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Off The Record (Feb 28, 2018)

DURING the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre last week, armed "resource officer" Scot Peterson "never went in" during the shooting. According to a union official, Peterson called in the location of the shooter and got a description of him but did not confront him. Another officer claims Peterson hid behind a cement column during the shooting. Sheriff Scott Israel, obviously a windy demagogue and a nutcase himself, said the portly Peterson "should've gone in, addressed the killer, and killed him," Chief Israel said Peterson's lack of action made him "sick to my stomach." Peterson had received an award in 2014 for "tact and judgment"' from the City of Parkland, and seems to have decided on the spot that his award for tact could best be backed up by staying out of the line of fire.

ALL THIS AFTER-THE-FACT tactical scapegoating is inevitable, but unfair and beside the point. The point, however, is too grim for public discussion, it being that there are thousands, if not several million terminally estranged young people out there for whom the high school experience is an unhappy one. And they can easily get guns. Of course if you're the armed cop on-site when a lunatic opens fire you've got to move fast on the shooter, but in this particular context if the pudgy old boy had confronted Cruz a sidearm is no match for an automatic rifle. Should have tried, though, but for the Chief to go on national tv and denounce the guy as a coward, well, that's easy for the Chief to say, and why destroy one more person, adding the timid cop to the body count? He could have been fired privately, and who can say he could have stopped Cruz? Terrible things happen more often in this country because it's organized to drive people nuts, people who can easily get guns that shoot a lot of bullets real fast. Nothing will change other than a few irrelevant tweaks to the gun laws. The discussion is on auto-pilot and will stay there, ready for the next mass atrocity. And only an idiot would suggest arming teachers.

WHICH brings me to the must-view Netflicks series called Babylon Berlin, a drama set in Weimar Germany, the years between World Wars One and Two. Weimar has lots of historical parallels to America, 2018 — an irreconcilably balkanized political population; corrupt central government and dysfunctional government at the state and local levels; economic distress among increasing numbers of working people; widespread social disorder and decadence beyond anything Weimar came up with (German entertainment and art was never better, but ours?); a rising crime rate; a shadow government dedicated to an oligarchy; police forces staffed by people with strong fascist inclinations; a professional military led by people who may or may not be as committed to political democracy as they should be; the first public stirrings of overtly fascist personalities of not quite the storm trooper quality but headed there. Etc. Out of the Weimar German turmoil Hitler, helped along by lots of cops and a professional military plotting a takeover even before the charismatic Shicklegruber arrived to mobilize it, could happen here, and probably will given the drift of things. Trump isn't smart enough to bring it off, but there are people in the pipeline who are.

WE WERE SITTING around the other day lamenting this and that, when someone asked, “Who do you like in journalism these days?” No one particularly, I said. The only name I recognize right off is Matt Taibbi’s because he’s the only one I go out of my way to read, the only one dependably not on bended knee, the only one who brings it with lively prose. Which isn’t to say there aren’t any good journalists left, but Taibbi’s the only one I’d rank with the recently departed great ones — Cockburn, Hunter Thompson, Warren Hinckle, Hitchens until he became a propagandist for Bush’s war on Iraq, and a crucially influential propagandist for Bush at that. I was close to Cockburn, knew Hinckle well and just missed meeting Thompson a couple of times at the Mitchell Brother’s sex palace in San Francisco where he was “night manager.” I’ll explain why I was there in a moment.

I’D MET HINCKLE here and there over the years but, well, I couldn’t keep up with him recreationally, you could say, so I never made it past 11pm when he was just getting warmed up. I admired him enormously. Hinckle was definitely a break-through journalo-guy, a guy who never wrote a boring column, never published a boring magazine. Under Hinckle, Ramparts magazine changed American journalism all by itself, not that it hasn’t slipped back into the indistinguishable mass of toadying slop it was prior to the one-eyed wonder. Most newspaper and magazine writing these days reads to me like high school term papers. The journalism schools have taken their toll on the young ones as surely as reative writing classes have wrecked American fiction. For a while there in the 60s, Hinckle, via Ramparts and Scanlan’s, enlivened journalism beyond what it had ever been in this country.

