"WAMM is a club you literally have to be dying to get into," says Val Corral, co-founder of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, California.
As if to illustrate her point, the photos of 140 WAMM members who've died cover "The Wall of the Dead" in the collective's office. They are only barely outnumbered by the group's 175 surviving members, including spiritual luminary Ram Dass and novelist Robert Anton Wilson, whose access to pot's pain-relieving, nausea-inhibiting properties hangs in the balance on the opposite coast.
And yet, the value of medical marijuana itself will hardly be considered in the landmark medical marijuana case currently before the Supreme Court. Recently, Supreme Court justices heard Raich v. Ashcroft, a case centered on two chronically ill California women, who want the feds to stop interfering in their medical marijuana use.
Though 11 states (Montana is the most recent) allow some medical marijuana use, the federal government continues not to recognize marijuana's medical usefulness, nor to address the question of legalizing it across the board.
Instead, the Supreme Court debate on the case, Raich v. Ashcroft , has been framed in terms of interstate commerce. Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project has been dumbfounded to hear the justices invoking Wickard v. Filburn, a 62-year-old Supreme Court decision used to uphold Congress' efforts to support grain prices by controlling wheat production. But he holds out some hope for a medical marijuana victory.
"Certainly some previous decisions suggest some justices have respect for states' rights and the commerce clause," says Mirken. "Theoretically, the feds' ability to ban illicit drugs comes from its ability to regulate interstate commerce. But the feds arguing that two women in California, using their own soil and equipment, and not selling anything, are engaging in interstate commerce – I'm sorry, but that's crazy !"
Crazy like a radical right-wing activist judge.
"It looks like Wickard to me," said Justice Antonin Scalia on hearing preliminary arguments on Nov. 29, including those from attorneys for Angel Raich and Diane Monson, who argued that the pot their clients use is not grown for money and never crosses state lines.
Said Scalia of marijuana cultivation, "Why is this not economic activity? This marijuana that's grown is like wheat. Since it's grown, it doesn't have to be bought elsewhere."
Waves of Grain
The Supreme Court's ruling is expected by spring 2005, and will quickly reverberate across California, since Raich, who lives in Oakland, has the exact same thing at stake as WAMM: protection from the feds.
Raich, who uses cannabis to treat scoliosis, endometriosis, severe headaches, chronic nausea, seizures, uterine fibroid tumors and a brain tumor, first joined forces with Diane Monson, who grows and uses pot to treat severe back spasms, two years ago. Their alliance began after DEA agents raided Monson's garden in Oroville, in Butte County. After a three-hour standoff with local law enforcement, the federal agents seized and destroyed Monson's six pot plants. Outraged, Raich and Monson petitioned a federal district court in California to force the DEA to butt out of their doctor-prescribed medical marijuana use. Though that court refused to grant their request, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently ordered the lower court to issue a preliminary injunction.
WAMM, whose garden of 167 plants was raided a month after the Monson bust, subsequently won a similar injunction against the feds. Until it was issued, the Corrals – who were arrested during the 2002 raid, but released the same day – were living in legal limbo, thanks to a clause in the Controlled Substances Act that allows the feds to forfeit people's property up to five years after a bust.
Their federal fears temporarily assuaged, the Corrals began growing another pot garden, including a monster named Victoria which WAMM cheekily billed as "Our country's first federally protected marijuana plant."
The U.S. Justice Department, however, immediately appealed the Raich injunction to the Supreme Court, hence the Nov. 29 hearing. Should the justices rule against Raich, the Corrals would reopen themselves to the possibility of forfeiture if WAMM grows another garden next spring.
And so far, the case does not appear to be going in their favor. Supreme Court justices met the Raich/Monson states' rights defense with more than a little skepticism. Acting Solicitor General Paul D. Clement argued that it would be impossible to allow medical use of marijuana while banning recreational use. And the U.S. Justice Department maintains there is no separation between private marijuana use and interstate commerce, insisting that homegrown pot stimulates the illicit drug market by increasing the amount of marijuana available in the nation.
As Santa Cruz attorney Ben Rice, who represents WAMM, explains, "The feds believe that if you let marijuana be grown like this, prices will come down and it will be easier for people to use more of it. And then there's the fact that people believe that if you want to stomp on the left, keep going after marijuana, because they're the folks most likely to be caught with it."
Rice, who attended the Nov. 29 Supreme Court hearing in person, admits that it was not what he was hoping for. He says the two justices who've already had cancer, Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, both seemed sympathetic to Raich and Monson's case. Since Clarence Thomas, who didn't say anything that day, and Rehnquist, who was not in court because of ill health, are big on states' rights, he thinks the case could go WAMM's way.
But he says that once Randy Barnett, a Boston University Law School professor who's representing the two women, got up, "The knives came out."
"There was no sympathy from Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy," says Rice. Justice Stephen Breyer, who told Barnett that his clients should ask the FDA to reclassify marijuana as appropriate for medical use, was "really unsympathetic," says Rice.
In the end, framing the debate as a states' rights argument, rather than emphasizing compassion for the sick and dying, is a strategic decision by Raich and Monson's attorneys that Rice says may or may not backfire.
"It's easy to say in hindsight, 'Oh, they goofed in taking that tack', but we usually always also argue the right to ameliorate pain when someone is close to death," he says.
If the court rules against Raich and Monson, Rice says the Corrals likely wouldn't be in danger if they cease to operate WAMM, "but if they continue to do so, they definitely risk being arrested and having their property forfeited."
As for where a loss in the Supreme Court would leave the rest of California's medical pot users in general, Rice believes individual patients aren't going to be at risk, given the state's medical pot initiative and the county's three-pound limit, but cannabis clubs, coops and dispensaries could be in danger.
"The alarming part of all this is that patients who aren't able to grow their own medicine, or grow with others, will be back to buying on the black market, a situation in which they'll have no control over the quality of the pot they buy, including whether it was grown organically or with pesticides," he says.
With Santa Cruz County Sheriff Mark Tracy having resigned Dec. 1, Rice hopes that Chief Deputy Steve Robbins, who'll take over until the next election, will continue to treat marijuana as a community health issue.
"The three-pound limit is not that much if you're really sick," says Rice, noting that someone who smokes a pack a day consumes five pounds of tobacco annually. But whatever happens in the Supreme Court, Rice says the justices' decision won't gut California's medical marijuana laws.
"It's just gonna make it more difficult to produce pot," he says, noting that the Supreme Court has also left the Conant decision intact, thereby protecting doctors' rights to discuss and prescribe marijuana.
The Big Picture
Meanwhile, MPP's Bruce Mirken says whatever happens in Raich v. Ashcroft, time will show that Bush was on the wrong side of history.
"In Montana's 2004 election, medical marijuana outpolled Bush by three points, " says Mirken. This despite the fact that Montana was a "red state" in which Bush clobbered Kerry with a 59 percent win – medical marijuana did even better, winning in a 62 percent landslide.
He also notes that support for case currently before the Supreme Court has come from some conservative quarters, including the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri, which take a hard line on drugs and punish first-time users with prison sentences as long as 10 years.
"These three states aren't exactly a den of pot-smoking hippies the last time I looked," Mirken says. "Their support is more about preserving states' rights, than promoting medical marijuana use."
So, while Mirken feels it would be a tragedy if the women don't prevail in Raich v. Ashcroft, "The fact is that the train has already left the station."
"Thirty years from now, we'll look back at the current federal policy of jailing medical marijuana growers as every bit as incomprehensible as the burning of witches," he says. "Ultimately, we will win. Whatever the Supreme Court rules, it cannot overturn Prop. 215, and the protections of patients in California and other states with medical marijuana initiatives."
WAMM, of course, is also contemplating what it will do in the unhappy event that the Raich case goes south.
"To quit at this point is to lose every step forward we've taken," says Corral. "The real question is how to succeed in a way that not only saves lives but our own work, too ...other than writing a book from jail."
Corral hasn't forgotten that the city and the county of Santa Cruz have put their necks on the line here, too, thanks to staged medical pot giveaways on the steps of City Hall following WAMM's 2002 bust, and the county's recent OKing of a three-pound-per-person limit for medical marijuana users and the introduction of a medical cannabis voluntary ID card. She realizes there's a lot at stake in this case for a lot of people.
"I don't for one moment want to deny the importance of what has already happened, " says Corral. "We grew the only legal medical marijuana garden in the nation that didn't belong to the government."
But she has to be realistic about the possibility that whatever protections WAMM has now could quickly be lost, and yet the group's work must somehow continue.
"The feds' actions have not stopped the suffering of our patients. They haven't cured anyone with their policies. There is no cure for AIDS. Not one paraplegic is up and running. All they offer is suffering, so for us to stand down in face of that would be an absurdity," she says. "There's always something else we can do."
That something else, says Corral, could take the form of small collectives that maintain a low profile and work together to share their knowledge of growing cannabis.
Weirdly enough, though, all of the current obstacles have made her even more resolute.
"We cannot continue to close hospitals and kick people out of vets' homes here, and destroy people's medicine, while blowing up other people's countries," she says. "It's suffering that makes people say 'No more!' and which inspires WAMM to carry on, no matter what."
Many people are under the impression that a negative Supreme Court ruling would make medical marijuana illegal, and Andrea Tischler of the medical pot-friendly Compassion Flower Inn in downtown Santa Cruz realizes that. But she wants people to remember that individuals with a medical marijuana prescription will still be protected by Proposition 215.
Tischler does, however, note that there continues to be a Catch 22 – people who have medical pot recommendations but can't grow their own can't get their medicine, since there currently aren't any dispensaries in the county.
"Maybe we'll have to go underground on the growing front, and take care of it in our own community. WAMM is very visible, very public. So, maybe we will need to form smaller groups, with 20 people in each cell, until this difficult period passes, which hopefully will be over in four more years, with impeachment always being an option."
Tischler says that with an estimated 1,500 medical pot patients in the city, and 4,000 patients countywide, most have to hop on a bus to Oakland or San Francisco to buy an eighth to last a week or two.
