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Off the Record 1/20/2010

Twenty-eight-year-old Larry Nye, of Covelo, was convicted last week of driving under the influence of marijuana. Nye is the first person in Mendocino County to be convicted, or even tried, for driving under the influence of cannabis. Nye's breakthrough jury trial took two days and earned Nye five years of probation, 15 days in jail and $2,410 in fines and fees, plus a two-year suspension of his driver's license. Prosecutor Brian Newman conceded that stoner determinations are much more difficult than alcohol tests. “We do not have the same type of science with THC,” said Newman. “Some think that it is OK to use marijuana and drive. The truth is that it is capable of impairing a person of driving as much as any other drug,” he said. According to Newman, Nye was spotted smoking marijuana as he drove his pickup north on Highway 101 near Ukiah where he was described as “all over the road.” It was the dope, the jury decided, that put Nye’s vehicle all over the road. The CHP said Nye was so loaded he didn't see the arresting officer's overhead lights. Fifteen miles later, when Nye became aware that he was the object of intense law enforcement attention, he screeched to a broadside halt just south of Willits.

WINE ALERT! Last week the wine bund threw a major tizz over the possibility that the State Water Resources may impose voluntary guidelines on direct pumping from the Russian River.

SONOMA COUNTY Wine Grape Commission president Nick Frey said he was worried that pumping guidelines “may set [grape growers] up for failure,” adding, “How do you prove you’re not having an effect?”

WHICH IS MERELY a matter of a few gages in the creeks and the Russian River to make sure there's enough water for grapes and fish before you flip the switch on the pump. This stuff can be done inexpensively, with remote data transmission so everybody can keep easy track of the flows when temperatures are predicted to drift below freezing and the wine people begin to covet the battered Russian for “frost protection.” But the wine bund resists all regulation. They refuse to allow even the most minimal grading ordinance for the steepest slopes, they won’t ask for permits to take water from already over-appropriated watercourses, they think minor use permits for tasting rooms in residential areas is some kind of a bluenose conspiracy to ruin their industry. Book 'em, Dano!

YOU KNOW you’re getting old — old, tarnished, irrelevant as one of the more merciless poets put it — when three middleage people of suspect physique offer you their seats on the Muni, as happened to me last week. Waving off the offers as mistaken if not insulting, especially coming from people of dubious fitness themselves, I did three pirouettes to the very back row of the eastbound 2 Clement where I pulled out an AVA to read Tim Stelloh’s interview with Will Stenberg of Fort Bragg, a justly well-known musician I knew as a toddler. I know zero about popular music, and I can’t remember the last time I deliberately listened to any except Jeff Costello’s and Maggie Catfish’s album, and I’d have missed that if Jeff wasn’t an AVA affiliate. Then three weeks ago my city neighbor Aidin Vaziri, one of the Chron's entertainment writers, was on KQED talking about what I thought I heard him describe as “the best pop music of the last decade.” In the whole world. Aidin's a very smart guy, and a good writer, but I thought he had to have been foolin'. The music was beyond awful. It made me happy to realize I hadn't listened to pop music since I heard Peggy Lee sing Fever. That was maybe 1960 and an accident. Somebody gave me a ticket to see her at the Masonic Auditorium. I thought her presentation was more peculiar than it was feverish. Years ago, Jello Biafra gave me a bunch of his albums, which I found peculiar and unlistenable. I gave the music to an estranged Boonville kid who, looking at me with brand new respect, exclaimed, You know Jello Biafra?” I said I could claim that dubious distinction, adding that punk rock impresario Larry Livermore was also a friend. “God damn!” the kid said, bowled all the way over. I met Will Stenberg when he was very young, so young he was still throwing oatmeal around his mother’s kitchen. I knew his older brother Zack when Zack was at Fort Bragg High School, so yearning to be free Zack and Lisa Henry would drive all the way to Boonville to hang around the AVA to learn the processes and, soon, contribute to it. Prior to them the Gjerde boys did the same thing. Dan, now a Fort Bragg City councilman, and apparently dragged beyond deprogramming into the fetid politics of the Northcoast's rancid professional officeholders, a sad fate for any young person condemned to sigh by his telephone waiting for a pat on the head from Mike Binah-Bro or a recorded message from Bill Clinton. Here in Boonville, some of you will be curious to know, this fine publication is informally off-limits to the young, although there’s not a one of them who wouldn’t benefit from close association given that in forty years the high school has not graduated a single student who could compose an error-free paragraph, a brief error-free paragraph at that. Here at the paper we get off at least one error-free para per issue. For all its talk about commitment to the young, Mendocino County, for the actual young is, as Will Stenberg suggests, a place to leave as soon as you're able, but a nice place to come back to maybe a decade or two later, defeated by the great outside. I’m old, but whenever I’m in a room with a lot of teachers I feel like screaming. I felt that way when I was a kid, too, only showing up often enough to stay eligible for sports. Without sports, I wouldn't have bothered with high school. Everything a kid gets at a high school in this country is either untrue or irrelevant, except for math and the sciences and even those subjects have probably been tampered with, vetted for appropriateness. Last year at KZYX — “Fox News for hippies,” as Ben Schill has perfectly caught it — that uniquely un-public public radio entity — when station management suddenly purged their only reporter, Christina Aanestad, whose work now regularly appears on state, national and even international audio, there was a protest meeting in Mendocino to complain about the thuggish way Ms. Aanestad had been fired. The station's board of directors was there, looking mutely on like the supine enablers they are, as was management, a blandly inarticulate wind tunnel through whom bullshit whistles unenhanced out the other end. Several speakers wondered why there were no young people in the audience. Who will bring the terrible news? Let me take a great big surmise. Could it be that young people weren't there because any young person more or less in full possession sprints in the opposite direction of anything even vaguely associated with Old Hippie. As the economy unravels, small towns are going to be good places to be, and I’ll bet over the next few years we’ll all be eating food produced here and listening to music played by people who live here, and give the hippies some credit. A few good things started with them. I’m going to buy Will Stenburg's next album when it comes out. I’ll report back.

