Fighting words: almonds, vaccines

When I picked up the Bee the other day, I was greeted by front-page articles providing space to advocates of more almond orchards in drought-plagued California and to zealots asserting a right to refuse to vaccinate their children.

In the privacy of my own home, I aired my intolerance toward agricultural enterprises that grab water every which way to keep their insatiable trees blooming as well as toward parents who prefer to embrace communally risky personal beliefs over science-based evidence.

After a pause to let the darkness spread over the kitchen table, I suggested perversely that I preferred the logic of greed to the promotion of ignorance. Farmers want to plant the most profitable crops they can and know they have the political clout to keep their orchards going. Repugnant as that is, this stance is a straightforward disregard for the common good.

The anti-vaccine zealots, by contrast, assert the primacy of their personal or religious beliefs over scientific evidence that has established the safety and benefits of vaccination for children. They believe what they want to believe because it fits into their world view. You can forget about invoking facts and evidence when you wander down the dark corridors of emotionally based beliefs.

In a Sunday New York Times article, T.M. Luhrmann, an anthropology professor at Stanford, reports that “a broad group of scholars is beginning to demonstrate that religious belief and factual belief are indeed different kinds of mental creatures. People process evidence differently when they think with a factual mind-set rather than with a religious mind-set.”  

Scholars have determined that people don’t use rational, instrumental reasoning when they deal with religious beliefs, Luhrmann writes. They have found that “when people consider the truth of a religious belief, what the belief does for their lives matters more than, well, the facts.”

The Bee presented such an example this morning in a story noting that Senate Bill 277, which would eliminate the state’s personal belief exemption for vaccines, would exclude religious beliefs in the process. Hayward resident Nick Johansen, who arrived at the Capitol carrying a Bible, argued that the government shouldn’t place science over his faith in God. “I have seen God’s miracles,” he told the Bee.

So what? I ask myself. Miracles are an erratic basis for state policy on the health and safety of the state’s children and adults.  Vaccines have been proven safe and effective for years for those willing to look at the facts.  

One hopes our politicians in the state Legislature will see that mandatory vaccination of schoolchildren isn’t an issue where compromise is possible. You can’t split the difference between knowledge and ignorance.



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How about common sense and straight talk?

Here are a couple of things to ponder: pro basketball players who hang around trouble-prone nightspots and a “world-renowned” hotel chain coming to Sacramento.

For starters, we have Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha getting a fractured leg outside a New York nightclub in an early-morning incident in which Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland suffered knife wounds to the abdomen and elbow.

Sefolosha and teammate Pero Antic were both arrested. Sefolosha was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct.

A video shows a police officer swinging a baton at Sefolosha, but it unclear exactly what happened. Sefolosha contends the cops caused the leg injury that will force him to miss the playoffs.

In a Bee sports column today, writer Vic Contreras commented: “Perhaps if Sefolosha and teammate Pero Antic weren’t at a nightclub known for trouble at 4 a.m., the injury wouldn’t have happened.”

Sure, I hope there’s an investigation and police accountability examined. But I agree with Contreras. Hanging around places like that is a near occasion of sin. When I mentioned the incident to my wife, she said, echoing her mother’s wisdom, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” It never hurts to use a little common sense.

But then I reflected on my attitude and thought: Maybe that’s a guy thing. I doubt any columnist these days would suggest that a woman who got drunk at a fraternity party and was sexually assaulted should have steered clear of trouble. That would be blaming the victim, right? What’s poor judgment have to do with anything?


In yesterday’s Bee, I saw a headline that said: “Upscale  chain to operate Kings’ downtown hotel.” The subhead was “Kimpton known for luxury, style.”

“Securing a world-renowned brand like Kimpton builds momentum for the project and the entire Sacramento region,” said Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadive.

Further along, the story talked about Kimpton’s “boutique” hotels stocked with “posh” amenities and located in “fashionable” areas.

