Gay Parade: a Conservative Take

So, last Sunday was Gay Pride Parade downtown Santa Cruz. I am all for parades in general. It feels good for people to march, no matter the cause. In this case, I am a little perplexed at first. I don’t know what the marchers are addressing. This is Santa Cruz, after all, where no one is ever judgmental, except against those who are judgmental. Where is the potential gain in tolerance, I wonder?

The parade does not even succeed in browbeating me by making me feel “what it’s like to be a minority.” After all, most of the women in the parade are a lot like me. They like what I like. We may have been rivals once but I was not even aware of it until my wife brought home – in all innocence – an obviously lesbian admirer. My wife is from India. She was young then. There were many things she did not understand. Also, she was striking. Of course, I threatened the woman with beating her up with my big fists. No, I was not acting intolerant. I treated her the way I would have treated any sexual rival. I treated her equally, you might say. (Yes, she quickly vanished.)

The Santa Cruz parade is puzzling in other ways. One small tight group carries two signs. The first shows a Star of David in several colors. The second sign shows a small number of abstractly rendered fish in the same colors. I can’t bring myself to believe that this is a plea for support of Jewish homosexual fish. Yet, I have no other interpretation. The Santa Cruz parade also leaves me a little frustrated because it’s frankly scruffy, overall. I feel parade envy vis-à-vis the flamboyant and perfectly groomed San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. I am not sure but I think the difference is due to the fact that the Santa Cruz event is dominated by lesbians. Many (not all) lesbians make it a point of pride to wear sloppy t-shirts, like guys. Some aspire to be male rednecks and are fast getting there.

Toward the end, I enter into a conversation with two older woman, one costumed. It turns out they are leaders of the local Medical Marijuana Alliance. One is a retired nurse. They both like guys, one of the biddies reassures me unhelpfully. They are there because there is an alliance between the Alliance and lesbian and gay organizations. They support one another politically. This is good American politics at work. Mutual support is set up peacefully, without acrimony, to gain influence over rules and over how public funds are spent. I often complain about the policy results of such coalitions but I can’t think of a better way, in the short term, that is.

I still dislike taxation and I dislike even more large segments of law and order. I detest above all the so-called War on Drugs, a true catastrophe for this whole society. In the short term, though, I don’t see the path forward to doing away with these gross limitations on individual freedom. So, I rejoice in every item of evidence that we could do worse.

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A Tale of Two Cities (in Santa Cruz, California, USA)

There is a Veterans Hall right in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s called “Veterans Memorial,”  says so on its facade. It’s next door to the US Post Office and across the street from a marble monument to those children of the county who participated in World War One or in World War Two.

Every Wednesday morning, a group of older men and a couple of women, wearing Veteran badges and holding up a Veteran flag as well as a US flag meet near the monument to sing songs. They don’t sing especially patriotic songs but rather goodies and oldies. This morning, they gave a beautiful rendition of “Lily Marlene.” One old guy volunteered that he was sorry no one there knew the words in German. (For those of you who get your culture from Twitters: “Lily Marlene” was a rare thing, a tube sung by both sides in the European theater during the second world war.) Mostly, usually, they sing “Home on the Range’” and the like.

Another old guy told me that the group is not allowed to meet inside the Veterans building when the weather is inclement without paying the county a fee. Veterans’ Memorial is not freely available to veterans. It’s a small group; they don’t seem prosperous. Perhaps the fee is the method used by the county to keep the homeless out. It’s true that the group of singers looks a little scruffy. Some are old men who don’t live with a woman. Some are down and out homeless. Some are veterans who are homeless.

The decidedly left-wing municipal council of the City of Santa Cruz uses all kinds of artifices to contain and corral the homeless population. It wouldn’t be surprising if the county did something similar. I don’t know that it does. It sounds credible though. I will look into it.

I am not saying there is no problem with the homeless concerning more than those who are homeless. I have spoken about it before. The methods used to deal with them just make me deeply uneasy from a constitutional standpoint. The latent hypocrisy also gets to me. More later.

Two days ago, there was a little ceremony in front of O’Neil’s  flagship store, also in downtown Santa Cruz, a block away. Yes, I mean that O’Neil, that genius of entrepreneurship, that hero of capitalism. (For those who read me from overseas: O’Neil is the brand of surfboards then, of beach apparel, you see on every beach in the world. There is actually a Mr O’Neil.) The ceremony was a  celebration of PACT. (“People for something or other.”)

PACT was celebrating  its first-year anniversary and changing its name to honor a former DA. There were representatives from the DA’s office, from the city police, a couple of social workers, others from various city departments, or county departments, almost all public employees taking paid time off work. I would venture that 90% of those who stopped there for more than one minute were on the public payroll or spouses of such. They were celebrating themselves.

