- Cold Front
- Shorty 90
- Khadijah Search
- Lady Eloise
- Gnarled Watcher
- Colvig Case
- Climate Strike
- Museum Night
- Ed Notes
- McCall Case
- Cannabis Alliance
- Yesterday's Catch
- Parole Reversal
- Medicare Cost
- Fight Club
- Last Rights
- Fake Melania
- Biden Menace
- Pulitzer Shot
- Spiritual Work
- American Exceptions
- Still Snowing
- Old Rockers
- Ganja Expiration
- Various Haircuts
- Hospital Visit
- CalTrout Solution
- The Measles
- Oracle Speaks
- Spring Break
- Teenage Drinking
A COLD FRONT will pass across the area this morning generating some light rain and mountain snow. Blustery northwesterly winds and some showers will develop behind the front later today and continue into early this evening. Dry weather is expected for the remainder of the week and over the weekend. (National Weather Service)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SHORTY
Thank you for saluting Shorty Adams on his 90th birthday in bold capitals on the front page of the March 6 AVA. No other community hero deserves recognition more.
I first got to know Shorty at a Panthers basketball game where Tolman and Macmillan were matching up. "Who is that guy going crazy rooting for our team?" I asked my friend, a high school coach. "That's Shorty," he said. "You ought to see him when he gets really excited."
Shorty was a passionate and partisan fan of Anderson Valley athletics. No wonder, since he knew every player, many of them from when they were kindergartners, because of his long service as a school bus driver.
Most of us know (because it has been in the news many times) Shorty is a legendary school bus driver. So many years without a crash, around the winding and sometimes icy roads of our valley and hills, and down to the big city, where unfamiliar traffic flies by at lightning speed. Generations of parents have entrusted their children to Shorty's care, and he has never let them down.
One more thing: Because I was a teacher of at-risk kids, I consulted informally with the most effective school counselor and mentor I have ever met--Shorty Adams. I do not know how to begin to count the kids Shorty has listened to, counseled, rescued from trauma, and set on a path to having a good and productive life. Many times he was the one adult person a kid felt safe talking to, when they could not talk to anyone else. I learned a lot from his experience, and I am grateful that he was willing to share his wisdom.
So Happy Birthday Shorty, and thank you for all you have done for the community and our children. When the time comes, I think there will be a special place for you. I wouldn't be surprised if you get to meet all the kids who have gone before. They might have a party waiting for you.
SEARCH FOR KHADIJAH CONTINUES
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the Mendocino County Search and Rescue Team will be working again in the Covelo area this week on the Khadijah Britton case.
We will be draining a pond on lands belonging to the Round Valley Indian Tribes. The pond is in close proximity to where Khadijah Britton was last seen and in recent searches, several search dogs showed interest in the pond.
To drain the pond will take several days so the community should expect to see us in the area for the next several days.
If you have any information that could help us in our investigation please call (707) 234-2100 or We Tip at 1-800 732-7463.
WE WERE IMPRESSED by the writing, graphics and photographic skills of Debra Eloise who covered last weekend’s AV Variety Show for this week’s print edition. For more about her and her capabilities check out her website and blog:
www.myladyeloise.com (official photographic services site)
www.myladyeloise.wordpress.com (blog site - where I get to write from my heart)
NORTH COAST NIGHT LIGHT: THE GNARLED WATCHER
by David Wilson
Far from the glare of city or town, out where starlight casts the only glow upon the landscape, the skies are filled with stars unimaginable to those too tightly held by the constraints of civilization. One may live long without taking the opportunity to escape the binding bustle to go sit silently beneath the night sky. In Humboldt County we are blessed with accessible dark skies, and I recommend these occasional forays into the night. But if you are unable to go then I will bring a little back for you. I’m going anyway.
The images I’m sharing here were photographed on private property to the east of Garberville, where I was very kindly given permission to take pictures on a couple of nights at the end of the summer of 2016. My intention was to make a time-lapse video of the stars passing across the sky. This is done by taking hundreds of still images of a single scene at regular intervals and then stringing them together in a sequence. In this way they become the frames of a movie that shows the sped-up motion of the stars. But I wasn’t happy with the resulting time-lapse because passing cars had continually cast their headlights onto the tree and telephone pole, producing annoying flickers of light when viewed as a video.
Fortunately, a number of the individual still images from the sequence are interesting. Most were completely dark, with silhouettes of the tree and telephone pole standing stark against the sky. In others they caught headlights from the occasional passing cars to greater or lesser degrees. The next week I went back and made a time-lapse from a nearby spot with a composition that gave less road flicker.
(To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx or his website mindscapefx.com, where you can also contact him, but which Wilson says he updates less frequently.)
MICHAEL COLVIG is the principal at Willits High School, one of a bunch of Colvigs clustered at the Gateway to the Redwood Empire. Michael Colvig's father sits on the Willits School Board, a school board like any other, meaning fully capable, and sometimes blithely willing, to commit their own crimes and misdemeanors. So when little Colvig, Colvig the Third we might call him, sexually assaulted a classmate at an off-campus party, the senior Colvigs, pillars of the Willits educational effort, had themselves a dilemma. Should little Colvig's crude and apparently drunken attempt on his classmate be reported to the Willits Police as the law requires? Colvig the principal decided to handle the matter in-house, his own house, not report it as he's supposed to.
AND HERE HE IS, Michael Colvig, the first school official in Mendocino County's history booked into the County Jail for failure to protect a student. Judging from his mug shot he doesn't look especially anguished, but then a lot of these school people look kinda unevolved, kinda…
DA EYSTER is also faced with something of a political hot potato. Will Colvig be prosecuted while Eyster's campaign treasurer and presumed pal, Chris Neary, who also happens to sit on the Willits School Board and just might be exerting undo influence? Doubt it. We’ve never heard of Eyster ducking the tough ones. The way we tardily got it is that it was Eyster himself who initiated a full-on investigation of the principal’s failure to do his legal duty when word reached Ukiah that Willits officialdom was sweeping it under the town’s all-embracing rug. Although I rather sympathize with the Colvigs in their desire to protect Colvig The Third, I'm pretty sure that I, back in my parental days, would have tossed my kids to the legal wolves if they'd been guilty of a crime this bad, a sexual assault. And child-abused them, too. Colvig The Third’s victim, I'm sure, has figured out that she'll get a big pay day from Willits Unified, and she should, and School Board Colvig, and Lawyer Neary and their colleagues should fire Michael Colvig from his principal's job, but they won't. The big pay day for the vic is a certainty, but all the rest except for the DA’s prosecution will, I’ll bet, just kinda go away. Why? It's Mendo, Jake.
