Saturday, May 23, 2009

Weekend Bako Bits: A drowning at RiverWalk, DUI checkpoints and more on the monster Mendoza

In the middle of a long Memorial Day weekend and while it's hot, it's certainly bearable and there is much for which to be thankful. Plenty happening around town, so let's get to it:

* ... ANOTHER DROWNING: When it heats up, it's a given that the crowds will descend on the new RiverWalk park off Stockdale Highway and - you guessed it - completely disregard the no swimming signs posted around the lakes. So I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that we've had the first drowning of the year, a 16-year-old named Ricardo Lopez. He died today (Saturday) after being pulled from the water Friday. KGET reported the family waited 15 minutes before calling 911, but that won't stop our slip and fall lawyers from filing suit against the city. It's a terrible tragedy, but a little common sense could prevent these things.

* ... COPS OUT IN FORCE: When the cops tell you they're going to be out in full force on a holiday weekend, believe them. I ran into my first DUI checkpoint Friday afternoon (on Ming Avenue near The Marketplace) where KGET reports they nabbed four drunks. Then this morning, I saw a Highway Patrolman posted by the side of Granite Road headed to Woody clocking speeders. And I saw another Bakersfield police officer pull over a green SUV full of teenagers and ticketing them near Cal State Bakersfield. Be safe out there.
* ... MORE ON MENDOZA: If you haven't read today's report in The Californian about Angelo Mendoza, the 4-year-old who was left blind when his drug crazed father literally ate his eye, pick it up. (or go to to check it out) Reporter Steve Swenson is all over this story and reports exclusively today that the cops were called to the suspect's home about an hour before the actual incident, left and then were called back. I am not implying that BPD did anything wrong, just another tragic chapter in this sad story.
* ... PEOPLE ON THE MOVE: Heard yesterday that Cindy Pollard, the longtime spokesman for PG&E, is moving to Sacramento for a higher job with the utility. Cindy is one of those community activists that made this a better place to live, and she will be missed. Meanwhile I had a nice chat with former CSUB development director Mike Chertok (he retired) who tells me he is now the volunteer development director for the Bakersfield Symphony.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: honoring our veterans, making the rounds in the district

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) brings us up to date on the goings on in Washington.

"This week in Washington, I participated in several meetings on the economy and financial services issues. My colleagues and I on the Capital Markets Subcommittee had a bipartisan dinner with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Princeton professor Alan Blinder to discuss regulatory reform as it relates to the Fed. It was very valuable to hear their candid thoughts on this important issue. Also, National Economic Council Chair Larry Summers met with Republican Members of the committee to talk about the economy and share his thoughts on financial industry regulatory changes.

"I also joined my colleague Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) in cosponsoring the Absentee Ballot Track, Receive and Confirm (TRAC) Act (H.R. 2510). This legislation will help many voters who cannot determine whether their absentee ballots were actually sent out, received and counted by helping states establish absentee ballot tracking systems. On a military matter, I introduced legislation that would provide travel reimbursement costs for military members at Edwards Air Force Base who have to travel down to UCLA for specialty medical care for their families. Given Edwards’ remote location, it is appropriate that government help ensure military families’ healthcare needs are met.

This next week I will be back home for a district work week.
On Monday, I will be attending Memorial Day Services at Union Cemetery and Hillcrest Memorial Park. Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for our nation. I am grateful for the brave American men and women who have served and sacrificed. Throughout this past year, I have witnessed how our community continually strives to honor those who have served in the Armed Services. This Memorial Day, we remember the brave Americans who have fallen defending our nation, and those courageous men and women who are serving in distant lands today protecting our freedom.

"Tuesday morning, tune into 1400AM KERN radio as I will be a guest of Danielle Sullivan at 9am. Later that afternoon, I plan on interviewing local veterans about their war-time experiences, and then sending their stories to the Veterans History Project. The Veterans History Project is an initiative by the Library of Congress ( that collects personal stories of our war veterans so that generations do not forget their sacrifice Tuesday evening I will be hosting an Identity Theft Prevention Town Hall that will start at 5:30p.m. at the Kern County Board of Supervisors. To attend this event please email my office at or call my district office: (661) 327-3611. Every year an estimated 9 million Americans have their identity stolen. To help protect against this growing problem, the town hall will include official representatives from law enforcement and government agencies to listen to concerns and provide safeguards against identity theft.

