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Arsonists: 113 Shots, Zero Goals

It is one thing for an indifferent Mother Nature to imperil Ukiah by tossing off random lightning bolts mixed with harsh droughts. It is quite another thing for calculating arsonists to set 113 fires in and around Ukiah during the driest season anyone remembers.

The fire setting criminals have failed, mostly, which is another way of saying they’ve succeeded, occasionally. Buildings and structures have been burnt to the ground, habitats have been made uninhabitable for birds, bunnies, bears, bees, bugs and blue jays. Potential consequences for the city are beyond comprehension.

What are we to think?

Is it our fault? Should Ukiah citizens take a good long look in the mirror and ask themselves if they’ve done enough to make homeless visitors feel comfortable and welcome? Have we failed to provide sufficient services? Is an urge to retaliate justified? 

Is it you and I who bear ultimate responsibility for 113 attempts to burn our own houses down? Ha.

No one could say we have denied our new guests food or shelter. I’ve heard no rumors of newcomers being harassed by vigilante mobs angry at the crime spikes, the deteriorating neighborhoods, the staggering expense, the blight up and down State Street, the overall decline in quality of life. 

Quite the contrary. The services and handouts never slow. Local nonprofit “helping” agencies purchased one of the most expensive motels in the county and put it through costly renovations for the exclusive use of the those who arrive in Ukiah from all over the place. Free meals have been offered for 35 years at Plowshares. 

Uninvited guests have long lived large in Ukiah; their gratitude seems limited.

Are citizens powerless? Are we supposed to stand by, mute, watching the intentional destruction of our homes and community? What do our neighbors think?

Better yet, what do our elected representatives on City Council and the Board of Supervisors think? Local officials gleefully welcome grants that fund the programs that lure criminals, sociopaths, and yes, arsonists to town because they bring in a lot of money to nonprofits and the powerful, politically connected people who run them. 

The numbers add up. The dollars talk. City and county administrators listen to the money and they grin as budget figures dance in their heads. They all know how to count, and homelessness puts fat padding on bottom lines.

Let’s do a little more arithmetic. Let’s count something other than money.

 Arsonists have destroyed the city zero times in 113 attempts. Are those the kinds of numbers you’d bet will continue? Where would bookies in Vegas set the odds of allowing opposing invaders 113 unchecked opportunities to score?

Final question: Would it be smart to head into 2022 confident that come next November the arsonists will be 0 for 226?

‘Wanna Dance With Somebody’

It couldn’t happen in Ukiah, and it probably couldn’t happen in Oakland or Sacramento or Cleveland. I even doubt it could happen in Charlotte. But it did.

Trophy and I were outside an Irish pub on a side street on a warm night drinking wine and beer, not mixed, when a song came on the jukebox piped via loudspeakers. It was a catchy Motown-y tune laced with disco fever, sung by Whitney Houston.

It was a semi-oldie called “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and if you heard it you’d remember it. You’d not be alone. And on this lush southern night Trophy was not alone when she began a happy little solo dance to its energetic beat and winsome words.

Because coming across the street at a diagonal from a couple hundred feet off was a line of young black guys heading somewhere over that way. But the very last guy in line had caught the beat and heard the words and spotted my wife, hands above her head, fingers a-twinkling, wishing she was on a dance floor 40 years ago.

And maybe the kid wished the same. He had a cheerful smile and was clearly looking right at dear Trophy as they began to dance together from a long way off. He clap-clap-clapped, then spun around laughing, and pointed right at her.

And she obliged by slipping off the outdoor barstool, hands high above her head, and did a few of those old familiar dance floor moves, smiling back at the cool young cat who had developed a few dance moves himself despite his tender years. His single file of friends kept moving across the street both toward us and away from us, and he kept up the shrugs, 360-spins, twists and hippy hippy shakes.

Then the music stopped, the line kept rolling southwest and Trophy snugged back onto her seat, lightly perspired, ready for a brace of cold white wine. She smiled at me; I was happy for her.

(TWK notes that Gandhi once said “You can judge a society by the way it treats its newspaper columnists.” During these troubled times, Tom Hine finds comfort in those words.)

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