Which is why Tischler's been in communication with the Santa Cruz City Council, asking if they're in favor of a city ordinance allowing medicinal users three pounds of dry mature cannabis buds, 100 square feet of garden canopy – and a greater amount with a doctor's approval.
She'd also like the city to pass a resolution making cannabis possession a low law enforcement priority, and see a task force recommend where dispensaries and cooperatives can operate in the city.
Devil in the Details
Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin says he supports the idea of a citywide ordinance, though he thinks we're already covered by the county ordinance. He says the SCPD already makes a low priority of enforcement against people for private use.
Rotkin is not however a fan of the task force idea, preferring to amend current ordinances to allow dispensaries in locations that seem appropriate – namely ones not close to schools, residential zones or downtown in the commercial area. That leaves the city's large industrial zones – an idea that seems to fit those of Capitola Police Chief Rick Ehle, who concluded, after 25 years in Oakland, that most major turf battles were about selling pot.
"I'm not taking a position against medical marijuana," says Ehle, " but if we had community or commercial grows with guards, that would be great from a public safety point of view. Three pounds of pot, or six if there's two patients growing together, in a house is too much, when you can have your throat slit for $500 or less."
A Capitola resident recently did in fact have his throat slit, in an incident that illustrates the safety issue that often gets left out of the medical marijuana debate. Gang affiliates from Southern California violently burglarized a home in Capitola where the occupant was growing large quantities of bud. Though the victim survived being stabbed and shot multiple times, Ehle worries about what it means for the safety of residential communities to have large medical marijuana gardens in their midst.
WAMM member Suzanne Pfeil, who grows her own marijuana to ease the pain of post-polio syndrome and previously has been robbed, says she somewhat solved the problem this year by installing a $70 closed-circuit camera. This allowed her to capture images of the thief, thus helping the police track down the perpetrator, who was charged with felony burglary and breaking and entering.
"My advice to anyone growing theirs at home," says Ehle, "is keep your mouth shut and don't let anyone know what you're doing – except the police, because I don't want my staff walking unknown into the middle of potentially lethal situations."
Meanwhile, Tischler points to the September arrest of dealers in downtown Santa Cruz as evidence that without dispensaries for medical marijuana patients, many will be left to get it on the street.
"Which is not what we want. We want safe, group access, not on the streets, which would be good for a city's image, too," she says.
Back in Court
Ironically, the Corrals' main hope of growing a garden in 2005 may lie with the decision-making abilities of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Corral believes the court could end in a draw if Rehnquist is too sick to rule, in which case the decision reverts back to the 9th circuit – and she believes that court will uphold WAMM's original injunction. But were Rehnquist to die, the Corrals fear that Bush would appoint a radical conservative judge who would rule against Raich and thus jeopardize WAMM's garden and the Corrals' freedom.
"This may be a states' rights issue, but we don't think the Supreme Court will view it as such," she says. "They'll see it as a Controlled Substances Act issue. It would be wonderful if this court were willing to look past that, but we don't think they're interested in the rights of people who are sick and dying. But in some cases, they've made some remarkably enlightened decisions in the last few years, so one can only hope."
That said, she fears that since DEA head Karen Tandy is an expert in forfeiture, if the Raich case goes down in flames, the feds won't be arresting people so much as taking everything they own.
"That's a good way to destroy someone in the USA. America is all about what you own, that's how you fit in socially, by what you have.
"Mike and I have worked for 30 years, living in a shoebox, washing in a teacup. We had a very simple life, before all this started," she says. "But now I think we'll be under the gun, if they catch us growing or distributing anything, in the event the injunction is overturned, which they'll probably do by next spring, just in time for the next planting season. Probably, they'll be there the next day, with their guns drawn. They told us they'd be back."
Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger declared he was running for governor, it feels like being stuck in a "Conan" rerun, only this time round, it's Arnie the Republican who seems determined to wear the jeweled crown of California upon his troubled brow. What's troubling about all this (besides the fact that we will personally drop-kick the next person who says, writes or ululates the phrase "The Governator") is that people from all across the political spectrum seem to be saying, "What the heck! I'm voting for Arnie!" That kind of reckless abandon works well when renting Arnie's latest action flick, but it bodes badly for the well-being of California -- and we can tell you why, in 50 easy reasons!
Notice that, while we're not above the occasional (OK, very frequent) sarcastic snipe, we've stuck to issues about Arnie that really bother us, meaning you'll have to look elsewhere if you're worried about his controversial support of medical marijuana or his wild youth (though his attitudes about women then and now creep us the hell out, as you'll see below). We've avoided sketchy information such as recent claims that he supported apartheid, and stuck to the facts as they were known as of presstime.
We all have to face the fact that this recall election is in full swing, and now is the time to put this ridiculous candidacy in perspective. The truth is that a vote for Schwarzenegger is a vote for the Republican party in general, and a woefully inadequate, unqualified Republican in particular. But just in case you've been hornswoggled into believing that a vote for Arnie is a vote for the people of California, read on.
1. He wouldn't vote for you -- or anyone else.
This is how seriously Arnie takes his U.S. citizenship: By skipping nearly half of the elections since 1992, voting records show, he has avoided having to exercise his democratic right to take a stand on such issues as bilingual education, medical marijuana and tax increases for the wealthy. To add insult to injury, he skipped these last two issues (in the 1996 election) because he was promoting "Jingle All the Way" and "Eraser," two of the worst films of that or any other year.
2. He's in way over his head.
This can't be stressed enough, so expect us to revisit it often. There are three basic levels to Arnie's ineptitude: (1) He has never run so much as a town meeting, and now he wants us to put him behind the wheel of the sixth largest economy in the world; (2) he treats his campaign as if he were promoting a movie, continually falling back on his experience as an entertainer in an apparent attempt to compensate for his lack of experience as a statesman; (3) he loves to talk about all of the problems we're facing in this state, but his lack of specific ideas for how to fix them is taking on legendary proportions.
3. He thinks you don't care that he's in way over his head.
"The public doesn't care about facts and figures," said Arnie at a press conference. If there is a God, these words will haunt him throughout the campaign. On Sept. 4, he went so far as to blame the media for his own hollow, sloppy campaign: "You always want to have fast answers," he told journalists in Riverside. "I want to have good answers." Hey, buddy, pencils down! Next time, figure out the answers before you tell people you're ready to be governor of California.
4. He keeps repeating that he's going to "clean house."
Never trust any politician who says this. What it really means is: "I know so little about what works and doesn't work in politics that I'm not even going to try to figure it out. Instead, I'm just going to throw everything out, whether it works or not." And what that really means is: "I'm in way over my head" (see reason No. 2). Anyone remember the Republican "revolution" of 1994 -- that sure worked out great, didn't it? Little-known fact: the "clean house" school of cowboy politics has its roots in the racist "Know-Nothing" movement of the 1850s. The Know-Nothings got swept into state and legislative offices on a platform of radical right-wing change, then fell out of favor just as quickly when voters discovered they knew ... well, nothing about governing. Now you can do your part to keep anti-government jackasses out of government!
5. His own house isn't as "clean" as he wants you to think.
Arnie wants everyone to think that his huge personal fortune means he can't be bought, but his financial disclosures reveal that even as a civilian celebrity, he loves them "gifts." He's received thousands of dollars worth of free shirts and sweaters from Armani, cigars worth $250 to $500 each, a fancy humidor from Tupperware (what the hell?) and lots more. Doesn't seem to matter much that he can already afford all this stuff himself. Don't be fooled: movie stars are accustomed to taking expensive gifts from people trying to win their favor -- and if Arnie liked the size of the presents in Hollywood, he's gonna love Sacramento.
6. He's discovered 'special interests' -- and maybe they're not so bad after all!
Cruz Bustamante is the one taking the heat for pushing the legality of campaign finance to the limit, but Schwarzenegger's doing it just as ferociously -- and unlike Cruz, Arnie comes off looking like a complete hypocrite in the process. Here's a little taste of what a "reformer" Arnie is: In order to take advantage of a loophole in campaign finance laws, he formed a second recall committee, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall Committee (yes, it really is called that), which is exempt from normal finance rules. Of course, this is the man who originally claimed he didn't need any outside money. Now he's resorted to hilariously lame antics like returning a $2,500 check from a law-enforcement union, as if that represents more of a special interest than the rest of the special-interest money he's taking. The most bizarre twist of all is that he appears to have decided that the money he has accepted is not special-interest money, if he decides not to call it that. As an analysis in the San Francisco Chronicle put it: "Apparently the actor thinks that those people giving him hundreds of thousands of dollars won't want anything in return."
7. As an actor-turned-wannabe-california-governor, he's got Ronald Reagan for a role model.
Why don't any actors with good politics ever want to run? And once -- just once -- could we get an Academy Award winner? Hell, even a People's Choice award-winner would be a start.
8. He wants Ronald Reagan for a role model.
According to a 1988 Playboy interview, Arnie was "in heaven" when Reagan was governor of California. (He offered the same endorsement of Richard Nixon's presidency, by the way. Bonus!) More recently, he said of Reagan, "We have the same philosophy and approach to things," and that his own political platform "is exactly what Ronald Reagan stood for." Wait, Arnie has a political platform? (See reason No. 2.)
9. He's a wimp.
Action hero, like hell! Arnie practically went into hiding after announcing that he was going to run. His first "press conferences" were far more notable for all the ducking and covering he did than for the meaningless rhetoric his supposedly high-powered campaign team came up with. In the end, he chose right-wing talk-radio shows to finally admit what (and how little) he stands for -- ensuring he wouldn't take any heat from actual journalists about his crappy campaign in the process. But none of this wussiness can compare to his most cowardly act so far -- ducking out of the Sept. 3 debate to which Gov. Davis and the top six candidates looking to replace him were invited. His stated excuse, an unspecified "prior family commitment," leaves us ... well, speechless. Perhaps "was soiling own pants in fear of informed public political forum" was considered too wordy.
