Warm Day | Jennifer Adrift | Pet Hulk | Troubled Torch | Job Interview | Beer Park | Pledge Leaders | Wendling Mill | PA Testing | Ever Stuck | Grand Jurors | Daisies | Cannabis Status | Water Crisis | Freedom Cafe | Coast Cinema | Tattoo Tuttle | Wildlife Management | Ed Notes | Smells Fear | Border Angels | Ketchup Bees | Archibald Yell | Choctaw Donation | Dream Gig | Yesterday's Catch | Large Trouble | Louisville Lunch | Nut Water | Gundemic | Hungry Lawyers | Petrolia Highway | Censorship Alternatives | Beyond Illusion | Republican Danger | Weaponized Hell
STRATUS AND PATCHY FOG THIS MORNING are developing offshore and near coastal areas, reducing visibility. Northerly winds pick up late tonight as a cold front approaches. (NWS)
WHERE’S JENNIFER RISCH?
On Friday, March 26, 2021 at about 9:04 PM, Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies were dispatched to a possible missing person situation at Blue's Beach in Westport (34533 North Highway 1).
Upon arrival, Deputies spoke with a friend of Jennifer Adrianne Risch, 41, of Willits, who had contacted the Sheriff's Office. Deputies learned that Risch and her friend went to Blue's Beach together. While there, Risch walked away from her friend. This was not unusual behavior as Risch suffers from Dissociation Disorder [“…disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity”] and it is common for Risch to wander off. Due to it being common for Risch to wander off, Risch's friend did not want to report her as missing.
Risch walked away at around 6:30 PM. After about an hour, Risch's friend began looking for her. When Risch's friend was unable to locate her, assistance from the Sheriff's Office was requested.
While looking for Risch in the Blue's Beach area, Deputies learned Risch may have been seen walking east on Branscomb Road toward Laytonville. Deputies searched Branscomb Road and surrounding areas of Westport, but were unable to locate Risch.
During the morning of Saturday, March 27, 2021, Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Deputies contacted Risch's friend to see if she had been located. Deputies learned Risch had not been located and initiated missing persons protocols. Deputies rechecked the Westport area and Branscomb Road to no avail.
Risch is described as being a white female adult, standing 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds. Risch now has short, buzzed-cut blonde hair and blue eyes. Risch was last seen wearing a gray zip-up hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and brown hiking boots. Risch has a large tribal tattoo on her back and shoulders.
This investigation is ongoing at this time and anyone with information about Risch's current whereabouts is urged to contact the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office by calling 707-463-4086.
UKIAH SHELTER PET OF THE WEEK
Calling all big dog lovers!!! Meet Hulk—a BIG dog with a sweet personality. Hulk’s a lap dog at heart and appears friendly and playful with other dogs. Hulk's new home should have plenty of out door space with secure fencing. This handsome guy is a year old and 106 pounds!
Visit us at mendoanimalshelter.com to see all of our canine and feline guests, our services, programs, events, and updates regarding covid-19, as it impacts Mendocino County Animal Shelters in Ukiah and Ft. Bragg. Visit us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mendoanimalshelter/ For information about adoptions, please call 707-467-6453.
DRUG-FUELED FORT BRAGG ARSONIST NABBED
On Friday, March 26, 2021, at approximately 8:53 a.m., Fort Bragg Police Officers responded to the report of a structure fire in the 300 Block of N. Harbor Drive. Officers were on scene within two minutes and assisted alongside the Fort Bragg Fire Department Chief with evacuating the occupants and their pets. The Fire Department was able to successfully extinguish the fire allowing it to only cause minor damage to the exterior of the building.
An initial investigation by the Fort Bragg Fire Department revealed that the fire was intentionally set. An Arson Inspector from CalFire responded and confirmed that the incident was arson.
At approximately 6:24 p.m., Officers responded to the 300 Block of Perkins Street for the report of a prowler in the area. Officers checked the area and located a suspect on the railroad tracks near Rose Memorial Cemetery matching the description. The suspect was later identified as Robert Fielden, 47, of Fort Bragg, and he immediately fled on foot when contacted by the Officer.
The Officer lost sight of Fielden but continued the pursuit eastbound on the railroad tracks in an attempt to locate him. While checking the area, the Officer located a freshly started brush fire with one citizen arriving to attempt to extinguish it. Officers assisted in estinguishing the fire until the Fire Department arrived on scene, before the Officer continued eastbound in the search for Fielden.
Officers were able to coordinate a perimeter and apprehend Fielden concealed in the wooded area east of the 600 Block of N. Harold Street. Fielden was taken into custody without incident and found to be in possession of butane torches, methamphetamine, and paraphernalia.
With Fielden in custody, Officers contacted the original reporting party for the prowler and learned that Fielden had been observed on their property via surveillance video. An investigation at that residence revelaed evidence indicating that Fielden had attempted to intentionally set that residence on fire in a similar manner to the fire from 300 N. Harbor Drive.
The Fort Bragg Police Department requested and was granted an increased bail for Fielden and he remains incarcerated at the Mendocino County Jail. The Police Department is now asking the public and businesses within the City to review surveillance video for 03/26/2021 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. period in an attempt to identify Fielden’s location. A video has been added to the Fort Bragg Police Department’s Facebook page showing the clothing Fielden was wearing at the time of the suspected incidents.
If you have any additional information related to this incident please contact Officer McHugh at 707-961-2800 ext. 167 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you locate potentially physical evidence related to this investigation contact our non-emergency dispatch at (707) 964-0200.
AV’S HOUSE OF MORGAN
Philo Mill Hires a College Kid
In some previous articles I mentioned moving to The Valley fifty years ago with enough money to buy part of Ingram Ranch and begin planting a vineyard. That business plan also required finding work locally to feed me, my consort and the family dog, and pay for the rest of daily life on the farm. In the Spring of 1973 the situation was getting very tight, our bill at Floodgate Store was uncomfortably large, we were getting tired of spaghetti for dinner each night.
My friends Sam Prather and Ken Hurst were working at Philo Lumber, doing something exotic called “pulling greenchain,” and they insisted that even though I had never worked in a manual production job in my previous life the mill would “hire anyone” for its kind of work, “even a college kid.” I had never hid my education credentials from my Anderson Valley friends. A lot of them liked to tease me good-naturedly about them. I even understood that in some cases, such as in my friendship with woodsman and equipment operator Bill Witherell having your own pet college kid friend as a trainee for life in The Valley was a token of status in the local community.
So Sam and Kenny told me to come by the mill during operating hours, talk with __________, the on-site manager about any job openings available. It was after lunch in May when I went by, found ___________, out by the debarker preparing the raw logs for milling. He said, yes, maybe, come by next week and see if there was anything available. The following Thursday, I returned, and _______ declared “Come back Monday morning, 7:30, that’s when we start.” End of interview.
