.

When my father retired at the age of 59-1/2-years-old in 1995, he expected to die soon thereafter as his older brothers keeled over after turning sixty. Death didn’t claim him for another 17 years, outliving my mother by eight years after she died from breast cancer in 2004. Needless to say, he kept every piece of paper that Kaiser Permanente ever sent him. Some of this paperwork was downright scary: bills, test results and whatever “disease of the month” you’re likely to get as a senior citizen.

My father kept his adult children in the dark about all the medical treatments he was getting for his various forms of cancer. We might have done something if we had known what was going on. Some of his routine procedures weren’t that routine or minor as he claimed. I came across a picture that showed an oval-shaped piece of skin flap removed from the side of his face to scrape out the skin cancer. The surgeon did such a great job at putting the skin flap back in that there was no scarring to make it visible. That picture went straight into the shredder.

A thick folder documented a neighbor lady stealing a box of checks out of his mailbox in 2006. Despite informing Wells Fargo Bank that his checks were stolen, the bank paid out a half-dozen checks written to various local businesses. A pizza parlor even made a photocopy of the forged check and the woman’s driver license, which the bill collector sent as proof that my father owed the money. No clue as to whatever happened to the woman. My father spent six months fighting off bill collectors.

I wasn’t surprised that Wells Fargo let this nonsense happen. After I got the death certificate in late May, I closed out my father’s accounts before the end of the month. The pension fund claimed that I had an unauthorized payment and wanted the money paid back. I sent a copy of the bank statement that proved that no transactions took place after the accounts were closed. The pension fund insisted that I have the money since the bank told them that the deposit went through. I think the bank kept the money. This issue is still unresolved.

The most surprising item was a state identification card for my mother. She had never learned how to drive after plowing her father’s Caddie into a telephone pole on her first driving lesson. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, even my mother had to be street legal.

GOP 2012 Convention Supports Strip Clubs

When Republicans hit Tampa, Florida, for their 2012 presidential convention in late August, they will drop their hard earned money on the strip clubs, spending three times more than Democrats—$150 USD vs. $50 USD, respectively—for lap dances. According to one club owner, the biggest spenders were from the Christian evangelical  groups like the Promise Keepers.

This isn’t surprising. When you’re in the business of telling people how to live, the rules applies everyone else—except you, of course. While everyone else has to live the straight and narrow Christian life, you can end a long night at the convention by blowing your money at the strip clubs and maybe bringing back a sweet young thing to your hotel room. These are small businesses and less fortunate women who need the financial support that a big convention brings to town. If there anything that Republicans support, it’s business and hypocrisy.

Remember Senator Larry Craig? The Republican from Idaho got arrested for picking up an uncover cop for gay sex in an Minneapolis airport bathroom. Now he’s claiming that he was on official Senate business in the bathroom to avoid being busted by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for using campaign funds to defend himself in court. (He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.) In particular, he was traveling from Idaho to Washington when he inadvertently foot tapped himself into a sex sting operation.

The Republican Party of California is on the verge of becoming a minor—if not, entirely third-rate—political party. The southern strategy that put Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan from California into the White House doesn’t work anymore. Being holier than thou and far-right of Barry Goldwater isn’t popular here since white folks are now the minority. The Democrats can bankrupt the state government and California can slide into the Pacific Ocean after an earthquake, but no one will remember the Republican Party.

Perhaps Professor Arnold Schwarzenegger can help the Republicans become a moderate political party—or bang the maid without having a love child.

Young Children Out Late At A Batman Shooting

Among the victims killed at the midnight showing of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rising” in Aurora, Colorado, were a three-month-old baby and a six-year-old boy. A father lost track of his four-month-old son while escaping the mayhem, only to discover later that the mother had picked up the baby while shot in the leg. What were those parents thinking when they took their young children out in public after midnight when the entire family should have been in bed at home? I sometimes wonder if bad parenting is a bigger threat to our children than gun violence at the movie theater.

When I worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), the QA team saw the first matinee showing of “The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King” at the AMC 20 Mercado when on opening days. Along with people from several other nearby tech companies, hardly anyone attended the first showing. This was a remarkable contrast when the entire company—still Accolade back then—spent the entire day to see “Star Wars Episode: The Phantom Menace” at the Century 22, where the HR girls handed out cold drinks to everyone in line as we waited for hours to see the first showing.

I noticed a young father barely out of high school with his baby daughter sitting behind me inside the theater. He smiled back at me at he nervously ate his popcorn, as if he knew he was doing something wrong. Although I’m not a parent, I knew he was doing something wrong. LOTR was never meant for children, especially with the horrific battle scenes between the forces of good and evil that dominated the third movie. This wouldn’t end well.