TWO POSTHUMOUS BOOKS focused on Hinckle have appeared, one edited by Hinckle, the other a collection of his writing called, “Ransoming Pagan Babies — The Selected Writings of Warren Hinckle.” The book edited by Hinckle is called “Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson?”,  a collection of writing about the vividly memorable Thompson. The latter is a beautifully produced book printed on heavy paper, with the whole package weighing about five pounds, with lots of interesting photos accompanying a variety of memories from a variety of people who, taken as a whole, answer the title’s question about who did the killing. (They did.) The high-end trendo-groove-o’s aren’t good company for a writer. They’ve got to be kept back, but Thompson embraced them but got a lot done despite the heavy toll exacted on him by celebrity.

WHEN JIM MITCHELL of the famous Mitchell Brother’s sex temple in San Francisco killed his brother Artie, Hinckle sprang to Jim’s defense, as did all the habitues of the O’Farrell Street pleasure palace, among them Hinckle, Hunter Thompson, Willie Brown, lots of cops, and old guys in walkers who would totter in off O’Farrell at the end of the month to squander their Social Security checks on whatever fleeting pleasures the old libertines could extort from the pay-to-play flesh of the beautiful young women employed there.

HINCKLE thought the Bay Area papers weren’t being fair to Jim Mitchell, which they weren’t, and probably couldn’t be given the lurid context of the event. Editors at the major publications could hardly be expected to explain what really happened. Which was, boiled down, that Artie was seriously out of control and threatening Jim, Jim tried to subdue him and get him into rehab, the gun went off.

ENTER THE MIGHTY AVA. For a couple of months, in return for a handsome bonus, we devoted our front page to Hinckle’s coverage of the trial, which was supplemented with the work of other luminaries affiliated with Hinckle and the Mitchells. If the Bay Area media wouldn’t give Jim Mitchell a fair shot, Hinckle would do it in the AVA.

EVERY WEEK, we printed up lots of extra papers, which I would drive to the Theater on Wednesday afternoons. One of the bouncers and I would drag the mail bags to the upstairs office, far and away the most distracting venue in my provincial experience. A business office teeming with nude young women was outside my experience. I confess I was unable to avert my eyes.

A CREW of Mitchell Brothers workers would distribute the papers the next day at the Marin County Courthouse during Jim Mitchell’s court appearances. I was also happy to get to know Jeff Armstrong, manager of the Theater and a life friend of the Mitchell Brothers. He was also a very good writer and a fun guy to work with. He told me a couple of times when I made my late afternoon deliveries that if I hung around, “Hunter would be coming in.” As an extremely conventional and deeply uptight creature of the 1950s, I always felt uncomfortable in the place and, having to drive back to Boonville, I fled for my outback comfort zone.

WORKING with Warren was a different kind of fun.. He wasn’t wed to deadlines. We’d wait up by our Boonville fax machine for his copy to roll in, then we had to typeset it and slap it up on the page. The paper wasn’t put to bed until Warren was in, and his day didn’t seem to kick off until 5pm or so. (My friend and colleague, Fred Gardner, knew Warren all the way back to Ramparts where “Freddy,” as Warren called him, was also a contributor. Fred does a great yeah-yeah imitation of Hinckle. “Yeah, yeah,” Hinckle would growl in seeming agreement as he waved off whatever problem had arisen. The few times I went out with him at night, Hinckle would demand, “For chrissakes it’s early. Where the hell are you going?”

I’M GOING to dig those Hinckle papers up for review. My memory of them is that they were among the most interesting we’ve done. I’d like to see if they were as good as I thought they were at the time. Lively prose was still a primary value at the time.

EVERYTHING THE SUPERVISORS have touched lately they've managed to hopelessly confuse, whether it's marijuana policy or the Class K Housing guidelines. The next botch job is merging the library, the County Museum and our County parks into one big pot of funding. It's not a good idea because it concentrates another pot of dough with the County CEO, a person with, ahem, unpredictably autocratic instincts who would be sorely tempted to use the one big pot of money as one more hammer with which to threaten County employees who incur her easily incurred wrath.