SUPERVISOR COLFAX, who's become the Gabby Hayes of Mendo politics, and seems closer than ever to muttering incoherence, soon to be whacking dogs and little kids out of his path to Senior Center lunches, goes on at supervisor's meetings at garrulous length but to no particular end. But for the three or four people following the bouncing ball of the supervisor's narrative last week, Colfax did say he wouldn't be around this time next year, his way of saying he won't run for another unproductive four years as 5th District supervisor.

PUT US DOWN preliminarily for the vivacious Christy Wells of Albion, now fully registered to take on the geritol-needy candidacies of people three decades her senior — Dan Hamburg, Jim Mastin and Wendy Roberts, as well as Colfax, if the Boonville goat roper decides to run again, having forgotten what he said last week. With two young children and a home business, Ms. Wells is more representative of more real people in the district than her competitors, all of them well-to-do people whose child-raising and work lives are behind them. Give us a candidate who knows what it's like to live with the wolf at the door! Besides, there’s only one issue — how to make do with less of everything which, in Mendocino County, means less money and less water, and wolves at more and more of our doors. Christy has a natural ebullience that sets her apart as a candidate, the prevailing public persona being between a mortician and restaurant hostess. Hamburg and Mastin — long time lib labs — are interchangeable on the issues with Hamburg probably more acceptable to the stoner wing of Old Hippie because of his active agitation on behalf of pot. Mastin is joined at the hip to Thompson Binah-bro, the Northcoast Democratic Party's nothing ball apparat. Mrs. Roberts' opinions on the issues range from vague to unknown.

THE DOPE STATS are in for 2009. According to the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team (COMMET) “all previous” confiscation records were broken in 2009, meaning of course that there’s more dope out there than ever. A total of 541,250 plants from 256 sites were seized, 15,709 of them from indoor grows. 4,100 pounds of processed pot was grabbed as was 5 pounds of hashish, 2 ounces of mushrooms, “LSD sent to lab,” 2 grams of meth, and “150 Oxycodone (sic) pills.”

Nineteen “CHILDREN found at scene” and a total of 104 weapons confiscated. A mere hundred weapons in this county? Pot ops, judged by the weapons seized statistic, would seem to be less potentially violent than the average rural home. There were 21 handguns taken, 63 rifles, 20 shotguns, a baton, nunchukas and unspecified number of throwing stars. (I ask you plainly: Have you even known anyone outside a Jackie Chan movie who could do nunchukas or throw a throwing star with any accuracy?)

