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Off The Record

GUALALA is the site of a major Mendocino County scandal, one that has been simmering for some time, and one that boiled over again last weekend. As best as we can piece it together, Mike Thomas of the popular Bones Road House and Restaurant, and Eric Price of the unpopular nearby Shoreline Restaurant, have had major difficulties with each other for some time, most of those difficulties caused by Price, the son of a very wealthy Bay Area couple who set their son up in restaurant and hotel business on the Mendocino side of the MendoNoma line.

PRICE'S PARENTS owned the site of Mike Thomas's previous Bones place, the one that burned down in early September of 2009. Gossip had it that Price wanted the site for his Shoreline Restaurant, which indeed soon rose from Bones' ashes at that very place. Gossips also say all manner of unkind things about Price, including allegations of drug use and sales, and the carrying of loaded handguns without a carry permit.

PRICE'S PARENTS apparently had an arrangement with Thomas that leased him a liquor license for Bones Restaurant. But Price Junior claimed he owned the license and went to a suspiciously friendly Sonoma County court where he won a $80,000 judgment against Bones. Thomas said he would not pay it.

MEAN TIME, as most Mendo people know, Thomas has opened a new Bones restaurant in Gualala that's as popular as the old one. Thomas himself is widely esteemed on the South Coast for not only for employing a lot of people — 23 of them — he does nice things for the community as individuals and groups of individuals organized as senior citizens. Thomas has lived on the South Coast for thirty years. Everyone knows the guy and likes him.

LAST FRIDAY, as business boomed at Bones, a delegation of cops, not including Mendo's, showed up with a document that said, essentially, “We're taking all the money in the till.” The till didn't contain 80 thousand, of course, which means Price's thugs will be back regularly until their seizures add up to that amount. Which also means a constant interruption of Thomas's business.

THOMAS had to close Friday and send all his workers home. He soon set up tables outside with balloons and signs that read, “Free Food Courtesy of Eric Price.”

THE SOUTHCOAST is steaming. People are very angry at Price but vowing to support Thomas and Bones no matter what kind of legal thuggery Price resorts to.

I HADN'T been to Petrolia in a while, and I certainly didn't want to go for the reason I went on Saturday, a memorial service for my friend of forty years, Alexander Cockburn. His death hit me hard because I hadn't seen it coming, and in my wildest imaginings wouldn't have expected to be among his eulogists, who included the great scholar Perry Anderson whose essay on Gandhi I'd just read in the LRB but never expected to meet, let alone in Saturday's circumstance. But Cockburn was always a magnet for disparate persons, and his mourners reflected the wide humanity of the man, as uncompromising a man as you'll know and, perhaps, the most fervent naturalized American ever. He loved this country in his bones.

WE HEADED NORTH past Wavy Gravy's Camp Casha Flowa north of Laytonville where Mr. Gravy was setting up for an event called the Gaia Festival whose mistress of ceremonies, a woman named Caroline W. Casey “is a visionary activist astrologer devoted to the principle that imagination lays the tracks for the reality train to follow.” Myself, I've always preferred Madam Blavatsky and her baboon, but I'm sure the baboons will turn out in the thousands for this thing, more evidence that linear thought processes, like print media, are probably doomed. It also reminded me of certain of Cockburn's local speaking engagements one of which occurred not long ago in Fort Bragg. He told me about that one. He'd been startled by “this elderly woman who flew at me in an absolute rage. I thought I was going to have to restrain her.” The issue? Cockburn's opinions on global warming. Either way this morbid senior should have been pleased. If, as she seemed to desire, she was already roped to the spit on an apocalyptic slow broil did it matter what Cockburn's opinions were? And if Cockburn was right, she had nothing to worry about, besides which the big question is begged: If you think it's getting too warm and industrial civ is the cause, drag your liver spotted labonza off the grid and drive your Subaru into the drink. Back a ways, in the Redwood Summer period, Cockburn was the only big gun intellectual to directly participate as a speaker, and I don't know how many national columns he devoted to the corporate predations on the Northcoast, but invariably local organizers would put him on, the only rhetorician of real power our side could offer, after the mystics and the ranters, and of course the inevitable musical interlude without which the Emerald Triangle's great speakers of truth to power don't seem able to function for more than a few minutes. Because he never compromised his opinions, Cockburn was more and more non-personed by the hustler branch of the left, the $300,000-a-year “radicals” who write the catechism, from which the slightest deviation gets you gone. With Cockburn gone, as my friend Warren Hinckle put it, “There's no one left who can connect the dots like he could.”

