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Off the Record 1/6/2010

THIS POOR GUY, a walking advertisement for single payer health coverage, was booked into the Mendocino County Jail a few days ago for missing probation appointments, probably because he couldn't lift his tumorEP off his pillow.

Seriously, though, this is the kind of thing that happens to people in a country with NO health care for a large part of its population with the rest of us paying extortionate rates for the grudging coverage we get. I'll bet the medical ghouls at the emergency room of the Adventist's for-profit Ukiah hospital cleared this guy to go to jail, just like last month they cleared the guy with a stab wound who bled to death in the jail after he was cleared for booking by that same emergency room.

AT LAST MONTH'S meeting of the Mendocino County Board of Education, now conveniently available on-line via the now indispensable Ukiah Community TV, superintendent Paul Tichinin reported, in his uniquely free association fashion, on the spectacular, pre-holiday assault on Anderson Valley High School: “About $15k vandalism was done to the gym, classrooms," said Tichinin. "Broken windows, computers destroyed. They arrested the students, but not the adults that were involved,” said Tichinin, implying that the cops know which adults were involved, which they don’t. “They were over 18, or, no, over 20. It was a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. I had a good discussion with the superintendent [AV's J.R. Collins]. They are going to start sharing some of this information. These were new designer drugs that are coming out that are causing strange impacts in student behavior on campus.”

DESIGNER DRUGS? A crude chemist in Philo combines meth and ecstasy into something called fizz and we've got designer drugs? “Every superintendent nodded their head yes at varying levels of response to this,” continued Tichinin. “Not necessarily a legal designer drug, but a, um custom drug. They [the superintendents] are going to be working with us and prevention staff and get that information out and see what we can do for everyone.”

WHICH, of course, means endless free lunch meetings of overpaid educational bureaucrats wringing their plump little hands over a non-existent problem. "Paul," as he's addressed by his alleged supervisors, the County School Board, isn't known for his silver tongue. This is the guy who thought "niggardly" was a racist insult aimed at the black Ukiah superintendent of schools. "Paul" rambled on. “Good news! Fort Bragg and Anderson Valley won silver medals from the US News and World Report! It’s very exciting. Both superintendents were very proud.”

WHEN ASKED what the Zuckerman awards were based on, Tichinin elucidated: “It’s based on, on, overall common, um, student achievement and enrollment in, you know, further education." An unidentified staff woman, perhaps the "confidential secretary" listed on the County Office of Education's endless employee roster, whispered to the superintendent, “university level coursework.” Having absorbed the audible stage prompt Tichinin continued, “university level coursework, following graduation from high school and high school graduation.”

THE ZUCKERMAN awards have nothing to do with “graduation” or “following graduation.” They have to do with advanced placement test-taking of schools with high percentages of Spanish-speaking students. The secretary whispered to Tichinin, “It's their second time,” and Tichinin said, “In both cases it's their second time. They're the silver. There's a gold which is 20 and 90 schools that are silver.” No, there are 100 “gold” schools and hundreds of “silvers,” not that any of it means anything or matters in any way relevant to the education of young people.

“WE ARE, of course, proud of the accomplishment,” Fort Bragg Unified School District Superintendent Don Armstrong duly informed the Fort Bragg Advocate last month of the pointless recognition. “It proves a small rural public school can still reach for the top” with a mathematical boost from basic demographics, which school superintendents can't claim credit for. Superintendent Armstrong did confess, “Like most formulas, it is a bit difficult to understand, and while I have read the entire article I am still unclear on how the numbers are arrived at.”

LIKE MOST FORMULAS that don't mean anything Zuckerman's prescriptions can be difficult to decode. The "article" Armstrong refers to is US News a fixture in unsuspecting high school libraries commercially driven hoo-rah about the magazine's self-created awards, which explains nothing. If you dig deeper, as this fine publication dug last year as a community service among our annual hundreds of community services, you can find the "methodology" on Zuckerman's data website Fort Bragg's Armstrong didn't quite get it, but came up with a pretty good explanation for his school's silver medal: “The ranking is derived from a formula where they look at what is expected of you in terms of your at-risk population socio-economic disadvantaged, English learners, minorities, etc. and your actual results,” added Armstrong. “In a nutshell, we do a good job of sending our Latino and economically disadvantaged students to graduation and college.” Almost, Armstrong, but the awards have nothing to do with how many Spanish-surnamed students go on to college.

TICHININ had this trenchant in-passing observation about Laytonville’s aging elementary school facility: “Cold impacts their infrastructure.” Translation: Laytonville's ancient school building are hard to heat.

THE SUPERINTENDENT ALSO SAID that the Ukiah schools had given 15 young scholars the bounce just before the holidays. These 15 will be transferred to the County Board of Education for some kind of edu-processing to keep attendance monies rolling Mendo's way. The latest expulsions bring the total number of Ukiah student dismissals to 60 for this school year, most of them apparently related to possession of marijuana on campus. If all 60 students are permanently excluded from the educational process it would mean a loss of about $300,000 to Ukiah Unified but a fiscal windfall for the County Office where dubious special ed services are rendered to the expelled at roughly the same cost. One way or other, those edu-bucks just keep on rolling Mendo's way.

