The Year in Bits:July - December

Illustrations by Bob AulJULY

WEENIE ROAST The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council reported that Americans consumed a record 155 million weenies on the Fourth of July. That beat the old record set on July 4, 1999, by 5 million hot dogs. How the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council figures out exactly how many franks were eaten is a meat mystery to us. We don't recall anyone with a clipboard and a clicker stopping by our barbecue—then again, we were grilling lasagna. And what about all those dogs that fall into the hot coals? Surely there were thousands of those around the U.S. Do they count? The Washington, D.C.-based coalition apparently knows not only how many were scarfed down but also what kind, noting that Americans are moving away from tofu, veggie, turkey, chicken and other low- or no-fat dogs and going for the all-beef variety. "They're high in fat and high in calories, but Americans seem to love them," said a council spokesman. In a related story, the National Rat Hair & Droppings Council reported that Americans consumed a record amount of their products on the Fourth, too.

THE SEARCHERS A life-size cutout of John Wayne in full cowboy costume was swiped from the front of a barbershop on El Toro Road in Lake Forest, the Registerreported on July 6. The fake Duke was close to a trash can, and a woman was seen loading it into a white van. Shop owner Louie Troiano thinks the woman may have mistakenly thought it was being thrown away. We're not so sure it was a lady. It coulda been Wayne himself! Or haven't you seen the supposedly dead Newport Beach resident's reanimated self in those creepy Coors commercials?

SWING CRAZE The city of Costa Mesa filed suit on July 7 against Panther Palace, the fabled house on the town's westside that has hosted bimonthly orgies since 1985. The city contends the swingers club is a business operating without a license in a residential neighborhood. Undercover officers claim they paid $40 to enter a partner-swapping party, which brings a whole new meaning to that well-worn copism, "I've got your back, partner." The disguised dicks had only gone in—wink-wink, nudge-nudge—to see if minors were about the place or if prostitution was present or if people were being forced into sex through drugs and alcohol. Which would be bad. Fortunately, none of that was found. Do you suppose zoot-suiters ever show up thinking it's a different kind of swing club? "You want me to wrap my watch chain around what?"

SURF SHITTY Plenty of surfers who competed in the Bluetorch Pro at Huntington State Beach worried whether the brown water would sicken them, according to comments the sponsor solicited on the beach and then posted on its website on July 19. "It's really dark-brown now," said Ross Williams. "It can't be too good for you 'cause it's all thick and grainy, and I think you could get maybe an eye infection or an ear infection." Rob Machado asked if anyone had tested the water. "It's weird," he said. "The water doesn't look all blue and happy." Pat O'Connell was the most blunt: "I think we should not surf today. Does Kobe Bryant have to play if there are viruses on the court or a piece of crap at the free-throw line? But they don't care about surfers. If they did, we wouldn't be surfing." But Beau Emerton was more miffed over something that reportedly has organizers of several contests considering skipping Surf City in the future. "The surf," he said, "is more of a concern—how shitty it is." By shitty, he means flat, not shit-filled.

AUGUST

OCEANS AWAY Admit it: for a moment there, you were panicked when it appeared that a patch of undeveloped land might stand in the way of developers, toll-road operators and their assorted tub-thumpers in government—and that said land might stand in silent rebuke to our mandate to subdue the Earth and let the creatures on it fear our wrath. But on Aug. 8, we let every species—every bug, amphibian, fish, rodent and varmint—in the state know who's boss. On that day, state Senator Tom Hayden's (D-Los Angeles) bill that would have prevented the extension of the Foothill South toll road from being carved into San Onofre State Beach park died in the Assembly. If, as expected, that path is used, it will mark the first time that a private road has been laid over land bought, maintained and owned by state taxpayers. It could also pollute a rare trout stream. On Aug. 10, the Irvine Co.—after agreeing to concessions that will hopefully keep Crystal Cove waters pristine at least some months of the year—won state Coastal Commission approval to grade land and lay sewer lines for 600 homes overlooking the ocean between Newport and Laguna beaches. Runoff from those exclusive pads and 2,000 more in the same hills could wreak havoc on a sensitive ecosystem that includes one of the state's few birthing spots for dolphins. The Registernoted the megadeveloper "still must win Orange County . . . approval for building permits" for the 600 homes, which is kind of like saying the sun still must win the rooster's approval to rise.