AT GARBERVILLE we remembered the old joke: “Why did all the hippies come to Garberville? Because they heard there were no jobs there.” On cue, as we pulled into the Shell station, a hulking bush hip told me he was out of gas. “So am I,” I said. “That's why I stopped.” He held a gas can. “I just need a couple of gallons to get back over the ridge.” I topped him off with enough to get him back over two ridges, and we headed west through Redway, aimed at Honeydew then Petrolia, noting that at five points along the way the road had slid out and had been reduced to a single lane, speculating that Petrolia could again find itself landlocked as it was in 1850 when schooners on-loaded that sweet crude after which the Mattole Valley's civic center is named. On the return trip, this time exiting via the oppressively tidy little town of Ferndale and on out to 101 southbound, the late night stop at the Garberville Shell was uneventful, but the street was teeming with vacant-eyed drug casualties, none of them able to get back over the ridge.

CARL ANDERSON is again up for parole. He's been in prison for almost twenty years, and should have been paroled years ago when his brother Terry was paroled. Some of you will recall that the Anderson brothers, circa 1993, were growing marijuana at the north end of Irmulco Road off Highway 20 between Willits and Fort Bragg when a dispute arose with a neighbor named Charlie Underhill. The dispute terminated when Underhill was accidentally shot in the stomach in the context of what could legitimately be called an armed mutual confrontation. The Anderson brothers were tried and convicted on the same charges. But Terry Anderson took off for Mexico, came back, went to prison and has been out for years. Carl is still in. Terry Anderson has not re-offended. Carl Anderson is unlikely to re-offend, highly unlikely. He has a stable and supportive family and he has a number of marketable skills. There's no reason and less justice in keeping him in prison where, incidentally, his record is excellent. (Carl's one of these guys who prison staff recommend for parole, and prison staff knows better than anyone who should get out and who should stay in because they live with them everyday for years at a time.) Even Mr. Underhill, the victim, harbors no ill will. He does not oppose parole. Carl could use letters of support. Please write letters urging parole for Carl Anderson, care of his attorney William Schmidt, box 25001, Fresno, Ca. 93729. Carl's hearing is scheduled for November 28th at the Solano State Prison at Vacaville.

MENDO NOSTALGICS will remember CAMP, the annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. Every year, Mendocino County would get outside money to fund desultory raids on pot gardens. One year Boonville would get the raids. The next year Leggett would get all the attention. Every year, a different area of the County except for Spy Rock. They seemed to get raided every year and every month of the year.

THE RAIDERS were teams of cops, off duty ambulance drivers, firemen, vacationing National Guard poges, and other paramilitary-oriented fantasists. CAMP worked strictly 8-5. They'd take down a pot garden in the morning, another one in the afternoon and it was Miller Time. Once in a while CAMP would snag a lone stoned doofus standing mid-day among his plants, but actual arrests were rare, prosecutions rarer.

RAIDED GARDENS tended to be conveniently close to the pavement. When the more energetic immigrant growers began planting deep in hot precipitous canyons, occasionally CAMP would chopper in, but not often. The net effect of CAMP raids for the nearly three decades it functioned was to keep pot prices reasonably lucrative. We always thought of CAMP as kind of like any other ag price support program. Keep enough off the market everyone in the business makes more money.

THE LATE NORM VROMAN, Mendocino County's libertarian DA, always said that Mendocino County had to participate in CAMP because “If we didn't the feds would come in here in force.” The feds are always lurking around Mendoland, as they are now. They take Mendocino County personally, it seems, even going so far as to send an attorney up here to warn our supervisors and Sheriff that they'd come after them if official Mendocino County tried to sell grow permissions, the local idea being the sound one that if all this money is being made from devil weed why shouldn't the County of Mendocino make a few bucks off it?

LAST TUESDAY, the State announced that CAMP had been cashiered. There was no longer money for it. Instead, we'll get the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Forest Service combined as “CERT” (Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team). CERT will, they say, focus on the large-scale public lands grows and site clean-ups.

CALIFORNIA'S Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which ran the CAMP as part of the state’s Department of Justice, has also been eliminated for budget reasons.

