Urban Chickens Coming To Roost

While reading various news websites over the weekend, I noticed articles on raising ornamental chickensneighborhoods disputes over chicken coops, and raising chickens in Silicon Valley.  There’s been a growing trend in recent years for people to raise hens (but not the noisome roosters) in urban environments.  Fresh eggs from the hen are larger and more tastier than commercial eggs, and chickens make fine pets for younger children.  I’m reminded of my earlier run ins with urban chickens.

When I was growing up in the west side of San Jose in the early 1970’s, a Mexican family moved into our all white neighborhood.  My mother told me these were “bad people,” although not as bad as the Hell’s Angels down the street who routinely urinated on the front yard, or worst than the sheriff deputies who take suspects behind the local 7-Eleven to crack their skulls.  (Given the choice between one or the other back then, you wanted the Hell’s Angels on your side.)  She never did explain to me why they were bad people, or what made them different from the Cuban family around the corner who occasionally babysat me.  Perhaps it was because her sister married a Mexican-American rather than a white guy that made her prejudiced.

One day the little boy who lived with that family invited my buddies and I into the backyard, which had a long fence that bordered a side street.  We been peering through the various knotholes to see what was in the backyard since are parents told us that “bad things” had happen there.  We saw rows of corn taking up most of the backyard, a chicken coop in one corner, which we knew about since a chicken hopped the fence to cross the street, and a swimming pool where the algae was so thick that you could walk  across.

But what horrified us white boys was a bloodied axe in a chopping block and tiny drops of blood all over the concrete of where a headless chicken ran around.  Somehow we all got the same idea that we were lured into this macabre backyard to have our own heads cut off.  We went screaming out of the backyard.  Our families kept us away from the “bad people” in the neighborhood.  I don’t think the little boy had any friends in the neighborhood after that incident, which got around since my mother was the Avon lady and gossip was her other trade.

If the school district haven’t declared me mentally retarded when I wasn’t as a child, I might’ve joined the 4-H farm club in secondary school or gone to Galvin College in Gilroy to pursue animal husbandry.  My Dad’s family were farmers in Idaho, and my Mom’s family were tomato ranchers in Southern California.  I would’ve naturally gravitated towards being a young farmer if circumstances have allowed me to do so.

When I was living in downtown San Jose during my college years, encountering a stray chicken on the streets wasn’t an uncommon event.  I later learned that many immigrants raised chickens and grow their own food in their backyards to stay in touch with their own culture.  Of course, San Jose is no longer a rural town but a major city.  Only a few years ago did the last feed store finally shut their doors, sending many customers to Gilroy or further south.

I would love to raise a hen or two on my own balcony.  The apartment complex management would throw a fit if I did.  Bad enough they get on my case about my 10- and 25-gallon fish tanks even though I never had a problem with them in the four years that I lived here.  If I become a best-selling author, maybe someday I can buy a house with an acre or two of land to raise some chickens, have an ornamental goldfish pond, and grow some produce for the local farmer’s market.

Where In The World Is Dick Cheney?

The political world took a deep dive into the wrong end of the swimming pool not once but twice this week.  First, a top secret assassination program that the CIA withheld from the Congress for eight years at the request of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  Second, angry old white men kept beating a dead horse about “a wise Latina” during Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing.  I find it curious that there was one angry old white man who kept unusually silent.

Where in the world is Dick Cheney?

A tempest in a teapot been brewing at the CIA about an on-and-off program to form paramilitary teams to selectively take out suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists on their own home turf.  Following the 9/11 attacks, hunting down terrorists was what most Americans expected their government to do.  But the CIA was legally restrained from conducting any kind of political assassination after past abuses to subvert foreign governments was exposed by the Church Committee in the 1970’s.  The CIA was no longer supposed to behave like the KGB when it comes to dealing with terrorists.

During the Lebanon hostage crisis in the 1980’s, the hostages were always Americans and Western Europeans.  Why not hostages from the Soviet and Eastern Europe?  When four Soviet diplomats were taken the hostage, the KGB counter-terrorism group tracked down the families of the hostage takers, cut off various body parts to send back in a shoebox, and waited for the hostages takes to get message that the KGB was more ruthless than they were.  The Russians didn’t have another hostage situation for the next 20 years.

This is what people say is wrong with the CIA today: too many restrictions for past abuses limits how effectively the spy agency can protect American against terrorists.

However, the U.S. military is not having that problem in Afghanistan or Iraq since both countries are considered to be war zones, and taking out the enemy is what military commanders are tasked to do as long as it doesn’t violate the Geneva Convention.  Launching missiles from a Predator drone is more effective than inserting a paramilitary team into a hostile country, eliminating the target, and getting the team out.  The drones are not without controversy since innocent civilians have been killed by mistake or caught up in targeted blast area.

