Posted October 22, 2007 in News


Letters to Santa Claus are published on the feature page of the Hi-Desert Star in Yucca Valley, and this admission from Joshua Tree Elementary School second-grader Tyler Johnson rings truest as we soldier on through the holiday party season: “I like the name Blitzen.”



As you make out beneath the mistletoe, getting warmer and thinking thoughts of where such a holiday opportunity might lead, it’s worth remembering that this seasonal sprig is a parasite. Mistletoe sucks a tree’s water and nutrients through roots that dig deep into a host tree’s bark. Slowly, it affects the health of the tree, eventually the tree’s very survival, and even more eventually the existence of the forest and the people who live there—by increasing the chance of the whole thing going up in catastrophic wildfire. That’s why the San Bernardino County Fire Department runs mistletoe-eradication projects. That’s how Mount Baldy Village resident Marta Escanuelas got a $128,000 county grant to help remove trees killed by mistletoe. That’s why volunteers and professional tree-trimmers are working to strip trees of mistletoe. Dozens of trees have been stripped of the leafy parasite. And as for the mistletoe that was gathered—how did it . . . uhh . . . make out? “It was mulched,” Escanuelas said. Sexy!



New surveillance cameras, installed after a rash of unexplainable thefts from sites throughout the Hesperia Unified School District, reveal that the thieves are the guards from the private security company the district hired to protect its property.  Search warrants served at the homes of Eddie Roque, Bradley Clement and Sergio Martinez lead to the discovery of several thousands of dollars in cash, computers, laptops and other miscellaneous items belonging to the school district and its employees.



Don’t call it a Christmas bonus! The 61 employees of the Riverside Press-Enterprise who received a nice chunk of unexpected cash just in time to pay for holiday extras—or, just as likely, basic necessities—earned that money by working overtime. But the Belo Corp., the Dallas-based media giant that owns the Press-Enterprise, had been stiffing them—classifying them as managers, and thus not entitled to overtime. It’s a common tactic throughout the business world. But the employees, a group of current and former workers in charge of making sure the paper gets delivered, weren’t having it. They filed a lawsuit and their case looked so good—California law says that employees who are misclassified are entitled to up to four years of overtime compensation at time-and-a-half and double-time rates—that an out-of-court settlement was reached. The employees received their payments last week. But don’t call it a bonus, bone you!



My sisters, a brother and I take a tour of Temecula’s wine country to belatedly celebrate niece Erin Nicole’s 21st birthday, and after rolling through the sunny hills for awhile, somebody suggests—or maybe it was the wine talking—that we make this an annual Christmas week tradition. You know, it just seems to epitomize what it means to live in Southern California. Well, that’s how it seems, until the sun begins to set and we get on Interstate 15 to go home—and sink into a massive traffic jam. Very quickly, we remember what it really means to live in Southern California, and we begin cursing the greedy developers and spineless politicians who permitted these hills to be covered with houses without a transportation system capable of handling the people and vehicles that come with them. Only later do we learn that the traffic jam was caused when the freeway was closed in the aftermath of a horrible incident—the kidnapping of an El Cerrito couple by a man who was later shot and killed by police. God rest you, scary gentleman! Anyway, we take back that stuff about the developers and politicians. But not the stuff about what it means to live in Southern California. Kidnappings and killings and freeway closures: something like that always happens around the holidays, doesn’t it?



‘Tis the night before Xmas, and we’re not quite feelin’ it, so we turn where we always turn when we need a little curmudgeonly inspiration—the website of Blythe’s Desert Independent newspaper (, where publisher Howard Markle always comes through with a perspective just inappropriate enough to lift our spirits. He doesn’t disappoint, this time providing a guide for explaining the classic Christmas poem, “The Night Before Christmas” to children. Markle considers his essay “a public service, especially to hipster parents who believe that further explanation is a requirement for all children’s questions.” Typical of Markle’s analysis is this section on the arrival of Santa’s sleigh, pulled by eight tiny reindeer: “He calls all the deer by name, and they fly up to the roof. Now’s the time for a short lesson about remembering peoples’ names, and if your children are a little older, say four or five, you might mention the value-added move of giving the just-named person your business card. Networking can’t start too young. Santa’s got a sleigh full of toys so you might mention the problems associated with carrying a large inventory rather than letting the market determine the need for product turnaround.” We feel better already.



James Brown dies on Christmas morning, the end of a wonderful life.


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