10. He lies. On Aug. 20, he said of negative campaigning: "I will never attack. Why would I worry about someone else? It's not my style." Just five days later, he said "Bustamante is Gray Davis with a receding hairline and a mustache. It's the same person. Same philosophy." Is this a new record time for a candidate to publicly flush his integrity down the toilet?
11. He drives a Hummer.
Please don't forget how "environmentally conscious" Arnie is when he's clogging your lungs with exhaust, crushing your economy car into a compact cube of metal on the highway, and pushing your gas prices into the stratosphere with several tons worth of penis-size insecurity. (Yes, we have seen that picture. We consider it inconclusive at best.)
12. He may consider 'The Crusher' a political strategy.
Upon introducing Arnie, Maria Shriver reportedly told her uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy, "Don't think of him as a Republican. Think of him as the man I love, and if that doesn't work, think of him as a man who can crush you." Of course, we have our doubts about his actual toughness (see reason No. 9).
13. He is -- no matter what anyone says -- a Republican.
Can everyone just stop saying, "Oh, he's not really a Republican." Um, yeah, he is. By the way, did you know Bush is a compassionate conservative?
14. He chose one of the most hated ex-governors of California to run his campaign.
Talk about "lemon law" governors -- Pete Wilson wound up his time in office with his approval rating completely in the tank. The tide had clearly turned against Wilson's aggressive anti-immigrant stance, and voters rightly blamed him for the sleazy campaign that got Proposition 187 passed. (Hey, did we ever figure out if televised election ads could be prosecuted as hate crimes?) Yet the man who the president of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project called "the anti-Christ in the Latino community" continued to defensively and insincerely claim he had worked for the will of the people while at the same time beating a hasty retreat with a political semiretirement. Now, he's back, and has brought on most of his old advisers to ensure that a Schwarzenegger tenure would basically be a return to the Wilson years. So, to sum up: not only does Arnie not know how to govern California, he picked one of the most revolting politicians in the state to explain to him how it's done.
15. He voted for Prop. 187.
Speaking of that nasty little pet project of Pete Wilson's, Arnie himself voted for it -- despite his claim of having a uniquely empathetic understanding of issues facing immigrants. Welcome to the "I got mine, screw the rest of you" school of politics.
16. As a gubernatorial candidate, he's an actor.
This is a man who uses movie catchphrases he didn't even write himself to try to convince voters he's a viable candidate. And oh yeah, Arnie employed that same "I'm not gonna run, oh wait, yes I am" tactic in the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest -- which, by the way, he won. If nothing else, the man is a showman extraordinaire.
17. His own adviser can't think of three good reasons to elect him.
George Shultz, co-chair of Arnie's Economic Advisory Team, said at his candidate's first press conference that there were three things about Schwarzenegger that he particularly liked. He got through the first two OK -- he likes the way Arnie listens to people when they speak, and thinks Arnie makes up his own mind about what they say. But all he could think of for reason number three is that he personally likes Arnie. Wow! Arnie, thou art officially damned with faint praise. "Personally liked by George P. Shultz" -- you couldn't even put that on a résumé!
18. He's got women issues.
In a 2001 article, Premiere magazine called him "Arnold the Barbarian" for various alleged acts of impropriety toward women. Arnie denies them. More recently, he told Esquire magazine: "As much as when you see a blonde with great tits and a great ass, you say to yourself, 'Hey, she must be stupid or must have nothing else to offer,' which maybe is the case many times. But then again there is the one that is as smart as her breasts look, great as her face looks, beautiful as her whole body looks gorgeous, you know, so people are shocked." Uh huh. Well, if anyone can figure out what that's supposed to mean, please drop us a line. Many women aren't waiting to find out -- a group of them picketed his campaign headquarters Sept. 5, saying past misogynist behavior and comments on his part made him unfit for office. Part of what undoubtedly fueled their fire was the dredging up of a 1977 interview in the now-defunct Oui magazine, in which he said some, let's face it, totally off-the-wall stuff about women, in particular his story about gangbanging a black woman that sounded like nothing so much as a rape fantasy. Turns out it was a fantasy -- on Sept. 3 he said he lied about it happening. Oh, that makes us feel better (see reason No. 10).
19. No, really, there's something freaky going on with his women issues.
Just last month, he described his work in a scene from T3 to Entertainment Weekly thusly: "How many times do you get away with this -- to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl? I wanted to have something floating in there ... The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman -- she's a machine! We could get away with it without being crucified by who-knows-what group." Charming.
20. He's a threat to working Californians.
When a candidate starts talking about the state's "anti-business" climate, you can bet that the people he's really going to get "tough" with are the state's workers. Do we have any reason to believe he supports mandatory overtime, a living wage, paid family leave or even the health care and safety standards by which working Californians live and die? Besides, recent articles have revealed Arnie's rhetoric on the subject of jobs to be faulty at best and outright distortion at worst. One example (and there are plenty more): though he continually harps that we're losing jobs to other states because of our "hostile" business environment, it turns out California's unemployment rate has increased by only 1.9 percent since 2000, compared to an increase of 2.3 percent nationwide. There's so much wrong with this state's economy, and yet we don't see Arnie talking about the right numbers or solutions.
21. If elected, he would be properly called the 'Kaiser' of California in his native Austrian tongue.
We just thought you ought to know.
22. As a gubernatorial candidate, he's a novelty item.
This country's last showbiz-figure-turned governor was Jesse Ventura, who is in many ways a far better point of comparison for Arnie than Ronald Reagan. Ventura ran on his celebrity and a few headline-grabbing positions, and his political legacy never amounted to much else, either. So far, Arnie doesn't even have the headline-grabbing positions.
23. He supports prayer in school.
Apparently, he believes it should be "up to the schools." Oh, that's fantastic. Maybe we can ship in Ray Moore of "I need everyone to see my Ten Commandments" fame for his campaign team and really lose our right to a separation of church and state.
24. He may not support gay rights as much as everyone believes.
Despite the fact that it's fashionable to characterize him as "pro-gay-rights," and he does say he supports domestic partnerships, the truth is he hasn't taken a stand on the one pressing gay-rights issue he can actually do something about. To quote from the letter Assemblyman John Laird sent to Arnie last month about AB 205, the proposed legislation which would give domestic partners many of the same rights as married couples (and which, by the way, Gray Davis supports): "Most of the leading candidates for governor have clearly defined their positions of legislation and issues affecting the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered] community. Since you have not, we are urging you to do so immediately." As of presstime, he had not.
25. He picked Rob Lowe of 'West Wing' fame to be on his campaign team.
Are we living some kind of satirical article from The Onion? Just checking.
26. He's known for 'pumping up' the crowds at GOP conventions.
Oh, but wait, he's not really a Republican, right?
27. He's got creepy connections to the energy crisis.
Arnie suddenly doesn't want to talk about why he was meeting with Enron CEO Ken Lay in Beverly Hills in May of 2001 -- in fact, he claims he "can't remember" the meeting. Does he think one single person will believe this? This was, after all, right about the time California was being destroyed by Enron's "Death Star" market-manipulation tactics, and though the scandal of course had yet to break, you better believe a meeting with Lay at that time was a huge deal -- not the sort of thing that just slips your mind. We can't help but wonder what kind of chit-chat Arnie made with California's worst enemy that hazy day. Hmm, "Death Star," "Terminator" -- guess he and Ken Lay really speak the same language.
28. He's got even creepier connections to the energy crisis.
Arnie's campaign team includes adviser Marty Wilson, who during the energy crisis worked as a spin doctor for Reliant Energy, one of the companies that was later revealed to have manipulated California's energy market.
29. He chickened out on Proposition 13. So then Arnie goes and hires Warren Buffett, a Democrat, to be his "top economic adviser." Well, that was certainly an interesting twist. Might Arnie actually be interested in pumping some progressive ideas into his campaign? Nope. When Buffett dared to actually suggest something intriguing -- that Proposition 13, which capped property assessment increases in California at 2 percent per year back in 1978, was partly responsible for the gutting of state services, Arnie flipped out. His campaign said Arnie was rejecting Buffett's position, and affirmed that their candidate would never deem to question the validity of the California GOP's sacred text.
30. As a gubernatorial candidate, he's a P.E. coach.
Arnie joked that Buffett's punishment if he so much as mentioned Prop. 13 again would be "500 sit-ups." A vote against Arnie is a fully satisfying way to get back at your sadistic high-school gym instructor who thought jokes like that were funny.
31. Bush thinks he'd make a 'good' governor.
This from a president who thinks a record federal deficit is good economic policy, the use of nuclear weapons is a good military strategy and tax cuts are a good way to relieve unemployment. Did someone say Arnie isn't really a Republican?
32. He's not really 'the people's candidate.' He may, in fact, be the candidate least qualified to understand the needs of the typical California citizen. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Arnie has a net worth of more than $100 million. In 2001 alone, he paid $383,000 for household help. If elected, he'll be the fattest of the Sacramento fat cats.
33. His father was a Nazi.
Look, we realize Arnie himself is not a Nazi. We realize Arnie has a reputation as a strong supporter of Jewish causes. But, man, the fact that his father, Gustav Schwarzenegger, joined Hitler's notorious storm troopers six months after they helped launch Kristallnacht creeps us out.
34. He invited accused Nazi war criminal Kurt Waldheim to his wedding.
35. He's unequipped to deal with the state's $38 billion deficit.
Anger over the deficit was supposedly one of the key reasons for recalling Davis in the first place. However, when asked at a press conference if he himself would have to come up with details about how he would solve the budget crisis before the election, he said simply, "No." No? Why not? And don't give us the excuse that the public only has to know the governor is "tough enough to clean house" -- oh wait, he already did (see reason No. 2 and No. 4). Said Democratic Party chairman Art Torres of this strategy: "The lesson Pete Wilson's team has learned is never to give specifics. The game plan is to shuffle and soft-shoe." But even the softest of shoes can't hide the fact that electing a political novice to govern 34 million residents while trying to fix this budget crisis will likely cause bond ratings to fall even further.
36. He stumped for Bush Sr. in the 1988 presidential campaign.
And we bet he can't wait to do it for Bush Jr. in 2004. Oh, but wait, he'd only do that if he was really a Republican.