PACT targets “nuisance crimes.” That’s mostly behavior of the homeless population. In its first year, a press release announced, PACT reduced “nuisance crimes” as follows:

“The program focused on 70 repeat offenders during its first year and results show a 70% decrease in arrests and citation recidivism rates. During that period, ambulance runs for those 70 DAP-focused offenders decreased 80%.”

I live downtown, in one of the areas targeted, I think. I did not notice any reduction in nuisances. How come I am not surprised that a new government program announces striking successes? The press release concludes that:

“The Santa Cruz City Council and County Board of Supervisors will be considering the expansion of PACT in their upcoming budget hearings in May and June.” (Bolding mine.)

So, I don’t want to sound persnickety and I am all for initiatives, trying new things where old methods don’t work. What I saw and read on that occasion though is not good enough. I need two more things.

First, I want to be told squarely that the methods used do not violate anyone’s constitutional rights. Even laws that have been on the book forever make me nervous. Anti-loitering laws for one. (Is any man in a conservative coat and tie ever accused of loitering when he is just waiting in the street for his friend?)

Second, to judge a publicly funded program, I always want more info than is provided here. I have no reason to doubt the PACT figures  (“70% reduction in…”) – however cherry-picked they may be. They are only performance measurements however. I want cost-benefit, input-output measurements. If a city program resulted in 100% reduction in litter on my street, I would be only guardedly happy. If I found out that my share of the real cost of this achievement was $10,000 annually, I am certain I would want to  find out about the cost of a 90% reduction in litter, and so on.

And, by the way, I want the real cost, all included, including pension funding going forward. Sometimes just asking that a bureaucracy calculate the costs of its actions and make them public is enough to alter its course. Sometimes, just demanding that it calculate those costs is enough.

Good government is largely about choosing. I want the  elements of choice to be divulged to me as a citizen and as a taxpayer. It’s not too much to ask, I think.

PS  Yes, I know, the city council was elected according to fair and clean elections. That’s not enough for me. I want it to do as little as possible on its own.

We Must Have Order!

I sometimes think that the small daily vexations of government do more to wake up regular people than the really big abuses of government. Below is a relevant anecdote.

Seven or eight years ago, the City of Santa Cruz forbade me from cutting the tree figuring in the picture below. It’s a redwood tree. It’s in my tiny front yard. Its invasion of a sewer line cost me $10,000 before I asked humbly for permission to remove the tree. Now, the tree roots are destroying the foundations of my house as well as the sidewalk in front of it. The city says that I am responsible for fixing the sidewalk, indefinitely, apparently because redwood tress grow at least for several hundred years.

redwood in santa cruz

Now, to be fair, the City arborist told me a few months ago privately that if I asked for permission to cut the tree again now, it would probably be approved. It does not do me much good now. She said no when I could afford to cut it now, I can’t afford it. Besides, the city insists that I have to pay for a permit to remove the tree I did not want in the first place. This is more offensive than the much higher cost of taking the tree down which involves real work, at least. (It’s true that I bought the property with the tree on it. I had no idea then that I could even be denied the permission to cut a forest tree.) I am quite insensitive to the need of my city to have redwood trees, specifically, within its boundaries.

First, everyone knows that redwoods are destructive. Moreover, they sterilize the area where they grow. Second, it’s not as if our citizens were deprived of trees, as people might be, say, in Arizona. In fact, there is a large forest a four minute drive from my house, seven minutes by bicycle, tops. It’s a 90% redwood forest. It’s not clear to me that I must recognize a duty to subsidize the redwood viewing of residents and visitors who are too lazy to drive or bike there.

Note my delicateness of mind: I admit that many of my fellow Santa Cruzans would be morally torn between the desire to commune with redwood trees, on the one hand and their fervent wish to not contribute to global warming by driving four minutes, on the other hand. But I think they can just bike there, or walk. I also admit that there are people in Santa Cruz who don’t own a car and who are physically unable to bike or walk to the forest. I would be in favor of a city-sponsored collection to bus them to the redwood forest four times each year. I would gladly contribute, voluntarily, that is.

Two deeply different views of the world are at odds here. Now, let me assure you that although I am a conservative, I like trees. I like cherry trees and apple trees mostly, for obvious reasons, but redwoods are OK because they give high grade lumber. And, yes, they look wonderful. That is, they look wonderful where they belong, in a forest, with their brothers and sisters and all the cousins around. My own redwood tree (the tree that my family and the City apparently jointly own) is a object of shame. It’s so bad, that I never use it to give directions to my house although it stands right out. It’s an object of shame because PG&E, the publicly regulated monopoly, has the right to shape it in any way it chooses. I am sure there are technicalities that escape me here but the shape it prefers makes my redwood tree look like an old, overused toilet brush. Sorry for the vision, I call them as I see them!

