March 29, 2005
Who's the housing obstacle?
An online response to my latest Star essay "Why hide affordability?" from someone who shall remain anonymous because he or she preferred to be identified only as "Anonymous," noted: "Demand 50/70% be affordable. How does that get paid for? More taxes I assume."
I must ask, what part of "buying" an affordable home don't Anonymous and other people understand?
When only 20 percent of the people in the county can afford a home priced at $500,000 or $600,000 or more, does it make sense to have 80 percent of the housing built here starting at those prices? Hardly.
Affordable housing is the kind that people earning the median income in Ventura County currently pegged at $77,400 a year for a family of four can buy, securing a mortgage from a bank that fits in with the amount they want to budget for a home. And the only taxes involved are those the new homeowners pay, the same kind of taxes all other homeowners pays.
Is there a need for housing subsidized by the government? Yes, but that type of housing is not what the debate over affordable housing is about. This is a battle being waged to let those who consider themselves the middle class live in the area in which they work and to buy what should be a long-term investment. In addition, affordable housing is needed to meet the expected growth this county faces. No amount of whining by those who would have theirs and don't want others to get theirs will blunt the fact that growth will occur.
Providing affordable housing can be done. Affordable means foregoing a few amenities no vaulted ceilings, medium-priced appliances, living room but no family room, eating at the table in the kitchen rather than in a formal dining room, a small size on a smaller lot, a condominium rather than a single-family detached unit. Affordable means letting people who buy the house decide when and how they want to upgrade or add on.
Granted, developers like to build the bigger houses with more amenities because they can take a bigger profit on each unit sold. But who should city governments cater to most: The people in the community elected officials serve; or the interests of a business that most likely isn't even located in the county?
To those who continue to equate "affordable" with a "burden on society": Take off the blinders and look in the mirror. You'll see one of the greatest obstacles to ensuring Ventura County remains a wonderful place to live, one in which all needs including the need to preserve some open space are balanced.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 09:02 AM
March 28, 2005
'Indiana Jones and the Vinyl Artifact'
Saturday, I donned my work clothes and went on an archaeological expedition to downtown Ventura. That is, I explored several of the slowly dwindling thrift stores, digging through the cast-off artifacts of American culture and remembering that I'm not as young as I used to be. I found two albums by Loggins and Messina, one of the best-selling rock duos during the ’70s. The clerk — in her teens and looking very much the Goth — picked up the "On Stage (Live)" album, but, unfortunately, the shop hadn't marked the price (50 cents) anywhere.
"What is this?" she asked, turning the album over. "A record?"
Don't let anyone fool you: Age isn't always a state of mind; sometimes it's a ton of bricks that you need to acknowledge. Thankfully, I was able to keep my composure long enough to pay for my purchases, receive my change and walk out of the shop, at which time laughter could no longer be contained.
What else is there to do but laugh when you realize that something that had been as ubiquitous in your youth as pierced body parts, overpriced coffee houses and cell phones are today has as much instant recognition as a pike (a weapon for foot soldiers during medieval times).
Certainly the artifacts of culture change over time. Radios first came as crystal sets, which gave way to tubes, which gave way to transistors, which gave way to iPods and MP3 players, but it's only been a scant dozen years since vinyl records were wrongly declared dead. Yes, they still exist and not just as curiosities in oldies-but-goodies stores. How do you think club DJs create their sounds? They use vinyl records as an instrument. (For an interesting take on why vinyl still matters, check out the FAQs at the United Record Pressing Web site.
I still play my vinyl records from time to time because a lot of great music that exists on vinyl has never been turned into CDs. Songs from the ’70s band Mason Proffitt (its "Two Hangman" should be on everyone's top 10 list) only just came out on CD in February, all of 19 songs from the band's first five albums. The five albums I have (not the first five) contain at least 50 songs, and I only paid a total of $12 to $15 for the lot. And yes, the sound quality is just as good as any CD.
This little bit of nostalgic waxing aside, I was grateful for one thing Saturday. My other purchase was a hardbound copy of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's "The Final Days" to replace my tattered paperback version. Thankfully, the price was marked. Otherwise, the clerk might have very well asked: "What is this? A book?"
Posted by Rick Larsen at 10:22 AM
March 25, 2005
GOP must go in '06
The religious right and conservative Republicans again have demonstrated their blatant hypocrisy in taking up the cause of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-dead woman in Florida. The religious right, while paying lip service to the sanctity of marriage, intruded on a marriage merely because it didn’t agree with a spouse's legal and morally right decision. And the Republicans, who have made it their mantra that they want to get government out of people's lives, inserted themselves into what should have been a private moment of death with dignity.