DA DAVID EYSTER adds another chapter to the McCowen Exit Dispute Saga”
There were thoughts of mine I inadvertently left out of my reply to former Supervisor McCowen yesterday. So … with your permission, Mr. AVA Editor … I will add the following final thoughts as a post scriptum:
Unintentionally or otherwise, it seems to me that Covid-19 has been used as a license by the current (new) Board of Supervisors to try and move forward in difficult times without looking over their shoulders and acknowledging the past.
John McCowen well-served the citizens of Mendocino County during his terms as a Mendocino County Supervisor. He comes from pioneer stock and he has always understood the political and cultural nuances of Mendocino County that go back many generations. I particularly appreciated the fact that he understood and honored the fact that public safety is Job #1 for county-level government.
While he has not asked for same, I personally believe and it should be said that John has not received the requisite public commendations that normally accompany the departure from public life of one who has done as many good deeds as John McCowen. Sadly, the same must be said of Carre Brown. This state of affairs is unfortunate.
With that and public discourse in mind, it is time to put the Board back in the Board room and allow for the People’s affairs to get back to whatever the new normal may be. And it wouldn’t hurt to start that first return to the Board Chambers meeting by inviting John and Carrie back to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. If these invitations are tendered, I will also be there to make appropriate and overdue public comment, as, I’m sure, will be my partner in law enforcement, Sheriff Kendall.
(Mark Scaramella notes: Supervisor Carre Brown, however, at least got a nice send off on the front page of the Ukiah Daily Journal last December 11 by de facto County press agent/reporter Karen Rifkin. McCowen didn’t even get that.)
ANOTHER OLD PHOTO, the mill at Wendling (Navarro)
(via Marshall Newman)
COVID TESTING IN POINT ARENA
FRIDAY APRIL 2 - 9AM to NOON
Vet's Building & City Hall, 451 School Street, Point Arena
There will be free COVID testing at the Veteran's Building/City Hall at 451 School Street this Friday April 2 from 9am to Noon. The testing is first come-first served and no appointment is needed.
If you have not already done so, please register with the test provider at http://lhi.care/covidtesting.
If you already have a client number, please bring it with you.
NOTE: This is not a drive-thru event. Please park on the north side of the building.
For any questions, call City Hall at 882-2122.
(REGULAR HEAD) GRAND JURORS SOUGHT
(More Accurate Head: Ingrates Seek Ignorable Input)
“All qualified citizens interested in serving on the 2021/2022 Mendocino County Civil Grand Jury are invited to submit their applications to the Superior Court for consideration,” announced the Honorable Jeanine B. Nadel, Presiding Judge of the Civil Grand Jury. The deadline for application submission is Friday, May 28, 2021. The 2021/2022 Grand Jury will be sworn in at the end of June, 2021.
Service on the Civil Grand Jury is an excellent opportunity to learn about the inner workings of government while providing a valuable service to the community. The 19 members of the Civil Grand Jury serve for one year and are empowered to investigate the operations of county, city and district governments; provide civil oversight of local government departments and agencies; and respond to citizen complaints. The Civil Grand Jury sets its own agenda and meeting schedule. Much of the work is performed in small committees allowing for considerable flexibility in the work schedule and meeting locations.
To attract more residents from the geographically distant regions of Mendocino County, the Civil Grand Jury is making it possible for interested members of the public to participate in a safe environment. The Civil Grand Jury will implement remote meeting protocols to maximize participation while reducing the demand for travel.
Grand Jurors are compensated $25 per full panel meeting, $10 per committee meeting and committee attendance at public meetings. Mileage is reimbursed at the current County of Mendocino rate. There is free onsite parking. Prior to being nominated, each qualifying applicant is interviewed by a Superior Court judge. Training for Grand Jurors will be provided in early July 2021 either remotely or in the County offices.
To serve as a Civil Grand Juror, the following requirements must be met:
∙ At least 18 years of age
∙ United States citizen
∙ Resident of Mendocino County for at least one year
∙ Sufficiently fluent in written and spoken English
∙ Not currently serving on any other governmental board or commission during the term ∙ Not presently holding a public office
∙ Not personally active in any campaign of a candidate for elective office
∙ Computer skills highly desirable
Applications and related information are available on the Internet at: Grand Jury (ca.gov). The application may also be obtained in person at the Superior Court, 100 North State Street, Rm. 303, Ukiah or by calling the Grand Jury at (707) 463-4320.
For more information contact:
Kim Weston, Administrative Assistant
Superior Court of California, County of Mendocino
100 N. State Street, Room 303
Ukiah, CA 954825
FARM BUREAU GOES TO POT
The Mendocino County Farm Bureauc (MCFB) Political Action and Education Committee has invited Supervisors Haschak and Williams, the county cannabis phase 1 Ad Hoc committee, to meet with us on Wednesday March 31st from 3-5 PM via Zoom. This is an opportunity to listen to an update on the topics below and ask questions regarding the status of the Phase 1 [legacy/pre-legalization growers] cannabis permitting in the County.
Top topics of interest:
1. General update on status of Phase 1 cannabis permitting.
2. How Phase 1 applicants will transition to Phase 3 if desired. Key question: will phase 1 applicants be allowed to continue to cultivate under phase 3 prior to permit approval?
3. Compliance and enforcement: What is the process if applicants can't move forward though local and state permitting?
If you are interested in attending the meeting, please register HERE: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYuc-qvqjojG9J6oDZGfWGeCOIpYBAFo5zf
Devon Jones, Executive Director
Mendocino County Farm Bureau
MENDO'S LOOMING WATER CRISIS
We’ve arrived at a crisis level regarding our water supply. Wait, what? You haven’t heard? Well, that’s unfortunate.
Ukiah Valley gets its water from Lake Pillsbury through the Potter Valley Water Project, ultimately dumping into Lake Mendocino, and water is pumped from wells tapping the underneath aquifers. All of these sources are replenished through rainfall. For the second consecutive rain season, rainfall is around 33% of average for this time of year. Cyclical droughts and floods dot the historical timeline here in our serene, picturesque valley. However, with the growth of residential and agricultural demands, our water is now taxed at levels not sustainable with consecutive severe drought years. So here we go again. Our local water agencies are going to be asking for a voluntary reduction (~20%) from all of us as a starter. However, it will not end there. Be prepared for some hard choices this summer, and for many, severe cutbacks in available water, like residents of Redwood Valley. This time around, the lack of water is bad. Very bad.
In the years 2000 and 2001, California suffered a major energy crisis. If you don’t remember “rolling blackouts,” good for you. They took a toll on everyone’s patience, put people’s health at risk, and had a devastating impact on the economy as almost every business requires electricity to produce anything or keep the doors open for retail. Prior to this, no one was paying attention. No one knew, nor cared, where electricity came from. Why? Because the lights and TV came on when we flicked the switch. The AC and refrigerator just worked — until they didn’t. The public became educated through the evening news and investigation over the next few months where their electricity came from, and how California can tap outside sources in case of electricity shortage. Energy saving measures like switching to a more efficient bulb, and buying “Energy Star” compliant appliances were hammered into us and became commonplace practices as the years followed. Solar panel system purchases skyrocketed, albeit, other factors contribute to this as prices for such systems continue to fall. We cannot do that for our water supply. We can’t make more water, nor tap an alternative source.
