Off the Record 12/16/2009

by AVA News Service, December 16, 2009

DR. RICHARD MILLER, MA, PhD and New Age audio avatar, may also be a literal carpet bagger. The doc seems to have bagged a valuable carpet belonging not to him but to the Mendocino Art Center where Miller also functions as trustee. During preparations for the Art Center's 50th Anniversary celebration this Saturday, Dr. Miller was asked to return a large Oriental rug he'd removed from the Art Center.

Staff had rolled up the carpet because they thought it didn't fit with the sculptures on exhibit. They then left it on a stairway where Dr. Miller declared it a safety hazard and decided it should be moved to his house for storage. Instead of simply returning the rug, valued at upwards of $5,000 when he was recently asked to return it, Dr. Miller snapped at the requester, “Who authorized you to contact me?” and “How dare you volunteer the maintenance guy’s services to pick up the rug.” As we go to press, the rug remains at the doctor's house. (Miller's KZYX show on alternating Tuesdays is called “Mind, Body, Health, Politics” where the unwary could be reduced to a kind of wheat germed feeblemindedness if any of the doc's nostrums were to be taken seriously. So, why the gratuitous insult? It's the holiday season.)

“WE THINK that Ms. O’Malley is addicted to anti-Israel expression just as an alcoholic is to drinking,” says a fellow named Jim Sinkinson who is leading an advertiser’s boycott of O'Malley's Berkeley Daily Planet, a very lively weekly newspaper in the otherwise journalistically moribund Bay Area. Sinkinson says of O’Malley’s newspaper, “If she wants to serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer avoiding the subject entirely.”

APART FROM HER alleged anti-Israel Tourette’s, what exactly has O'Malley done to get Sinkinson sicced on her? The indictment? Ms. O'Malley has published letters critical of Israel, among them a blast from an anti-Semitic nut case. O'Malley's paper has not been editorially critical of Israel.

O'MALLEY rightly likens Sinkinson’s campaign against her paper to “a protection racket.” Sinkinson has written to the Daily Planet’s advertisers warning them that the paper is a “publication that praises the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. In these tough economic times, is it really a good investment to continue advertising in a paper, one of whose main purposes seems to be the defamation of Jews and the state of Israel?”

BUT O'MALLEY hasn't praised the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. She doesn't defame the Jews. She's merely permitted the occasional nut onto her letters page, which is open, as all reputable letters pages should be, to all perspectives no matter how lunatic.

AN OLD FASHIONED free speech liberal, O’Malley points out that the most effective way to combat opinions you don’t like or feel are incorrect is via argument — more speech not less, a cleansing strategy that often eludes our very own local libs who, like Sinkinson, resort immediately to murder rather than argument.

(CF THE PERPETUAL blackball campaign by inland “liberals” against Tommy Wayne Kramer’s columns in the Sunday Ukiah Daily Journal, and the occasional attempts by Zionist nutballs to squelch Jeff Blankfort’s invaluable commentary every two weeks on KZYX. Blankfort is consistently critical of Israel, a religious state founded on vague claims of Old Testament legitimacy, a state which has since dispossessed and persecuted the Arabs thrown off their land during Israel's formative years and robbed, hounded and murdered in large numbers ever since as Israeli state policy. These dispossessions and persecutions of Palestinians by Israel have been steadily opposed by most Israeli intellectuals and what there is of an international left, including the perhaps mythical American left. Criticism of Israel, which co-owns the American political system with private individuals organized as banks and corporations, is seldom heard in American media, but on the rare occasions it is heard people like Sinkinson rush out to denounce it as mere bigotry, anti-Semitic.

THAT SAID, The Daily Planet, true to its stated principle of unfettered speech, has occasionally printed letters which, ahem, even the AVA would toss, including one back in ‘06 from an Iranian that said Jews had brought their historical persecution on themselves, that the attempt by the Nazis (and cheered on by the Arab countries, a fact the letter writer didn't mention), to murder all of them. A letter like that, if it’s going to be published needs, at a minimum, an ed note of denunciation. Myself, I don’t think that kind of opinion deserves publication. It’s too dumb.

WE DEBATED, prior to printing it, the recent publication in the AVA of a letter recommending “fragging,” the murder of military officers by enlisted men. We decided to go with it because the writer signed his name to it and is known to us. We thought it was completely wrong-headed but were confident that Bruce Patterson, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, would quickly and neatly refute it. Which he did. Fragging occurred in Vietnam not as a protest against the war but as a way of eliminating low-level officers that troops saw as exposing them unnecessarily to danger. It happened but not that often, and certainly didn’t happen often enough to constitute some kind of mass troop rebellion. Here at the AVA, we don’t think non-combatants ought to be urging someone else to murder.

