They hate us! They really hate us!

By WALLACE BAINE

Since the Academy Awards are upon us, let us interpret a new poll about the most liked and disliked states in the U.S. through the prism of Sally Field’s famously gushy Oscar acceptance speech 25 years ago:

America, you hate us here in California – you really hate us.

Indeed, a new poll by Public Policy Polling ranks the most liked states in the country, and California comes in at number 50. Dead last. By a comfortable margin.

Given that one in 10 Americans is a Californian – and assuming the vast majority of those folks don’t actively detest the state in which they live – you might think that that particular thumb on the scales would make a difference to our benefit.

Nope. The rancor is so widespread that it even wipes out our numbers advantage.

While we’ve been living our groovilicious Left Coast lives – surfing, rock climbing, doing nude yoga and tantric sex to Navajo flute music in a yurt overlooking the sea – the rest of the country has been silently grinding its teeth, hoping that they might live to see the day California finally slides off into the ocean.

Now I know how Gwyneth Paltrow feels.

Hawaii was the most popular state – well, what did you expect? Ohio? – and it seems that Americans look favorably upon, or at least are indifferent to, most states. Only five were disliked more than they were liked, with 44 percent of Americans giving the thumbs down to the Golden State. Ouch.

Is it mere envy? Most Californians I’ve heard from seemed to think so, and – well, did we mention that this week, it was 70 degrees in February?

But that seems too easy. The main question you have to wrestle with when you find out someone really dislikes you is this: Is that my problem or yours? It’s awfully tempting to chalk it all up to envy and get back to your tantric sex, but nothing’s that simple, is it?

Maybe we should make some concessions, you know, to show we’re decent people. We could give Disneyland to Wisconsin – wonder if they’d settle for Knott’s Berry Farm? We could make the Beach Boys write a song about Arkansas girls. Maybe, a diamond lane for all cars with out-of-state plates.
But before we go to the trouble, let’s unpack this poll a bit.

Demographically speaking, it seems that women like California quite a bit more than men do. And, in racial terms, Latinos and African-Americans like us more than they hate us. But with white folks, more than half dislike California, while less than a quarter look favorably upon us.

And then there’s the political angle. Of those who identified themselves as Democrats, California scored quite well, 46 to 20 favorables over unfavorables. But with Republicans, those numbers wildly swing the other way, 12 to 68, and with political independents, the numbers don’t look so good either. In the words of the poll’s written conclusion, Republicans “absolutely hate California.”

Male. White. Conservative. Oh, so this is a culture-war thing after all.
It should surprise exactly no one that whenever the Rush Limbaugh demographic thinks of California, it sees Pelosi, Boxer, gay pride parades and Hollywood limousine liberals. And who cares if Ted Nugent hates us? Isn’t that a good thing?

But even when all the other demos are combined with the angry white guys, the diluting effect is minimal. California still comes out at the bottom.
Let’s point out here that California is a fat target. If you lumped together all those states in the Deep South – “South Caro-bama Mississiana” – I’m guessing that new mega-state would provide liberals that nice tidy package of contempt that California provides for conservatives, and might even sink to the bottom of the list.

But, we’re reasonable people. We’re always up for a little soul-searching. Deepak Chopra is one of us. Is there something we can do to save this marriage?

First off, it must be acknowledged that our insane state government is doing us no favors here. The madness of Sacramento is often the first thing mentioned in any critique of California, and though interpretations can wildly vary about the cause and/or solution of it all, that is a punch that lands.

Also, if we’re being honest here, it must be said that Californians have always had issues with smugness. Those who moved here from other states seem to waste no opportunity to tell anyone who’ll listen how relieved they are to have made it to the Promised Land. And those born and/or raised here tend to think of the rest of the country as one endless Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through. I mean, if you think about it, “I wish they all could be California girls” is a pretty obnoxious thing to say.

Still, California is pretty darn fine place to live and work. And most of us pay a pretty high price for living here, doing without in other areas of our lives. It’s far from perfect, but on some days – like 70-degree days in February – it comes awfully close. We’ve made a deliberate choice to live here, and most of us have made the necessary sacrifices to do so.

If you want to believe the cheap stereotypes and haters’ generalizations, then that’s not my problem. That’s yours.

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Mea culpa: What I got wrong in 2011

It’s a new year, which means a new beginning for those of us in the news media. We are human – or, at least, convincingly human-like – which means that we make mistakes. It is my policy to clear my conscience at the beginning of every year to make way for fresh guilt and new bone-headed errors, and I do so with my annual corrections column.

With no small degree of shame and chagrin and apologies to my mother for ever giving birth to me, the following is a list of what I got wrong in 2011:

Steven Tyler is not the spawn of Mick Jagger and a Florida flathead catfish. I got a bad tip. It happens.

I would not, in fact, rather eat three-day-old clams off a Tijuana sidewalk in August than have to watch Adam Sandler in drag in “Jack and Jill,” though it would be a close call.

Despite of what I reported, the McRib sandwich is technically food.

For the record, a dog would almost certainly not be able to write the screenplay to the latest “Twilight” sequel.

Technically speaking, Zooey Deschanel is a real flesh-and-blood person and not a CGI app created by a team of virgin code writers and manga artists, as I indicated earlier.