"On Thursday, the House Republican American Energy Solutions Group will be hosting an Energy Summit in San Luis Obispo County, at CalPoly. I will be leading the Energy Summit with Congressman Devin Nunes and other Members of Congress. The American Energy Solutions Group is working to craft legislative solutions that will help lower energy prices for American families and small businesses, and put America on a path towards energy independence. This event, one of several being held across the United States, is an opportunity for Members of Congress to join with leading local and national experts on energy in a discussion about renewable and alternative energy technologies. This summit is open to the public, so if you are in San Luis Obispo County on Thursday, please join us to participate in the discussion.

"Thanks for reading, have a good Memorial Day weekend.

The journalism bubble: why the newsroom and reporting will never be the same

Came across a thought provoking piece on the state of journalism today, penned by none other than Jeff Jarvis, the prolific and insightful media blogger who is constantly challenging the "mainstream media" to change or risk total irrelevance. (see the entire take on Jarvis' blog here) Jarvis argues - and I agree here - that old media is dying because most mainstream journalists spend their time "churning commodity news" that is of little value to readers. Journalists hate this of course, because most have an "inflated" view of themselves and their work. From Jeff's blog, quoting another blogger Robert Picard:

"Well-paying employment requires that workers possess unique skills, abilities, and knowledge. It also requires that the labor must be non-commoditized. Unfortunately, journalistic labor has become commoditized. Most journalists share the same skills sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories….

Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation."

Well said. Here's my take on this: back in the day, when advertisers and readers had fewer options, it was okay to churn out endless streams of agenda-driven city council or government stories, or soft features, because readers had no choice. Or it was okay to view the world - and write stories - about what interested you because you (the reporter) thought it was important. No one paid attention to marketing or reader interests because you didn't need to. You got paid and rewarded anyway. And, the process dictated sameness. But now the market demands expertise, impact and content targeted at specific interests. Journalists hate this because it diminishes what they do, what they find interesting, but readers have already voted - by going to sources where they find value. Some of this stuff is simple: when dad eats his son's eyes out in a drug crazed stupor, that's news. Burying it inside because you don't want to sensationalize it and then running commodity wire copy on the front - when reader interest dictates otherwise - is simply suicidal. Short of that, a city council "advance" story written just to fill the pages is also commodity drivel that has little or no value. Just because you cover city government and know people, and you have an interest in it, doesn't mean it's interesting or has value to anyone else. More from Jeff:

"People — particularly if they’re under 40 — have news priorities other than those of the editors of The New York Times or producers of the “NBC Nightly News.” A new tablet from Apple — or last night’s episode of “Gossip Girl” or the adventures of the hipster grifter — is a bigger deal than the latest petty scandal in Albany. You think that’s a damning indictment of modern society and a recipe for idiocracy? Fine. Start a nonprofit to cover all the local-government news you think a healthy society needs. But don’t expect advertisers — or commercially-minded publishers or readers, for that matter — to share your interests. . . .

"When Gawker started, there was a surfeit of information and not nearly enough context — so we provided that, in the form of links and occasionally snarky commentary. But now the balance has shifted. There are pointers to articles on the blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Digg. And all these intermediaries are looking for something to link to. If a good exclusive used to provide 10 times the traffic of a standard regurgitated blog post, now it garners a hundred times as much. That should be reassuring to people. The content market is finding its new balance. Original
reporting will be rewarded.

So where does that leave old school journalists? Some tips:
* Get over thinking that the work you do is important. It is only important if the marketplace values it.
* Stop writing for what interests you and write for your readers.
* Ask yourself: how well do I really know my market and my readers?
* Please, no more hiding behind "awards" from your local or state press clubs. These are given out by your peer groups that often have little relevance to readership or impact.
* The old days of writing "DBI" stories (dull but important) are over. If it's really important, it won't be dull. Dull and sameness equate to death.
* Recognize there will be fewer of you and you will have to become more specialized. And that doesn't mean you "specialize" in city government because you like it but rather you specialize in finding content that has real value to your readers. Your work must have impact.
* And lastly, accept the change or find other work.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cops: Man who blinded son by biting out his eye once tried to hide dope in the boy's crib

Another day and yet another stunning development in the tragic story of the man who blinded his son by biting out his eye in an apparent drug crazed frenzy. The boy, little Angelo Mendoza, was left blind while the cops are trying to put together exactly what happened. One thing is clear: there are no good guys in this sordid story that involves drugs, possible gang involvement, a missing mother and possible malfeasance by Child Protective Services. The latest development comes from The Californian, which reports that three years ago - when the lad was just 1 year old - cops were at the boy's house when they found a container with traces of drugs hidden in his crib. His parents were taken into custody, CPS was called and the boy was taken into protective custody.

