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INTERIOR VALLEY TEMPERATURES WILL TOP 100 THIS WEEKEND, while periods of sunshine and mild afternoon conditions occur near the coast. Otherwise, showers and thunderstorms will be possible starting Monday, with an even greater threat of storms occurring on Tuesday. (NWS)
YESTERDAY'S HIGHS: Ukiah 102°, Yorkville 101°, Boonville 96°, Fort Bragg 60°
A MONDAY FIRE WEATHER WATCH has been issued for Mendocino and Lake counties as a precaution against the likelihood of dry lightning. “We have put out the fire weather watch before some of our neighboring offices just to give our counties and fire agencies an extra heads up before the weekend that there is some potential for thunderstorms,” said Alex Dodd, meteorologist for the National Weather Service Office in Eureka.
12 NEW COVID CASES reported in Mendocino County yesterday afternoon.
UKIAH BUSINESS DESTROYED in fire early Friday morning
Cause under investigation, not deemed suspicious
by Justine Frederiksen
One Ukiah business was destroyed but another saved in a fire early Friday morning, the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority reported.
UVFA Battalion Chief Justin Buckingham said when crews were dispatched to the fire around 4:15 a.m. July 23, it was first reported to be in the Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op, the recently expanded grocery store at the corner of East Gobbi and South Main streets. But when firefighters arrived, they found the roof of nearby Norge Cleaners on fire.
With the Co-op next door and the Mendocino County Department of Social Services building about 10 feet away, Buckingham said UVFA crews attacked the flames after he immediately called for assistance from nearby departments such as Potter Valley, Redwood Valley-Calpella and Cal Fire.
Fortunately, Buckingham said the “fire wall separating the Co-op from the cleaners held,” and firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to the grocery store and the social services building.
“But the roof gave way, and the front facade of the (cleaners) building came down,” said Buckingham, adding that the popular round Norge sign was “half on fire” when he arrived and later fell into the building when the roof collapsed.
When asked Friday how the fire started Buckingham said “we still don’t know yet,” explaining that it appears to have started inside the building and does not seem suspicious.
Ukiah Natural Foods was closed Friday for “smoke restoration” due to the fire. Norge Cleaners had been in operation since 1981, and the building was described as a “total loss.”
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal.)
Thursday, about 1:15pm, another break-in/burglary on Cameron Road - presumably Redbeard…
BBQ SATURDAY 7/24 AT THE YORKVILLE MARKET
On Saturday Chef B is whipping up chicken and black bean (vegetarian) tacos. They will be served with a tangy slaw using Filligreen Farm cabbages and housemade tomatillo salsa. The price is $12 for a plate.
We also have a lovely selection of homemade salads, pastries and Cowlick's ice cream as well as cold and refreshing beverages.
See you soon!
Lisa Walsh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
THE PEOPLE’S REFERENDUM to Save Our Water, Wildlife, and Way of Life. (July 23, 2021)
The People’s Referendum Gathers More Than 6,000 Signatures to Repeal Mendocino County’s Cannabis Expansion Ordinance
In spite of a scorching heat wave and interference by paid harassers, more than 115 volunteers for The People’s Referendum to Save Our Water, Wildlife, and Way of Life (TPR) collected over 6,000 signatures from Mendocino County citizens over a 28-day period ending on Tuesday, July 20. “It is a very gratifying response!” said Kate Marianchild, TPR’s outreach coordinator, on Tuesday afternoon, “And what a relief! Yesterday we gathered in petitions from all over the county and counted them. Today we placed them safely in the hands of Katrina Bartolomie, Mendocino County’s trusted clerk-recorder."
If the TPR petitioners collected sufficient valid signatures, as they believe they did, Mendocino County's supervisors will have two choices: repeal the cannabis expansion ordinance adopted by them on June 22, or put it to a vote of the people. The expansion ordinance (Commercial Cannabis Activity Land Use Development Ordinance, Chapter 22.18 of the Mendocino County Code) was scheduled to go into effect on July 23, but is now on hold while the elections office staff validates the signatures.
For the referendum to qualify for the ballot, 3,397 valid signatures (10% of Mendocino County voters in the last presidential election) had to be collected within thirty days of the June 22 adoption of the ordinance. Now that the signatures have been turned in, Bartolomie's office has thirty business days, until September 1, to validate the signatures. “This adds greatly to our work load,” Bartolomie said while doing a rough count of the signatures on Tuesday, “but we’re all incredibly excited. This is democracy in action!”
The petitioners stood in front of stores and post offices, knocked on doors in neighborhoods, and showed up at community events to gather signatures. “It was pretty easy,” reflected 89-year-old Paul Poulos, recently retired director of the Mendocino County Historical Society. Poulos collected most of his eighty-nine signatures by going door-to-door in his neighborhood. “People are extremely concerned about cannabis expansion in the face of the water shortage, which appears to be the new normal. Over and over again I heard, “What are they thinking? And where's the water?’”
“I’m participating in this referendum because it’s the only way to make sure a countywide environmental impact report (EIR) is done,” explained Cathy Monroe, well loved community activist who struggled to break away from her grandmotherly duties to collect her 45 signatures. “You can’t do an EIR on an ordinance after it has been adopted––only before. And the supes made sure that didn’t happen. So we have to shut this expansion ordinance down and stick with our existing ordinance, 10A.17. It needs some amendments, such as phasing out water trucking and limiting hoop houses, but I like it because it doesn’t allow new cannabis permits or an increase in grow size without a countywide EIR. I also like that it doesn’t allow new permits in our beautiful and biologically precious rangelands.”
