Unfortunate

“Unfortunately, these things happen.”

–Northern Illinois University’s police chief on yesterday’s campus shooting, which left six dead and 15 wounded.

“This is just one of those things that unfortunately happens.”

–An Army sergeant’s suicide note to his son, written before killing the boy’s mother and himself.

Free Speech Festival

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(Click for larger version. More photos here.)

Walked through Martin Luther King Jr./Civic Center/Provo Park on the way back home from class, hoping to take in the confrontation between the pro-troop, pro-Iraq (and maybe pro-free speech) contingents and our dependable local antiwaristas. From afar, the only sign that democracy was in ferment was a Cessna circling slowly over downtown towing a banner reading “Semper Fidelis.” The confrontation turned out to appear pretty good natured. I saw a trio carrying what they probably hoped would be provocative signs (sample: “Pink is the new color of treason,” referring to the local Code Pink antiwar group). They looked glum and seemed to be leaving. Apart from that, plenty of the “we love the troops” people seemed to be talking earnestly and calmly to the “we love the troops just as much” people. I came away thinking that, except for the fact the gathering was occasioned by a dumb City Council vote, this was a pretty neat display of dialogue.

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Sowing, Reaping

Today, Berkeley lives up to one of its nicknames–The Open Ward.*

The City Council will meet to take back its laughably ill-considered invitation for the U.S. Marines to take their recruiting office and scram. The city’s officially designated antiwar protest group, Code Pink, will be doing a daylong group hand-wring downtown. They’ll be joined by a contingent of angry We Love the Troops protesters [who have already showed up and in fact are screaming that they have been attacked by the Code Pinkers!]. We may even be honored by a visit from the Rev. Fred Phelps antigay hate squad from Topeka, Kansas.

Listening to council members and reading what they have to say, it’s depressing and hilarious to hear their puzzlement about the intensity of the storm they stirred up. Depressing, I guess, because of the collective lack of understanding that there’s a free speech issue involved here; hilarious because of the naivete that blinded them to the likelihood that calling the Marines “unwelcome intruders” would trigger outrage not just from pro-war, pro-military quarters but from First Amendment-loving anti-war liberals as well.

What they say about sowing and reaping–it’s true.

*OK — The Open Ward used to apply specifically to Telegraph Avenue. Today, I think it’s fair to apply the name more widely.

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Vignette

Early afternoon, and The Dog wants a walk. We take a meandering route through North Berkeley, winding up in the straggle of streets named after California counties. Back around the turn of the last century, some locals put in a bid to have the state capital relocated here, and the county streets are a legacy of that. Approaching Yolo Avenue — Yolo is the county at the southwestern edge of the Sacramento Valley — I spot a car I’ve seen before. Or rather, a license plate: “Pearl Harbor Survivor.” It’s official California issue and has a four-digit number. I always wonder what the owner’s story is, and that crosses my mind again.

Just then, The Dog signals — there’s a certain gait and body language involved — that he’s about to take a dump. The spot he chooses is at the foot of a raised deck attached to the house where the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s car is parked. The sliding glass door out to the deck is open. It’s too late for me to get The Dog to move on. I think, what if the Pearl Harbor Survivor emerges to find a dog squatting in his yard? It seems like an indignity a Pearl Harbor Survivor should not have to witness.

While I’m contemplating that, I hear the voice of an older man coming from inside the house. Singing. The tune and lyrics are familiar: “Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp/Brave courageous and bold…,” though I can’t be sure he’s not substituting some other name for “Wyatt Earp.” I haven’t heard that song in a long time; not since I was kid watching the Hugh O’Brien western series in reruns.

The Dog finishes what he’s doing. I scoop up the leavings, as required by city ordinance, with a plastic bag I’m wearing over my hand. The Dog and I move on, and the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s peace is undisturbed.

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Seventy

The principal memory from last weekend: the constant cold rain from late morning to midnight Saturday. It marked the end of about four weeks of storms coming in off the Pacific. Depending on the weather reporting station you checked, we got anywhere between ten and a half and thirteen inches of rain during that span. A foot of rain in a month is a lot any way you figure it. It started clearing up Sunday, though, and Monday and Tuesday were sunny and about 60 degrees. Except for a foggy start to Wednesday, that’s the way the whole week was.

But yesterday, yesterday was something. We woke up late and took The Dog out for a walk around 9:30 in the morning. The chill was already off the air. We spent much of the afternoon attacking the big tracts of weeds in the back yard; at our place, anyway, the temperature pushed 70. It stayed warm even after the sun went down. Mosquitoes appeared for scored the first bites of the season.