IN RECENT YEARS, CAMP had expanded into almost every county in California, substantially diluting how much CAMP could do in the three original Emerald Triangle counties when it kicked off back in the 1980s (Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity, made up the so-called Emerald Triangle). As the years went by the funds for each county were reduced so that more counties could be covered by the pot raiders.

BUT EVERY YEAR at budget time the County's portion of CAMP funding — a couple of hundred thousand dollars of county money — was up for discussion, and CAMP funding was often the most heated annual discussion. The primary question to supervisorial candidates in those days was how they’d vote on CAMP. In the 1990s then-Supervisor Richard Shoemaker offered this oxymoronic and typically weasel-lipped Mendolib explanation for his Yes vote. I'm against CAMP but I'm voting Yes so the County can get the state funding for it.

IN 2011, CAMP says they pulled up some 2 million plants in California (down from 4 million in 2010), 63% of which came from federal state, and county land. Last year the eradication program cost the state about $1.9 million, which was about 5% of the program’s total cost — the rest was federally funded. Under the scaled back CERT program, pot eradication teams will consist of local law enforcement officers, the CHP, Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management, Park Service, and whoever else is sitting around the office without much to do. Total funding will be about half of what CAMP cost.

IT'S NOT CLEAR how this change and consequent budget reduction will affect Mendocino’s COMMET (County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team). COMMET operates year-round and seems to involve a variety of personnel. Prior to this recent cutback announcement Mendo had one DA attorney and two deputies funded by CAMP funds. But the drift of pot-related matters is clearly in the federal direction as the feds go after medical marijuana businesses and the properties that house these businesses, thus putting the local pot biz back where it began — individual growers selling to individual buyers with prices per pound stabilized at enticingly high prices by, this round, the feds.

HARVEY READING reminds us that Ruth Coleman, the State Parks Director who recently resigned when it was revealed that $54 million was suddenly “discovered” in Parks coffers, is a former staffer for then-State Senator Mike Thompson. In fact, her ONLY government experience before being appointed to run the entire California Parks and Recreation Department was her four-year stint as Thompson’s “Legislative Director.”

COUNTY GOVERNMENT, always abreast of breaking news, distributed this unsigned announcement two Mondays ago: “Dear County Employees, The County flags will be flown at half mast as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless act of violence perpetrated shortly after midnight on July 20th, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. The flags will remain at half-mast until sunset on July 25, 2012. Thank you, Executive Office.”

IT'S A GIVEN THAT OLD GLORY has been mis-invoked and abused many times over our long and occasionally glorious history, but that's no excuse for CEO Carmel Angelo to totally trivialize the national symbol based on berserk episodes. The Aurora slaughter was a bad one but hardly shocking in a country where a million senseless acts of violence, and even thousands of sensible ones, are a daily fact of life. Ultra-vi is as American as cherry pie, Mr. Brown famously commented 50 years ago. Rather than insincere flag-brandishings by outback governments, how about an admission, or at least a Big Think discussion, of how it is that a very young man can become so isolated, so crazed that he opens fire on a theater packed with his fellow citizens? Think there might be something fundamentally wrong with the way we're organized? Think it might have something to do with the rightwing's constant lie that there's no money for public services because cops, firemen and CalTrans workers' pensions are too big? Think it might have something to do with the fact that the country is being systematically looted by the One Percent? Think it might have something to do with the fact that a society couldn't be better organized to drive its people murderously nuts?

MENDO'S SUPERVISORS have voted unanimously to place a Citizens Advisory Measure to End Corporate Rule and Defend Democracy on the November 2012 ballot. The measure asks voters if their elected representatives should be instructed to enact resolutions and legislation calling for an amendment to the United States Constitution to establish that only human beings and not corporations are endowed with constitutional rights, and money does not constitute speech and political spending can be regulated. The Board of Supervisors action was sponsored by Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg.

