Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Proceedings of the Heavenly Planning Commission — Hearing on concept for the Garden of Eden development project

Artist rendering of
"Garden of Eden"
development concept
Proceedings of the Heavenly Planning Commission — Hearing on concept for the Garden of Eden development project

Attending: Archangel Michael, Planning Commission Chair; Commissioners Archangels Gabriel, Lucifer, Uriel and Raphael; representatives of builder, Heavenly Enterprises; members of the angelic public.

Overview: A proposal for 197 million square miles of parkland with newly created life forms. 75 percent of the site will be covered by water. Agenda report: www.heaven.gov/heavenbase/view.aspx?cloud.

The project is self-sufficient, where "plants" convert sunlight and "molecules" of "carbon dioxide" and "water" into "nutrients" and release "oxygen" as part of the chemical reaction.

"Animals" eat the plants to get the nutrients, releasing carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the "combustion" of the nutrients for "metabolism." "Weather" is a complex process whereby water forms vapor clouds that release "rain" on the park to return water to the "ecosystem."

The Garden will feature many different environments ("climates") that each will feature their own distinctive plant and animal life. Since the life forms will be native, after the first planting, they will be self-reproducing and maintaining and require little or no active gardening.

Resident Angel Eyeore:  I don't know about all that water. How are you going to guarantee that there won't be any flooding?

Resident Angel Oscar the Grouch: I have lived in this heaven for 45 years. It used to be a nice place, where everybody knew everybody else. Now you're proposing to make all these "humans" who can reproduce, according to the EIR, every couple of years. That's going to mean high rise apartment buildings, which will ruin our community, and there will be crime and red cup parties and cruising in cars—

Chair A. Michael: Thank you for your comments. There are no such things as cars. Next.

Resident Angel T. Frothingill Bellows: When are you archangels going to stop acting like you're so high and mighty and better than the rest of us? This is another one of those backroom deals where you guys think you can take our heaven and give it to the big moneybags gods over on Mount Olympus so they can turn it into their own little playground.

Resident Angel Debbie Downer: I have a very serious lung condition, and all the flowers and pollen — not to mention the methane gas that these "animals" will put into the air as a result of this thing called "digestion" — will be very detrimental to my health. When we moved to Heaven from Mt. Olympus ten years ago, we thought it would be a place where we could have a healthy life without Zeus' noise and smoke pollution. Now you're taking about building a giant garden that will make the air toxic. When are you going to listen to the people instead of just the big gods —

Chair A. Michael: Thank you. Your two minutes are up.

Olympus Resident Angel Rufus T. Firefly: I have nothing against gardens. Even though I live on Mount Olympus, everyone here knows that I have done more for gardens in the tri-heaven area than anyone. But this is the wrong garden in the wrong place. Heaven needs to bring in some real experts in earth-making to re-imagine the visioning of the conceptualization of this creation-making in the multiverse geospatial zone. And Archangel Lucifer, you’re doing an awesome job.

A. Lucifer, preening: You too, Rufie.

A. Bellows: You're hearing overwhelmingly the citizens DO NOT WANT a garden. For once put your money where your mouth is and represent the citizens of heaven instead of the big gods. This doesn't fit. Stop putting things where they don't fit. A lot of these animals are butt-ugly. Put them in your own backyard. Go put it on Mount Olympus or Valhalla. For once can't you hypocrites represent the citizens of heaven? Stop representing the big gods.

Chair A. Michael: Angel Bellows, this is my first warning. You've already had your chance to talk.

A. Bellows refuses to stand down: This is a free heaven. The first amendment says I can say anything I want. So screw you, Mike."

Chair A. Michael: There is no first amendment and won't be for another 4,789 years. And there is no second warning.

A pillar of fire appears and consumes A. Bellows. The Garden project is approved in a unanimous motion, with an amendment from A. Lucifer requiring deed covenants that garden residents cannot convert their tree canopies into extra bedrooms.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

When Life Gives You Orchid Buds, Count Your Blessings
By Carolyn Schuk

Our cymbidium orchid usually starts blooming around Easter, as the days get perceptibly longer. Its last blooms fade in mid-June, on the longest days of the year. This year it has five flower spikes. The last time it was so abundant was 1991, the year my son was born.

