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Off The Record

DOPE SEASON is upon us, and a reader writes: “I am in contact with a number of folks who will not be applying for the 9.31 exemption this year for three specific and I think legitimate reasons:
1). Like all farmers, pot growers plant or procure more starts than they need. Does a tomato farmer plant exactly 99 tomato plants? Maybe, but they've probably got 15 or 20 backups in the greenhouse to address future problems — bugs, disease, etc. This year's cold spring is already problematic; early flowering is an issue. Little teeny 6 inch plants are already ending their life cycle. My little tomatoes (not a code word) are already flowering, so I believe it. Many people are already starting over with new babies and cannot comply with the 99-plant total at the outset. They'd drop down to 99 if they could be allowed to winnow it down by late summer, but they say the rules make this impossible. 2) the ordinance states no plants can be in the ground until the grower permit is approved. How is that, realistically, supposed to work? Planting time is now, and with the oddball weather, everyone has more plants on site than what they will ultimately bring to harvest. They might need to replace or cull poor producers. Early Girl might do much better this year than Better Boy. 3). New Rule: Growers must produce a letter from a dispensary saying that it will consider purchasing their surplus. Huh? I'm a new applicant trying to get legal and I have to get some stranger to write a letter saying, Yeah, I'll look at your hooch. Why should a private business have to sign off on someone's crop?”

RECOMMENDED READING: Emus Loose In Edgar by Judy Muller. Locals will remember Ms. Muller, a Trivial Pursuit ace, from her visit to The Valley two years ago. She wasn't here to play, though. Ms. Muller, a long-time tv correspondent and Peabody Award winner, to name a few of her many distinctions, was traveling around the country on a kind of outback journalism tour, to see what was out there beyond E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, the dominant media paradigm, the staters of the obvious whose soporific prose usually kills you even before you've gotten to the end of their panderings. There's lots of good journalism out there beyond the mainstream seraglios, but you've got to search it out, which is what Judy Muller set out to do. She presents her findings in this interesting little book, which moves right along — Ms. Muller is a very good writer — even if you aren't particularly interested in the subject. Ms. Muller finds lively little papers that still do what they are supposed to do despite the info deluge unleashed by the internet, that deluge now threatening all newspapers, big and small, with extinction. So, what are newspapers supposed to do? Well, there's the rub. Supported by advertisers, do you write stories certain to shed them? Do you try to tell the truth or do you take the easy route down Grin Street because the people reading your paper know you and know where you live and might not fork over if you get on the wrong side of them or their friends. People putting out a newspaper in a small town, we learn from Emus, need to enjoy their own company. A lot. Because if you at least try to do honest work you'll be spending a lot of time with yourself as sole companion. What's most encouraging is Ms. Muller's discovery that there are still quite a few publishers out there swinging for the fences, and quite a few doing it in right lively style. A chapter of Emus is, ahem, necessarily devoted to your much beloved community newspaper, the one based in Boonville, Ca, the one that boldly claims it's America's last newspaper. I did think the Boonville weekly was America's last newspaper until I read Judy Muller's book. Turns out we're not even second-to-last. We appear under “Curmudgeons,” a term that doesn't apply to us all that often, although Ms. Muller makes a pretty strong case. People will say to me, “Anyhow, you're not a real newspaper,” and I'll say “Real like what? The New York Times and Judy Miller parlaying Bush's lies about Iraq never-ending wars in the Middle East? A real paper like the Press Democrat with horoscopes, a teen page and hoochie koochie ads?” Depends, Bub, how you define your reality. There are still lots of people who understand that a newspaper can't be a Love-In if it's trying to bring the truth of things to a wide variety of people. The section of the book I enjoyed most was chapter five. It's called “This Town Isn't Big Enough for the Two of Us.” Hardin, Montana, is one wacky community. It has three papers, the nuttiest one being the largest one, a kind of prose version of Fox News. Hardin is near the site of Custer's last gasp. One of the area's big income earners is two annual re-enactments of the big event — one by Indians, one by the Hardin Chamber of Commerce, both reflective of deep community divisions. Hardin is apparently dominated by people as oblivious as Custer was. This is the community that mortgaged itself to build a prison without first arranging for prisoners. White Hardin blames this blunder, and everything else that goes wrong, on the Indians. So the Indians, not getting even close to a fair shake from the white paper, puts out their own paper, which is not the work product of journalism in any known sense of the term. It merely reflects the limited — very limited — views of the tribal chairman. The third paper is called The Original Briefs. It features a pair of jockey shorts on its masthead. It's a gossip and rumor daily printed on typing paper folded in half. Of course it's the most widely read, and probably the only true source of real news. Of all the papers Ms. Muller writes about, the Hardin situation is the most interesting because the ethics of the journalism business are most dramatically in play there, as the white paper capitulates to the dummies, the Indian paper is more like something you'd find in a one-man dictatorship, the third paper a Brit-style mini-tabloid without the bare-breasted babe-of-the-day photos. Anybody who even attempts to present all points of view in any of these papers can hit the road, as one poor guy was forced to do when he tried to write fairly on the prison fiasco for the Fox News paper. Emus Loose in Egnar brings encouraging news. Despite the daily evidence presented by the mass circulation papers and the distractions of the internet and the distractedness of the gizmo generation, journalism is not all the way dead in this Custer-ish country.