AV HISTORY MUSEUM PRESENTS LOCALS NIGHT, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20
The Anderson Valley Historical Society welcomes one and all to Locals Night at the Anderson Valley History Museum, a.k.a. the Little Red School House, Wednesday evening, March 20, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Celebrate the first evening of Spring with friends old and new at this free event. Some tell us they haven't been to the AV History Museum in years. Some folks tell us they've never been there! Well, here's your chance. We'll have snacks, wine and other beverages, too. No guided tours, just mingle and wander as you wish through our rearranged, spiffed up and otherwise improved displays, with docents on hand to guide and explain as needed. Check out the Rose Room, our recently refurbished meeting space. All free! All invited! The AV History Museum is located just north of Boonville at 12340 Highway 128. (As if you didn’t know!)
BUSY WEEKEND for the Anderson Valley as local crowds turned out Friday and Saturday nights for the annual Variety Show, always a much anticipated community event. All praise to Captain Rainbow and crew for again bringing off this truly various show featuring the abundant talent of this unique place. Then, on Sunday, a crowd estimated at some 70 persons (a super-large turnout for us) packed into Lauren’s Restaurant to hear Sheriff Allman and Valley Fire Chief Andres Avila answer questions as to how best cope with emergencies. The versatile Allman, btw, also performed in Saturday’s night’s edition of the Variety Show, surprising the SRO audience with a tuba solo!
SOME RUMORS simply cry out to become public, and this one derives from an impeccable source who says the Mendocino Redwood Company has curtailed private removal of tanoak (“junk” trees to the lumber barons) — which is very bad news for Frank’s Firewood — while the Company steps up its defiance of the local vote to declare hack-and-squirt a “public nuisance” because standing dead trees represent an enhanced fire danger. The 2016 measure passed by a large margin but is in abeyance while the CA State AG's office ponders whether the impertinent Mendo vote is enforceable. MRC has also refused to pay its fair share of local firefighting out of the Albion district and, natch, resists paying its fair share to support Coast Hospital. MRC is owned by the Fisher family of San Francisco, who amassed a clothing fortune from Asian sweat shop labor and who now own one full tenth of vast Mendocino County and one full tenth of slightly less vast Humboldt County. Can we spell 'oligarchy,' class?
WHO SAYS the County can't move fast? Why, right here in central Boonville a diligent County road crew is installing a Bailey Bridge over presently impassable Lambert Lane made impassable by the rampaging Robinson Creek during the recent big rains. Supervisor Ted Williams explains further: … "MCDoT is deploying our Bailey Bridge to reopen Lambert Lane, as soon as we can, but we expect no later than the first week of April… five weeks. The Fairgrounds access will allow limited access until we install our temporary bridge." We understand the work is proceeding even faster, that the Lambert Lane temporary bridge will be in place well before the end of March.
DEPRESSING NEWS from the East Bay Times:….It should be alarming that Santa Cruz (90.4 percent) is below the desired vaccination level to prevent an outbreak of measles. And seven rural California counties are markedly worse, including Calavaras, El Dorado, Humboldt, Mendocino, Nevada, Sutter, Trinity, and Tuolumne. In other words, and not to be too harsh about it, but wherever there are communities of neo-hippies, aka irremediable dumb asses, vaccination is seen as some kind of government conspiracy aimed straight at them.
A READER COMMENTS: The local Chinese foot/body massage business Foot Logic is my go-to for back pain management. (two Ukiah locations: School Street and Orchard Avenue, also a location in Healdsburg & Napa) I was skeptical at first, but went out of necessity because I haven’t found anyone else locally that can fit me in same-day, which is helpful when experiencing pain. The therapists are excellent- I’ve only witnessed professional behavior and effective techniques, however it is a strong massage- not everyone prefers it. Their prices are very reasonable for body work. The School Street location gets busy- you often need a reservation for peak evening/weekend hours. I can’t speak to the other four businesses mentioned, but certainly hope I’m not contributing to trafficking and prostitution by patronizing what appears to be a legit business. The online comment of the day and a few other things I have read alludes this is a foregone conclusion. Is there a definitive way to know? (A Ukiah Police Department spokesman told us last week that they are not aware of any illegality associated with these businesses.)
AT A RECENT MEETING, informal type, of ambulance people who were reviewing the complex Request for Proposals for an Exclusive Operating Area for ambulance services along the 101 corridor, a representative from Ukiah pointed out that the main reason there’s no longer an ambulance serving Willits and there are (perhaps) two companies serving the Ukiah area is that the main “demand” for ambulance services in Ukiah is traffic and traffic related accidents in the Ukiah area but very little demand in Willits because the traffic on and around the new Bypass is so light that there’s very little call for emergency services. (Mark Scaramella)
WHY IS JESSICA MCCALL suing Mendocino County? The following item appeared on the Supes agenda for Tuesday: “Pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.9(a) - Conference with Legal Counsel - Existing Litigation - Jessica McCall v. Mendocino County, District Attorney’s Office et al. Case No. SCUK-CVG-18-70457.” The plaintiff is black, the DA’s office white, and there undoubtedly lies the basis for Ms. McCall’s beef. Prediction: the County Counsel’s office will recommend either the expensive hire of an outside attorney to beat back the claim or simply pay Ms. McCall to go away. What all the County-paid lawyers do all day remains a mystery, but clearly they’d rather switch than fight. Say what you will about Doug The Midnight Rambler Losak, when he was County Counsel he resisted bullshit claims.
CATCH OF THE DAY, March 11, 2019
CHRISTIAN ALFARO-REYES, Ukiah. DUI, suspended license, false ID.
BLAKE ARCE, Point Arena. Vandalism.
ROBERT BELL, Willits. Concealed dirk/dagger.
VERNON KNAPP, SR., Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
BARRY KULMANN, Westport. Burglary.
SCOTT MATHER, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
ANGELA RIVERA, Willits. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, resisting, probation revocation.
JENNIFER SMITH, Fort Bragg. Under influence, paraphernalia, false ID, probation revocation.
A DANGER TO SOCIETY
Fourteen years ago, a nine-time-arrested, six-time convicted drunken driver killed Kathryn Black, our daughter-in-law, on Mark West Springs Road at 1 p.m. He had been drinking at his brother’s bar in Larkfield since 8 a.m. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life.
Last October, our family attended a parole hearing for Joseph Lynchard. The commissioners asked him many questions, and despite his history of arrests and convictions for DUI, he denied that he has a problem with alcohol.
When asked if he would drive if he is released, he said he is a better driver driving backwards than most people driving forward, and since he doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, he could have a drink. You would think that the parole denial would be a slam dunk. Not.
The commissioners concluded Lynchard isn’t a violent risk to society and, therefore, is eligible for parole in October. But that isn’t the end of the story. Bill Brockley, the assistant district Attorney involved since day one, wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who reversed the decision of the Parole Board.