MS. O’MALLEY says Sinkinson’s boycott has cost her 60% percent of her advertisers. The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Bernstein, who probably isn’t Chinese, said Sinkinson was on his own, that a boycott of the Daily Planet simply because “divisive” and “hateful” opinions had appeared in it wasn’t justified.

DIVISIVE. There seems to be this notion out there, and one especially prevalent among the more feebleminded libs, that we should all be on the same page all the time, that there’s some great consensus out there (as represented by them and their friends) that is destroyed whenever some spoil sport doesn’t get with the program, the program being a tepid cash and carry liberalism as it exists here in Ecotopia where The Nice People occupy the power slots at all levels of government. Here at the AVA divisive is practically our middle name just after negative. I should certainly hope so! Can you even imagine this wacky County, this delusional open air witness protection program, this society of amnesiacs where history starts all over every day and everyone is whatever he says he is, can you even imagine this place without at least a few people pointing out that local institutions and the people dominating them don't know their jockstraps from their nose guards?

TRUE OR FALSE, the divisive test: the local courts guarantee equal justice for everyone; the board of supervisors is a competent public body; the wine industry is not a chemically dependent, environmentally destructive enterprise wholly dependent on illegal immigrant labor; Willits and Ukiah are attractive little country towns; KZYX is a listener-supported public radio station; the Mendocino County Office of Education is crucial to the education of local children; you can’t burn down Fort Bragg’s library and courthouse and get away with it; the hippies saved the redwoods. President Obama is committed to improving the lives of ordinary Americans. If you said any of these statements was false you are divisive. Negative, too.

HOLLY MADRIGAL of the Willits City Council has announced she will run against incumbent 3rd District supervisor, John Pinches. Madrigal will be a formidable candidate because North County liberals have never liked Pinches although Pinches, on the issues, has been mostly liberal and creatively liberal at that. There are really only three local issues at this point — government is broke, there are more draws on inland water than there is water to draw, and dope. But most of the 3rd will vote not on the issues but on style. No cowboys for about half the voters. Mrs. Madrigal's opening salvo is a candidate's statement, nice and vague, vaguely nice, it's implicit message being, “I'm not him.”

THE FIFTH DISTRICT Supe's race will be the liveliest. Incumbent Colfax managed to doom any hope he might have had for a third term when he publicly described the job as “crappy” and underpaid although it pays $68,000 plus an array of fringes in a county where the average family income is well under $30,000 a year. And Colfax can’t point to a single accomplishment other than getting his pay bumped to its present lucrative level. Doctor Dave has yet to announce whether or not he’ll give the crapola another go or mutter off into the redwoods and a dyspeptic retirement. (We're preparing what we think is an hilarious video of an incensed Colfax fulminating at his fellow supervisor, McCowen, for making public a thorough accounting of each supervisor's compensation. Colfax only comes alive when his money is being discussed.) Former supervisor and one-term Congressman, Dan Hamburg is also running for the 5th district supe's job, as is Jim Mastin, former mayor of Ukiah, as is Christy Wells of Albion, as is Wendy Roberts of Mendocino. Politically, Hamburg, Mastin, Wells and, if he runs again, Colfax, are mainstream Mendolib while Wendy Roberts, a relative newcomer to the county, seems to be a lib but is so far candidate-like vague on the issues, which her announcement defines as “water, mental health treatment, planning and land use policies to guide development and job creation.” The other candidates would also define the issues pretty much this way, but defining the issues and addressing them intelligently are apples and honey oil, aren't they?

IT WOULD be nice to hear a candidate at least acknowledge what a lot of forward looking Mendocino County people are already doing — preparing for the new paradigm, which will require more local self-sufficiency in a new economy of radically downsized scarcity. In the new economy, local government is going to be much smaller, tourism will wither for lack of the discretionary income it depends on, the timber industry is gone for the foreseeable future, the fish have probably been killed off forever, and anybody running for paid elected office ought to lead by pegging his or her pay to that of a Mendo family of four — somewhere around $30,000 a year. Here at the divisive AVA we have a very hard time mustering enthusiasm for any candidate who operates on the assumption that the old economy is coming back.

A PERFECT EXAMPLE of how the Wine People instantly hyper-ventilate at even the mildest criticism of their water wasting ways was blurted out last week by current Mendocino County Farm Bureau President Devon Jones. Panicking at the mere possibility that regulation of frost protection water for grapes may become reality, Jones got off to an apocalyptically misleading start: “We're here to protect fish as well,” she said, “but it can't be done by eliminating the viticulture industry in Mendocino and Sonoma County.” Short of genetically modifying steelhead and salmon to multiply in rivers of chardonnay, the industry's record is of helping itself to the water whether or not fish are imperiled is clear — give us the water! And to say that the industry itself is at stake if there's regulation of the public waterways, is certifiably nuts.