CONFIDENTIAL TO BRIXEY You are soooo pathetic. How could you let Al Gore, the national media and the Democratic Party hierarchy—those are different entities, right?—come down on you over that gig at Hef's? You should have told those asswipes that they need you more than you need them. In an election year in which the GOP closed its eyes and pretended to love gays, blacks and Latinos, would the Demo fat cats really have kept their star Latina off the podium—and let everyone know they kept her off the podium? What kind of message would that have sent your constituents, your opponents and Latino voters everywhere? Remember: you're the only Democrat in the congressional delegation of the most Republican county in the country. The Democrats wanted the House back. For years, you were a Republican. You should have reminded Al Gore Inc. that you always have the option of switching back. Once they realized a well-financed incumbent Latina Republican could own that district (forever), they'd have let you hold your party on Larry Flynt's face.

DICK PARK A small group of county residents who have pushed for the construction of an urban park at the now-shuttered El Toro Marine Corps Air Station discovered they have an unlikely supporter on Aug. 13: Tom Fuentes. Writing in the Register, the longtime Orange County Republican Party head urged readers to "forget the airport. Let the federal government transfer El Toro from the Pentagon to the Interior Department and create a park for all Americans. How about Richard Nixon Urban National Park?" We don't care if they stuff Nixon's corpse and mount it at the park entrance. We're for a park. But Tom Fuentes? As head of the Republican party, he authorized GOP-funded poll guards in heavily Latino voting areas during the 1988 election. He's the guy who once told the Los Angeles Times that he could "tell you the registration of the people in a house by observing the neatness of the lawn and what cars are in the driveway." Wooohooo! The rightest of the right-wingers, the tribal chieftain of the Republican Cavemen himself, is now standing beside liberal Larry Agran in calling for a massive people's park at El Toro.

SHANTAE MOLINA IS INNOCENT An Orange County jury on Aug. 14 acquitted Shantae Molina, a 22-year-old Laguna Niguel mother county prosecutors alleged had "executed" her 8-month-old son in October 1998. Despite authorities' intense, sometimes questionable tactics to obtain her confession, Molina never wavered. She had accidentally shot baby Armani with her stepfather's handgun, she said, as she peered through a den window after hearing what she thought was a burglar outside. The verdict after a three-week trial was an utter rebuke of Orange County law enforcement. The sheriff's department had used the media—the Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register—to paint Molina as a cold-blooded killer, and the DA's office had boasted that they had "all the evidence . . . solid evidence" necessary to send the young woman to prison for life. The jury, however, saw it differently. "There just wasn't evidence," one juror said matter-of-factly. Molina asserted in a $25 million pre-lawsuit civil-rights claim filed immediately following the verdict that "abusive" prosecutors and "perjurious" sheriff's department detectives rushed to judgment and cobbled together a sensational, headline-grabbing murder case against an innocent woman.

THE KID IS FREE! On Aug. 22, Arthur Carmona walked out of jail a free man after serving two and a half years for a crime he didn't commit. The day before, Judge Everett Dickey told a packed courtroom that Carmona, 18, would be released from jail immediately under the terms of a last-minute agreement between his defense team and the Orange County district attorney's office. In agreeing to "vacate" Carmona's conviction, the OC district attorney's office tried to put the best spin on what amounted to a fiasco—and did so in the least defensible manner: by blaming his legal victory on the work of pesky reporters. Prosecutors asserted that Carmona was the gunman in the robberies of an Irvine juice bar and a Costa Mesa restaurant. But none of the eyewitnesses who tagged Carmona as the culprit did so until police placed on his head a Lakers cap linked to the Irvine robbery but never to Carmona. Adding insult to Carmona's injury, DA Tony Rackauckas implied that Carmona had gotten off easy. Speaking directly to Carmona, Rackauckas said, "Arthur, it's a rare event that a convicted defendant gets this kind of break. You are getting a second chance. Don't let yourself or your supporters down. When you get out, find a job, improve your skills, [and] have a good and productive life—do not commit any crimes!" Carmona was required to sign a waiver stipulating that neither police nor prosecutors had committed any wrongdoing. "I am appalled at the way the DA handled this case," said his mother, Ronnie Carmona. "This [deal] shows the system isn't concerned with justice or truth. . . . But at this point, I just want my son back. I just want this to end."