Thanks to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office for helping to keep our streets safe. Our family appreciates their efforts, as well as those of the governor.
Lost in the debate about “Medicare for all” is the reality that Medicare doesn’t cover all medical expenses. Nor does it eliminate private insurers.
In my case, adding up the monthly Medicare premium deduction from my Social Security benefit, the cost of my supplemental private insurance policy for the gap Medicare doesn’t cover (and some co-pays for that) and drug prescription insurance (and those co-pays), my total annual personal cost for medical coverage is close to $4,000.
There are millions of us in this boat. So even if Medicare for all, patterned on this system, became a reality, no one would get a free ride to stay well. Hard to see where socialism comes into this picture.
CLOVERDALE FIGHT CLUB
How The “Right to Die” Came to California
by Steve Heilig
Just over two years ago, California became the largest U.S. state to legalize “physician-assisted dying.” And therein lies a story — or at least my version of it.
San Francisco in the late 1980s was in some ways a sort of human slaughterhouse. As an epicenter of the HIV epidemic, before the virus was even identified and long before any real treatment became available, death was common, and among young people as well. As, not so long before, a renowned expert had reportedly said, “It is time to close the book on infectious diseases, and declare the war against pestilence won” — later discredited as a misquote but a belief widely shared nonetheless — this surge in morbidity and mortality caught everybody by surprise.
Landing in the city by chance, to continue my education and training, I became a trained hospice caregiver and volunteered as a caregiver at and board member of AIDS organizations, attending international AIDS conferences and writing widely on related topics, while drafting local, state, and national HIV policy as well. It was a heady time, a baptism by fire for many young health professionals. But what I most recall are all the people who died premature and often very difficult deaths, and some of those who took care of them breaking down and weeping even at medical meetings due to the overwhelming suffering all around us.
There were mass “die-ins” in the streets to protest official inaction. Only later did it become clear the extent to which PTSD lingered in the people who had lived through those years. Even without the possible resurgence of this or other infectious diseases, heart disease and cancer remain our two leading causes of death. But the real underlying diagnosis is birth itself, for nobody gets out of here alive. Becoming all too aware of this central fact of life at a relatively early age, I immersed myself in healthcare ethics in general and physician-assisted dying (PAD) in specific. In those days AIDS patients were passing around the formulas needed to end their own lives and were asking for explicit dosages of opiates and other medications in hospital beds. It began to strike me as absurd that this was secret and illegal. I started to research and write about it, and some signature memories followed:
- In 1988, JAMA published an anonymous story by a physician titled “It’s Over, Debbie,” and discussion of it was widespread in both medical and general circles. I was astounded to see a situation I knew was occurring widely printed frankly in such an august publication, especially as the American Medical Association (AMA) itself had always been so vehemently opposed to PAD.
- In 1989, I conducted and published a survey on PAD of almost 700 San Francisco doctors, showing that a majority supported a legal PAD option. This was the first such survey, and many more followed over the years, with generally consistent results. Respondents scribbled comments on their survey forms, and the one that has stuck with me read simply: “It is time we are as humane with our patients as we are with our pets.”
- In 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted the death of a woman with an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis, further igniting the public debate. Like many, I found Kevorkian ghoulish; also like many, I thought him courageous in his advocacy and his successful effort to put this issue on the front page. I reviewed his autobiography for the local paper and called it “creepy” and him “the wrong spokesman for the right issue.” I met him on a conference panel and confirmed that impression.
- In 1991, Timothy Quill, M.D., published his story of actively hastening a patient’s death in the New England Journal of Medicine; his reasoned, compassionate story and persona again sparked much debate. Meeting him later, I was impressed that he appeared as thoughtful and trustworthy as any physician could hope to be.
- In 1992, California voters rejected a ballot proposition that would have legalized PAD, 54%-46%. I wrote an op-ed for the California Medical Association (CMA) journal gently suggesting that their longtime just-say-no position was no longer representative of clinical reality. Response was large and positive — privately. Most doctors still seemed reluctant to speak out in favor of legal PAD.
- In 1997, I served as moderator for a California state assembly hearing on PAD; when the CMA’s representative said that in 30 years of oncology practice he had never had a patient ask him about PAD, the chair retorted, “Perhaps they are afraid to ask you.” I had nothing to add to that.
- In 1999, I convened meetings of many ethics committee chairs and members to develop and review clinical guidelines for PAD. Published in the Western Journal of Medicine, they were the subject of a cover story in the New York Times titled “Guidelines for the Unthinkable.”
- In 2006 and 2008, other California bills to legalize PAD failed, but by then legalization had taken place in other states and in Europe. In California the CMA remained a primary opponent, citing the Hippocratic oath and other concerns, and its influence aborted these and previous attempts.
- In 2013, the latest attempt (after three previous failures) of the San Francisco Medical Society to convince the CMA to change its PAD policy from “oppose” to “neutral” via policy I had drafted was rejected without debate.
- In 2015, a new legislative attempt to legalize PAD in California began, garnering much attention due to some high-profile cases, especially that of young cancer patient Brittany Maynard, who had to move to Oregon in 2014 to receive legal PAD. Sensing that such a law would still never pass over the continued knee-jerk opposition of the CMA, I drafted a letter to the CMA leadership, from the San Francisco Medical Society, which read, in part:
(1) Physician Opinion: Extensive survey data now shows that physician opinion on this topic is strongly divided, with even a majority in support of a legal option. The most recent such survey, by MedScape in 2014 of over 21,000 physicians of many specialties, had a 54% “yes” response on the basic question “Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed?”
(2) State experience: The “laboratories” of states that have legalized PAD is showing that feared consequences have not materialized. In fact, contrary to fears about negative impacts on end-of-life care, as noted in a review in the New England Journal of Medicine, “The legalization of assisted death has been associated with substantial improvements in palliative care in Oregon, in areas including the appropriate training of physicians, the communication of a patient’s wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment, pain management, rates of referral to hospice programs, and the percentage of deaths occurring at home.”
The CMA, to its credit, this time decided to respond by actually asking for reevaluation of the long-standing anti-PAD policy, and convened a meeting on the legislation. Testimony, including from the legislator authors of the PAD bill, was eloquent, informed, and heated. When the committee chair asked for a straw vote, the result also strongly supported neutrality — at least 3-1 in this case, if not more. I’ll never forget that moment — some of those voting seemed shocked, looking around at the others with their hands up, seemingly silently asking, “Oh, you too?” It was as if a sea change of opinion had quietly occurred, such as with marriage equality or the legalization of cannabis — both changes the CMA had favored in recent years. Thus, the CMA removed its longtime opposition to PAD.