Estelle Clifton, botanist and registered professional forester, collected many of her 213 signatures in front of Redwood Valley Market. “The community’s overwhelming message to the county is, ‘Protect our environment, our water, our safety, and the beauty of our neighborhoods and landscapes.”
“The public has spoken clearly through this petitioning process,” said Ellen Drell, a TPR steering committee member. “We are hopeful that the board will take this public outpouring to heart and rescind the ordinance, enforce the existing laws, and conduct an EIR before opening the county to more cannabis expansion. That’s what the people want.”
(Press Release, Submitted by the Steering Committee of The People’s Referendum to Save Our Water, Wildlife, and Way of Life: Ellen Drell, Sherrie Ebyam, Kate Marianchild, Sheila Rogers, Dennis Slota, Steve Scalmanini, and Ron Stark.)
* * *
Only one referendum petition was submitted by today's deadline. The choice before the voters will be whether or not to repeal the new ordinance, Chapter 22.18. If the new ordinance is repealed, we will be stuck where we are, with an ordinance that does not adequately protect the neighbors, the community or the environment and that does not lead to State Annual Licenses for cultivators who came forth in good faith to be part of a legal, regulated system. The new ordinance needs work, but it is light years better than where we are now. At a minimum, I believe the Board needs to completely repeal the 10% of parcel size provision and commit to an EIR prior to any expansion beyond 2 acres. Because they have no plan to go beyond 2 acres before 2026, there is plenty of time to do an EIR. The funds for the EIR are available from the cannabis tax or grant funds from the State.
MARSHAL NEWMAN: Another old photograph courtesy of eBay, Caspar Mill
CHRIS CALDER: The City of Fort Bragg stopped selling water to private buyers on the Mendocino Coast on Sunday. This has triggered a scramble among people and businesses outside city limits whose wells are running dry.
A recent local article mentions that Willits is considering shipping water to the coast by rail. It cites “obstacles” to the plan, but not the fact that the rail line between Willits and the coast has been blocked by a collapsed tunnel for nearly ten years. Maybe their delivery point is east of there. Who knows? The wall is here, and we're still at “Who knows?”
“Willits City Manager Brian Bender’s city is considering selling water from a groundwater production facility for transport by the Mendocino Railway to a point near Fort Bragg’s water intake site on the Noyo River, several miles east of town, where it would be piped into the treatment system there.
“He cited a number of obstacles, including repairs still needed on Willits’ groundwater facility, the railway’s need to purchase eight, 25,000-gallon tanker cars, unresolved funding questions and the city council’s desire for assurance water haulers would be unable to gouge consumers on the far end.
“It’s an interesting project on paper,” Bender said. “It’s something really interesting to talk about and work through the ramifications. On paper, it’s relatively simple. But once you try to apply it, it's not simple.”
“The 170-year-old hamlet of Mendocino has roughly 1,000 full-time residents but about 2,000 daily visitors, said Ryan Rhoades, superintendent of the Mendocino Community Services District.
“All of their water needs are supplied by a network of 420 individual wells at various depths. Many of them were hand-dug in the early years of the historic town and are only 35 feet deep or shallower, Rhoades said. But most of the water supply is further underground...
“Most water had been purchased from Fort Bragg, a town of about 7,300 people whose primary water source is the Noyo River. But as the Noyo River stream flow has diminished, problems have arisen during high tide cycles like one that arrived early this week, city Operations Manager Heath Daniels said.
“The spike in sales, combined with the high tides, prompted Fort Bragg to stop outside sales last Sunday, about six weeks ahead of what was anticipated, accelerating what already was an urgent need for solutions to the coastal shortage.”
FORT BRAGG HITS STAGE 2 WATER CONSERVATION GOAL
On July 12, the City Council unanimously passed a Resolution ratifying a Water Warning which implemented mandatory Stage 2 water conservation restrictions targeting a 10-20% reduction in seasonal water use. This followed a voluntary Stage 1 request for water conservation on May 10 and a voluntary Stage 2 request on June 28. Heath Daniels, the City’s Operations Manager, reported the “good news is our daily production is trending down and this week’s average production is a 15% reduction from July 2020 and an 8% reduction in the last eleven days.”
The City has been planning for the upcoming drought since early March 2021. The City of Fort Bragg’s water supply system relies solely on three surface water sources: Waterfall Gulch (tributary to Hare Creek), Newman Gulch (tributary to Noyo River), and the Noyo River. During the winter and spring, pumping of the Noyo River is used only to supplement the Waterfall Gulch and Newman Gulch sources. The two tributary sources generally provide a higher quality of raw water and they gravity-feed to the water treatment plant, whereas water from the City’s Noyo River diversion must be pumped. As summer progresses and the flows in the tributary streams diminish, the Noyo River diversion is used more frequently and in greater quantities. Approximately 60% of summer water supply comes from the Noyo River. As the water levels in the Noyo River drop and the high tide levels rise, increased salinity levels in the Noyo River impact the City’s ability to pump from this water source.
To subsidize the City’s surface water sources, the City ordered a Desalination-Reverse Osmosis Treatment System from Aquaclear that will allow it to continue to pump water from the Noyo River during high tides when salinity reaches levels which cannot be processed by the City’s Water Treatment Plant. The Fort Bragg Unified School District has also offered to provide access to its well water, adding an additional source to the City’s water system.
The City is also exploring the possibility of purchasing water from the City of Willits that would be available to water haulers to restore water sales outside City limits.
