Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pizarro: Expecting another happy Valentine's Day

For St. Valentine's Day, we have a tale of amour. Sandy St. Amour, that is.
The Kaiser Permanente manager at the Mountain View Medical Office had a baby 31 years ago on Valentine's Day.
Flash-forward three decades later, and the Sunnyvale resident is awaiting the arrival of her seventh grandchild. Her son, Steve St. Amour, and his wife, Kate, are expecting to deliver a daughter today.
The Cupertino couple isn't planning to name her Valentina, Valerie or anything like that. The expectant grandmother says she'll be called Dakota.
VIEWS OF THE VALLEY: "Affordable Silicon Valley property is one of those oxymorons like environmental oil company ... or the Sunnyvale after-hours entertainment guide," joked political satirist Will Durst at Joint Venture's State of the Valley conference on Friday.
He wasn't the only comedian at the McEnery San Jose Convention Center. Introducing state insurance commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed asked, "What's a gubernor, anyway?"
By the way, Poizner, sitting on a panel about California's future with U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, looked positively California casual in a blue blazer, jeans and no tie.
Dick Levy, chairman of Varian Medical Systems and the United Way Silicon Valley board, was honored at the event with Joint Venture's


David Packard Award. It's given annually to a valley figure who brings an entrepreneurial spirit to solving regional issues.
CALIENTE ON THE COURT: If the name Fernando Verdasco isn't familiar, either you aren't a tennis fan or you're a guy.
The 27-year-old Spaniard made a big splash at last week's SAP Open. His appearance Thursday at the sixth annual Ladies Day Luncheon, held at the Grill at HP Pavilion, was absolutely swoon-worthy, I'm told.
About 200 female club tennis players attended, and maybe they were hoping Verdasco would re-create his nude tennis pose from a 2008 issue of Cosmopolitan.
A smaller crowd of about 120 women showed up for Friday's lunch with players Benjamin Becker and Xavier Malisse.
TENNIS CHAMP: He may not be as hot as Verdasco, but UC-Santa Cruz men's tennis coach Bob Hansen has his share of fans.
Hansen, whose team is the reigning NCAA Division III champ, performed the coin toss before Andy Roddick's first-round match Wednesday. About 200 Banana Slug supporters were on hand to cheer.
YEAR OF THE TIGER: The beautiful Hakone Gardens in Saratoga will be the site of a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday.
The festivities, from noon to 4 p.m., will include cooking demonstrations, Chinese Opera, a lion dance and a tour of the historic venue. Get more details at
GALA GOODBYE: Mountain View's Community School of Music and Arts is bidding farewell to Nicholas Isaacs, who's retiring after 25 years as its music school director. There will be a video tribute to Isaacs at the school's Young@Art gala Saturday at Sharon Heights Country Club in Menlo Park.
Tickets to the fundraiser — which includes dinner and performances by faculty and students — are $250. You can get more details at For tickets, contact Katie Cooney at 650-917-6800, ext. 342, or
SAVOR THE DATE: The Via Ball, one of Silicon Valley's more delicious events, is coming up Friday at Villa Ragusa in Campbell.
This year, the evening of wining and dining will bring together master sommelier Randal Bertao of Los Altos Country Club, Le Papillon chef Scott Cooper, chef David Nelson of Crunch Catering and chef Lou Zulaica of the Golf Club at Boulder Ridge.
The fundraiser for Via Services, which helps disabled children and adults lead richer lives, starts at 5:30 p.m. For tickets, call Cat Whyte at 408-243-7861 or visit