Well, I planted a yellow rose bush nearby and the bush found the spot attractive. It grew and grew under my firm benign neglect. Eventually, it had to discover that the nearby redwood tree makes a good ladder to the sun. The result is in the photo above. Well, I think you are not going to believe this but a member of the leftist and left-liberal city council complained about the rose bush on the tree. She says it looks unkempt. Here you have it – not left-wing thought, there is no thinking involved here – but the leftist temperament in a nutshell: Things have to be neat; personal preferences do not matter; bureaucracies give you predictability even if at stupendous cost, the market is inherently messy. We must have order even if it impoverishes our lives.

Irrationality, Self-indulgence, Childishness, Bizarre Beliefs, and Innovation: From the Belly of the Beast

I have lived for many years the People’s Socialist Green Republic of Santa Cruz in California, right in the Belly of the Beast. That’s not its real name actually, just the name it deserves. It’s a university town of about 50,000. A large campus of the University of California sits on the hills overlooking the town. The campus has several distinguished university departments, including Marine Biology and Astronomy. However, many more of it undergraduates believe in Astrology than know anything at all about Astronomy.

It’s a Bobo-land where LUGs prosper and the boys are quiet, timid, retiring, sweet, and too frightened to do the job that Mother Nature commanded for them. (LUG= Lesbian Until Graduation. I swear I have known several, young apparent lesbians who showed up a couple of years after school with a husband, a male husband, I mean. There is a logic to it: Lesbianism is the highest degree of feminism. It brings you a great deal of political prestige on campus. But then, soon, nature and convention re-assert themselves and everything returns pretty much to what the young woman’s parents always wished for, a dual income family, children, etc. Note that I have said nothing about or against lesbians by natural inclination.) The University of California at Santa Cruz has a healthy “Department of Feminist Studies,” not “Women’s Studies,” not “Feminine Studies, ” “Feminist,” with an “ist” indicating perhaps a certain lack of scholarly detachment!

Savvy faculty members of 70s vintage (like me) with more or less phony doctorates they invented have used this mass of ignorant, semi-literate, easily revolted, sometimes revolting, overwhelmingly middle-class young people to take over the running of the city. (Note for overseas readers: In California, you can pretty much register to vote anywhere where you have lived for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t even find it on the Internet. No identification is required or even permitted to actually vote. )

Picture it: a mass of voters who have no permanent stake in the city, whose parents in many cases pay their very indirect property taxes (via rent) determine who shall rule the city. When these voters graduate or go on Spring Break, permanent residents like me are left to live with their preferences. I hasten to say that their preferences are not always objectionable even when they are debatable. One example of the latter is covering the city hall parking lot with solar panels, an operation unlikely to be ever audited. I mean that I am not dead-set against such an experiment. I would just like to know how much it cost and how much power it actually produces. If it cost $500 per permanent resident of the city and it generates just enough power to light the city hall for three months, I am against it, dead-set against it. If it cost $50 per resident, anything goes, I think. Well, I will probably never know.

I will never really get old in Santa Cruz because I live here in a time warp. It’s still the sixties here and maybe the seventies. The radical professors go back to my time in graduate school. Some are young enough to have been “trained” by my graduate school colleagues when the latter became professors. They rule, often with the help of wealthy downtown businessmen who used to be hippies or Trostkysts, or both. The climate is a retro-mixture of the simplistic vulgar Marxism of those who have not read a single page of Marx, and of old New Age unexamined beliefs. There was a small demonstration downtown, just yesterday with signs reading: “Capitalism must die so we may live,” and also, “Four days work for five days pay.” (Why as many as four days, I wonder, why not three, or two?) What percentage of the young demonstrators could give definition of capitalism that’s not a mere slogan, I ask myself? (The answer is in Jacques Delacroix’s “Capitalism.” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Blackwell Publishing. Vol. 2, Malden, Mass. 2006.) I would bet the answer is close to 0%, or even less!

In Santa Cruz, there is a brisk local trade in chunks of quartz, loved for their esoteric properties. Their properties are so esoteric, no one is able to explain to me what they are. Earth Day is celebrate here in a lively way. If anyone ventured to declare that one of the two original Earth Day founders, Ira Einhorn, beat his girlfriend to death and left her to dry in a trunk in a closet, he would be accused of slander so absurd as to prove madness, my madness. Incidentally, Einhorn, who had fled to France for fifteen-plus years, was defended to the end against extradition by the French Green Party. Does it show that greenies have a criminal bent? No, it indicates that they lack ordinary criticality. By the way, I knew the other founder, Dennis Hayes, when we were both undergraduates. I am sure he did not murder his girlfriend. That’s half of the founding team. We can’t all be perfect.