The little girl responded with glee to the My Little Pony toy commercial and paid no attention to the trailers that preceded the movie. Once the movie started, she became very quiet as her father ate the popcorn faster. The movie opened with the origin story of Gollum as a hobbit who came in possession of the One Ring, sitting down at the river and holding a caught fish. A screen-wide mouth with ugly teeth appeared, biting into the fish and ripping the flesh to shreds. A loud wail ripped through the theater before the crying started in earnest with lush wails.

I didn’t need to look back to see the father spilling his popcorn and hustling his kid out the door. They were soon forgotten as the LOTR theme song overwhelmed the theater. Needless to say, he didn’t get to see the movie that morning. Too bad he wasn’t charged with child abuse. Too bad the parents who take their young children to a midnight movie weren’t charged with child abuse as well. Maybe a stay in the pokey would put some commonsense back into them about raising children.

The Jungle Bird Saga Continues

After appearing at the U.S. Open with his signature bird call to protest deforestation, Andrew “Jungle Bird” Dudley apologizes for what happened in a CNN interview.


He was also interviewed at 99designs in San Francisco, which is running a logo design contest for Jungle Bird.


British Drunkenness On USA TV Wasn’t A Crime

If you’re plastered at the U.S. Open golf tournament in San Francisco while wearing a British stocking cap and making bird calls before an American TV audience, it helps to be British with a slight resemblance to Simon Pegg. According to SFPD spokesman, public drunkenness wasn’t a crime since Andrew “Jungle Bird” Dudley had a ticket to be there. Only in San Francisco does that kind of wanker logic makes sense.


Obsessive Lego Behavior In Silicon Valley

Some of the most obsessive people in Silicon Valley are the toy collectors who stock their cubes with hundreds of Star Trek or Star Wars action figures that cover every square inch of counter space. These people appear normal if they were away from their cubes, often holding important positions within a company. But once they sit down in their cubicles to be surrounded by hundreds of adoring action figures like a messianic cult leader, they are no longer normal people.

One Silicon Valley executive took this obsession too far by slapping fake bar codes on Lego toys to buy them at a steep discount from Target stores to sell on eBay, making $30,000 USD in the last year.

Thomas Langenbach, a vice president at the software company SAP Labs in Palo Alto, crafted fake bar codes and pasted them over the real thing on Lego packages in Target stores, Santa Clara County prosecutors said. The fakes gave Langenbach a steep discount, prosecutors said.

After purchasing the Legos, Langenbach allegedly sold them for a profit on eBay. At least some of the Legos were valuable collectors items featuring “Star Wars” characters, prosecutors said.

Hundreds of unopened Lego boxes were found in Langenbach’s San Carlos home, authorities said.

If this schmuck was any smarter, he would be hustling company equipment out the back door to sell on eBay. Less likely to be caught that way as most Silicon Valley companies are more concern about intellectual property being stolen by their workers.

When I was a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), an action figure disappeared from the desk of a PR flack. An angry email was sent out to everyone that challenged the thief to steal the red cape that went along with that particular action figure. A few hours later, the red cape was gone. The PR flack went so far as to install motion-controlled cameras inside his cube. The thief was never caught. Naturally, the testers were blamed for this. When the PR department moved down to Southern California, so did the thief as the action figures kept disappearing.

On a related note, the Shaun of The Dead pub set got the 10,000 votes to be considered by Lego (good news), but Lego shot down the proposal because the content wasn’t age appropriate for young children (bad news). Lego obviously doesn’t understand the obsession nature of the adults who buy Legos for their children—and themselves.


The Shakedown Behind The DOJ Apple/Publisher eBook Antitrust Lawsuit

The Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and the major publishers for conspiring to force Amazon to sell ebooks at higher price points than $9.99 USD. This is ironic—and moronic—for several reasons.

Until Apple introduced the agency model for letting publishers set their own ebook prices and keeping 70% of each sale, Amazon had a 90% market share as it sold the bestsellers as lost leaders to sell more Kindle devices and the publishers kept 35% of each sale. After those changes went into effect, Amazon’s market share dropped to 60% as Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony and other ebook retailers expanded their market share.

The DOJ may have a better antitrust case against the publishers for maintaining higher ebook prices than it does against Apple. The publishers are still stuck in the traditional brick-and-mortar world of printed books. If the ebook price of a new printed book is substantially less, the consumers will favor the cheaper alternative. Higher ebook prices are necessary to maintain an unsustainable business model.

Why does the ebook version of a 50-year-old science fiction novel, “Starship Troopers” by Robert A. Heinlein, have to be priced at $9.99 USD like a premium paperback?