37. His own party doesn't care who he is, as long as he wins.
Despite the fact that many conservatives are as worried about putting Schwarzenegger in the governor's mansion (for different reasons) as the Democrats are, state GOP leaders have been working behind the scenes since the middle of August to get the other top Republicans in the race to drop out. So much for the idea that the backers of this recall were actually concerned with finding a better governor than Davis -- they're just drooling over the idea of getting any Republican into office. Too bad for Arnie that GOP rival Tom McClintock's much-celebrated showing in the Sept. 3 candidate debate gave McClintock the chutzpah to say the next day on National Public Radio that he would not under any circumstances bow to pressure to drop out -- and how ironic, considering that Arnie skipped that same debate.
38. If he wins, Bush gets re-elected.
Don't think so? Imagine a replay of the maddeningly close 2000 presidential election -- and then picture Bush taking California. We could see just such a scenario next year. Bush has been salivating over our state since Day One, and for a while after the big patriotic push for Gulf War II, it looked like he might have it in the bag. But a Field Poll released Aug. 21 shows his support in California eroding, with only 42 percent of voters here interested in giving him another four years -- down from 46 percent just a month earlier. (An unspecified Democrat put up against him was favored by 47 percent of those polled.) But Schwarzenegger would try to put some real muscle into Bush's campaign here, and a victory for him in the recall election will be perceived as a successful first strike in Bush's 2004 presidential election drive.
39. He openly admits to and supports drug use.
Oh, we don't mean his comments about marijuana -- we find those fascinating. No, we're talking about his unapologetic use of steroids. In 1996, he said: "I used steroids. It was a risky thing to do, but I have no regrets. It was what I had to do to compete." This guy was in charge of Bush Sr.'s President's Council on Physical Fitness? What a great role model for kids who want to really pump up!
40. He's got a Machiavellian streak. In the documentary "Pumping Iron," Arnie boasts about the dirty tricks he played against the competition, revealing blind ambition and a sobering delight at his own ability to manipulate his opponents.
41. Did we mention he creeps us out?
In "Pumping Iron," he also says "I was always dreaming about very powerful people -- dictators and things like that."
42. Oh yeah, and he's got those woman issues.
In his 1988 Playboy interview, he said that "neither my mother nor Maria is allowed to go out with me in pants." Wow, his jokes about women just get more and more hilarious!
43. He's going to dumb down politics even further.
We don't mean he's dumb. We mean the coverage of his campaign makes a Schwarzenegger governorship looks more like an entertainment story than a news story. And really, can you blame the media for having showbiz pundits cover the candidacy of a man running on the fact that he's in showbiz? Sam Farr put it to us this way: "It's like when Clint Eastwood became mayor of Carmel, and no one wanted to debate the merits of that choice, either. People just wanted a celebrity to call their own."
44. He can't get the Kennedys to back him.
C'mon, Maria Shriver is his wife, and he can't get the in-laws to put in an official nod? (A $15,000 check from Maria's mother Eunice Shriver does not count, by the way.) "I don't support the recall effort" is basically all Sen. Edward Kennedy will say, even after Maria threatened him with a crushing (see reason No. 11). Gee, maybe it's because Arnie's ... a Republican?
45. For the last time, he is a Republican.
"I'm a Republican, and I'm running as a Republican to be the next Republican governor," said Arnie on a Sacramento radio show on Aug. 26. Case closed.
46. His knee-jerk attitude towards taxes is ridiculous.
At least he's said he won't completely rule out tax increases (though we'd be interested to know what qualifies as the "dire emergency" that might justify them in his book), but other than that, his comments on taxes in this state are so radically right-wing it makes you wonder if he even realizes the seriousness of the state's budget crisis. At a news conference, he said of Californians' tax burden: "They get up in the morning and flush the toilet and they're taxed ... Tax, tax, tax, tax, tax." Um, does he even understand what Prop. 13 did?
47. He's a 'family values' Republican.
When Salon.com asked him what he considers the most pressing problem in inner cities, he replied "The parenting problem." Really! However much of a problem you think single-parent households are, the fact that Arnie thinks they're a bigger problem than poverty, joblessness, living-wage issues and a broken educational system tells you a lot about his attitudes towards the poor and working-class, who don't have the benefit of a $20 million-per-movie paycheck to get them through. Oh yeah, definitely the people's candidate.
48. He'd never survive a regular election. Providing further evidence that Arnie is a wimp (see reason No. 9), before the recall he had already been fueling speculation that he might run in the 2006 gubernatorial election. But he couldn't have hedged and stammered his way through a full election cycle nearly as well, and when you think about how much easier it is to sneak in through the back door of the recall election, it's no surprise that Arnie launched a blitzkrieg, last-minute campaign last month for which he was completely unprepared (see reasons No. 2 and No. 3).
49. He needs a serious ego check.
When his campaign appeared shocked by the late-August Los Angeles Times poll that showed him significantly trailing Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Bustamante's campaign manager Richie Ross pointed out that Arnie is "used to having his rear end kissed, not kicked." Now we remember why Californians always seem to reject the high-profile narcissistic millionaires who occasionally think they can buy an election.
50. It'll be six months before we can recall him.
Apparently, them's the rules -- no new recall effort until he's been in office for six months. But there'll be two bright spots -- first, the number of signatures needed will be smaller even than the ridiculously paltry number needed to get the David recall on the ballot; second, we're sure Arnie will understand the need to hold him responsible for his own failures. What's that, champ? Now you think the recall rules are unfair? Now you think the state needs to be freed from the burden of a badly written, exorbitantly expensive and almost impossible to execute law written by a political opportunist almost a century ago? Too late, sucker! Coming soon: "Total Recall 2!"
Sarah Phelan and Steve Palopoli are, respectively, news editor and editor of Metro Santa Cruz.
It's not easy to find the way to WAMM's garden. First, someone has to tell you where it is -- and for them to tell you where it is, you have to earn that someone's trust. Then you have to climb a long and winding road. And when you finally round the last bend in this rite of passage, you don't even get the skunky scent of marijuana to let you know that you've arrived.
At least not in February, and probably not for a while, given that the Wo/Men's Alliance of Medical Marijuana, which lost its last marijuana crop in a predawn DEA raid last fall, is not planning to grow any flavor of cannabis, at least not this year.
Which is not to say that WAMM won't be cultivating other crops -- and other projects.
At a time when groundhogs back East are typically checking their shadows, I find group co-founder Valerie Corral making prayer flags with the help of a new WAMM crop that's doubtless a groundhog favorite -- the lowly potato.
"You cut the potato in half, carve a pattern in it, smear it with paint and stamp it onto one of these cloth squares," Corral explains, as she stamps tangerine squares with a lime-green fish pattern.
Nearby, Corral's husband and WAMM co-founder Michael Corral turns the former marijuana plot with a spade and unearths ... more potatoes.
"It's still a bit early to plant," says Michael, retrieving a moist, earthy-smelling spud, "but we're preparing the ground to grow vegetables and fruits."
Watching her stamp and him dig, surrounded by a dozen WAMM members, many of whom are sick and dying, it's hard to believe that a federal court could deem this couple to be felons and seize their property, including this solace-bringing garden, for doing nothing more than implementing Prop. 215, the state's medical marijuana legislation, which California voters passed in 1996.
But clearly the will of California voters and the federal law of the land (as interpreted by federal drug czar John Walters) are not on the same page these days -- as the Corrals found out last fall, when semiautomatic-toting DEA agents arrested them in a raid that reduced their marijuana plants to stumps and left the threat of incarceration and asset forfeiture hanging over their heads.
"It makes me want to cry, what's happened, but everyone is taking it so well," says WAMM member Don Ivey, as fellow WAMMster Jean Hanamoto pegs prayer flag squares to dry and her husband George, one of WAMM's lead gardeners, discusses vegetable and flower planting with Michael.
"Anyone want to watch the videotape on Ed Rosenthal?" interrupts a voice from a nearby work shed, and next thing you know everybody crowds inside the shed, which currently houses a sewing machine for prayer flag manufacture, a VCR -- and a security camera.
The Rosenthal Debacle
The last time I watched a videotape in this shed was shortly after the DEA raid, as WAMMsters reviewed footage (captured on said security camera) of chain-saw-wielding DEA agents mowing down 160 marijuana plants that moments before stood 6 to 8 feet tall and were only moments away from being harvested.
That video triggered a whole lot of anger, frustration and tears, and had several WAMMsters shouting, "The DEA are the terrorists!" -- a comment that was all the more poignant, given that the DEA raid happened six days before the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Today, the atmosphere is lighter, though this video is equally heavy, since it deals with Ed Rosenthal, a 58-year-old family man, gardener, and bestselling author, whom a federal court recently deemed a triple felon for growing medical marijuana for the city of Oakland -- an activity authorized not only in California, but also in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington.
"Everyone agrees not to talk?" says Michael Corral, and we watch in silence as jurors who found Rosenthal guilty now say they feel guilty.
"This man is no criminal. He's a hero to thousands of people," says one juror, recalling how she wasn't allowed to hear the words "medical marijuana" in court, and only later learned that Rosenthal, whom the feds portrayed as a drug kingpin in court, was growing weed with the state's blessing to help people with AIDs, glaucoma, and cancer.
Much like the Corrals, Rosenthal was busted in a predawn raid. But unlike Michael and Valerie, who have yet to be formally charged, Rosenthal, who writes the Ask Ed column for High Times, has been sentenced to a minimum of five years in jail.
All of which helps explain this bizarre videotape in which jurors apologize to Rosenthal for a "travesty of justice," federal drug czars accuse California of "thumbing its nose at the feds" and California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer predicts a sharpening of conflict between states' rights and federal law.
But while some might see the case of Ed Rosenthal as a bad omen for medical marijuana growers, the Corrals take it as a hopeful sign, because of the public outrage it has stirred.