Here, in Santa Cruz, I am surrounded by irrationalisms of several categories. They range from otherwise dead varieties of communism, varieties dead everywhere else on earth, including North Korea, to environmentalist cults, through a large number of diet fads the least of which is veganism. Often, I think that my wife, my daughter, my toddler granddaughter, myself, and a handful of friends are the only rational and fact-bound people around.

Why do you live there, JD if you are so critical, if it’s so painful, they ask? Several answers. First, Santa Cruz maybe the only place on earth with beautiful, uncrowded beaches within a forty-five minute drive of Silicon Valley, a strong engine of economic development, of jobs, of technical innovation (perhaps, the strongest engine anywhere in the world). Second, it’s a very beautiful location (Big Sur is next door). Third, there are fish in the ocean only one mile from my house.

Fourth, the stranglehold of the university on the town is not all bad for me personally. It creates a kind of modern serfdom all to my advantage as a mature consumer. There is an inexhaustible local supply of young people who need a job but who are not about to go pick strawberries two miles away, as everyone knows. As a result, hardly anybody here earns more than ten dollars an hour. This basic economic fact makes for well-staffed bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants. Santa Cruz is better endowed with those attractions than any town of its size that would rely on seasonal tourism of non-elite variety. (My town’s main tourist attraction is the Boardwalk, a permanent carnival -a “Luna Park”- attracting blue-collar families and recent immigrants from poor countries who live in and near Silicon Valley.) There is presence of a permanent middle class of professors determined to live la vida loca even and especially if they are ardent Marxist. This fact helps  Santa Cruz  support restaurants that would probably not be found here without them. The movie theaters are better than average for the same reason. We actually also have three brick-and-mortar bookstores, one of which, Bookshop Santa Cruz, is downright lavish. I am often annoyed in this town; I am seldom in excruciating mental pain.

Fifth, with a median age that must hover next to 25 (I did not bother to check,) there is a fantastic music scene around me. I am of an age where I am wont to doddle to sleep in front of the TV fairly early but I like to know that there is good music to be had should it strike my fancy to remain awake. In fact, the rich night musical scene often bleeds into the day time, within my reach.

In general, if you have an open mind however, it’s not always easy to dismiss the other airheads, I find.

On the rare occasions when I go to one of the several “natural” stores in town, I wonder at the sight of paper-thin, shabbily dressed young women clutching three dollars to pay for what looks like an equal number of organic, sustainably and locally grown salad leaves. I snicker secretly of course. Yet, yet, there is good scientific evidence that rats fed a starvation diet live longer than their brethren fed a normal diet. The young women may just be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

It’s unavoidable that I have friends who partake more or less fully of the local culture, of course. For one thing, I spend time in coffee shops. They don’t have coffee shops for old conservative curmudgeons, it turns out. If there were, I would probably not patronize them. There is a difference between being one and liking others of the same kind. Besides, old men in public places often try shamelessly to recruit you into their mutual misery clubs: Let me tell you about my arthritis, I will listen about your shingles. Second, I am a writer of sorts. That fact entails a need for services not always provided by narrow rationalists like me. (By God, even my car mechanic is a spiritualist!) So, for example, the person who will adeptly lay out my stories for printing is a friend who will also try to persuade me of the merits of various herbal medicines. (I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography is live in the Kindle Store)

Leave me alone, I protest, I go by science alone. I don’t think I have any choice on this. It’s science or it’s superstition from the days when life expectancy was about fifty. Of course, tea made from a flower in Asia the name of which I cannot pronounce is “natural,” but so is cobra venom; why don’t you try an injection of it, I ask my friend venomously? It’s sovereign against almost all ills and pains.

And then, I read an article in a trusted newspaper (the Wall Street Journal 5/3/5/14). The author, Nina Teichloz, argues rather persuasively that the health-based rejection of animal fats, going back to the fifties, is founded on pseudo-science, on almost-science, on exaggerated amplification of sparse research result, and on monstrous career ambitions. It may well turn out that bacon fat is good for you, and canola oil bad, she argues. It’s turning out, as I speak, that foods that tend to replace the banned animal fats in enlightened Americans’ diets, all based on carbohydrates, have recognizable, well- demonstrated noxious effects on health.

