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Chalk One Up to Extremism at the City Attorney’s Office

Posted on 13 July 2013 by John Rippo

Jeff Olson is aGSmith1WEB 40-year old local man  facing prosecution for scrawling uncomplimentary messages about the Bank of America on sidewalks with classroom chalk between February and August of last year.

Olson has grievances against the Bank of America stemming from Occupy efforts that  urged the public to shift money from the Bank of America and place it elsewhere—this in response to the bank’s acceptance of bailout funds.

While scrawling, Olson was  accosted by a bank manager and threatened with arrest. The bank eventually followed through on the threats and Olson was  charged with 13 counts of vandalism for chalking messages inimical to the bank on the sidewalk by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Bank of America claims it cost them $6000 to hose down the sidewalks after Olson’s acts and this is enough  to slap Olson with $13,000 in fines, costs for restitution to the bank—and a likely sentence of 13 years in state prison if Olson is convicted.

Unsurprisingly, the assistant city attorney at Olson’s initial hearing before Superior Court Judge Howard Shore was granted her motion to prohibit Olson’s attorney from arguing a “free speech” defense. Judge Shore reminded those present that California law pertaining to vandalism says nothing about first amendment guarantees and this presumably leaves Olson hanging in the breeze at trial.

The alleged vandalism charges Olson faces are for chalking  “Stop Big Banks”, “Stop Bank” and vague cartoon characters with lots of arms and money in their hands—hardly the stuff of anarchist revolution. Even if Olson championed anarchist revolution, such speech is not anything for rational people to worry about.

Unfortunately, rationality does not exist at Jan Goldsmith’s office. If it did, none of his assistant city attorneys would carry water for so trifling a charge as this.

Unfortunately for  Olson and the rest of us, Goldsmith is bent on making an example of Olson and using him to scare others into silence where big business is concerned. Goldsmith’s vacuous statement following Olson’s hearing acknowledge that laws pertaining to vandalism will not make criminals out of children with chalk and that art will be permitted—so long as no powerful businesses claim that it suffered monetary damage from “vandals”. Even at first reading, Goldsmith’s statement reveals his willingness to defer to the needs of the powerful even when proof of damage is lacking, or in this case utterly unbelievable.

Goldsmith prefers to be a martinet and this has meaning for everyone in San Diego and for the city generally. San Diego depends on tourism and a Sheriff Joe Arpaio-wannabe ready to go off half cocked for agitated chicken scratching does not make San Diego any more appetizing to those elsewhere. Those elsewhere have taken note of Goldsmith’s hard line; media have had a field day cutting Goldsmith to ribbons for his angst-driven prosecution of a man who should face no more than a low fine if convicted on a misdeamenor charge. Even Russian media have cogently remarked on how similar Goldsmith’s scare tactic is to Brezhnev’s and recalls that under Soviet rule, dissidents could be put away for the same number of years on a first offense. To Americans, this ought to be anathema. To Jan Goldsmith, it’s a measure of how important he is.

Respect for law is the glue that holds citizens to the social contract we all live under and that respect is degraded when heavy penalties are unjustly and arbitrarily applied. Goldsmith’s ego outstrips his intellect in his desire to shut up dissent and he cares  not one whit how much this case will cost the city when it goes to the appellate court—where it will get slam dunked and handed back to the City Attorney in little pieces.

Beyond even that, the sheer ridiculousness of Goldsmith’s heavy handedness exposes him as having judgment inferior to his pay grade. One expects that he’ll shoot people for double parking outside Petco or torture material witnesses in shoplifting cases at Walmart any day now. Repeat-offending violent criminals in this state often get less than 13 years for assault and battery or attempted murder; rapists sometimes don’t draw that long a sentence and neither do some who are convicted of manslaughter. To charge an angry, frustrated man with no previous criminal record with crimes carrying such a long sentence is not merely absurd but immoral on its face and its a marker of the City Attorney’s lack of good sense that makes him highly suspect concerning just what “people” of San Diego he presumes to work  for. Mayor Bob Filner is entirely correct in his efforts to cut funding for Goldsmith’s office; if this kind of ham-handedness is what we can expect from him, we should recognize City Attorney Jan Goldsmith for the menace he is to all of us—and to justice itself.

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Time will tell whether Arizona can get away with rewriting history

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


Arizona governor Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill that effectively ends Mexican-American studies classes in Arizona’s public schools (HB 2281). She did this after Tom Horne, a school superintendent and candidate for Attorney General, made noise about his dislike of a Mex-Am culture program in Tucson.

Horne and Brewer justified their action by claiming the classes promote the overthrow of the US government, preached resentment toward white people; particularly well-off ones, and urged ethnic solidarity at the expense of a melting-pot mentality.

The governor’s actions were enough to make the UN Human Rights Commission sit up and take notice, for all the good that might do, and this in turn excited the usual hot-headed cracker contingent itching to defend their sunbaked desert homeland from invasion by unwashed, un-Englished beige savages. To Brewer and her friends, ending “subversive” classes is defending the status quo — which is exactly why it stinks.

Brewer’s actions are an affront to history. By eliminating any but the state-sanctioned version of Arizona and US history, she’s going beyond the so-called conservative “hands off” approach to government intervention in people’s lives and setting the state up to be the official arbiter of the past. Usually, forms of state-controlled propaganda are admitted for what they are but, in Arizona’s case, historical revisionism to the lowest common denominator of understanding means Brewer’s ethnic look-alikes get to pretend their version of the past is all that matters.