With CMA opposition removed at last, the PAD bill moved forward and, via arcane procedural maneuvering, reached the California governor’s desk. We knew Jerry Brown’s fellow Catholics would be weighing in, expressing strong opposition to this bill. For the first time, I called on anybody I knew who knew him — his schoolmates, physicians, and political allies — and asked them to contact him if they felt strongly regarding PAD in any way. My hope and prediction was that he would not sign the bill but simply allow it to become law. But soon his message came, and it was clear he had thought deeply about it, that some of the people I had called had in turn spoken with him. He concluded, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. But I am certain that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
The response was immediate, garnering front-page stories around the nation. Physicians and others who had worked with me on this issue years before got in touch, elated. Many said they never believed it would happen in their lifetime (conversely, some medical students remarked, “You mean that was illegal?”). Some old allies confessed they cried. And I was not immune to that. Driving over a mountain road on the day after the governor signed the bill, spotting a road-killed animal, I was caught by surprise by the emotion welling up in me and had to pull over and let it come out in tears and sobs, my first in years. Images of many patients; of animals; and of endless, seemingly fruitless debates came to me. I realized I too had not truly expected us to prevail on this issue. More than two decades of work had finally paid off.
But here is an ironic note and one of the main reasons I came to support legalized PAD so strongly: in my own experience, and in talking with so many physicians and patients through the decades, I came to believe that the most common effect of granting PAD to a terminally ill patient can be the extension of life. Kevorkian’s first case was an extreme example of a woman, terrified of dementia, choosing to end her life long before necessary — taking a preemptive strike. Tragically, that is not so rare. Assuring patients they will have this choice often allows them not to use it. Paradoxical? Yes, but this trend is confirmed by many clinicians with vast experience in helping terminally ill patients. This dynamic could not be ethically researched, but I and many others are convinced it is true. Thus, ironically, PAD can extend life — probably more often than it shortens it.
The relative number of patients who actually carry through with their request for PAD has been shown to be small and likely will remain so. But if you or your loved one is part of that small cohort, that’s the case that matters. It is no doubt true that most — but not all — requests for PAD can be reduced by better care and communication. Legalizing PAD and arguing about it are valuable tools, like acupressure points, to goad improvement of overall end-of-life care. The fundamental value here, as in so much of the modern healthcare ethics movement, remains one of informed patient preference, of control of one’s own body and life and the end thereof. Or, as is often asked, Whose life is it, anyway?
In some long-forgotten medical journal of the 1800s, an author likened the practice of PAD to “Obstetrics of the Soul.” That striking term and concept seem to date from ancient times and have been used in other contexts since but consistently refer, as at the start of a life, to a sort of deliverance. Californians are now granted a basic human right to deliverance none of us hopes to ever have to use. So now I feel a great sense of responsibility, for helping to enable this new law in our vast state, although it is now out of my hands. The law is not perfect but it is monitored closely and hundreds of people are using it each year. A much bigger number are granted some solace just by having the potential way out if they need it. And in fact, I’ve been thanked many times by friends and strangers for my role in this, some who have availed themselves of assisted dying, and some who still might. It’s a strange thing to be thanked for, but I’ll take it.
JOE BIDEN ON THE RELAUNCH PAD: He’s Worse Than You Thought
(And the AVA already thought he was awful…)
by Norman Solomon
When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.”
On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment -- at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president.
When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning: “Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.”
The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance:
- “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.”
- “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.”
- Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.”
Media mythology about “Lunch Bucket Joe” cannot stand up to scrutiny. His bona fides as a pal of working people are about as solid and believable as those of the last Democratic nominee for president.
But Biden’s fealty to corporate power has been only one aspect of his many-faceted record that progressives will widely find repugnant to the extent they learn about it.
Since the #MeToo movement began, some retrospective media coverage has assessed Biden’s highly problematic role in chairing the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And in recent days, Washington Post reporting has brought into focus his backstory of pandering to white racism against African-Americans during much of his Senate career.
As a 32-year-old senator, in 1975, Biden commented: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”
More attention is also needed to Biden’s role as Judiciary Committee chair pushing through the now-notorious landmark 1994 crime bill. In the process of championing the bill, Biden warned of “predators on our streets” during a 1993 speech on the Senate floor.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth,” Biden proclaimed. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they're about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.”
Now, a new Iowa poll shows Biden and Bernie Sanders neck and neck in the first-in-the-nation contest for the nomination, with the rest of the candidates far behind in the state. For quite a while, Biden has been sharpening his hatchet to swing at progressive populism in general -- and Bernie in particular.
In typical Biden style, the former vice president is eager to stake out the middle of the road, between ultra-predatory capitalism and solidarity with working-class people. At an October 2017 gathering in Alabama, he said: “Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn’t like me saying that, but they are.” Later, Biden elaborated on the theme when he told an audience at the Brookings Institution, “I don’t think five hundred billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.”
As Branko Marcetic pointed out in Jacobin last summer, “at a time when left-wing populism is increasingly accepted as the antidote to Trump and the GOP’s nativist and corporate-friendly pitch, Biden stands as a remnant of precisely the sort of left-averse, triangulating Democratic politics that Hillary Clinton was relentlessly criticized for personifying.”
Biden makes clear his distaste for the current progressive populist wave. “I know some want to single out big corporations for all the blame,” he wrote in a blog post. “It is true that the balance has shifted too much in favor of corporations and against workers. But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy or let industry off the hook.”
One of the many industries that Biden has a long record of letting “off the hook” is the war business. In that mode, Biden did more than any other Democratic senator to greenlight the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
It wasn’t just that Biden voted for the Iraq war on the Senate floor five months before it began. During the lead-up to that vote, in August 2002, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he presided over sham hearings -- refusing to allow experts who opposed an invasion to get any words in edgewise -- while a cavalcade of war hawks testified in the national spotlight.
“It is difficult to over-estimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible,” Middle East studies professor Stephen Zunes wrote. “More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.”
Joe Biden’s friendly TV persona appeals to many. He smiles well and has a gift of gab. Most political journalists in the mass media like him. He’s an apt frontrunner for the military-industry complex and the corporate power structure that it serves. Whether Biden can win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination will largely depend on how many voters don’t know much about his actual record.
(Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.)
THIS PHOTO shows two power linemen, Randall Champion and J. D. Thompson, at the top of a utility pole. They had been performing routine maintenance when Champion brushed one of the high voltage lines at the very top. Over 4000 volts entered Champion’s body and instantly stopped his heart (an electric chair uses about 2000 volts). His safety harness prevented a fall, and Thompson, who had been ascending below him, quickly reached him and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He was unable to perform CPR given the circumstances, but continued breathing into Champion’s lungs until he felt a slight pulse, then unbuckled his harness and descended with him on his shoulder.
