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Silicon Valley News Notes

I Don't Hear the Train A-Comin'

South County narrowly missed earning itself a Darwin Award on April 27, when a Gilroy teenager survived being hit by a northbound Union Pacific freight train. The 19-year-old, who had been sitting on a railroad tie near Leavesly Road while listening to his earphones, apparently didn't hear the locomotive approaching him on the tracks. Though the train's conductor used repeated horn signals, the teen was struck in the torso by the train's cowcatcher as it passed. Miraculously, police reported that the teenager sustained only non-life-threatening injuries from the accident. Earbud-listener-vs.-train collisions are more common then you might think. Last year, a Florida woman had her legs severed by a train when she was out jogging with her iPod, and a Canadian teenager was hit from behind and killed while walking on the train tracks, listening to his MP3 player. With the widespread popularity of 'podestrians' using MP3 players and earbuds out in public, on the street and apparently on railroad tracks, some cities have taken action. In the Big Apple they call it "iPod oblivion," and some state legislators have tried to pass a law making it a crime to cross NYC streets while plugged in. Australian police have even launched a pedestrian safety ad campaign in response to a dramatic rise in Aussie teenagers involved in fatal road collisions while listening to iPods. If that weren't enough, there's the evidence that iPods are making Americans deaf. The National Institute on Deafness reports that approximately 10 percent of American adults have permanent hearing damage from exposure to loud sounds stemming from leisure or work activities. In 2006, a man submitted a federal class action lawsuit against Apple in San Jose, claiming that the company's iPods could lead to hearing loss. Apple responded by releasing a free iPod software update that set volume limits. No word yet on software that repels locomotives.

Almost Never Forget

Wherever Councilwoman Madison Nguyen goes, there's a good chance her groupies will follow. Nguyen, still facing the threat of a recall, draws protests even now that the Little Saigon debate has died down. A small, yet vocal group has made a hobby out of protesting events and ceremonies where Nguyen appears. At the Democratic caucus in San Jose, about 40 Vietnamese Americans showed up with signs and flags. They have picketed in front of Vietnamese radio stations that have supported Nguyen and various Vietnamese events, including one where Nguyen went to greet the Vietnamese elderly for the New Year. "I get strange looks and they whisper things," Nguyen said. "I thought when we signed the peace agreement we would put issue behind us." But these die-hard protesters aren't official Madison haters—that is, they aren't members of the San Jose Voters for Democracy, the Vietnamese group that agreed to a peace deal with the mayor, ending their weekly protests at City Hall in exchange for allowing the Viets to hang "Little Saigon" banners around the Vietnamese retail area on Story Road. "Most of them want her to resign," said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for SJVFD. "There are individuals in the community that are always against Madison, so wherever she appears there may be protests." Well, not everywhere. The protesters abandoned their "Little Saigon" signs and symbolic flags to attend a housing forum which Nguyen hosted recently in her district. Nguyen was there to talk to residents about foreclosures and affordable housing issues in District 7. More than half those who attended the meeting were Vietnamese-American, some of whom Nguyen said she recognized from the notorious Little Saigon protests. "I guess when it comes to the necessities in life, people will focus on what is more important," Nguyen said.

Old Country For No Men

Long before the Vietnam War, San Jose had its own well-known Italian enclave called 'Little Italy.' And way before the Vietnamese were pushing to call the Vietnamese retail area Little Saigon, the Italian community had already started working on a plan to revive Little Italy and call it just that. But as you can imagine, nobody at City Hall wants to touch that one. But the Italian American Heritage Foundation is still lobbying the council to build an Italian cultural center along 13th Street in downtown, which was the original Little Italy enclave in the early 1900s. And they are careful not to call the project or the area Little Italy around people who work at City Hall for fear the project would get dropped on its head, said Joshua DeVincenzi-Melander, with the Italian American Heritage Foundation. "Sam Liccardo and all of them want to stay away from that designation with a 10-foot pole," DeVincenzi-Melander said. "When people are rioting outside City Hall, you can't blame them." But the Italian community is only going to take it so far. They have no plans to picket City Hall or make a fuss over the naming of the district. Instead, they are hoping that the area would naturally become known as Little Italy again if enough Italian businesses and residents move back to that area. "Eventually, that's our plan, to have it Little Italy, but the name wont come for a long time," DeVincenzi-Melander said.

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