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An excellent article by James Meigs, Editor-In-Chief, Popular Mechanics. It’s one of those articles that you read and find yourself nodding with every word, that is if you’ve got any skeptical inclinations whatsoever and you have a call-in radio show in Sohum. I haven’t been vilified quite to the extent of Popular Mechanics (and I wonder just how many of those same people who have poured through volumes including Crossing the Rubicon or anything David Griffin has written have bothered to pick up the Popular Mechanics book – the lone book which is intended to debunk rather than reinforce the theories. Since my interview with Chip Berlet I’ve received more than a few odd letters, e-mails, and telephone calls and I’ve been accused of everything from denial to Illuminati membership.


On February 7, 2005, I became a member of the Bush/Halliburton/Zionist/CIA/New World Order/ Illuminati conspiracy for global domination. It was on that day the March 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics, with its cover story debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, hit newsstands. Within hours, the online community of 9/11 conspiracy buffs—which calls itself the “9/11 Truth Movement”—was aflame with wild fantasies about me and my staff, the magazine I edit, and the article we had published.The Web site, an organization that claims that questioning the “official” story of 9/11 is “an act of responsible citizenship,” fired one of the first salvos: “Popular Mechanics Attacks Its 9/11 LIES Straw Man,” read the headline of a piece by a leading conspiracy theorist named Jim Hoffman.

We had begun our plunge down the rabbit hole. Within hours, a post on, which claims to be dedicated to “radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth,” called me “James Meigs the Coward and Traitor.” Not long afterward, another prominent conspiracy theorist produced an analysis that concluded that Popular Mechanics is a CIA front organization. Invective and threats soon clogged the comments section of our Web site and poured in by e-mail:

I was amused at your attempts to prove the conspirator theorists wrong by your interviewing people who work for the government. Face it: The U.S. government planned this attack to further its own agenda in the Middle East.Rest assured, puppet boys . . . when the hammer comes down about the biggest crime ever perpetrated in the history of man—AND IT WILL—it will be VERY easy to identify the co-conspirators by their flimsy, awkwardly ignorant of reality magazine articles. Keep that in mind the next time you align yourself with evil scum.


I shouldn’t have been surprised. In researching the article we’d spent enough time studying the conspiracy movement to get a feel for its style: the tone of outraged patriotism, the apocalyptic rhetoric, the casual use of invective. A common refrain in conspiracy circles is the claim that “We’re just asking questions.” One would think that at least some quarters of the conspiracy movement might welcome a mainstream publication’s serious, nonideological attempt to answer those questions. One would be wrong.

Then Godwin’s Law kicked in:

It was only a matter of time before the Nazis got dragged in. Christopher Bollyn, a prominent conspiracy theorist affiliated with the far-right American Free Press, weighed in a few weeks later with a piece titled “The Hidden Hand of the CIA, 911 And Popular Mechanics.” The article begins with a brief history of Hitler’s consolidation of power following the Reichstag fire in 1933. “Like Nazi Germany of 1933,” Bollyn wrote, “American newsstands today carry a mainstream magazine dedicated to pushing the government’s truth of 9/11 while viciously smearing independent researchers as extremists who peddle fantasies and make poisonous claims.”In a few short weeks, Popular Mechanics had gone from being a 100-year-old journal about science, engineering, car maintenance, and home improvement to being a pivotal player in a global conspiracy on a par with Nazi Germany.

The article goes on to describe the cycle of argument employed by the conspiracy buffs in very familiar detail. But I think the article and the point was summed best by an e-mail contributor who said:

Some people are open to any possibility, and honestly examine all evidence in a rational manner to come to a conclusion, followed by a moral evaluation. Others start with a desire for a specific moral evaluation, and then work backwards assembling any fact that supports them, and dismissing any fact that does not.