"We feel that people nationwide are saying that arresting medical marijuana providers is stupid. And I think public outrage is what it'll take, because I don't think the democratic process is strong enough for this administration," says Valerie, after the video ends.
"One of the most important things we've learned from all this is to do what we're doing and not live in fear. A myriad of things could happen, a couple of them very threatening, but this could also force the recognition of medical marijuana by the federal government."
Michael nods. "The trial of Ed Rosenthal awakened the judicial awareness of a lot of people, because once the jury found out what was going on, that they'd been kept in the dark about him growing it for medicinal purposes, they were outraged."
"We are the DEA's worst nightmare," adds Valerie, who has maintained scrupulous records and respectful relationships with elected officials and law enforcement officers at local and state levels.
And while they'd rather be growing and providing medicine along with emotional support to the members of their cooperative, the Corrals say they're prepared to go to jail.
"This is not really about marijuana, but about civil liberties, freedom and truth, and we'd go to jail not only believing but having experienced something to substantiate those claims," says Valerie, who discovered marijuana's healing powers firsthand after a car accident left her with epileptic seizures.
Michael agrees. "The 'criminal' part is OK, because we could win that round, but the asset forfeiture is the hardest. It threatens everything we've done for almost 30 years."
Prayer for the Dying
Though they could spend years dwelling on worst-case scenarios, the Corrals have opted to make prayer flags, plant another garden and open a hospice -- activities which, they say, help them feel like they are building while they figure out how to make the medicine without losing their land, a threat which will dog them for the next five years.
"We're still doing what we would do, it's not just about pot," says Valerie, noting that since the raid, 31 WAMM members have died, five within a single span of 11 days.
"I believe that the DEA's raid has led to these members meeting their graves sooner and with more distress," she says, "in part because of tremendous stress and worry, and in part because of a reduction in the amount of marijuana available."
And since WAMM is a club whose members are literally dying to get in -- many have cancer and AIDs -- it seems only logical for the Corrals to open a hospice, thereby putting into practice all the lessons about death that their members and others have taught them in the decade since WAMM was founded.
"Often people have that Grim Reaper impression of death, a lot of darkness about what's unknown, laced with fear, but when people have the opportunity to be met with grace of love and gentleness, often they embrace death and take it as a lover, and so begin a courtship that changes them profoundly, and allows them to seek death, instead of running from it, and to see that nothing is more important than that moment," says Valerie.
Michael nods. "Ours is human response to suffering, while the federal government fails to provide universal health care," he says.
"And if you think about the Supreme Court, all the Republican cronies, all the corporate attorneys all placed there by other corporate attorneys and the CIA and Nixon, who was placed there by the pharmaceutical industry, it's insidious, a serpent eating its tail as the American public and the rest of the world are squeezed," interjects Valerie.
"The administration gives us the message that 'Your peace marches don't matter' as they try to make a unilateral decision that affects the whole world." She shakes her head in disgust. "Great change does not come about without personal risk. You have to be willing to lose something, and what we're holding in terms of land and property has no great value in the face of loss of freedom."
For all their criticisms of the current administration, the Corrals both warn that we cannot only blame our federal government.
"We are responsible, we must act, we must be willing to risk," says Valerie. "Do we know that we risk a lot? Yes, but we don't focus on that. Prison and forfeiture of our property are just two possibilities. And though Bush and his cronies sit in their bunkers, there is no safety -- illness is not partisan, and suffering is human."
"And just because you have money to buy yourself better care doesn't make you more comfortable and less afraid of death," says Michael. "We have to personally prepare for our own deaths and to prepare the world for the coming generations. We cannot forget either of those. If we do, we make it a less pleasant place to live in. And the idea of prohibition within a supposed free society is a contradiction in terms."
This month Congressmember Sam Farr, along with California Reps Lynn Woolsey and Dana Rohrbacher, will introduce legislation that creates two legal categories of marijuana -- medical and criminal.
Farr, who authored this bipartisan legislation, says "it will allow individuals who can prove they possess or cultivate their product for medical use only to use that fact as a valid defense in a federal trial."
For, as the Rosenthal case so vividly illustrates, federal judges currently instruct juries to disregard any claim of justified growth and distribution of marijuana, even if it occurs in any of the eight states with medical marijuana statutes, a situation that leaves growers like the Corrals subject to raid, arrest, prosecution and forfeiture.
"The DEA and the Justice Department, both led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, have no respect for the laws that we here in California have established to allow patients to live pain-free lives," said Farr in a recent press release. "The purpose of this bill is to allow defendants in federal criminal trials to introduce evidence that their marijuana-related activity was performed for a valid medical purpose under state law. If a jury finds that a defendant was following state medical marijuana law, then the defendant should not be sent to prison. It's as simple as that."
Asked what they think of Farr's efforts, Valerie says, "It's particularly helpful in the wake of Rosenthal. Of course, we don't want to be arrested in the first place, but our main stumbling block in court is not being able to say the words 'medical marijuana,' so Farr's legislation is the first brick."
Michael agrees. "I have to congratulate Sam for taking that step. If we're not able to say 'medical,' they'll convict us. Will they still be able to take our property? Yes. So, we're not able to resolve suffering through one small step. We've still got 'Farr' to go."
Locally, the Corrals' legal defense team, which includes Gerald Uelman and Ben Rice, has got the county to join as a plaintiff in a lawsuit they're filing March 24, and they're also appealing the denial of their motion for a return of the pot and other property, including a computer, that was seized in the Sept. 5 raid.
"In his denial of our first motion, the judge made it clear that he was inviting us to file an appeal, and if the Corrals face criminal charges, I'm coordinating that effort,' says Rice. "Bunches of lawyers have agreed to work on this case pro bono."
Asked about the Rosenthal case, Rice says, "The part that was alarming to us was that a San Francisco jury would convict Ed. We were concerned that this would embolden the feds to come after Valerie and Michael, since the feds would have an easier time convincing a San Jose-based jury of their guilt. The flip side is that with so much outrage around that verdict, maybe it's even better for the Corrals. The more people look at this issue, the better."
As for the Corrals, they believe the war on medical marijuana is all about economics and control.
"And, I should also add in, fear on the part of the government. All governments are afraid of the people," says Michael.
And Valerie adds that she'd like to see states' rights to medical marijuana respected, access increased through rescheduling marijuana as a second class drug, and each person allowed to grow the green stuff individually.
"Otherwise, you find yourself at the whim of pharmaceutical companies and HMOs. And I don't want to hear that the feds are concerned for my health, because if they were, they'd provide us all with health insurance."
Adds Michael, "What's really necessary here is the face of patience, because there is a real need for medical marijuana. People focus on the Rosenthal trial. And I say, great, but really what this is about is that people are sick and dying. Everything always gets down to people. So, it's important that more and more people be in the peace marches, and write their reps about the war and medical marijuana, and whatever, and at least vote -- and turn off Fox News and read a book instead."
Sarah Phelan is news editor of Metro Santa Cruz.
With 2003 fast approaching and war on Iraq seeming more and more likely, here are 10 suggestions on how to make this year a more peaceful year.
- Learn more about nuclear policy. Read The New Nuclear Danger by Dr. Helen Caldicott and watch The Last Epidemic video by Eric Thierman about the medical consequences of nuclear weapons. Also, check out NuclearPolicy.org.
- Learn more about 9/11 and the war on terrorism. Read "9/11" by Noam Chomsky, "Terrorism and War" by Howard Zinn and/or "Bin laden, Islam, and America's New 'War on Terrorism'" by As'ad Abukhalil.
- Contact your Congressmember and Senators. Check out Congress.org and Senate.com for contact info.
- Join a group to help promote global peace. Check out the Resource Center for Nonviolence at 515 Broadway, Santa Cruz; 831.423.1626. You can also contact Art and Revolution at 426.2292 to get involved locally in puppet-making and street theater.
- Support the women's call for peace vigil at the White House. The vigil began Sunday, Nov. 17, and continues through March 8, International Women's Day. Check it out at United For Peace.
- Check out some links of hope on the planetary grid. Time to Shine is a good place to start.
- Buy locally, think globally--and consider giving up money. Check out Santa Cruz Barter (SCB), for an example of a not-for-profit local initiative based on exchanging "value" with one another.
- Make a difference at a local level. Your local city and county officials are always a good place to start.
- Breathe. As Judyth Hill writes, "Wage peace with your breath. Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds. Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields. Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees. Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact. Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud. Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers. Make soup. Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages. Learn to knit, and make a hat. Think of chaos as dancing raspberries, imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish. Swim for the other side. Wage peace. Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious- Have a cup of tea and rejoice. Act as if armistice has already arrived. Don't wait another minute."
- Don't wait another minute. Get naked!
Sarah Phelan is the News Editor at Metro Santa Cruz.
Getting naked leaves you vulnerable. Think nudists and thistles. Strippers and stalkers. Streakers running past, dangly parts swishing. Even professional nudists or strippers lay themselves open to criticism and ridicule, not to mention self-doubt, every time they toss their panties and Y-fronts to the wind. All of which gives you an inkling of how much courage and determination it took for 26 adults to take it all off for peace at Bonny Doon Beach in the middle of the worst winter storm this year. Yup, with the ocean raging mere yards away, and rain pissing down at times, 26 brave souls -- not to mention two very loyal dogs -- came together at the edge of the continent, where ocean meets sand, to form an international peace sign with their naked bodies.
Was this extreme act just a cute way of saying "Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth?" Or something much more powerful and desperate? In the past few months, thousands have marched against a war on Iraq, even as President Bush's trigger finger has gotten increasingly itchy. Weapon inspectors have yet to find any conclusive evidence to support claims that Saddam really is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, yet Bush and his hawks talk only in terms of assassination, regime change and first-strike nuclear attacks -- attacks that would, it might be a good time to remind everyone, likely cause millions of deaths and possibly trigger the beginning of the end of life as we know it on Earth.