THE BIG BOY STAT, though, is this one: $1,072,230.00 in cash and property. Mendocino County will keep most of that.

TWO WEEKS until the Anderson Valley Film Festival, and not a dog in the bunch. In fact, it’s shaping up as the best festival yet, and by far the best north of the Golden Gate Bridge, maybe all the way up to Seattle. A lot of film festivals are heavy on the artsy stuff, bad artsy stuff, but maestro Steve Sparks has managed to assemble 21 movies with every single one of them being of general interest, plus several films of specific general interest to Mendocino County people. Those include: Rivers of a Lost Coast, with footage of Northcoast streams and fishermen back to the 1930s; vintage footage of Anderson Valley’s Hiatt Logging at work in the woods; Climbing Giant Redwoods first seen on the National Geographic Channel complete with a guest appearance by Mike Faye who has climbed the biggest redwoods there are; and This is War — Memories of Iraq with footage from the debacle by the people fighting it. All this and on-site food by Alicia’s Restaurant and Mosswood Market. Philo Grange all weekend the last weekend in January.

SUTLEY v GOD, the update. Which includes a pamphlet produced by Dr. Arthur Maricle (sic) Pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church of Santa Rosa. Doctor Maricle's polemic takes off on Sonoma County’s hapless assistant administrator, Chris Thomas, as “Chris the Grinch Who Stole Christmas Thomas” for briefly acceding to Irv Sutley’s lawful demand that public property be free of religious symbology. Thomas ordered Sonoma County’s public offices to take the stars and angels off office Christmas trees. A day later, in a counter-attack by thousands by self-alleged Christians howling for both Thomas’s and Sutley’s heads, and led by a demagogic Palin-like SoCo supervisor named Zane, administrator Thomas said the blasphemously un-artful cherubs, and the undoubtedly toxic stars, could go back up. But it was too late for Pastor Maricle. He rushed to the printer to damn the interfering bureaucrat. Sutley is merely denounced in passing by the pastor as “a lone, harsh, cynical, embittered man — the very embodiment of Scrooge and Mr. Potter” (Potter is the central figure in the cornball epic, It’s A Wonderful Life.) Pastor Maricle writes, “Why doesn’t Chris Thomas behave himself like a man and a true leader of the people and tell the crusty old atheist to take a hike? Isn’t that what the appeals for ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ over the past couple of decades is all about? (Huh?) Why can’t that old crab let his fellow citizens enjoy their revelry? It hardly seems fair for him (Sutley), and his crony Mao Tse Thomas to steal Christmas from the community when the atheistic micronority (sic) has its own holiday. It’s celebrated April 1.”

IF I’D KNOWN the Baptists were this witty I'd have been back in church years ago. Sutley, though, remains unappeased. He told me he caught the Santa Rosa Baptists years ago, during the Patty Hearst food give away, hoarding the good stuff for themselves, raking off the steaks for the faithful.

ONE MORE TIME. The Founding Fathers were an all-male group of wealthy intellectuals and aristocrats who, when they weren't atheists like Ben Franklin, were deist-oriented sophisticates who set things up so only people like themselves would run things, and only people like themselves would get the vote. They explicitly didn’t want churches mixed up in politics because they’d seen what had happened to Europe when the believers got out of hand, which hasn't stopped organized groups of Taliban-like Christians from trying. The Mormons, as we know or should know, tried to set up a theocracy in Utah. Lincoln had to dispatch troops to pound the Moroni out of them. But some Christians, seething with a most un-Christian hubris, have always yearned to shove Pat Robertson and versions thereof down everyone’s throats regardless of race, religion or creed. They joined Mammon to God on our money back in 1955 because the politicians were afraid the fanatics would denounce them as communists, and they’re still at it with their endless prayer breakfasts, pre-game bowed heads, K-Mart creches, and all sorts of embarrassing displays of ersatz public piety. Sigh. Those of us who adhere to The Parable of the Closet have never been so besieged.

REMEMBER ARTHUR FIRSTENBERG? King of Mendocino County’s tin foil hat brigade? Art moved from the ever advancing waves of electro-magnetic rays aimed directly at him by Mendocino cell phone towers to Santa Fe where Firstenberg is suing his neighbor because he says her cellphone is making him sick. “The plaintiff, Mr. F, cannot stay in a hotel because hotels and motels all employ wi-fi connections, which trigger…” Lawsuits, it seems, in Art’s case.