Wait a minute, I think, I am one of those enlightened Americans though reared in France! All my adult life, I have been what doctors call a compliant patient. They don’t have to tell me the dos and don’ts twice. Also most of my adult life, I have deprived myself of pâté, rillettes, terrine of this and terrine of that, cheese, marbled steak, etc. For a long time, I was even on a fairly stern macrobiotic diet involving a great deal of grain, several kinds of grain, three times a day. I have Type II diabetes although I am only moderately overweight. My four unenlightened French siblings – who share 50% of my genes – have no trace of diabetes. One is enormous. All ate everything they wanted on the extravagantly fat French menu all their lives. (But three out of four don’t eat much at all.) Did I get severely punished for my well-informed science-based rationalism, I wonder? (But to be fair, I have to remember that beer too is rich in carbohydrates, not just whole bulgur wheat.)*

I had smelled a rat for a long time anyway because French men, who do all the wrong things but one, persisted in not dying.

Anger wells up in me when I see a young father bicycling blithely in traffic with a his toddler in handlebar seat as if the kid were a bumper against oncoming cars. He is obviously trying to save the planet from “climate change” (formerly “global warming”). Yet, the child will most likely survive. Seeing the world from Dad’ bike at an early age may cause him to become a natural cyclist when he grows up. This may be enough to compensate for his relentless, ceaseless small screen habits, for his sedentariness, health-wise and with respect to the development of his imagination.

In the end, it may well be that my annoying town is a boon to the wider society, in the manner of a natural laboratory. If it’ turns out, for example, that a diet based largely on raw carrots causes cancer, the local vegans will be the last ones to know. Yet, they will constitute a valuable sample on which to run a serious epidemiological study, a real one. If it’s a fact that ten joints of cannabis a day is an effective remedy against aging, there is an excellent chance the discovery will be made in Santa Cruz. Also, this town fairly drips with bad artists. Many are mere artistry pimps, living at public expense for little in return. Some try but don’t succeed. But art may be like the Olympics: You need a broad base of practitioners of varying merits for a chance of a handful of medals.

Silliness and sometimes downright madness may just be the price we pay for a reasonably inventive society. In the other society I know best, France, there is far less mediocrity on all kinds on display than I see in the US and in Santa Cruz. In France, in the past thirty years, there is also little new to hear or to see, I believe. The main recent French artistic achievement is an original and pleasant way to light up he Eiffel Tower. (I am not contemptuous, I like it.) The French industrial achievements likewise have been modest and largely the result of precise engineering rather than of innovation.

In America, they say, “Far out; by all means try it!” even if it has only one wing to one side, and a motor made of twisted rubber bands. Our nonjudgmentalism is often exasperating. In France, they will tell you, “It will never fly” even if the article in question is a complete WWII jet. Accordingly, the first men to fly in a controlled flight were Americans and former bicycles repairmen, failed businessmen, as well as high school dropouts. Unlikely it would have ever happened in France. There, the Wright brothers would have been admonished to stay in school until age 23 or 24, earn a couple of proper engineering degrees first and then, ridiculed until they returned to serious business of building bikes.

Every time I grate my teeth at the irrationality, the childishness, the self-indulgence around me in Santa Cruz, California, I make myself repeat the obvious to myself: America invented live radio broadcasting, the Internet, the Windsurfer, country music as well as jazz, and the giant double roll of toilet paper in public accommodations. Irritation is a small price to pay, perhaps.

Still rock-solid among my beliefs: 1 Children should be vaccinated; 2 Almost every service the government provides could be better supplied by the market, private contracts, and insurance schemes. (It’s “Almost” because I have not seen my way yet to defense being outsourced to mercenary outfits. Libertarians hardly ever discuss this central issue.)

* full disclosure: I have been on the Paleolithic Diet – with some systematic cheating – for over a year. My diabetes number have never been so good in fifteen years. My doctor is speechless because he does not want inadvertently to promote another diet fad. I am not making any other claim except that I am rarely hungry. The cheating is this: I drink coffee and wine or beer every day. None is really part of that diet. It’s just good for my soul.

Small Town Exhibitionism

I have had plenty of nasty things to say about the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz where I live. (I remain here for two reasons. First, its superb ocean sites, second I like to stay close to the enemy where I can keep an eye on it.) There are also some nice things to say about the town.

First, street musicians abound here, on weekends but also on any warm evening. I always give them money, sometimes if only so they may take music lessons. Incidentally, this is also a town with an immensely rich musical life after dark. I am mostly asleep at that time but I sleep pleasantly in the knowledge.