Questions related to this information may be directed to the City’s Opertions Manager, Heath Daniels at (707) 813-8031 or email@example.com
(Fort Bragg City Presser)
THE SHERIFF’S STRUCTURAL IMBALANCE
AVA READERS MAY RECALL that a couple of weeks ago we sent a series of budget questions to CEO Carmel Angelo. After complaining that even being asked to answer a few basic questions was one of the reasons CEO Angelo and her staff have not published monthly departmental budget vs. actual info in the past, the CEO referred to the questions concerning the Sheriff’s budget and alleged over-runs to the Sheriff.
We had asked: “Q. The Sheriff’s Department is listed as being about $620k over his $14.5 million budget (not counting the jail which is running a little under budget). [At the end of May, 2021, eleven months into the 12-month fiscal year] Explanation: “Overtime and extra help greater than budget.” Again, how much of the overrun is overtime and how much is extra help and what was the extra help for? Also, what is the final Sheriff’s budget for the 2021/2022 fiscal year and how much overtime and extra help is budgeted?”
CEO ANGELO REPLIED: “Based on YTD May 2021 actuals, Overtime was over budget by $983,480. Based on YTD May 2021 actuals, Extra Help was over budget by $254,064. The question relating to the need for extra help, will need to be answered by the Sheriff's Office. Based on 3rd quarter projections, Sheriff's Office is projecting to be over budget by $1.9M at the end of FY20-21. FY21/22 Budget - General Fund impact $16,125,476: OT = $1,161,185. Extra Help = $250,00.”
On Friday the Sheriff answered our questions relating to the Sheriff’s budget.
“The CEO’s office stated we were listed as being about $620k over budget.
At third quarter, we reported to the Executive Office (in our required reporting documents) that we would be $1.9 million over budget at the end of the fiscal year and in reviewing our Munis accounting software we are in fact currently $2.8 million over budget.
There will be some revenues coming in still at year-end (4th quarter realignment from CCP, transfers from fund accounts, etc.) which will reduce this amount, but I imagine the budget will likely be about $1.9 million over, as we projected, possibly more.
Only $750k in OT was budgeted for FY 20-21, which, as we know, based on the past four fiscal years of actuals, appears to fall short of being a realistic number. The lowest our OT has come in over four fiscal years is $1.4 million and a high of $1.8 million, therefore we were already operating at a deficit of about $900k, just in OT expenses which this past year topped $2 million.
MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] salary increases approved by the BOS [with the two law enforcement bargaining units] have also had a domino effect on Overtime and all other personnel related expenses.
Our use of Extra-Help personnel used in a variety of jobs, is primarily Bailiffs which is a duty mandated to the sheriff and actually saves us money because we don't have to pay a lot of benefits associated with these positions. We also use Extra-Help office staff and this is primarily due to the difficulty we've had hiring and retaining staff as well as coverage for staff who are out. The issues with hiring are mostly due to the fact we have a stringent background process, and normally lower pay for the lower level positions. We have had some personnel out due to family illness, injuries, deaths of family members, Covid, and we recently had an employee lose her home in a fire.
We currently have 14 extra help employees which have cost us an average of approximately $27,000 per year which is much more affordable than a full weighted salary [i.e., with full benefits] which normally runs over $100,000 per year. These extra help folks fill the following positions.
1 Corrections officer utilized for transportation.
2 records personnel.
1 paid reserve assigned to marijuana.
1 background investigator for hiring.
1 person to assist in moving vehicles, including the SWAT vehicle for deployment, moving trailers and communications equipment for operations and moving vehicles for build outs etc at our contractor who builds out patrol cars in the Sacramento area. He also has a special licensing to move vehicle and trailers requiring special licensing.
Only $75k was budgeted for our extra help positions which again is an unrealistic number based on the past 4 fiscal years (lowest being $213k and highest over $500k). Actual number for FY 20-21 is $381k.
The CEO’s office is correct in their statement. It is difficult to provide an accounting of the [final] overage right now because the year is coming to a close, however it has not closed and we are still receiving revenues as we close out the books and report to the auditor.
There is the potential for revenues to come in higher or lower than projected, especially those related to sales tax and other revenues that are tied to the economy (decreased sales, incomes due to Covid, or an increase due to resiliency). The revenues will likely reduce the overage significantly, but the possibility of us landing somewhere in the neighborhood of the $1.9 million overage projected is looking pretty close.
PS. We are given a net county cost [from the CEO’s Office] and have to build a budget that fits within it. Chris Dewey did the [Sheriff’s] budget last year; our new fiscal manager worked up this year’s budget which came out about $1.5 million under what we had asked for.”
* * *
MS NOTES: And that last point is what the Sheriff was referring to when he said that he needed an attorney to make the basic case that the County/CEO/Board can’t give him a “structurally imbalanced budget” every year, that public safety is a priority. If the Sheriff makes a good faith effort to conform to the CEO’s assigned “net county cost” — as the other departments do — and then goes over that assigned number because of ordinary but unplanned exigencies of the relatively large Sheriff’s operation as described above, the Sheriff does not want to be told he might get a bill for the overage that is more than the value of his house. And so far, no one has come up with a way to budget for this rather predictable situation. Of course, the Board or the CEO could allocate a certain designated Sherifff’s reserve for the Sheriff’s department which would require a Board vote to dip into based on a late-in-the-year submission from the Sheriff as his costs accumulate. (They have plenty of reserves.) But such simple budget devices are probably beyond Mendocino County.
A RELIABLE SOURCE of the more reliable type told me the other day that water thieves have been spotted filling their tanker trucks directly from the North Fork of the Eel out of Covelo. The thieves punched out an overgrown path to the river so the path was large enough to get a tanker truck down to the water. Once full of the depleted Eel's disappearing liquid gold a DC-9 tractor pulled the tanker truck back up to the main road, and off they go at five to six hundred bucks per 3500-gallon load.
