December 19, 2010

Reporters Notebook: About those Merced ties...

Wondering what to get dad for Christmas? How about a Merced tie? Headline in Sun-Star on Dec. 8: "Marine with Merced ties killed in action." Headline on Dec. 13: "Serviceman with Merced ties remembered." Headline on Dec. 14: "Soldier who had Merced ties killed." Editorial Page Editor Keith Jones doesn't know where you can buy one of these Merced ties, but thinks we'll get our copy desk a thesaurus this year.

Photographer Lisa James wanted to do holiday shopping, catch a seasonal show and maybe hit a party or two in Fresno. She decided to take Amtrak. Her experience doesn't bode well for high-speed rail hereabouts, if Amtrak is any gauge. Bear in mind, Lisa notes, that more than half of Amtrak trains are reservation-only, which means making reservations well in advance. Nonreservation trains require you to show up half an hour before the train's departure. (This means the combined wait and commute time will take you twice as long as driving.) If you show up any later, they won't sell you a ticket at the station. Oh, but you can buy a ticket on the train "for a little bit more," she was told. Or a lot more. From $13 to $33 is the price you will pay for what another surly ticket-taker will tell you was your own fault for being irresponsible and not knowing how it all worked before showing up because "these are the rules and we have to be at work on time or else we get fired." Huh? Then -- and only then -- could she watch the almond orchards, fields and happy cows go rolling by as she thought how high-speed rail CAN'T GET HERE SOON ENOUGH. Fa-la-la-la. Next time, Lisa says, she'll drive.

Google might be promising lightning-fast Internet connections with its upcoming fiber network, but the process of getting there is proving to be a crawl. Thanks to online editor Brandon Bowers, Merced was one of nearly 1,100 communities to apply for Google's experimental fiber network that would offer Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than what most users have access to today. The company had planned to declare the winner by the end of this year, but it said Wednesday that the announcement is being postponed. However, a decision is coming soon, according to Milo Medin, Google's vice president of access services. Perhaps by early 2011.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim hangs out in some shady, shaky neighborhoods. But it's all for her job as Tip List reporter. This week, as she was approaching a house a tipster had told her was strewn with rubbish and an eyesore, she ran into resistance. A brown, medium-size mutt with a collar but no leash started running at her, barking. She made it back to her car safely, and the animal's owner appeared with a leash. As with mail carriers, neither rain nor snow nor dark of night nor mad dogs can keep our reporters from getting the story.

Livingston City Council meetings are usually animated events that bring a lot of residents to City Hall to watch, but Planning Commission meetings seem to do the opposite in the contentious town. During Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting, the chamber was nearly empty except for Acting City Manager Vickie Lewis, Councilwoman Theresa Land, political blogger Katherine Schell-Rodriguez and two others. Schell-Rodriguez was the only one who spoke during public comment. During a past council meeting, Commissioner Luis Flores encouraged more people to attend Planning Commission gatherings. Maybe Flores should consider bringing some protest signs to Planning Commission meetings -- as he has City Council meetings -- to create a livelier atmosphere.

-- Sun-Star Staff

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