pigs_fly

Today, the local public health department confirmed two new cases of the swine flu to hit Ventura County.

And the U.S. FDA, despite working “at 100 miles an hour,” according to one of its researchers quoted in the L.A. Times, won’t have an effective vaccine for the deadly flu for at least a few months.

Yet considering science’s feverish pace, other specialists in the field are saying that this dreading outbreak of the H1N1 virus isn’t all that deadly.

One scientist at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis says this new strain of swine flu, which has already killed a 2-year-old in Texas, won’t come anywhere near the 50-million-plus fatality rate brought down by the nation’s 1918 pandemic.

Still, as history tells us, any major catastrophic event is bound to bring out the most implausible of conspiracy theories from people who think they’re “in the know” about the government’s evil ways.

Swine flu hasn’t been spared from being cooked into bacon by theorists across the country, and the Times today printed excerpts from some more noted conspiracy Web sites. Predictably, the majority surmised that the outbreak is at the hands of a U.S. government looking to strike fear into the hearts of Americans.

The flu, they say, was most likely concocted in some top secret underground lab and released into the world, not unlike what has been said for years about, for example, the HIV virus — that it was premeditated and planned.

Another opinion theorized that it was the nation’s largest pork producer which unleashed the flu onto an unsuspecting public — and oddly, its own customers.

Even more theories, surprisingly, back up the St. Jude’s theory about the flu’s low prevalence. Yet they also claim it’s all a ruse by pharmaceutical companies to get people to buy more medicines from them.

A lot of conspiracy theories, especially in light of events like 9/11, have ranged from the most intelligent dissections, to the downright ridiculous. Frankly, I don’t know if any of these knee-jerk theories are true … and blaming the government is such a George Bush-era thing to do.

Next we’ll hear that a band of Martians landed one evening and infected the pigs of the world with a strange alien virus.

I’ll believe that one … when pigs fly.

I think it’s true that people often find themselves living vicariously through the lyrical magic of song, transported to places deep down in the heart made impossible without the aid of music.

Why is it, then, that I find myself humming Journey’s “Lights” over and over this morning? Simply, because that most ultimate of power ballads transports me to a place deep down in my lungs … namely, San Francisco, where the air is clean, fresh, and smog-free.

So says the American Lung Association in their annual “State of the Air” report card. Frisco, as well as places like Santa Cruz, Napa, and other regions in the northern section of California, received an “A” grade this week, meaning they carry a spotless air quality free of bad ozone particulates, pollution and carcinogenic bad stuff.

The spitting mirror image of this blissful oxygen haven, according to the ALA, is none other than Ventura County. We received a big, stinking “F” in our grading of ozone quality.

That means there’s a lot of smog in the air, which is formed when pollutant particles mix with the atmosphere. One example is something we reported on last week: the use of pesticides contributes to smog formation.

It’s really no surprise, actually. Los Angeles, just an hour away, is the smog capital of the world. Yet in an ironic twist, the VC got a “C” grade in particle pollution, beating out San Francisco County’s grade of … guess what? An “F.” It’s baffling that Santa Barbara County, no more than 20 minutes away, earned an “A” in the same category.

I can’t help but think if Steve Perry & Co. wrote “Lights” about Ventura County, it’d go something like, “When the lights go down in the city, and the smog hangs on the bay.”

The headline of this blog posting reveals the answer, but I’m going to ask the question anyway …

What do Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey, the Mount Redoubt volcano and the Thousand Oaks Police Department have in common?

Give up? They’ve all jumped on the techno-bandwagon known as Twittering.

Twitter, for the uninitiated, is another form of online social networking which allows users to log onto the Web and post immediate, short blurb phrases updating the curious to what they’re doing right at this very moment.

For instance, “I’m eating a sandwich.” Or, “Feeling lucky today.” Or, “On Cloud 9 because it’s payday.”

I had heard of Twitter before. Like MySpace, Facebook, and every other Web site of its ilk, it’s been around for a good amount of time. But it seems like just in the past week has everyone and their grandmother decided that Twitter is the best thing since sliced bread.

Not a day has gone by this week that I haven’t heard of somebody jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. Why now?

I could excuse celebrities like Kutcher or Oprah for their impulsive ways to try and stay hip and current in the public’s eye. But when local police departments join in, it makes me wonder.

Is T.O. looking to somehow better their law enforcement techniques through Twitter, or are they just looking for some Hollywood-style publicity, too?

This morning, T.O. Police “tweeted” a traffic update. According to a press release from them, the department used the site to announce their “Tip-A-Cop” program in correspondence with an incident at a local restaurant.

So, in this case, it could work for enacting justice across the land.

What I still don’t get is the increasing narcissism I see among the Internet community. Hell, even Mount Redoubt, an Alaskan volcano, has its own Twitter account, letting people know when it might erupt!