THE LAST TIME I hiked the length of Anderson Creek there were many, many straws in the water, a number of which did not, so far as I was able to determine, enjoy historic riparian rights to it. The only person I know to register a serious complaint about illegal water taking, the redoubtable David Severn, had his complaint followed up on, and the thief, a wine-spa guy, paid a twenty thousand dollar fine.
AND MUCH Mendo water never gets down out of the hills to water what's left of our watersheds because it's diverted upstream by the intoxicants industries, marijuana and wine grapes, not to mention the thousands of people living in the hills where not many people lived prior to 1960.
A LOCAL TASTING ROOM has run out of water with a big event scheduled for this weekend. Its wells are dry, and there's no water in the creek they've been stealing from for years. Emergency pleas from management located a very expensive hurry-up consignment.
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT'S STORY on Coast water woes neglected to mention that Fort Bragg's always perilous supply was instantly made much more perilous with Fish and Wildlife's insupportable decision to allow the installation of a summer dam on the upper Noyo for a summer swimming pond.
EVEN LEGAL WATER HAULERS are beginning to be shuffled from source-to-source as those sources begin to worry about their prior civic commitments, and stop selling to independent contractors. How many outlaw water haulers are operating in the county? Pick a number starting at fifty.
APART from major anxieties about water supplies this late summer of 2021, water experts say without a rain deluge this winter water shortages will get downright desperate by the summer of 2022.
POINT ARENA TO CONSIDER RESERVED PARKING AREA FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE’S VEHICLES, and other things: pointarena.ca.gov/notices/2021-07-27-city-council-meeting/
EUREKA PRODUCTIONS LATEST:
Zachary Friedley is a true inspiration as he creates opportunities for adaptive athletes in the trail running community. Adaptive athletes, or athletes with physical disabilities who compete in competitive or recreational sports, are an underrepresented group who face challenges participating in trail running races.
DEPT. OF UNINTENTIONAL SATIRE
A BUD-ding Experience
It's All About Edu-Canna!
Mendocino County is your entry into the renowned Emerald Triangle. For decades, the local economy relied on this green industry, and now that it’s legal in the State of California, we’re learning so much more about cannabis and its’ benefits. Helping in this educational endeavor are two tour groups. Northern California Cannabis Tours Mendocino Experience kick off with a four and a half hour guided tour of Cannabis Country. Not only will you get an insider’s view of some of Mendocino County’s premier cannabis farms, you’ll get to enjoy an afternoon of bud tasting while wandering among crops (now there’s an IG post for ya!). Rounding out this excursion, you also have options, yes otions! Visit an al fresco cannabis lounge (hello!), enjoy private wine tasting or take a deep die into the ancient redwood groves of Mendocino County.
Emerald Farm Tours offers a different experience — one that finds you touring the Cannabis Trail in a luxury Mercedes Sprinter, departing from Marin County. Head deep into the Mendocino redwoods for a hillside “weed walk” followed by a box lunch in the forest. Then visit a cannabis edibles manufacturer in Philo followed by an intimate wine tasting flight at a premium wine tasting room. The full day of cannabis culture culminates in a 4:20 PM “Smoke Sesh” before heading back to the Bay Area.
Other notable places to visit for Cannabis education and tours…
Emerald Sun in Ukiah. Renovating a former brewery, Emerald Sun has repurposed stills and created a successful marijuana manufacturing site that aims to educate anyone interested in learning about cannabis.
In Anderson Valley, the Bohemian Chemist, located at The Madrones is an upscale alchemist’s wonderland. A stunning apothecary with a professional sommelier utilizing her training and talents to select the perfect products for you. Whether edibles or even cannabis infused spa treatments. The Bohemian Chemist offers topicals, vape pens, concentrates, plus flowers, gear and more.
Come And Visit: https://www.visitmendocino.com/good-times-are-brewing/
Visit Mendocino County <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(Visit Mendocino Presser)
UKIAH STREETSCAPE PROJECT CONSTRUCTION UPDATE - JULY 23
Let us just say that we’re sorry. We know it’s messy out there and it’s tough to get around. It’s kind of like having a parade every day, only with less candy being thrown around, and back-up beepers instead of music, and…well, you get the point. BUT…good news—Saturday morning (July 24th), the entire project area will have its bottom layer of pavement and all the streets will be reopened to traffic!
Also, it may be helpful to remember all the incredible work that’s been done: new sewer main lines and laterals, new water mains and laterals, new storm drains, new streetlights, new sidewalks, new curb ramps, new landscaping, new street furniture (bike racks and trash cans coming soon!). And in one more week, we’ll have the final layer of pavement! Please hang in there with us...and please drive safely around the project area.
And finally, save the date: on Saturday, August 28th, from 11-4, the entire downtown will be filled with live music, classic and antique cars, kids’ activities, historic information, and so much more. We’ll be doing an official ribbon cutting at the intersection of Perkins and State and “unveiling” the giant mural on West Church Street, which is anticipated to be completed at that time. More info to follow.
Construction Overview, Week of July 26
Saturday, July 24th: The entire project will have its bottom layer of pavement and all the streets will be reopened! Other than night paving next week, we do not anticipate any additional extended street closures.
Monday-Tuesday: Construction will occur on the curb ramps at Clay and School Streets. Other miscellaneous finish work will occur throughout the project area. Mulch will be added to the planted areas. Fingers crossed—we may even see some bike racks and garbage cans!
Wednesday-Friday Nights (7pm – 7am): The “final lift” (top coat of pavement!) will be applied throughout the entire project area. Ta-da!