Instability of oil producing regions, and weather related events that cripple oil refinery capacity has had a similar effect. Gas prices surge, then all of a sudden, we’re paying attention again where gasoline comes from. We drive less or decide to buy a hybrid or all-electric vehicle, and industries tapping alternative fuels get a boost in investment and popularity. This doesn’t happen with our water supply. The rates we pay for water do not depend on the availability nor amount of stored water. For most, this creates a problem in itself because there is no crisis to generate the tipping point prior to inability to irrigate, or water not come out of our faucets.
So, what’s it going to take to shake us from our apathy? How do the numerous water districts and agencies in the valley tug on the ears of its 35,000 customers and say “WAKE UP!”? How do we all become more “proactive” in better management and conservation versus “reactive”? What is the tipping point here?
Our water here is an exhaustible, finite resource. It is a closed system with no desalination or aqueduct alternatives. We all need to act like it BEFORE the faucets and hoses run dry. We all share this responsibility.
(James Green is a representative of Millview Water District, Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency, Upper Russian River Water Agency JPA and a concerned citizen. I’m writing this column because after four years of reading about the Potter Valley Water Project, and previous droughts, I’ve seen almost no increase in citizen engagement. I’d like to see that change before it’s too late.)
ED NOTE: Mr. Green was also a candidate for 1st District Supervisor in the primary election in March of 2020.
HALF OFF AT THIS PLACE IN MENDO VILLAGE IF YOU DON'T WEAR A MASK
THE HISTORIC COAST CINEMAS, opened a half century ago in Fort Bragg, California, has been owned and operated by the Lazzarini family for most of those 50 years. Through good times and bad, Coast Cinemas has been a strong supporter of our local community by providing jobs for our youth, gift cards to schools and nonprofits, and theater space for the Mendocino Film Festival. In March of 2020, COVID forced the closure of the theater. Over the past 12 months, our beloved theater has lost 90% of its pre-COVID revenues.
A small PPP loan and the opening of weekend takeaway concessions has provided the Coast with enough revenue to rehire 3 of the 20 staff members they were forced to furlough last year. But maintenance deferred for lack of funding and upgrades to ventilation systems to ensure the health and safety of patrons are priorities that must be addressed before this theater can once again offer our community a much-needed celluloid escape.
Please join our GoFundMe effort to raise $25,000 and help us “Save The Last Picture Show”. Whether you are a full-time resident of the coast, a part-time resident or an occasional visitor, we hope that you will help us save one of the last places for family entertainment left on the coast. Again, these funds will be used to enhance air quality within the theater and address the mechanical repairs necessary to re-open.
I NEVER WANTED A TATTOO — UNTIL I MET LYLE TUTTLE
by Justine Frederiksen
I sat down once for an interview with the tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, and I could not be more grateful for the time I spent with him. Because he inspired me to get my first and only tattoo: A small hummingbird on my arm that helps me every day. And I never would have gotten my comforting companion if I hadn’t met Lyle.
Tuttle said he fell in love with tattoos as a boy when he saw them on the men returning from WWII, forever equating the artwork with travel and the kind of adventures rarely found in his small hometown near Ukiah. As soon as he could, Tuttle embarked on his own adventures, eventually opening a tattoo studio in San Francisco where he became famous for inking famous people such as Janis Joplin and Cher.
And he told me about his life at the perfect time in my life: I was about to turn 41, the age at which my mother had been killed in a car crash, and I had been struggling to decide how I wanted to mark that milestone.
But as I listened to Tuttle describing how he had traveled the world and didn’t need photographs of the places he’d seen and people he’d met because he collected tattoos instead, like “stickers on luggage,” I suddenly knew what I wanted to do — carve a small “sticker” on my arm so I could take my mother with me everywhere. And give her the years she never got to enjoy.
Since my mother loved birds so much, I found a simple drawing of a hummingbird I liked, then found a tattoo artist whose work I liked and made an appointment near my birthday. After a stiff drink at a neighborhood bar, I headed over to get my ink. At first the artist resisted my choice of artwork, then she questioned where I wanted the bird.
“You do realize that if I draw it like that, it will be upside down for everyone looking at it?” she said.
I thought of Tuttle, whose bodysuit of tattoos stopped at the neckline and ankles so he could cover them with clothing whenever he wanted. Not because he was ashamed of them, but because, “They are mine. I choose when to share them.”
And I told the tattoo artist that I didn’t care the hummingbird would be upside down for everyone else, because “it’s for me to look at.” She smiled, then did exactly as I asked. And I could not be happier with what she put on my arm.
At first it was just a way to carry my mother with me to enjoy all the moments she lost. But it has become something even more important: my antidote to fear. Looking at it reminds me that every day now is a day my mother never had. And that I should make the most of every one I get.
And I need to be reminded of that a lot. Because her death also gave me a fear of driving for fun. My mother died on a weekend trip to see a new bird. So I’m not afraid of the driving you do every day, say to work and the grocery store. I’m afraid of the drives that are supposed to be fun; the drives that take you to new places and new experiences.
Like when I make plans to check out a new hiking trail with my dog. It’s just about my favorite thing to do these days, yet I can tell myself that it isn’t worth dying for, this silly new trail. “This is exactly how your mom died, chasing after a new bird for her list. Is that what you want? The dog will be just as happy walking in the park you always go to.”
But then I look at my hummingbird, and I picture myself in a nursing home, where my father spent his last years, needing a walker to go down the hall and unable to drive himself two minutes to the store, let alone two hours to a new trail.
And I think of my grandmother in an assisted living facility, no longer able to do “anything that made life fun,” like visiting Paris again. Walking five blocks to the ocean to watch the surfers. Walking two blocks to the donut shop for coffee and gossip.
At the end of my life, do I want to sit there looking at my wrinkled hummingbird and thinking of all the trails I didn’t try when I could still get in that car anytime I wanted to drive as far as I wanted, then step out and walk as far as I wanted? No, I do not.
Many, many times, that tattoo has helped me get into the car and drive where I want to go. And I have Lyle to thank for that.
Lyle Tuttle died in Ukiah on March 26, 2019, at the age of 87.
BOS MEETING REGARDING WILDLIFE SERVICES
Dear Friends of Mendocino Wildlife,
We are exceedingly disappointed to report that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors did not vote to terminate their contract with USDA Wildlife Services at their Board meeting on Tuesday. While the locally administered non-lethal wildlife management program under the Animal Care Services department, as proposed by Supervisor Haschak, was not adopted by the Board, it was not rejected either.