The fact that Mr. Cheney order the existence of the program to be withheld from the Congress intelligence committees isn’t surprising considering the negative connotations that the American public associates with the CIA’s past usage of assassination.  However, there has been no public comment from Mr. Cheney regarding this.  Which is surprising considering how strident he was a few months ago by demanding that the Obama Administration declassify certain CIA memos to prove him correct in another intelligence controversy.  His silence in this matter speaks louder than the white noise coming out of the confirmation hearing.

Where in the world is Dick Cheney?  Here are my guesses.

  • He accidentally locked himself in his ultra-secret bunker and no one bothered to check in on him.
  • He’s out of the country checking out various tropical islands for a new ultra-secure bunker.
  • He’s writing his memoirs that President Barack Obama suggested the title should be How to Shoot Your Friends & Interrogate People.
  • He’s being “respectful” of the angry old white men by being silent while they beat a dead horse about “a wise Latina” during the confirmation hearings.
  • He’s guilty as hell this time and his attorney told him to shut up.

I suspect the last one may be the real reason.  The Bush Administration past attempts to assert excessive executive powers without check and balances—most of which was unnecessary—is finally becoming a legal threat to the various players involved that we may see a repeat of the Church Committee.  Something that President Obama wanted to avoid to keep America focused on his agenda by moving the country forward.

Maybe Mr. Cheney will show up on the Sunday talk shows if the angry old white men are finished beating their dead horse in the public square.

Updated 18 July 2009 @ 10:30AM: Richard A. Clarke, a former national security officer for three presidents, has a thoughtful analysis in the Wall Street Journal concerning the CIA conflict of staying in the rule of law and being an effective intelligence agency.


The Google Chrome OS Killer App Myth

Google recently announced their forthcoming Chrome OS, which is a light-weight operating system designed for netbook computers.  The mainstream and tech media response to this announcement was fascinating, hailing this development as the killer app to bring down the evil Microsoft empire and send the snobbish Apple kingdom on the run.  Except for one small detail.

It won’t happen.

There’s a ten-year cycle with emerging technology.  By the time a technology is widely recognized by the public—not the media pundits—to claim the “killer app” title (the popular application that everyone wants to use), the technology been around for at least ten years or longer.  The two most notable examples are spreadsheets and the World Wide Web (what everyone generally refers to as the Internet).  If the Google Chrome OS does become a significant threat to either Microsoft and/or Apple, that will happen in the next ten years.

However, there are significant problems with Google’s strategy.

The Chrome OS is initially aimed at netbook computers, a small but growing segment of inexpensive laptops.  This segment has been dominated by Linux from the beginning, with some vendors offering Windows XP as an option.  What the vendors are finding out with returned Linux netbooks is that people don’t want to learn a new OS.  They are conditioned to use Windows, they expect the OS to behave like Windows, they want the same application that they find on Windows.  That’s a significant hurdle for Google to overcome.  Especially when Microsoft’s newest OS, Windows 7, coming out this year, is designed to work exceptionally well on netbook computers at a price point that vendors can afford.  That could eliminate the need for alternative OSes.  If the Google Chrome OS can’t succeed with netbooks, it won’t succeed with desktops to compete against Microsoft.

We still don’t know what the ecology is for this new OS that will attract programmers to write applications to attract users to use the OS.  Since this OS is supposed to be open source software, programmers will use available open source tools and Google will provide the necessary documentation to make programming applications possible.  But what about applications?  Neither Microsoft nor Apple will be incline to offer their flagship products (i.e., Office and iTunes, respectively) to the new OS.  If Google relies on the open source applications that typically runs on Linux, and users are still resistant to learning non-Windows applications, the OS will become another niche OS used by a small group of techie users.

New York Times editorial praises Google for taking on Microsoft in the OS market.  If Google is successful in beating Microsoft, I wouldn’t be surprised if another editorial in ten years demonizes Google as another monopoly that needs to be crushed in the market place and/or in the courts.  America loves the underdog taking on the hated big dog until the underdog becomes the next big dog, and then we’re all rooting for the next underdog to start snarling.  This love/hate relationship gives American businesses a schizophrenic quality at times when not under the influence of Wall Street’s quarterly forecasts.

For more detailed analysis of this situation, read the Fake Steve Jobs blog post on the announcement.  If you’re not familiar with the Fake Steve Jobs, this is a parody blog written by Dan Lyons based on the good boy/bad boy personality of the real Steve Jobs, Apple’s charismatic founder who can be brilliantly tactful and brilliantly tactless, sometimes all at the same time, if he was to write a blog.  This analysis tears apart the entire argument for Google Chrome OS in a colorful—if not completely vulgar—way, especially from the Apple perspective.


