Monday, March 31, 2008

Bigfoot's Boring

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 6:43 PM

You remember Tom Biscardi, the guy who scrapped, most unfortunately, with Coast to Coast AM's George Noory in the fall of 2005 after claiming he had a Bigfoot in captivity in Stagecoach, Nev.? (You can read the synopsis of all that fun nonsense here .)

Well, the man's temporarily gone off Bigfoot -- such a disappointment -- to pursue the "Lizard Man" in Lee County, South Carolina. This is a creature much creepier than our furry man-beast. It's green. Has three-toed, clawed appendages. Seven feet tall. Likes grill-meat -- the tasty metal grill of a van, that is. And it kills coyotes and cows and scares off cats.

Then again, maybe Biscardi's thinking precisely of Bigfoot at this moment. That is, if there's anything to the whole aliens-and-wormholes theory, which a Las Vegas reporter wrote about in a two-part series some years back. Where there's Lizard Man, perhaps there be Bigfoot.

You can read about Bigfoot and Co. sliding down the wormhole here (part 1 is the set-up) and here (part two gets to the good stuff).

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Yreka, Why Now?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 11:22 AM


Tomorrow Siskiyou County supervisors will vote on a resolution to oppose the removal of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The county may also decide to opt out of the Klamath settlement agreement altogether. Representatives from Siskiyou County have been involved in the talks over the past two years -- although, at first they weren't invited to the table -- and have consistently voiced concern about what could happen if the dams are taken down: Property values for houses located on reservoirs created by the dams (three out of the four dams on the Klamath are in Siskiyou County) could drop in value by as much as 50 percent, according to reports by the county assessor and the Karuk Tribe cited in a recent article in the Siskiyou Daily News .

Reached on his cellphone on Friday afternoon, Siskiyou County Counsel Frank DeMarco said that Siskiyou County's concerns over dam removal have been on the table since day one. He described the county as "ground zero" in terms of feeling the effects of dam removal. Not only would property values decrease, but there would also be a "huge reduction of tax revenues," he said. "That document," he said, referring to the Restoration Agreement, which has been hailed as nothing short of historical in the national press in that it brings together diverse interests including fisherman, tribes and farmers, "is no place close to what I would have liked to have seen." DeMarco described opposition to dam removal in Siskiyou County as overwhelming. "It isn’t even like 60/40 ... it’s probably 90/10," he said.

But Humboldt County Supervisor Jill Geist, who has played an active role in the settlement talks, is non-plussed. Reached last week, she described the county's announcement as "not surprising."

"We realize that for Siskiyou County this represents a pretty significant change in their landscape and politically it would be pretty difficult for them to agree with," she said. Nonetheless, it's not catastrophic as far as the future of the agreement is concerned, according to Geist. "Does it stop things? No," she said.

In fact, it could even end up backfiring on Siskiyou County. According to Geist all of the settlement groups agreed to a condition early on that stipulates that not signing onto the final agreement means you don't get your slice of the funding pie. In short, there will be no restoration aid for Siskiyou County from the almost $1 billion funding stream created by the agreement.

Still, if the situation for the county is as dire as they say it is, they might not need the restoration agreement funds -- they'll need disaster relief instead.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mo Spankers

Posted By on Sat, Mar 29, 2008 at 1:31 PM

This week's Hum began with an interview with Christina Marrs of Austin's Asylum Street Spankers , who are just about to hit Humboldt County for a Monday, April 1 ( April Fool's Day ) gig at Humboldt Brews brought to you by the good folks at Inferknow . Our conversation went on a bit longer than what could be squeezed into the newspaper. For those who want to know more about the crazy Texas band, here's more:

The Asylum Street Spankers' van was heading west somewhere between Phoenix and Flagstaff when I rang Christina Marrs, the band's saw player (and vocalist, tenor guitarist, banjo and uke player) on her cell.