Today, much like yesterday. Looking at the forecast, we’ve got a week of dry weather coming; maybe that portends a break for people back east, though I know there are storms slipping down toward the center of the country from the Pacific Northwest. I don’t count on the dry weather lasting, and in the rhythm of our climate one starts hoping that the storms will be back to build up our summer water supply (stored in the Sierra snows). The break is nice, though.

On into tonight, which will be a late one for the fogies. We’re going off to a show at The Fillmore–the first time I’ve ever gone there. It’s a Christmas present from one of the kids, and a nice end to the weekend.

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He Didn’t Inhale Enough

I noticed yesterday that one of the New York Times blogs, The Caucus, had an item on how a gaggle of right-wingers is promising to do a “documentary” that will expose the dark side of Barack Obama. ‘Bout time! Here’s a guy who for years has been leaving a trail of unpleasant secrets. He has even written books full of assertions that people can fact check to find out what a self-aggrandizer he is.

The Times itself begins the process of exposing the mendacity with a 1,751-word story this morning–“Old Friends Say Drugs Played Bit Part in Obama’s Young Life“– that investigates his claims that he used drugs as a youth. That’s right: Obama says he used drugs and has suggested both in writing and on the campaign trail that his occasional pot smoking, drinking and cocaine sniffing was troubling and unwise.

But the Times is blowing the lid off those claims. The story says that “more than three dozen interviews” with “friends, classmates and mentors” from his high school and college years find that Obama is remembered as “grounded, motivated, and poised, someone who did not appear to be grappling with any drug problems and seemed to dabble only with marijuana.”

What could account for the discrepancy the Times seems intent on manufacturing? Ready? Here it is:

“[It] [could suggest he was so private about his usage that few people were aware of it, that the memories of those who knew him decades ago are fuzzy or rosier out of a desire to protect him, or that he added some writerly touches in his memoir to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic.

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He Didn’t Inhale Enough

I noticed yesterday that one of the New York Times blogs, The Caucus, had an item on how a gaggle of right-wingers is promising to do a “documentary” that will expose the dark side of Barack Obama. ‘Bout time! Here’s a guy who for years has been leaving a trail of unpleasant secrets. He has even written books full of assertions that people can fact check to find out what a self-aggrandizer he is.

The Times itself begins the process of exposing the mendacity with a 1,751-word story this morning–“Old Friends Say Drugs Played Bit Part in Obama’s Young Life“– that investigates his claims that he used drugs as a youth. That’s right: Obama says he used drugs and has suggested both in writing and on the campaign trail that his occasional pot smoking, drinking and cocaine sniffing was troubling and unwise.

But the Times is blowing the lid off those claims. The story says that “more than three dozen interviews” with “friends, classmates and mentors” from his high school and college years find that Obama is remembered as “grounded, motivated, and poised, someone who did not appear to be grappling with any drug problems and seemed to dabble only with marijuana.”

What could account for the discrepancy the Times seems intent on manufacturing? Ready? Here it is:

“[It] [could suggest he was so private about his usage that few people were aware of it, that the memories of those who knew him decades ago are fuzzy or rosier out of a desire to protect him, or that he added some writerly touches in his memoir to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic.

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Super Tuesday Footnote

The morning of election day, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a piece by columnist C.W. Nevius recounting a story from Barack Obama’s 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate. The piece was titled “Obama snub still rankles Newsom,” it says that Obama refused to have his pictured taken with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom because of the controversy swirling around Newsom’s decision to allow gay marriages in the city. Nevius quotes no less an authority than Willie Brown, the former mayor and maybe the state’s last true political kingmaker, as saying Obama told him directly that “would really not like to have his picture taken with Gavin.” Brown doesn’t give a date, but says the incident took place before an Obama fund-raiser he arranged at the Waterfront restaurant. Nevius doesn’t provide offer a date, either, beyond saying the snub happened four years ago. He gives no indication whether the incident has been reported before.

This may be a footnote in most parts of the country, but in San Francisco and perhaps in Southern California, too, the story could be damaging. The gay community in the state is very politically active and at least since the first Clinton candidacy has been a major source of support for Democrats. There are aspects to the story that make you wonder, if you’ve been in the Bay Area for awhile, whether there’s anything to it. It’s not impossible imagine Brown blowing smoke to help a candidate he favors, but I don’t see that he’s on record as supporting either Obama or Clinton. And among the story’s odd qualities is that it took four years to surface and that none of the principals speak to it. A senior Obama campaign activist who happens to be gay is quoted as saying there’s nothing to it, but the story treats the episode as fact. I heard this story discussed among some news types the day after it ran and heard anecdotally that some gay voters switched from Obama to Clinton after reading Nevius’s piece. Who would blame them? Here’s a guy who enjoys solid support from and friendly relations with gay voters in his own state who is portrayed as acting as some kind of weasel when he’s out of town.

So: where did the story come from, is it true, and can you tell anything meaningful without talking to the people involved?