ACCORDING to the State Employment Development Department 2009 stats, “The number of Mendocino County workers employed by federal and state governments fell, but were more than offset by 170 jobs added by county and city governments.”

THE CITY OF UKIAH, as a shortsighted cost-saving measure, is about to decimate the staff at the Grace Hudson Museum, the only reason travelers ever venture in off Highway 101 to our dreary county seat. Like its under-funded and under-visited counterpart, the County Museum in Willits, the Grace Hudson represents just about half Mendocino County's cultural archive. Kill them and the historical amnesia characteristic of life here will be even more prevalent, and thank goodness for the privately funded Held-Poage Library in Ukiah where our collective memory remains secure and open to the public.

WITH THE CLOSING of the Willits courthouse, Judge Clayton Brennan the judge who gave Mendo Molester Emeritus Clinton Smith of the Willits Charter School six months in the Mendocino County Jail for an ongoing relationship with a 15-year-old, a relationship that gets other local men years in the state pen moves into the Ukiah rotation where he will undoubtedly continue his unbroken record of palsy-walsy decisions.

MARK SPRINKLE, a Ukiah truck driver, now in his 14th year in state prison, got 45-to-life for 90 seconds of alleged sexual touching of three underage floozies. Probably acting at the instigation of Sprinkle's vengeful ex-fiancé, the floozies, led by the fiancé's daughter, suddenly took their clothes off in Sprinkle's car, and whatever happened happened, the logic of the known facts leaning heavily to nothing happening. (Why stop at touching in a situation like that? Why not full body penetration, as the cops romantically call the sacred act?) Smith, the Willits teacher, engaged in full sexual relations, complete with on-line weenie wag exhibitions for his teen queen, which were also viewed by the girl's 12-year-old sister. This stuff went on for almost a year, and only stopped when a charter school kid stepped forward to say he thought Smith was outta line. But Smith, North County libs in full support, shed the usual crocka croc tears, Mrs. Smith stood by her perv, Smith's lady therapists, one of them sporting a goatee, told Judge Brennan they'd cured their patient, and the libs keened that it would be a green ween of a darn shame if such a swell guy went off to the big house for a couple of years, as have a small army of sexually bedeviled male Mendo lustbuckets before him, the spectacularly railroaded Sprinkle foremost among them.

WITHOUT THE WILLITS COURTHOUSE, some 3,000 more cases a year will be processed in Ukiah. In theory, the proposed new $120 million County courthouse to be built in 2015 on what many people assume is the toxic dumpsite of the old Ukiah railroad terminal, will be large enough to accommodate the ever increasing number of Mendo miscreants. (If the vandalized train station is kept intact, defendants could be literally railroaded south to San Quentin if the trains ever run again.) But it might generally expedite the local justice process if every adult in the county with an annual income of less than $30,000 a year simply mailed in a guilty plea and agreed to lifetime probation. When's the last time a person with a non-drug-derived income of more than $30,000 was prosecuted for anything but drunk driving? Hell, this is the county where a millionaire burned down the courthouse itself in Fort Bragg and nobody, not even the torches he hired to do it, was so much as troubled by a subpoena.

AND WHAT’S CAUSING the rapidly increasing caseload? “The elephant in the room,” according to freshly announced District Attorney candidate, Dave Eyster is, of course, "marijuana."

FORMER Santa Rosa Press Democrat reporter Mike Geniella broke the news of Eyster's candidacy on Mendocino County's essential new website last weekend. Eyster declares that he believes the “philosophical fight is over” regarding pot’s legalization for medical purposes, a step California voters took a decade ago. “It is legally and morally wrong to prosecute patients who are trying to comply with the letter and spirit of the law,” said Eyster. As district attorney Eyster says he will aggressively target "the illegal profiteers and trespassers who trash our lands, kill wildlife, divert water resources, and make parts of Mendocino County dangerous places to live.”

IF EYSTER is elected and something like that happens, a huge percentage of the cases currently grinding their way through the Ukiah courthouse would simply go away. Then we wouldn’t need a new courthouse, maybe not even a new jail although you can bet that the judges will continue to argue for new quarters and those handy underground indoor parking slots they seem to yearn for.