We began with talk about Asylum Street, a thoroughfare in Austin Texas. "It's the street that goes by the asylum. They call it the state hospital now, and they call Asylum St. Guadalupe or The Drag. But if you look at an old map of Austin, you see the asylum way out on the outskirts of town and one little road that goes out to it. Now of course, it's quite central.

And in the beginning, you and Wammo would busk on that street?

Well, yes, but we'd take a whole 10-piece band out and busk.

That was a long time ago...

Almost 14 years ago.

So the whole group would play in the street?

We were all acoustic, so we could take our instruments with us where we wanted. We didn't need any amplification. We could play anywhere. If the electricity went out, we could play in the middle of a storm. We didn't use any kind of amplification for 10 years. Of course we played a lot of places besides playing on the street too.

Was it always this sort of neo-jug band vaudeville thing?

Pretty much.

But your own songs...

When we started out we did a lot more covers, old country blues, jug band tunes, that kind of thing. Original songs started getting added to the repertoire, but we still do old tunes along with our own. Our records tend to be mostly original, but the live shows include older stuff and even more recent stuff that isn't ours.

As I asked my next question, the van's talking GPS system broke in offering directions to some place they'd picked out for a late breakfast. Christina shifted into co-pilot mode. After a brief discussion of what happened when the band last toured Europe and did not order the proper GPS chip on time, we resumed our interview.

What was the thing you were doing off-Broadway in New York?

It was kind of a musical review. It was like our regular show, but with lighting cues and some scripted dialogue. Some kits, humorous commentary on the life of a touring musician, the less glamorous side if the life.

And what is that?

The things people don't think about, the countless hours spent in the van. Utter boredom. It's like a tiger cage. It's like jail, the company's lousy and the food sucks. All there is to do is read and sleep.

I talked to Dave Alvin once about touring. He sees the time spent playing music as a pleasure -- the job part is what's in between: getting to the shows, schlepping gear, staying in motels.

That's definitely work. The fun part is what people get to see. They get to see us on stage, playing the music we love, enjoying ourselves. That's the fun part and that only lasts...

At this point Christina started laughing uncontrollably...

Look at those chickens running across the road. Why? Why? Why? They're running across the road, there's three of them. Oh my God.

Everyone in the van seems to be in stitches.

Now there's the joy in life on the road.

Right, right, the utter insanity of it. But yeah, that is the work part. And people don't see the drudgery, the mundane day-in-day-out bullshit you have to deal with.

People don't realize that a chicken crossing a road could be the highlight of your day.

Three of them! But why?!

That's a good question.

One that people have been trying to answer for millennia.

When I visited your website I was immediately drawn to your YouTube of the Yellow Ribbon song. (A parody update of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" that suggests you " slap a magnetic ribbon on your SUV .") Is that the current political side of the Spankers?

We actually haven't been doing that song for the last year or so. It was a very topical song, and while I know we're still involved in a war, and people still strut in their vehicles, they don't put ribbons on them so much any more. I'm sitting in traffic right now and I don't see any. You still see a random ribbon here and there, but not so much. There are still people who still want to hear that song, but I think it's had its day.

Do you regularly keep on top of the news with that sort of topical material?

You know the political stuff is not really a huge part of our repertoire. They're kind of few and far between really.

Thinking back, my introduction to your music was through a CD called Spanker Madness that mostly focused on pot and the war on drugs. Do you see that as political?

I don't know. There were a couple of tunes dealing with the illegality of marijuana. You can't really do a whole record of songs about marijuana and not touch on the fact that it's frowned upon. On the flip side, it's become this mundane part of American life. Everybody knows about marijuana. Everybody knows someone who smokes it. They joke about it in TV comedies and in every media form really. I opened up Time magazine once and they had one of their little graph charts showing what percentage of the population uses different types of drugs. Cocaine was such-and-such percent. Heroin was such-and-such percent. Under marijuana it said, 'everyone.' It was tongue-in-cheek, but you know it was Time magazine. It's become a common shared theme of modern life. People know about weed and most people are pretty accepting about it.
But as far as the Spankers being political, it only happens when the opportunity arises to he humorous about it, to have fun with it and make fun of the situation, that's really the only time we're ever going to get very political. With our crowd and our demographic, it's just preaching to the choir. And I personally don't like political music that lectures you.