But somehow, the boy was returned home to live with his dad, who reportedly has a long criminal record and possible gang involvement. Then, a few days ago, he attacks his son and literally bites one eye out and damages the other. So many questions: where was the mother, Desirae Bermudez? A TV station says she didn't live with the boy. And where was CPS, particularly if they knew the father had tried to hide his drug stash in the boy's crib three years earlier! This is one of those stories that has made the rounds across the globe, and just this afternoon a family in New Zealand emailed me asking how they could help. Stay tuned. We'll look into establishing a trust fund for little Angelo, who is apparently now blind in both eyes. So much sadness for a boy who did nothing wrong.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Witness: Angelo Mendoza had "wild look" in days before blinding his son

Details are beginning to emerge about the man accused of attacking his 4-year-old son and literally biting one of his eyes out. The boy remains hospitalized and it is not known if he is blind in one or both eyes. This is the most talked about story in town, an utterly outrageous and disgusting story, and it has captured the attention of readers across the globe. The suspectg, confined to a wheelchair, was apparently on some kind of drug rage when he attacked his son. The boy told police: "Daddy ate my eyes out." The latest details come from KBAK TV's Carol Ferguson, a longtime veteran reporter who knows how to work a story.(read her report here) She tracked down friends of the suspect, Angelo Mendoza Sr., who said he had been enrolled at Bakersfield College last year and had been training for a long bike ride in his wheelchair. And, to the first of my knowledge, Ferguson tracked down the boy's mother (lots of questions about where she was since the boy was living with his father).

From the KBAK report:
"The child's mother, who called herself Desirae but would not disclose her last name, said Mendoza has been wheelchair-bound since December 2004 when he was stabbed in the back and left paralyzed from the waist down. Desirae said Mendoza had hoped to organize a bicycle ride from Disneyland to Disney World."
KBAK also quoted another friend, Harvey Clowers, as saying Mendoza seemed enthusiastic about wheelchair sports but had recently showed a change in attitude.
"It just seems like ... he had a wild look in his eyes," Clowers said on Wednesday. "He was kind of speeding around, rolling fast and just moving around like he was under the influence of something."

Photo courtesy of KBAK TV website

The Californian's annual valentine to our graduating seniors, this Sunday

Be on the lookout this Sunday in The Californian for its annual salute to our graduating seniors. These are the kids who deserve our respect, whether they're heading to Bakersfield College or Boston College. They've set their sights on higher education and let's give them their due. The paper will have eight full pages of senior photos. It's always fun to peruse the pages looking for neighbors and friends, so enjoy this salute. Look for it in the Eye Street section this Sunday, followed next Saturday by BakersfieldLife's salute to some of our best and brightest kids.

Eric Schmidt's wisdom to college grads: innovate to succeed or risk becoming irrelevant

Came across a wonderful summary of the commencement speech that Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It's a powerful speech that speaks to the power of the innovative mind and how quickly the world is changing. (see the entire post here) It struck me that it's not only graduating seniors who who need to hear this, but also everyone in any kind of business being challenged during these difficult times. And this includes folks who work at newspapers and other "mainstream media," many of whom are spending their energy trying to hang on to the past instead of embracing the future. The truth is the old models of so many businesses - including newspapers - have been rendered largely impotent by forces out of their control, and try as they might, the old comfortable way of doing business is gone forever. They can and will survive, but they will emerge totally different animals that embrace an "open source" idea of welcoming outside content and operating more efficiently with smaller staffs and new ways of presentation both in digital and print. Those who don't learn to take risks, and innovate, those who insist on clinging to yesterday's model, will most certainly perish by virtue of making themselves expendable.

As Schmidt told the graduates:
“To some extent you were penalized for making mistakes historically. Now you have to make them because mistakes allow you to learn and to innovate and to try new things. And that’s a culture of innovation that is going to create the next great opportunities for all of you as you come to run and rule the world and the rest of us retire.
“Don’t bother to have a plan at all. All that stuff about having a plan, throw that out. It seems to be it’s all about opportunity and make your own luck…. You cannot plan innovation. You cannot plan invention. All you can do is try very hard to be at the right place and be ready….
“How should you behave? Well, do things in a group. Don’t do things by yourself. Groups are stronger, groups are faster. None of us is as smart as all of us…..