SEE NO EVIL Transportation officials in Orange and Riverside counties decided on Aug. 28 to take the first step toward building a highway through Cleveland National Forest. We offer a hearty "hear! hear!" because it would be sad if state parks, pristine canyons and wildlife corridors were the only things new OC roads were carved into. And speaking of environmental disasters, did you catch the news on Aug. 30 that the hole in the Earth's ozone layer is getting bigger? Perhaps you missed it, due to having already covered your ears two weeks earlier upon learning that for the first time in 50 million years, water has turned up at the North Pole. The culprit? Global warming. Good thing our Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) has branded global warming "junk science" and that it is not really happening, despite what 90 percent of the world's scientists say. Thanks for unbumming us out, dude!

SEPTEMBER

FISTING 101 Seeking to thwart a costly federal lawsuit over its ban of El Modena High School's Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA), the Orange Unified School District Board of Trustees on Sept. 7 reluctantly enacted new regulations that allow gay-support groups to meet, subject to parental approval. Sex talk at any student-club meeting is banned under the agreement, but that didn't cut down on the sex talk at the school board meeting—from adults both on and off the board. Indeed, the rhetoric of the anti-GSA forces was so graphic that the mainstream media ignored it in their reports of the settlement. With high school students sitting in the audience, Donna Sigalas, a vocal opponent of El Modena High's GSA and a member of Orange-based Parents' Rights USA, offered board members a litany of sex acts homosexuals purportedly engage in—acts she believes the trustees encourage by allowing gay-support clubs. Exhibit A in Sigalas' case was her claim that "public school teachers were fired after they were caught red-handed" at a state-sponsored Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) conference in Boston "instructing GSA club members as young as 12 years old in homosexual practices such as fisting, oral sex, sodomy and even promoting adult-child sex." GSA supporters in the audience looked surprised, with one—David C. Codell, a civil-rights attorney who helped cobble together the settlement—barely suppressing a smirk.

BURNING SENSATION Fire season officially arrived—and us without a thing to wear! Perhaps you heard the news—oh, boy—about a fast-moving brushfire east of San Clemente that on Sept. 11 turned 500 acres of canyon brush extra-crispy before making a beeline for that Duraflame dominion we call Cleveland National Forest. Which, come to think of it, is nowhere near Cleveland (thank God!). The fire scorched acreage the county leases to TRW for the corporate giant's Capistrano Test Site. The site is the birthplace of a $200 million megawatt-class space-based laser, the most powerful "beam weapon" in the U.S. military arsenal. The top-secret site also tests thrusters, rocket engines and propulsion systems. Though we escaped safely this time, the thought of an out-of-control blaze getting hold of nasty stuff like that was enough to make us wet our jammies—which really left us without a thing to wear.

CARE LESS Here in Orange County, we love our kids. DARE and soccer moms and bike helmets and filtering software and Gap for Kids and Mothers for Sterilizing Drunks Who Look at Kids Funny all seem as if they were invented here. Why? Because we love, love, luuuuv our kids. It's all for the kids. All hail the kids. Okay, to be fair, we don't love all kids. Take the 1,000 low-income children served by the county education department's child-care program-please! Hock, phew! We spit at them. Because of a $1 million deficit over five years, officials are nixing the child-care program, it was announced on Sept. 13. Now, before you get all weepy and throw out your bleeding-heartisms about how you'd rather lose a million for a child-care program than bend over and give up billions in public booty to developers and other rich whiteys . . . Uh, where were we going with this? Oh, yeah: Isn't it about time the poorest of the poor kids learn to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and pay for their own bloody child care? Heck, their parents work two or three shitty jobs nobody wants just to get by, leaving them no time to watch their kids and thus leading to government sinkholes like free child care. Let's put these infants-through-12-year-olds served by the program to work as moving targets for TRW.