What do you see as your crowd and your demographic?

Oh, I'd say the average age is probably about 35, but that spans a lot. We like to say we have both kinds of blue hair at our shows. But it's probably people who are a bit more liberal, left of center.

Well, you'll fit right in in Arcata.

I'm sure we will. We love Arcata.

Our conversation drifted through a few more topics, including talk of the next Spankers' album, a live double disc thing drawn from their off-Broadway run, but nothing else earth-shattering. So we'll end here with a reminder that you that you can spend April Fool's evening with the Spankers at Humboldt Brews. See you there...

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Martin Cotton Redux

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 4:05 PM

Between 5:15 p.m. and 7:02 p.m. on August 9, 2007, Martin Cotton’s final hours were recorded unpoetically in the Humboldt County Correctional Facilities observation log:

1715 hours ----------- Admitted – Extremely combative
1738 hours ---------- Moving – OK
1752 hours ---------- Talking / Moving OK
1755 hours ---------- Moving
1807 hours --------- Breathing / Moved
1821 hours --------- On stomach / Breathing
1834 hours --------- On stomach / Breathing
1848 hours --------- On stomach / Breathing
1902 hours --------- Breathing shallow / Medical called

Cotton was pronounced dead at approximately 7:40 p.m after being admitted to St. Joseph Hospital. There is a tape of the almost two hours Cotton spent in the jail cell, but only a few people have seen it, including the County Coroner and the District Attorney, and they don't agree with each other as to whether Cotton most probably died of a self-inflicted head injury.

In a press conference held yesterday at the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka, Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos announced that he would not be pressing charges against any of the officers involved in Cotton’s arrest and detention.

Eureka Police Chief Garr Nelson, also present, said the announcement would "resonate positively" throughout the department. "I believe that my officers acted appropriately … used the appropriate level of force in subduing [Cotton] and taking him into custody," he said, reiterating what has been his stance since the incident occurred. He added that he felt his officers were "appropriately trained" for the situation and said, "We did everything right."

However, there was one important lesson the EPD learned from the incident and that's the need for a more stringent medical evaluation process for arrestees. The EPD has since changed its policy to require that medical attention be sought for people who have engaged in a protracted physical encounter with the police, like Cotton had.

After the jump: Coroner Frank Jager errs.

The overall feel from the meeting was that, though no concrete cause of death could be determined, "the most reasonable conclusion" (Gallegos' words) to be drawn from the available evidence was that Cotton sustained the subdural hematoma that killed him while in his jail cell.

That conflicts with a report in this week’s Journal, in which Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager argues that Cotton most likely suffered his fatal head injury during one of the two altercations he had engaged in on Aug 9. Jager said it was unlikely Cotton had caused the injury himself because of the "padded nature" of his jail cell.

This was reiterated in the DA’s report, which stated that Jager told Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Detective Rich Schlesiger that he felt Cotton had not sustained his head injury while in custody at the HCCF. Jager’s conclusion was due in part to an informal consultation he had with Doctor Susan Comfort of the Shasta County Coroner’s office and Doctor Mark Super of the Forensic Medical Group in Fairfield, Calif. Jager told Detective Schlesiger that he had shown the jail video to the doctors and they agreed that it was unlikely Cotton had caused the subderal hematoma himself.

But later, when District Attorney Investigator Wayne Cox asked Jager about the informal consultation, the coroner said the doctors had not actually seen the video – rather, he had merely described it to them over the phone. Investigator Cox later met with Doctor Comfort in person at her office in Redding and showed her the portion of Detective Schlesiger’s report which implied that she thought Cotton had not injured himself fatally while in custody at HCCF. "I never gave an opinion on where he sustained the injury," she told Investigator Cox, according to the DA’s report.