Miscellaneous: Please drive safely. We’ve notices a significant uptick in speeding and reckless driving around town, and will be stepping up enforcement accordingly. Also, please note that, due to the expanded sidewalks adjacent to the restaurants on West Perkins and West Standley, parking has been removed from that side of the street. Stopping, loading, and parking in the traffic lane is prohibited.
Have a great weekend!
Shannon Riley, Deputy City Manager, City of Ukiah, w: (707) 467-5793
AVA READER "RYE N FLINT" RESPONDED:
Have you ever had an officer hold you at gunpoint when you were not breaking the law? The first time it happened to me was when I was 16. I was coming back from a turkey hunt with my Dad and Uncle. Johnny on the spot game warden decided to pull up out of the bushes where he had been waiting near our vehicle for our return. While we were carefully stripping off the poison oak covered clothes, he jumps out of his truck, straddles the hood and draws his firearm, pointing his pistol right at my head. Fear is an interesting thing. When your life is at risk, and there is literally nothing you can do to defend yourself or the ones you love, and might have to watch them shot in front of you. That is a powerlessness that is beyond fear, lets call it Terror. Terror knowing you are not even legally able to defend yourself. Especially when you were doing nothing wrong.
I am a nice looking blond white guy…. I can only imagine what people of color have to deal with on a daily basis. While we are on the subject, does anyone ever think about why Mexican farm workers always wear tucked in button up shirts? Is called code switching. It’s so officers have 1 less excuse to presume they are guilty. That’s why they think it’s unfair that hippies get away with worse criminal behaviors, all the while wearing worn out tie-dye shirts and ripped jeans. Try having an uncomfortable conversation about it sometime, unless you are a fragile snowflake that can’t handle the truth. White privilege is synonymous with white blindness. Wake the F up…”
CATCH OF THE DAY, July 23, 2021
JULIE BOND, Ukiah. Paraphernalia, tampering with or false fire alarm.
NICHOLAS BRITTON, Redwood Valley. Probation revocation.
DAVID DORMAN, Ukiah. Domestic battery, protective order violation, probation revocation.
JOE FRANKLIN, Los Banos/Willits. Touching of intimate parts of another against their will.
ALDEN LARVIE, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
HARVEY ROGERS, Ukiah. DUI causing bodily injury, under influence, controlled substance, paraphernalia.
JAMES TIMMONS, Eureka/Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
by Jonah Raskin
What is seduction? It's when you aim to persuade someone to have sex with you, whether they want to or not. But maybe it's lots of other things. I’m open to that idea, though right now I’m thinking of the woman I saw two days ago who tried to seduce me and invited herself to visit me in the city. She said, “I'll sleep on the sofa.” I told her I had no sofa and that she’d have to sleep on the floor or get a room in a motel. “I don’t sleep in motels,” she said. Then she tried to talk me into buying a sofa. Downsizing is now the name of my game. I didn’t and don’t want a sofa. I don't want more furniture, more stuff. I told another woman at another party last week that I had written about my own sex life. She said that she had looked me up on the Internet and the first thing that came up after my name was “degenerate.” I have Googled myself and there is no such thing. It makes me wonder what if any reality she inhabits.
California has a reputation as an unreal place of sexual liberation, sexual exploration and also sexual decadence – all that Charlie Manson stuff and Sharon Tate and Roman Polansky and low life Harvey Weinstein. I don’t know any now, but I did know producers and directors who were loathsome. Older powerful men, younger beautiful women and promiscuity which leads to Jeffrey Epstein, the degenerate who didn’t have the courage to face his accusers and took his own life in his cell. It’s a decadent society we live in.
Christopher Caldwell, who went out of fashion decades ago, nailed it when he titled his first collection of essays, Studies in a Dying Culture and his second collection of essays, Further Studies in a Dying Culture. I read both books when I was at Columbia College, though I was rebuked by my professors and encouraged to read Freud instead. Most of them were lapsed Marxists or Trotskyites.
Caldwell could have gone on writing more studies in a dying culture. The dying goes on and on decade after decade and there’s no avoiding it because we’re all tainted. We all live in this monstrous moment, where I’m told, I’m a degenerate and that my tainted reputation is all over the Internet and also that if I mean to be a kind, caring person I have to buy a sofa. My friend Lizzie says, I should write about my sex life in a way that makes me sympathetic to women readers. I tell her I’m not interested in sympathy, but that I’m trying to tell the truth and to understand myself, but those two goals—truth and understanding—must be woefully out of date.
My whole sense of morality seems to be obsolete. I judge harshly, my friend—actually she’s more of an acquaintance than a friend—though I have known her for 45 years. She cooks elaborate meals and invites friends, acquaintances and strangers to her house and charges them money: $20 for a meal. Outrageous. I mean she’s a lawyer and owns her own home and doesn’t need the money. She and I went out to dinner twice. The first time she said, “I’m so glad you’re back in my life,” though I was not back in her life in any way, shape or form. The second time we went out she said, “I’m not interested in marrying you.” I had not the slightest interest in marrying her, but I didn’t say anything. There was no point in being hurtful.
What some women I know don’t seem to recognize and understand is that men can be as horrible to other men as they are to women. Look at what white northerns did to white southerners in the America Civil War. Slaughtered one another. White violence is directed to whites as well as women and people of color. Look around you today, men rape other men, torture them, carry on psychological warfare and kill them in the most gruesome ways. It’s enough to make me want to separate myself from the whole human race, and go into the woods in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border, but there are fires there and a drought and outlaws too, with guns looking for stuff to steal. I know. I’ve been there. I survived.