THOSE OF US with eyes to see, know that American architecture has gone steadily backwards since the first quarter of the 20th century. After World War Two it was as if everyone went suddenly blind. Prior to national visual impairment, what public space looked like mattered to people. Ordinary citizens took pride in the appearance of their communities. And people still do in many places, but those people are in the minority. The forces of Public Ugly have rolled right over them. Ukiah and Willits, to name two flagrantly, even gratuitously ugly nearby small towns which a mere 70 years ago were attractive and coherent, have been systematically uglified ever since. In Fort Bragg and Point Arena and, needless to say, Mendocino, eyesores raise serious community ire, although Mendocino's vacuum-packed “beauty” makes it uniquely unattractive, the lily totally gilded like one of those high noon, over-bright, color postcards of San Francisco. Anderson Valley's lead city, Boonville, is divided on civic beauty. Some people are for it, some people, like the fat guy in the wife beater that doesn't quite cover his gut, are insulted at the suggestion that there's something wrong with Boonville's appearance as it is. The basic idea used to be if things looked good people felt better. Attractive, welcoming public space was good for mental health. Unattractive, unwelcoming public space was bad for mental health, which may account for the greater incidence of mental illness in Willits and Ukiah than in the Anderson Valley, Fort Bragg and Point Arena combined, although PA might not collectively pass a mental health check. Point Arena, its the town remains committed to its 19th century beauty.

I BRING up the large subject of negative visuals because Mendocino County's judges, all of whom undoubtedly live in conditions of leafy, albeit half-savage, westside comfort, are about to foist off another major eyesore on Ukiah and on us, because all of us, at some point, will be forced to visit the new courthouse. The two structures pictured here illustrate my point: the grander of the two edifices is the Stockton courthouse circa 1909, the other is the now abandoned Willits Courthouse circa 2000. The Mendocino County Courthouse, believe it or not, once rivaled in pure visual drama the old Stockton Courthouse, but gradually the sight impaired slathered it in slabs of unadorned concrete and police state one-way glass, and the Mendocino County Courthouse became the foreboding hulk its exterior presents today. But as bad as it looks outside, it's still quite pleasant inside in an antiquated, wood-paneled and marble-ish sort of way. The new courthouse will look bad inside and out. Count on it. America can't do large public buildings anymore. We've lost that capacity, and the only reason the judges want this new monstrosity is for the high-security parking slots they'll get in the basement, which is unfair to say but probably not far from the truth. This thing certainly won't be built with public convenience in mind. It must be resisted.