Gallegos, who has watched the video of Cotton acting "very disturbed" in the cell and hitting his head, doesn’t have as much faith in the cell’s padding as Jager does. "There is padding on the cell," Gallegos said," but not such that if you were slamming your head it would prevent the injuries that Cotton had." Gallegos compared the padding to a car seatbelt, which doesn’t ensure that someone will survive an accident.

Still, the DA’s report didn’t find enough evidence to prove any one theory about what caused Cotton’s head injury "beyond a reasonable doubt."

This week’s Journal article, "Who Killed Martin Cotton?," relied heavily on the words and opinions of Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager. I stated in the article that Cotton was placed in a fully padded cell. That was based on information Jager gave me Monday. Yesterday, I took a tour of the cell for myself and discovered that it was not, in fact, fully padded. Rather, the floor and a partition that blocks the toilet from the view of passing guards is covered with, what I was told by a corrections officer, is 1/4-inch-thick rubber. I touched the padding myself. It’s similar to the squishy rubber material used for playgrounds to lighten a child’s fall – it is by no means plush.

The cell Cotton was placed in is known as a "sobering cell." Unlike a "safety cell," which has rubber-coated walls, floors and a recessed toilet, the sobering cell has light blue cinderblock walls and a metal toilet. When I asked the corrections officer why the walls weren’t padded in the sobering cell, he explained that only the floor is padded to prevent inmates from hitting their heads if, in their inebriated state, they happen to slip and fall. Why wasn’t a visibly agitated Cotton, too combative even to be medically screened, placed in a fully padded safety cell? That’s a question for Sheriff Gary Philp, who is unlikely to speak on the subject now since earlier last week Cotton’s family filed a wrongful death and civil rights violation claim against city and county agencies.

When reached today at his office, Coroner Jager admitted that when we last spoke he was under the misimpression that the cell Cotton had been placed in was fully padded. He had assumed this from information provided to him by the Sheriff’s Office, and from the video he'd seen. He admitted, though, that he had never visited HCCF cell #N144.

At the press conference on Thursday, Gallegos described his recollection of the Cotton video but he could not say for sure whether Cotton had hit his head on any non-padded portion of the approximately seven foot square jail cell. There is certainly one way to dispel any doubt about the matter and that is to release the tape -- at least to Cotton’s family, if not to the public, for closer inspection.

Until that’s done, it seems hard not to agree with Cotton’s aunt, Lynda Rumburg, who was quoted in today’s Times-Standard: "Why wouldn't they want to release the tape?" she asked. "To me, that tells me they have something to hide."

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Global warming? Whatever.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 1:58 PM

OK, first of all, the results of a new public opinion poll on global warming attitudes, reported on here, would seem to imply that nobody's phone in worried-central Humboldt County rang during the pollsters' phone survey.

The survey found that the more people learn about global warming, the more apt they are to slip into a so-what stupor. Throw up the hands. Not my department. Let's go eat and then take in a movie.

Second of all, some might find it a leetle hard to credit such a survey when it emanates from Texas -- from two researchers from Texas A&M University, specifically, one of whom, more specifically, is Chair in Government and Public Policy at Texas A&M’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service.

Could it be...? Nah....

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Remembering Three Mile Island and the New Nuclear Renaissance

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 11:23 AM


Apropos of last week's cover story in the Journal , "The Not-So-Peaceful Atom," today's Morning Edition on NPR features two stories on the nuclear industry: One is about Three Mile Island's efforts to extend their license, which looks like it's going to happen, and the other is about the nuclear renaissance underway in the United States. Listen to the stories here and here .