Now, this tendency is not exclusive to conspiracy theorists. We’ve certainly seen plenty of that around here, in discussions about everything from Paul Gallegos to rating local hamburgers. But it resonates particularly when it comes to conspiracy theorists, and we seem to be more saturated with them locally than in most other places – even considering that the call-ins and bloggers aren’t representative of the population as a whole. Conspiracies are easy, especially when you’re “just asking questions.” And the intellectual intransigence doesn’t bother me nearly so much as the virulent anger coming from the mouths of conspiracy theory adherents when you don’t come around to “the obvious.” Sometimes my radio show sounds like the Scopes Monkey Trial.

By the way, Skeptic Magazine, published by Michael Shermer, a former fundamentalist Christian, makes yet another attempt at rational discussion of the topic. But I think you have to buy the hard copy.


In a blistering letter response Karen Harris, the “ministerial consultant,” informs:

A recent letter published in your paper questioned whether the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is a religious organization. We would like to clarify any misunderstanding that this may have created. We Unitarians have been active in our religion for many years. The second U.S. president, John Adams, was a Unitarian.

And furthermore:

We are a religious organization made up of individuals with different basic beliefs, but all of whom agree to certain principles.

We covenant together to explore and embrace openly the fundamental mysteries of existence, to nurture a sense of family and to enhance the quality of life for ourselves, our children and the larger community.

We respect the contributions of each person in our activities and our discussions, seeking truth in the interactions of differing views. We recognize and honor the diversity among us.

And here’s the kicker!

We hope this helps clear any misunderstandings and wish everyone a happy holiday season.

See that? No “merry Christmas.” She’s shoving your nose into it with “happy holiday season,” an offense to the Christian faith. Let’s take away their tax exempt status!

For the record, those “certain principles” are as follows (this is sort of like the Unitarian Ten Commandments):

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Nothing about the death of the ego though. And nothing about the immortal soul.

That chalice comes from here.

I made my calls yesterday. Everybody is still very tight-lipped about ongoing talks. What little I’ve gathered is just rumor, but they suggest that the talks aren’t going very well. I’m not going to repeat mere rumors here.

I’m also wondering what ever happened to the audit. The newspaper accounts of November suggested that the report was going to be finished by early December. We’re a bit overdue it seems. Are they keeping it under wraps for negotiation purposes?

Meanwhile, next week is the deadline for your Board of Directors vote. Get your ballot in the mail today!

Meanwhile it’s 218 days until Reggae on the River. The fans are hoping.

Somehow (with my help) a discussion about the power of the Eureka mayor over at Fred’s blog veered into a Second Amendment debate. I previously posted some thoughts on the subject and promised a follow-up. I guess this is as good a time as any.

Let me first say that from a purely philosophical view, I have nothing against gun control. But for the concern for the integrity of the Bill of Rights, I’d have no problem if the government rounded up every gun and tossed them into a bonfire. I don’t see guns as a deterrent to crime nor tyranny. As gun control advocates point out, crime is no lower where gun ownership is plenty, and the rates of crime are lower in states and countries with tight to absolute bans – the exceptions touted by the NRA being the exceptions that underscore the rule. And if a revolution becomes necessary, the revolution will get the guns. It won’t be fought with handguns anyway – probably more likely with bombs set off by wireless technology.

But I do oppose certain forms of gun control in this country because they violate the Second Amendment, and the precedents that compromise that “embarrassing amendment” threaten to compromise the rest of the Bill of Rights as well.

I do agree with the gun control advocates’ structural argument. The Second Amendment contains a qualifying preface clause. And as has been discussed in other contexts in this blog including the most recent post, every word in a law is presumed to have meaning and effect. Therefore:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

cannot be interpreted as merely

The right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Obviously, as the Supreme Court has ruled, the weapon in question must have some reasonable connection to the purpose of a militia (courts have thus denied the protection to the ownership of sawed-off shot guns and switch blades). But we don’t know more than that. Unfortunately, the drafters left no clue as to what a “well regulated militia” is, or how the clarification should define or limit the right to bear arms.