NATO: Troops miss target, kill 12 Afghan civilians

In this photo released by Britain's Ministry of Defense, members of the F AP – In this photo released by Britain's Ministry of Defense, members of the F Company (Fire Support) 1 Royal …
KABUL – NATO says two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and killed 12 civilians in southern Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the accident. In a statement released Sunday by NATO, McChrystal says the current massive military offensive in Helmand province is aimed at restoring security and stability to the country's dangerous south and he regrets that innocent lives were lost in Nad Ali district. Karzai issued a statement minutes earlier saying 10 members of the same family died when a rocket hit a house. Before the offensive began Saturday, Karzai pleaded with Afghan and foreign military leaders to be extra careful to avoid civilian casualties. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below. MARJAH, Afghanistan (AP) — It could take weeks to reclaim the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, a top Marine commander said Sunday as thousands of U.S. troops and Afghan soldiers fought for a second day in NATO's most ambitious effort yet to break the militants' grip on Afghanistan's dangerous south. "That doesn't necessarily mean an intense gun battle, but it probably will be 30 days of clearing," Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said. "I am more than cautiously optimistic that we will get it done before that." Squads of Marines and Afghan soldiers occupied a majority of Marjah, but sporadic gun battles erupted as pockets of militants dug in and fought. Sniper fire forced Nicholson to duck behind an earthen bank in the northern part of the city where he toured the tip of the Marines' front line held by Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. "The fire we just took reflects how I think this will go — small pockets of sporadic fighting by small groups of very mobile individuals," he said. Afghan officials said Sunday that at least 27 insurgents have been killed in the operation. NATO reported two troop casualties from the first day of the offensive — an American and a Briton. Seven civilians have been wounded but there were no reports of deaths, Helmand provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said. The offensive, called "Moshtarak," or "Together," is the biggest joint operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, with 15,000 troops involved, including some 7,500 in Marjah itself. Between 400 and 1,000 insurgents — including more than 100 foreign fighters — were believed to be holed up in Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network in the south. The second day of the massive NATO offensive was marked by painstaking searches from compound to compound as Marines and Afghan troops used metal detectors and sniffer dogs to locate explosives rigged to blow. They also encountered pockets of resistance, fighting off sniper attacks, as they moved deeper into the town. "We're in the majority of the city at this point," said Lt. Josh Diddams, a Marine spokesman. He said the nature of the resistance has changed from the initial assault, with insurgents now holding ground in some neighborhoods. "We're starting to come across areas where the insurgents have actually taken up defensive positions," he said. "Initially it was more hit and run." Meanwhile, thousands of other British, Afghan and U.S. troops fanned out across the Nad Ali district to the north of the mud-brick town. Explosions from controlled detonations of bombs and other explosives were being heard about every 10 minutes in the area. "There's really a massive amount of improvised explosive devices," Nicholson said. "We thought there would be a lot, but we are finding even more than expected." NATO forces uncovered 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of ammonium nitrate and other bomb-making materials while clearing a compound in Marjah, a coalition statement said. They also found a weapons cache in Nad Ali that included artillery rounds, pressure plates and blasting caps. NATO said it hoped to secure Marjah, the largest town under Taliban control, set up a local government and rush in development aid in a first test of the new U.S. strategy for turning the tide of the 8-year-old war. The United Nations said an estimated 900 families had fled the Marjah area and were registered for emergency assistance in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away. At least two shuras, or council meetings, have already been held with local residents — one in Nad Ali and the other in Marjah itself, NATO said in a statement. Discussions have been "good," and more are planned in coming days as part of a larger strategy to enlist community support for the NATO mission, it said. President Barack Obama was keeping a close watch on combat operations, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan was to brief Obama on Sunday. In Marjah, most of the Marines said they would have preferred a straight-up gunbattle to the "death at every corner" crawl they faced as they made their way through the town. "Basically, if you hear the boom, it's good. It means you're still alive after the thing goes off," said Lance Corp. Justin Hennes, 22, of Lakeland, Florida. Local Marjah residents crept out from hiding after dawn Sunday, some reaching out to Afghan troops partnered with Marine platoons. "Could you please take the mines out?" Mohammad Kazeem, a local pharmacist, asked the Marines through an interpreter. The entrance to his shop had been completely booby-trapped, without any way for him to re-enter his home, he said. ___ Associated Press writers Noor Khan in Kandahar, Rahim Faiez and Heidi Vogt in Kabul, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Bolshoi performs in Cuba for first time in 30 years

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HAVANA (Reuters) – Members of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet danced in Cuba for the first time in 30 years on Saturday in a joint performance with the Cuban National Ballet at Havana's Karl Marx theater. The show coincided with a visit to Cuba by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as the two Cold War allies strengthen ties that frayed after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. To the applause of an appreciative audience in dance-crazy Cuba, six Bolshoi dancers performed some of the famous company's classic numbers from ballets such as "Swan Lake" and "Giselle." They alternated dances with member of the Cuban National Ballet, which is directed by ballet legend Alicia Alonso, 89. Alonso said the return of the Bolshoi, which last performed in Cuba in 1980, was an important occasion for the communist-run island. "We are all very happy because there is nothing more beautiful for a country than the union of artists. This is the beginning of a good friendship," she told reporters. Lavrov left Cuba on Saturday to continue a Latin American trip that will take him to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. During his visit, which began on Thursday, he met with President Raul Castro and signed diplomatic accords, including a commitment to bilateral talks with Cuba through 2011. He said Russia and Cuba relations had become a "truly strategic association." Russian officials said before the visit that Lavrov and his delegation would discuss strengthening economic ties with Cuba in areas such as the electric power industry and high technology, but no accords were announced. Lavrov, the latest in a series of Russian officials to visit Cuba over the past two years, gave a speech on Thursday to open the annual Havana International Book Fair, which this year features Russian writers. (Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Chris Wilson)

T-TALK: Wax Hemingway in Cuba looks spookily real

Published: Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 12:45 a.m.

HAVANA | Ernest Hemingway still haunts Cuba; he’s just doing it in wax.

A life-size likeness of the legendary author debuted last week at a wax museum in the eastern city of Bayamo.
Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” while living in Cuba and his exploits in literature and life are celebrated in monuments across the island. His home outside Havana has become a museum.
But the wax statue is the first of its kind in Cuba.
With serious eyes that look spookily authentic and stare into the distance, the author has a black dress shirt and cigarette. His favorite drink, the daiquiri, is nowhere to be found, however.
Hemingway joins the likes of Benny More and Buena Vista Social Club’s Compay Segundo at the museum, which opened in 2004.