A CURIOUS INVENTION hit the streets of SF yesterday: “The San Francisco Panorama,” a one-day only, 320-page, $5-on-the-street broadsheet, created by the folks at McSweeny’s. That’s 112 pages of news, sports, food and comics; 96 pages of books; and a 112-page magazine. Contributors include Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Junot Diaz, John Ashbery and a boatload of other excellent writers and artists whose names you’ll probably never see in a broadsheet again. (There’s also an investigative piece about the environmental impacts of the Mendo dope trade.) What’s the point? Via an NY Times Q&A with Dave Eggers: “One of the original goals was to prove that you could put out a newspaper without a billion dollars and a circulation of 500,000. There are so many thriving small newspapers out there, and the transaction is usually so simple: the reader pays $1 for the physical newspaper, and the newspaper stays in business. So we were hoping to prove that with a paid circulation of even 10,000, you could do the real work a newspaper should do: cover the city’s news, look to the world as a whole, analyze, explain, investigate and entertain. And along the way, we hoped to show some of the parts of the paper that used to commonly exist and probably could or should exist again.” I’ve yet to see the thing — though I’m sure it’s beautiful, as most everything McSweeny’s does is. Yet I can’t help but chuckle at one of their other purported goals: “To be a 21st-Century Newspaper Prototype.” I doubt your average newspaper — if print sticks around at all — will in any way resemble a bloated, artful reimagining of the medium’s halcyon days. My wager is they’ll look more like our so-called papers in Mendocino County: heavy on the press releases and minute-by-minute government meeting transcriptions, lean on news judgment, enterprise and investigations. I hope I’m wrong — I hope newspapers get their financial calculus right and invest in reporting instead of moronic gimmicks. For the most part, the dinosaurs aren’t breaking that ground; rather, it’s websites like the Voice of San Diego, the Texas Tribune and Pro Publica. At least from their PR, the Panorama doesn’t seem so much like a prototype as a novelty, a piece of art that belongs in a museum, a glorious farewell into that good night. (— Tim Stelloh)

I HAVE SEEN the thing, paid $16 for it at Green Apple Books and immediately repaired next door to the 540 Club for a shot of Maker's Mark and close textual analysis. And I'm also mystified by the why of it. The articles on Mendo dope and the state's corrupt water delivery systems were generic romps through those subjects, the opinion was NPR-ish, the much ballyhooed comics were seemingly drawn by and for the retarded, Stephan King's piece on this year's World Series was literally inside baseball, and, overall, the thing wasn't any more interesting than the average Sunday Chronicle, less interesting, I thought. We all know that the ADD Generations — people under the age of 50 — will never read newspapers again. They're too busy updating their face books and mobile phoning their friends to say, “Hi, it's me. I'm on the bus. Now I'm getting off the bus. There's a large hairy man-like creature following me. O, it's like whatever, my dad.” I guess if the ADD People are going to be lured back to newspapers Panorama with its big print and bigger pictures might hold their gnat-like attentions, but who says the rest of us want newspapers that read like they were written by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Is the assumption here that there won't be any adults left in the land?

A $23,000 SCANDAL: While county workers are taking mandatory time off, others are facing layoffs, services are being cut and office hours shortened, there is a apparently one person working in the administration building who deserves special treatment. The supervisors’ own clerk, Kristi Furman, stands to get a nearly $23,000 raise this Tuesday if the board approves an item quietly included in the consent calendar for Tuesday’s board meeting. There are several things wrong with this. First, the item is on the consent calendar. That means it will get approved without any discussion unless one of the five supervisors asks to have it pulled off and talked about. The consent calendar is the place for non-controversial items that are unanimously agreed to and for which there is no point taking time for discussion. Next, a $23,000 raise for anyone on county staff in this budget climate should be reason enough to have a public discussion. Next, Kristi Furman may be a hard worker and she may also be a very nice person, but she is not underpaid. As of 2008 she earned $84,000 annually. We believe that is already too much money for that position. Add to that a recent survey the county has which shows her salary is at or above market value for what she does. With this pay hike, she will join the six-figure salary club, of which there are way to many members already in local government. One of the supervisors needs to pull this item off the consent calendar for a public discussion. We understand that the supervisors cannot publicly discuss Furman’s performance — which we assume is just fine — but they can certainly discuss whether the county an afford — either in money or staff morale — to suddenly and one employee an indecent raise. It’s really a scandal. — K.C. Meadows (Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