I can remember just a decade ago when the WWW was a nifty little tool nobody expected to change the way we connect. Speaking as an Internet enthusiast, it’s still too bad that it’s too often become a tool for short-attention-spanning, self-absorption.

Some colleagues of mine have predicted that while the Internet boom will still evolve, the allure of instant social networking will quiet down and level off to a mere tweet.

Officials in Oxnard seem to be under a good influence from leaders in the City of Ventura who’ve been dedicated to curbing the homeless problem plighting many a person in our good city.

Now I just wish that the rest of everyone in the county with a roof over their head would get a clue and cultivate a bit more sensitivity to the local homeless community.

What’s appalled and shocked me this week is the online backlash against the Oxnard City Council’s decision to spend $1.1 million in stimulus funds for homeless prevention and re-housing efforts, for those without a home in the city limits.

Comments on the Web site that originally carried the story have ranged from prejudiced, snide remarks, to the most selfish retorts. Most have weighed in that they want the stimulus dollars for themselves; and that the homeless shouldn’t get the money because, as we all know, they appreciate nothing but a free handout, right?

Wrong.

To say that the lives they lead is rough, is one of the biggest understatements one could make about the many downsides of modern American culture.

I’ve met and interviewed several homeless people in Ventura, and I’m not making all of them out to be saintly … but they could use all the help they can get.

Some of the big offenders:

“Great. More ‘compassionate’ dollars for mooching weasels who won’t stop abusing drugs and alcohol and prefer that lifestyle.”

“Excellent … one more group of non-taxpaying moochers I get to pay for.”

And a token positive comment in support of the city council:

“You are all so pissed off at the Homeless who are far worse off than any of you sitting at your computer.”

Show some personal responsibility, people, and get yourselves out of your own financial messes you’ve created by being careless with your money … and just be thankful you’ve got a home.

It’s a lot more than others can lay claim to.

In the respect that “Fill more” could be taken as a sharp directive, local leaders (or what’s left of them) would do best to start seeking replacements for the now-four city workers to abandon their posts in 2009, an exodus like Ventura County hasn’t seen for a long time.

When Barbara Smith, Fillmore’s finance director and assistant city manager, stated this week her decision to retire, she hinted at her unhappiness with the current makeup of the city council and mayor, which may come as no surprise to anyone working in the government center of the tiny enclave: three other top-ranking officials left for basically the same reasons.

Some of Smith’s qualms involved concern over the increasing number of closed-door meetings between council members, and the overall unpleasant environment city hall has become.

It becomes a real shame in these incidences because, like newspapers, institutional knowledge gained while holding a post is key to advancing at a job. Smith had worked for the city for 23 years; but like a veteran newsman who spent decades on the beat reporting and editing, once they leave, no amount of seasoned past experience in a new employee can replace the expertise and know-how gained in a particular institution by the person who just left. It’s an even worse shame when the person leaves in a disgruntled state on not the best of terms.

There was a comment made on a Web site that provided some coverage on the news:

“The sad part is that the exodus of experienced city leaders on this scale will only hurt the community and be a setback. They will be replaced by inexperienced people who have noone to train them.”

And in 2009, with this economy, is when the community needs its city leaders the most.

Around the 30th anniversary to mark publication of “All the President’s Men,” Larry King asked Bob Woodward if he and Carl Bernstein would have been able to topple, through the power of journalism, Nixon’s Watergate scandal today as successfully as they did in 1974.

Woodward said no.

The Internet, combined with 24-hour news services (like King’s own CNN) have made modern audiences more demanding for constant, down-to-the-second news updates. We want to be able to know exactly what the latest is at any given moment.

Hell, yesterday I couldn’t help but keep refreshing my browser, anticipating in bated breath the verdict on Phil Spector’s murder trial. Spector was found guilty, by the way.

Does that mean I’m guilty, too, of falling into the demographic of an impatient news audience, angry if headlines aren’t updated every five minutes?

Woodward said that when he and Bernstein were reporting the Watergate story for the Washington Post, there was no Internet, no cable TV, and essentially no such thing as a constant news update. People had to wait, patiently, for the newspaper to come out each day. If something HUGE broke, everyone was lucky if a late-afternoon or evening “special edition” hit the presses. Woodward and Bernstein had time to craft their stories over the course of days at a time; there was no concept then, said Woodward, to compete with technology for breaking the news.

With all the news-gathering and news-breaking in their hands, Watergate had time to unfold.

It’s been widely argued that the advancement of technology is killing our attention spans, and our ability for patience.The immediacy and convenience of compact discs have replaced the patience we once had to get up and turn over a bulky LP to side 2. Three TV stations were once enough, until cable came along. And cable wasn’t enough when the Internet came along. And so on.

It’s not just attention spans, either. CNN itself published an article today positing that rapid-fire news bulletins, and those social networking tools like Twitter, are also killing off people’s sensitivity to others.

