September 7, 2006
by HANK SIMS
If you like puzzles, you should leaf carefully through the Times-Standard's back pages. There, you'll find a treasure trove of complicated conundrums and hairy head-scratchers that can keep you sucking your pencil for half an hour or more. (Actual times may vary.) We're talking crosswords. We're talking sudoku. We're talking Jumble.
If you really, really love puzzles, though, you should skip the syndicated features and flip directly to the Times-Standard's op-ed pages. The offerings here are without peer. They're not to everyone's taste -- fans of strategy games like Risk may instead find themselves drawn, zombie-like, to the Eureka Reporter's op-eds, wherein the Humboldt County brain trust advises the White House about the advantages of an immediate nuclear strike on Iran, or about the inherent murderousness of the Islamic faith. That's all good fun, but the Times-Standard's op-eds riddle the thinking mind in a way that more than justifies the 50 cent price differential between the two papers.
Take, for example, last Saturday's edition. Start with the easiest challenges. The paper's in-house editorial congratulates the California Department of Fish and Game for extending the hunting season on the Aleutian goose, which was removed from the federal Endangered Species list only five years ago. The bird, it is noted, causes literally "thousands of dollars" of damage each year by grazing in local cattle pastures; it is hoped that by allowing hunters on private pastures to bag four of the beasts per day, the geese will instead turn their attention to land held in the public trust. The puzzle: Does the Times-Standard believe that a goose, before it is dead, can distinguish between private land and public land? Answer: Yes, it does.
Easy one. Turn now to the lead letter to the editor, sent in by former Humboldt State University President Alistair McCrone. McCrone, a geologist by training, bucks the "rhetoric" put out by the vast majority of his former colleagues by insisting that global warming has nothing to do with the fact humans are lading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. McCrone instead blames recent temperatures on the sun, which apparently has been quite hot lately, and foretells that, indeed, a new Ice Age is in the offing. This he bases on the work of an unnamed "Russian astronomer." The puzzle: What's going on here? The answer: Well, we hesitate to say. But we do note, without comment, that McCrone has for many years served as a member of the California State Automobile Association's board of directors.
Moving on. Just as the New York Times' crosswords get steadily more difficult as the week progresses, so does the Times-Standard save its most cryptic challenges for the weekend. Saturday's stumper came from none other than District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who contributed a Rorschachian inkblot that's still spinning heads at mid-week. The subject of the Gallegos essay was vigilantism, and it asserts that vigilantism is a force of anarchy. We feel safe in this much, because those are the big words right above his picture: "Vigilantism a force of anarchy." Beyond that, though -- your guess is as good as ours.
A short quotation will give a taste of the sheer deviousness of the riddle. "Our legal system," the essay begins, "involves several stages, starting with the report of a crime and its investigation, the review of that investigation and a possible accusation, the disposition or trial on the accusation, a verdict, and a judgment. Responsibility for each of these stages is allocated to different independent entities ranging from investigating agencies, to the District Attorney's Office, to the Probation Department, and to the court." Repeat: This is how Gallegos begins.
And things get stickier from there. To summarize, as best we can: Gallegos believes vigilantes are running amok in Humboldt County. The identity of those vigilantes are left to the imagination, as Gallegos cites no cases. But they are there, he says. Can you spot them? They act as if "all or most of the functions of the administration of justice are performed by one person or persons." The most dangerous ones "promote this vigilantism to further their particular viewpoints or goals to the detriment of the individual and the community."
People burned the midnight oil over the weekend, trying to figure who these lawless hombres in our midst could be. Most were unsuccessful. Even Gallegos' many admirers threw up their hands. But some folks found what appeared to be a piece of the elephant. Probably the most persuasive solver was Shannon Miranda, who published his findings in the Eureka Reporter Monday.
According to Miranda's reading, Gallegos had redefined the word "vigilante" to mean, simply, "critic of Gallegos." The anarchists making a mockery of Humboldt County justice were not masked men carrying a noose -- they were people like Miranda, who have been critical of Gallegos' performance in the Mad River dog-killing case and other recent cases. According to Miranda's theory, Gallegos' "vigilantes" are those who assume that simple citizens can adequately understand the complex decisions made by elected officials such as himself, and they're wrecking the Humboldt County criminal justice system.
Indeed, if you do a search-and-replace on the Gallegos essay and substitute "vigilantism" with "criticism of Gallegos," the piece starts to make a certain amount of sense. Did Miranda crack the Gallegos Code? We e-mailed the D.A. hoping for a first-hand exegesis, but didn't hear back by press time.
Sen. Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), wherefore art thou? The California state legislature's most recent session came to an end last week, and Chesbro -- the North Coast's most senior legislator -- came up with a big goose egg on the most important piece of local business pending before that body. What's worse, he suffered defeat not at the hands of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or the Senate Republicans, but by the leadership of his own party.
Chesbro was one of two authors of a bill that would have provided a certain amount of direct financial relief to salmon fishermen and related businesses, all of which stand to be decimated by the sickness of the Klamath fishery and the resulting draconian restrictions on this year's fishing season. The last version of the bill would have provided around $10 million in grants to help tide the fisherman through. It had Schwarzenegger's support. But Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) refused to let the bill come to the floor of his own house for a vote, and so it died.
What happened? Bob Fredenburg, a Chesbro aide, said on Friday that he still wasn't sure. "Honestly, we were deeply disappointed," he said. "We had the governor's support -- he was contacting the speaker to get this going. We had [U.S. Sen. Dianne] Feinstein's support -- she was calling the speaker. I don't know why we ran into the wall." Richard Stapler, a Nunez spokesperson, said the bill came to the Assembly too late; the speaker, he said, only heard about it some 48 hours before it was to be voted on, at a time when there were 500 other pieces of legislation pending.
Chesbro, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, will soon be undergoing a hernia operation, but a spokesperson confirmed that he was working at the Capitol on the night the salmon bill failed. The whole episode raises the question -- what good is it to have high-ranking party loyalists in Sacramento if they can't deliver a measly $10 million for some constituents who are going to be having a very rough winter this year? Chesbro's a lame duck -- he's been term-limited out of office -- but he's already announced that he'll be seeking Patty Berg's Assembly seat in 2008.
Eureka City Council candidate Larry Glass called with a complaint shortly after last week's issue hit the stands. We reported that Glass had recently moved to Old Town to run for City Council. That was true. What was inaccurate was the description of the place he moved from. We said the house, which he owns, is on Old Arcata Road. He said it's on Myrtle Avenue. He's right.
It turns out that the line that demarcates Myrtle Avenue and Old Arcata Road is not ambiguous, as we had thought previously. Myrtle becomes Old Arcata at the intersection of Indianola Road. That leaves Glass' place just barely (less than a mile) on the Myrtle side of things, giving him additional Eureka street cred and putting him squarely in the Eureka zip code (but not the city limits).
The Dandy regrets the error.
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