I KINDA ENJOY spam, the daily deluge of electronic come-ons. In a darkening world, I see it as an opportunity for tiny funsies, the amusement of a tiny, idle mind. I recently wrote back to a guy who calls himself Brother Steve, a self-alleged man of the cloth who sells everything from gospel music to accounting services. Brother Steve hits me at least once a day with special discount offers on an implausibly large range of services. I asked Brother Steve if he was related to Br'er Rabbit. Brother Steve e-mailed me right back. "Br'er Rabbit's my cousin," he said. Dorothy Lee Donahue describes herself as an "energetic alchemist" and a "Certified Reiki Master Instructor." I asked Dot if she could make me some gold out of the old newspapers cluttering up my office. "Hmmm," the energetic alchemist replied, "I'll see what I can do." A Mendocino Coast theater group just this week announced a play featuring teenagers and Charlie Brown, a cartoon character. I guess it was the cutesy overload of teenagers and Charlie Brown in one sentence that got to me, the blithe assumption that a more or less adult-type person, always a minority in Mendocino County but comprising at least a third of the population, would pay to watch something like that. Are you people morons or what? I asked, firing my pique off into cyber-space with that gratifying whoosh you can dispatch e-mail with these days, like a ground to air missile launch. But someone, maybe Charlie Brown, sent me the press release all over again.

AN ELATED SISTER YASMIN, periodically non-personed by Mendocino County's pseudo-public radio enterprise, called to say that she will host a birthday tribute to Martin Luther King on KZYX on Monday, January 18th, 10am to noon. Which reminded me…

IN A COUPLE of weeks the annual national hypocrisy defaming the memory of Martin Luther King kicks off, an orgy of media self-congratulation on the reverence Americans now have, thanks to King, for non-violent political progress when in living fact King would be appalled at who and how his memory has been hijacked. I happened to be alive and more or less cognizant in 1968 when King was murdered, alive and more or less cognizant in what has since magically become synonymous with, of all delusions, "progressive" civic policy in that adult playground known as San Francisco. These days, Frisco is more balkanized along ethnic lines than it was then, and in '68 I remember widespread jubilation among white people, men especially, at King's murder, and I remember most vividly that it was the national media that whipped up public opinion against King, the bravest kind of man there is because he wasn't naturally courageous according to his biographers, the kind of guy who got up every morning not knowing if he'd be alive at the end of the day. Prominent as he was, King, most places, had no police protection. His house with his wife and kids in it was fire bombed with impunity and J. Edgar Hoover, arguably America's greatest nutball ever, who spent his down time prancing around in a cocktail dress, bugged King's hotel rooms and passed the tapes of King's robust private life around to Washington big shots. When King started denouncing the Vietnam War and the U.S. as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world," and saying "maybe there's something wrong with capitalism," well, here was a man walking around with a neon bull's eye on his chest. And sure enough, King didn't live to be 40. A few people reading this will remember the lefty hall south of Market from where many Bay Area protests were launched beginning in the early 1960's. Something alley. I've forgotten the address although I was a habitué. So, the night of King's murder I headed to Troublemaker Central to see what we were going to do about it, which turned out to be a big march, a very big march but not so large that it intimidated into silence a lot of race baiters shouting insults from the sidewalk. I wound up leafletting Market Street around Powell in preparation for that event. A totally unhinged guy went at me verbally so intensely I had to warn him that I was not a non-violent person and bluster blah get away from me or I'll Gandhi your nose for you. That was the worst of it that day for me, and not any kind of a big deal over a lifetime of unpleasant political encounters, but I can still see that fool's red face screaming foul insults at me and MLK. And I can remember the tenor of the editorial comment in area papers that King had "gone too far" and ought to confine his efforts to civil rights, about which he'd also gone too far before he became too famous to go too far on that one. King was always going too far, and if he were around today he'd be going wayyyyyyy too far for the Clinton-Obama cadres with their wars on the poor, their giveaways to the banks, their phony healthcare reform, their two wholly pointless wars, their bland collaboration with everything gone terribly wrong in this doomed country. King's real legacy has turned out to be an intensification of everything he gave up his life for. January 18th ought to be a national day of mourning for missed messages. (The best book on King, incidentally, is the little Penguin bio by Marshall Frady.)

“BERNANKE blames weak regulation for crisis” was the headline in Monday’s Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The story was one of those random AP “reports” the PD fills its pages with in lieu of local reporting. It summarized what Bernanke said in Atlanta recently without the banker's bagman's direct quotes. Naturally, neither the author, Ms. Aversa (sic) nor the PD pointed out what is common knowledge to anyone so much as vaguely familiar with Bernanke’s well-documented record. Bernanke is a Milt Friedman guy and a proponent of Friedman's extreme deregulatory economic policies, the same policies that got thousands of people murdered in Latin America and have now brought chaos and hardship to the lives of millions of Americans. Bernanke even wrote a book praising Friedman, and Bernanke was chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and Bush’s appointee to the Federal Reserve chairmanship. This guy is all for the deregulation that has gotten US where we are — bankrupt. But Bernanke's ominous resume didn't prevent Obama from reappointing Bernanke as his lead econ man who refuses to even use the Federal Reserve's existing regulatory power for common consumer protections. And here’s the Santa Rosa Press Democrat blandly passing along Bernanke's assurances that everything will be swell with a few supposed empty regulatory tweakings without so much as a mention of either his negative bona fides or the obvious negative effect he's had on the lives of millions of ordinary people.

I have never made but one prayer to God, and that a very short one: "O Lord, please make my enemies ridiculous." And God has granted it. — Voltaire

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