Jack Van Zandt

Jack Van Zandt

Posts by Jack Van Zandt

Remembering Leonard McKay (1921-2006)

We are approaching the second anniversary of the death of our good friend, SJI colleague and local historian Leonard McKay. I think of him often and still love re-reading his stories over and over, and remembering the wonderful conversations that we used to have. I was thinking that the very best way we can pay tribute to Leonard is to rerun one of his pieces that he wrote for this site and then ask our readers to post comments and remembrances, or tell a good story of your own. When I was trying to decide which piece to post here, I remembered that Leonard had a favorite story that he told again and again. It is also one of his bawdiest tales and it comes with a warning: Don’t try this at home.

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Twist of Fate

Guitar Legend Ry Cooder Joins Latina Singer Ersi Arvizu in San Jose Concert

Ry Cooder, named by Rolling Stone and just about anyone who knows anything about the guitar as one of the top ten best original guitarists of all time, makes a rare live appearance in San Jose on Friday, September 26, backing popular ‘60s and ‘70s Latina singer Ersi Arvizu, who had virtually disappeared off the radar screen in the intervening decades. Arvizu’s big voice is now back and can be heard in a new CD produced by Cooder, who is credited with her rediscovery and coaxing her back into the musical limelight.

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Attacking the Plastic Menace

Food for Thought

Over the past 60-plus years since World War II, we have become the throwaway society. Our landscape is littered with plastic and paper wrappers, bags, bottles, containers, etc., and our garbage dumps are filled to the brim with the same. Californians use 50 million plastic bags every day, around 18 billion each year, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the state’s litter. Of course, the main reason plastic is used is its low cost as a packaging material for industry and retail stores, and there is no arguing with its convenience factor.  However, plastic waste is responsible for a long list of costly environmental problems, including the clogging of water and waste systems and the death of wildlife. In addition, plastic is manufactured from oil, takes thousands of years to break down and much of it is not recyclable. At every step of the way from manufacture to end-of-use, plastic bags and containers constitute a major source of pollution.

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The Citizen Oversight Solution

Food for Thought

A few years ago, I was in China on business and read in the English language newspaper there about a man who had embezzled the equivalent of $50,000 from some government agency. He was found guilty in court and immediately taken out the back of the courthouse and executed by firing squad. The crime of embezzlement of any amount is punishable by death in China and there is no appeal process. It’s no wonder that this crime is rare in that country. Now I am not holding up the Chinese system of justice as an example of anything to emulate and I certainly do not advocate the death penalty for embezzlement. However, it provides a stark contrast to how we treat “misappropriaters” of public funds in the USA.

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Mariachi Music and Politics

A Conversation with Linda Ronstadt

The hugely successful San Jose International Mariachi and Latin Music Festival is upon us again. Now in its seventeenth year, the festival begins on September 7 at the HP Pavilion. This year’s concerts feature a long, impressive list of top mariachi and Latin artists, including names that would be familiar to the average music fan such as Lila Downs, Ersi Arvizu (with Ry Cooder) and Linda Ronstadt, who is also the festival’s chief adviser.

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Should We Legalize and Regulate Brothels?

Food for Thought

The arrest of a 57-year-old male San Francisco high school assistant principal and a 41-year-old Milpitas woman for running a brothel in an upscale North San Jose apartment complex has shocked the residents of the building and others around the city. It was one of two similar brothels shut down by San Jose police last week and the tenth one of the year brought to police attention by complaints from neighbors. But why should the fact that brothels exist in such places surprise anyone?

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Isn’t All Abuse and Torture of Animals Wrong?

Food for Thought

Let me start off by saying that I am against violence of any kind except in extraordinary circumstances where it is imminently necessary in order to protect life or prevent serious injury. I am also against the torture and harmful abuse of animals for medical and scientific experiments and for the development of products to feed our out-of-control consumer society. That being said, the recent firebombings of the homes of two UC Santa Cruz professors, in one case endangering the target’s children, were appalling acts, whether you are against animal testing or not, and it is my hope that those responsible are caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

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Conservation or Rationing?

