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December 21, 2006

 In the News

The Mossman cometh


Tuesday morning's papers brought us the list of the 10 citizens who have volunteered their services to serve as Virginia Bass' replacement on the Eureka City Council. It may just be our prejudice, but for us, at least, one name shot -- no, rocketed -- no, teleported -- itself to the top of our radar. What name, you ask? The one belonging to "young Eureka up-and-comer" ("Town Dandy," Nov. 9) Moss Bittner.

For the last couple of years, ever since he came back to town after graduating from Harvard University, Bittner has been noticeably conspicuous at just about any governmental meeting or function you could care to name. Eureka City Council meeting? He's there. Board of Supervisors meeting? Absolutely. Citizens for Port Development luncheon? The waitresses at the Samoa Cookhouse no doubt know his order by heart. No one who's ever met the guy has doubted the fact that he's doing his homework for some run or another. Now it's clear that he has looked at the council's vacant Second Ward seat, and he has decided that the time is right.

Bass, now the Mayor, has made it clear that she wants to appoint a replacement that everyone can agree on, and it seems to us that of all the people who have applied for the position and whose name we know -- maybe about half -- Bittner best fits the bill. First of all, there's the undeniable charm factor. There's a certain appeal to a 29-year-old male who can form a complete sentence, and who, moreover, actually appears to take some kind of interest in the great American democratic experiment. That in itself is a rare quality, and people will pull for Bittner simply because it will give them a (probably vain) hope that the county is not necessarily doomed to a brain-dead version of Hell when their generation dies off.

But there's more than that to the guy. In his couple of years of apprenticeship in Humboldt County politics, he has somehow successfully avoided pissing any one side off too terribly, while at the same time being undeniably active. For the last year or so, he has concentrated his efforts on port and railroad development, which is kind of a non-partisan issue -- love and loathing for the idea spread equally across party lines, though it is perhaps more of a conservative issue than not. ("Jobs!") On the other hand, he was a vocal supporter of infill development when the county was hot and heavy into its general plan vision process. That definitely gave him progressive points, and he gets more for his job as the right-hand man of legendary Eureka attorney Bill Bertain, who has long played David to the Maxxam Corp.'s Goliath.

Bittner is an undeniably nice guy, courteous to and appreciative of viewpoints different than his own. He's not registered with a political party -- an independent, and therefore a compromiser by definition. What's not to like? Are there any downsides at all? Well, there may perhaps be one.

In his eagerness to serve his city, Bittner very nearly forgot that he didn't technically live in the Second Ward, as the Eureka City Charter requires members of the City Council representing the Second Ward to do. Very nearly, but not quite. On Friday, he re-registered to vote in the Second Ward, but the address he gave turned out to be that of Bertain's law office -- his place of employment -- as well as, according to the man himself, his actual new home.

Reached Tuesday, Bittner said that he's in the process of moving his stuff into the top floor of the converted home on Sixth Street inhabited by the law offices. He's got his bed up there already, he said, but most of the rest of his things are in storage. He said that he had previously been living in Bayside, but when people across the political spectrum started asking him to throw his name in for the vacant seat, he relocated back to his old home town.

"There were people in Eureka asking me to make this my home, in more ways than one," Bittner said (wink, wink!), "so it seemed like a right fit."

When Bittner last lived in the city, it was in the Third Ward, near downtown. But he was forced to move, he said, because the cost of crime was running him about $200 per month. So it's safe to say that he considers this a priority. Others, he said, are transportation and strengthening neighborhoods. He said that he believed that there was much more room for development in Eureka, but that the city should play a strong and active role in working with developers.

As for the dreaded "c"-word (that's "carpetbagging" -- shhhh!), Bittner cited the case of newly elected City Councilmember Larry Glass, who moved to town specifically to run for the First Ward seat. Like Glass, who has run a downtown record store for 30 years, Bittner has deep roots in the city. He graduated from Eureka High in 1995. As Glass demonstrated, he said, citizens know that there's more to being a member of the community than where you happen to have lain your head in the past.

And did we mention that he went to Harvard?

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Unlike citizenship in an actual, real-life, flesh-and-blood community, membership in the blogosphere requires nothing of you, not even a name. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection, and those can be borrowed at the library. What you get when you sign up is all the benefits of everyday human interaction and none of the responsibility.

The vast majority of those who write on the many Humboldt County blogs -- the "commenters," as they are known -- do so anonymously. These anonymous comments they write can be divided about equally into two types, depending on the writer. There are those who simply chat about the issues of the day, the kind of chat you can overhear in any good coffee shop. And then there are those who use the veil of anonymity to give free rein to the murderous little impulses that inhabit their hearts.

Being anonymous means never having to say you're sorry, but the civic-minded majority of blogdom, named and anonymous writers alike, has developed methods of dealing with the people who use the medium as a force of destruction -- the "trolls," as they are known. Some bloggers simply and mercilessly delete trollish comments as a matter of course. Other times, the hoi polloi must take matters into its own hands, and fight fire with fire.

That was the case with Barb Leonard on the Buhne Tribune blog last week, and such a troll-slayer you've never seen. Leonard, who posts under her own name, is the mother of Eureka City Councilmember Jeff Leonard, who was recently confirmed in his reelection win against Ron Kuhnel by the most narrow of margins. Captain Buhne hosted a discussion on the topic; both Kuhnel and Barb Leonard participated in the conversation; both were gracious, and both had smart things to say.

Of course, it could not last. Up popped a real prince of a fellow who had this to say about their colloquy: "Barb, believe what you want ... Your son is a weasel with a height complex." The writer of those words clearly gloried in the fact that he would never be brought to account for them. Or so he thought.

Now, this is how Barb Leonard handled this crude and stupid insult. Watch and learn: "Apparently, you have a problem with size ... hmmm, what does that make you? Oh, I know, a MALE who courageously posts (anonymously) on blogs! LOL, troll away ... whatever plunks your magic twanger, frogggggieeee!"

Let's analyze this for a moment. Certainly, it's that last bit -- "whatever plunks your magic twanger, froggggieeee!" -- that seals the point. With it, Leonard deftly and irrefutably identifies the anonymous commenter with both onanism and impotence. Turnabout is fair play, and when you've abdicated your responsibility you've also abdicated your rights. In the future, when the troll in question sits down to type, he will be reminded of this zinger, and he will remember how good people everywhere laughed and laughed at his misfortune in that department.

The Town Dandy has never met Barb Leonard, to the best of his recollection. Nevertheless, I think I'm in love.



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