ON MONDAY, JULY 23, 2012, at about 5:50 PM, a clerk at the Herban Legend Medical Cannabis Dispensary reported that a person had just stolen marijuana along with marijuana-based products (valued in excess of $5,000) and a diamond ring from the store. The clerk was able to provide the name of the suspect and a description of the suspect's vehicle. While Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies were contacting the clerk, another deputy located the Suspect Linda Little and the previously described vehicle in the City of Fort Bragg. Further investigation revealed that Little possessed the items reported stolen, with the exception of the diamond ring. The ring was later determined not to have been stolen. All of the stolen property was recovered and Little was booked into the Mendocino County Jail for violations of 459 PC-burglary, 496(A) PC-possession of stolen property, and 487(a) PC-grand theft, with bail set at $15,000. (Sheriff’s Office Press Release)

POINT ARENA REORGANIZES. NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the City Council of the City of Point Arena reorganized at its Regular Meeting held on the 24th day of July 2012, following the appointment of Jim Koogle (appointed by majority vote of City Council July 24, 2012 to serve remainder of four year term ending this November 2012), as follows: Mayor: Doug Burkey, Vice Mayor: Terry Hughey, Councilmember: Jim Koogle, Councilmember: Brian Riehl, Councilmember: Trevor Sanders.

NATE COLLINS WRITES: “We are extremely saddened at the news of the passing of Alexander Cockburn, what an enormous political pillar he has been over the years. It does not look like Counterpunch will stop without Alex and that is the mark of his work, that it continues on. I remember discovering the AVA and him on the same day. That fateful Thursday following September 11, 2001 when his cover story for the AVA was “Who Saw It Coming?” Now that story should be re-printed in his honor. I also saw him at Mission High School in SF a day after the US began bombing Baghdad in 2003. Alex was a sight and a voice of comfort in turbulent and confusing times, always. His indictments of the status quo always reverberated. He was a true iconoclast, and thus we will not be sentimental about a thing. If it means anything for you, Alex we love you. I am personally sorry for cursing you out a couple times for not printing my shit. Small shit that the ego is prone to do, eh? Down with the ego. I'm not going to be sad though, Alex would say do something happy in his memory. I'm going to do a bunch of happy things in his memory.”

HARRIS QUARRY EXPANSION PROJECT LAWSUIT UPDATE: Friday, July 27at 2pm, Judge Cindee Mayfield presided over a Status Conference, at the Ukiah Court House. These are preliminary proceedings and will include lawsuit management, and initial discussion of settlement, and are open to the public. Keep The Code was compelled to file an environmental lawsuit against the County Board of Supervisors for approving the proposed Harris Quarry Expansion Project. It is regrettable that this action has been necessary. The proposed industrial project is for a permanent, 300-ton-per-hour asphalt plant, industrial zoning that would also allow a concrete plant, and permits a tripling of rock extraction from the adjacent rock quarry. After the asphalt plant project was turned down multiple times at other more urban locations, primarily due to public outcry, the county directed the applicant back in 2005 to apply for the current site, with the new industrial zoning on rangeland. Approval of this project through the permitting process, without even an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), was the original intent of the County and the applicant. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has failed to protect public health, safety, and the natural environment in its haste to approve this ill-conceived idea. Here are just a few of the many issues: • Other sites were not given serious consideration, as is legally required. • Thorough countywide mitigation standards were not considered for the new zoning ordinance that allows industrial development on rangeland. • The County’s adopted Precautionary Principle to consider health and other impacts on citizens was completely ignored. • A properly sited asphalt plant must be compatible with neighboring land uses. The Ridgewood Summit location adjacent to rural residential subdivisions, a school, church and senior mobile home park fails this test. • Traffic safety at this ridgetop intersection with Highway 101 is already very poor. This proposed project could add up to 50 trucks per hour to this intersection, seriously increasing traffic congestion and accident potential. • Air pollution has been improperly assessed. The expensive, 442-page Revised Draft EIR didn't even get the wind direction correct, because the study used a weather monitoring facility at the REMCO plant in Willits, 4.7 miles away from the project site. It stated the predominant winds were up canyon, (away from the Ridgewood Ranch), when they are actually down canyon (toward the Ranch). This directly affects where the asphalt, rock dust and diesel emissions will settle. The adjacent population of hundreds of elderly citizens and children on the Ranch has a significantly higher health risk from the flawed air pollution dispersion “modeling.” The Board of Supervisors approved a Statement of Overriding Considerations allowing significant, unavoidable air pollution of far greater magnitude than is allowed by current health standards. It seems that the perceived need for cheaper asphalt trumps the health and safety of the people. Fortunately, this process is governed by law that is known as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Keep The Code has hired the prominent environmental law firm Remy Moose Manley, LLP. We believe there are multiple issues of non-compliance with this law. The legal petition has been filed with the Superior Court of Mendocino County. A local group of private citizens organized as the non-profit Keep The Code — along with enthusiastic support throughout Mendocino County — has held off the expansion for seven years and counting. Keep The Code urges the County to encourage prosperity based on wise management and conscientious stewardship of our most valuable assets in Mendocino County, our people, our clean air, and our natural environment. Please visit Keep The Code's web site,, for periodic updates, and to learn how you can help. Keep The Code: www.keepthecode.infoJuly 27

POINT ARENA'S terrific all-round athlete, Trace Yager, has been named Small School Basketball Player of the Year. Yager is also among the Redwood Empires top young golfers.