But the antitrust lawsuit isn’t really about ebook prices. It’s about Apple sitting on $100-billion-dollar in cash reserve and not sharing the wealth with the Washington lobbyists, who in turn wine and dine the political establishment.

The DOJ Shakedown

When Microsoft had a multi-billion-dollar cash reserves, it spent nothing on lobbyists. After the DOJ filed the antitrust lawsuit in 1998, Microsoft spent millions of dollars each year on lobbyists thereafter. The antitrust lawsuit failed to quash Microsoft’s twin monopoly in operating systems and office suites, but it was a significant boon for Washington lobbyists.

As Silicon Valley companies acquire huge market share and cash reserves, they have to spend more money on Washington lobbyists as the DOJ and other regulatory agencies threaten various legal actions, and entertain presidential candidates when they stomp through Silicon Valley for campaign fundraisers. As Willie Sutton once said about banks, it’s where the money is.

If that wasn’t ironic enough, lobbyists are complaining about a new rule that would prevent them from wining and dining the two million federal workers who are not politicians but often wield indirect influence on the government.

Investigate Amazon

Being a writer who publishes ebook, the antitrust lawsuit is a concern but doesn’t impact me as my short story and essay ebooks are priced from $0.99 USD to $2.99 USD. I doubt I will ever put out an ebook priced at $9.99 USD or higher .

Like many things in life, I have the opposite problem. When I released my writing blog compilation ebook, I priced it at $0.99 USD on Amazon and, because it was listed for FREE on Smashwords, there was a “technical glitch” regarding the pricing info that made it unavailable. I subsequently had to unpublished the ebook from Amazon.

If the DOJ wants to get serious about ebook prices, they should investigate Amazon for stifling FREE ebooks.

UPDATED 04/16/2012 — Looked like it was a technical glitch. My writing blog compilation ebook is available at Amazon—for $0.99 USD. I’m pestering them to make it free. Probably won’t happen until the ebook appears on the Smashwords third-party distribution network (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, etc.).

Essay eBook Excerpt: The 1970’s Hells Angels

This is an excerpt from my new 3,635-word essay ebook, “Death At A Hell’s Angels’ Funeral: Driving Past The Memories,” now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

One evening, not long after my brother moved out to get married and start his family, my parents and I noticed the sheriff cruisers zipping past the huge picture window of our living room, dome lights flashing and sirens blaring. We wandered outside with the rest of the neighborhood to see what the commotion was about.

The cruisers formed a half-circle in front of the two-story house that the Hell’s Angels were renting down the street, where the front lawn had gone to seed and motorcycles filled the driveway. The deputies took up position behind their cruisers with pistols and shotguns drawn. The deputy-in-charge held a bullhorn in one hand while the other hand rested on his holstered pistol, shouting for the Hell’s Angels to come out or else. The expectation for violence was high, but not from the Hell’s Angels. The deputies were eager to crack some skulls while making lawful arrests under a court warrant.

Five men came out to form a line on the dead grass in front of the house. They were big guys with motorcycle tattoos on their arms, sweat-stained T-shirts covering their big beer bellies, and torn blue jeans tucked into knee-high motorcycle boots. Some looked like Vikings with their long, braided beards. One guy looked like Glen Hughes, the original biker from the Village People disco band, sporting a horseshoe mustache and long sideburns, and ready to break out in the YMCA song. But they didn’t put up their hands as the deputy demanded. With the deliberate cockiness of being outlaws, they unzipped their pants, hauled out their man handles and urinated on the parched dead grass.

The deputies, pissed off by the long-haired motorcycle freaks, holstered their weapons to tackle the Hell’s Angels to the ground and brutally beat them with their night sticks. At that point, my mother brought me back into the house before I could witness the bloody result of law enforcement in action.

I recalled the bright lights of a TV news crew on the opposite end of the street, which may explain why I remembered the incident so vividly even though I was too far away to see it. The violent arrest of Hell’s Angels made the evening newscast. If the Internet and YouTube were available back then, what happened next would have gone “viral” for everyone to see. I don’t recall if anyone screamed police brutality or the news anchor regarded it as business as usual as someone getting a jaywalking citation. The justification for this raid was that the Hell’s Angels were involved with fencing stolen merchandise, which was probably true among the many other things that they were commonly accused of.

Other than that, they were good neighbors and didn’t really bother anyone during their brief stay. Although their drunken fist fights occasionally spilled out on to the front yard, where the dead grass soaked up the blood and the neighborhood got free entertainment. My mother—probably all the mothers in the neighborhood—made sure we walked on the opposite side of the street when heading out to the stores. Just to be on the safe side.