Historians are taught that perspectives matter. Perspectives are a standpoint from which observations, measurements and records are taken. Worthwhile historians admit that, so long as one is honest about one’s perspective and is objective enough with what’s found and issued from that perspective, analysis and record are worthy. The histories of the American Southwest written by Spanish, Mexican or American historians would agree on many points; they would differ in perspective and focus on issues important to their countries and cultures. Other histories about other times and places do the same. Facts are facts. What is derived from them is specific to the chronicler. This is why we encounter books with such titles as “The History of the War of Northern Aggression” or “A Feminist History of the Civil Rights Era” or “A Diplomatic History of the United States, 1791 – 1991.” The first book in that list lets you know it’s the work of a Southern sympathizer, since only Southern apologists would use such a title about the Civil War. A “feminist history” emphasizes issues critical to at least half the population as a standpoint from which to mark the events of the era. And a “diplomatic history” would have little to say about issues at home and much to do with issues abroad. They’d still be worthy reads because they’ve declared their perspective and may therefore present a clear and coherent analysis.

But history is badly used by those who suppress or deny perspectives. The Soviets did that in their satellite countries when they prohibited teaching about nationalist movements and traditional values of subject peoples and forced children to learn the conqueror’s language and to abhor the religion by which their ancestors lived. The winners write the histories, we are told; and, in Arizona, Jan Brewer plans to force every kid in the state-run system to learn the sugar-coated stuff that passes for public-school history — with no regard as to whether the learner is a living, breathing exemplar of a very different historical perspective.

And that is what is so ugly about this ugly woman in her increasingly ugly state. By suppressing what is obvious to the Mexican-American kids (who know damned well their history is far different from that of Jan Brewer and her base of furious flunkies) she’s raising a generation of kids who will increasingly identify with those who were suppressed and were made second-class citizens, that is, if they’re citizens at all. By pimping the politics of division, she drives away the kids who might otherwise identify with all things American in the long run — just as has every other ethnic group. It’s a perfect way to balkanize peoples here — with enmity and violence for all, in the long run.

It doesn’t take much to see what happened to the Mexican perspective of southwestern history: The white American inheritors of the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidlago occupy it, for one thing, and have spent the last 160 or so years making those who formerly resided in el sudoeste unwelcome. Brewer takes issue with a textbook in Arizona ethnic studies classes that claims America is occupied; but American Indians and Mexican Americans have known that for a long time and life goes on. Mexican-American students merely have to ask their abuelo about the Bracero Program to learn about what the US does when it needs labor. And they can read the headlines about the Border Patrol, ICE and “the fence” to see what happens when labor becomes redundant. They can always seethe with resentment when, although born here and as American as the next guy, they’re racially profiled at traffic stops, red=lined for home loans (based on heritage) and excluded from society because of others’ flawed perspective.

Brewer isn’t merely suppressing perspectives of history and cultural awareness. She’s working to enshrine a state-mandated official doctrine of how it is — and who is allowed — to be an American. It’s a replica of Soviet-style thinking and a prelude to disaster that will increase the animosities between those whose ancestors fell off the Mayflower and those who once chummed up with Flores Magon. If you don’t know that name, don’t be too surprised; our history books ignored it. Ask one of the Mexican American kids. They’ll know who he was and the perspective they share will be worth the time spent learning it, which is better than anything Jan Brewer and the Arizona legislature is up to these days.


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A Fish Story

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess

Fish answer their own logic.

Fishermen sometimes say repitition of mundane tasks interferes with catching fish — as though fish need a break in the monotony of the lives of the men after them in order to be caught.

The Southern Queen had several successful ways to interrupt the tedium of life at sea in ways that filled her brine tanks quickly. One of them involved the seaplane pilot and the boat’s funnel. Suchi, the pilot, decided, on a whim, to paint the Southern Queen’s funnel, when he was bored and off watch one sunny afternoon. Immediately, the mast man in the crow’s nest called down that he found a school of fish, which the Queen then set upon and quickly caught.

All was well with the world.

Soon enough, another doldrum befell the boat. Suchi touched up the paintwork on the funnel. The mast man found fish. Suchi noted the coincidence.
But, it seemed, this wasn’t a coincidence.

For three weeks thereafter, until the Southern Queen loaded up with tuna, the same pattern occurred: no fish, pilot paints funnel, fish spotted and are caught. Everyone on the boat wondered and talked about what it could mean for days, and days.

Fifty three years later, Suchi still wonders. He’s seen similar things on other boats for decades and every fisherman’s musings about it are as good — and as pointless — as anyone else’s.

But for them, it’s enough to know there is a pattern and that the pattern somehow works.

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Cinco De Mayo: The Greatest US Civil War Victory in Mexican History

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


Too many Americans believe Cinco de Mayo marks the anniversary of Mexican Independence from Spain, but nothing could be further from the truth, although marketing executives on both sides of the border are happy to let the misconception soar in the popular imagination so long as alcohol and party sales remain high.

This kind of craven disservice to history was presented to Espresso recently by one alcohol vendor, himself a bi-national combination of mixtec and Yankee heritage with pretensions to an upper crusty view of the world, who said, “So long as they buy the beer, I don’t care if they celebrate the day the Mexican-American War ended.”

It’s fitting to explain the reality behind the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The day has significant meaning for every American and ought to be recognized for the service our neighbors to the south performed for themselves and, by extension, for us.