Thompson and another worker administered CPR on the ground, and Champion was moderately revived by the time paramedics arrived, eventually making a full recovery.
1968 Pulitzer Prize, Spot News Photography, Rocco Morabito, Jacksonville Journal.
FOCUS, PEOPLE, FOCUS
Good morning, Please know that I have received many supportive responses to my "Flying in the Face of Evil Insanity", posted on the Washington, D.C. Independent Media Center website. The statement was up for one day, which allowed me to forward the link via Facebook and Gmail to everyone whom I could imagine might be interested in reading it. That message had to be said, and that message had to be read! As spiritually unfortunate as the situation is in Washington, D.C., and as politically inadequate as the "radical" situation is in Washington, D.C., it is necessary to continue networking far and wide, and remain genuine. The frontline spiritual vanguard is awake! We cannot give up because the majority of the public is asleep. It is as simple as that. I am advocating spiritually motivated direct action. What has not been sufficiently done is bringing in the spiritual wisdom traditions. This is what needs to be done. Simple as that. I am booked into a Washington, D.C. travel hostel until the Spring Equinox on March 20th. Let's focus on spiritual work. Let's focus on that, and let the rest happen spontaneously, as of course it will. It is as simple as that.
Craig Louis Stehr
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
It was snowing in Nov, 4 solid months ago, and its snowing now. When it comes to the weather and climate, don’t believe your own lying eyes, believe some mendacious scientist angling for a govt grant and a guest spot on MSNBC. There’s an arrogant certainty in their claims, just like, back in the 30s, just about every intellectual, professor, artist, writer and poet, and actor glommed on to ‘Scientific Marxism’, proclaiming it inevitable, paying homage to Comrade Stalin, at the same time living large in the USA. Just another grift to make life more expensive and harder for ordinary people.
CALIFORNIA’S MARIJUANA INDUSTRY NEEDS AN INTERVENTION TO AVOID AN ‘EXTINCTION EVENT’
Once, the cannabis industry was poised to become a multibillion-dollar industry in California. Now, it could be heading for what its advocates call an “extinction event.”
SCARED TO DEATH. MINE.
My son is taking me to the closest outpost of the hospital folks on Thursday. I am scared to death. My son, who will be with me, will be there to hear and offer what witness he can. Doc may recommend nothing. He will just watch the numbers. This is medicine these days. Numbers and conclusions.
He may recommend doing nothing except watching some more. He may recommend brain surgery to relieve the pressure from what have been a number of strokes. That's the kind of surgery you might not wake up from. There is such related illness in my family and, I think, my kid's mother's. I am afraid. And I am confused. And I love having tears in my eye, even from this. Thank you to all. I hope I don't break a leg, but…
CALIFORNIA TROUT (CalTrout) says it will compete to acquire the Potter Valley Project from FERC now that PG&E has abandoned it. In their newsletter titled “Trout Clout” they say in part, "This will be a heavy lift for any applicant, but one that CalTrout is committed to pursuing. CalTrout’s commitment remains the same: advocating and pursuing a solution that opens up habitat above Scott Dam and working with partners to find a two-basin solution that ensures summer water in the Eel. Towards this goal, CalTrout has been working on multiple fronts. We’re advocating for settlement talks with all participants of the ad-hoc committee set up by US Congressman Huffman, actively pursuing a two-basin design solution for the potential removal of Scott Dam, and undertaking critical studies on fish passage and dam decommissioning. Curtis Knight, CalTrout Executive Director, looks at this news as a potential opportunity. “We think the most recent FERC news leads to an even greater opportunity getting fish into the Upper Eel watershed and finding a two-basin solution. We’ll continue to work with our partners to pursue a real settlement solution that meets the needs of fish, water, and people.”
IDES & TIDES
by James Kunstler
Just as presidents are expected to act presidentially, Federal Reserve chairpersons are expected to act oracularly — as semi-supernatural beings who emerge now and again from some cave of mathematical secrets to offer reassuringly cryptic utterances on mysteries of the economy. And so was Jerome Powell wheeled out on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday night, like a cigar store Indian at an antique fair, so vividly sculpted and colorfully adorned you could almost imagine him saying something.
Maybe it was an hallucination, but I heard him say that “the economy is in a good place,” and that “the outlook is a favorable one.” Point taken. Pull the truck up to the loading dock and fill it with Tesla shares! I also thought I heard “Inflation is muted.” That must have been the laugh line, since there is almost no single item in the supermarket that goes for under five bucks these days. But really, when was the last time you saw a cigar store Indian at Trader Joes? It took seventeen Federal Reserve math PhDs to come up with that line, inflation is muted.
What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.” Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).
Interlocutor Scott Pelley asked the oracle about “those half-a-million people who have given up looking for jobs.” Did he pull that number out of his shorts? The total number out of the workforce is more like 95 million, and when you subtract retirees, people still in school, and the disabled, the figure is more like 7.5 million. There was some blather over the “opioid epidemic,” the upshot of which was learn to code, young man. Personally, I was about as impressed as I was ten years ago when past oracle Ben Bernanke confidently explained to congress that the disturbances in Mortgage-land were “contained.”
David Leonhardt of The New York Times had a real howler in his Monday column on the state of the economy:
“Americans are saving more and spending less partly because the rich now take home so much of the economy’s income — and the rich don’t spend as large a share of their income as the poor and middle class.”
Suggestion to Mr. Leonhardt: Learn to code.
Here’s what’s actually going on in that beast known as The Economy: Globalism is winding down as a decade of Central Bank machinations reach their limits of deception, leaving the major trading nations with little more than comparative disadvantages. Europe is dissolving into political chaos. Japan is cannibalizing itself in preparation for its return to the Tokugawa shogunate. China is groaning with factories that turn out too much stuff; America is groaning with so much of that stuff that it’s turning into Yard Sale Nation. In the background of all that are the problematic flows of oil on tankers through dangerous chokepoints like the Straits of Molucca and the Straits of Hormuz, with a looming horizon on the supply as US shale oil production chokes to death on unpayable debt.
It has been easier to maintain the pretense of economic stability, while all the perversities of finance and banking are being acted out in the current fiascos of government. But the tide is surely going out now and, as another ersatz oracle, Warren Buffett, once observed about such situations: pretty soon you get to see who’s been swimming naked. In the American lagoon, you will soon behold the awful spectacle of the beached whale known as President Trump flopping helplessly around the mud-flats, emitting inchoate threnodies from his blowhole. Ironically, he’ll be flopping and gasping at the same time that his antagonists are stricken by a red tide of indictments, perhaps including even the Captain Ahab of the Resistance: Robert Mueller. The Ides of March are upon us.