THE LIBRARY IS, at last, more than adequately funded; its money should not be shifted around to subsidize other areas of local government. People voted for the library tax, not a museum or parks tax. The Museum could fund itself with some intelligent energy, which may have arrived with the recently appointed young woman now functioning as curator. Several of the County parks are so remote they don't need much but an occasional clean-up.

OR, as one of our readers puts it: "The biggest danger of this [proposed merger] will be the loss of the ability of interested people to assure that the dedicated funding of the library system (property tax and sales tax) is being properly spent. This is particularly important re pro rata share of property tax, which the county recognizes but chooses to account for as input from its General Fund—“operating transfers in.”.

NASH GONZALES of the County's Planning and Building Department, and not at all an unreasonable guy, is shepherding the proposed sub-division at Lovers Lane just north of Ukiah. The EIR process is about to kick off. The project would rest on 24 acres and include 123 single family homes priced in the $350k-plus range.

PLANNING AND BUILDING is requiring the developer to provide a new project description with more detail plus an Inclusionary Housing Plan that meets the intent of the County ordinance.

THE DEVELOPERS of Lovers Lane, Guillon, Inc., are in negotiations to purchase the 45-acre Gardens Gate proposal the County approved years ago at the south end of Ukiah then delayed it into extinction. Guillon may be about to excavate it.

THE SIMPLEST THING throws the Ukiah City Council into a furrowed-brow tiz. Three years ago, the Council, after hours of Talmudic-quality discussion, decided not to pass a shopping cart ordinance. The "thinking" was, Heck, if we just ask nicely the shambling wretches will voluntarily return the carts to their proper retail venues. Apparently freshly aware that there are more people than ever shuffling up and down State Street with their belongings in retail store carts, Ukiah's hard-hitting government is again mulling over an ordinance to get them off the streets — the carts, not the people who steal them.

QUOTING  some dithering City drone or other, the Ukiah Daily Journal wrote, “Staff worked with businesses on this voluntary compliance program, (but) cart theft has persisted and abandoned carts have accumulated in particular parts of town, causing visual blight."

BY THEMSELVES, shopping carts are merely one more addition to Ukiah's prevalent visual blight. At least they can be wheeled outta sight, unlike, say, Taco Bell. Moreover, overflowing with groceries, shopping carts can be considered mobile signs of abundance, pushed by happy consumers headed for their couches with family bags of potato chips. And even heaped high with the final belongings of a failed, ragged consumer the carts can have a certain poignant charm, like those oil paintings of weeping clowns.

THE JOURNAL CONTINUES: "And although an ad-hoc committee (consisting of Vice-Mayor Maureen Mulheren and Council member Jim Brown) created to discuss solutions to the shopping cart issue had been disbanded, city staff note that Mulheren and Brown have continued to discuss the problem as part of the city’s Homelessness Working Group."

HOMELESS WORKING GROUP! (Jesus Prayer optional here.) "Well, Brownie, how's it going with shopping cart control?" "Gosh, Maureen, I saw a couple down on South State. We better get an in-service going to look for new paradigms, doncha think?"

HERE'S WHAT UKIAH may do, not that they're about to rush into anything without another hundred hours of intense working group discussion:

• Require business owners to have their name and contact information on each cart.

• Require business owners to notify the public that removal of the cart from store property is not allowed under any circumstances and that unauthorized possession of a shopping cart is a violation of state law.

• Require business owners to submit a “shopping cart plan” that details how they will comply ordinance, including “how a business will prevent removal of shopping carts from its premises, how any shopping carts that are removed will be retrieved and how the plan will be modified if these measures do not prove effective.”

NOTE HERE that it's all on the business owners, not the people who steal the carts. Ukiah might consider expanding this strategy to include other classes of crime victims. Maybe car theft could become the owner's fault for possessing a vehicle, the liquor store clerk automatically guilty of public drunkenness, domestic violence sufferers responsible for provoking their attackers. The beauty of making victims responsible for their victimization is that they have fixed addresses. They can easily be located and fined.