I’m sure longtime Sacramentans have trouble envisioning downtown as ever being “fashionable,” even tricked out with an $8 million Koons sculpture and a hotel dealing in “posh” amenities. But Ranadive likes to gush in hyper-inflated language, and the Bee likes to play along with him.

More objective sources described the Kimpton hotels, which go by a variety of names, as good four-star establishments (as opposed to five-star ones like Trump Towers in New York) that are stylish, or even funky, with a warm, attentive atmosphere and responsiveness to guests’ needs. They have long been considered gay friendly. In addition, travelers with pets are welcomed.

Kimpton’s rates seem reasonable in the world of four-star hotels. The Kimpton-owned Monaco Hotel in Salt Lake City was charging $249 for a room tonight. At The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento, a single room at the boutique hotel could also be had for $249.

The Kings’ selection of the Kimpton chain seems far more appropriate to our city than their choice in public art, but Ranadive’s hyped-up language plays about as well as his team.

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How not to recover from a business mess

What do Bonney Plumbing of Sacramento and Rolling Stone magazine have in common? Both businesses have bosses that seem to be tone deaf about how their nasty messes play out in the public eye.

Let’s start with Bonney Plumbing, a big Sacramento contractor that likes to advertise how much it cares about our community and that has its name attached to a minor league soccer stadium. Bonney has been fined $12,000 and hit with six citations as part of a settlement with the Contractors State License Board. The board had accused Bonney of overcharging customers, failing to pull required permits and misrepresenting work, the Bee reported Saturday. The company, which employs several hundred workers, narrowly avoided losing its business licenses.

Making the matter particularly repugnant was this fact: The contractors board’s charges revolved around four customers, all in their 80s and 90s.

In one example cited by the Bee, the state said Margorie McCandless, 94, of Sacramento was dramatically overcharged for a new water heater, drain and other products during two service calls in 2012. She paid a total of $6,191 for the work; the state’s expert witness said the goods and services were probably worth about $2,400.

I like to think there’s a special circle in hell reserved for smooth-talking people who take advantage of the elderly, perhaps adjacent to the one for abusers of children.  In any event, I would think a company dealing with such a repugnant mess would strike its heartless breast three times while crying “mea culpa” and praying for forgiveness.

Instead, Bonney’s chief executive, Jimmy Crabbe,  who bought into the company three years ago, but was not running it when the complaints were made in 2012 and 2013, goes on the offensive.

“We never felt like we were overcharging,” Crabbe told the Bee in an interview. And besides, he said, the accusations represented a tiny slice of Bonney’s customer base. “We have a customer satisfaction rate of 87 percent, which tells us we’re doing something right.”

Four elderly people in the Sacramento area – and a lot of newspaper readers – might not be inclined to look on the bright side that Crabbe sees.

At Rolling Stone, longtime publisher Jan Wenner has decided to retain the reporter and key editors who brought shame on the magazine with a story about a purported fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia. Although Rolling Stone retracted the story, Wenner decided that Sabrina Rubin Erdely and her editors had blundered unintentionally. Wenner even suggested that Erdely has been led astray by “a really expert fabulist storyteller.”

Erdely apologized to Rolling Stone’s readers, her colleagues and “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.” She did not see a need to apologize to the fraternity and the university whose reputations she besmirched.

A lengthy report done by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and commissioned by Rolling Stone said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the ordeal that the magazine’s source described to the writer.

Wenner undermines the credibility of Rolling Stone and journalism in general by failing to reinforce long-established journalistic principles of fair play, balance and fairness and hold his staff accountable.

These days, I’m inclined to pick up a copy of Rolling Stone about as much as I am to hire Bonney Plumbing.

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Old wood paneling poses knotty problem


The mounted smallmouth bass and trout adorning the knotty pine paneling were caught by my father in the 1930s.


As homeowners know, when you upgrade one thing, other things begin to look faded and worn.

Last summer, I replaced three of the casement windows in the large upstairs room I use as a study. I did this for the sheer pleasure of having windows that actually opened. In February, I replaced the rest of them and painted the small bathroom a striking lime green.

