Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 13, 2010

Around Town

RETURN OF THE EX-MAYORS ... Leave it to a local election to waken past Palo Alto mayors out of their political slumbers. Former mayors and councilmen are preparing to play leading roles in the two ballot measures that local residents are asked to vote on in November. Measure R would freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department, pending a citywide election. Measure S would change the city's elections from odd to even years. The local firefighters union wrote in its argument for Measure R that the proposal will "give you, the residents of Palo Alto, the right to decide how many firefighters you want responding to 911 emergency calls" and "the final say as to how the community as a whole should be protected." But a coalition of ex-mayors and councilmembers, which includes Dena Mossar, Bern Beecham and Vic Ojakian, is arguing that the union-backed measure is anything but democratic. Mossar wrote in the official anti-Measure R argument that the measure is "an unprecedented power play that takes budget decision making out of the hands of our elected officials." The measure would make it "nearly impossible for the Fire Department's budget to ever be reduced," she wrote. The battle over Measure S, meanwhile, has split the ex-mayors. Judy Kleinberg is backing Measure S, which proponents say will boost voter participation and save the city $1 million over the next decade. The measure was proposed by Supervisor Liz Kniss, another former mayor, who has also signed on to oppose Measure R. Former Mayor Gary Fazzino, meanwhile, has joined current Councilman Greg Schmid in opposing the election-year change. Schmid wrote in his arguments against the measure that the current odd-year system makes it easier for local candidates to reach the public and that shifting to even years would "change the nature of local elections."

BRAIN GAMES ... Why do we get a warm fuzzy feeling when we watch other people perform good deeds? That's the question Stanford University doctoral candidate Jeff Cooper wrestled with in recent months. His findings? We care more about good intentions than about the actual deeds being performed. Furthermore, when we observe good deeds, we interpret them in much the same way as we'd interpret personal rewards. Cooper, who is now at Trinity College, split 38 participants into two groups and had them play a game in which each player throws money into a common pot. Cooper then doubled the sum and split the money evenly among participants. In one group, the game was referred to as a "stock market game," in another as a "public goods game." The researchers then took MRI scans of the participants and found that while the two groups' activities were similar, their feelings were drastically different. The group that played the "stock market" game didn't experience any major changes in their brains' ventromedial prefrontal cortexes (the regions that get stimulated by personal rewards). But in the "public goods" game, activity in the brain region "fired up," according to the Stanford Report. Players in this game seemed to like other players who gave generously to the pot. Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford and co-author of the research paper, said in a statement that the "test demonstrates that what people do doesn't really matter all the time." "What we think others are intending is what really matters," he said. "Essentially, even though people saw the exact same game, framing the game changed the test subjects' neural reactions to the players."

HERE COMES THE BRIDE ... All dressed in ... green? Green is, after all, the official color of Palo Alto, making the city the perfect location for the Bay Area's first "Green Wedding Fair," being held Aug. 29 at the Crowne Plaza Cabana. All fair vendors will offer some type of eco-friendly service or goods to customers and participants receive discounts for choosing the "green" options. Palo Alto was chosen due to its success with green initiatives, according to Brocade Weddings, the company holding the fair. Interested green grooms and brides-to-be can get more details at bayareaweddingfairs.com/go_green_save_green_win_green.shtml.

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