Basically, it says that the brain can’t process all of the information in the quick speed it arrives, and it ultimately begins to destroy our “moral compass.”

“The study raises questions about the emotional cost, particularly for young people, of heavy reliance on a torrent of news snippets delivered via TV and online feeds such as Twitter.”

The story goes on to cite a USC professor:

“Research leader Damasio … said the findings stressed the need for slower delivery of the news, and highlighted the importance of slow-burn emotions like admiration.”

Thank you Woodward and Bernstein … we admire you.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/ptech/04/14/twitter.study/index.html

Remember the movie Dave? Kevin Kline, a dead ringer for the President, is brought in as the chief of staff’s doppelganger and ends up, for the most part, doing a better job at executive decision making than the real guy, fooling everyone in the process.

In one scene, during a round table meeting in the White House, “President” Dave finds a way to conserve some funds by eliminating a federally subsidized marketing team whose sole purpose is to make auto consumers, through pointless advertising, feel better about their new purchases.

Dave’s common sense reasoning: Why pay someone to make you feel good about something you already feel good about?

When it was released, the movie was timely for its reflection on early 1990s, Clinton-era politics and the recession the United States faced then.

Watching it now, it resonates just as well with the fiscal struggles our country is having today.

So why, then, has the Thousand Oaks City Council given the go-ahead to spend over $96,000 to hire a consultant to boost business at The Lakes Shopping Center?

Yesterday, the council voted 4-1 to bring on board members of the Concord Group to help revitalize the immediate Thousand Oaks Boulevard area, where they hope to make the upscale Lakes center more economically viable to residents of T.O. Residents, that is, who are upper middle class at least.

That means people who live in Thousand Oaks have no problem affording the gourmet food and designer wares at the shopping strip with more than enough cash to spare. So why should we hire someone to make them feel that it’s OK to spend money that they’re already spending with abandon?

Now, this may sound bitter on my behalf, but in these economic times of 2009, every penny should be conserved for where it’s needed most. So what if the city’s mayor called it a “sinking hole”? Thousand Oaks is like Beverly Hills relative to Oxnard, which could use $96,000 for gang prevention or infrastructure improvements or environmental protection from slag heaps and toxic emissions. Not feel-good consumerism.

It’s good to know, like on many city councils, there was at least one voice of reason who cast the dissenting vote, and that was Claudia Bill-de la Peña. But it the end, lone votes like de la Pena’s are effective in making a statement on the problem, and not, unfortunately, in what is actually decided upon.

What I’d like to know is: where’s another “Dave” when you need him?

The Lakes shopping center in Thousand Oaks.

The Lakes shopping center in Thousand Oaks.

And what The Collection in Oxnard will look like after completion. Is there more than just a visual resemblance?

And what The Collection in Oxnard will look like after completion. Is there more than just a visual resemblance?

For all the talk lately of the impacts East Ventura will bear from the departure of its Century 16 theater, it kind of seems unsurprising that “The Lakes II” has that whole movie sequel kind of vibe to it.

It was reported today that The Lakes, under its glitzy, high-class sheen that this humble blogger will never afford in his lifetime, could be in trouble with the possible hiring of a consultant on board to amp up business at the echelon Thousand Oaks shopping plaza.

City officials are presumably set to examine if they want a consultant — at a cost of over $95,000 — this week.

I don’t know about you, but with municipal budgets waning all over Ventura County, does the city need to spend that much money on an adviser whose sole job is to find new ways to get people to … well, spend more money?

It’s been echoed by many residents, readers of our paper and others, that shopping at The Lakes is targeted to a demographic far too upper class for Thousand Oaks. T.O., as it’s affectionately called, is no slouch, mind you, in the wealth department; hosts of celebrities call it home, a veritable cashed-out Utopia compared to the likes of the poorer parts of say, Oxnard.

As one person online pointed out, there’s a difference between an annual income of $75,000 to $750,000. I wouldn’t be complaining if I made the former amount, but I don’t know if I could still afford to shop at the likes of a Lakes, which is clearly marketed to the latter.

Which brings me back to Oxnard: how well will The Collection survive? Here’s a gargantuan shopping epicenter unlike any the region has seen: a 50,000-square foot Whole Foods, an REI, and the anchor of the development, Century 16.

Oxnard has the worst crime rate in the county, and some of the lowest income neighborhoods, well, anywhere. Save for The Collection’s manufactured mega-suburb Riverpark, and the odd L.A. weekend shopper, I don’t know if most of Oxnard will be able to afford thinking about shopping at The Collection.

If the quaint Lakes center is in trouble in well-to-do T.O., just imagine how the ginormous Collection will fare in mostly-low-income “The ‘Nard.” Could the shopping center, in five years’ time, meet some similar financial problems as its Thousand Oaks consumer sibling has?

One thing’s for sure, if the economy continues the way it’s been going, we won’t be seeing another sequel in this franchise.