EasterSince the millennium, the cymbidium's offerings have been slim. It's as if the plant knows whether the year to come will be fruitful or not.

For example, 1991 was a rollercoaster year. When I was seven months pregnant, the retail chain my husband worked for declared bankruptcy and the future looked to be an unemployment line.

Portents of irreversible decline were unmistakable at the software company I worked for. That the management gave my office to someone else while I was on maternity leave didn't help my anxiety level.

So there we were – a baby on the way and what had seemed like economic security evaporating like a freak Silicon Valley snowfall.

When Will was born, things didn't look up. We were now pathetically inexperienced parents with a colicky baby. I remember watching the sun come up one morning after a sleepless night and thinking, My life, as I know it, is over. One friend says that the first months with your first child are, quite simply, the worst of your life.

But as the orchid buds began to open, things, likewise, began opening up.

My husband landed a job with Whole Earth Access helping to open the store – now gone, alas – on Stevens Creek Blvd. Now, while some people – like me – have panic attacks just thinking about a project like this, my husband likes nothing better than being in charge of a big, complicated project.

At only five weeks Will began sleeping through the night – an extraordinary 11 hours from 8:00 at night to 7:00 in the morning. Soon after, I discovered that as long as we went somewhere — especially at night — he was a perfectly happy baby. He was like the old disco song, "I love the night life."

Then my former employer asked me to come back to work as a contractor, managing the company's newsletters. My mother came out from Pennsylvania to help. It was the perfect fit.

With my mother to babysit, I could get out of the house a few days a week, wear real clothes, and talk to grownups. But I could also remain a mostly stay-at-home mom. A few years later, that contract job was the genesis of a freelance copywriting business. That copywriting business evolved into writing for the Santa Clara Weekly, the best job I have had in my life.

By the end of 1991, Bill had a job he loved, Will was delighted with his two new friends in daycare, and I ended the year making more money – and getting more sleep – than I had working full-time.

Twenty-eight years later the orchid bounty still lifts my heart and I still count my blessings – one in particular. 

It was Will's birthday this week, and he can now add "Mueller Day" to the other auspicious event that happened on April 18: Paul Revere's famous ride. A ride that set a new experiment in governance in motion and an investigation that, hopefully, will put it back on the course its founders intended.

Will has grown into a fine man, with the patient persistence to reach any goal he sets for himself, an affectionate husband and (to date) a fond "parent" to his dog and cat. He has a good and generous heart, slow to anger or even annoyance — even with his parents.

And so as the Easter buds open, I'm going to count a new blessing with every one. Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Take Two Aspirin and Call Me When the Fallout Clears
By Carolyn Schuk

"In Time of Emergency" gains
new relevance in today's world
With the fate of the world 
now in the hands of the Vlad the Terrible and Donald
the Demented, a 1968 artifact I found in my in-law's basement some years ago gains new relevance: "In Time of Emergency, a citizen's handbook on Nuclear Attack [and] Natural Disasters."

The Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense published this the same year "Planet of the Apes" hit theaters with its famous shot of a broken Statue of Liberty in the sand after homo sapiens destroyed society in a nuclear war. 

But in the DoD's e=mc2 zone, despair isn't the message. Normalizing nuclear war is. Think of it as just another severe weather event with radiation, emceed by the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore.

"A major emergency affecting a large number of people may occur anytime and anywhere. It may be a peacetime disaster," or, the author tells us in the tone you'd use to remind someone to take an umbrella on a cloudy day, "It could be an enemy nuclear

Sure, the keep-on-the-sunnysiders admit, "people who happened to be close to a nuclear explosion probably would be killed or seriously injured," but "it is likely that most of the people in the fringe area would survive these hazards."