For the past week, I’ve been pondering what to do about the knotty pine paneling that was installed about 50 years ago when an upstairs room was added to my Land Park home in Sacramento. I had been in selective-avoidance mode for a long time, and when I started looking closely, I saw the wood had a lot of dings and blemishes.

In checking the Internet for guidance, I discovered a strong division of opinion about the knotty-pine look. Some think it’s warm, wonderful and rustic; others think it has lost whatever appeal it had in the 1950s and ‘60s and will never make a comeback. These folks suggest painting over the wood or tearing it out and going back to the original walls.

I prefer to keep the wood look and felt mildly encouraged when I consulted several websites for guidance. They listed a mere six to eight steps for restoring knotty pine to its youthful luster. The starting point was to remove the old varnish by chemical stripping or sanding.

With advancing age, I’ve encouraged myself to tackle more do-it-yourself chores. Still, I couldn’t imagine applying toxic stripper to some 300 square feet of wood paneling in an enclosed space – even with windows that opened. Sanding seemed doable if I invested in the proper tools. I read Home Depot’s guide to the exciting world of electric sanders and concluded I would need a hand-held orbital sander and a detail sander. In a burst of enthusiasm, I bought them.

As I drove home, my enthusiasm gave way to negativity. The size and detail work involved began to seem daunting, even with my ever-improving patience level. Then I started wondering whether old varnish was like paint from decades ago – filled with lead that could be hazardous to my health. Even though the sanders had catch bags, I imagined a lot of particulate matter would get into the air. I berated myself for not checking first.

At home, I quickly learned through online research that I might be risking lead poisoning. I mentioned this setback to my wife, who said she had warned me a week before of the danger. How could I not remember that conversation? Hmmm ….

For now, I’m going to continue the room-improvement campaign by repainting the ceiling. I’ll see how the knotty pine looks after that. Or maybe I’ll return to selective avoidance. With an old house, that’s often wise.

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Wild words on public subsidies for sports arenas

Far out, man!

That’s my throwback reaction to this morning’s editorial in the Sacramento Bee bearing this headline: “Ditch tax break for pro arenas/ Obama’s budget would end subsidy.”

The headline is so preposterous coming from the Bee that I thought it might be a late April Fools’ joke. This is the same newspaper that led the cheerleading for a huge public subsidy to help build a downtown arena for the Kings and their wealthy owners.

And this is the same newspaper that rationalized and minimized the denial of a public vote in the matter by a devious mayor and his City Council allies. Those folks knew the public had soundly rejected the use of public money for an arena back in 2006 and would do so again.

Despite these facts, the Bee’s editorial writers are calling for politicians in Washington to end a federal tax-code provision that benefits major league sports teams and their rich owners.This big-league subsidy comes in the form of tax-exempt municipal bonds, the editorial says.  The bonds are commonly used by state and local governments to help front the cost of new arenas and stadiums, even when those buildings are going to be owned or controlled by private interests. The effect is to reduce the borrowing costs for the team owners.

The Bee comes to several astounding realizations about public subsidies for sports arenas and stadiums: they reflect a transfer of money from the nation’s poorest citizens to some of the wealthiest, and they undermine the concept of a level-playing field because the benefits go to a few well-organized and well-funded interests that wield outsized influence with the decision-makers.

Far out, man! Can you imagine those things happening in Sacramento? Yes, I can, because they have happened, partly because of the Bee’s cheerleading, and because they will again if the power-brokers pushing for a soccer stadium in the old railyard downtown get any traction. Sure, they say the stadium will be privately funded, but keep your ear to the ground and you can hear the faint rumbling of the public-subsidy train again coming our way.

I’m all in favor of Obama’s call to end the federal tax break for sports team owners, but I wish the Bee had kept its mouth shut on this subject. You shouldn’t eat your cake at home and condemn the indulgence of fat cats elsewhere. It looks a tad hypocritical and undermines journalistic credibility.

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