Christmas Morning Beating

by Bruce Anderson, January 7, 2009

CHUCK BUSH writes in the Kelley House Calendar column in last week's Mendocino Beacon "...So whatever destruction of the Indians was caused by the military and the settlers it wasn't even close to being as bad as popular statistics make it out to be." Well Chuck, "popular statistics" hardly apply, mostly because they are so purely speculative they could be said not to exist. But the early history of Mendocino County, that first interface I guess you could call it, of Mendocino County's white settlers, mostly single males not inclined to multi-cultural sympathies, and the County's native peoples, is just now being made known by contemporary scholars who've gathered its disparate fragments into some fine and important books, all of which reveal that murder, including state-sponsored murder, took as many Mendocino County Indian lives as disease did. The survivors of those murders — 1850-1860 mostly — were assembled at Mendocino and Fort Bragg where they were protected, more or less, by the Army until they were finally herded over to Covelo to be exploited by a succession of corrupt Indian agents and such noble sons of the soil as George White, from whom The House of Rorbaugh is descended. If the Indians had had horses to go with the guns they soon came to possess inland throughout the Eel River drainage Mendocino County might look a lot different today. When the Indians did get guns, hence the fearsome "gun Indians" of the upper Eel, the Army was dispatched to suppress them from federal forts strewn from Covelo to Eureka. It took the Army about 15 years to fully suppress inland fighters. Mendocino County's Coast Indians didn't have the mountainous terrain to re-group in; they were instantly overwhelmed by murder and introduced disease. That's what happened. The cruel local mistreatment of Indians continued well into the 1950s, complete with segregated theaters and restaurants in Ukiah, area schools having been desegregated by court order in the 1930's through the dogged work of an unsung Indian intellectual by the name of Steve Knight, founder of the statewide Indian Brotherhood. Those of you inclined to great man theories of history, Steve Knight is by far Mendocino County's greatest man. Knight, by the way, always complained about the Indians who showed up for state and national conferences in "native dress." He said that turning out in buckskin and war bonnets made it easier for white bureaucrats not to take Indians seriously. I agree with people who say it isn't necessary to dwell on the more terrible events of American history, but the prevalent amnesia is much more insidious and not nearly as interesting as the truth.

DORIS LESSING, except for her veer-off into sci-fi, is always interesting, and which book of hers is it that describes the accelerating social decay that begins with a homeless camp here and there to armed suburbanites shooting their way from major urban airports to their fortified homes beyond the cities? I thought of Lessing's prescience in describing the slo-mo collapse we see around us today, including here in bucolic Mendocino County, when I read this note from a local homeless man: "I suffered a pretty severe beating Christmas morning when another homeless individual discovered my camp and took it by force. I fled down the highway, bloody and bruised in the rain and got to Willits by nightfall where I spent that freezing night in a convenience store. Next morning I went on to Ukiah, spent the weekend at the Buddy Eller shelter and I'm now at the Hospitality House in Fort Bragg. Having lost my few possessions and job, I'm absolutely desperate for a little money and work." I know a little about this guy. He isn't a deadbeat. He wants to work, wants to get his own place. He isn't a dope head or hopeless drunk. (Or he's real good at hiding it.) If anyone reading this on the Mendo Coast might have something, contact the AVA and we'll pass it on.

THE HERITAGE HOUSE collapse came about as the local result of the rapacious round of Coast property speculation that ratcheted upwards in the middle 1980s with the Mendocino arrival of San Diego mayor, Maureen O'Connor, and her husband Robert Peterson, the founder of the Jack In The Box death
food chain. Peterson bought up the Mendocino Hotel then he and O'Connor scooped up the Heritage House, and the race to the bottom of speculation frenzy was on. O'Connor and Mr. Box almost single-handedly drove up Mendocino real estate prices, and set in motion the eventual destruction of previously solid local businesses like the Heritage House, about which one of Maureen and Jack's local victims writes: "It was with a heavy heart that I read of the closing of the Heritage House with the loss of some 40 jobs. I worked there as an employee under the ownership of Gay Jones, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dennan. I had a lot of respect for her and the way she treated me as an employee. The downfall came with the sale to Maureen O'Connor and her entourage after the death of Mrs. Jones' son. They insulted the employees, offended the guests with their garrish and ruination of the wonderful old farmhouse and with her choice of decorators and taste. Some of the people had been coming to the Inn for 45 years and we always thought of them as family — we were told to lie to them to cover the decision to paint over the dome in the dining room — the choice of Ms. O'Connor who didn't have the integrity to take the brunt of her own decision. I couldn't bring myself to lie for someone who had fired us all and we were subject to an interview to get our jobs back, our wages were cut, and we had lost all our previous benefits. We were insulted, and made to grovel for a chance to keep our workers. O'Connor made some very bad choices and lost the support of the locals as well as Heritage House clients. I am saddened of the loss of one of the most beautiful inns on the coast all because of greed. I will always remember the good times of the Heritage House-the REAL Heritage House and the people I worked with for seven years, which were some of the best years of my time on the Mendocino Coast. Rest in peace Mr. and Mrs. Dennan; you gave a lot of people a start in business and your daughter was an inspiration to both me and my husband as her employees."