So hopeful fringe-dwellers need to move on to "Understanding the Hazards of Nuclear Attack."

"It is possible," the reader is advised, "but extremely unlikely—that your first warning of an enemy attack might be the flash of a nuclear explosion in the sky."

Although you won't need any advice following that flash because it will be the last thing you ever see, readers are helpfully directed to "TAKE COVER INSTANTLY."

"By getting inside or under something within a few seconds, you might avoid being seriously injured." You can take cover "in any kind of building, a storm cellar…or even in a ditch … or storm sewer …If no cover is available simply lie down on the ground and curl up." Presumably the reader can finish the phrase.

If you're not out strolling under the air raid sirens, "Keep some of the intense heat rays from nuclear explosions from entering your house by closing your doors, windows, venetian blinds, window shades and drapes. If the climate will not permit this…close as many as possible, then close the rest when the Attack Warning Signal is given."

An atomic blast is "several million degrees F within one-millionth of a second following detonation" according to the Atomic Bomb Museum. Prayer seems more useful than closing the blinds. At least the flash won't fade the upholstery before everything's incinerated.

Post-blast firestorms don't need to worry you, though, according to these irrepressible optimists.

"Your home might be saved if you know how to fight fires and have on hand some basic firefighting tools. These include a garden hose, a ladder, buckets filled with sand, containers filled with water, and a fire extinguisher." And, "Remember the 3 basic ways to put out a fire."

Something else to remember: the firestorm from the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 leveled almost the entire city. It's unlikely that happened just because residents didn't have sand buckets.

If you survive to this point, you will have to think about radiation. But there's no reason to go all silly about a few gamma rays and stray neutrons.

You see, "Almost all of the radiation that people would absorb…would come from particles outside
" People who were outside  the
fringe area would not be affected by
the blast, heat or fire"
their own bodies." Thus, "Only simple precautions would be necessary to avoid swallowing the particles."

In case you step out without your lead raincoat, the DoD offers first aid tips.

If exposure is "a small or medium dose" the "body will repair itself and he will get well." In fact, there's nothing here requiring more than the most commonplace medical treatment. "If a patient has headache or general discomfort, give him one or two aspirin tablets every 3 or 4 hours."

And, "Remember that radiation sickness is not contagious or infectious and one person cannot 'catch it' from another." Otherwise there night not be enough aspirin to go around.

Radiation calamities are easily avoided by a handcrafted fallout shelter, according to the DoD.

"It can be any space, provided the walls and roof are thick enough," the authors explain breezily. "Usually, householders can make these improvements themselves, with moderate effort and at low cost."

If your go-to home improvement method is Angie's List, I can report there's an Angie-certified bomb shelter builder who will construct your bunker out of steel, fiberglass or concrete and chock full of amenities from carpeting to a built-in weather band radio.

Once you're snug in the crypt, the discussion turns to quotidian matters—such as the "emergency toilet," on the off chance the municipal water system is hors de combat.

"It could be a garbage container, a pail or bucket … [and] could be fitted with some kind of seat… remove the seat from a wooden chair" and "cut a hole in it." Ouch.

"This shelter will provide excellent
protection, and can be constructed
easily at a cost of $150 in most parts
of the country."
The DoD atomic experts aren't mere utilitarians, however. They reveal themselves to be as alive to the gentler side of things as the World Happiness Council when they turn to the subject of recreation. Just because you're living on spam and using a trashcan for a commode doesn't mean you can't profitably beguile the flashlight-lit hours in the bunker.

Stock up on "books and magazines"—perhaps those back issues of the New Yorker that have been piling up. Or "writing materials" and "hobby supplies"—it's a perfect opportunity to finish that knitting project you started 17 years ago. And don't forget "a sewing kit and toiletries such as toothbrushes, cosmetics and shaving supplies."

After all, you don't want to greet Armageddon missing a button, without your lipstick and your personal correspondence in arrears.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Silicon Valley's housing crisis: Why we have it and what it costs us

In an interesting juxtaposition, this morning's Mercury News front page featured a story about how 90 percent of the housing California needs isn't getting built, and in another section, a story about how Apple's mothership donut was built with no thought to where the 12,500 people who work there will live.