Mexico was badly disorganized and very broke after the United States had conquered half its territory in 1848. Borrowing heavily from the Catholic church to finance its lost war, and suffering the loss of trade with the rest of the world, Mexico was in debt and was doubtful of its safety from its greedy Yankee neighbor. Meanwhile, European nations were loath to invest in what they believed would soon be another part of the United States. Trade with Europe was scant and merely increased the debts Mexicans owed the French, Spanish and British who began to recoup their debts by sending a combined force of soldiers to occupy the Gulf ports of Mexico and take over the customs houses to skim off fees and duties from imports.

After the usual shows of force, the high-level squabbling between diplomats and the negotiations for repayment, the British and Spanish withdrew their soldiers. The French did not. Napoleon III, Emperor of France, had ambitions to pick up the American empire which his famed ancestor got rid of 60 years earlier. France needed resources to successfully challenge the British empire and to suppress the growing problems of Austrian power, Italian revolutionary restlessness and stirrings of German nationalism. Putting a French foot on other European nations trying to assert themselves would take more resources than France had at home: France needed an American empire and Mexico was to be its first base of operations.

French ambitions were fed by the American Civil War that was still going strong. The American Monroe Doctrine warned all nations not to extend any hooks into either American continent unless they wanted a war with the United States. But war between the states meant American forces couldn’t interfere with imperial land grabs. Mexico was weak. The US was preoccupied with a civil war and the French, under Napoleon III, needed immediately to grab what they could get from the Mexicans.

The French also had a long-term plan to demolish US power by siding with the Confederacy when the time was right — after the French got a strong foothold in Mexico. Once that foothold was solid, aid to the Confederates would help the South gain its independence — and would make them subservient pawns to French power brokers. Even better, a Confederate-French victory over the US would mean the end of the United States as a power capable of thwarting European expansion. For France, it meant a chance to reassert itself on the American continent for the first time since losing the French and Indian War in 1763. For France, winning Mexico was intended to be the first step toward becoming the dominant power on earth.

A French army commanded by General Laurencez began to march from Veracruz to Mexico City. When it got to Puebla — a village about 100 miles from the capital — it found a rough force of about 4,000 Mexicans waiting for them. Those Mexicans were mostly agricultural workers and peasants armed with ancient British flintlocks and machetes. The 6,000-man French army, regarded, in those days, as the most dangerous on earth, came equipped with cavalry, artillery and strategic precision. Their rifles could hit a man at almost twice the range of the Mexican weapons and their tactical skill was flawless.

The Mexican commander, Ignacio Zaragoza, was shrewd enough to make sure the coming battle would take place on favorable ground — a muddy, uneven field that allowed his few vaqueros on unshod ponies a decent chance against the heavily equipped French cavalry. He learned to give his horsemen some advantages, after he lost the first engagement to the French cavalry on the April 28, when the French had cut his lightly armed riders to pieces. Zaragoza was a quick learner and between the day his cavalry was shredded and May 5, he thought up tactics to minimize the French advantages at Puebla.

Laurencez accommodated Zaragoza by attacking at the Mexicans’ strongest point, after a late start which gave Zaragoza time to prepare better defenses. Laurencez sent his cavalry through ditches and mud uphill where they became quickly bogged down and were drawn off the field chasing after the Mexican horsemen.

The French artillery then opened fire and battered Puebla and the Mexicans in the town; Zaragoza gritted his teeth and told his campesinos to endure it and wait until the right moment came. All the while, the French infantry advanced toward them, struggling in the mud, which only got worse when it began to rain.

When the French artillery ran out of ammunition at nearly three in the afternoon, the bulk of the French infantry advanced on Puebla and were shot at merrily by Mexicans who had held fire until the French were in range. The last French infantry attack was broken up imaginatively by Mexican peasants who stampeded their cattle at the French formations.

Each steer weighed about a ton. And hundreds of angry steers coming at the long line of French infantry routed them in panic. At the end of the day, Laurencez had lost 462 men to Mexico’s 83. Worse, Laurencez couldn’t get past Puebla to Mexico City. After waiting for Zaragoza to attack or run, Laurencez had to move — all the way back to Orizaba — in the wrong direction and away from Mexico City.

The war wasn’t won that day, of course. It dragged on for several more years and, until 1867, the French sat a puppet king on a Mexican throne. But Puebla was important because it stopped the French advance when it did and it bought Mexico another whole year to organize and fight before the French took their capital. It also bought a year for the United States — and that was critical.

Napoleon III’s plan to conquer Mexico depended on a weak United States and a Confederacy strong enough to stand on its own with French help. Losing time by failing to consolidate their Mexican base, the French in effect gave time to the Mexicans to organize and to the US — who then beat the Confederates at Gettysburg — and showed Napoleon III that the South lacked enough force to be an equal partner in a combined alliance with France.

The French plan had a fine logic to it: establish a power base made of French soldiery and capital, Mexican landowners and the Catholic church, aid the Confederates and move north to split the US in two and possibly reclaim the lost Louisiana territory. For as long as the French stayed in Mexico that strategy played out and the only engagements the California State Militia cavalry ever had was with the French and Mexicans in the Arizona desert — fending off the French cavalry and escorting the fugitive government of Sonora to safety on the American side of the border.