CHRISTINE SOUZA reports for the California Farm Bureau: “Farmland losses for a Northern California highway project have ballooned without sufficient study of the environmental impact, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation, which moved last week to intervene in an existing lawsuit regarding a bypass around the city of Willits. In US District Court in San Francisco last Friday, the CA Farm Bureau filed documents to intervene in litigation charging that state and federal transportation agencies and the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted inadequate environmental review of the Willits Bypass Project on US Highway 101. CFBF requested that the court require state and federal agencies to review and reduce the impact on agricultural land, particularly from wetlands mitigation to allow construction of the project. “Farmland plays an important role in the economy and the environment, both in Mendocino County and statewide,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “All too often, public agencies try to convert farmland as a convenient way to address other issues. But that comes at an environmental cost, and the agencies in the Willits Bypass Project didn't work hard enough to review that.” The Farm Bureau says the defendants in the case — the Federal Highway Administration, Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Transportation — failed to conduct adequate environmental analysis as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, in approving the proposed bypass. In its motion, the Farm Bureau stated that the bypass originally would have affected 150 acres of farmland. But now, more than 2,000 acres of land will be affected — with 400 acres removed permanently from agricultural use — as government agencies seek agricultural land to mitigate for wetlands affected by the bypass. Much of the farmland that would be taken out of production for the bypass would be converted to wetlands, to make up for loss of existing wetlands in the path of the project. “We don't oppose the bypass, but we do oppose the potential for an extraordinarily high loss of farmland that the agencies would require to build it and to mitigate for its wetlands impacts,” CFBF Associate Counsel Kari Fisher said. “For every acre of wetlands the agencies want to mitigate, they would impact 30 acres of farmland. That significant impact would have a ripple effect on the area's agricultural-based economy, particularly for the farming and ranching families who would lose their land.” Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones expressed concern about how the Willits Bypass Project will impact mitigation for future projects that involve agricultural properties. “Mendocino County Farm Bureau is concerned about the precedent that the mitigation process for the Willits bypass is setting, and the potential effects it could have on agricultural operations throughout the state that may be involved with similar [Clean Water Act] Section 404 permitting processes,” Jones said. “We are not against the project; we are against the impacts to agriculture.” The Farm Bureau says the agencies violated environmental law “by failing to conduct adequate environmental review of the proposed project's impacts on agricultural land and the environmental services provided by that land.” A hearing on the Farm Bureau motion to intervene in the lawsuit is scheduled for August 31. At the same time, a hearing is set on a motion to dismiss the suit, filed by Caltrans.

STATE PARKS WAS WARNED. Manuel Lopez, former deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Parks and Recreation, told The Sacramento Bee that he informed agency Director Ruth Coleman about a $20 million surplus in the Parks and Recreation Fund “at least five times over approximately a five-year span.” Nonprofit groups and local governments helped raise money and assumed responsibility to keep the 70 state parks open past a July 1 closure deadline. The attorney general and state finance officials are investigating the scandal. State lawmakers also are promising oversight hearings and plan to seek an independent audit of the department. The state Finance Department also is reviewing all the state's 560 special funds to make sure the actual fund balances match what has been reported to the administration and the state controller. State officials said Friday that the department had maintained the unreported money in its accounts for at least 12 years, including the entire time Coleman was director. She served under three governors but said in her resignation that she was “personally appalled” to learn of the hidden money.

CLEANING UP MENDOCINO COUNTY. The dollar fee to haul off and recycle abandoned vehicles, a recurrent problem in Mendocino County, will be on the November ballot for its third ten-year renewal. Mendocino County's Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Service Authority was established in 1992 to collect the $1 fee via registration fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Supervisor Pinches said this week that he thought the fee had outlived its usefulness since metal recyclers now pay an average of $300 per wreck, meaning the supervisor feels private individuals have adequate incentive to get rid of the things without the County collecting money to do it.