Food for Thought

Like our use of gasoline, natural gas, electrical power (Did you know 50 percent of the electricity on the national grid is generated by coal?) and oil-based products like plastic, we Americans use water with reckless abandon. Yet, water is becoming a scarce commodity in the Bay Area these days, made worse by the drought conditions we are experiencing.

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Will We Ever Have BART?

There has been much discussion on this site about BART coming to San Jose from the very beginning. The latest effort to fund the project, a one-eighth-cent sales tax proposal on the November ballot, has brought the issue back into the news and I thought we might take the opportunity to debate the initiative. (There is a very good article by Erin Sherbert in Metro this week that brings the matter up to date.)

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Is it Time to Lower the Speed Limit?

Food for Thought

Over the past few years I have taken to driving the speed limit or less, especially on my long distance trips, mainly to LA and Sacramento. Let me tell you, it’s a lonely place to be, over on the right doing 60-65. You get passed by everybody as if you are standing still. I have found it’s often better to do “blue highway” driving whenever I can, avoiding the freeways and taking the two-lane blacktop scenic routes where the speed limit is 55, traffic is minimal (except for nuts on hopped-up motorcycles) and you get to see a bit of the countryside that most people miss.

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Alcoholism and the SJPD

Food for Thought

Alcoholism is an insidious disease that knows no boundaries of age, sex, race, economic class, religion, or occupation. It is one of the most destructive forces in our society, not only harming the alcoholic, but everyone around them: spouses, children, family, friends, business partners and co-workers. Like most people, I have seen it and have felt its effects—in my case, a severely alcoholic friend, and my beloved late grandfather. I know firsthand that alcoholics will drive drunk, lie, cheat, steal, and commit fraud and other crimes, and even injure those who love them most, just to get a drink when they “need” one.

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Looking Back From the Firestorms of 2008 to the Fireworks of 1776

Food for Thought

When I look at the map showing the more than 1,000 wildfires burning in California right now, it seems the whole state is going up in a firestorm. I have spoken to firemen who have told me that, in fact, given the ultra-dry conditions, the stretched-out fire departments, and meteorological circumstances, a huge catastrophic firestorm is possible in large wooded and suburban city areas. It would be devastating to both humans and wildlife (the Big Sur fires already threaten endangered condors). So why are fireworks sales and traditional Fourth of July fireworks celebrations going ahead here in Santa Clara County and around the state as if none of this is happening?

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Taxpayers Subsidize Jetset Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous

Food for Thought

Anyone who lives or works around San Jose Airport (SJC) is used to seeing the constant stream of jets arriving and departing. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that in between the usual airline company planes, there are just as many, if not more, unmarked jets of various sizes. These are the rides of the wealthy elite of the corporate plutocracy. You know, the ones who own (George Carlin RIP) this country and are much too important to stand in security lines and sit in Ken-and-Barbie-size coach seats like the rest of us; the one percent at the top who got there and stay there by taking what they can from the 99 percent of the rest of us.

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Driving a Deadly Weapon Requires Following the Law

Food for Thought

Why is it that every time we get behind the wheel of a powerful automobile weighing thousands of pounds we think it gives us the individual right to break the laws that were put in place to protect everyone? Last week’s avoidable vehicular killing of a young girl by an unlicensed driver in the Rose Garden neighborhood may be the latest example, but is by no means an isolated incident, as statistics from across the country show.

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Inspiring Words From Visionary Leaders

Food for Thought

Lately, I have been researching great presidents, including Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and JFK, for a commercial educational writing project. Reading through the collected speeches and writings of each of these men, all of whom led during crucial historic times, it struck me that through their superior communication skills, they were all able to articulate a vision of a better future in such a way that the average American was inspired to act in accordance with that vision for the common good. In the classical sense, isn’t that what great leadership is all about?

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It’s Time to Elect a New Water District 2 Board Member

Why I Support Diana Foss

The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) Board of Directors needs new blood. Many of the members have been on it for way too long and may be there for the rest of their lives since they unanimously decided against term limits for themselves recently. The incredible arrogance of the board’s decision gives yet more sustenance to the necessity of changing the membership.

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