DID YOU KNOW? Two days before the child-care announcement, the Urban Institute reported that 4 million children ages 6 to 12 with employed mothers are regularly without adult supervision when not in school. Thanks to OC's Department of Education, those kids are about to get more after-school playmates. See, we do care!

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! Back in high school, we wouldn't really call it a party until a police helicopter showed up blasting orders to disperse. Ferociously pumping the backyard keg to extract the last drops of Michelob with one hand, we'd raise the other to give the whirlybird an internationally recognized signal while shouting something that rhymes with "Fuck you!" Now that we're older and wiser and drinking imports, we implore all Orange Countians to resurrect this act of uncivil disobedience for the county's flying privacy pirates—coming soon to a back yard very near you. The Board of Supervisors on Sept. 19 hired a private firm to shoot aerial three-dimensional photographs of every square inch of the county. The prospect of having a 3-D database of every warehouse, farmhouse, hen house, outhouse and doghouse gets OC cops harder than their billy clubs. And the county expects to recoup its $180,000 cost by selling copies of the photos to prying code enforcers, other government agencies or anyone else who can pony up the cash. Guess we'd better get to chopping down those wild "oregano" plants growing near the tool shed.

BOY SCOUTS LIKE IT BOTH WAYS On Sept. 26, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to grant the Boy Scouts' Orange County Council a 30-year extension on their no-cost lease on prime beachfront property in Newport Beach. The Orange County chapter runs a marine institute there called the Sea Scout Base and has done so—admirably, by all accounts—for more than 60 years. But just two months ago, the national Boy Scouts of America persuaded the Supreme Court they are a private organization, with all the First Amendment rights pertaining to a private organization—chiefly, the right "peaceably to assemble." The Boy Scouts would like peaceably to assemble with just about everyone except gays, lesbians and God-doubters. Now, their representatives argue, they are also miraculously a public organization doing great work saving kids from the terror of the streets and the vapidity of malls. Fifth District Supe Tom Wilson spoke for the board when he commended the group for its work on behalf of "all the youth of Orange County." Pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Boy Scouts vs. Dale, we are sure Wilson means almost all youth. Or pretty sure: on a Board of Supervisors widely acknowledged to be only marginally smarter than plants and animals, it is possible that Wilson and his colleagues don't know about Boy Scouts vs. Dale. It's very likely that Supervisor Jim Silva, a former high school civics teacher, doesn't know there's a Supreme Court. The property in question is county-owned land bequeathed to the public by the late James Irvine. Through similar acts of largess with the public's land, local governments had given much of the rest of Irvine's gift to rich developers. Consider the nearby Balboa Bay Club and ask yourself: When was the last time you hung out there, contemplating Irvine's act of generosity over a plate of canap├ęs? The Boy Scouts want the best of both worlds: the right to bigotry granted private citizens under the First Amendment as well as access to generous public subsidies granted organizations whose behavior is governed by anti-discrimination statutes. They cannot have it both ways—except, apparently, in Orange County.

OCTOBER

RALPH CRAMMED IN All of the 950 seats inside Chapman University's Memorial Hall were filled for the Oct. 20 Green Party rally. About 100 more people listened from the lawn in front of the old white-columned building. But when a drab-suited, slightly hunchbacked egghead arrived, the scene evolved into a rock concert: Ralph Nader was in the building. During an impromptu press conference, the Green presidential nominee remained incredulous that he'd been banned from debates between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Dubya Bush. "It is so demented—so cowardly," Nader said of his exclusion. "They didn't talk about the power of the few over the many. You never hear the words corporate power, corporate crime, corporate welfare and corporate regulation of our lives." When he ambled onto the stage moments later, it might've seemed like Eminem had arrived given the roar of the young audience. Nader proceeded to pound away at Gush and Bore, noting the only difference between the two "is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on the door." Imploring young people to vote, he said, "You see what happens when large numbers of people in this country don't turn on to politics; politics turns on them."