Santa Clara's own marquee tech campus, the NVIDIA flying saucer, was also built without any thought to where the people who work there will live. It wasn't part of the conversation when it was conceived about 10 years ago, even though we were talking about a housing crisis then, too.

Instead, the Santa Clara City Council has made a u-turn on housing development—surrendering public policy to the anti-development faction because that's the one that yells the loudest.

Remember how John Sobrato got—literally—shouted out of the City Council Chambers for offering to build a $1 million supported housing-for-the-unhoused complex on Monroe?

The Council micro-managed Irvine's Mission Town Center 2016 proposal into a risky venture as far as the developer was concerned. Prometheus—a big donor to an independent expenditure committee for Gillmor-aligned candidates—has another proposal to bring forward. But it's not much different from the Irvine proposal. The only difference is that the Viso family, which owns the land, will probably want more for the lease—making it even harder to pencil out.

More recently the Council stifled the Moonlight Lanes project, leaving that property to provide low-cost housing for rats. Then there's the Mariani project that likely won't get get a hearing for another generation.

Related's City Place has yet to put a shovel in the ground. And if Mission Town Center's 400 apartments had the anti-development brigade in hysterics, imagine how far Genzon/Kylli's plan for 35-story apartment towers on "Yahoo acres" (now vacant for a decade) will go over.

And this, I've been told without sarcasm, is responsive government in action.

Council Members and their anti-development cheerleaders would strenuously deny the charge of being anti-development and say they're all for the right development. The beauty of the "right development" is that, like J.K. Rowling's wizarding world, it's invisible to the rest of the world.
As that's an impossibility here in the reality-based world, we continue—and will continue for the foreseeable future, I'm betting—to enjoy the quaint charm of mid-century strip malls and used car lots on El Camino.

Our children, young educated professionals, aren't yelling. They're not at City Council meetings because they took jobs in Dallas, Indianpolis or Pittsburgh where they can afford to buy a house, according to Carson Bruno at Real Clear Markets. So they don't care if Silicon Valley slowly fades into the economic sunset. They're willing to pay higher property taxes (and they do) for a decent home rather than share a $3,500/month one-bedroom apartment with four people to pay the rent.

But I wander.

We keep hearing Silicon Valley has a housing crisis. And the reason is pretty simple: we haven't built enough housing. Not only that, we're make things worse by building even less housing than we did as recently as a year ago.

Joint Venture Silicon Valley's 2016 "Silicon Valley Index" reports that the number of new residential construction permits dropped more than 50 percent between 2014 and 2015—from 11,000 to slightly less than 6,000. The percentage of multifamily construction dropped 20 percent. In that time, Silicon Valley built only 22 percent of the needed moderate income housing but 130 percent of the high income housing target, according to the Assoc. of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

This isn't some kind of inevitable catastrophe like a tsunami or an earthquake. It's  largely of our own making. Only one factor, limited land, has passed out of our control. The rest are in our power to change.

First, there's the California Environmental Quality Act—an equal opportunity tool for obstructing development and a lucrative revenue source for specialist attorneys with no end of tricks up their sleeves for using CEQA to the advantage of developers, unions and NIMBYs.

In a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences, CEQA is most effective at obstructing its ostensible goal of improving environmental quality.

The most frequently challenged projects are transit-oriented, urban infill, those using renewable energy and housing, according to Elana Eden at Panetizen. Then there's local governments' preference for commercial development with its higher revenues and lower service needs. And last but not least, are vociferous self-absorbed NIMBYs who, quite simply, want to freeze time in an imagined past -- agriculture is very picturesque to those who never had to do the backbreaking work and face the financial risk.

The cost of obstructionism is our economy.

In a 2015 California Legislative Office report, the LAO laid out the causes and costs of California's stratospheric real estate prices and rents in this infographic.