After viewing and then discussing a presentation about the proposed nonlethal program, the Board voted unanimously on a motion by Supervisor Haschak to direct Animal Care Services Director Richard Molinari to conduct a cost analysis of the proposed program and present the Board with a proposed budget for implementing the program at a later meeting. The Mendocino Non-lethal Wildlife Alliance (MNWA) steering committee will be monitoring progress made in developing that cost analysis to ensure that the County follows through with this commitment.
We extend our sincere gratitude to all of our supporters who made oral or written comment to the Board on behalf of Mendocino County’s majestic wildlife. Make no mistake, if it weren’t for continued public pressure to change our County’s approach to compassionate wildlife management, the County would simply be continuing on with business as usual. We are making progress and we will continue to wage this campaign until the County terminates its contract with Wildlife Services and implements a nonlethal wildlife management program. We are grateful for your support, and we will be in touch soon with action items you can take to help advance our County toward that goal.
For the wild,
MNWA steering committee
Rosebud Ireland, Carol Lillis, Don Lipmanson, Carol Misseldine, Jon Spitz
WATCHING OL' JOE'S presser the other day, I, and probably millions of others, wondered how much longer can they keep propping him up, occasionally shuffling him out there, ol' Joe doing his darndest to look spry but belied by his stiff-legged prostate strut. Even with those big print, cheat note-answers to questions almost any old current affairs maven could answer with the required cliches, the old guy is done. Obviously.
ON THE OTHER HAND, whoever's “advising” him, the old guy is getting sound input from his puppeteers. The recent bailout is getting us closer to the necessary universal basic income this sucker is gonna need to keep it from going permanently off the rails, farther off the rails than it has already careened. It's an odd time, odder by the day — a potemkin president, a faith-based currency, widespread disorder, an increasing incidence of natural disasters, both halves of the political divide contemptuous of the other, neither side having much faith in their leaders.
LITTLE PETE, Secretary of Transportation, floated the idea of a tax on vehicles' mileage to pay for a proposal to revamp the nation's infrastructure. Buttigieg said a tax on miles driven “shows a lot of promise. The gas tax used to be the obvious way to do it. It's not anymore, so a so-called vehicle miles traveled tax or mileage tax, whatever you want to call it, could be a way to do it.” Biden says he has a $3 trillion infrastructure plan, with proposals to fix roads and bridges while also funding “social infrastructure” to fund for pre-K programs and childcare. The tax on miles would be a way to get around shortages in the nation's highway trust fund, which gets funded by taxes on gasoline.
THE REACTION to Pete's idea seemed to range from shock to horror, but can serve as a kind of metaphor for where we're at in the pillow fight over climate change. Any proposal, and this one would, as usual, increase the already intolerable economic burden toted by people of ordinary means, that would seriously help reverse global warming is going to be resisted.
MEANWHILE, as catastrophes large and small accumulate, down south at the border we've got rival press conferences between the Nice People and the Not So Nice People on what to do about the poor and the desperate knocking at prosperity's door. Fifty years ago there'd be basic agreement about how to make an orderly and humane process for would be immigrants. Not now. Things just get less orderly and more inhumane.
HAD to laugh at this hed from the Press Democrat: “20 best restaurants in Cotati.” I know my age is showing, but I remember when there were no restaurants in Cotati. 101 north wound through all the then-little towns between San Rafael and Eureka, but the only restaurant I can recall in the Cotati area was the then-famous Green Mill, whose remnant roadside sign can still be seen crumbling on the east margin of 101 near Petaluma.
TRAVELS IN MEXICO
by Paul Theroux
Leaving San Isidro, driving through the desert and the rubbly hills, many of them composed of smooth tumbled boulders, I thought, How on earth can anyone manage to cross this desert? It was magnificent and parched and inhospitable, much of it Native American land, sand dunes — the Imperial Dunes, like the Sahara — and the snake lairs of stony ravines, and vast stretches of twisted mesquite and disjointed cholla cactus, with drifting falcons and tumbleweed down below.
But the evidence that migrants did attempt to cross were the many flagpoles, set a few hundred yards apart, flying striped flags, indicating white wooden boxes lettered AGUA, containing plastic gallon jugs of water are placed there by Samaritans, some from humanitarian groups such as No More Deaths and the Border Angels, for migrants dying of thirst. The founder of Border Angels, Enrique Morones, has said, “This wall of Operation Gatekeeper from 1994 has led to the deaths of more than 11,000 people,” on both sides of the fence.
“Killed by the Light,” in the words of Luis Alberto Urrea, author of ‘The Devil's Highway,’ to my mind one of the best accounts of border crossing, of migrant tribulations and frontier culture and criminality. Most migrant deaths are caused by exposure to the elements — the desert daytime heat, the desert nighttime cold. Urrea describes in clinical detail the stages by which a person in the desert succumbs to death in the absence of water: heat stress, heat fatigue, heat syncope (“contractions”), heat cramps, and finally heat exhaustion — tunnel vision, hallucinations, paranoia, the vomiting of blood. "You dream of pools, seas, you dream of a lakes. You'd pay all your money for cold water. You trade sex, anything for water. Walkers who find abandoned vehicles break open the radiators and die from gulping the anti-freeze.”
MENDOCINO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY HISTORY SERIES, Continued
(Compiled by District Attorney David Eyster)
UKIAH - A larger-than-life young attorney who came West to live and work in Mendocino County was Archibald Yell.
Before being elected and appointed to several political positions that required his relocation to Sacramento, Yell (1857-1921) was both the seventh and ninth attorney to serve as Mendocino County's elected District Attorney.
In an era when elected prosecutors' terms of office were two years, Yell is the only attorney to have ever served two non-consecutive terms as Mendocino County’s DA. Mr. Yell first served as Mendocino County's DA in years 1881-1882. He was elected again for the term 1885-1886.
Yell was a surviving member of the posse that got ambushed in 1879 by outlaws east of Mendocino City.
The following sketches provide biographical and other information which was compiled from newspaper sources and history books:
From the History of Mendocino County, California; Alley, Bowen & Co., Publishers; San Francisco, California :
“Archibald Yell. Was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, May 15, 1857. In 1864 he went to Texas, and in 1865 he returned to Tennessee, and thence to Lynchburg, Virginia. He returned to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1866, and his widowed mother was married while here, and moved to Nashville, taking the subject of this sketch with her. While here he attended the Edgefield Male Academy for four years, and entered the University of Nashville in 1871, graduating in 1875, after which he attended the Vanderbilt University a short time. He then commenced the study of law with W. G. & M. M. Brien, Jr., attorneys, at Nashville. He was admitted to practice in 1877, and in June of that year he came to California. After practicing a short time in Santa Rosa, Sonoma county, he came to Mendocino county, and not finding a good opening at Ukiah, he located at Mendocino City, where he resided till 1879, when he was elected on the Democratic ticket to the office of District Attorney. He then took up his abode at Ukiah, where he still resides, faithfully discharging the duties of his office. Mr. Yell is one of the youngest, if not the youngest, District Attorney in the State, and he fills the position with more than ordinary ability.”