Yes, clearly, extreme acts are necessary, as our Karmageddon-crazed leaders prepare for war and the rest of us prepare to celebrate the holidays. Christmas and Chanukah and Kwanzaa are here, but peace on Earth is not -- unless people around the world start taking some pretty radical steps. And like generations before them, activists in this newest wave of the peace movement are discovering that adding nudity to their public relations arsenal is one way they can get themselves major media coverage in an otherwise violence-obsessed world.
Santa Cruz is of course no stranger to naked actions. The former home of the Bare Breasted Bandits and the Mud People, this politically charged town was invaded in July by the Areola Rebel Forces, who brandished the Mammary Manifesto as they removed their shirts at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting to protest ordinances that were supposed to target drugs, violence and harassment, but also affected street performers -- and topless women.
"Naked people and artists are not the problem ... Drug addicts rarely shoot up naked ... The only time women go topless is to make political statements," declared one topless ARF member as she addressed a red-faced council, who subsequently decided to hold off enforcing said ordinances until at least January 2003.
That same month, thousands of miles away, hundreds of Nigerian women threatened to disrobe -- a local symbol of shame -- and brought production to a halt at Chevron Texaco pipeline facilities. In the past, actions against Nigerian-based oil and gas companies have taken the form of kidnapping and sabotage, but the women managed to strike a deal with Chevron without resorting to violence, a deal that hopefully will bring jobs and funding for schools and hospitals to their desperately poor region.
And this November, 50 members of the group calling themselves the UnReasonable Women of Marin bared all in Point Reyes Station to spell out "peace," an action that got international attention and inspired the naked peace sign in Santa Cruz, with rumblings of similarly indecent actions in other activist hot spots in the future.
Making Peace with Our Bodies
Can we be frank? Some of us who participated in the naked peace sign you see on the cover had a bit of performance anxiety about our naked appearance prior to the event. If only we'd known, we'd have laid off the doughnuts and started doing sit-ups months ago, some of us complained, while others wished this all could have happened a lot sooner -- and certainly before gravity took its inevitable toll.
All of which made it even more powerful when we finally did bare all. Lying naked on the sand, bathed in rain as if the ocean had just spit us up onto the edge of both the continent and the current political spectrum, all of us -- men and women, young and old, black and white -- looked beautiful and felt courageous in our full frontal vulnerability.
Maybe we will all make peace with our bodies, I thought afterwards, as fellow peacesters acknowledged how crazy it is that shots of male genitalia are largely still taboo, when close-ups of breasts and vaginas greet the average convenience-store shopper at every turn.
Or, as Donna Sheehan, the driving force behind the UnReasonable Woman of Marin's peace sign, put it: "Penises are hard to publish, so get the guys to put them between their legs or bend their knees up."
Sheehan, who says the peace sign idea came to her in a dream, likes to point out that naked bodies are weapons we can use undetected in our fight for peace, no matter what Homeland Security says, thinks or does.
Sure, there are some who will say that taking our clothes off for peace is ridiculous, an act that does nothing other than cater to the media's taste for all things prurient. And yes, going nude for peace definitely taps into our nations' puritanical fascination with sexuality -- but doesn't it also turn it on its head? Let's face it, endorsing a war and allowing a nuclear buildup -- neither of which will create peace or security -- is far more ridiculous than anything we could dream of doing with our naked bodies and a camera. Besides, blatant acts of public nudity are unlikely to trigger World War III.
Take-Offs and Put-Ons
Anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, who once disrobed with 50 others and marched through San Francisco chanting "Nudes, not nukes!" was delighted to hear about our naked version of the peace sign, a sign based on an inverted life rune, and first used as an anti-nuclear emblem in 1958, at a demonstration outside Aldermaston, a British research center for nuclear weapon development.
"What if thousands of people got inspired and went to Washington and took their clothes off for peace?" asked Caldicott, reached by phone in Australia.
Warning that "we're in grave danger of a nuclear conflict, more than we've ever been and much more than in the 1980s," Caldicott revealed that she's preparing to move to Washington to be, as she put it, "where the power and the source of the wickedness is."
That's good news for all of us who are wondering why more isn't being said in Washington as Bush gives the green light for an anti-missile defense system -- which, as Caldicott points out in her latest book, The New Nuclear Danger, "would be utterly useless against suicidal men armed with box cutters and plane tickets."
Her own experience in the San Francisco march speaks volumes about the possibilities for nude peace. "I've never seen people so exhilarated, ever," said Caldicott, "and it taught me that a) the human body is so vulnerable, b) so absolutely pure and beautiful, and c) clothes separate us. I've never felt so courageous in my life."
Sure, you may not want to get naked for peace -- yet -- but in the meantime you could do worse than reading her uncannily well-timed tome, in which she explains why "aggressive militarization under the rubric of defense against terrorism threatens to provoke a chain reaction among nuclear nations," and how "there is now enough explosive power in the combined nuclear arsenals of the world to "overkill every person on earth 32 times."
And that's not counting all other life forms on this rock we call Earth.
Yes, as the year draws to a close, and people make their New Year's resolutions, here's hoping you'll be asking, "So, what can I do for peace?"
Sarah Phelan is the News Editor for Metro Santa Cruz.
The war on drugs is making a comeback -- with a vengeance. Six days short of the Sept.11 anniversary, D.E.A. agents put federal tax dollars to work by raiding the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (better known as WAMM), a Santa Cruz County, Calif.-based cooperative and one of the most successful medicinal marijuana programs in the nation.
At 7 a.m., Sept. 5, a dozen camouflage-clad agents showed up at the Davenport home of Valerie and Michael Corral, who founded WAMM a decade ago. Pointing their weapons, the agents told wheelchair-bound WAMM member Suzanne Pfeil to stand up. "I can't stand up. I told them I was sorry," said Pfeil, who suffers from post-polio syndrome.
DEA agents then arrested a pajama-clad Valerie Corral, along with her husband Michael.
According to DEA spokesman Richard Meyer, the Corrals were arrested and taken into custody in San Jose on federal charges of intent to distribute marijuana, but by mid-afternoon they had been released, with the U.S. Attorney's office declining to file charges.
Their release ended a three-hour standoff between 30 WAMM members and supporters and the Drug Enforcement Agency agents. Bearing placards announcing "Warning: Federal Crime in Process" and "Marijuana is Medicine," outraged WAMMers blockaded the dirt road that leads to the Corrals property in the hills near Davenport.
Destroying WAMM's 2002 crop took the DEA under an hour, as clocked by a WAMM security camera that captured chainsaw-wielding agents mowing down 130 pungently aromatic plants, which moments before stood 6-8 ft tall and only weeks away from being harvested.
But leaving the property proved more complex. When these same agents realized they were hostage to an imminent confrontation, they called the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's office, which has worked closely with the Corrals to make sure the WAMM operation remains within state law.
Summoned to the scene around 2 p.m., a reluctant-looking Sgt. Terri Moore cut through a chain padlock and arranged for the safe passage of the agents, who left in a cavalcade of SUVs and U-Haul trucks once Valerie Corral told WAMM member and security chief Daniel Rodriguez to let them through.
Still, the battle wasn't over yet.
"Shame on You!" shouted WAMM members as the agents drove past, expressions masked by tinted windows
"The whole thing is an outrageous joke, an act of violence under guise of the law, theft at the federal level, war against the people of California, who voted to have this medicine, which they are stealing, " said Joe Wouk, as the agents drove away.
WAMM was born out of founder Valerie Corral's efforts to alleviate her own epilepsy seizures, which began soon after she suffered a head injury in a car accident three decades ago. In 1974, Coral discovered marijuana was far more effective than pharmaceuticals, and for the next 18 years she and her husband cultivated a few plants each year to supply themselves and their friends.
In 1992, they were arrested twice for cultivation -- and both times they cited their right to grow marijuana for medical use as a defense. Valerie Corral was instrumental in drafting California's Proposition 215, whose 1996 passage allowed patients and their caregivers to grow pot for medicinal purposes.
Prop. 215's passage also led to the birth of various "pot clubs," which charged their members for services and products, often for as much or more than the going street value. But WAMM remains a collective in which members volunteer time in exchange for marijuana and hospice-style services.
As one WAMM-member put it, "WAMM is a club people are literally dying to get into. Many of us have AIDS and cancer. 40 members passed to the other side this year."
Since the passage of Proposition 215, many pot clubs have been shut down, including several in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thursday's raid was the latest round in an escalating tug of war between local and federal authorities.
In addition to California, 7 other states -- Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington -- allow the cultivation of medical marijuana. But U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft maintains that Proposition 215 and other such measures violate federal drug law.
After the raid, members of the cooperative and media drove up to the farm that sits on a sun-soaked southerly-facing ridge. But though the farm has an ocean view, the vista was marred by the ravaged scene that greeted them.
Framed by a "Love Grows Here" sign, the once flourishing garden had been reduced to a mess of stumps and tangled wire, on which the occasional leaf hung rag-like -- a sight that spurred some into action and others to tears.
"This was such a beautiful place. What can you say, but fuck? I remember watering this plant," said Sheri Paris, as she salvaged some crushed leaves. "I sincerely believe some of our members are going to be suicidal. They won't be able to get the medicine they need to deal with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and the unbearable muscle seizures that quadriplegics suffer."
Meanwhile a sobbing Diana Dodson wanted to know why the DEA is terrorizing sick people. "We've lost 40 members this year and that number will increase because of this raid," said Dodson, who has AIDS.
Dale Gieringer, who is California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, noted that since Sept. 11, 25 people have been busted for medical marijuana in California, but only one for terrorism.
Danny Rodriguez said his partner, who also does WAMM security, was handcuffed and held for an hour after he followed the D.E.A. agents to the farm at the start of the early morning raid. "It kills me to think Americans are doing this to other Americans, " said Rodriguez, who also has AIDS.
"(D)ead members are buried here. They have desecrated a sacred spot in many ways," said Deb Silverknight, a retired nurse and self-described black Cherokee priestess.
Sitting in a chair amid the carnage, Ralph Trueblood said, "Maybe this will be the turning point in the federal war on marijuana. Let's all hope and pray this is, because the feds have gone too far. We are all emotional, crying, laughing, in disbelief. For nine years, our members have been able to get their medicine. Now that's interrupted. I believe there will be a great outpouring of public sympathy."