My friend, Wavy Gravy, of Woodstock fame, once entertained me in the woods of Mendocino County where he had an outdoor office: a chest of drawers, a mirror, a mattress and a photo of his guru. No walls, no floor and no ceiling except the sky. Wavy had downsized in a big way. There was the time, he told me, when he was living at the Hog Farm in Southern California and this guy shows up in a yellow school bus and wants to hook up to Wavy’s electricity and water. He tells Wavy he can make it with any of the girls on the bus. Wavy doesn’t have to think long or hard. He doesn’t have to look inside the bus. He tells the guy “No,” and then shortly after that conversation he reads about that very guy in the newspaper and sees his photo. It's Charlie Manson and Wavy is so happy he made the right choice and wasn’t tempted or seduced by the offer of the girls in the bus.
Best not to put oneself in temptation’s way, best to stay out of trouble, out of strange beds with strange women, or strange beds with strange men. I don’t need or want to crawl into anyone else’s bed. I like my own bed here at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, where it’s foggy and windy during the height of summer, and where most of the women in the neighborhood are Chinese widows in their eighties and nineties who are so frail they are easily blown about by the wind like reeds in a pond.
How would I approach them and talk to them? How would I entice them into a chaste conversation? How do I persuade them to invite me into their apartments where I know from my brother, a long time resident here at Ocean Beach, that they live alone, and have food delivered by the Wheels on Meals Samaritans who keep the old and the dying alive for another day. Time to put away the old dying culture of seduction, the degenerate Charlie Manson/ Jeffrey Epstein/ Harvey Weinstein conquest and capture and invasion and occupation of the bodies of women syndrome, whether in California or New York or in Japan which I sometimes think I can see in the distance when I stand at the shore and stare at the Pacific, a wilderness big enough to embrace all the pain and sorrow in the world, big enough to carry us all away, and wipe San Francisco off the face of the earth. I think I’ll take a hint from Christopher Caldwell—the bloke who died at 29 in Spain fighting fascists—and write my own studies in a dying culture.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I’ve been smoking weed for about 25 years. Never once have I tried Coke, meth, heroin, fentanyl or any other drug stronger than magic mushrooms. Well I did try LSD a couple times, I’ll never do that s*** again.. blaming drugs for violence is like blaming soda pop for diabetes, salt for high blood pressure or firearms for murder. It’s lack of personal responsibility that is responsible for all of those issues. And the complacency of a society that rewards the lack of personal responsibility.
You and I travel to the beat of a different drum
Oh can't you tell by the way I run
Every time you make eyes at me
You cry and moan and say it will work out
But honey child I've got my doubts
You can't see the forest for the trees
Oh don't get me wrong
It's not that I knock it
It's just that I am not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me
Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me
So good-bye I'll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We'll both live a lot longer
If you live without me
Oh don't get me wrong
It's not that I knock it
It's just that I am not in the market
For a boy who wants to love only me
Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me
So good-bye I'll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We'll both live a lot longer
If you live without me
— Michael Nesmith (sung by Linda Ronstadt)
BUTT WASHERS, AND OTHER WAR STORIES
by Denis Rouse
I pinched another one out of my motorcycle seat recently after I made a right turn, and afterwards failed to cancel my non-self-cancelling turn indicator. An oncoming driver understandably anticipating I was about to turn right, began a left turn that came close to making me his hood ornament.
I got to thinking about it relaxing later with a beverage. How many times during the sixty odd years I’ve been riding motorcycles has the immutability of fate slapped me upside the head? Following are some moments that remain burnished in memory.
Twenty years ago, during a freezing April evening I was riding with my nineteen-year-old daughter Leah clinched tightly behind me to mitigate the wind chill. We were traversing the lonely sixty-mile hump of U.S. 395 in eastern Oregon that coursed our route south through the Malheur National Forest from John Day to Burns. Suddenly, in the apex of a sweeping right, the rear Dunlop slid sideways for a few inches in a patch of ice, then caught traction again. It was one of those unforgettable milliseconds. Over dinner in Burns I asked Leah about it.
“Hey Daughter, how’d you like our little zip-dee-do?”
“Oh Dad, the slippage, it made my butt hurt!”
Another incident memorialized in my cranial photo album is from the captivating morning I was riding east on California Highway 299 tracing the curvaceous course of the Trinity River roaring in full spring snowmelt, a smashing venue where you know somewhere deep in your leather it doesn’t get any better than this. As I approach the riverside community of Big Bar, I notice a gaggle of turkey vultures feeding on the road shoulder, on the carcass of a road-killed deer I suppose, but before I can make that identification, one of the eagle-size birds takes off and promptly at 45 miles an hour I’m in the Hitchcock movie fully expecting the flying beast to smash into my windshield. As I duck behind the Plexiglas, one of its wings does just that, leaving a macabre imprint, but I take the full impact of the bird’s chest on the top of my helmet. It’s a blow that stuns me for a minute or so, and leaves me the indelible olfactory memory of carrion stink.
In 2005 the century is young. But I’m not. I’m in fact too old to be riding a red BMW R1100R at a brisk pace in deep rural eastern China endeavoring to keep a tight squadron of upscale Chinese guys from Hong Kong with whom I’m touring the Shandong Peninsula in sight. And they’re wicking it up into what I regard as a dangerous real life video game dodging paving stones and potholes and Chinese grain farmers and apple growers – who are quite proficient given the green effulgence of their fields and rows of trees bursting with fruit – but who scare the bejeezus out of me by suddenly materializing in my crosshairs driving ancient one-lung diesel tractors hauling the most appalling loads. Then it happens, a paving stone in my line I see way too late to avoid and wham, thump, over it I go at speed, with no get-off thanks to the right fortune cookie. When I stop I see the front rim is dented, but the tire still at full inflation
“Denis, you one lucky guy”, said our tour leader Franki Yang.