Had Laurencez won the day, on May 5, 1862, the French would have been able to carry out their strategy when the US was at its weakest point against the Confederacy. If the US had had to face a southern army equipped with French artillery and other weapons, backed by a French navy guarding blockade runners bringing war supplies to the south, the north would have lost the war and the country with it — US strategy depended on strangling the south’s supplies until they couldn’t continue fighting.
So, the Mexican victory over the French at Puebla is really a Union Civil War victory bought for Uncle Sam by a guerrilla leader of a Mexican peasant army that took a beating and stampeded its cattle at some of the finest troops on the planet. So on May 5, be sure to hoist a Cerveza, and maybe some Yankee whiskey, in honor of those who helped save our nation. God knows, they earned the toast.

Viva Mexico!

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OCCUPY: It’s Time to Take This Country Back…

Posted on 29 November 2011 by John Rippo

from the politicians, fearmongers, warmongers, hustlers, thieves, swindlers and the rest of the monsters who pillaged this nation, stole its wealth, impoverished, threatened and disrespected its people and blighted their futures. It is time to open our eyes and regard the fraud we’ve put up with for so long with the deep revulsion it deserves. For over a decade, we the people have been victimized by rapacious banks and the legal system their dirty money bought; and by venal, craven scum in the highest offices of the nation who sent our friends and families to fight foreign wars for their perpetual enrichment and our everlasting disenfranchisement, degradation and poverty. We are now told that freedom comes second to security; that war is a perpetual state of the American consciousness and to meekly accept the unconstitutional, aggressive and demeaning shows of naked power exhibited more and more by all levels of government against us.

Those in power here thought that the shrill shills of their hired media would be enough to scatter the Americans like so much chaff; inflicting pointless artificial and irrational divides among a people that have far more in common than what divides them. They thought that after a few years of endless propaganda our brains would sop up the drivel that passed for their “analysis” and that their views would become our own. Americans were intended to become mere consumers instead of citizens—pockets to be picked; commodities instead of individuals engaged in meaningful lives of their own making. We were expected to go shopping in response to terror attacks and buy duct tape and plastic and cower from unseen weapons that foriegn enemies intended for us. We were expected to be mere sheep; afraid, confused, trusting and weak.

We aren’t weak. Americans have never been weak. And there are enough of us in this land to counteract the fearful ones and stand up against the powerbrokers and thieves who mistakenly think the world is their private plaything. After a decade of insult, the Americans are finding a voice again, albeit halting and unsure. This voice is enunciated by Occupy.
This movement, first described and urged on by Adbusters Magazine grew from the agitated, frustrated and until now, powerless to make their grievances known. Those grievances are many and it has taken time for a cohesive voice to make itself heard from their efforts. Some say they are fools without a message, but people better read in history recall that the French who took the Bastille in 1789 didn’t have much to say, either—at first. The message came later as it does in all revolutions. Occupy seems to be in sync with similar efforts around the world made up of people who are tired of losing what they believed was theirs by custom and right.

Rights seem to have gone by the wayside, especially since nine-eleven. The Patriot Act, TSA, Obama’s outrageous claims to have a license to kill Americans without trial or even charges filed as was demonstrated in the Awlaki case—these and many other outrages were inflicted on a people who historically fought to uphold civil liberty for themselves and advance human rights around the world. Now, Americans are made to walk regressive steps away from their own heritage. The better ones show themselves unwilling to go backward on command.
Americans still haven’t won the rights Franklin Roosevelt intended to enact as part of the victory of World War II. Known as the Four Freedoms—Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom From Want and Freedom From Fear, these have been eroded from our national life with all deliberate speed by government on behalf of the economic powers government serves. Even worse, the other worthy goals sought by Roosevelt at war’s end have been tragically suppressed. Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights never saw the light of day and now more than ever they are needed not only at home but around the world to combat the corporative, fascist states like the ones we defeated in 1945.
Defenders of corporatism like to throw the term “class warfare” against anyone who dares to fight back. It’s an old lowbrow gimmick that corporate media never fails to repeat along with “anti-American”. The beauty of the Occupy movement is that far from being a meaningless outburst (as Fox News described it) it is asymmetric—a protest in all directions; 360 degrees of 3-D angst against the way US society has been rigged against us. They are protesting everything. This very asymmetry makes it difficult for the corporate reactionaries—the real class warriors—to know how to react beyond the usual excessive shows of force. So far, excessive force has only made the movement grow in response to violence, yet the cops and politicians—like all stupid bullies—seem slow to learn this. The protests have so far been non-violent and the videos and pictures of taxpayer-paid anger management cases acting out their perverse impulses against the unarmed and non-combatant will only make them more hated—just as it does in all repressive countries where government relies on force and terror to have its way.

ailure of communication where Occupy is concerned is now happening in 100 American cities. Considering that the economy is getting worse by the day and that the only ones protesting about it are Occupy, it seems reasonable that more and more people will support them over time. “Tax the rich” and “End the wars” may not be as romantic as “ Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” but it’s enough for more and more people.

Occupy protests are a moral and legitimate way to express outrage and demand redress of grievances. They may accomplish some of what they say they want in two ways: One, by standing up to increased government violence against them, Occupy victims will gain sympathy and support the same way the civil rights marchers did fifty years ago. The more Wall Street and their whores in Congress and the White House engage in rage, the worse government will look—especially as the economic crisis deepens. The second way is through traditional organizing and countering the 360-degree corporate media blitz engineered by paid class warriors.

For instance, Occupy operatives could get government sponsored ID’s for poor and minority voters in the GOP-controlled states that have already begun fixing the 2012 elections by enacting repressive voting laws intended to keep Democratically inclined people from voting. If Republicans truly believe, as they say they do, that the quickest way to suppress something is to tax or regulate it, why have they chosen to tax, regulate and suppress voting by the poor or Democratically inclined?