NICK WILSON, the louche Little River photographer, has published a book of hippie pics from the early 1970s. A clerk at a local book store told my colleague, The Major, that a surprising number of late middle-age people have stopped by the store to look at Wilson's big naked pile photos to see if their young buttocks are identifiable, which puzzles those of us who've never seen our south forties. And who would want to besides Wilson?

PHIL BALDWIN has been named mayor of Ukiah. Red Phil, who earns his way as a Potter Valley school teacher, has run for Congress on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket but lives in Ukiah where he's a long-time member of the Ukiah City Council and where his prudently liberal stances regularly outrage inland conservatives. Seven candidates applied to replace Ukiah city councilman John McCowen, now elevated to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. How will McCowen's successor be selected? As one cynic puts it: " If you are in favor of recycling and believe women are victims and that children's voices should be heard, you are courageous and a visionary and worthy of public office. I honestly don't think it goes further than that." Sure enough. Selected as McCowen's successor is Mary Ann Landis, a teacher with the Mendocino County Office of Education. Ms. Landis told the Ukiah Daily Journal who said, among other clichés, "I feel that the youth are in need of a healthy environment..."

TWO CASES that should be prosecuted linger in the DA's in-basket: Jeremiah Sotelo of Leggett ought to be looking at statutory rape charges for his seduction of a then-13-year-old girl, and the two adult sons of Ukiah police officer Peter Hoyle ought to be looking at felony assault on a 17-year-old Ukiah youth, but...

THE ACLU is among the organizations looted by Bernie Madoff. According to a recent ACLU fundraising appeal two foundations that have long supported the ACLU were literally wiped out by Madoff, leaving the ACLU $850,000 short in funding key 2009 projects.

FORMER AVA interns Tim Stelloh and Freda Moon have been freelancing in Mexico and South America for the last few months, filing a variety of stories for various US-based publications. Freda maintains a running blog/travelogue at fredamoon.squarespace.com, samples of which follow:

"AMONG the 'dangers and annoyances' listed in one of our Central American guidebooks is this word of caution: Unlike Mexico, it says, you won't find many animals on the roads. People are too poor to risk their livestock. But, they warn, drunks wander the roads, day and night. Be careful. Nicaraguans are poor, but there's no shortage of animals — goats, dogs, cows, horses, pigs and mules — wandering Nicaragua's pot-holed roadways. But there are also people, lots of them, drunk and sober. There are few cars and many bikes. Along every road, urban and rural, there are scattered parades of pedestrians, going to work or school or church. They carry groceries, seem impervious — without umbrellas — to the pounding tropical rain and pay interest to oncoming cars only when absolutely necessary. The other day, Paul Rice (founder of Transfair USA) drove me north from Esteli to meet a Fair Trade coffee farmer he's known for years. Paul drives fast. As he passes cars on blind corners, uphill, in the rain, he says things like, 'Don't worry, it's not your time,' which is meant to be comforting but are actually terrifying. At one point, we rounded a turn and saw a man passed out on the concrete, dead drunk. Curled up, the highway's yellow line was a guillotine at his neck. His head was perfectly aligned with the right wheel of northbound traffic. Paul deftly avoided the man. 'He's going to lose his head,' he said. We didn't stop. Drunks here are like drunks everywhere. But the public reaction to them — the casual way of avoiding a man's head on the road, not stopping to pull him from it — seems different. Americans tend to be self-righteous and indignant in the face of such self-destruction. Here, it seems understood. The man splayed on the doorstep, unconscious in the mid-day sun — his shirt open and a plastic plate of half-eaten food tottering on his stomach — doesn't illicit the sneers and grimaces he would on a New York City stoop. But there are also none of the pitiful looks, the liberal guilt. There's nothing fraught. There's just a man on the ground.