The Constitution has often been analogised to a contract. For instance, in 1994 when the Republicans promoted their “contract with America,” some Democrats responded that they already had a contract with America. It has all the elements (except arguably consent of every citizen, though natural law advocates have often spoke of the “social contract” you sign upon birth). It is a basic principle of contract law that ambiguities shall be strictly construed against the drafter of the contract. Therefore, the ambiguity of the Second Amendment should be strictly construed against state power (as should the ambiguities in other Constitutional provisions – it’s really not that well-written a document when you get down to it).

This means that any infringement upon the right to keep and bear arms should involve a compelling state interest of the nature that would justify an infringement of First or Fourth Amendment rights. Certainly the interest of keeping automatic weapons, howitzers, and H-bombs out of private hands qualifies. Handguns probably not. Semi-automatics are more problematic. Outright bans of guns, such as the ordinance in San Francisco, are clearly unconstitutional. In my view anyway.

A note about my previous exercise – the article, written by a very liberal law professor, draws similar conclusions with somewhat different reasoning. It applies a more liberal approach to Constitutional interpretation to draw a “conservative” conclusion. I posted the portion of his article that describes his methodology, which is generally not accepted by straight “strict constructionists” and “original intent” advocates (the two are often combined, but they’re really not the same thing as liberals would argue that the “living document” approach is “original intent.”). The article The Embarrassing Second Amendment was spread all across the Internet by the NRA and their allies, but they certainly don’t agree with the methodology; not the conservative wing of the gun rights movement anyway. There’s a little bit of hypocrisy involved and when the first section is separated and presented to conservatives they often confirm the same.

Them’s my thoughts on the subject, for what they’re worth.

Photo source.

Addendum: Sorry. CSGV stands for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. And by the way, I don’t see any Constitutional argument against mandated child safety locks.

City Attorney Sheryl Schaffner’s previous conclusion that the mayor is a “council member” under the Eureka city charter isn’t sitting well with Michael Zinn (Matthew Zinn according to the ER), an attorney who was consulted by the San Francisco based law office of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP. He was consulted by what the Times-Standard refered to as a “local citizens group” (the ER names the organization as “Eureka Civic Association”). He submitted a letter to the city, and the TS quotes portions as follows:

Zinn adds that another section of the charter outlines that council approvals require a three-person vote, so the emphasis of the word “majority” in the council appointment portion was intended to have “independent significance.” ”The framers of the charter could instead have simply required ‘the approval of the council,’ but they did not do so,” the letter states. “By contrast, they did use such language where the appointment of members of city boards, commissions, or committees were concerned: they are to be ‘appointed by the mayor with approval of the council.’”

I haven’t read the charter myself, but this reasoning makes sense. In practice, every word of a law is presumed to have meaning, and if wording differs from other wording in law it is presumed to have a different meaning. If the drafters did not intend for the process to be different with the council selection process, it was clearly an error in drafting. This does happen, particularly if the second provision was drafted at a later date for a revision or addition to the charter. But in a lawsuit, the city would have the burden of proof, and thus would have to provide an explanation considerably less cryptic than Schaffner’s.

Schaffner sees things differently, saying that if the framers’ intent was to constrain the tie-breaking authority, the charter would say so.

”If they wanted to limit it, they could have said so,” she said. “They didn’t.”

Schaffner said the research she has done turned up several cases that undermine the legal argument outlined in Zinn’s letter.

But apparently the charter does say so. It says that an appointment has to be approved by a majority of councilmembers. I don’t see the ambiguity.

As for her cases, unless the charters involved in those precedents contain the same discrepancy in wording between general council votes and the councilmember replacement process, I don’t see how they’re going to apply. I’m assuming that they don’t pertain to Eureka particularly, or the issue wouldn’t have been raised as it would be a done deal. I’m curious as to why she hasn’t shared the case citations with the public.

The ER quotes another portion of the letter for a more general point:

(A) further tie-breaking vote — one of, at the very least, questionable legality — in an attempt to approve her own appointee creates a very strong appearance of an elected official taking great pains to hand-pick her own successor,” he wrote. “Plainly, filling a vacancy in an elected legislative body in such a manner stands in stark contrast with our traditions of democratic government.