There's a simple answer: build more housing. In won't be politically easy, now that the opponents of development have captured the spotlight. But what's worse: the noise from 100 complainers now or being judged 'guilty' by history for smothering the goose that laid the golden silicon eggs? 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ro Khanna: Doing the People’s Business by Finding the Common Ground

By Carolyn Schuk

Many politicians can say little in a lot of words. But it’s a rare politician who can say a lot in a few words. Santa Clara's Congressman Ro Khanna (D-District 17) is one of them. Recently, he took some time from a jam-packed day to talk with the Weekly about what Congress Members do all day—contrary to popular opinion, it isn't talking to lobbyists—and what it takes to be effective for constituents when your party is in the minority.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Lighting Up the Darkness: Chanukah's Journey from Winter Dark to Hopeful Light

Imagine a world without light. In our modern setting we are surrounded by light. We flip a switch to repeat the miracle of “let there be light” — whenever and wherever we want it. We have to drive miles from our urban homes to experience the truly dark night sky.

But for most of human history people have lived in what the historian William Manchester described as “a world lit only by fire.”

For our ancestors who lived without modern electricity, the growing shortness of mid-winter days was of profound consequence. There is always the fear that maybe — just maybe — old Sol will continue to shrink into complete blackness. So it is not surprising that all cultures have midwinter festivals where light and dark figure as central symbols.

Christmas has the star of Bethlehem, Divali has its rows of lighted lamps, Kwanzaa its seven candles representing the seven principles. Northern Europeans celebrate St. Lucy’s Day on Dec. 12 with young St. Lucy Queens in candle-lit crowns.

The Chanukah Menorah certainly shares light and flame with these holidays, but Chanukah also brings a sense of movement and liberation to the mid-winter celebration that is unique.

Chanukah celebrates the victory in 176 BCE by an army of Jewish rebels, the Maccabees, over the tyrannical king of the Selucid-Greek empire, Antiochus IV (also known as "Epimane" – "madman") who drove the Syrians out of Judea. 

Upon their victory, the Macabees returned to the temple in Jerusalem to rededicate it and relight the Menorah. They could find only one small flask of oil, enough to light the Menorah for just a single day.

But miraculously the oil did not run out and the lamps shone brightly for eight days. The following year, the festival of Chanukah was officially proclaimed as an eight-day celebration, some say symbolizing the victory over persecution. One candle of the Menorah is lit each night of the celebration.

And that is where Chanukah brings movement to the mid-winter. Chanukah begins in the dark with the lighting of one candle. By the eighth day, all eight candles burn in a domestic world daily growing brighter. And the larger world will soon grow brighter as we pass the longest night and day begins its journey to overtake night.

During the ancient Romans' winter solstice celebration, the Saturnalia, the freeman’s hat was worn by freemen and slaves alike. On the first day of the seven-day festival the bonds that tied the feet of Saturn’s statue were removed to symbolize the god’s liberation from his underworld domain. The New Year was called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – day of the unconquerable sun.

Victories over modern oppressors begin with lighting a single candle. And that goes well beyond any single tradition or religion.

Right now the world seems darker that it has for decades. Democide – a word coined by political scientist Rudolph Rummel in the 1970s – is the best descriptive of the unspeakable catastrophe that has overtaken the Middle East. Vladimir Putin has reintroduced Pan-Slavist ideology to the world. Americans may be facing an object lesson of Plato's theory of the stages of government from oligarchy to populism to ultimate tyranny.

Yet, in our lifetime we have also seen events like the fall of Berlin Wall that tell us that no tyranny is forever. Not Vladimir Putin's. Not ISIS'. Not even one that many fear Donald Trump may bring to the U.S. on January 20. 

An old gospel hymn says, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” Asking readers' pardon in advance for so freely mixing religious metaphors: As it happened more than 2,100 years ago in Jerusalem, and as the Gospel of John philosophically expressed the victory of an eternal light, "The light shines the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

A version of this essay first appeared in the Santa Clara WEEKLY in Dec. 2004.

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