The immutability of fate? A few more sips of my favorite beverage and I start thinking more and recall an incident that occurred early in my riding experience. I was approaching a busy intersection in an L.A. suburb and the light was go-for-it green, but something, or Someone I like to think, warned me to hesitate, and as I did for that split second, a truck roared laterally through the red. It was such a close call I felt a rising wave of nausea and had to pull my bike over to the curb and just sit for a while. To this day, fifty years later, I’m wary of intersections.
Often your most beneficent safety accessory is the one inside your helmet, use it.
I'M NOT YAWNING… YOU'RE yawning. Be honest, we were all bloody falling asleep during that endlessly downbeat and dreary opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics. It was like watching the Eurovision Song Contest - an annual competition between the most god-awful singers in each European country - with just a handful of smug old farts in suits for an audience, and only attended by the few contestants who could be bothered to turn up. By comparison to the joyous and spectacular fervour of the opening ceremonies for the past two Olympics in Rio and London, this was frankly an embarrassing snoozefest. And aside from the tedious 'entertainment' - since when was a guy running on a treadmill supposed to thrill the soul? - it just felt so jarringly wrong to observe a soulless procession of gurning flag-waving athletes waving to a sea of silent fake fan faces in the empty 68,000 seats, with a tiny crowd of under 1000 made up solely of privileged foreign dignitaries and diplomats including Japan's Emperor Naruhito and America's First Lady Jill Biden, International Olympic Committee members and Olympic sponsors. Those people believe their leaders have greedily put commercial interests - the Olympics is a money-making machine for host nations - over protecting lives from the pandemic. When this inevitably leads to a spike in cases among the general population, of whom only 30% have been vaccinated, it will spark understandable fury. All this augurs ominously badly for the Games themselves which are due to run for the next fortnight. I normally love the Olympics, but I've got to be honest: I don't care about these ones.
— Piers Morgan
THE LUKE HARDING EXPERIMENT
by Matt Taibbi
Eight days ago, on July 15th, The Guardian published an apparent bombshell by reporting curiosity Luke Harding and two other writers, entitled, “Kremlin papers appear to show Putin’s plot to put Trump in White House.”
The paper claimed to have gotten hold of “leaked Kremlin documents” from January 2016, showing a secret plot by Russia to use “all possible force” to help elect “the most promising candidate,” Donald Trump, in order to bring about the “destabilization of the US’s sociopolitical system.”
The article featured a snippet of the alleged document that purported to show Russian officials copping to the entire Russiagate narrative in a single sentence, even adding what the Guardian called “apparent confirmation” that the Kremlin possessed compromising knowledge about “certain events” involving Trump on Russian territory.
It’s almost impossible to describe how low you have to have sunk for the American media to walk away from a story like this, in a still-vibrant environment of Trump-Russia mania. It’s like being unable to give away video game credits at Chuck E Cheese. Yet the explosive report was picked up by exactly zero American news agencies. The silence was so deafening, the rival Daily Mail wrote an article gloating about it.
A week after the expose’s publication, the Washington Post — maybe the most enthusiastic print trafficker of McCarthyite paranoia in recent years and home to many of the biggest actual intelligence leaks through the Trump-Russia affair — finally addressed the “leaked Kremlin documents.” The piece by Phillip Bump tried to take the Harding revelations seriously, but couldn’t, saying the article “reads like one of those viral Twitter threads from a guy with 4.4 million followers whose bio describes him as ‘resister-in-chief’.”
Ouch. Why so harsh? The Post mentions the reason: the Guardian author, Harding, also wrote one of the most infamous uncorroborated “bombshells” of this era, a November 27, 2018 report alleging Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy.
This would-be smoking gun proof of collusion took the news world by storm for days, as the Trump-mad press went blind with eagerness, like high school boys seeing their first boobs. Poor Ari Melber of MSNBC would probably like this broadcast back, where he gushed that the Guardian report might be the “key to collusion,” noting: “Sources tell the Guardian the key meeting lasted 40 minutes, and they have details, like that [Manafort] was dressed in chinos, cardigan, and a light shirt… Now, tonight, Paul Manafort is denying this story. I can report that. I can also report that Paul Manafort is a serial liar.”
This wasn’t just a bombshell, it was a bombshell with details. Who could make up chinos? “If it looks like collusion, meets like collusion, and acts like collusion, it probably is collusion,” agreed congresswoman Jackie Speier.
Slowly, however, the minor issue of there being no record of any meeting between Manafort and the most surveilled person on earth began to raise concerns among America’s press wizards that the story might be on something less than solid ground. The Washington Post’s polite formulation was that Harding’s story was a bomb that “still hasn’t detonated.”
The Guardian compounded the comedy. In the face of intense public criticism over the absence of evidence for such a major assertion, the paper essentially made one change. The headline, “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy” became “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy, sources say.”
Needless to say, the qualifier didn’t exactly address concerns.
This time around, the Guardian did their touching-up in advance, applying in bulk phrases like “what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents,” “the papers suggest,” “appearing to bear Putin’s signature,” “seem to represent,” “appear to be genuine,” “apparent confirmation,” etc. Despite these fine efforts, the silence over the new piece shows unchanged judgment on the Manafort-Assange affair, with editors essentially announcing an unwillingness to be hoaxed a second time.
26 POUND KING TOPS GSSA ‘FISH LIKE A GIRL’ TRIP
by Dan Bacher
SAUSALITO - Fishing on the fourth annual Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA) “Fish Like A Girl” trip on July Fourth wasn’t as hot as it has been on some previous trips, but the 20 female anglers still ended up catching 17 salmon while trolling outside of the Golden Gate aboard the Salty Lady sportfishing boat.