Government and society always feature competition between public and private interests. Republicans claim that private interests have created much of the wealth that Americans have enjoyed, but the job of government is not to cater to private interests. Government is there to protect public interests. To the extent government—federal, state and local— is the unindicted co-conpirator and criminal accomplice for business interests, it’s corrupt. For a generation, the Republican party has waged class warfare against the public interest and the Democratic party has stood idly by and watched it happen—and begged for crumbs. Even when the American people elected a president on whom rested their successful hopes for a milestone achievement in race relations in these United States and the undoing of the Bush nightmare, Barack Obama and his party have shown themselves to be merely part of a rapidly expanding series of problems—and void of solutions.

It’s not just the class war waged by the GOP but the cowardly collapse of the Democrats that set the stage for Occupy. Occupy are the American people—the 99 percent—who are tired of being ripped off, ignored, abused and cheated. A WWII Japanese admiral once referred to our grandparents’ America as “a sleeping giant”. That giant is awakening again to find the fight against fascism at home needing the same defeat it once got abroad.

It’s time to man up and lend our strength to that giant effort.

1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

5. The right of every family to a decent home;

6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

8. The right to a good education.

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Art of Silence

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

Immediately after the attack on 9/11, I had the chance to ask several influential artists in town if they would have any response to the WTC attack. None of them did. As years passed and the US invaded Iraq, established the concentration camp at Guantanamo, turned the Bill of Rights into a museum piece and went on to invade Afghanistan, those same artists—and many others like them—sat on the sidelines, mute, inert and utterly passive to world events. Not a painting, not a mural, not a graffito or even a poster issued out on the happenings of the turmoil around them.

When pressed, some said that they didn’t want to seem like they intentionally polarized issues—which is another way to say they didn’t want to become involved. In reality, few wanted to rock any boats that would turn off collectors and critics and while this is understandable from a pay-the-bills/economic reality model, it begged questions from those who wonder what talent is for and what good is it when it sits idle in the face of tumultuous times?

More recently since the Prop. 8 fiasco befell gay Californians who saw their rights stripped from them, many in the local art scene looked the other way. Though some may not be much in sympathy with gay rights it seemed jarring that the local art community offered silence instead of art as an answer to one of the most egregious examples of discrimination in California in a generation.

This inertia hasn’t stopped many in the art world from establishing themselves on their own terms in their own fields, and nowhere is it an indictment of any individual who simply does not react to current events—even as current events shape the world that may or may not support artists’ work. But it seems that so many fine artists are like lifeguards sitting on a beach, content to preen for the bathing beauties and eat fried chicken rather than keep a sharp lookout for those in distress and answer with everything they’ve got when trouble happens. It begs the question—just what are they doing with all that talent, anyway?

Is painting so dead that it cannot follow the legacy of David, who created a mythos of the French Revolution that captured the spirit of those times and explained the age to the generations that followed? Is Caravaggio so forgotten to art that no one needs to follow his powerful religious imagery that empowered the Counter Reformation even against the rise of Protestant thinking and the modern political age? Does no one care to distill the temper of these times as Remington or even Rockwell did theirs? Why not? Why are the artists on the back bench of the world and its work? Why do so many ignore their power and fail to answer the upheaval of terror, war and depression?

What is the rationalization for having talent and not using it in the contest of ideas that will shape our future?

The world has enough diversions, surely, and no one needs another Snooki, Lady Gaga, Harry Potter or other idiot du jour to take our minds off what’s going on. But it always needs art to reflect the times people live in—if for no other reason than to inspire the best in us and to remind us that it isn’t enough to merely survive; that if life is to have any meaning it must have beauty and the clarity that artists can lend it.


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“Temi Solo Dio”: The best American Response to Terror was an Italian phrase

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

There’s an old Italian saying: Temi Solo Dio that means “I fear only God”. Italians use that phrase on anyone trying to intimidate or bully them, and saying “I fear only God” lets whomever is doing the intimidating know that his or her efforts are a failure and that the intended victim isn’t afraid of them. It’s a low-key, classy way to say “You don’t scare me,” and puts troublemakers in their place.

So it was with some swelling pride of heritage that I saw a banner hoisted over India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy on September 11, 2001 in the hours following the attack on the WTC. I thought that those who lifted that banner did exactly the right thing. They, unlike so many millions of others at every level of society had the right perspective. We were hit, but not humbled. Attacked but not broken. Sure, we had been caught by surprise and lost thousands of people in a matter of hours. And it was a direct attack on United States; the first in generations. But unlike the doomsayers in the immediate aftermath—and for too long afterward—who pointed fingers at each other and swore that the US was crippled and might be destroyed by terrorism, at least a few people in a San Diego nieghborhood issued the right kind of message to any opponent who may have been looking for a response.

“You don’t scare me,” should have been the American response to 911. We should have realized that even as bad as the attack was life went on and the country we had on September 10 was still there. We should have been smart enough to realize that our freedom wasn’t the cause of the disaster, too.

Had we been smarter—or had we leaders fit to lead, we wouldn’t have been forced to weather the dismal assault on freedom that government has inflicted on us ever since.