(Support Kunstler’s writing by visiting his Patreon Page.)
WHAT’S THE DIFF?
by Flynn Washburne
Vive La Difference! We're all so very different, you and I, right? Regardless of our similarities — bilateral symmetry, four-chambered heart, etc. — it's the differences that make each one of us unique and special, every person a beautiful snowflake with their own precisely individual characteristics and distinctions.
But is that really true? Are not these "differences" apparent only from a person-to-person perspective, and then only from a very specific distance? Back up or zoom in close enough and the differences disappear. One becomes, depending on perspective, an indistinct lump or a collection of cells. Either one is a fine characterization of the human condition and "Indistinct Lump" would make a great band name.
I daresay that the differences we're all so aware of, the qualities we so treasure in ourselves and each other, and the efforts we take to further distinguish ourselves mean exactly nothing to other species. Your dog cares only for the amount and variety of food stored on your person and willingness to disburse it, and a cat, taking your measure, wonders only how long it is going to take for you to configure your worthless corpus into lap mode.
Encroaching into the habitat of your average apex predator, your great white shark or jaguar or whatever, you may find that they did not get c.c'ed on the memo naming Man poo-bah of the food chain, wouldn't care if they had, and, ignorant beasts that they are, are utterly unimpressed with whatever it is you feel makes you stand out. You are no longer a 5'11" MFA with chestnut hair, rock-hard abs, and a vintage Omega on your wrist; you now personify and occupy an elemental niche in the biological continuum we broadly call Food, not unlike those millions of cows, pigs chicken, and sheep we blithely slaughter every day. The predator perceives you as nothing more than a tasty morsel and the only thing troubling her about who you are is how many layers of obstructive clothing she has to get through to get to the good stuff.
Nonetheless, we are, to one another and in the course of normal human interaction, all quite different. Some of these differences are celebrated and freely commented upon, as in, "Oh my gosh, you're so beautiful! Obviously, you worked very hard to arrange your genes in such a pleasing fashion, so please just relax on that chaise while we festoon you with precious jewels and present you with awards."
Or, when a person in excess of six-and-a-half feet goes anywhere, everyone in range cranes their neck and makes a comment or joke, as if it'd somehow slipped the tall one's mind and he needed to be reminded of his elevated status lest he start bonking his head on door jambs.
Take the opposite ends of these spectra, though, and it becomes unacceptable to comment in polite society, as if it were somehow shameful to be short or ugly. Like all other human traits, distribution of these conditions will roughly describe a bell-shaped curve.
Out of a hundred randomly selected people, six will be Ryan Gosling, six will be hideous goblins, and 88 will be acceptable under certain conditions of lighting, makeup application, credit rating, or automotive impressiveness.
These are the cold hard statistical facts, and while it is permissible to laud and fawn over those on the "right" side of the bell, mocking the aesthetically deficient over on the left is considered tasteless and cruel. As it should be; being "ugly" is no one's fault and a bar to social and financial success, general happiness and contentment, and the likelihood of spreading one's genes around. Studies have shown that babies display a natural affinity for beauty, even preferring attractive strangers to their ugly moms, so it's not learned cultural behavior. It's usually not until much later in life that we learn the outer self has nothing to do with the person within. Some people, sadly, never do, forever ascribing unearned value to the fleetingly deceptive virtue of beauty.
It is slightly more acceptable to give short people the business. The "tall good, short bad" model is purely contrived and exclusive to certain cultures and societies, as there is no evolutionary advantage bestowed to tall people. Many Asian cultures regard American longitudinal excess as bestial and subhuman, while we senselessly ascribe positive characteristics of power and virility to anyone cracking the six-foot barrier. I personally find tall people's presence distracting and would prefer they all take a seat.
Now that we've evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer phase and have developed all manner of clever contrivances to access difficult-to-reach items, their usefulness, save for denying the fadeaway jumper, is negligible.
The difference about which I really want to speak, though, is the gulf between Smart and Dumb. Right away you see the initial impact of the morphological characteristics of the two words; "dumb" is a shapeless thud of a word featuring the dumbest vowel sound of all, the schwa, while "smart" has not one but two smoothly sexy letter combinations bracketing the broad "a" sound so favored by East Coast intellectuals and Mayfair nabobs. "Dumb" is the dull clang of a cracked and rusty bell while "smart" is a fairy's whispered precursor to a tender kiss.
Extending the definition beyond intellectual capacity, dumb folks can't speak, the bored and unimaginative go "dum de dum dum," while smart dressers are the height of fashion and smart bars are where the elite meet. Smart=good, dumb=bad.
And then, of course, you have the persistently asked and variably answered question of what "smart" is and how to measure it. Which incidentally is probably the dumbest idea in all the annals of science. I'm sure that when Stanford or Binet or whoever handed over their new test they did so with an evil cackle, knowing full well what sort of mischief they were begetting.
Placing limitations or expectations on people based on test performance is a monumentally stupid idea, because a) as we now know, intelligence takes many forms, not all of them quantifiable through testing, and b) intelligence per se — without other more practical traits enabling brainpower to be properly utilized — amounts to less than a fart in a windstorm.
Take me, for instance, because I'm the only one here right now. People think of me as smart because I have a good memory, an extensive vocabulary, am well-spoken and have a lot of information at hand. I'm inclined to agree.
But on the other hand, I can rarely locate the battery compartment on battery-operated devices, and when I do locate it can't get it open, and when I get it open generally insert the batteries wrong. So, viewed from certain angles, I'm dumb as a stump. Only when I do something significant with it does my intelligence amount to anything, e.g., writing, and even that is not universally appreciated. As satisfying as finding the mot juste is to the writer, and to you the reader for discerning it, most folks couldn't give a rat's ass about the gymnastics I put the language through and would prefer I get to the point with a minimum of fooling around.
Returning to the idea of unaccompanied intelligence, I once saw a segment on a TV newsmagazine about a Mensa convention and a sadder thing I never saw, this army of overweight, unattractive, poorly dressed office drones who were good at puzzles, clinging like grim death to the "intelligence" they felt gave their lives meaning. These were not college professors or medical researchers, people whose intellectual efforts make a real, practical difference, but people laboring under the delusion that intelligence in and of itself has value while only using it to perform parlor tricks.
There's nothing quite so tiresome as a person trying to prove how smart they are, unless it's two of them. I enjoy the company of smart people, sometimes, and it can be very satisfying to have an intellectual conversation about literature or science or philosophy, but I wouldn't want to do it all day long. I'd be just as happy gossiping or recounting old Brady Bunch episodes, and on the whole would rather talk to someone funny than smart.