I agree that an executive function official should not be allowed to vote on his/her own appointment, but then again the mayor of Eureka isn’t really an executive branch position, but more of an extension of the council itself. Of course, nationally the Vice President breaks ties in the Senate (Art. 1, Section 3, Clause 4), and I assume that includes presidential appointments. But the US Constitution doesn’t use two sets of language to describe the same process either.

Hopefully, Mayor Bass will choose a candidate that draws a consensus vote. Then the new council should address a clarification of the charter to avoid future complications and lawsuits.

Update: Heraldo is addressing the issue as well.

Fred also.

The office is without power, so I’m working from home this morning.

I drove up in the storm yesterday. My kids slept in the back almost the whole way, oblivious to my fear. We almost hydroplaned on a couple of streams of water crossing 101 in Mendo County. I was about ready to stop in Laytonville for the night, when the weather eased up. Miraculously, we got by Confusion Hill with no problems.

When we got home, we got a busy signal for any phone call out of the Redway/Garberville area. Starstream Cable was down as well, so I couldn’t get online until late last night. Made a couple of posts before I went to bed. The storm got loud at times, and we ended up with a bed full of kids and pets by morning.


For anybody with a family I strongly recommend membership with the HSU Natural History Museum. The museum itself has some things to offer, including workshops for the kids throughout the year. But you also get the benefit of free entrance to any of the other science museums on the list – a long list of museums located across the country. To qualify, the museum has to be at least 90 miles from your residence which is to say that all museums are free to Humboldt Residences. The associate membership is $45.00 annually, though I encourage those of you who can afford it to pay for a higher membership. If you do any traveling you’ll break even in no time. Our membership got me and the kids into the Steinhart Aquarium, the Exploratorium, and the Lawrence Hall of Science last week.

The Lawrence Hall of Science is hosting an exhibit of grossology, which was a bit over-the-top actually. The science was actually created locally by Whale Gulch residents Sylvia Branzei and Jack Keely. The kids liked it (although Asher missed the dinosaur exhibit the museum hosted last year). Guess I’m a little less open minded.

The Exploratorium has some new exhibits – and Christmas Eve day was perfect to avoid crowds. It’s location makes it easy to slip right into the city and right out again when you’re done.


Okay, time to get caught up in Humboldt affairs, but first I have to get caught up with my cases. Apparently somebody served a summary judgment motion on us just before Christmas! Damned insurance defense scrooges! (that was a joke Andy!).

One Sohum story made it. That’s just about proportionate to the relative population. You’d think some sort of affirmative action was at work.

I don’t disagree with any of the selections. Some honorable mentions are in order: the Klammath River politics; Measure T; McKee’s court win over the county in the Williamson Act case; local political bodies freaking out over the designation of Humboldt Bay as toxic; and the Arcata city council election.

Haven’t heard anything about the Mateel/PP negotiations. I’ll be back up there tomorrow and see what I can gather up.

Merry Christmas.

I’ll be back following the Holiday.

Graphics source.

Last weekend my mother attended a Code Pink event which was supposed to include a talk by Cindy Sheehan. Ms. Sheehan was unable to attend, but Media Benjamin took the stage along with a slew of woman entertainers. Code Pink is a feminist oriented anti-war network named in satire of the Homeland Security color coded alert system.

I’m not certain how the event was billed, but apparently at some point a decision was made to exclude male speakers and entertainers, although the group graciously allowed men to sit in the audience (not sure if they were required to sit in the back). The dogmatism of the moment took an extreme turn when one woman’s act was barred because her percussion accompanist is male. It caused a stir and a number of people left the event in disgust, including my mother.