The Sacramento Bee, November 14, 1903:
* * *
Archibald Yell For Prison Warden
"Archibald Yell, Assistant District Attorney of Sacramento County, will no doubt be the next Warden of the State’s Prison at Folsom, to succeed Thomas Wilkinson, whose term of office has expired. Yell’s selection was practically agreed upon at a meeting of the Board of Prison Directors held yesterday afternoon at San Quentin. Director Robert T. Devlin, of this city, who returned home last night, said to a Bee reporter that no formal election had been held and would not be until a meeting which is to be held at Folsom next Saturday. It is generally understood, however, that Yell would be the man. Mr. Yell has been invited to a conference with the Prison Directors in San Francisco next Wednesday.
The only other names considered in connection for the Wardenship were those of Ex-Sheriff Standley of Mendocino County and T. J. Fallon, Treasurer of Marin County. It has been well-known here by men who keep in touch with political affairs that Yell had the inside track for the position.
The office of Warden at Folsom pays $3000 a year and “found” – that is, the Warden is given a comfortable home for himself and family at the prison, with all the convict servants he may need, and a table that is well provided with the necessities of life. It is considered a rich political plum and the many friends of Mr. Yell are today extending their congratulations upon his prospective good fortune.
Archibald Yell is no stranger in the political circles of California. He served as District Attorney of Mendocino County with distinction and then the people elected him to the office of State Senator. He made a splendid record in the Senate and at once became one of the Democratic leaders in that body.
After leaving the Senate Mr. Yell returned to Mendocino County for a few years and resumed the practice of law. Then he came to Sacramento and opened an office. When A. M. Seymour was elected District Attorney, he appointed Mr. Yell as his assistant in office, and he has never had reason to regret his choice, for Yell has displayed much ability in the handling of criminal matters. He has prosecuted criminals with vigor and met with great success. When a case comes to him, he digs for facts and when the time for trial arrives, he is loaded with law and evidence and ready to make a fight. He is able and eloquent as a pleader.
Persons acquainted with Mr. Yell say he will handle the great business of the Folsom Prison in the same cautious manner that he has always displayed in legal matters. They say he will make an ideal Warden and that they do not believe there will be any more scandalous stories coming from behind the prison walls of mismanagement or of half-feeding or cruelly treating convicts.
District Attorney Seymour says he is glad his friend Yell has secured promotion, but he is exceedingly sorry to lose him from his office.
“Yell’s service in my office during the past year having simply been invaluable,” said District Attorney Seymour today. “I am sure that Judge Hart, who knows more of this than perhaps any other man, would heartily concur in this statement. It is a matter of great regret that the remuneration of the present position is not sufficient to have induced Mr. Yell to continue in the office.
Judge Hart, who presides over the Criminal Department of the Superior Court, where Senator Yell has appeared often since he became Assistant District Attorney, was interviewed by a Bee reporter and he said: “I believe that Senator Yell will make an ideal Warden. Of course, in common with all about the Court House, I regret very much that he is to leave the office of the District Attorney, because, since he has related to that office, he has demonstrated that he is a man of great ability as a prosecutor, and not only that, but that he is fair and most gentlemanly in his trial of cases. Besides, I do not know of any man who in so short a time, through his rare social qualities and manly characteristics, so endeared himself to those with whom he has come in contact. However, I believe it will prove to the interest of the State to make him Warden of the Folsom Prisons.”
* * *
The Courage Of Archibald Yell
"A story of the prowess and courage of Archibald Yell, the new Warden for Folsom, is told by a gentleman who knew him when he resided in Mendocino County. It was in 1879 that a man by the name of Dr. Wheeler, who was practicing dentistry in Mendocino City, and who had served a term in San Quentin Prison, gathered from Montana and Nevada several ex-convicts with whom he had served in the penitentiary to carry out a plot conceived by Wheeler to rob the Tax Collector of Mendocino County. It was in those days the custom of the Tax Collector to travel about the county and remain at certain designated places several days for the purpose of accommodating the taxpayers who would there call upon him and pay their taxes.
Yell was then quite a young man and had just been elected District Attorney of Mendocino County, but had not taken office. Early one morning, as had been his wont, he went out horseback riding into the mountains, and on his way back to his home in Mendocino City, where he was then living, he was met by a posse of citizens, led by the Sheriff, who had started out in pursuit of the criminals, the plot having in some manner or other leaked out. The posse requested Yell to return with them and assist in the man hunt. Yell readily consented and started back through the mountains with the Sheriff and his deputies. They finally came across a place where the appearances indicated that the outlaws had camped the night before, and they then concluded that they could not be far distant from that place.
They crossed a ridge, and much to their surprise, immediately came upon the convicts, who were concealed on the side of a hill in a thick growth of brush. The posse had scarcely made their appearance across the ridge when the convicts opened fire upon them. Two of the posse were killed outright; two were so seriously wounded as to incapacitate them for further duty, and one immediately started for Mendocino City for recruits.
This left but two persons to fight the outlaws, one being Senator Yell. The firing became so constant that the man with Yell, becoming thoroughly frightened, ran to a large log and sheltered himself thereunder. Yell stood out in the open, and, with only a pistol, returned the fire until his ammunition was exhausted, and then, as a matter of protection, he went to shelter. To do this, he had to go in the direction of the convicts, as the nearest place of protection as the log behind which the other man had concealed himself, which was within thirty feet of where the convicts were firing upon him.
The man who was left with Yell said afterwards that while the latter was exchanging shots with the outlaws, he was perfectly cool and composed, and apparently without the least fear, and at no time did he evince the slightest manifestations of excitement. The wonder was expressed that Yell was not killed, as the convicts kept up their firing at him unceasingly during the time that he stood out in the open exchanging shots with them.
The convicts were finally captured. After Yell went into office, he prosecuted them so vigorously that they were all convicted, two of them being convicted of murder in the first degree, with the death penalty, while the others were sent to the State Prison for terms of years or for life. Doctor Wheeler, the instigator of the plot, was convicted of murder in the first degree, but committed suicide in jail. The other convict who was adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree, and who was to have been hanged, succeeded through friends in inducing Hon. George C. Perkins, who was then Governor of the State, to commute his sentence from death to life imprisonment.”
The Ukiah Daily Journal, July 10, 1914
* * *
“Archibald Yell, former Warden at Folsom Prison and former State Senator, will be the next City Attorney at Sacramento, to succeed R.T. McKisick and will take office on July 31st, on which date McKisick’s resignation will become effective. This appointment has been decided upon by Commissioners Carraghar, Coulter and Shaw. – Sacramento Bee. (Yell’s Mendocino County friends extend congratulations. – Ed.”
The Sacramento Union, November 19, 1921:
* * *
Archibald Yell, Widely Known In Law, Passes Away.