A READER WRITES: “Want you to know we love, LOVE the Manbeater of the week notices. How can there consistently be so many?  Migod, the men up there are wimps! I send them to my artist friend in Palm Springs and she has a great laugh sharing them with girlfriends. I've been very fortunate, I think. Over many years I've aggravated many a guy, including near strangers, but not once had one raise his hand to me. Just my adored Daddy who nearly cried when he had to spank me because I was such a rebellious kid and my mom couldn't discipline me.  But we outgrew that by 8 or so!”

AND LOOK WHO just walked through the door! This week's  Mendocino County Man Beaters! Tina Joy Nelson, 40, of Ukiah, seems to thumped a male wimpo or two in her time. This is Tina's second bust for that particular “crime.” Tina's expression says it all. “The punk called the cops on me for that?” Tina is 5'7” and 135 pounds. She's also charged with assault with a deadly weapon, so who knows? Maybe she ran at the guy with a sawed-off remote. Then there's the similarly disbelieving and certainly un-contrite man thumper, Ms. Jessica Harries, 25 of Willits, who popped her incredible hulk last week only to find herself under arrest. Hit them harder next time, ladies!

TODD WALTON WRITES: “Friday night’s SF Giants win was another satisfying ninth inning victory. There is something almost ceremonial about the way the Giants play and win (when they win) these days. I think of an older samurai graciously allowing his opponent to duel evenly with him for a time, and then very modestly the older samurai kills his opponent, bows to the corpse, and walks away into the forest. Or something.”

A READER WRITES: “I find this fascinating. So I get that transporting a concealed weapon is generally a crime, but since when is carrying money a crime? Or, more pointedly, what the hell kind of crime is “suspicion of attempting to transport marijuana for sale”? The PD recently reported that “Laytonville Traffic Stop Leads to Suspected Pot Buy Arrests.” They didn't actually have the marijuana? The crime wasn't even committed yet, but the stupid schmucks told the police that that was their intention, so they get busted? Maybe I'm just as stupid but something about this seems like really, really not ok. Here's something else I can't figure out. Please critique my figures; maybe they're wrong. Ok, so there are all these large trespass grows in the National Forest. They're like 5, 10, 20,000 plants or more (I have on good evidence that 20,000-plant grows do exist). Let's say each plant yields one ounce each (these plants are small, little-watered and kind of like bonsai-pot, apparently, producing one large bud each). A 20,000 plant grow could easily produce 1,250 pounds or more. Where do you dry that much weed? I've seen the sizes of buildings it takes to process 100 pounds at a time. You need at least 500-100 square feet. Assuming a tip-top trim crew that can clip up a pound in eight hours (rare), it would require 10,000 hours to trim 1,250 pounds of weed. A rotating crew of 20 people working round the clock would take about three weeks to process the pot. Where are these 20 or 30 or 40 people? How are they housed and fed? We've all seen the videos of a few cans of beans and empty tortilla packages scattered at a raided trespass grow, but this seems like a much bigger operation with a bigger infrastructure, not just a couple of guys guarding the perimeter.  [Perhaps the reader hasn’t seen the fancy new pot trimming machines that are on the market for $2000 or more each. They don’t do as fine a job, but they make the work much easier.] Then there's the volume of the pot. Even if you vacuum seal it, could you get more than 40 or 50 pounds in a car at a time? That would be how many car trips going in and out of these remote areas? Like 25? Not noticed by Law enforcement at the height of the season? Forget larger vehicles. You can't turn a semi or even most motorhomes around on those remote roads. I've flown over them. And why is it that you never, ever hear of large semis filled with pot being stopped on I-5 or 101? Are they flying it out? What is the largest bust that's come out of the national forests in the last years? What's the largest outdoor bust, period, in the last years? Is law enforcement saying that ALL this pot manages to escape their clutches and magically gets whisked out of county? Are they truly THAT inept? I wish I could find out more. It just doesn't add up. And then, if you do it all in reverse, how are they getting all the gear in? All the plastic pipe? Carried by Juan Valdez on his back? Come ON! The food? The rat poison? The chemicals? 20,000 pots? 20,000 plants? Are they planting directly into the hard, clay ground? With shovels? Are they supplementing with soil? Are they growing from seed? If not, from clones? Where the hell are the greenhouses growing 20,000 clones?”