MEDIA NEWS GROUP, the fiercely anti-union Denver-based newspaper chain owned by media magnate William Dean Singleton, announced last week that they were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Singleton owns the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Willits News, the Mendocino Beacon and the Fort Bragg Advocate (and the Lake County Record-Bee and the Eureka Times-Standard, and…). Much of what the Northcoast knows about the world is filtered through this guy, hence the prevailing darkness. Singleton’s Mendo papers may be up for “consolidation” as part of the bankruptcy reorganization. The bankruptcy filing is described in the press as “prepackaged,” i.e., Singleton's many investors have already signed off on the deal which will bring Singleton's excess debt load of about $930 million down to a mere $165 million. $590 million of that is owed to “senior lenders,” of which $400 million is owed to the Hearst corporation (which owns the struggling San Francisco Chronicle, among others). According to the Wall Street Journal the $400 million Singleton owes Hearst is being “wiped out.” Another big loser is Bank of America, which foolishly loaned Singleton well over $100 million. The rest of the debt reduction is being accomplished by simply giving the other investors worthless MediaNewsGroup stock in exchange for payment. Singleton says, “Current shareholders will be losing the value of their holdings.” The deal will leave Singleton and his business partner Joseph “Jody” Lodovic IV, with 20% ownership of the company, but that 20% is of “primary shares,” meaning the owners of the 80% don't have any real say in the company's business operations. Singleton insists that the deal won't affect the operation of the papers he now owns. Asked what kinds of consolidations were under consideration, Singleton replied, “Just look at the map.”

SINGLETON also owns the AP Wire Service, a factoid we only recently discovered. So, besides owning most of the chain papers on the West Coast of the United States, and all the chain papers in Mendocino County, Singleton's organization decides what wire stories will be fed to most of the other papers, including that daily deluge of wire stories mindlessly plunked into the New York Times-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

WILLIAM DEAN SINGLETON? A self-described “Texas farm boy” whose politics are somewhere to the right of Rupert Murdoch. Singleton is the guy who famously stood at an AP press conference in mid-2008 to ask Obama what Obama was going to do about “Obama bin Laden.” Obama, ever the cool customer, said, “I think that's Osama bin Laden.” As Singleton attempted to stammer out an apology, Obama assured the Texas boor, “No, that's OK. I've come to expect that kind of thing in last few months.”

A READER WRITES: It's about 11 pm, and I'm driving home after a show at the Caspar Inn. As I pass Safeway on Highway 1, the CHP cop who's been trailing me since I literally left my parking space in Caspar decides it's time: He cranks on the light, I curse the steering wheel and we caravan onto a side street. The cop, who's young and excitable, a Bob's Big Boy-looking guy, trots up to the car. “Sir, were you aware that you were swerving back there?” he asks. I wasn't swerving, of course, but that's neither here nor there. “No, sir,” I reply. “I had no idea.” He asks me how I've spent my evening and if I've been drinking; I reply that yes, over a period of a few hours I had a beer-and-a-half. At which point he asks me to step out of the car. I do the perp walk over to his SUV and begin the routine: I tilt my neck back, look at the stars and count to 30 out loud. Next, I stand on one foot while pointing the other foot out. Again, I count to 30. Now, to your logical, thinking authority figure, a word problem might come next: If someone, say, like myself—a six-foot-tall, average-build male—said he had 1.5 beers over two to three hours, and did the how-smashed-is-he exam without making a single joke about the Caspar Inn-as-probable cause routine, without so much as teetering from the spins while staring at the stars, without having to even put a second foot on the ground while doing late-night yoga on the side of the road, if I was that cop, I might call it a night. But hey, what's shootin' fish in a barrel without the $8,000 gee-whiz gadget? So he gives me a breathalyzer. After a couple of minutes, my sobriety registers in a way that word problem just never did: 017. Officer Friendly thanks me for my cooperation, gets back in his SUV and slams on the gas.K

One Comment

  1. January 21, 2010

    A couple of nice error-free paras here. Good stuff!
    Is it all Bruce or a collaboration?

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