I HAVE A COUPLE of ideas here that might be helpful. How about Ukiah-issued shopping carts, each with the name of a city councilman on it? "There goes a Scalmanini!" Or, "This cart sponsored by Jim Brown and the Democratic Central Committee of Mendocino County."

IF YOU LOOK carefully at the shopping carts already appropriated by the walking wounded, you will see some wonderfully innovative re-designs — third wheels, decorative pennants, upscale silk flowers, not those cheap, plastic jobs. Ukiah could not only issue their own carts, sponsored by local luminaries, the town could award cash prizes for the best decorated cart! Hell, the City could even sponsor a shopping cart parade, thus putting some teeth in the 'far out' part of the town slogan, "Far out, nearby." (A consultant charged Ukiah twenty thou for that one. I was available for five.)

HUMCO MARIJUANA, an on-line comment: “What it really comes down to is, Humboldt County is not the place to do legal weed. Just like it has never been the place to grow grapes. It has a great climate in some parts of the county, and little sections of ag land, but nothing close to what is needed for real agriculture. We did well when it was possible to make a living on an incredibly small patch of farm land. We made more on a tenth of an acre than many large farm operations… anyway, those days are over. It was good times, ignore the comments from the haters, but going legal is a huge waste of time and resources. Really… just think about it big picture… it ain’t gonna work.”

THE ME TOO MOVEMENT. I want to share with you my Me Too experiences, not that they amount to much, the patriarchal beast claimed, like we're too dumb to know him for the rampaging phallocrat that he is. Still, though, maybe we can like have a conversation around these issues.

FIRST OFF, I can tell you that when I was young and beautiful, circa 1960 — the bloom was forever off my rose by '67 — I never had to worry for female companionship. But by '65, I had been miraculously blessed with the right woman, and we've been amiably wed ever since, at least that’s my perception. If I hadn't met her I'm sure I would have gone on to a life of serial relationships, divorce court, and custody battles like most of my fellow Americans.

ANYWAY, SOME TWENTY YEARS AGO, I asked a much younger woman to meet me for coffee in Fort Bragg. Believe me, I had zero romantic interest in her, but she had inside information on a local controversy that I wanted real bad. And she had the goods. She agreed to the coffee. I was elated. Then, after agreeing, she called back and said, "I'm really not interested in seeing you," saying it in a way that implied I was carnally interested in her. I wanted to say, "If I had any less romantic interest in you, I'd be asleep." But I'll bet to this day she tells people about the time…

MORE RECENTLY, I was at a social gathering consisting of much younger people, which isn't unusual for me because I'm old and, I'll tell only you people because I'm among friends here, I have also been mercifully freed from the curse of desire. So I'm sitting off to the side listening to the Like Dudes and the Like Dudettes chatting about unlistenable music and unwatchable movies when a young-ish woman plops herself down on the floor in front of me. I'd offered her my chair, which made what soon happened doubly annoying, because when she sat down in front of me about half her ass spilled out of her harem pants, or whatever immodest garment partially covered her lower torso. I averted my eyes, and kept them averted, but I wasn't going to move. I was there first, goddammit! And I'm a Senior Citizen! After a few minutes, belatedly aware her buttocks were in an old man's face who preferred they not be there, she rose and, striding angrily away, shot me a death glare over her shoulder that said, "Shame on you, you old pervert!"

I ASK YOU, ladies and gentlemen of the AVA jury, and I ask you because I know you are people of understanding, you tell me, did I do wrong? Should I have moved at that first glance of forbidden flesh?

THE UKIAH HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, Gordon Oslund, wrote a garbled, edu-babble-laden piece for a recent Ukiah Daily Journal that lamented the rise in on-campus fights. Gordy thought the young ‘uns are on edge because of unsettling recent events like the Big Fires. If I were a Ukiah kid force marched every day into a stark factory facility like Ukiah High School, a campus designed by fascists to churn out more fascists, I'd be tempted to resort to ultra-vi myself. Looking around the County, only Mendocino High School, Covelo, the old part of Point Arena High School, and Leggett offer school campuses created with beckoning, learning aesthetics foremost in their designers' minds, and three of those schools pre-date World War Two.