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Who needs polling data when man's best friend weighs in on the California propositions?

Sometimes a picture says it all on this voting day in California. Here, "Lucky" makes a statement about the California propositions put forward by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Californian photographer Felix Adamo found Lucky at the Bakersfield Racquet Club polling center around noon. Dan Gassman, Lucky's owner, couldn't say if Lucky supported the propositions or not. The mutt had no comment.

"The Rec" Opens at CSUB and a commuter school starts to grow up

It's a good day for the students out at Cal State Bakersfield where the new Student Recreation Center has officially opened. The school held a nice little dedication ceremony under a warm sun with the sparkling new "Rec" gleaming in the background. I use the term "the Rec" because student leaders said that's how it is already known among students, who voted several years ago to help fund the center themselves via a student activity fee. We did a quick tour and the place is stunning: four full indoor basketball courts, an elevated cushioned track, tons of cardio machines before a tall bank of flat screen TVs, karate room, cardio rooms, personal trainers available, a rock climbing wall... pretty much anything a student could want. Facilities like these, albeit on a much grander scale, are the norm at the large state universities and students have come to expect them as a place to stay in shape and socialize. This is yet another important step on President Horace Mitchell's stated quest to bring an authentic student experience to this largely commuter school. It seems to be working: as we toured the Rec Center there was evidence that "Greek week" had just ended. Photos below of inside "The Rec" and evidence of Greek week.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"My daddy ate my eyes out" yet suspect remembered as loving, doting father

I have long lost any sense of shock at the horrors some people are capable of, but then a story comes along that simply leaves you speechless. The latest Bakersfield savagery to unfold locally involved a drug crazed father who - brace yourself here - literally ate the eyes out of his son and left him blind in one and perhaps both eyes. The victim in this case was 4-year-old "baby" Mendoza, who according to neighbors had been living with his father (Angelo Mendoza Sr.) even though he told his mother he was afraid of his father. Check out all the chilling details on KERO-TV's website available here. The unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy are endless, including:
* Why was the boy living with the father when, according to KERO, his father had a substance abuse issue and was confined to a wheelchair?
* Where was the mother?
* Why did the mother leave the boy after he expressed such fear of his father?
And of course there are the inevitable interviews with neighbors and the father's brother who are simply shocked this could happen because the father just loved his son so much. Unfortunately these are the kinds of stories coming out of Bakersfield that folks remember.
Photo courtesy of KERO-TV website.

Bako Bits: graduation season, celebrating high achievers and fretting about the lost generation

Coming off another splendid weekend in Bakersfield, which lived up to its nickname "Bako" on Sunday when my car told me it was 106 degrees outside. Hot as it was, the skies were blue and everyone was out: working in their yards, washing cars, on the bike trail early, enjoying the coming of our "warm season." I spent the weekend at a skeet tournament in west Kern where I came across a number of youngsters, most of them high school seniors eager to call it a day and move on to college. I admire these kids who manage to stay focused to the end, particularly one who sat on a sofa studying for her final Advanced Placement exam and another who was celebrating a scholarship to a small college in Missouri. But let's be honest: Kern County has a dismal high school dropout rate (above 20 percent) and only 7 percent of our seniors have what it takes to get into a "UC" like UCLA, Berkeley, UC Davis etc. So it's worth celebrating those that do:

* ... BEST AND BRIGHTEST: The magazine BakersfieldLife is once again devoting its cover story (check it out above) to some of our high achieving kids. I'm always impressed with these kids and their stories. This year we've got one going to MIT in Cambridge, a bunch headed to UCLA and one bound for Georgetown. (Hint to the uninformed: you have to have better than a mere 4.0 GPA to get into UCLA and Georgetown) I challenge anyone to read this and not be impressed. Local writer Dana Martin wrote the story and did a terrific job capturing the spirit of these kids. Look for BakersfieldLife in the Saturday home delivered edition of The Californian on May 30.
* ... MICHELLE OBAMA: Hats off to First Lady Michelle Obama who gave the first commencement address at the new UC Merced campus. Reports said her 22-minute speech was truly uplifting, a nice valentine to this new California campus.
* .... AND WHAT ABOUT THE OTHERS?: I made the mistake of dropping by the Marketplace shopping center early Friday evening. I was greeted by literally hundreds of young teens and they didn't exactly inspire me or give me confidence for the future. Many of these kids looked liked a classic "lost generation" of underachievers who might one day be part of those kids who never make it through high school. Judgmental yes, but take a look for yourself.