Second, there are many murals about. I hate a few of them but they are not the ones that show People’s Heroes in the 1920′s Bolshevik style, as you might expect. They are the ones done in simplistic fake-childish style, according to an old-man’s cliché-filled unimagination about childhood. I won’t name him because I can’t afford the lawsuit right now against a man who is successful enough to be becoming rich on my local businesses stubborn bad taste. (I am still awaiting the fat oil company check promised to me because I “deny” global warming!)

Third, this is a town with not one, not two, but three bookstores. Everyone can buy his books on Amazon after I am gone, as far as I am concerned. In the meantime, I want the eye candy of rows after rows of new books. I do my small share by agreeably paying the couple of dollars more per book the privilege costs me.

Fourthly this is a university town with many restaurants although I would call few of them very good: It’s hard to maintain high culinary standards where your average cook is a Mexican who has not idea of what the food he prepares is supposed to taste like and the average diner is 23 and has never tasted anything beyond burgers and pizza.

Fifthly, there is much arresting street spectacle on nice days. A couple of days ago, on a sunny morning, a young man is walking up the main drag with his skateboard in one hand, his laptop in the other, and his plastic cup of coffee in his teeth. Dynamism, athleticism, intellectualism, and resourcefulness all rolled into one person, a sight that makes you smile.

Then, two teenage girls also walk by. One, the busty one, is wearing a tight white t-shirt with yellow bananas printed and the word “bananas” in black in several places. She is carrying her purse against her chest in a futile attempt to cover up. I am guessing she was feeling very brave this morning in her room, choosing her daring-vulgar clothes. Then, she walked on Pacific Avenue, crossing paths with dozens of guys, eye rapists each and everyone of them. I wonder if she is thinking that Mom is right, some of the time.

By the way, how I am longing for a no holds-barred debate between women on relentless female exhibitionism! It would go a long way toward countering the pernicious feminist simplification that has dominated our culture for two decades. I wouldn’t get involved in such a debate, I am too smart for this. I wonder though why it is that at the gym, all men who wear shorts were long shorts while all women who wear shorts wear short shorts. Go figure!

Order, Order, Order

In the conventional wisdom, as you become older, you tend to like order more and more. That is, with age, one is supposed to become more “conservative” in the traditional sense of the term. Personally, I have escaped the curse. Instead, I find myself resenting more and more the growing imposition of petty rules by public entities.

It began a few years back when the city of Santa Cruz banned sleeping. OK, let’s be honest, you may still sleep legally in your bed. The city made it illegal to sleep in public. It’s true that the homeless are a plague here. Many are in a near-constant state of NDUI (not driving under the influence). Many are poor lost souls who are a danger to themselves and occasionally to others. Thus, three or four years ago, a local shopkeeper walking to work was knifed to death in broad daylight. Her killer had spent the previous 48 hours in a shelter muttering about and to his Bible. No one reported him,of course because he had not done anything illegal until then. Next!

The ban on sleeping made me acutely uncomfortable at the time. First, it was plainly inhumane. Second, if you prevent human being from doing what their human nature demands, they will find another way to do it. So, informal camps proliferate in the wooded areas juxtaposing the town. Here, in Central California, we are in a period of prolonged drought. Do we need unattended campfires and campfires attended by people who don’t play with a full deck?

A petty use of power, municipal power, applied in a search for orderliness led to greater and far more dangerous disorder.

I don’t even know if there are enough night shelters for everyone who wants one. I know that there will always be sane but houseless people who don’t want to be in a shelter, by choice. A sizable part of me respects their choice. You may not force people in places where they don’t want to be without due process. The Constitution is completely clear on this. And, I am not in favor of more shelters anyway because I believe they attract the economically feeble to Santa Cruz thus aggravating the problem.

You don’t have to be a “soft” to want the Constitution respected.

Now, since then, there as been a multiplication of city rules. This happens while the crime rate plunges. The fewer crimes the more rules. The crime rate is tanking all over the country; Santa Cruz city rules can hardly take the credit. What am I to think?

Here is a quiz: The Santa Cruz City Council is dominated by:

a Republicans;

b Democrats;

c Leftists to the left of the Democratic Party

Not far is the independent harbor. I used to admire the Santa Cruz (Small Yacht) Harbor. It was the only government and quasi-government organization I knew that stayed clear of reliance on taxes. Harbor users -in their many guises- supported the maintenance of the harbor. They included boat slip renters like me, of course, but also beach goers whose coffee paid for the rent the coffee shop paid to the harbor in return for an excellent commercial location. Harbor users also included patrons of the good restaurant that dominates the harbor entrance with its million dollar view. The restaurant goers gladly paid solid parking fees, of course, and a portion is remitted to the harbor.