PAY TO PLAY Mall developers designed the Block at Orange to appeal to young people, but now that teens are swarming all over the place, adults are scared, reported the Oct. 27 Los Angeles Times. What are the teens doing that has everyone so alarmed? Hanging out. "It's terrible at night," the paper quoted a 34-year-old Riverside mother of two as saying. "It gets bad on weekends. They act like this is their territory. Maybe they're up to nothing, but I don't know." A crack Times investigative team even spotted this horrific scene: a group of kids "acting as if this was their back yard." The message was clear: young people paying hourly rates at Vans Skatepark, ringing up the registers at Mars Music, or making the cinema the highest-grossing theater complex in Southern California is fine. But once they stop spending money and start standing around, it's time to break out the mace.

WATERWORLD Movieland Wax Museum's Titanic exhibit nearly suffered from too much realism on Oct. 28 when a 20-foot-by-20-foot section of roof gave way, breaking a sprinkler pipe and causing water to fill up offices and the main lobby. "I guess you could say our water delivery for the new Titanic set came in a bit early," guffawed Rodney Fong, a spokesman for the Buena Park tourist trap. Fong credited quick action by the Buena Park Fire Department with keeping to a minimum damage to the waxy re-creation of the sappy scene in which Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio cling to the doomed ship's bow. Heavy early morning rains were identified as the cause of the cave-in, but we couldn't help noticing the suspicious smirks that couldn't be wiped off the faces of the Laurel and Hardy likenesses.

THE PRAYER WITCH PROJECT Sandi Ciz and a friend got more than they bargained for when they entered what they believed to be a typical haunted house in the parking lot of the Block at Orange on Halloween night. Called "Heaven-n-Hell," the joint featured live actors re-creating a murder, a suicide, slavery, torture, prostitution, a drunk-driving accident, a trip to hell for not worshiping God 24/7—in other words, a weekend at our place. But this creep-a-thon concluded with a tour guide telling everyone how evil the world is, blessing those who identified themselves as Christians, and handing out a brochure on the Bible. "This is something that was extremely misleading to the people paying $5 per person to enter what was thought to be innocent Halloween fun, only to be more of a brainwashing-type sermon," Ciz told us. "I myself believe that religion is important and that people have the right to believe in what they want, but it's a different story to entrap people in order to preach to them." Oh, it's worse than that, missy: when Bible-thumpers start horning in on perfectly fine pagan rituals, frogs and locusts falling from the sky can't be far off.

NOVEMBER

FRIED RICE, HOLD THE EGG ROLL University of California, Irvine researchers published a study in the Nov. 3 issue of Science that found the world's rice paddies emit ozone-depleting gases into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, China Daily reported six days earlier that male sexual problems such as sterility, erectile dysfunction and prostate hyperplasia are rising, due to serious environmental pollution. In other words, a guy can't go outside in China without risking bouts of skin cancer and impotence. Insensitive types might call this cost-effective population control, but all things considered, we'd rather be in San Clemente.

FAT CAT NATION! It wasn't easy to miss Dana Rohrabacher at the Republican Party's Nov. 7 election-night shindig at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach. His shiny gold tie accentuated the congressman's gray pants, gray windbreaker and white button-down shirt. When the beaming Rohrabacher wasn't posing for pictures with adoring GOP housewives, he shook hands with men who wore crests on their blue suits or with gangly, pimpled kids sporting YAF buttons. "We just saved America," Rohrabacher told the Weekly. "And the party's on!"

FISH STICKS The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Nov. 14 declared about nine miles of streams in southern Orange and northern San Diego counties to be critical habitat for the goby, an endangered tidal fish. Since San Mateo Creek is part of that habitat, that designation could kill the preferred route of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) for extension of the Foothill South toll road, which was to cut right across the creek. Suggestion to the TCA and its developer buds: dress gobies up as gnatcatchers.

