A recent column of mine mentioned the year ending on a sad note for me personally. An old friend from my years at a local church (where my family attended for over 25 years) died of a heart attack on Christmas Day. He was 68. I hadn't seen him in many years. His kids and my kids grew up together but we lost contact over the years, as is common in life. A funny memory with Howard came to my mind. One Christmas time our church had a progressive dinner event where we went from one house to be served one food item, before going onto the next host and so on and so on. Howard and I were enjoying salad at one house and had great laughs as we secretly hung onion rings on the host's Christmas tree. We were being so juvenile but we shared a memorable laugh over the thought of leaving the raw onion rings there to let Jill and Rob, our hosts, make the eventual discovery by following the odor. We didn't follow through, of course, but shared some rich laughter that night.
Later Howard got divorced from his wife and moved away. Months turned into years, years into decades - well, you know the story. Then all of a sudden you hear of a death and you're surprised to know how fleeting life is.
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Odd, isn't it, how social media seems to "connect" us all closer while really disconnecting us face-to-face.
I was Jack Hunter's friend on Facebook but completely missed his death on Dec. 18. Sad to say, nobody in my circle bothered to tell me; I'm sure they thought I saw it on Facebook. Sad to say, I found out while passing time in the restroom on my smart phone. I even missed his funeral.
Jack was a church friend who was in our small study group. He and his wife Lois lived just east of Hughson. He served as a vice principal in Ceres (I believe at Mae Hensley), then as a principal in Oakdale. However, he was fondest of his position as a Ceres counselor.
I came to love and respect that man a great deal. He was so active, traveling all over the world as a heart condition worsened. At age 88, he had a refreshing view of life and didn't always hold your typical older man view of life. He was engaged and thoughtful.
My late wife and I enjoyed the pleasure of attending one of his evening yard birthday bashes, complete with Ernie Bucio & his Little Big Band playing big band songs that were popular when Jack was a kid.
Jack had emailed me on Aug. 22 after seeing my "History Hunters" YouTube show featuring Chinese Camp. He let me know that Carol Perry, another former Ceres Unified administrator, owns a great deal of Chinese Camp historic properties (which I later found out before Jack told me). I neglected to respond to his email for he was under the wrong assumption I was writing a book when I only had made a quick video and it had already been uploaded.
Jack was a prolific email forwarder, always sending inspirational videos or thoughts. He was witty, too. In March 2010 I emailed him to say how I missed him at our Tuesday night group and his reply was: "Could blame the Olympics but that excuse wouldn't win a medal. Hope to be back soon. J&L"
Nine years ago Jack forwarded me an email which I used over and over in my columns. It was about adopting an attitude of gratitude. My original column cited Jack by name. He emailed me, saying, "Hi & Happy New Year. Grade A+. By golly, I think you've got it. I'm truly flattered by your article, but I can't take credit, we both know who inspired me to send that e-mail - God - but thank you anyway. It was a wonderful, well written article and thank you for including God in the article. Jack & Lois"
It's hard losing friends like him.
Gosh, I'm going to miss him.
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I don't mean to be hard on Democrats all the time but they need to be called out for their hypocrisy.
Which politician said the following words? "I know that entrepreneurs need less regulation, not more. I know that small businesses need more credit, not less. And I know that exploding health care costs place a heavy burden on small businesses." Nope, not Donald Trump. It was husband of his opponent. Bill Clinton said that in October 1992 when he was running for president.
Who said this: "First, illegal immigration is wrong and a primary goal of comprehensive immigration reform must be to dramatically curtail future illegal immigration"? Those words were uttered by liberal U.S. Senator Chares Shumer in 2009 - the same man who blasted Donald Trump for his plans to curtail DACA.
Shumer, it will also be noted, condemned Trump's plan to restrict immigration from countries known to harbor terrorists while the U.S. improves the vetting process. It seems hypocritical given that in 2015 Shumer Twittered this: "We must tighten loopholes in the Visa Waiver program, ensure passports can't be faked & stop terrorists who want to exploit the system."
It's the same kind of reinventing that Barack Obama did when running for president in 2008 and saying he supported marriage only between a man and woman and then changed his mind to include same-sex marriage. Obama then announced in 2012 that he went through "an evolution." More like political expediency.
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Why so much homelessness in California today? Bill Wells, mayor of El Cajon, has a great theory and we need to draw some conclusions from it. He lays the blame squarely at policies of the Democrats in Sacramento.
First is AB 109, passed in 2011 to flush "lower level" criminals out of jail and onto our streets. It was designed to eliminate prison overcrowding. What happens to inmates who leave prison with zero job skills other than stealing? They become homeless. Jerry Brown's prison re-alignment program kicked into effect in 2015. A total of 7,619 probationers were released into San Diego County, with 1,077 being homeless and living on the streets. Thus, approximately 10 percent of the homeless in that region were prisoners on an early release program.
Secondly was Prop 47. Passed by voters in 2014 against the wishes of police and political conservatives, it converted a series of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Thus, shoplifting of items less than $950 was reduced to a misdemeanor. Prop 47 also made personal use of many drugs a minor offense; subject to a ticket or, more likely, no enforcement. Cheap drugs like meth have been infused into our culture, which in turn has triggered mass addiction, disability, unraveled lives and widespread homelessness.
