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Our Peevish Mayor: Gonzo goes off.

The Fly

Greetings From Gonzo

In between fielding questions from reporters about his golf game and the new city hall, Mayor Ron Gonzales made a brief pit stop this weekend at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center to address a group of voters about the importance of political engagement. The event, sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was a Muslim town hall meeting, and Gonzales, after being introduced warmly by the South Bay Islamic Association's imam Tahir Anwar and before leaving early for his next (golfing?) engagement, joked that he was there to talk about "potholes, libraries and parks" rather than the national and international issues Muslims are so zealous about. But the highlight of his address came when he noticed the sign CAIR had set up on the podium. It read: "CAIR: San Francisco Bay Area." Gonzo's administration, of course, is noted for going to great lengths to puff up San Jose, using methods such as happily accepting and promoting ridiculous awards that name San Jose as one of America's most livable cities. True to script, the esteemed (embattled?) mayor quickly noted that the U.S. Census Bureau's last description of the Bay Area was the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area, not the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland Bay Area. The issue was deemed serious enough by the mayor to take a quick shot at the CAIR organizers: "Get a new sign, will you?"

City Websites Still Suck

As we reported last month, the irony of Silicon Valley cities is that they fail to capitalize on the very technological advances this area has grown prosperous peddling. Specifically, anyone looking for campaign finance reports, election results and other civic-related data probably won't find it on the county or city websites. Those same governments have failed another test. According to a survey of 408 California municipal websites, Silicon Valley cities are mostly inaccessible to blind people, the elderly and others with disabilities. Of the 10 cities in the valley, only Los Gatos, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale had websites that passed minimum federal guidelines for disabled web surfers. Visually impaired browsers use text-deciphering software like Jaws, which can't read graphic images. Unfortunately, most cities in the valley fail to offer alternative text to point-and-click graphics, rendering their sites useless to Jaws-type software. Cities also don't provide options for enlarging small text, navigating around JavaScript devices or video and audio streaming (which also affects deaf web browsers). Also hurt by the GUI-dependent web are the increasing number of browsers who access the Internet by telephone since they experience the same problems as the disabled and elderly. "What we're seeing is poor usability all the way around," says Kirk Biglione, chief of technology for Pandemic Media, which conducted the survey for Alt Tags. "There is no sense of best practices, which is a shame. Most websites are of the clip art variety, with no real thought going into them." Worst of all is that government officials seem to have no clue their websites are atrocious. "Cities are not even aware of the issue," Biglione says. "Accessibility is not even an issue."

Getting Schooled

One of the more interesting aftereffects of the rise of terrorists who hail from Muslim countries has been a decided determination by universities to study the religion of Islam. It was reported in the city's daily last September that Oracle big-wig Sohaib Abbasi plunked down a cool $2.5 million (matched by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) to endow a new Islamic studies program in Islamic Studies for Stanford University. Now, Fly has learned, the university is making strides to get the program off the ground. Most notably, Bob Gregg, a Stanford religious studies professor and the inaugural director of the new program, tells Fly that the university is in negotiations with two high-profile Islamic studies scholars: Sherman Jackson from the University of Michigan and Michael Sells from Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Jackson is a respected traditional scholar who studied classical Islam in Cairo; Sells made headlines last year when his book, Approaching the Qur'an, irked fundamental Christians. The incident highlighted the effects of politics on research for Islamic scholars. "It's really difficult," acknowledges Gregg. "Because of the media, these characters get drawn out of their offices to talk to any group of more than 25 who beg them to come. All these men and women feel an obligation to go answer questions. Sells, I think, is better at staying in his office and continuing his writing, while Sherman Jackson [who is a Muslim] has a sharper sense of going out there and doing his duty."

Getting the Big Guns

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has joined the ongoing dispute between Internet insulters Mary Day and Michelangelo Delfino and their former employer, Varian Medical Systems. Delfino and Day are the Los Altos couple who posted offensive remarks about Varian and its executives, remarks that Varian tried to silence through legal remedy. Delfino and Day cried SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation), and, five years and millions of dollars later, the contentious case sits waiting to be argued in the California Supreme Court. On the line—at least from Delfino and Day's perspective—is an important portion of California's progressive anti-SLAPP legislation, which is intended to protect private individuals from resource-wasting and silencing lawsuits brought on by powerful interests such as large corporations. Lockyer, who also happens to be one of the architects of the anti-SLAPP laws, is apparently so upset by a lower court ruling against his cherished legislation that he took the initiative two weeks ago to file a brief supporting Delfino and Day. The move can be described as politically daring for Lockyer—indeed, Delfino and Day's vulgar Internet messages have seemingly already repelled other would-be supporters. "They [Varian] have got to have shitted," Day says. "I bet you they just shit."

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From the June 23-29, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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