This is a classic example of the reason normal people don’t participate in the prevailing anti-war movement – despite a war opposition unprecedented since the last days of the Vietnam war. Every effort becomes heavily influenced by nutcases, conspiracy theorists, bigots, and people so wounded in their personal lives they have to express themselves in bizarre manner in political causes. I understand the arguments behind separatism and the less extreme manifestations thereof, but nobody besides college age activists and insulated radicals is going to buy them, and most people don’t have the time nor energy to fight these battles. And when these agendas are placed in front of the issue at hand, namely a war killing dozens of people daily.

And when normal or at least quasi-normal people do put something together, the wack jobs wander from their own grouplets at the first sign of success. If you make your organization democratic in nature, they stack meetings, derail the process, and make the new organization into their own image. They don’t have lives outside of their political causes. They have the time. You don’t.

I’m not quite sure what the answer is (it certainly isn’t ANSWER). I have some thoughts developing, which I’ll post sometime in the next week if I have the time.

My second visit to the SF artery this week – this time without my urban noise sensitive daughter. Van Ness is of course where the firefighters made their stand in 1906, and is second only to Market Street in significance to SF commerce, culture, and history. Lots of corporate logos along the way, but also some very unique SF institutions, including the Opera House.


I’m told that the San Francisco Ballet production of the Nutcracker Suite has been rated best in the country. I have no basis of comparison, but I attended with my son and mother today, and it is quite spectacular. The matinee version is abridged a bit, though towards the end of the second half I became acutely aware of half-pint fidgeting all around me. The first half at least contains an impression of a story that keeps the kids’ attention, particularly the mouse/toy soldier battle.

I wonder if I’m alone in rooting for the mice. Of course they accosted Clara and frightened her early on, but we’re never quite clear about their intentions. Bear in mind they face down the soldiers with inferior weapons, enduring artillery barrage, and weathering a cavalry attack, only to defeat the soldiers. Then in a remarkable moment of chivalry, the Mouse King agrees to fight the militarily vanquished Nutcracker/Prince and is about to defeat him – the tables turning due to a sneak attack by Clara! Add to this the fact that all the male dancers are used for the soldier parts, so essentially the mice are all women (I was 8 years old when Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs, and I rooted for King – her brother Randy Moffit was a pitcher for the SF Giants).

No complaints about the production however. But for having spent 4 dollars on a bottle of Pepsi for Asher down in the cafe during intermission, I’d have no complaints whatsoever.


Afterwards we had dinner at Little Joe’s. Having been unable to renew their ancient lease on Broadway, they’re now on noisy Van Ness, near Filbert which is on the Marina end. Parking is a bit of a problem there, but it’s an improvement on Broadway (although I miss having an after dinner pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore). Given the cultural trend of SF I’ve discussed previously, I was concerned that they would take the opportunity to scale up to trend status, and change their menu. I was pleasantly surprised as we entered. They still have a counter with their cooking done in the open behind it, with all their potware steaming with sauces that fill the air with aroma’s you won’t find in the kiwi-butter/mango chutney “California cuisine” homogenized chic outlets that have replaced the old family Italian restaraunts of North Beach. Even some of the surviving traditionals have caved to the pressure and altered their menu to meet the homogenized arrogance of dotcom gentrification. Little Joe’s has the same old menu, with liver and onions, gnocci, etc., and the prices reasonable though higher than they would like them to be. Unfortunately, SF’s rent control doesn’t apply to commercial rentals.

I ordered my usual (hadn’t been there in 3 or 4 years) – raviolis with a green salad and a glass of the house Chianti (served in a traditional tumbler rather than a stem glass – very important!). Their raviolis are the best in the city. No joke. I’ve tried them all. They make their own, and the sauce is a legend – made with TLC starting with a base of pot roast and vegetables stewed until it all breaks down, serving as a base as the tomato sauce is added along with a great blend of spices. And if you have room for dessert, try the canoli, which impresses even my east coast in-laws – the riccota stuffing not too sweetened and laced with dried fruit.

There weren’t that many people tonight, although it was early. Try it while you can, because Little Joe’s is a member of an endangered species.


December 2006
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