Well, it would be great to have Newsom and Obama on the record, naming names. But that’s beyond my poor powers this time of night (or maybe any time). Without the principals, I think the key evidence about what happened is missing. But it’s possible to track the story back to 2004.

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Semper Berkeley

It’s national news: The Berkeley City Council voted last week to invite the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office to leave our town. The council put the Corps on notice that if it failed to move on, it should know that its status here is one of an “uninvited and unwelcome intruder.” And last, our elected representatives expressed support for “antiwar groups residents and organizations such as Code Pink that may volunteer to impede, passively or actively, by nonviolent means, the work of any military recruiting office located in the city of Berkeley.”

Of course, things haven’t stopped there. The right-wingers are exercised, and a group of them, a clutch of Southern senators, has taken the probably predictable step of introducing a bill (the Semper Fi Act) to strip Berkeley of $2 million or so of federal earmarks approved in the last session of Congress. In its press release, the group points out that it’s trying to kill $975,000 for a project at the University of California, Berkeley, despite the fact the university had nothing to do with the City Council action besides happening to exist inside the same town limits.

The release also delights in announcing it would withdraw $243,000 set aside for “gourmet organic school lunches.” Oh, that stings, but the senators don’t know the difference between “nutritious” and “gourmet,” or believe that it means the same thng. What they’re actually referring to is a very successful and long-running project that turned an acre of weed-choked asphalt at a local middle school into a thriving organic garden. The kids at the school raise food; they learn how to prepare it, too. My guess is that the money might have been going to a project the school district has had a hard time funding: a new kitchen and cafeteria associated with the garden project. In any case, the Berkeley school district didn’t have a say in the City Council’s action, either.

And now: how about that City Council. The vote they took was intended to make a statement against the Iraq war. Why a statement was needed five years into the war and more than a year after the Marines arrived I don’t yet understand. But there it is.

I haven’t been writing about the war much lately, but I think about it every day, and the wastefulness of it on every level never fails to anger me. Beyond that, I’m more and more distressed to live in a country that has turned the military and the idea of military service into a superpatriotic cult. There’s a reason the nation was created without a large standing army and made do without one, except in the most dire emergencies, for the first 150 years after the Constitution was adopted. Beyond the mere fact of our huge armed establishment, the blind civic celebration of the military above and beyond every other institution in society is a danger to the democracy its supposed to protect.

I probably agree with most members of the City Council on the war. I have no problem with people protesting Iraq, or with people protesting the protesters, either. But I think the Marines are more than an agent of the war; in a very real way, they represent a viewpoint and are part of the debate in our society over both the war and the role of the military in society. They’re also a means by which members of the society might express their opinion of these issues; there are many thoughtful people in the ranks who are talking insightfully about the experience of war and the role of American military power in the world. Because I see the Marines, both the institution and the members, that way–as a participant in the marketplace of ideas–I think it’s misguided to try to shut them down here; to try to shut them down as a matter of public policy is simply wrong.

To do that, to shut up your opponent to score a point in an argument, betrays the ideal of free speech, one that need not and ought not rely on force or censorship. To give in to the temptation to muzzle an opinion invites intolerance from your opponent. And round and round we go.

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About Last Night

One lesson learned from Super Tuesday — one covered exclusively here, not at your CNN or your fancy East Coast paper or smart, edgy blog — is that I suck as a prognosticator. Not that I was trying to do much of that, but I was carried away oh so momentarily by a belief that an exit poll or two could lead me to some sort of interesting insight. I found it’s not true, though if you ever find yourself waiting for election returns, there are worse ways of spending your time than reading an exit poll.

Another more generally expressed lesson is that the people have spoken. I’ll just add my voice to say that Idaho, North Dakota, Kansas et cetera aside, for a Democrat to win a national election you need to win those big states where Hillary Clinton was finishing first, mostly. Just saying.

And finally: Last night I was volleying emails with my friend Pete as we watched election returns online. Perusing the count in my own county, Alameda, I checked on a whim what was happening in the Libertarian primary. With about a third of the votes counted, “Write-In” was leading a field of about a dozen identified candidates, with 67 votes. I conveyed the news to Pete, who wrote back:

“Or as Wolf Blitzer would put it: In the Libertarian contest, a highly contested contest, that contest in Alameda County, ‘Write In’ — ‘Write In’ — is leading a field of a dozen candidates. That race in Alameda County among Libertarians. 67 votes for the Libertarian candidate leading there, ‘Write In,’ besting a field of a dozen candidates right now, with a third of the precints reporting, that result right now in Alameda County among Libertarians. We’ll be watching that contest very closely throughout the night, this historic night, the biggest primary election day, now well into the night, in American history.”

I checked this morning. Write-In prevailed.

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