ACCORDING to the consent item in the Board packet “After a recent performance evaluation the Board of Supervisors requested the Chief Executive Officer to investigate a new pay grade level for the existing Clerk of the Board allocated position. Since the essential job duties have not changed, this action is not a reclassification or change in position title. … This change will create parity with the current Deputy CEO position. The current incumbent has stated her intent to take voluntary time off as a cost saving measure to reduce the project cost to approximately step 3 of this pay grade. The additional costs will be absorbed within the department’s existing budget allocation resulting in no impact to the General Fund.”

MS. FURMAN says she will not take her huge raise in green-type money, but in “voluntary” time off so that the net effect on the Clerk of the Board’s budget unit is more or less zero. Which doesn't make this very large gift of public funds any less large or any less of a gift or the clerk's budget any less effected. Since Ms. Furman is getting a raise of about 27% that means she will be away from her desk ten hours a week, or one day out of four. All the other County employees who took mandatory time off have taken salary reductions. Since Ms. Furman is being paid to take off more than ten hours a week, then she, and her bosses, the Supervisors, can only claim that she’s taking time off to help the budget when in fact she’s simply getting ten hours a week of paid time off.

I JUST FINISHED Jeffery Toobin's excellent — if totally disturbing — piece in last week's New Yorker on Roman Polanksi and was reminded of Clint Smith, the Willits high school teacher who carried on a nearly year-long extramarital affair with his 15-year-old student. To be sure, the cases are different in fundamental ways — the first is about rape, the other is about statutory rape; and where Polanski seems to be in denial about what he did — essentially describing the rape in his autobiography as consensual, or to use his grotesquely calculating language, “she wasn't unresponsive” — Smith admitted guilt and apologized. But the stories of Polanski and Smith also share an unsettling similarity. To recap: in March 1977, Polanski, then 44, got a 13-year-old girl whom he'd been photographing for Vogue Hommes drunk on champagne and drugged on quaaludes. Then, according to grand jury testimony the girl gave after the incident, he raped her. Polanski pleaded down to felony statutory rape (the least serious of the charges against him) but split to Europe before sentencing. He was a fugitive until earlier this year, when the Swiss arrested and agreed to extradite him. After Polanski's recent arrest in Switzerland, a group of celebs, artistes and other notables rushed to his defense. Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Mike Nichols, Salman Rushdie, Pedro Almodóvar and others signed Free Polanksi petitions. French President Nicholas Sarkozy said his arrest was “not a good administration of justice.” Whoopie Goldberg said that Polanski's crime hadn't constituted real rape (it wasn't “rape-rape,” to use her term). Clint Smith — who was 38 at the time of the affair — had his own vocal cadre of apologists. They showed up to court hearings, they wrote letters to the judge and letters to the editor, they spoke at his sentencing. Smith, they argued, had already been damaged enough by the stigma attached to his crime; jail, they argued, wasn't necessary. Therapists argued that he wasn't predatory, that he needed rehab, and that he certainly wouldn't get that behind bars. (To buttress the argument, one of the therapists hired by Smith made the amazing claim that Smith — who'd used Viagra for better performance, who'd sent videos of himself masturbating to the student over the Internet, who'd had sex with the student in the parking lot of a Willits bank — had already been 85% rehabilitated since beginning therapy after his arrest.) Polanksi and Smith, in other words, were so exceptional that the rules typically attached to law-breaking “stone perverts” — as the 15-year-old's mother referred to Smith — just didn't apply. In the Polanksi case, this argument appears to have backfired; as Toobin notes, the Hollywood petitions never mentioned the facts of the case. “Columnists across the political spectrum, from feminists on the left to conservatives on the right, found common cause in revulsion at both Polanski and his famous friends. Katha Pollitt wrote in the Nation, “It's enraging that literary superstars who go on and on about human dignity, and human rights, and even women's rights (at least when the women are Muslim) either don't see what Polanski did as rape or don't care, because he is, after all, Polanksi — an artist like themselves.” Mendocino County isn't exactly a cross-section of the culture at large. So with Smith, that revulsion just didn't materialize (the pages of this newspaper notwithstanding). Though he'd been charged with lewd and lascivious acts with a child; oral copulation with a child under the age of 16; sexual penetration with a foreign object; sexual intercourse with a minor; and providing harmful matter to a minor with the intent of seduction, Judge Clayton Brennan found Smith guilty of one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He gave him six months in county jail and a pass on registering as a sex offender. What does this say about Mendocino County's justice system? Commit a crime as repugnant and serious as Smith's and if you've got enough friends — and a good lawyer — a slap on the wrist is all you'll get.