Image: Barry Thumma, AP

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The NCJ Wrap

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 7:45 PM

Here's a preview of all the scintillating stories and fascinating factoids you'll find in this week's paper:

On the cover, Heidi Walters comes out of the woods with the California Department of Fish and Game and hits the asphalt running. Walters examines the new role the DFG is playing in urban planning. It's the perfect time -- it turns out -- for the paradigm shift since so many general plans are in the process of being updated at the moment. By getting involved now, the DFG hopes to ensure that fish and wildlife aren't just protected in our forests, but in our cities as well.

In the Town Dandy, the NCJ's Great Helmsman shares the paper's rationale for how it voted in the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy case. After seriously mulling over the advice of readers, the Journal finally went with its gut and "pulled the lever" for the Mendocino Redwood Company.

Japhet Weeks digs deeper into the Martin Cotton case, trying to narrow down the possibilities of how and when the 26-year-old, who died in police custody last August in Eureka, sustained the blunt force trauma that killed him.

Seth Naman kayaks Willow Creek and his friend loses -- sorry, loans -- his boat to one of the river's "scariest most gut-wrenching sieves." A sieve, in this case, is not what you think it is, it's "a hole in a rock, or a hole in between rocks, where water rushes through. ... the mortal enemies of river runners ..."

In Table Talk, Bob Doran gives a baguette a bath and calls it lunch. Actually, he calls it pan bagna, and these savory little sandwiches from the south of France sound pretty tasty.

Then in the Hum Doran finds out how the Asylum Street Spankers -- arriving in town soon -- came up with their crazy name. Also Willie Nelson is coming to the county. And the finger-popping, Lindy Hopping Jazz Fest will be in full swing -- pun intended -- this weekend.

In Review this week takes a look at two CDs and a DVD, all recommended. The film The Real Dirt on Farmer John is a "dramatic story about a dark chapter in the history of middle America, told by an uninhibited artist who happened to be at ground zero with his camera, his wits and his creative spark," writes "Chef Boy" Ari LeVaux. Sea Lion, a new CD release from The Ruby Suns, is worth a listen, according to Mark Shikuma: "Sea Lion is an excellent, imaginative sophomore recording, fronted by a talented singer-songwriter-producer, who shows one can knit together a wide patchwork of influences, both organic and industrial, into a contemporary pop format, resulting in an otherworldly (and warm) musical quilt," he writes. And Vs. (Definitive Edition) by Mission of Burma is "one of the most powerful and unique rock albums of its era, and a turning point for the American underground," according to Spencer Doran.

If you don't want to bring your entertainment home to you, Jay Herzog recommends going to the theater. Israeli film The Band's Visit is "well worth seeing" in his opinion. In Bruges is also worth the ticket price, though "Ultimately the movie suffers a bit from the fact that it's a hit-man comedy — a very good one, but an example of a sub-genre that's pretty played out at this point (10 years ago, pre-Pulp Fiction, it would have seemed much bolder)." And if your heart is set on a period piece, you might like The Other Boleyn Girl, although Herzog gives it a lukewarm endorsement: The film "wasn't quite the overheated soap opera I feared it would be, though it was a bit of a slog," he writes.

Or you could avoid cinemas all together and drive up to Crescent City for the 10th Annual Aleutian Goose Festival. Or go out in search of a spaghetti-sprouting Polychaete worm named Cirriformis, just 10 cm long, lurking in the smelly sulfidic mud of the bay.

And last, but not least, check out this weeks poem, a rumination on spring, penned by poetess Stephanie Silvia.

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Tsunami Test: Your Questions Answered

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 10:44 AM


This is only a test. ...

Yesterday's California Report features an interview with James Goltz, head of the earthquake and tsunami program for the governer's Office of Emergency Services. He discusses yesterday's Tsunami warning test, the first of its kind in the state. Goltz says that "Humboldt county is probably one the most tsunami prepared counties in California." That's nice to know.

The report begins about halfway into the program here .