WASTE WATERWORLD The Orange County Water District and the Orange County Sanitation District held the first of four traveling community forums on Nov. 16 to tout the proposed Groundwater Replenishment System, a $600 million project that would turn human sewage into crystal-clear drinking water. The presentation included slick laptop-to-big-screen graphics, raves about the project ("visionary," "grand in scale") and claims this is the lowest-cost solution to a looming water crisis in OC caused by a dwindling supply. It also included skepticism from at least two of the 25 people huddled in an Anaheim Community Center conference room. Anaheim resident Jim Anderson worried that human viruses might survive the treatment process, breed in the groundwater, and spark a massive health disaster. Since officials mentioned they've been working on the project for a few years, Anderson wanted to know how much time, energy and dollars have gone toward health vs. engineering. Water-district sanitation expert Thomas M. Dawes estimated 75 percent has gone toward health. "We know this project is safe; we absolutely know it," Dawes said. But another man in the audience chimed in, "We're lab rats for a system you're developing and trying to shove down our throats."

SHELL GAME Huntington Beach musician/ activist/RV enthusiast Joey Racano may have lost his election bid to the City Council, but he won his fight to preserve the tiny Little Shell wetland. A council majority had backed paving over the city-owned wetland for a developer's project that included much-needed shops and townhouses and the extension of the Waterfront Hilton resort. But the California Coastal Commission halted development permits when staff members discovered problems with project maps. To get everything back on track, the City Council hammered out a Little Shell preservation plan on Nov. 20. Racano, who led daily protests to save the wetland, once confided to us that he made up the name "Little Shell" to give people a cute name for an ignored marsh teeming with wildlife. Now his beloved city wants to restore the wetland and turn it over to a conservancy. They should rename it after Joey while they're at it.

FULL METAL HOUSE How the hell did actor John Stamos scrounge up $30,700 to buy the old Disneyland sign on eBay? Aside from being married to the gorgeous and no doubt fabulously wealthy supermodel Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, what has this guy got going for him? To recap, the present-day show-biz importance ranking of former Full House cast members is as follows: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Bob Saget, the chick married to Mossimo, the hockey-player comedian, any other kids from the show, and then Stamos. We're not knocking Johnny; former OC boys who grow up to become Disneyphiles are the coolest! "It was one of those things," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Nov. 21. "I said, 'I have to have this!'" Then again, a huge galvanized-steel sign is actually a smart investment. It'll make great shelter.

BUSH WINS, GOD EXISTS Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) was confident George W. Bush would ultimately win his race against Al Gore to become the next president of the United States and that Bush's certain victory was proof of the existence of God. "I have no doubt—and there's no doubt in my mind as I tell you tonight—that George W. Bush will be the next president of the U.S.," Rohrabacher said in a Nov. 29 speech to a group at the Garden Grove Women's Civic Club. "George W. Bush becoming president is just further proof of the existence of God. There is no other explanation." The Weekly—the first newspaper to report Rohrabacher's claim—could not reach God for comment, and Baruch Spinoza, who labored mightily to prove the existence of God in his Ethics, has been dead for 323 years.

GUNS FOR TOTS Toddlers had trouble pushing open a door at a Los Alamitos preschool on Nov. 30 because of an unusual doorstop: a loaded 9 mm Ruger semiautomatic pistol. Los Alamitos police thought the gun was hidden under a doormat by an auto-theft suspect who was captured near Rossmoor Preschool.

DECEMBER

JUDGMENT DAY Did anyone else bristle at the fact that the judge who on Dec. 1 thwarted Orange County's overwhelmingly voter-approved anti-airport initiative Measure F is based in Los Angeles? Hiz Honor's whole frame of reference when it comes to noxious development is therefore based on Los Angeles. Surely you remember Los Angeles: IT'S THE PLACE WE ALL MOVED HERE TO ESCAPE! Hell, in LA, jails and commercial airports and hazardous-waste dumps are not called "noxious developments." They're called "improvements." They even have a name for the future this judge deemed for us: "Inglewood." Thanks, dickwad.

LIARS' CLUB Disgraced President Bill Clinton, in a Rolling Stone interview published on Dec. 28, praised disgraced President Richard Nixon. Bubba said he treasured a "lucid, eloquent" letter Dick wrote him from Russia a month before his death. During a White House visit, Clinton said, "He told me he identified with me because he thought the press had been too hard on me in '92 and that I had refused to die, and he liked that. He said a lot of life was just hanging on. We had a good talk about that." He added that Nixon could have been "a great president if he had been more trusting of the American people." Replace the words "more trusting of" with "less repulsive to," and you could make the same case for Clinton.

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