Ironically, supporters of Prop. 47 billed it as the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act. What a crock of poo. It should have been called the Legitimizing Crime To Unclog Our Courts Act.
That's not all. Last year, Wells notes, the Legislature passed SB 180, which limits the ability of law enforcement to send chronic drug abusers back to prison.
Thirdly, a recent court case limited police officers' ability to stop people from living in their cars. Some cities are being pressured to go easy on bums living in our parks. Liberals in major cities, like Sacramento, are permissive about making the homeless comfortable on our streets and have dispensed value judgements that might shame the homeless or pressure them out of the homeless lifestyle.
We used to arrest vagrants in America. Now we tolerate them and vagrancy flourishes today in places like Hatch Road in Ceres, parks in Oakdale, downtowns Turlock and Modesto, and at the Save Mart Shopping Center on Oakdale Road in Modesto.
I do have a heart for people but allowing this to occur is not loving our neighbor. Giving pocket change to 20- and 30-year-old able-bodied men who won't get a job and allow themselves to live freely on the streets in emaciated and matted and stinky conditions is doing them no favors. Love sometimes has to get tough to change things that need to be changed. At the very least, government, the private sector, churches and humanitarian groups need to build homeless shelters and help turn their lives around.
We've got to do better at educating our children on how to make it in life economically.
We must raise our children in love so they won't feel the need to turn to drugs as adults.
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I hear continued bellyaching about the Ceres signs in downtown. Gene Yeakley, a former council candidate, emailed me, saying the signs are "terrible and they look like a carnival or circus atmosphere." He doesn't feel the lighted sign does anything to attract people to downtown.
The problem with downtown is not the signs - it's there is nothing to draw visitors off the freeway. Where are the exciting eateries within view of the freeway?
I've taken countless road trips across America and one thing the traveler always looks for is restaurants, and the trendier the better. Not only is downtown hidden from northbound 99 travelers, behind the Pine Street overpass, but there is nothing that beckons them.
Len Shepherd and I were looking at the new Ceres sign in the darkness after the City Council meeting and he asked me if I could read it. I said I had no problem reading it. He suggested the double bulbs made the letters hard to read. I then checked out the Modesto arch lit up at night. Modesto's sign is easier to read, probably because the lettering background is white while the Ceres sign lettering is lined in black.
All I can say it looks much better than what was there before, which was nothing.
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A parent anonymously left a voicemail with me last week, indignant that Ceres Unified School District has allowed the Ceres High student who was expelled last year after stabbing another student off-campus to return to school.
The stabbing occurred in March 2017 after two 15-year-olds squared off after the school day. According to information we published back then, the Endeavor High student - he later was stabbed - confronted the Ceres High School student over the posting of a video on social media. The two got into physical fight which was broken up and went separate ways. They later met up on Fifth Street where the stabbing occurred. The alleged assailant was located a few blocks from the scene and arrested on the charge of attempted murder.
Being that it was a juvenile case and nobody ever can released information on it, we're in the dark as to what transpired in Juvenile Court. We don't know it was a self-defense case. And, of course, CUSD couldn't talk about the student or his case either. Their hands are tied by the law. But Asst. Supt. Jay Simmonds sent us the California Education Code Section 48645.5 which outlines that "No student shall be denied readmission into the district based solely on the student's arrest, adjudication by a juvenile court, formal or informal supervision by a probation officer, detention in a juvenile facility, enrollment in a juvenile court school, or other such contact with the juvenile justice system."
So there you have it.
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This is hilarious, folks. Somehow I ended up on T.J. Cox's email list for donors so I get to see what he's saying in his quest to being our next congressman. (I wouldn't give Cox one thin dime). His fundraiser appeal email reads: "There are roughly 700,000 DREAMers who are at risk of being deported if Congress doesn't strike a deal on DACA immediately. We want to hear your thoughts, what do you think? These children live right here in the Valley. They go to our schools and churches. They should never have to worry about being taken from their homes and shipped off to some country they've never known. What has Denham done to protect them?"
Roughly one quarter of all DREAMers - children of those who snuck across the border illegally and have been ingratiated into our school system and economy - in the U.S. live in California, and about 10,000 in Denham's district.
Cox is being disingenuous. He knows, of course, that Denham is one of the biggest Republican proponents of protecting the so-called Dreamers. In fact, Denham released this statement on Thursday: "If we want to continue to thrive as a vibrant and diverse nation, then we must fix our broken immigration system to ensure future generations have the same opportunities, improve our economy and strengthen our communities. This includes securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration. The most logical place to start this conversation is with America's Dreamers."
Denham told an MSNBC reporter Ali Velshi on Wednesday: "We've never penalized kids for the deeds of their parents so this is something that is just the right thing to do. These kids know of no other home. They have no other country to go back to. They've graduated from high school alongside of our kids. It's the right thing to do."
By the way, when you click on Cox's "Click here to tell Congress that they need to vote to protect DREAMers right now!" button it will take you to a donation page.
Like the popular hip-hop song goes, "Hey, must be the money."
Do you have any feedback about this column? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will read it, promise.