"Archibald Yell, for many years a prominent political figure of California, and former city official, state senator and warden of Folsom penitentiary, died early yesterday morning at his home in East Sacramento. Yell had been ill for a long time before his passing. He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Lucile Yell, and his mother, both of whom were at his bedside when he passed on.
Few figures in California politics are better known than Yell. Born in Fayetteville, Ark., Yell came to California when but 17 years old, and settled in Mendocino county.
His ancestors were all doers, his grandfather, Archibald Yell, having been at one time governor of Arkansas, and known in history as a distinguished soldier and statesman.
Yell’s father, DeWitt Clinton Yell, was a prominent resident of Arkansas, who died at the outbreak of the Civil War.
When Yell came to California at the age of 17 years, he immediately began the study of law, and later became district attorney of Mendocino County. Subsequently he was elected to the Assembly from that district, and on making an enviable record in that department of the legislature, was elected state senator.
After completing his term in the legislature, Yell moved to Sacramento and from that time until his death was one of Sacramento’s most honored citizens. At one time Yell was made warden of Folsom penitentiary, and in that position won new laurels for himself, and at the same time did a distinct service to the State of California by ending chaos in the prison management.
Yell resigned this office to take up the practice of law in 1908, associating himself with Arthur Seymour in this city. He shortly became city attorney of Sacramento, which position he held for many years. From this office he resigned a few months back when his health began to fail.
He will be laid to rest in this city with private interment next Monday.”
The Mendocino Coast Beacon, November 26, 1921
* * *
Archibald Yell, Former District Attorney; Passes Away
“Archibald Yell, who located in this place when he first came to Mendocino county, and who later served as District Attorney and Assemblyman died at Sacramento November 18th.
Mr. Yell was at one time a partner of the late Senator Seawell in Ukiah. He will be well remembered by all the older residents. A dispatch to the Examiner from Sacramento has the following regarding him:
Archibald Yell, former city and county official, former state Senator, and once noted as warden of the Folsom state penitentiary, died at his home here today after an illness of several months.
Yell’s life was interwoven closely with the political history of California, and, occupying many positions of trust, he became known extensively as an attorney, district attorney of Mendocino County, assemblyman and then senator, assistant district attorney of Sacramento county; warden at Folsom and later [city] attorney of Sacramento.
He was born in Fayetteville, Ark., he settled at the age of 17 in Mendocino county. He was the grandson of Archibald Yell, second Governor of Arkansas, who died at the battle of Buena Vista in 1848.
Archibald Yell took charge of Folsom prison as warden in 1904, during the administration of Governor Pardee. A year before Senator Yell became warden there had been a prison break, and when he assumed charge matters were in a bad state.
When the warden had been in office a year another break was attempted. Yell had given the guards orders to “Fire, and fire to kill,” in the event of a break, no matter how many prison officials were held as a screen, even if he himself should be forced by the prisoners in their foreground, to save them.
The break started. The warden heard the first sounds and snatching up his revolver dashed into the prison yard into the thick of the fight, and by his coolness drove the prisoners back into their cells. Two guards were wounded. There was no more trouble at Folsom prison during Yell’s four-year term.”
Yell, and his wife, Lucinda “Lucille” (Estes) Yell [1861-1940] were both laid to rest in East Lawn Memorial Park in Sacramento.
DREAM GIG STILL AVAIL
Worker Wanted / needed for brush hauling and burning, Firewood (cut and split), Gardening, and other Land Work.
Please live near me (Elk to past Sea Ranch). I live between P.A. and Anchor Bay.
Good Pay for hard worker who can show up on time (or call me) and back into my driveway. Please call 707-884-4703 and let ring FIVE TIMES for voicemail. No texting, no computer, only a LAND LINE.
Thank you. Serious calls only, please. Chainsaw a plus.
Sister Yasmin, Gualala
CATCH OF THE DAY, March 27, 2021
MELISSA CAMPBELL, Fort Bragg. DUI.
ROBERT FIELDEN, Clearlake/Fort Bragg. Arson, trespassing, controlled substance, loitering, paraphernalia, resisting.
DANIEL HEATH, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
MICHAEL LANGLEY, Ukiah. Under influence, probation revocation.
JACOB SELLMER, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, disobying court order.
LARRY WOLFE JR., Ukiah. Pot for sale, assault weapon, felon-addict with firearm, ammo possession by prohibited person, parole violation.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
That Biden press conference was absurd. I can’t believe that the man who stood behind the podium is acting in any executive capacity. His inability to form coherent thoughts or ideas was on full display.
The US isn’t really in a serious crisis yet. What do you think will happen when the trillions of funny money that is artificially maintaining the economy is spent?
The US economy is in shambles. State Media was reporting that over 100,000 restaurants alone have gone out of business in the past 12 months. This equates to millions of job losses. It’s not only the cooks, managers, and servers at the restaurant. It is all the people who supply those restaurants. It’s people who make products for that industry. That’s just one of the industries that were hammered by the forced shutdowns. There are many others.
When all the stimulus is gone, you will start to see some actual troubles. Like stock market collapse. Like people starving to death trouble. Millions of people evicted and homeless trouble.
Stuff like that.
I CAME BACK to Louisville after the Olympics with my shiny gold medal. Went into a luncheonette where black folks couldn’t eat. Thought I’d put them on the spot. I sat down and asked for a meal. The Olympic champion wearing his gold medal. They said, 'We don’t serve n****** here.' I said, 'That’s okay, I don’t eat ’em.' But they put me out in the street. So I went down to the river, the Ohio River, and threw my gold medal in it.
- Muhammad Ali
DIVERSIONS KILLING SALMON
I just wanted to set the record straight regarding the precipitous decline of the California salmon population; it is not due to pollution or overfishing.
The low number of salmon is primarily traced to unbalanced water practices that regularly divert too much of the water needed by salmon.
About 80% of the water used in California (a public resource) goes to agriculture with literally trillions of gallons going to grow almonds and other nuts in the western San Joaquin Valley, an area considered a desert.
In the middle of the last drought from 2012 to 2016, as salmon numbers were decimated, 340,000 acres of new almond orchards were added in California.
Almonds require a gallon of water to produce a single nut. California’s salmon runs still haven’t recovered from the losses suffered in that drought.
So we are lucky that a law firm in Kansas City, Missouri, is rescuing us unsuspecting North Bay residents from more recreational bike trails and biker commute options. Phew. Thank you Stewart, Wald and McCulley, and thanks to your partners, the almost local firm of Kershaw, Cook and Talley (Sacramento). We love your business model: scour historic and public records across the U.S. to find unsuspecting communities and/or local entities that want to repurpose old unused railroad tracks. Slam them with a lawsuit seeking damages and use up our precious legal resources to reap ill-gotten gains. Who needs more recreational resources or alternative commute options anyway when you can feed some hungry lawyers in Kansas City?