However, it was a banner day for Danielle Corey, who fished all season last year, but landed no salmon on any of her trips. This year she caught the jackpot king salmon of the trip, a massive 26-pounder.
“It was the biggest salmon that she ever caught,” said Cat Kaiser, events coordinator for the GSSA. “This year she was the first person to get on the ladies trip in an online auction, bidding the most for the trip. This was her trip and her season after she had skunks all last year.”
Corey took home a basket of wine and glasses, as well as a dry bag stuffed with salmon tackle, flashers and GSSA “swag.” Kaiser provided all of the ladies with hats, tank tops and T-shirts.
“The weather was foggy, a little choppy, and very wet and misty. The sun came out later in the day,” said Kaiser.
Kaiser had the hot fishing rod on the boat, but she chose to let others who hadn’t caught a salmon before reel in the fish.
“My rod went off four times,” she said. “I let all the new girls who hadn’t been salmon fishing before reel in one fish, but not two, before I got one, so I never landed a fish.”
A number of the anglers traveled a long way to go on the trip, including three women from Pennsylvania, one from Washington State and one from San Diego.
One previous participant, Jessie Ryan, was the deckhand along with Tommy Watson. On the way back from the salmon grounds, Captain Jared Davis stopped at the North Bar of the Golden Gate and stayed out fishing until 4:15 p.m.
“We didn’t catch any salmon there, but we did see a great humpback whale show. We also saw huge sunfish,” said Kaiser.
“Even with the slower fishing and smaller fish the girls still had a great time. A lot of these women that met on the GSSA trip now go on their own adventures and some are best friends now,” stated Kaiser.
“These are girls that I love and adore because I’ve met them on these all-ladies trips,” emphasized Kaiser. “Some of the girls hadn’t seen one another in over a year and there were lots of high fives, hugs and laughs shared during the trip.”
“It’s cool all of these girls are the ones bringing home the fish to their families. I hope it encourages other women to get out there. When they can go out with a group of women, they feel supported and less intimidated to go on the ocean and fish,” concluded Kaiser.
Both guys and gals will have the chance to compete with one another in the first annual “Guys Versus Girls” showdown out of Sausalito on Friday, July 30. Four party boats, including the Hog Heaven, New Rayanne, Salty Lady and Outer Limits, are booked for the trip. “After seeing these girls fish, our money is on the girls team,” quipped Kaiser. Information: https://goldenstatesalmon.org/g-vs-g-trip/
CASPAR FOREST FEST 7/31 - THE COAST DEMOCRATIC CLUB HAS JOINED THIS COALITION
A Benefit To Save The Jackson Demonstration State Forest
Saturday, July 31st, from 1:00pm until done!
Caspar Community Center, 15051 Caspar Rd Box 84, Caspar, CA 95420
Live Music, Speakers, Food, Kid's Activities, and more to benefit the Campaign to Save Jackson
The Coalition to Save Jackson State Forest includes The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo, Redwood Nation Earth First!, Mama Tree Network, EPIC, The Mendocino Trail Stewards, Families for the Forest, We Speak for the Trees, PAIEA, The Mendocino ENvironmental Action Collaborative
Jackson is an extremely important forest and should be conserved for several reasons. First, Jackson houses culturally significant sites and biological resources for the Northern Pomo and Coast Yuki peoples that are threatened by ongoing timber harvesting. Preserving Jackson would also help preserve their cultural heritage. Moreover, Jackson is already state owned land, which means no acquisition is required to move almost 50,000 acres into the “conserved” column. In addition, Jackson is already beloved by local residents and tourists alike as a place for outdoor recreation. On top of that, JDSF is home to the endangered northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, making the biodiversity benefits of a forest reserve large. Finally, because the dominant species in Jackson is coastal redwood, preserving this forest will have uniquely beneficial carbon sequestration impacts. Coast redwood trees sequester carbon quicker and for a longer period of time than almost any other species on earth.
Donate & Take Action At SaveJackson.Org
ART, TRUTH & POLITICS (Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture, 2005)
In 1958 I wrote the following:
‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’
I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.
I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.
Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.
The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ The first line of Old Times is ‘Dark.’
In each case I had no further information.
In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn’t give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.
‘Dark’ I took to be a description of someone’s hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.
I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.
In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), ‘Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don’t you buy a dog? You’re a dog cook. Honest. You think you’re cooking for a lot of dogs.’ So since B calls A ‘Dad’ it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn’t know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.
‘Dark.’ A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. ‘Fat or thin?’ the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.
It’s a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author’s position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can’t dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man’s buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.
So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.
But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.
Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.
In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.
Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.
Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.
But as they died, she must die too.
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.
The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.
But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.
But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.
Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.
The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America’s view of its role in the world, both then and now.
I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.
The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: ‘Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.’
Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.’ There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.
Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.
Finally somebody said: ‘But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?’
Seitz was imperturbable. ‘I don’t agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,’ he said.
As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.
I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: ‘The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.’
The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.
The Sandinistas weren’t perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.
The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.
I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.
Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.
The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. ‘Democracy’ had prevailed.
But this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.
The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.
Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.
It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.’
It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.
The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man’s land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.
The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks.
Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. ‘A grateful child,’ said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. ‘When do I get my arms back?’ he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.
The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.
Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, ‘I’m Explaining a Few Things’:
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.
And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!
Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda’s poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.
I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.
The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.
The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.
Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.
I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.
‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’
A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.
I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called ‘Death’.
Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body
When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.