I also liked the way the harbor administration put to work underused resources such as the large general parking lot reserved for boat owners that tends to stand more than half empty after four pm. The harbor had an agreement with the self- same restaurant to hold musical barbecues once a summer week evening on the beach it, the harbor, administers. The restaurant got its profits from the sale of barbecued food and the harbor pocketed full parking fees from those not holding slip stickers. The arrangement drew crowds. It was all a little bit untidy but not much. Twice, on such a barbecue evening, I leaned spontaneously out of my truck to congratulate the officer directing parking and to assure him, unsolicited, that this particular slip owner, me, was not (NOT) inconvenienced at all.

And then, someone retired and there was a new sheriff in town. Under the new harbormaster, several things that were allowed became forbidden overnight. The harbor hired a full-time parking enforcer, like the town next door. Suddenly, the one harbor employee the average harbor user interacted with was the parking enforcement officer. This necessarily hostile and heartless functionary supplanted the traditional harbor officers who save boats, and sometimes lives, every weekend. The mood changed and not for the better. I am not speaking for bitterness about parking fines here; with my slip rental goes a permanent parking sticker permit.

Maintaining a stricter order often requires stricter rules that make most people unhappy. Eve if it’s only a little bit unhappy, the bad feeling accumulates.

Then, stand-up surfboards had to be segregated from boats. Boats are limited to 5 m/h inside the harbor anyway. Some boats under sail inside the harbor regularly exceed the speed limit. Those are steered by aces. How bad can a collision be under these conditions, really? Has there been a single collision involving a standup board? Did a boat owner complain about stand-up boards being in the way? Maybe. Did ten complain? I doubt it. (I have not asked; I don’t trust I would get a valid answer I could cite.) My point is that one can always find a complainer or two. If you handed out free ice cream to poor children and cleaned carefully afterward, there would be some curmudgeons to object. I am sure there are boat-owning slip renters who complain even about the ocean swells. But everyone knows that good harbors are bustling with activity. Those who detest the corresponding moderate disorderliness have no business in a harbor at all. They should be reminded of the fact that there is a long waiting list for their slips instead of listened to.

The art of civilized administration requires that complaints be ignored up to a point. It also includes remembering the second most important American maxim: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it until it is.”

Then, there are the new signs that shout at you that fishing from docks is “prohibited.” For as long as I remember, 20 year-plus, children fished from the docks. It was an excellent, healthy, commendable form of leisure for kids, including poor kids, if you ask me. Were there ever any accident as a result, even one? I don’t think so. The signs affirm further and vengefully that the prohibition is: “strictly enforced.” No joking with serious matters here! We are not kidding. Don’t even think of enjoying yourselves!

The posted “minimum” fine is $174. Think about it: Your otherwise well-behaved 12-year old gives you the slip to try to catch a sardine or two. He gets caught. You are into it for about twenty hours of minimum wage. This comes close to a violation of the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, I think. There may also be here a subtle breach of contract involved here. When I first rented a slip in the harbor, fishing from the docks was common practice. The locked dock that was part of the rental gave me special access to a pleasant fishing spot. Then, after twenty years, the contract becomes unilaterally modified to my detriment. The harbor did not bother to re-negotiate the contract.

I agree that this is a very small kind of tyranny but it’s tyranny all the same. The habit of being oppressed nearly always begins small in democratic countries. Our tiny liberties are eroded slowly until we don’t even remember we ever had them.

In the same period, I have heard the crew of one of the few remaining commercial fishing boats left in the harbor complain that they are made to feel unwelcome. I have no proof that their allegation is correct but, I wonder, why would they make it up? It jibes with the other forms of turning of the screw I mention. There is no doubt that the harbor would be neater without fishing boats. Fish smells and the rushed commercial fishermen drop the occasional dead fish into the harbor water. And, well, it’s a yacht harbor, after all. And, by the way, if slips only went to middle-aged nuns who work as librarians, the harbor would be even neater.

Occasionally, I take my grand-daughter to buy live crabs directly from a boat. It’s an expedition for her. It’s unforgettable. It shows her that some food does not come from the supermarket. But who am I to lay claim to such privilege? And who the hell are the commercial fishermen to insist on making a living from a harbor originally created by the Army Corps of Engineers with tax money?

On 2/3/14, coming out of a restaurant, my family and I were treated to a wonderful geyser-like spout of water reaching much higher than a three storied building. No, it was not a whale; the scene was a couple of miles inland, on a busy commercial artery, at a street intersection. We watched in utter fascination for more than fifteen minutes. (I posted a still picture of the event on my Facebook. Look for it.) I am obviously no expert, but I believe that while I looked on several hundreds of thousands of toilet flush- equivalents of city water were lost forever. I know, I know, accidents happen; no system is perfect. But why did it take so long to cap the leak? There is a fire station five or six blocks away.