"ALONG the Honduras leg of the Panamericana, we were stopped four times by police in dark blue uniforms. They check our documents, diligently comparing the license plate number listed on our vehicle permit to the license plate on the van. Sometimes they look inside, performing the most cursory of searches. But the 'very big problem' with our forms usually goes unnoticed — and when the corrected lines are seen at all, the administrator's small notation explaining them away seems sufficient. But, as it sometimes happens, if it's not one thing, it's another. At our third check point, there were only two policemen, rather than the usual gang of men. The older one waved us down, then left his younger comrade to do business. Squat, with a pebbled face and almost unbearable smugness, the young officer asked for our documents, then barely glanced at them. Had he noticed those wretched marks, he may have used them as his extortion pretext. But he had something better, something already prepared. As a rule, in a situation like this, it's best not to know Spanish — best to be completely, rather than only mostly, inept at the language of our adopted region. Tim [Freda's husband Tim Stelloh and co-freelancer] and I had learned this along the way. So, when the smug, pebble-faced man asked, with great seriousness, if we had a triangulo on board, we shrugged, looked to each other, shrugged again. We stared expectantly at the officer and he stared back. Another stand-off. But this time our opposition was armed. Tray-ayng-oolo?, I repeated. No entiendo. No hablamos español. Of course, we did understand. This was a shake-down so famous it's written about in guidebooks. For only the second time on our trip, just a few hours from Leon, petty corruption had us in his grip. The most notorious of the many shake-downs in Latin American police lore — save, perhaps, the "Oh, look, I found a [planted] joint under your seat" — is hard to dispute. The officer held up a tattered little booklet containing the country's traffic laws and pointed to #10. Indeed, drivers are supposed to carry a warning sign with them, in case of an accident or blown tire, to alert fellow drivers. Drivers are also obligated to wear seat belts, stop at stop signs and drive one way on one-way streets. But none of these rules are followed, much less enforced. Yet, it's hard to argue with black and white text and an armed officer in a shabby blue uniform. Instead, we persisted with our blank stares and butchered words. We went round and round with him as he pointed to cones on the road, TRIANGULO, drew a triangle in his book and poked his pencil again and again at the image, like a frustrated Pictionary player. Finally, he turned the book over, and pointed to a pencil-written "fine" of $30 US. We owe a fine, una multa, he told us, for not having a triangulo. We shrugged, look at each other some more, and back to him. We shook our heads, in total confusion. Frustrated and red-faced, his voice got louder and more shrill with every TRIANGULO he spit at us. But finally, he couldn't do it anymore. He was missing potential victims as they drove on by. He waved his hand, sickened. He let us go. We felt victorious. Pathetic, but victorious. And, for the record, I no longer hate Honduras."

FRIDA'S Fair Trade coffee story was published last November in the SF Chronicle. Search on-line for "El Cerrito man helps coffee farms blossom" by Freda Moon.

GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER'S proposed budget cuts are not yet official. But something like them will probably happen soon if the state is to remain intact. There could easily be more cuts if the new revenue sources (none of them "taxes") are not approved. Among the proposed cuts (in order of size) are: $5.2 billion out of the $58 billion education budget with five fewer school days per year. Mandatory furloughs of state employees for two days per month ($1.7 billion). Reductions in the state portion of SSI aid to blind and disabled ($1.4 billion). Enforcement of Clinton's five year cut-off for welfare recipients ($1.1 billion). Elimination of parole supervision for all but those who have committed serious, violent or sexual crimes and reducing the prison medical budget by 10% ($0.8 billion). Elimination of MediCal coverage for optometry, dental and psychological services, limiting benefits for legal immigrants, raising the income eligibility requirements to pre-2000 levels, cutting hospital reimbursement rates by 10% and eliminating cost of living increases for county-based administration (all of that would save an estimated $0.75 billion).

FURTHER DOWN the list are 10% cuts in all UC budgets, elimination of transit agency general grants (including the Mendocino Transit Authority), reduced pay for in-home health care workers to minimum wage, elimination of the state's First Five Commission (long overdue), no cost of living increase for state courts, elimination of the state's Integrated Waste Management Board (also long overdue) and elimination of the state run conservation corps program.

MENDOCINO COUNTY is considering a two-day per month furlough on alternate Fridays, paralleling the state proposal. However, not every County department would be subject to the furlough due to state or federal regs, and more negotiations will be needed to spread the cut fairly.

MANAGEMENT PAY CUTS are not under consideration at any level, nor are county offices of education, to name another entirely redundant, unnecessary public boondoggle, are not mentioned although they were near the top of the list of Schwarzenegger's initial commission's budget cutting targets.

COUNTY OFFICES dealing with the general public, especially the welfare agencies, are considering increasing security because of a noticeable increase in the number of unruly aid recipients which may increase if the proposed cuts come to pass.

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