I can get all the smart I need from the books I read. I'll take someone who can do impressions over someone who can do calculus every time. Almost everybody will, because smart does not equal interesting or entertaining. They are not mutually exclusive but the products of intelligence alone rarely make one interesting. For instance, I know people find it profoundly irritating when I reflexively shout out the questions to Jeopardy! answers the second they flash on the screen. but it's not as if I can stop doing it.
Then there's the dumb. Let me first state outright that I do not include the developmentally disabled or victims of brain trauma in this classification. They're smarter on average than half of Congress and all of Trump's voter base anyway, and besides, many of them have done quite well for themselves over at Fox News.
I'm talking about your garden-variety dumbass out there taking your order at a fast-food joint or heading up the Public Defender's office. It may be less than PC and even a little cruel to refer to them suchly, but let's call a spade a spade. They're dummies, but I enjoy their company, many of them, do not hold it against them, and in fact recently dated one.
Judy (her real name; she surrendered any right to anonymity with her shabby and unkind treatment of me, there at the end) would tell you without reservation or shame that she was stupid, particularly when the conversation deviated even slightly from the direct, concrete, or literal. "Let me stop you right there," she'd say. "I'm dumb. I don't understand and I don't want to."
Naturally, I at first assured her that she was nothing of the sort, that intelligence takes many forms and we all have our particular gifts, abilities, and specialties, but there were some things that bolstered her argument, such as being unable to add single digits without employing her fingers and complete ignorance of anything she hadn't had direct, face-to-face contact with. A map meant no more to her than a Picasso painting. Once I got into her car and laid a book on the seat beside me. "What are you reading?" she asked.
I gave a brief synopsis and she said, "I'm fascinated by books."
Not a little bit surprised, I said, "Really? What do you like to read?"
"Oh, I've never read one. I'm just fascinated by them. All those words!" she said.
I found the remark endearing and hopeful. She was sweet, kind, pliant, affectionate, and made me laugh. I fell for her, and things only went sour when she started smoking pot again, which rendered her essentially botanical. I stand by the assertion that people occupying the full range of the intelligence spectrum have value and the potential to be fun and interesting, but I draw the line at dating houseplants.
As the French say, "Vive la difference!", inexplicably, I daresay, given their outright antagonism toward anything not specifically French. That's okay — their language is pleasing enough to the ear, and philosophies of life noble and stirring enough that, epigrammatically at least, the Gauls are a people to be emulated and admired. Cherchez la femme! Egalitie, fraternitie, libertie!
ON LINE COMMENTS OF THE WEEK
 The Girl Scouts are back, selling their cookies in front of the grocers’ front doors. Predictably their parents are right behind them hovering, you know, so they can earn their girls can get their independence badges. A very fat man walking by said the words I wanted to say, “No thanks, don’t want any of that poison….” 65% of the population is diabetic or pre-diabetic and this is going to continue bending the life expectancy metric downward. Parents will continue to put their kids out there, to face increasing wrath of the general public who get the wake up call from their doctors: systemic insulin resistance. Everything in the stores is loaded with sugar and we are fatter than ever, only now, that jiggle is getting morbid. Morbid enough for an adult to muster the nerve to tell a child they’re paying poison in public… Which is a good thing. There is a lot children should know about the world their society is indoctrinating them into. But first things first. Let’s shame the parents to their faces about the bleeping cookies. Let’s deliver the real merit badges, the “I learned about America’s health crisis (and my role in it)” … To go along with “Neverland Ranch veteran”…
2] As for Girl Scouts, I always found their cookies kind of blah, but I’ll give the troop a couple of dollars to help them out. lately, I say ‘and do you think girls should join the Boy Scouts or stay in the Girl Scouts?’ When they chorus ‘Girl Scouts!’ I give them an extra buck. I also ask the girls if they know their scout laws. A lot of them don’t, and one of the adults told me they cut off a couple because it’s too much to memorize!
I was a Boy Scout in 1964, and… A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. That’s off the top of my head. C’mon, girls: get with it.
 Everything used to be right there before Walmart. It was called Main Street. It had dozens of shops whose owners you knew and you went there to shop and you paid maybe 25% more than you do now. But the community had jobs making those things sold in the local shops. Now they don’t. People talk from both sides of their mouth here. They want everything American, but then they love Walmart. They want a world that is impossible to exist. They just want to make noise. They don’t care if it makes sense. Just go to any Trump rally. A lot of hot air. I’m surprised the domed building don’t float away like some giant balloon.
WEST SIDE STORY ON ICE
by Larry Livermore
The first time I got drunk was during the Cuban missile crisis, when the TV kept telling us nuclear war might break out at any minute.
The prospect of mass incineration added a special edge to everything that week, but it wasn’t why I’d decided to start drinking. I just figured it was time. I was turning 15, after all.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed when President Kennedy announced that the Russians had backed down and the world wasn’t going to end, at least not yet. The prospect of being vaporized by an atomic bomb was the first excitement to come along in a while, and now that I didn’t have that to look forward to, I figured I might as well keep drinking.
Like most things I tried when I was young, I took it too far. At first it was just me and a couple other 10th graders drinking beer behind the school, laughing and being goofy, but then I stole a pint of whiskey and guzzled it all.
I felt great for about five minutes, and that was the last thing I remembered until I woke up the next morning covered in my own puke. Apparently I’d smashed up a laundromat, then staggered out onto the highway stopping traffic in both directions and challenging drivers to a fight. My friends, sick of babysitting me and afraid of what I’d do next, dragged me home, shoved me in the back door, and ran away.
My parents, though they must have known what I’d been up to, never said a word, and just carried on as though it were a normal Saturday. Which meant I had to go help my dad paint a three-story house, despite being as sick as I’d ever been or (hopefully) ever would be. Perched atop a 20-foot ladder, barely able to keep my eyes open, and fearful that the slightest breeze would send me tumbling to my doom, I contemplated the consequences of my foolishness.
All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to do it again.
So it went. Drinking became a vital part of everything I did, and I surrounded myself with friends who felt the same way. One of the guys I fell in was called, not without reason, Mike the Psych. He was older than the rest of us, not 21 yet, but thanks to his looks, able to buy booze without being carded.
When Mike was 16 he had killed a kid while driving drunk. It weighed on his conscience – he might have been crazy, but he wasn’t heartless – and as he told us, “I had to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.”
The way he saw it, that meant either giving up driving or giving up drinking. He decided it was driving that would have to go. From then on, he mostly hung out and drank in his garage, and we kids were welcome to join him as long as we were willing to listen to his stories.
Mike had one other quirk: after he’d had a few – let’s say a dozen – he’d challenge us to punch him as hard as we could in the stomach so we could see how tough he was. If we hesitated, he’d say, “Look, somebody’s gonna get punched. The only question is whether it’s gonna be me or you.”