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CNN: Thompson Iraq Visit Bought By Iraqi Spy

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 5:25 PM

Remember Rep. Mike Thompson's visit to Iraq back in 2002, just before the outbreak of hostilities? Remember how it solidified Thompson's opposition to the war?

Um, about that ...

Muthanna al-Hanooti, a former official with an Islamic charity in Detroit, Michigan, was taken into custody Tuesday night. Hussein's spy agency secretly paid al-Hanooti 2 million barrels of oil, during the time the U.N. Oil for Food program was in place, for services rendered, the indictment states.

Those services included providing the Iraqi government with the names of U.S. members of Congress believed to favor the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, arranging for delegations of those members to visit Iraq and traveling with those delegations.


In September 2002, al-Hanooti traveled to Iraq with three members of Congress whom he believed to be sympathetic to lifting the economic sanctions against Iraq.

The U.S. led an invasion into Iraq, starting the war, in March 2003.

The indictment did not name the lawmakers, but Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California made a trip to Iraq at that time.

Rep. Thompson now sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and is chair of the subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Human Analysis and Counterintelligence. So if you want to find a positive angle, you could say that being the target of an enemy power's intelligence operation might just deepen your understanding of, and commitment to, the cause of counterintelligence.

UPDATE: More links after the jump.


The members of Congress were innocent and unwitting victims of the scheme, according to officials familiar with the case.

"None of the Congressional representatives are accused of any wrongdoing, and we have no information whatsoever that any of them were aware of the involvement of the Iraqi Intelligence Service," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.

Washington Post: 

According to the travel database maintained by CQ Moneyline, McDermott took a trip to Baghdad and Basra as well as Amman, Jordan, from Sept.25-Oct. 1, 2002. The trip -- which cost $5,040 -- was funded by a group called LIFE for Relief & Development. The Moneyline database does not contain any filings by Thompson or Bonior for the trip, though their visit was documented in the press at the time.

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Sovereign Immunity: More Blue Lake Rancheria Blues

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 1:24 PM

Yes, the Blue Lake Rancheria is using its sovereign immunity to defend itself again, this time from an angry California resident who sued the construction company that had done shoddy work when building her home, only to realize that the homebuilder had been sold to the tribe. And once again the Rancheria doesn't seem to be doing anything illegal -- it's just that they get to play by different rules, leaving a wake of disenchanted Californians behind them.

But this time the case might make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, pitting the tribe against the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The Sac Bee reports:

When Rita Carls of El Dorado Hills sued her homebuilder for shoddy construction, she never imagined she'd be in a head-to-head battle with an Indian tribe over sovereign immunity.

Even more bewildering to Carls, now 69, and her family: Her home was built on nontribal land, purchased from a nontribal business, and the tribe she's fighting in court is located hundreds of miles away in Humboldt County.

Concerned that what happened to Carls could happen to any Californian, the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which specializes in property rights litigation, is trying to take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys with the foundation say Carls is a victim of tribal sovereign immunity gone awry and the case could provide the court with an opportunity to clarify the doctrine's scope.

"The implications are huge," said PLF attorney Meriem Hubbar.

But a spokeswoman for the 53-member Blue Lake Rancheria says that everything the tribe did was legal, a stance she says is backed up by every court that the suit has reached.

"Challenges to sovereign immunity go on all the time," said Jana Ganion, Blue Lake's spokeswoman.

Yes they do. Go talk to the residents of the Aiy-yu-kwee Mobile Home Park. They've been trying to negotiate with the Rancheria since they found out last December that they'd been evicted. Regular Californians would be protected under Mobile Home Residency Law, but thanks to sovereign immunity, they've been left out in the cold.

The Pacific Legal Foundation has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court (a prior California appellate court ruled in favor of the tribe and the California Supreme Court has denied a petition for review).

The question the PLF hopes to pose at the U.S. Supreme Court level is: "When a tribe voluntarily acquires a non-tribal business, with existing contract obligations, does sovereign immunity allow the tribe to repudiate those obligations?"

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