Because conservative Republicans have become so entwined with the religious right and because there will be no let up of either group’s intrusions on people’s private lives and freedoms, thinking Americans have no recourse but to throw the bums out in Nonmember 2006.
That’s when midterm elections occur and voters who have become disillusioned with the conduct of people in office. Voters must halt the Republicans’ march toward a stranglehold on government by denying them control of the Senate or the House or both because if they gain a supermajority in the Senate, 50 years of social policies that have proved effective will be tossed by the wayside, the judiciary would become a bastion of conservative judges who will root the Constitution in 18th century society and will enact legislation that enshrines into law the moral precepts of the few.
They have already been trying to do these with their attempts to "reform" Social Security, with their proclaimed wishes to have an amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage and their threatened action to overturn 200 years of Senate tradition on judicial nominees.
Americans who value their freedoms, their independence, their rights to live their own lives need to fight every effort to reshape society into the image of narrow-minded demogogues (in some cases, sell-annointed demigods). Skirmishes will continue unabated, but the true battle will come in November 2006. The sacred cow that is the right politically and religiously must be grilled unrelentlessly.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 01:34 PM
March 22, 2005
Protecting which lives?
In reaching what they call the "Palm Sunday Compromise" over Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged Florida woman, Republicans would have us believe they are protecting the sanctity of life. President Bush, weighing in on the matter, said, "It is wise to always err on the side of life."
These claims are disingenuous at best and political posturing as usual. If they truly are concerned with life, would there be:
1,522 American men and women dead in Iraq as of Monday, March 21.
176 coalition troops dead in Iraq.
An estimated 213 contractor employee deaths in Iraq (http://icasualties.org/oif/Civ.aspx)
An unknown number Iraqi civilians killed (the estimates range from about 3,400 up to more than 10,000).
An estimated 26 suspicious deaths of Iraqi prisoners during interrogations by U.S. military forces or CIA interrogators.
Protecting the sanctity of life? Hardly. The only lives they wish to protect are their own political lives.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 02:30 PM
March 17, 2005
Hard to wear green with red flowing
The wee bit o' Irish in me (from Grandma Broadbent, Dad's mother) always pulsates a little greener on St. Patrick's Day. Grandma was born a Foley. In Gaelic, that would be Foghladh, translated as "plunderer." Much as I would like to claim more, I'm just one-fourth Irish. Thus, only one of every four words spoken or written comes glibly.
But this is not about glibness or shamrocks or the pouring of the Guinness; it's about politics and death and peace.
On Jan. 30, Northern Ireland resident Robert McCartney was brutally killed outside a Belfast bar. His sisters say his death came at the hands of Irish Republican Army members who, afterward, reportedly destroyed forensic evidence and threatened witnesses. The sisters want the killers brought to justice, but say that the IRA and Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, are protecting them.
President Bush invited the sisters to the White House as part of the St. Patrick's Day celebration, but he snubbed one of the usual guests of recent years, Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's leader, because of the killings. Even Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., refused, for the first time since 1998, to meet with Adams.
This much everyone can agree on: McCartney's killers must be brought to justice. But that's not going to happen just because politicians here say it must. The pressure must come from London, from the British Parliament, from Prime Minister Tony Blair and from the appropriate law enforcement officials in Northern Ireland.
This much all people should, but don't, agree on: The IRA most likely has deteriorated into a gang of thugs. Such behavior among people who have lived for nore than 30 years in an atmosphere of hate where violence is the rule rather than the exception should come as no surprise to anyone.
This much all should, but don't, demand: Those involved in the peace process need to go after all paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland. On the Catholic side, that includes the Provisional IRA and the Real IRA, both offshoots of the IRA. On the Protestant side, that would include the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association.
Turning the death of McCartney, as tragic as it is to his family, into a cause celebre doesn't help get to the root of the problems in Northern Ireland: sectarian violence spawned by religious hatred. And it doesn't lead to the outcome needed to bring about peace: Britain ceding its dominion over the five counties of Northern Ireland and letting the Irish people become one nation.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 01:32 PM
March 16, 2005
Q&A with Mr. Opinionated
President Bush held another news conference this morning. Listening to him continually remind the questioners that it is his job to be president and to make decisions and watching him trying to evade giving any substantive answers on the issues, it occurred to me: What if those who write opinion pieces had to hold news conferences from time to time?
Q: Thank you, Mr. Opinionated. Many people say you haven't been fair and balanced in your essays. Don't you think you should be?
A: That was slyly asked. Fox News, right? Let me tell you, I'm a opinion writer. That's what opinion writers do; they write opinions. And I like writing opinion because, well, I am an opinion writer.
Q: What are some of the opinions you'd like to opine on but haven't yet?