Hard Times For Big Money Houses

The San Jose Mercury News had a front page article on how The Ranch housing development in the Silver Creek area is suffering from the tanking economy.  Half the homes are up for sale, asking price is less than the $1 million USD that they first sold for in 2003 and far less than $2.5 million at the height of the real estate boom.  The other half of the homes have mortgages in distress as their owners scramble to refinance their luxurious lifestyles.  The home owners association doesn’t have enough money for the landscaping and lighting up the stonework at night.

I called up my Dad in Sacramento and told him.  He laughed his head off.

My Dad built out the stonework for The Ranch and he didn’t mind doing the work.  What disgusted him was these overbuilt homes that look like manor houses for people with too much money trying to prove that they’re worth this much money.  This was a significant waste of time and money that could’ve been better spent on building more efficient housing.

Although we visited that area together to see his stonework, I never appreciated his disgust until a relative in my sister-in-law’s family bought a $1 million home in the Gilroy hills last year.  The kitchen was bigger than my studio apartment, and the wet bar was bigger than my kitchen.  A very nice place to visit but too rich for my taste.  Besides, I’m not too thrilled about having a mountain lion watch me through a 20-foot tall chain link fence in the backyard that separates an encroaching civilization from mother nature.

What disgusted me about the Silver Creek area was that San Jose spent $200 million in 1999 to extend water and sewer up into the foothills.  (I’m recalling this from memory since the Mercury News website search doesn’t go back more than a year.)  That’s a lot of money for a bunch of overbuilt homes in a area that requires a lot of water to keep the grass green during the summer.

With the tanking economy in recent years, the city is focused on “infilling” the areas of San Jose with either condominium towers in downtown or mixed development (i.e., retail stores on the ground floor with two- to four-story of high density housing on top) along the major transit corridors.  Real estate developers aren’t thrilled with this since high density housing doesn’t have the higher profit margin as a new development of overbuilt homes surrounding a golf course.  The economy doesn’t leave them much of a choice.

What’s going to happen to these bastions of overbuilt homes?

There are some parts of the country where it might be cheaper to tear them all down and restore the land to the way it was before.  I don’t think that will happen in the Silver Creek area or elsewhere in Silicon Valley.  There are still too many fools who need to depart with their money to prove that they’re worth the money in the first place.


Sarah Palin For California Governor

he political world got turned upside down this week when former 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin announced that she was resigning as governor of Alaska.  There’s a lot of speculation on why she would resign 18 months before the end of her first term and what she should do with her immediate future.  Family concerns, the 2012 presidential election, and a possible ethics scandal are the top three.

My advice is for Palin to move her family to California, run for governor in 2010, clean up the state budget mess that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had failed to fix since 2003, and claim Ronald Reagan’s legacy by running for the presidency in 2012.

Seriously, if the Governator can’t clean up in Sacramento, maybe Caribou Barbie can do a better job.

(Otherwise, I’m supporting Tom Campbell to win in next year’s governor election.)


Review – Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs

I read the reviews from the The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle describing the new “Ice Age: Dawn of The Dinosaurs”movie as being scientifically inaccurate because the last great ice age occurred after the dinosaurs been wiped out by a meteor.  Funny.  I thought this was entertainment rather than a documentary.  Or maybe the reviewers are scientifically stupid?

I’m at a lost to understand why this movie is considered to be scientifically inaccurate because a pocket of dinosaurs continued to exist into the ice age.  Such a situation is unlikely but not that far fetch.  A possible new species of humanity, homo floresiensis,  was discovered on an island in the Far East.  The ancestors of these small people settled there during the ice age when the ocean levels were low, and, isolated from the rest of humanity after the ice age, evolved into a new species.  They lived until about 12,000 years ago when a possible volcanic eruption wiped them out, which is fairly recent in geological time.

I enjoy the Ice Age movies only to see the squirrel in his pursuit of the acorn that is always out of his reach.  This time he has new female competitor/lover for the acorn with the opening scene set to “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls (there’s an instrumental tango version of this song later on).  During the course of the movie, we see them going through all stages of love until they forget all about the acorn.  When domestic bliss becomes too much of a burden, chasing the acorn becomes more appealing.  I once took a date to a hole in the wall jazz club when I was in college.  The woman jazz singer was describing all the different stages of love, and we left at midnight when she was describing how love sucks.  The way the movie ends with the squirrel losing both the acorn and the love interest reminded me of that moment.

As for the rest of the movie, I really didn’t care.  All the fat jokes got replaced by penis jokes.  (Not that I can complain too much about that since I wrote a novella about a chain-smoking vampire hunter with a wooden stake in his pocket that’s a phallic fantasy when looking up a dream dictionary.)  The only bright spot was the swashbuckling Buck the weasel voiced by Simon Pegg, with the best lines, characterization, and action scenes.  The 3D work was handled exceptionally well in comparison to other 3D movies that came out this year.

As for scientifically accuracy, I would care only if this movie was a documentary.