I BIKE to the ballpark from the Inner Richmond up, then down through the Presidio, east along Crissy Field, on through Aquatic Park, then the always fascinating tourist mobs of Fisherman's Wharf, the Embarcadero, and finally to 3rd and King, home of the world champion Giants, a phrase I'm still not quite used to, and one I can't think about without lamenting my late brother,  Ken, certainly among the most loyal Giants man in all of Northern California all the way back to the Giants at Seals Stadium. Wherever Ken is I hope he saw last season. It was cold and windy the whole way last Saturday, but not cold enough to deter two naked men on bikes at the Ferry Building. A sign on one guy's bike said something about a world nude tour to protest fossil fuel. The Saturday crowd mostly reacted to the naked men with chuckles, but family groups were more disapproving. A black couple with three small boys in tow waited to cross the street a few feet from the naked guys. I'd also paused to monitor crowd reaction. As the naked guys remounted their bicycles and sped off across the street, one of the small boys said, “Momma, is those faggots?” Mom, unhappy at the unclothed spectacle, replied grimly, “I don't know what they're trying to prove,” as Dad remarked, “There's probably a lot more of them in this city.” The game was a 10-2 rout by the Reds, over in the first inning. Lincecum, one of the best pitchers in the game if not the best, looked loaded to me, lost, not his usual overpowering self. Stoners don't adopt the stoner look to play pretend-sies. Long hair and, on older men without much hair, those appalling little ponytails that translate: “Hey! I'm cool. I smoke the bazooka!” I prayed to the baseball gods that Lincecum hadn't resorted to the pipe, but forgave him if he had, the pressures on the kid being so large and unrelenting. He said after the game that he thought he was “thinking too much.” Thinking too much can be dangerous in all kinds of contexts, but here's hoping Tim goes back to not thinking. Yeah, now that you ask, it would be fine with me if you had to slide at home plate on close plays, although the collision that took poor Buster out was all the way within the traditions of the game. Much as I sympathize with Posey, I thought the vilification of Scott Cousins by a ton of baseball big shots for running over the popular Giants catcher was outrageously unfair to Cousins, a rookie and barely on a big league roster who simply did what ballplayers do in that situation. Saturday, I sat up in View, the nosebleed seats. I'd only scored the ticket the previous day, and felt lucky to get it because the game was sold out. But I like it up there in View with its vistas of the bay, the big slow boats hauling mast-high containers of plastic flowers  all the way from China to WalMart, the afternoon sun on the Berkeley-Oakland hills. The only drawback was the kid sitting next to me, a certifiable moron who kept up a running commentary to the apparently unrelated young woman seated next to him. He'd ignored me, but then I'm not a young woman. The young woman had made the mistake of asking the lad who he was. So he told her for the next hour, never once asking her a question. When Lincecum was yanked early on, as everyone around rolled their eyes and said a silent “Thank God,” the lethally tedious youngster departed, but not before he'd told the captive girl (and all of us for rows around) that he was a college student from San Jose whose favorite tv show was Jersey Shore, a remark neatly revealing the true state of higher education in this country. He went on to say that he got “a hundred bucks a gig for d-jaying.” Then he named the songs he liked, a list so long it took him most of an inning to recite them. When he got into monologues about his fave pizza toppings it occurred to me he might be nuts, so I took a closer look. The boy did have a glazed look to him, but by that assessment lots of people would have to be declared 5150. As it is on the streets, it's the luck of the draw at the ballpark.

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