Also grieving in the garden was Harry Boyle, 24, and his caregiver and fiancee, Courtney Connolly. Connolly says Boyle's experience has changed her perspective on marijuana. "I used to be anti all drugs and I don't smoke at all, but I see how much it helps him and all the people here. They can sleep, eat, function, and be in a good mood," she said.
Boyle, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, says smoking helps him cope with headaches and the stress of chemotherapy. "I was unable to even keep down the anti-nausea pills," says Boyle, who dropped from 200 lb. to 160 lb. before he joined WAMM.
While Jean Hanamoto described the scene as a tragedy, her husband George, who is one of the chief gardeners, tried to look at the bright side. "Maybe this will be a shot in the arm for volunteerism," he said. "Nothing pulls people together like getting their shit messed with!"
And the arrival of the freshly liberated Corrals helped turn the mood in the garden from a wake to a celebration. With wind chimes tinkling in the background, Valerie Corral, still dressed in her pajamas, stood in the middle of the plot, holding hands with husband Michael and other collective members. She vowed that WAMM will become stronger than ever before.
"It feels as though this garden has been desecrated, there's not a story about this garden that does not intersect with our lives. But we have something remarkable here, which they can never take away," Corral told the group, as marijuana smoke drifted in the air.
"What we are doing is so powerful, so true, nothing the Feds can do to us can change that truth," she said. "You have to stand up against injustice in all its forms."
For more info, contact WAMM at www.wamm.org.
Sarah Phelan is the News Editor at Metro Santa Cruz.
When August and the wicked dog days of summer arrive, Burning Man fans rejoice. For many, the past 330 or so days have been one long countdown in which they've superglued plastic Virgin Marys onto car hoods, welded alien chicken heads onto stainless steel bodies and concocted all manner of buttock-baring costumes.
And now, finally, it's time to don the neon green wig, jump into the art car, alien chickens in tow, and hurtle down the road to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, where Burning Man will burn Aug. 26 through Sept. 2.
But wait! What about us Burning Man virgins who are thinking about going, but don't know what to expect? Is it true everyone prances about naked? And what do you do to keep from getting sand in your sandwiches? To answer these and other burning questions, we consulted with three Burning Man veterans: Steve Hosking, Leza Leopard and Christian Fine.
Bare-Assed And Loving It
Asked how he avoids getting a sunburn on his butt, Hosking, who likes to hike round the desert buck-naked, except for a pointy hat that nomadic tribesmen in the Sahara badlands favor, says, "Gallons of sunblock."
"And take tons of water," adds Hosking, who is building a seven-headed fire-belching dragon as an accessory to his creation, Satan's Calliope, a totally freaky-looking bare-ribbed beast of a pipe organ, which Hosking plays on a plug-in keyboard while fire whooshes around above his head.
While Hosking prefers to go nude, others prefer to flirt with fancy dress. Last year, Christian Fine went as human cotton candy, which involved bleaching all his body hair pink ("I'm a hairy guy," Fine notes), wearing a pink wig, draping his body with hot-pink clothes and riding a pink bicycle, while carrying 40 bags of cotton candy.
This year, he's going as Crepe Suzette of the French Maid Brigade, a quasi-paramilitary-looking operation whose formation he describes as serendipitous.
"I found 14 French maid costumes on sale for $2.50 each," says Fine, "but it turned out they were all child-sized. Which seems kinda perverted -- I mean, who would dress their kid like that for Halloween?"
As a result, they retrofitted the costumes, which still run a little short, "but that's OK, because part of the brigade's mission is to make sure everyone gets to see a little crotch, as we dust everyone's camp in a futile, hilarious and sexy effort to clean away the dust," says Fine, who was last seen shopping for thigh-high fishnets.
"We are a bunch of rock stars. Or porn stars. Burning Man is a gift economy, which is where the French Maids come in, because we are all about service."
Things Fine considers must-takes? "Bring a bicycle that you don't care about. With 25,000 to 30,000 people in attendance, it's essential for getting about, since things are spread over several miles. And bring a car or van you don't care about either, because the dust on the playa corrodes everything, but a van is great to sleep in. Oh, and prepare to fully immerse yourself. Don't be a spectator."
Big Party, Big Hair
But how does a French Maid stay coquettish with all that playa dust blowing about? Platform shoes, says hair artist Leza Leopard.
"Something elevated is essential for the feet, because of the playa dust, but combat boots also work and have the added advantage of letting you wear socks and lotion," she says.
As for hair, it's going to get wild and covered in dust.
"You'll look like you're wearing a powdered wig, but the good news is that between the sweat and dust, you'll end up with big hair," says Leopard, who recommends you leave your delicate fabrics and family heirlooms at home.
"Nothing will look -- or feel -- the same after Burning Man. And with temperatures being extreme, layers are best. That way you can bundle up on your bicycle as you go from rave to rave, then peel off while you dance."
While many feel safe going around scantily clad, Leopard says beware of "the Looky Lous" -- white-males-with-beer-in-hand, who walk around, mostly on the weekend, and check things out, although apparently they are less of a problem now that tickets, which cost $200 ahead and $250 at the gate, won't be sold after Thursday, Aug. 29.
Whatever happens, no one will try to convert you, says Leopard. "Sure, you can get your pubic hair shaped and your bottom spanked and you'll be invited to push your edge, but no one is forcing you."
Sarah Phelan is news editor of Metro Santa Cruz.
-- Matt Ridley, "Genome" (1999)
With his green felt hat tugged down over wispy black hair, and his thick black beard, Jim Kent looks like a woodcutter who has just hacked a path through a forest a whisker ahead of a band of treasure-seeking dwarves. In a way he has. Only Kent's forest consisted of 400,000 pieces of data and those "dwarves" were employees of biotech giant Celera Genomics. As for the treasure that both Kent and Celera sought, it was a document of unparalleled worth -- the first rough draft of the complete human genome.
The human genome is best compared to a very long yet very compressed book -- a biological Zip drive, if you will -- tucked inside the nucleus of each of the 100 trillion cells of our bodies. Organized into 23 chapters, one for each chromosome, each genome contains encoded instructions that help shape appearance, intelligence, health and behavior. No single human genome is the definitive edition of our book of life. Yet each version contains a how-to-manual for putting together a human being.
Little wonder, then, that the public and private sectors ended up competing to be the first to put together this priceless document. It was a high-stakes race with access to -- and control of -- the knowledge contained in our genetic blueprint at stake. More surprising was that Kent, a graduate student at University of California at Santa Cruz, became the unlikely hero of this sprint.
Trying to access the secret of life has always been a diabolical business -- it cost Adam and Eve their paradise, Dracula and Faust their souls and Dr. Frankenstein his sanity. But in 1953, scientists Francis Crick and James Watson seemed to have found the secret without striking any satanic deals.
They discovered that DNA contained a code written along a spiraling double helical staircase. This code could copy itself, potentially into infinity, using only four chemical letters (A, T, G and C). But unraveling this code proved to be a riddle of Tolkienesque proportions, one that biologists are still working on.
As Kent puts it, "It's like we've painstakingly laid out the Dead Sea scrolls and photocopied them, but we still only have a vague understanding of what language they're written in."
To complicate matters, the information in these "scrolls" is so vast it could fill 800 Bibles, but so compressed it could fit on the head of a pin. Yet by 1995, an academic consortium of scientists had already been chipping away for five years at the massive task of mapping all this data under the publicly funded umbrella of the Human Genome Project.
The Human Genome Project had first been envisioned 10 years earlier by former UCSC chancellor Robert S. Sinsheimer. At first, biologists had resisted the idea. Mapping the human genome was the biological equivalent of putting a man on the moon, and some feared that its cost -- an estimated $3 billion -- would suck dry the well of microbiological research funds. But the vision prevailed, and by 1990, the Human Genome Project was up and plodding, financed by the U.S. National Institute of Health and England's philanthropic Wellcome Trust.
More than a thousand scientists in the United States and England, as well as in France, Germany, China and Japan, toiled away using slow but methodical research techniques, and by 1998 they had mapped 90 percent of our genetic blueprint for life.
And that's when a privately launched bombshell hit.
In May 1998, Dr. Craig Venter, a brilliant and controversial scientist, announced he was forming a company (which would later become Celera) with the objective of sequencing the human genome first -- and patenting the results.
While working at the National Institute of Health, Venter had been part of the first mass patenting of genes (which had, scandalously enough, been undertaken by the U.S. government itself). And now here he was, heading a commercial operation with massive sequencing capabilities, and threatening to snatch the treasure and lock it up in patents. If he succeeded, the fruits of years of research could be inaccessible for years, except to those willing and able to pay a hefty price.
In response to this threat, more money was pumped into the Human Genome Project, and a new deadline was set. Then in the winter of 1999, Eric Lander, director of the Genome Center at MIT's Whitehead Institute, asked Dr. David Haussler, a professor of computer science at UCSC and a leader in the field of bioinformatics, for help analyzing the project's data. Haussler took a look and said he'd need to assemble the data first, though he wasn't sure how. By spring 2000, he was still looking for the solution. Enter Kent.
A former computer animation programmer, Kent, 41, had returned to UCSC -- where he had earned two degrees in mathematics more than a decade earlier -- this time to study biology. As part of his graduate research, he analyzed the DNA of the lab worm C. elegans. And now it was May 2000, and he had just passed his Ph.D. qualifying exam.
Seeing that Haussler, a senior colleague with whom Kent had already collaborated, was still working on sequencing the Human Genome Project data, Kent made Haussler an offer neither of them would ever forget: Maybe he could modify his worm-analysis program for human DNA?
The offer pitched Kent into the forefront of the race with Celera. Nine months later, sitting in Haussler's office in front of a white board scrawled full of probability algorithms, Kent confesses that he was surprised at the significance his role in that race assumed.
"I thought I'd be one of thousands of researchers figuring out how you go from a genome to a human," Kent recalls, "but it turned out we needed this basic assembly first. I was at the right place at the right time with the right abilities and a little bit of luck."