Americans had to adapt to a new, less free way of being; imposed by a suddenly “security” minded government that thought it wise to grope old women and children before they boarded airline flights. We made it difficult for foreign born students to continue their education here, hoping to thwart terrorists, though the box-cutter brigade that led the raid on 911 were anything but geniuses enrolled in top schools. All we got from that move was a brain drain that impeded growth in the technology we’re addicted to. We made it harder to cross the border legally with goods—and cut the heart out of billions in US – Mexican trade which has added to the impoverishment of both nations and netted not one single “terrorist” in a decade. We hobbled financial transactions and banking and slowed the economy that ultimately fed the crash we suffer from now. And worst of all, we imposed a level of fear on our people that is now a kind of norm; one of knuckling under to unelected authority and even a willingness to spy on neighbors and associates that is completely at odds with American values and individualism. Privacy is out and the odious Patriot Act is in. Americans were led astray from their heritage after a single attack. Hardly the populace of land of the free—or home of the brave.

Obviously, it takes less to scare us than some of us thought.

That legacy of 911 needs to go. We need to cure ourselves of the ten year long addiction to fear that government has run on and the second class citizenship and way of life its imposed on the American people. We need to stop attacking ourselves and each other and giving credence to the degenerate warhawks who stand to gain power and make a killing off the fear industry.

September 11 began a fiasco that we’re still paying for and that is bankrupting us. We should have learned that the United States cannot function without freedoms we’ve traditionally enjoyed—the economy and nation isn’t built to be a police state and if we impose one, we’ll wreck what its taken two and half centuries to build. The last ten years ought to be a lesson to us all that security is not only a bad trade for freedom, it breaks the bank, impoverishes the people and cripples democracy to boot.

The politics of fear have debased politics since 911, too. From rambling nutcases ranting in public about Obama being some sort of muslim/terrorist/socialist/Kenyan spy—when he’s merely incompetent, weak and clueless—to the rise of the Tea Party; nothing brings out the tinfoil hat brigade like letting fear run free. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul all owe their unworthy rise to the wingnut fearmongers who gained ground after the WTC attack. In a less crazed decade, these candidates would be referred to the outpatient clinics where they belong.

We deserve better. And those of us not blinded by the hysteria, blaming, xenophobic grandstanding by vile politicians and odious media hacks who spun vast fortunes out of spinning fear must become a vanguard in the years—or decades—to come, working for an America that does not cower on its knees no matter what our enemies may do. The kind of fear nurtured in high places for the rest of us to swallow is beneath our dignity and if it takes a louder handful to shout down the panic stricken and the cynical speculators in chaos, then those voices ought to rise and be heard. The sane have had enough of terrorists—both foreign and domestic—and must push back against those willing to make us less than what our heritage and history taught us to be.

And that is why every American ought to learn those Italian words. Every American ought to know that fear is the deadly enemy of freedom and that acting from fear gives our enemies an unearned victory—from our own American hands. Temi Solo Dio offers a perspective that says we can fear God and the uncontrollable if we want to—the rest we can deal with on the terms we devise with our wits about us. We have faced many enemies before—Indian, German, Japanese, Fascist, Communist, Confederate—and we didn’t defeat them by fearfully going off half-cocked and selling American freedom short. We beat them with superior strength brought about by superior thinking. Those who champion fear need a quick lesson in Italian; maybe it will improve their American sensibility if they get it.


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Commemorate 9/11 in Oil

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

Local artist Charlie Miller created a haunting image of people attempting to escape the Twin Towers after the attack. The painting is available through Picaro gallery.

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Reconsidering Water Flouridation in San Diego: A Thirst for Clarity