A: I'm glad you asked that because there are a lot of opinions out there and that's a good thing because there are a lot of opinion writers. And I think there should be enough opinions to let all those writers have an opinion to write about. Now, if there weren't that many opinions out, then we'd have a crisis in opinion writing because, well, quite frankly, you can't write opinion without an opinion.
Q: You've been fairly, or as some have said unfairly, critical of the president and his administration. Does this bother you?
A: In this job you've got a lot of opinions on your mind on a regular basis. You don't have much time to sit around, well you're not jogging when writing, but you don't just sit there or wander around the office, asking the walls, how do you think my opinions will be received? I've got a lot of opinions to consider. And I like to make opinions, and I make a lot of them.
Q. As an opinion writer ...
A. I am.
Q. Do you get a sense that too much opinion gets in the way of facts?
A. Good question. Next.
Q. Why do you write opinion?
A. It's important to have an opinion that counteracts some of the opinions that counteract the opinions that counteract an original opinion. Was that enough counteracts? I'm a journalist not a math major. On that note well I'm not a music major either I feel another opinion coming on, so thank you all for coming and giving me a chance to visit with you.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 03:06 PM
March 15, 2005
Understanding works both ways
Evidently, Karen Hughes no longer needs to spend time with her family, the reason she gave for leaving her post as presidential counselor in 2002. Now, if approved by the Senate, she will return to government employ as the nominee for undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
It will be Hughes' mission to improve America's image abroad, especially in the Muslim world.
"We simply must do more to confront hateful propaganda, dispel dangerous myths and get out the truth," Rice said when she announced Hughes' nomination Monday. (Full text of Rice's and Hughes' comments can be found at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/43385.htm.)
Anything we can do to let others in the world understand that, for the most part, we have the same fears, dreams and needs as they do will certainly help ease tensions that exist. Reaching out in this way might only be the beginning of a dialogue. It might take years for old hatreds to die out, for people to appreciate the people of other nations, but we need to actively start that dialogue now.
But improving our image abroad should not be a one-way street. Both Rice and Hughes noted Monday that we must improve our understanding of others. That might be easier said than done. Americans, especially since 9/11, have been more prone to merely preach tolerance than to practice it when it comes to Muslims.
So, we must also confront the propaganda of hate spewed by Americans who consider all Muslims extremists, dispel the myths that define fanaticism as the major tenet of the Islamic religion and look for the core truths that show people, no matter what their beliefs, more alike than different.
That won't happen until we stop treating the Muslim religion as a terrorist religion.
Consider Jerry Falwall on "60 Minutes" in June 2003: "I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war."
Consider the book "The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims," edited by Robert Spencer, published by Prometheus Books. Spencer's book is being marketed as one that "brings to light the deeply ingrained historical, cultural, and religious elements of a profound modern crisis — the violence, fanaticism, and contempt for outsiders that characterizes much of the Islamic world today."
These types of inflammatory statements are not the way to win the hearts and minds of those in the Islamic world. Trying to turn America's battered image abroad around is a admirable goal. But it will not succeed if, at the same time, we don't counter the hate talk and fear-mongering circulating within our own borders.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 01:29 PM
March 14, 2005
Let the fun begin
This being a new forum in which to express the many opinions that come and go between my weekly essays for The Star, I figure a few housekeeping chores need to be taken care of, such as explaining what you can expect from these postings.
Let’s begin with the motto that has guided me through my adult life: "I never met a sacred cow I didn’t like medium rare."
The problem with sacred cows comes from the fact that once people raise a "cow" to such an exalted status, they expect others to back off from any questioning, criticism or discussion that would reveal the "cow" not as "sacred," but as fallible as everything else.
We need the questioning, the criticism and the discussions. We need them to engage in relevant and rationale dialogue if we hope to solve the issues and the problems that we face together as a community, a county, a state and a nation.
Such dialogue need not be mundane. Strong beliefs argued with passion should never be discouraged. Shrillness, on the other hand, deserves the same fate as sacred cows. Thus, do not expect Howard Dean Cro-Magnon yowls here. Do not look for Ann Coulter screeds here. Expect neither Bill O’Reilly nonspin spins, nor Rush Limbough rants, nor Bill Maher political incorrectness, nor Michael Moore subterfuges.
To make sure I don’t fall into the same trap as these and other pundits have making the messenger more important than the message I have developed a set of "10 short rules" for my blogging:
1. Be topical, mostly.
2. All’s fair.
3. Humor works.
4. Accuracy rules.
5. Argue reasonably.
6. Don’t use this as a draft for Opinion page writings.
7. Be passionate, not shrill.
8. Focus, don’t spray.
9. Attribute liberally.
10. Acknowledge errors immediately.
That wraps up the housekeeping chores. Now get out the barbecue sauce; it’s time to grill some sacred cows.
Posted by Rick Larsen at 04:02 PM