Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Kepler's Books, 1955 - 2005

Inconceivably, two of my three favorite bookstores in Menlo Park, California, have closed down within a few months of one another (see my earlier post about Wessex Books). Today at 9 am, Clark Kepler announced to his employees that Kepler's Books, after fifty years in the business of selling books and ever a stalwart in the local business community, was no more.

My wife sent me the Palo Alto Online link to this story a moment ago and it was like a blow to the head. When I first moved to the Bay Area after college, in 1987, I lived in Union City, and when asking friends and coworkers about a good bookstore in the area the Kepler's name was all I heard (well, that and Cody's Books in Berkeley). I began making weekly pilgrimages to Kepler's, usually on weekends, and have been a loyal customer ever since, even when I lived in San Bruno for a short time.

Without wishing to appear melodramatic, I'm stunned and dismayed that Kepler's is gone, and I can't imagine downtown Menlo Park without this business. It is, or was, the hub of downtown Menlo Park, and its demise will almost surely be followed by that of Cafe Borrone, Feldman's Books and many other businesses. The loss is doubly painful for me because I was a big fan of Wessex Books on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park (across the street from Kepler's), and we lost that bookstore earlier this year when its owner wished to retire and couldn't find a buyer.

Ironically, I was just in Kepler's a few days ago with my three-year-old daughter, giving her the grand tour and thinking to myself how solid the business seemed, how there was always a good crowd with people queued up making purchases. The fanfare surrounding the 50th anniversary this year certainly gave no clue to any financial woes. I wonder why Kepler didn't give his loyal customer base some warning, marshall the troops, that sort of thing. Clearly the situation must have been dire, beyond repair, to close the store with no final sale or customer notice.

Perhaps a Borders or a Barnes & Noble will take Kepler's place, if they can get Cafe Borrone and the other first-floor businesses evicted to make room for their huge stock of narrowly-focused crap. These truly are the end days of the independent bookseller....

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Daily dose of bumper sticker

I don't normally pay attention to bumper stickers, personalized license plates, stuffed animals in back windows or the myriad other pleas for attention that adorn automobiles, but on the drive to work today, while waiting for the light at Middlefield and University in Palo Alto, I saw an unassuming vehicle with one inconspicuous sticker on the rear bumper, one that read:

    Don't pray in my school
    And I won't think in your church

When I got to work I googled the above and found at least one outfit that sells tee shirts emblazoned with those words, so I take it the remark is by no means new. But it was new to me (the nifty turn on the word "think", at least), and it made me wonder how many churches would begin their Sunday service with five minutes to respectfully acknowlege -- to participate in, even -- the worship of local Satanists, to use an extreme example. If you find that notion abhorrent you should know that I and many other reasonable, well-meaning people are equally put off by the idea of prayer in public schools.

Now, I'm not hostile to religion -- several of the most important people in my life are deeply religious -- but I do believe the practice of religion through prayer, however thinly veiled as "quiet time" or "time for reflection," has no place in public schools. Personal feelings aside, I've never understood the objectives of those who push for prayer in public schools -- there's no evidence I know of to suggest that prayer makes for better, more focused, more respectful students, or for a less violent student body. In fact, the only anecdotal evidence I have would seem to suggest the opposite: The children who attended the Catholic K-8 school in my hometown were, generally speaking, some the most troublesome students in high school.

Perhaps those who would have children pray in our public schools are simply in need of validation; need to see their understanding of control and conformance extend beyond their church into the classroom, no matter how awkward and unproductive the routine of five minutes silence at the beginning of each school day, where some number of students will bow their heads in earnest prayer, and the remainder will stare blankly out the window or at the ceiling, fully aware that this morning ritual is not theirs, no matter how civil or secular its outward structure.

But so much for generalizations, which are often neither fair nor accurate. I'll only add that in the continuing struggle over faith as a public concern, people of reason will stand resolute in defense of that line that fronts our public schools.

Now, if I could just find my underpants ...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bush, Big Oil looking to bugger us yet again

It would appear that administering a $25 billion dollar butt plug to the American taxpayers care of his energy bill, the chief aim of which is the enrichment of oil and energy companies (many of which are already enjoying record profits), isn't enough for President Bush and his cronies. No, the only proper encore for a billion-dollar energy tax boondoggle is a million-acre drilling debacle in Alaska. And the sneaky bastards have learned from past failures in the Senate, where attempts to push through drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) have generally languished. This time around they plan to include a provision authorizing ANWR drilling as part of a budget procedure, which is immune to filibuster.

Reublican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green -- no matter your party preference you owe it to posterity to help end this nonsense. Two dozen House Republicans would seem to agree. Please contact your representation in the House and Senate and voice your disapproval.

-- Mark

President Bush to Big Oil: "Drilling platforms in paradise!"

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bolton ready to "kick ass, take names" at United Nations

Still giddy from the 51% "mandate" he received during the 2004 presidential election, George Bush sidestepped the Senate and installed John Bolton as U.N. Ambassador earlier this week. Commenting on his installation to the U.N., Bolton stated, "We seek a stronger, more effective organization, true to the ideals of its founders and agile enough to act in the 21st century. It will be a distinct privilege to be an advocate for Americans' values and interests at the U.N. -- and in the words of the U.N. Charter, to help maintain international peace and security.... Who am I kidding -- I just want to kick the whole world's ass!" Well done, President Bush.

-- Mark

John Bolton facing the Senate, demonstrating how to handle "hostile foreigners" at the U.N.