New Steamboat gondola up and running

The first new gondola in almost 25 years at Steamboat Ski Resort is now running.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Monday for the gondola linking Trailhead Lodge with the base of the resort. Resort
Ventures West says it’s the first gondola at the resort since 1986.
The gondola travels 2,000 feet in four minutes and can carry up to 340 people per hour. More cabins could be added to it to carry as many as 500 people per hour.

Tourists visit D.C. before big snow

WASHINGTON | Tourists are making last-
minute trips to Washington’s monuments and museums before they likely get snowed in.
Small groups walked up slick steps of the Lincoln Memorial Friday afternoon, and a handful of people stopped by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
Meanwhile, visitors streamed through exhibits at the National Museum of American History and other Smithsonian Institution museums along the National
Mall. The Smithsonian museums planned to remain open through the end of the day but announced they would be closed Saturday.
Some out-of-town visitors say they wanted make the most of their trips and get out before the heavy snow hits. Some say they’re worried they might not be able to make it out of the city this weekend.

Aspen trying a friendlier tack with tourists

ASPEN, Colo. | Find this ritzy ski resort a little snobby? Aspenites are working on it.
A new city tourism initiative seeks to shake off Aspen’s unfriendly reputation, according to the Aspen Daily News. The “Adopt a Tourist” promotion has city officials asking residents to volunteer to play host for visiting tourists.
City promoters say the effort aims to put a more welcoming face on a town sometimes hostile to visitors. A sign behind the bar at one popular watering hole asks, “If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?”
The adoption program was the idea of Paul MacFarlane, a St. Louis native who moved to Aspen two years ago. He was inspired by seeing locals stop to help tourists read a local map on a downtown street corner.
“The best people here are like that,” MacFarlane told the Aspen Daily News.
So far, six Aspen residents have signed up on a city Facebook page to play host for visitors. No tourists have signed on yet.

Diaz-Balart aims to maintain fight for a free Cuba

Lincoln Diaz-Balart will leave the U.S. House with no regrets and on a mission. No, not to become Cuba's next president, he says, but to help Cubans chart a new destiny.
Diaz-Balart's strategic prowess on Capitol Hill in the 1990s stopped any presidential move to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Led by Diaz-Balart -- probably the man Fidel Castro hates the most -- Congress codified the embargo into U.S. law so it's no longer simply a White House policy. Now Congress has to change the law to end the embargo. Or Cuba has to free all political prisoners; allow political parties, labor unions and a free press; and set a date for multiparty elections for a U.S. president to lift the embargo.
When Cuba freezes over! After 51 years of dictatorship, Fidel and Raúl Castro aren't about to give in.
So here we are, still at an impasse, waiting for old Fidel to die and old Raúl to -- what? -- move to Venezuela?
It no longer matters. A new generation of Cubans -- the bloggers, the rappers, the workers in the black market that feeds them because communism certainly won't -- are pushing for open space wherever they can find it. The embargo has become mostly irrelevant to them.
But don't discount Lincoln, who gets the rap that he was all Cuba all the time. In fact, he pushed through various immigration laws that helped Central Americans, sought support for Haitians and pressed to extend the Voting Rights Act. Plus, he brought home the bacon to universities, hospitals, Miami's airport and SouthCom.
He also won the battle of ideas on Cuba. The embargo can no longer be defined by straight party-line support. It's not a liberal or conservative idea. It's a bipartisan democracy initiative.
You can blame it on political contributions from pro-embargo forces, but there's more to it than that. There's a sense of, ``Why bother now? Why reward a dictatorship when the clock is ticking in democracy's favor?''
Diaz-Balart plans to start his own group to help opposition groups in Cuba. It's fashioned after ``The White Rose,'' a group his father started just days after Castro's triumph in 1959 and named after a famous poem by Jose Martí.
Before Rafael Diaz-Balart died in 2005, he had set to pen and paper a framework for a democratic Cuba -- for a civil society, for property rights (without dislodging anyone or making them pay a penny to pre-revolutionary owners), for labor unions, for the presidency (one five-year term, period, be gone).

Rafael was a minister in the Batista dictatorship, but he had parted ways with Fulgencio's strongman rule. It's documented by 1950s press reports and U.S. congressional testimony in 1960.
``No one should be vetted because your father was a batistiano or a fidelista,'' Lincoln told me Friday. ``The importance is not where you come from but where you evolve to.''
And so it was for Rafael, who after three decades in exile finally was embraced by some of Batista's biggest enemies, like journalist Agustín Tamargo and former Cuban Sen. Emilio Ochoa, one of the signers of Cuba's 1940 constitution (quite lefty even by most standards today).
Those 18 years on the Hill taught Lincoln a thing or two about negotiation, accepting others' ideas to reach a compromise even as you fiercely defend your side: ``It's extraordinarily difficult, but my father's lesson was clear. We can't sink this ship. You can take this ship to the left and to the right, but not sink it. The passions and the hatreds have to end.''