None of us was strong enough to faze him. “Is that all you got? I didn’t even feel it,” he’d sneer.
One day he came up with the idea with having someone swing from the rafters and kick him full-on in the stomach. The biggest kid among us landed a solid two-footed kick, sending Mike an inch or two back on his heels, but causing no apparent damage. “You kids are a bunch of wimps,” he groused. “I don’t know why I even hang out with you.”
As we began to get driver’s licenses, we spent less time in Mike’s garage, instead cruising around on our own looking for a store that would sell to us. Attitudes toward alcohol were a lot more relaxed in those days. If the cops caught you, regardless of whether you were on foot or behind the wheel, they’d usually just confiscate your booze and tell you to go home.
The closest I came to real trouble was when one busybody cop, after making us pour almost two cases of beer into the gutter, took our phone numbers and said he was going to call our parents. I hoped he was bluffing, but had a bad feeling he wasn’t. “It’ll go easier if you tell them first, before I call,” he advised us.
Hoping against hope that my family might be out for the evening, I went home to find them all sitting around the kitchen coloring Easter eggs. I’d been a keen Easter egg-colorer in my day, and tried to feign an interest in the colors my baby brother was picking out. Then the phone rang.
Like most families at the time, we had only one phone. It was mounted on the wall next to the kitchen table, which didn’t allow a lot of privacy unless you dragged the receiver onto the stairs that led to the attic and shut the door behind you.
“It’s for me,” I grunted, and did just that.
I was never a theater kid, not even close, but I pulled off the acting job of my life that night. “Yes, my son told me what happened, and you can be sure he’ll be very strictly punished,” I told the cop, adding that I was extremely disappointed in my son. “He’s normally not a bad kid. I think he just got in with a bad crowd.”
You’d be very foolish to think that put a damper on our love for driving around drunk and tossing empties at anything or anybody that annoyed us, but as we got older we started ranging farther afield. One of our main destinations was Toledo, just across the state line in Ohio.
Toledo was a good bit livelier then that it is today, but still not exactly Glamour City. What it did have was a different drinking age: if you were 18 you could drink 3.2% beer. And you didn’t really need to be 18, if you could borrow a friend’s draft card, 16 or 17 was more than enough.
Our first Toledo adventure – and the first time I ever drank in a bar – was also the first time we ever got a gun pulled on us, thanks to some cranky guy who claimed we were sitting in his seat. Then we discovered the Peppermint Lounge, a nightclub that catered mainly to teenagers. Recently I discovered that it regularly played host to the likes of Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Four Seasons, but I honestly never noticed what was going on up on the stage. I was there to drink.
By the time we were 17-going-on-18, we decided we were getting too old for the nightclub scene, so we’d just drive to Toledo, pick up a few cases of beer, and drink them on the way back.
The expressway was still being built, so we took the Dix-Toledo Highway, just plain Dix as it was known in the neighborhood. Near Lincoln Park High, where most of the MC5 went to school, was the corner of Champaign and Dix, which served as the punchline to an unfortunate, tasteless joke that I’ll let you figure out for yourself.
In good weather we could make it to Toledo and back in two hours, but when we decided to make a late night run in January of 1965, we started out in an ice storm and came back in a blizzard. The trip down wasn’t bad, but the snow really set in as left Ohio, and before we were halfway through Monroe County, the visibility was down to about 25 feet. What did we care, though? We had plenty of beer.
Not surprisingly, we had the highway to ourselves. At times I wondered if we were still even on the highway, as it was almost impossible to tell where the pavement left off and the fields began. So at first I was relieved when a car pulled up alongside us, even when it turned out to be full of teenagers who appeared to be just as drunk and stupid as we were.
They began gesturing and yelling at us, and we returned the unpleasantries. This went on for several miles until it was decided by mutual consent that some asses were going to have to be kicked. I swung the wheel sharply to the right, nearly landing us in a ditch. The other car did likewise, the doors flew open, and a full-fledged brawl broke out in a frozen-over cornfield.
It was ridiculous. The snow was flying so fast and thick that you could hardly tell who was on whose side. What’s more, the snow was so slippery that it was like trying to fight on ice skates. Swing at someone and your feet would go flying in the opposite direction; even if your punch landed, you were just as likely as your opponent to wind up on the ground.
Although I’d been hanging out with a gang for quite a few years, this was my first real rumble. I preferred to stick to tough talking and let other, bigger guys do the actual fighting. But I was drunk enough that all fear left me, and I remember having a moment of clarity in the midst of swinging my fists wildly in every direction.
“This is what I always wanted!” I thought. “It’s like West Side Story, only on ice!”
A word of explanation: seeing West Side Story when I was 13 was what made me want to join a gang, but I’d been disappointed to find that gang life consisted mostly of hanging around on corners looking sullen. I saw virtually none of the singing, dancing, and leaping down fire escapes that had seemed so romantic. There were still no fire escapes, and I was too out of breath to sing, but the fighting, helped along by the ice and snow, was the next best thing to a ballet.
It was hard to tell, but I think we won the fight. Nobody had any serious injuries, and it seemed like the other guys ran away first. Very pleased with ourselves, we drank up the rest of the beer on the way home, and when I stumbled up the stairs into my room at two or three in the morning, I was still buzzing with adrenaline and exhilaration.
As I started getting undressed, I discovered a long diagonal slash across the front of my favorite trench coat, a dark iridescent beauty that, if we’re being honest, was not just my favorite, but the best trench coat that ever existed. A similar slash ran through the sweater I was wearing underneath it, as well as my shirt and undershirt.
Then I got down to bare skin, and while you couldn’t really call it a slash, there shallow but distinct scratch following the same line from my upper left chest to my lower right stomach. Apparently I’d been knifed; if it hadn’t been such a cold night and I hadn’t been wearing so many clothes, it might have been quite a bit worse.
If it hadn’t been for the loss of my beloved trench coat, I would have counted the night as a total success. I couldn’t wait to tell the other guys and maybe go out looking for another rumble. I had no way of knowing that the days of the greaser gangs were already fading away, and that soon I’d have to find whole new ways of getting in trouble.
As far as I can recall, that was our last trip to Toledo. I didn’t come back again until the 21st century, when the Weakerthans were playing a club on a shabby strip not far from the scene of our teenage exploits. Some kids at the show, hearing that I had grown up in Downriver Detroit, asked if they could interview me about it for their zine.
We were sitting on some steps having a good conversation when a barrage of gunfire broke out outside a club down the street. People went running in every direction, but I said there was probably nothing to worry about. “It’s a different club, it’s at least a block and a half away, and look, here come the cops already. Why don’t we just sit here and finish the interview?”
But everybody else seemed to think it was time to move on, and they were probably right.