BOONVILLE once boasted the traditional, architecturally pleasing school complex, but like most places in the County (and the country) it was bulldozed out of existence in the middle 1950s to make way for the standard American edu-design we find at Ukiah and most places, although Boonville, instinctively aware of the new, post-War educational priorities, built a gym larger than the combined square footage of its classrooms.

IN A PREVIOUS LIFE — oh no, here we go into full garrulous, old coot mode — I was hired to teach English at San Luis Obispo Junior High School. I was adrift after obtaining my jive college diploma but, I say in self-defense, at least I was smart enough to know that I possessed zero marketable skills, so when I saw an ad for an "emergency" fill-in teacher, no credential needed… Hmmm. The pay's probably ok and how hard could baby sitting a bunch of kids be?

AS THE ONLY applicant I was immediately hired. The superintendent practically embraced me, he was that relieved that a reasonably presentable someone had shown up to take the job. That should have been the tip-off. After auto-signing innumerable forms without reading them, the Superintendent said, "The main thing is to keep them in the room. I don't want them roaming the halls."

THE "MAIN THING"? What was I dealing with here? I soon found out when a kid, laughing so hard he was doubled over, described how my predecessor, a woman who'd taught in the district for many years, had totally flipped out, barricaded herself in a classroom of these mean, stupid little bastards, and, swigging from a fifth of whiskey, did a strip tease dance on top of her desk! The fire department had had to break the door down to haul the poor old thing away. Her classes of 9th graders thought it was hilarious.

HAVING NO EXPERIENCE and less idea of what I was doing, I settled into an impossible job — six, hour-long classes of 9th graders broken down into arbitrary ability groups, with two whole classes of the evil delinquents who'd driven the old lady over the edge, then three classes of middling scholars and, finally, "the smart kids."

THE SMART KIDS were the worst, and I don't remember any of them being particularly smart. Their parents were ambitious for their dull normal children in the old fashioned way, and the school, in the old fashioned way, herded these heirs and heiresses of the professional classes into the entirely bogus fast track groupings simply because the parents were breathing down the school's incompetent neck. The two classes of dumbos were easy and, I soon discovered, contained maybe not the smartest kids but they were certainly the liveliest, the most fun. I could just tell them to shut the fuck up and sit down and we'd pass the hour serenely enough telling each other jokes and stories. The middle classes were less easily amused but not difficult to amuse, the smart kids snide and threatening. "If you swear at us again, Mr. Anderson, I'm going to the office and report you." That kid may be the grandmother of today's Mendocino County Appropriate Police.)

IN THE THREE MONTHS I worked in this hellish, so-called school, the boss never once visited my classroom to see how I was doing, never once even asked me how I thought I was doing. Since I kept the hormonal beasts from "roaming the halls," he must have thought I was doing a swell job. If I'd gotten fired, and I would have been fired if the place even tried to do what it said it was doing, I could have coasted on unemployment insurance, maybe thumbed back up Highway One to the monk's retreat at Big Sur, never again dealing with a 14-year-old. Then Kennedy was assassinated and the whole country, including my hopeless place of employment, came to a halt for most of days left on my contract.


Now, as to the gun culture. Estimates vary as to how many guns there are in the United States, but in terms of households, as few as one-third have any guns in them. What’s more, the ownership is extremely lopsided. Estimates are that more than half of all guns are in the hands of just 3% of Americans — ‘super owners’ — who own an average of 17 guns apiece. But this small and unrepresentative sample of Americans are very loud, very paranoid, and very fond of their pet theories. They see their hobby of collecting and shooting guns as necessary to the safety and functioning of society. Like any delusion, this false belief is held not only without evidence, but in spite of copious evidence to the contrary. The U.S. is an extreme outlier among developed nations in the number of suicides, homicides and mass shootings committed with guns. The simple equation, more guns equals more deaths, eludes them. Rather, like techno-narcissists who insist that problems caused by technology can only be solved by more technology, gun narcissists insist that problems caused by guns can only ever be solved with more guns. Hence, magical thinking.

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