Posted on 07 December 2010 by John Rippo

Commentary by Gabriel Shaputnic

Water fluoridation, the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water at a concentration of about 1 part per million (ppm), is scheduled to begin in San Diego City in November. While proponents argue the practice is for dental health, the outcomes of water fluoridation leave that conclusion in doubt. All developed nations have experienced a sharp decline in cavity rates with or without fluoridated water, as noted in several journals including this side note in a 1988 paper in the Journal of the American Dental Association, which reports the declining cavity rate  “…in the US and other Western industrialized countries has been observed in both fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities, with percentage reductions in each community apparently about the same.”
Health concerns from early fluoridation projects led San Diegans to pass a law in 1954, SDMC 67.0101, prohibiting the addition of fluoride to public drinking water.  However, in 1995 Governor Pete Wilson signed AB733, the Statewide Fluoridation Act, requiring water fluoridation for most of the state. State law overrides local law, and in 2008 SD City Council accepted funding to begin water fluoridation in the City. Currently 10 percent of the City’s water comes from the Metropolitan Water District, which adds fluoride at a level of about .7ppm (less fluoride is added in areas of warmer weather based on the assumption people will drink more).  Much of Kearny Mesa receives that water and large parts of the county are fluoridated as well.
California is currently investigating the cancer-causing potential of fluoride under the auspices of Prop 65, the law responsible for the signs warning of “chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer…” posted at some establishments.  Fluoride has an historic association with osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, and California, although mandating fluoride’s consumption, is simultaneously investigating its potential carcinogenicity.
One of the main organizations supporting water fluoridation efforts in San Diego is a Massachusetts dental insurance company called the Delta Dental Foundation. Chester Douglass, a former Harvard professor, is the Chairman of Delta Dental’s Board of Trustees. He’s also the editor of Colgate’s Oral Report.  He conducted a study with the help of Ph.D candidate Elise Bassin concerning water flouridation which came under question by peers reviewing the work.
Their study investigated the relationship between water fluoridation and osteosarcoma. Fluoride accumulates in the bones, so Bassin investigated the childhood “growth spurt” period when bones are growing quickly. She found an over 500% increase in osteosarcoma in boys that consumed fluoridated water between the ages of 6-8.  Increases were also found in the 4-12 age group.
When Douglass presented his work to several public health bodies he reported finding no increase in osteosarcoma, although he included Bassin’s paper in his references.  That striking omission led to an investigation.
At that time the National Research Council (NRC) was conducting a review of the nation’s drinking water standards with regards to fluoride. Their 2006 report was, and is, the most comprehensive review of the literature on fluoride to date. It is available online along with the (much shorter) Executive Summary. The NRC heard nothing from Douglass about his findings of osteosarcoma.  Although Harvard exonerated the professor, its report on the matter remains sealed.
In 1977, Congress discovered that although water fluoridation had been practiced in the US for over 30 years, no federal scientific data was available on its potential cancer-causing effects. It ordered the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to perform animal cancer studies.
The lab that conducted the studies found osteosarcomas in male rats, and found several other cancers as well, including a very rare liver cancer. The NTP, however, reviewed those lab results, and reclassified every finding of cancer except the osteosarcomas as something less severe. According to Dr. William Marcus, Senior Science Advisor in EPA’s Office of Drinking Water, that was unscientific manipulation of data, and the cancers found by the lab and erased by the NTP should have resulted in a finding of at least “Some Evidence” of carcinogenicity. Dr. Marcus was fired for publicly opposing EPA’s position on fluoride, but won his job back through court action.
The story of the NTP cancer study is told in detail on the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) website, FAN is a group of scientists, environmentalists, and health professionals committed to informing the public about fluoride. FAN has compiled hundreds of scientific studies on the health effects of fluoride, and has published excerpts and links to many of the studies and abstracts.  Contrary to the long-standing notion of fluoride’s safety, this database shows that fluoride may play a strong role in many of the most prevalent diseases in our society.
Arthritis, in its most common forms, is indistinguishable from mild skeletal fluorosis without bone fluoride tests. Before skeletal changes become apparent, joint pain sets in.  Without knowledge of either skeletal fluorosis or the difference between it and arthritis, doctors are likely to diagnose either rheumatoid or osteoarthritis. Bone fluoride tests are not often administered and, as Chris Neurath of FAN points out, there has never been a comprehensive review of fluoride levels in people’s bodies in the United States.
A good marker for excessive fluoride consumption, however, is dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis comes from childhood fluoride poisoning, and is permanent. It produces tooth discoloration and in extreme cases pitting and malformation. The highest rate is found in young teenagers, with over 36% affected.  Over 3% of these teens have the moderate to severe form of the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease-like plaques and lesions were found in rats consuming “optimally” fluoridated water (1ppm).  Fluoride was found to carry aluminum across the blood brain barrier.  Aluminum in the brain has long been associated with Alzheimer’s, which is the seventh leading cause of death in America and is increasing in the younger population, affecting over 500,000 people under the age of 65.
In 1995, Dr. Phyllis Mullenix published the first scientific paper in the US on the topic of fluoride’s neurotoxicity—its effects on the brain. She and others since have found fluoride is highly neurotoxic.  She found fluoride to cause ADHD-like behavior, decreased IQ, and slower learning in rats born to fluoride-treated mothers. Rats weaned on fluoridated water showed underactive, “couch potato”-like behavior.
Dr. Mullenix was fired and lost all research funding when her paper was accepted for publication. Again, hers was the first published scientific data on fluoride’s neurotoxicity in the US. The FAN website contains excerpts from the 23 published studies associating fluoride intake with decreased IQ.
Fluoride’s past use as thyroid-suppressing medication for patients experiencing an over-active thyroid gives rise to concerns it may be contributing to the high rates of hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, in the US. Synthroid, the drug used to treat hypothyroidism, is the third most prescribed drug in the country. An effective dose for thyroid suppression was 2 – 10mg fluoride per day, which overlaps the 1.6 – 6.6 mg/day the EPA estimates people ingest in areas of water fluoridation. Fluoride’s effects on hypothyroidism in the US are unknown, but the 2006 NRC report states “The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function [which includes the thyroid gland] should be examined further, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States.”  Three members of the NRC panel, Dr. Robert Isaacson, Dr. Kathleen Thiessin, and Dr. Hardy Limeback, dropped their pro-fluoridation standpoints after conducting the study, and are now contributors to or members of FAN.
Most studies on links between water fluoridation and hip fracture published since 1990 show an increased rate of hip fracture in the elderly that are exposed to fluoridated water. Some experiments using fluoride to treat osteoporosis—a use often touted by fluoridation proponents—increased bone fracture rates by 3 and even up to 10 times.
Animal and human studies have both associated fluoride intake with early onset of puberty in females. The pineal gland houses the highest concentration of fluoride in the body. It regulates melatonin, a hormone partly responsible for the timing of sexual maturity.  In Newburgh, NY and Grand Rapids, MI, the first two fluoridated cities in the US, the age of puberty for females dropped by 5-6 months after 10 years of water fluoridation.
The fluoride added to water most of the time is not pharmaceutical-grade sodium fluoride. It is unrefined industrial waste, mainly from the fertilizer industry. The contents of industrial air filters is shipped directly to water treatment plants. This industrial waste contains silico-fluorides, unique in their ability to increase the body’s absorption of lead. Decreased learning and IQ are well-known effects of lead ingestion.
Industry workers exposed to airborne fluorides experience higher rates of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Airborne fluorides have escaped regulation until recently, and even today are allowed in the workplace at levels 125 times higher than the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found to be safe.
Since 2006 the ADA and other public health organizations have warned against consumption of fluoridated water by infants less than 1 year old due to concerns of dental fluorosis.  Fluoridated water contains at least 100 times as much fluoride as is found in breast milk (it is up to 500 times higher at 4ppm—the EPA’s “safe” level of fluoride in water), even if the mother consumes fluoridated water.  Infants consuming formula prepared with fluoridated water have the highest exposure to fluoride of any other group, and infants are most sensitive to its effects.
For 45 years before 1990, major public health organizations promoted water fluoridation without any knowledge of its cancer-causing potential or its neurotoxicity, while those that oppose water fluoridation have been sidelined. Scientists finding negative health effects, as with Dr. Mullenix and Dr. Marcus, have been harassed and even fired for conducting science. In the US, as in San Diego, the movement toward water fluoridation has always come from the top. Twice, San Diego voters have reconsidered our law against water fluoridation, and have upheld it in the ballot box.  Whether we will allow fluoride to be added to San Diego water is up to us.