Karin and Rob Ricker
ALTERNATIVES TO CENSORSHIP: Interview with Matt Stoller
As Congress once again demands that Silicon Valley crack down on speech, the Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project outlines the real problem - and better solutions
by Matt Taibbi
Led by Chairman Frank Pallone, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday held a five-hour interrogation of Silicon Valley CEOs entitled, “Disinformation Nation: Social Media's Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation.”
As Glenn Greenwald wrote yesterday, the hearing was at once agonizingly boring and frightening to speech advocates, filled with scenes of members of Congress demanding that monopolist companies engage in draconian crackdowns.
Again, as Greenwald pointed out, one of the craziest exchanges involved Texas Democrat Lizzie Fletcher.
Fletcher brought up the State Department’s maintenance of a list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. She praised the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google, saying that “by all accounts, your platforms do a better job with terrorist organizations, where that post is automatically removed with keywords or phrases and those are designated by the state department.”
Then she went further, chiding the firms for not doing the same domestically. asking, “Would a federal standard for defining a domestic terror organization similar to [Foreign Terrorist Organizations] help your platforms better track and remove harmful content?”
At another point, Fletcher noted that material from the January 6th protests had been taken down (for TKinterviews of several of the videographers affected, click here) and said, “I think we can all understand some of the reasons for this.” Then she complained about a lack of transparency, asking the members, “Will you commit to sharing the removed content with Congress?” so that they can continue their “investigation” of the incident.
Questions like Fletcher’s suggest Congress wants to create a multi-tiered informational system, one in which “data transparency” means sharing content with Congress but not the public.
Worse, they’re seeking systems of “responsible” curation that might mean private companies like Google enforcing government-created lists of bannable domestic organizations, which is pretty much the opposite of what the First Amendment intended.
Under the system favored by Fletcher and others, these monopolistic firms would target speakers as well as speech, a major departure from our current legal framework, which focuses on speech connected to provable harm.
As detailed in an earlier article about NEC appointee Timothy Wu, these solutions presuppose that the media landscape will remain highly concentrated, the power of these firms just deployed in a direction more to the liking of House members like Fletcher, Pallone, Minnesota’s Angie Craig, and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as Senators like Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Remember this quote from Markey: “The issue isn’t that the companies before us today are taking too many posts down. The issue is that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up.”
These ideas are infected by the same fundamental reasoning error that drove the Hill’s previous drive for tech censorship in the Russian misinformation panic. Do countries like Russia (and Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, China, Venezuela, and others) promote division, misinformation, and the dreaded “societal discord” in the United State? Sure. Of course.
But the sum total of the divisive efforts of those other countries makes up at most a tiny fraction of the divisive content we ourselves produce in the United States, as an intentional component of our commercial media system, which uses advanced analytics and engagement strategies to get us upset with each other.
As Matt Stoller, Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project puts it, describing how companies like Facebook make money:
“It's like if you were in a bar and there was a guy in the corner that was constantly egging people onto getting into fights, and he got paid whenever somebody got into a fight? That's the business model here.”
As Stoller points out in a recent interview with Useful Idiots, the calls for Silicon Valley to crack down on “misinformation” and “extremism” is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how these firms make money. Even as a cynical or draconian method for clamping down on speech, getting Facebook or Google to eliminate lists of taboo speakers wouldn’t work, because it wouldn’t change the core function of these companies: selling ads through surveillance-based herding of users into silos of sensational content.
These utility-like firms take in data from everything you do on the Web, whether you’re on their sites or not, and use that information to create a methodology that allows a vendor to buy the most effective possible ad, in the cheapest possible location. If Joe Schmo Motors wants to sell you a car, it can either pay premium prices to advertise in a place like Car and Driver,or it can go to Facebook and Google, who will match that car dealership to a list of men aged 55 and up who looked at an ad for a car in the last week, and target them at some other, cheaper site.
In this system, bogus news “content” has the same role as porn or cat videos — it’s a cheap method of sucking in a predictable group of users and keeping them engaged long enough to see an ad. The salient issue with conspiracy theories or content that inspires “societal discord” isn’t that they achieve a political end, it’s that they’re effective as attention-grabbing devices.
The companies’ use of these ad methods undermines factuality and journalism in multiple ways. One, as Stoller points out, is that the firms are literally “stealing” from legitimate news organizations. “What Google and Facebook are doing is they're getting the proprietary subscriber and reader information from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and then they're advertising to them on other properties.”
As he points out, if a company did this through physical means — breaking into offices, taking subscriber lists, and targeting the names for ads — “We would all be like, ‘Wow! That's outrageous. That's crazy. That's stealing.’” But it’s what they do.
Secondly, the companies’ model depends upon keeping attention siloed. If users are regularly exposed to different points of view, if they develop healthy habits for weighing fact versus fiction, they will be tougher targets for engagement.
So the system of push notifications and surveillance-inspired news feeds stresses feeding users content that’s in the middle of the middle of their historical areas of interest: the more efficient the firms are in delivering content that aligns with your opinions, the better their chance at keeping you engaged.
Rope people in, show them ads in spaces that in a vacuum are cheap but which Facebook or Google can sell at a premium because of the intel they have, and you can turn anything from QAnon to Pizzagate into cash machines.
After the January 6th riots, Stoller’s organization wrote a piece called, “How To Prevent the Next Social Media-Driven Attack On Democracy—and Avoid a Big Tech Censorship Regime” that said:
“While the world is a better place without Donald Trump’s Twitter feed or Facebook page inciting his followers to violently overturn an election, keeping him or other arbitrarily chosen malignant actors off these platforms doesn’t change the incentive for Facebook or other social networks to continue pumping misinformation into users’ feeds to continue profiting off of ads.”
In other words, until you deal with the underlying profit model, no amount of censoring will change a thing. Pallone hinted that he understood this a little on Thursday, when he asked Zuckerberg if it were true, as the Wall Street Journalreported last year, that in an analysis done in Germany, researchers found that “Facebook’s own engagement tools were tied to a significant rise in membership in extremist organizations.” But most of the questions went in the other direction.
“The question isn't whether Alex Jones should have a platform,” Stoller explains. “The question is, should YouTube have recommended Alex Jones 15 billion times through its algorithms so that YouTube could make money selling ads?”
WHEN A MAN HAS LEARNED — and not on paper — how to remain alone with his suffering, how to overcome his longing to flee, the illusion that others may share, then he has little left to learn.
by Benjamin Kunkel
Born in Glenwood Springs and raised outside Eagle, I grew up on the western slope of Colorado, where guns were from the beginning just a part of life. Before I can remember my father shot with a .22 rifle at the packrats who would invade the cabin up Salt Creek. Sometimes he did this to amuse guests. In an early memory of my own, there’s a fatally wounded mule deer buck in the field of sagebrush below the cabin, and my father goes down there with a rifle to put the creature out of its misery. Not that guns were a large part of my family’s life, by local standards. Other boys went elk hunting with their fathers at a time of year when my family and I merely put on bright orange clothing to go hiking in the woods. All I ever did with a gun myself was shoot at some paper targets my dad had tacked to a tree, or, later, pick off ground squirrels venturing from their burrows up Eby Creek, so that the horses wouldn’t step in the holes the squirrels had dug and break a leg.