What Kent calls luck, the rest of us would call genius. Working 80-hour weeks in a converted garage behind his bungalow, Kent (aided and abetted by 100 Pentium 111 processors) designed and wrote in one month flat a computer program called GigAssembler. which organized the project's data into a coherent sequence using what Kent terms "a greedy algorithm." GigAssembler enabled Haussler, Kent and a team of UCSC researchers to analyze the Human Genome Project's data and put together a working draft of the genome's sequence.
On June 22, 2000, they made history as they witnessed the human genome's first assembly -- an event Kent likens to the Wright brothers' first flight.
"People were working on that project, too, all over the world, and it was never 100 percent clear who actually flew first," he says, referring to the fact that their version of the genome, while less complete, was assembled a few days earlier than Celera's.
Recalling that moment, the ever-youthful-looking Haussler (who is in his late 40s) leans his lanky frame back in his chair and smiles. "Watching all those As, Ts, Gs and Cs came flying across the screen at the first assembly was the personal thrill of my career," he says. "To see it all come together here in Santa Cruz was amazing. That's the day we flew."
That first flight signaled an end to the assembly race, which was declared an official draw just four days later. On June 26, 2000, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the publicly funded Human Genome Research Institute, appeared at a White House press conference alongside Celera founder Venter.
It was a cordial event. Each announced that his group had successfully assembled the human genome and would publish the results, simultaneously (an event that occurred in February 2001, but in separate journals -- the public consortium publishing in Nature, the private sector in Science).
But Kent and Haussler weren't done. On July 7, 2000 -- two weeks after their breakthrough -- they placed their version squarely in the public domain by posting it on the web.
"The data wasn't yet perfect, although it's going to be mighty fine come 2003," Kent says, flashing a smile. "But it's very powerful knowledge. The genie's out of the bottle, and I think it's better for everybody to have a crack at it, than have it hidden away somewhere."
Haussler nods his agreement. "We didn't want the genome to be controlled by a few," he says. "It has to belong to all of humanity." And humanity was waiting. On July 7, UCSC servers put out half a terabyte of information, as 20,000 people downloaded the genome.
And by Christmas, a compressed copy of it, which Kent jokingly refers to as "Hillary's stocking stuffer," was on CD and en route to the White House to be put in a time capsule.
Nine months later, interest is still growing, with the UCSC browser at http://genome.ucsc.edu receiving an average of 40,000 hits daily.
"People are looking for genes that have been predicted, and for critical evidence they are disease related," Haussler says. "We get letters from people commenting on the fact that there are no restrictions, no patents, no protections -- that it's going out to humanity, no strings attached, and the realization that it's irreversible, that it's out in the public, that it's free. You can't go back once that happens and lock it away."
Our Genes in Their Hands
Or can you? Despite Kent and Haussler's efforts and their decision to put their version of the genome in the public domain, all our genes do not belong to us. Celera has already applied for patents on between 500 and 1,000 human genes, and other biotech companies are standing in line.
As Kent explains, "Celera had access to the public consortium's data, while not sharing their own, thereby ending up with a 10-percent data edge. But without our intervention, Celera might have ended up patenting a lot more choice genes to maximize shareholder value. And their customers would have patented even more, while smaller and academic labs in particular would have had less access. So, we've had some impact."
In the past, researchers were allowed to patent genes in bulk on the basis of a few hours' work -- "and several weeks with their patent lawyers," Kent adds. But this January, the United States Patent and Trademark Office tightened the law.
"Now people will have to do a substantial amount of research to demonstrate they've gone beyond the published state of the art," Kent explains. "They'll have to demonstrate more knowledge of the function of the gene as well as a path toward a drug, before they can patent and monopolize a gene for 17 years. But some people feel the law still isn't strong enough."
Despite all this, Kent and Haussler aren't hostile toward their peers at Celera. "The rift between Craig Venter and the academic consortium predated UCSC's involvement," Kent says, "so we don't really share it. Venter has always marched to a different drummer, and I kinda like the drummer he marches to. It's partly because of him the public project's adopting new technologies and going more quickly."
As for Haussler, he says the people he knows at Celera understand the nobility, excitement and value of the project. "Their feeling was that the only way this project was going to happen was through a substantial investment and the kind of growth directiveness that typifies Celera. So, I respect their choice. And I don't think of it as an evil enterprise. When you look at the broader scale, we're not going to get to new medicine without substantial private investment."
Written in a linear, one-dimensional form, the human genome uses a very small alphabet (A, T, G and C) to form 1 billion exclusively three-letter words with a multiplicity of meanings. These words generate stories, or genes, which act much like pieces of software: they can run on any system and have the same function whether they are on the genome of catfish, caterpillars or Catherine Zeta-Jones.
A genome is clever -- it can reproduce and read itself. But it also makes mistakes, like any photocopying machine -- mistakes that eventually add up to old age or disease. And over 50 percent of our genome consists of repetitious and scrambled phrases -- the so-called "junk" DNA. If our genome were a continent, it would be a vast repetitive landscape with only the occasional city, a gene, twinkling in the darkness between. But in its entirety it's a very powerful tool.
With the assembled genome in hand, biotechnicians hope to develop tailor-made drug treatments. They also hope to cure, or even eliminate, genetic diseases like schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but the genome has a darker side, too. It's the key to a Pandora's box of designer babies, postnatally modified people, and clones.
So what kind of changes is the assembly of the human genome likely to bring in the short term? Kent predicts that we'll see a new generation of drugs better tailored to individuals -- a change that will happen soon, "because pharmaceutical companies have the scent of money on this one. I wouldn't be surprised if within a year or two the drop of blood taken in the emergency room goes toward finding out what your genetic code is to help determine how much of a drug they should give you and whether you would have an adverse reaction to a particular drug."
Genetic testing, for instance, may also help people sensitive to formaldehyde, which is emitted by new carpets and other components in new buildings. Says Kent, "A lot of people go around moaning, saying, 'I can't work in the new building, it's making me sick,' to which their boss says, 'You slacker!' But in the future, you'll be able to see if there's a genetic reason for all those headaches."
On the other hand, employers could use tests to try to weed out prospective employees with predispositions not only for headaches but also for developing a series of fatal diseases. And without adequate protective legislation, such tests could lead to increased insurance rates for people with high-risk genes.
So far, neither state governments nor the federal government have passed laws specific to genetic testing. "As technology develops," Haussler says, "we'll be able to ascertain a lot about people from their genetic code. Certainly, you shouldn't be able to do this surreptitiously and use that information against them."
Laws, such as the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act, already exist to protect people from having their medical information used against them. Kent hopes that legislators will realize that genetic information should be treated with the same sort of confidentiality.
"Besides," he adds, "we all have about 100 pre-existing genetic conditions," a reality that could make it impossible to develop comprehensive tests. But selective tests for the top 50 diseases will soon be possible, thereby providing people who have genes for incurable conditions with the bleakest form of self-knowledge possible, although also giving them a chance to decrease their risks.
Within five years, Kent expects we'll begin benefiting from gene-targeted therapies and that parents will have the possibility of patching embryos for genetic disease. He worries, though, about the potential loss of genes that are currently deemed negative.
"Eighty percent of people in America want to be thinner than they are, right?" he says. "But it doesn't take much of a change in their environment for having an accumulation of a little bit of fat to be a very good thing indeed."
Twenty years down the line? By then we'll likely have better therapies based on greater genetic understanding, as well as the possibility that we'll be able to avoid giving our offspring a "bad" gene. But Kent also anticipates an explosion of fashionable genes and greater disparities between the rich and the poor, based on access to such "benefits."
"At age 12, most Americans no longer wear clothes their mom buys them," Kent muses. "What makes you think that in 50 years, they're gonna be content with genes their mom and dad put into them? What happens when people want to have modifications to be stronger, smarter, faster, for instance? The Olympic committee will have a lot of fun trying to figure it all out."
Kent believes that eventually postnatal genetic modifications of children will be a common scenario. He recommends that people arrange for their children's umbilical cords to be frozen, not in the family icebox, but at liquid nitrogen temperature.
"Very flexible cells are present in this region that are likely to have medical uses," he explains. That way, if a certain type of your cells breaks down -- as happens with diabetes or Parkinson's disease -- these cells could relatively easily be induced to grow into replacements. And they may end up useful for gene therapy if you turn out to have a genetic disorder."
The tailoring of children, however, strikes him as riskier and therefore less likely.
"Maybe a somewhat selective guiding of things from the parents is not too dangerous," he says. "But you can go further and say, 'Why don't we patch in just a little bit of Keanu Reeves here.' That makes me worried. Diversity is very important for the evolution of the species."
Even scarier is the prospect of newer, modified genes.
"About a year ago, scientists found a way to modify a particular gene inside a mouse that made it learn its mazes faster -- the smart mouse," says Kent, who speculates that such modifications might work well in humans at first. "But all of a sudden at age 20, you might start having uncontrollable brain seizures. And that's the problem. How many children are you going to want to test these things out on?"
Just because a procedure isn't ethical, doesn't mean it isn't possible. Human modifying, tailoring and cloning are all on the cards, not because the public approves, but because a relative few are desperate or rich enough to take action. But to what end?
It likely won't be easy to improve on the genome, a thing we've been working on for 3 billion years. Besides, the genome is not the complete story of life. Having the blueprint for Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Einstein does not a genius make. We are bigger than the sum of our genes. Nurture and flat-out luck still play their parts.
Does Kent ever worry about the power of the tool he helped unleash?
"Did Robert Oppenheimer stop [the] fighting among the superpowers, or did he set us up to destroy ourselves? What we're doing isn't as drastic as destroying the species, but ultimately it'll come down to modifying the species. And that scares me," Kent admits.
Whether we have the wisdom to handle the knowledge revealed to us in assembling the human genome is the next big question. But it would be unfair to blame scientists like Kent, who has taken his leave and is disappearing into the redwoods that dwarf UCSC campus, if we can't see the forest for the trees.