VROOM! VROOM! The Ukiah Speedway roared back into action last Saturday night with a full schedule of car races peeling out at 5pm. A fireworks display commences after dark, the first fireworks in Ukiah in five years. The track was closed for four months due mostly to Dirt Gate, a mini-scandal kicked off by Bruce Richard, boss at the Mendocino Transit Authority. Site prep for Richard's lavish new bus barn and office suite required removal of contaminated soil. Richard, in a deal whose particulars still aren't known, arranged for the soil to be hauled out to the Ukiah Fairgrounds where it was used to firm up the track. When it was discovered that some of the soil was placed hazardously near a children's play area, and was considered hazardous no matter where it was placed, the dirt had to again be hauled to distant landfills. Racing was delayed, the track's long-time director went broke, a new organizer had to be found, and Richard got a raise. All-in-all, an Only In Mendo series of events. (And last week Richard tired to stiff the haulers by offering them 25 cents on the dollar for their work cleaning up after him! The haulers, of course, aren't going for it.)

THE SLO-MO IMPASSE between Coast Hospital Management and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union has taken an ominous turn. Last week Coast Hospital CEO Ray Hino sent a memo to all employees saying that his previous decision not to implement the union’s 3% annual pay raise would be rescinded and the raise would take effect according to the existing contract.

THE NEXT DAY, hospital workers were informed by UFCW Local 8 Headquarters in Sacramento that it was their savvy negotiating that caused Hino’s “about face,” that their agitation over the unilateral nature of Hino’s initial decision not to honor the 3% raise agreement had brought Hino to his senses.

HOWEVER, Hino's schizo “about face” memo also says that he “will do whatever is humanly possible for me to do to keep MCDH out of bankruptcy. I view bankruptcy as a lose-lose situation for our hospital, our community and our employees. The only thing worse than bankruptcy is closure of our hospital. Neither course is acceptable. Our hospital is too important to our loyal staff, our community and to our entire region to fail.”

IN OTHER WORDS, here's your 3% back but it may bring down the house.

THERE’S NO INDICATION in this inflexible exchange between the union reps and Hospital management that negotiations will continue. Although Coast's finances appear to have improved a bit in the last few months, the County's only community-owned medical center still faces all the economic pressures that small medical service providers face in a collapsing economy.

THERE ARE ASPECTS of Obamacare that might fatten Coast Hospital’s emaciated bottom line in the middle distance, but for now it looks like Hino and his board of directors may just file for bankruptcy, pounding the union over the head with a big blame stick as they go.

A 6,000-SQUARE FOOT, $1.2 million dollar hazardous materials processing center is now open in Ukiah. If you think you have something hazardous you probably do. Take it there and hand it over to the boys in the white suits. It's east of South State Street in that jumble of unwanted dogs and cats, a trash dump and transfer station, a sewage plant, and Bruce Richard's Taj MaBus facility, the one with the fancy office for Richard to preside over a heavily subsidized County bus system that carries a few stranded Mendolanders from one place to another at inconvenient times.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Pelotero, which translates as “Ballplayer.” The tiny Dominican Republic produces more quality ballplayers out of its 10 million people than any population in the baseball world. 11% of major league baseball players, and probably even more minor league ballplayers, are Dominicans. This documentary film shows how the country has been colonized my major league franchises, most with their own meticulously maintained little ballparks that look like flying saucers stranded in a very poor country. The gringos also maintain a network of Dominican touts and scouts and touts who compete to sign kids as young as 15. The film focuses on two prospects whose signing bonuses will lift their families out of poverty if the gringos can't successfully reduce those large sums by marginally ethical stratagems. Interesting film even if you aren't interested in sports.

RECOMMENDED READING: “People Who Eat Darkness” by Richard Lloyd Parry. A correspondent for the London Times, Parry follows the uniquely weird disappearance of a very young English woman who'd gone to Tokyo to work as a bar hostess, hoping to lift herself out of a swamp of credit card debt. Bar hostess, we learn, is not synonymous with prostitute. A bar hostess in Japan is well paid to sit with the Japanese equivalent of management-level white collar males as these men get drunk and work on their English. One of these salarymen, as they're called, turns out to be a psycho. I had a hard time putting it down.

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