Once when our family lived in town for a few years, there was a boy who’d taunted or insulted me somehow, so I followed him home one day after school and beat him up in his yard; I believe his sister was watching. I must have been ten. Later he ambushed me from a car park and beat me up, bloodying my nose, in front of a group of his friends. (I lied and said that the whole gang had attacked me.)
When I moved to a new school district a few years later, a boy named David Silva took to pretending my last name was pronounced “cunthole.” I sought him out one morning in the hallways of the Eagle Valley Middle School, asked him to stop calling me that and, when he refused, punched him in the face. The gym teacher dragged us to the principal’s office. Asked what seemed to be the matter, I screamed, “He called me cunthole!” while David (later a friend of mine) protested unpersuasively: ‘I thought that was his name.’
If I remember correctly, David was punished for the incident and I was not. Possibly this decision reflected an accurate sense of who started things, or, just as possibly, a prevailing racism: I was a blond boy with blue eyes, and David was, as we said at the time, Mexican. (I don’t think I’d heard the word Latino.)
What is the point of this recollection? Only that, then as now, there was in the US, and especially the West, both an abundance of firearms and an abundance of masculine violence – but, unlike now, they weren’t often combined into mass shootings. Spree killings had taken place, in Austin or San Diego, and (I’ve since learned) you could order an AR-15 through the mail, but gun massacres were extraordinary events, not ordinary ones.
It is conventional to date the era of relentless mass shootings in the US to the hecatomb at Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado, on 20 April 1999. (The perpetrators, whom I won’t name, had selected Hitler’s birthday for the event.) I was on a backpacking trip with a friend from college, who grew up in Denver, when someone emailed him something like: “So sad to learn the terrible news from Colorado.” We consulted the internet on a computer terminal at our hostel and were astonished at a body count of thirteen. These days, nearly two hundred mass shootings in the US later (if mass shootings are defined as entailing the deaths of three or more people in a public setting: definitions vary), it remains possible to feel aghast, but no longer to be amazed. This is especially true if you live in Colorado, as I do again, having returned a few years ago to settle in Boulder.
Since Columbine (a school named after the state flower), Colorado has suffered more spectacular gun massacres than perhaps anywhere else, and only four other states, all of them in the West, have endured more such calamities per capita. The other day, on Monday, March 22, when my partner and I were driving down highway 93, returning from the mountains, we saw an enormous congregation of police vehicles and ambulances outside the Table Mesa shopping center, on the south side of town. “I wonder if that’s a mass shooting,” one of us said.
It later emerged that a 21-year-old man from the Denver suburb of Arvada had allegedly driven the 25 miles to Boulder, in his brother’s black Mercedes, and shot dead ten people in a King Soopers grocery store, before being shot in the leg by police, stripping down to a pair of shorts, and surrendering. On being captured, he asked for his mother.
In ‘A Room with a View,’ E.M. Forster complains of “the ghoulish fashion in which respectable people will nibble after blood.” The era of gun massacres in the US has coincided with the rise of social media, and the respectable way to nibble after blood is now to use the dead as ideological counters in posts on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t enough to reiterate the plain truth that that the assault weapons used in mass shootings must be banned and confiscated. Instead, every fresh atrocity must be recruited into everyone’s preferred single-factor sociological narrative.
Many liberals have lately discovered “white supremacy” as the key to world history, and so in an ecstasy of confirmation bias, they observe that the shirtless Boulder shooter has pale skin and has been captured alive. But then the alleged shooter turns out to have been born in Syria, and to have an Arab name.
In a moment the ideological baton switches hands, and right-wingers declare that an Arab murderer must be an asset of the Islamic State. Inconveniently, it turns out that in November 2015 the suspect adopted the French tricolor as a filter for his Facebook profile in apparent solidarity with the victims of jihadist terror in Paris, and seemed to value Islam mostly as an injunction to kindness. The appeal of a religion of peace to a paranoiac with anger management problems is not hard to imagine. A former high-school wrestling squad teammate recalled that the suspect had once reacted to losing a match by threatening “to kill everybody.”
The apparent absence of anything that could be called a motive might lead you to conclude that the means involved in such crimes should be regulated, as the only way to prevent them.
Not so, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana assured his colleagues the day after the shooting in Boulder: “We have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people. The answer is not to get rid of all sober drivers.” You wouldn’t guess from the analogy that the incidence of drunk-driving fatalities has declined by half in the US since harsher penalties were imposed on offenders, and permitted levels of blood alcohol reduced – much less that aspiring drivers, unlike shooters, must undergo a probationary period and a certification of competence before gaining legal access to their deadly machinery.
The politics of the burgeoning Socialist Rifle Club mirror those of the NRA, down to the pedantic scare quotes they place around “assault weapons.” “If you believe,” the SRA tweeted after the Boulder massacre, “that firearms or ‘assault weapons’ should be restricted or banned, do you also believe that American police (with guns) will enforce those laws fairly and equally with regard to race, gender and political belief?” The glib, posturing gun-nuts of the left betray no idea that laws against rape and murder also disfavor Black people suspected of such crimes, without it following that rape and murder should be legalized. Nor do they seem to care that the victims of gun violence in the US, mass shootings included, are disproportionately people of color. To round off their fatuousness, they pretend that if a socialist revolution were to take place on American soil their own fumbling contribution to the affray would be decisive.
Evident in all discussion of the United States’ innumerable gun massacres is a kind of talking-points-ification of American discourse. Public commentary on these regular atrocities substitutes for argument rather than participating in it. The point is to guard your ideological niche rather than protect anyone’s life.
I don’t suppose it can matter very much to the people who loved the victims of the Boulder shootings what moved the killer to act as he did. America’s champion mass shooter remains a 64-year-old white tax adjuster who in 2017 sequestered himself in his Las Vegas hotel room with fourteen AR-15 type rifles, eight AR-10s, a Ruger American bolt-action rifle and a Smith & Wesson revolver, and – on the basis of “no clear or single motivating factor,” in the ultimate assessment of the FBI – killed sixty people attending that whitest of all spectacles, a country music concert, wounding 867 others. Racists sometimes want to kill a great number of people. So do Islamists. So do misogynists. So do confused lunatics. So do perfect nihilists. And so do I myself on those occasions when I am so tired of all the killing that I feel I wouldn’t mind strolling into NRA headquarters and wasting everyone on site.
It may be tedious to say the obvious thing: none of us angry men should have a semi-automatic in our hands, and it’s long past time to prohibit these weapons. But horror and pain, it turns out, can become tedious too. Tedium plus horror: the definition of hell.
(London Review of Books)