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A Long View of a New Library

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

The SD City Council recently voted to start building a new downtown main library with a school on top. The so-called “Schoolbrary” has been long anticipated, much debated, hotly condemned for its price tag of $185 million and ridiculed by those who insist that libraries are as necessary in the age of the Internet as sails on a submarine. We can demolish the contentions of the Library-is-obsolete crowd with one hand tied behind our backs; the trickier sticking point is the $32.5 million shortfall that the new library project needs to cover its costs—money that has to be in hand by January, 2012 for the project to go forward. Fortunately, there’s light at the end of that tunnel, too.
Perhaps the best reason to form a strong and healthy central library is because libraries generally are repositories of tangible things—books, articles, art, photos and images, surrounded and conserved by assistants who can help researchers make the most of their collections. Collection and organization define a library and give it reason for being. Collections can be specific and unique as is the one in Central’s Wangenhein Room and the more collections, the better the library. The net, for all its wonder, speed and versatility is no substitute for primary source materials, original editions of printed works, manuscripts and other forms of written record. And the net offers no assistance in the form of skilled archivists who know where everything is, either.
The library is Real; the net is Memorex and the two merely compliment each other. The net is not now and perhaps will unlikely ever be able to completely take the place of what a good library can offer. San Diego’s new Central will be able to offer much that will make its system indispensible—and worth every dollar of its budgets.
Another positive addition is space. The basement at the Central is filled with not only books, but amazing works of public art, maps, pictures and historical records from the world over—much of San Diego’s early history is quietly hidden in their climate controlled basement and needs much more room if it is to be accessed by researchers. More space for better organization, interaction and public access will give everyone not only a better library, but one that’s more responsive and useful. It will be easier for users to learn more. Though the branch libraries are in most cases exemplary of their form, a new and better Central location will better serve those branches—and users—needs by having much more available for them to use and borrow.
The Public Library system is now linked with the County Library and university libraries here through an inter-loan plan that makes millions of books and other materials available to anyone who needs them. This is a magnificent asset to every San Diegan and a self-directed learner’s dream come true. It’s also a valuable asset to business and industry here; private sector research pays off handsomely to those who make use of it, and more resources that are more accessible mean more profit to be made from mining data.
If the best spent fortune is the one we pour into our heads, it makes sense to spend a fortune on increasing the flow that we can pour—especially from well run and organized sources—like libraries. Libraries with great reputations for resouces and collections matter, and always will, so long as people put pen to paper or care to read what others have written, and free repositories of that knowledge, available to all, will continue to yield intellectual utility permanently.
But where will that missing $32.5 million come from that has a due date of January, 2012? And how will the Library’s needed budgets be met in the future?
Perhaps part of that answer should come from those who benefit from using the library. There is no such thing as a free lunch after all, and if those who profit from a free learning center don’t pay some kind of tuition—or at least rent—then they won’t have those assets very long.
We need to change that. We need to adopt the library.
Café Society—you and I and everyone who regularly oils their brains with caffein in coffeehouses—ought to be in the forefront of supporting the new library by actively using it—the same way we support independent coffeehouses over chainstore coffee. Coffeehouse patrons have always supported bookstores, the arts, learning in all its forms and everything to do with the life of the mind for centuries, everywhere. We need to do that again, here, by helping Central get built and on its feet and by using the library regularly—and by giving it money.
If you don’t have a library card now, get one! If you haven’t used the library for research, try it—you may be surprised at how many resources are available to you, especially if you get involved in the inter-library plan that opens doors to other libraries here.
Beyond that, here are some numbers to keep in mind. Some in the local coffee traders estimate that San Diego’s coffee culture is regularly supported by roughly one-eighth of San Diego’s public. (ESPRESSO thinks this may be too high, but that’s beside the point.) One eighth of SD’s current county population is roughly 375,000 people—out of more than three million total. $33 million (rounding the figure up) divided by 375,000 comes out to $88 each. Translated into the cost of a cup of coffee at $1.90 each—it amounts to coffee for 46 days at a cup per day. If all Café Society spends the equivalent of a cup of coffee per day for the new Central Library until 2012, they’ll get their $32.5 million. Think of it as a short term investment with a long term payoff for you and your kids paid with the kind of coin Café Society has minted for hundreds of years where ever coffeehouses have thrived. Best of all, the new library promises to have a coffeehouse (local; organic) on the premises at 11th and J Streets, too.

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