I almost forgot to tell you: At the very same time, the same evening, there was an important meeting of the Santa Cruz Water Commission to make recommendations about water rationing to the City Council in view of the current drought.

Would I make this up? Would I dare? Do I have the talent?

In my immediate surroundings, the only rule or law I have seen abolished in the past twenty years or so concerns dogs. They used to be prohibited on the main commercial drag of Santa Cruz, Pacific Avenue. The prohibition has been rescinded. Dog owners are numerous and determined. Their victory renews my faith a little in democracy. I wish I could cite more examples though.

Sometimes, the ugly thought crosses my mind that public entities are increasingly run for the benefit of their nominal employees. Karl Marx was almost right about classes, maybe . (See, on this topic: “Karl Marx Was Right (Pretty Much)“)

More on local government action: “Coyotes: How Government Bureaucrats Think

Nice Weather, Female Exhibitionism, and Scientific Research

Something interesting happened in Santa Cruz the past two or even three weeks. (I write on January 25 2014.) Or rather, something did not happened that should have. (I am alert to the dog that did not bark, as in Sherlock Holmes.)

For a long time now in the winter of 2013-014, comments on the weather have been in the national news much more frequently than is usual.

It’s been rather warmer here in Santa Cruz this January than it usually is in the middle of August. The Japanese cherry tree across the street has even been fooled into blooming! Although it’s a small city, I think Santa Cruz is a world center for warmism and for climatism (also for organic foodism, for vegetarianism, for nutism – it means eating only nuts – for deadly bicyclism,* for primitive feminism, for obligatory lesbianism, for residual Trotskysm, for holistic medicine, and perhaps also for holistic plumbing, I am not completely sure.)

Yet, yet, I never heard a peep through the local grapevine in the past few weeks about how the unseasonably warm weather was another proof of global warming. I only refer to the informal grapevine; I wouldn’t know if the local press had said anything. I don’t read it much; I have many unimportant things to do.

I have two explanations for this apparent surprising silence, one pretty sure, one tentative.

First, warm weather in January puts people in a good mood, even in California, even if they don’t want to be in a good mood. For one thing, the young women were walking around for days with the smug little look of nearly all women, everywhere, who get to show a bit of skin at a completely unexpected time. Their ebullient mood is catchy. The young men appreciate though they have been taught to avert their eyes lest they be accused of visual rape. The old guys frankly stare and smile, trying to remember why they do. (I know wherewith I speak!) The older women don’t seem to mind; it brings back warm memories, I would guess.

How about this: The strength of a national feminist movement is inversely correlated with mean winter temperatures?

My second, and tentative hypothesis about the lack of sententious comments about the warm weather in California is that ordinary people have finally caught on: You cannot argue that unexpectedly high temperatures in one fifth of the country are proof of global warming while maintaining that unprecedented low temperatures, at the same time, in three fifth of the countries do not contradict this view. You can’t have it both ways.

Of course, there is that other, newer beast, “climate change.” It goes like this:

If it’s warmer than usual, it’s because of man-made greenhouse gases. If it’s colder, it’s because of man-made greenhouse gases.

I laugh, I laugh stupidly but I could actually see this kind of argument made in a legitimate manner. You could try to show oscillations around a baseline. The baseline would have to be fixed. You couldn’t chose another baseline every time you did not like the weather facts. You would have to show that the oscillations have greater amplitude than was/is the case in some other test period or place (planet?). The greater amplitude oscillations would have to last for some reasonable period (not six years, for example). Finally, you would have to make a credible effort to show that high-magnitude oscillations are causally linked to greenhouse gas emissions. You couldn’t simply show two graphs looking a little bit alike and beginning and ending at times of your convenience, for example.

You would also have to publish prominently all the results of well designed research that indicated no greater oscillations than usual or no link between greater oscillations and the magnitude of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Honestly, you would also have to explain which man-made emissions do what: car exhausts, air pollution from nuclear plants, cattle belches. (The seconds don’t exist, I am just toying with your minds; the third is not a joke at all; look it up.)

Note that I did not use at all the word “proof.” A reasonably objective demonstration satisfying all the above would give this denier pause. Also, climate scientists who, I am told, overwhelmingly “believe” in climate change would have to make an creditable effort to stop the irresponsible media bullshit spread every day in their names. (More on the last point another day soon.)

Not much to ask and a tall order!

* See my piece “Global Warming and Child Sacrifice” at Facts Matter