FORT BRAGG’S brand new deputy district attorney, Holly Harpham, has resigned. DA Meredith Lintott declined to comment on the departure, saying it was a personnel issue and that she expected to hire a replacement by January. Sources say Harpham, who at the moment is out of the country on vacation, may have left because she's young and single — and, well, the Mendocino Coast is not much of a place for a person of those particulars, especially if your ambitions are non-pot related. Harpham's brief tenure on the coast is a mystery; she joined the DA's office in April and quit in November. When AVA writer Bruce McEwen attempted to interview her, she rebuffed him, saying she'd be “mortified” to talk. Fred Holmes, the retired volunteer prosecutor who'd been filling in at 10 Mile, told McEwen that Harpham arrived from the Contra Costa County DA's Office, where she'd been laid off due to the budget crisis. “We” got her for a 20% pay cut, he told McEwen.

SOON AFTER Ms. Furman's proposed raise, via the consent calendar where approval is automatic, Supervisor Pinches pulled the raise from the consent calendar to make sure it would be publicly discussed. Prediction: Pinches, usually a reliable voice against extravagance, will vote against it. As will McCowen and, we hope, Carrie Brown.

THE WORST ELEMENTS in Mendocino County, a category Supervisor Colfax reserves for anyone who thinks he’s paid too much, and among whom this newspaper proudly marches, will now include CEO Tom Mitchell’s hand-picked pay stooges, er blue ribbon citizens comprising Mitchell's pay panel. Mitchell's lackeys were supposed to be a device by which the supervisors would give themselves even more salary! It was not to be. The worm turned. This week’s Supes agenda includes the panel's comments and recommendations. “The CAC members were impressed by the amount of work and accountability of all the Supervisors who make themselves available to respond to district inquiries 365 days a year without any help from board aides or other staff positions. It was clear all the Supervisors are dedicated public servants working hard throughout the year to support their districts in a county larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island.” Har de har. Given their weekly work product, this board of supervisors is the biggest bunch of slackers ever to hold the position.

BUT THEN reality seemed to take hold, and after a few more introductory, and largely irrelevant lame brained statements of the obvious such as “…the current economic climate simply does not support Board salary increases at this time,” the panel noted, as we have many times, that including pay rates for Sonoma County officials in any salary “comparison” skews the answer unreasonably and should not be used. Then, suddenly, blue skies in the blizzard of bullshit. “It is highly recommended that all [the panel's emphasis] supervisors stand up and show leadership by taking furloughs as staff has been directed to do. This action would demonstrate the kind of leadership the people in Mendocino County want and deserve.”

STOOGES NO MORE! (But now even Mitchell's hand-picked panel joins the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Grand Jury, the AVA, and all previous pay panels, all saying the Supes should not only NOT get a pay raise, they should ALL take mandatory time off. Considering the way the panel was kept off the radar screen, out of the public eye and chosen in secret, these recommendations are indeed surprising.

A READER WRITES: “The Freak”? I suspect that whoever gave Tim Lincecum that nickname in the first place was consciously or unconsciously referring to his nonconformity and free spirit. I doubt people call him that to his face, as in “Hey, Freak, pass the ketchup.” Given Lincecum's relatively slight frame and 98 mph fastball, he could have been dubbed the “Miracle” or “Tornado” or “Bullet” (short for “Bullet Train” with echoes of “Big Train”) or “Davie” (short for David, the most famous small, hard thrower) or “Cheetah” (the famous fast animal) or “the Kick” (short for “the High Kick”), or “Timazing,” or “Timidation,” or “Slate” as in “Sleight of Hand,” or... “Freak (of nature)” in reference to Lincecum's fastball is demeaning on another level. His perfect mechanics are the result of WORK, PRACTICE, DISCIPLINE, and brilliant INSTRUCTION (by his dad) from an early age. Nothing freaky about it. His mechanics —the product of WORK, PRACTICE, DISCIPLINE and INSTRUCTION— also make his change-up so hard to detect. They say it's the most effective pitch in baseball. I wonder if it was Ostler who called him “The Freak” in the first place. There's an irony to calling Lincecum “The Freak.” The striking thing about him is normalcy, his boy-next-doorishness. My daughter-in-law got her first glimpse of him on TV this summer and said, “Oh, now I see what everybody sees in him —he's so CUTE.” It's the steroid takers and bodybuilders like Roger Clemens and Kevin Brown who start looking freaky with their bulging necks.”

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