OK, so I would not in fact vote for Rick Perry even if he could get NBC to put “Community” back on the air.

In fact, if my house were on fire, I would probably rescue my wheelchair-bound grandmother before retrieving my iPhone, though, if we’re being accurate, I can’t really know until the situation presents itself.

I have no evidence that that UC Davis pepper-spray cop has a brain the size of a pea. I guess an MRI could have settled the question, but, alas, I know of no such procedure having been done on that individual. Neurologists tell me, however, that a brain of that size would exhibit severe cognitive and motor disabilities, and not being able to distinguish violent armed protesters from kids sitting on a sidewalk would, in that case, be the least of that man’s problems. So, the possibilities that I was right in assessing this person’s cranial capacities are close to zero.

Let the record state that, despite my repeated comments to the contrary, I’ve never been mistaken for Ryan Gosling in the grocery store.

The line I wrote that said, “If they make another ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ movie, I’ll eat a mid-sized Toyota Camry,” was not really true, though they won’t, so I’ll never have to prove it.

In truth, Kim Jong Il never, to my knowledge, tweeted that he would give up his nuclear capabilities in exchange for an autographed poster of James Durbin. My bad.

I was not, in fact, live-blogging the Navy SEAL operation that took out Osama bin Laden. It was a Burning Man-theme party in Bonny Doon that got a little out of control. I got the two events mixed up. So sue me.

My wife is, truth be told, not my biggest fan. She is, in fact, slimmer now than she was in college. My biggest fan is Marvin Chambers of Felton who once played right tackle for his high school football team in New Jersey. While we’re being honest, I’m stretching the definition of “fan” here, given that Marvin can’t always remember my name but once admired a wise crack I made about Borat in 2006.

I do not hold the world record for watermelon-seed spitting at 235 yards. I only claimed that to impress girls in my youth, which, predictably, it did not.

I did not, in fact, see Kate Middleton weeping in her car in the parking lot outside Charlie Hong Kong three days after her wedding to Prince William. I sometimes have eyesight issues. Perfectly understandable.

I did not urge readers to sink “every nickel you can find, borrow or steal” in Borders stock … OK, maybe I did, but for legal reasons, I’m denying everything.

I hereby recant my earlier statement that Herman Cain is now my favorite comedian. Mr. Cain is not, technically speaking, a comedian.

The Rapture did not, in fact, come on May 21, 2011. Wait a second, that wasn’t my call. That was somebody else. Whew.

I did not wail, pull my hair out and roll around in a fetal position for three days when I found out that Larry King was retiring. That was sarcasm, which doesn’t always translate in print.

Despite saying so to the contrary, yes, I can, in fact, distinguish Kim Kardashian from a grapefruit. You lose valuable cool points by admitting you know who the Kardashians are, and I just don’t have that many to lose. You understand.

A woman cutting in front of me to take a parking space at the Aptos Safeway was not “the craziest thing I’d ever seen.” It doesn’t even rank in the top 100, in fact. It’s just something you say instead of threatening a stranger with violence. Always the better plan. Besides, nothing is ever going to beat that two-headed baby pig I saw once.

Despite my earlier comments, I have no evidence that Santa Claus does not exist. My sincerest apologies to all readers under 9, to whom I insensitively said, “Santa is probably your dad.” In fact, I don’t even know any of your dads.

I regret the errors.

Christmas morning, play by play

Welcome to the first ever live blogging of the Baine family Christmas morning – which should also be the last ever blog post created on this beat-up old laptop I’m using. Let’s just say I see a new dual-core MacBook Pro in my immediate future, unless Santa is a total flake, which certainly can’t happen two years in a row. C’mon, I’ve been good! At least, relative to my relatives.

8:32 a.m. – We’re still waiting for Passive-Aggressive Teenager to wake up. She made an announcement last night that she had figured out that Christmas was a “lurid orgy of materialism” and that her conscience was too tender to participate as anything other than an “anthropologist,” whatever that means. She can Occupy her bedroom all day, for all I care.

8:34 a.m. – Hyperactive 8-Year-Old Nephew is jumping around like he’s got Mountain Dew in his veins. There’s no lobbyist in Washington that works the floor harder than this kid is working it right now, going from adult to adult looking for any hint of a green light to attack the mountain of presents. The kitchen smells like that kind of coffee you can only buy in December. Christmas or not, there’s going to be an uncomfortable scene if there isn’t an alternative to Pumpkin Spice Egg Nog Decaf.

8:36 a.m. – The dam of tasteful adult restraint bursts and the kids descend on the tree like hyenas on a wounded antelope. The Wife is in the middle of it all, trying to maintain some kind of order, which is difficult without an airhorn. I offer to pass her the fireplace poker. She’s got a notepad in hand, determined to catalogue who got what from whom. I don’t see this an ideal occasion for bookkeeping myself.

8:51 a.m – The first gift of the day for your correspondent and it’s … a San Francisco Giants World Series Championship T-shirt, a hot item from Christmas 2010 which is, I figure, stale enough now to be had for $5 on a Target clearance table. Hey, there’s a recession going on. I’ll take it. Last year, I got a Mardi Gras 2006 T-shirt. It’s better than that, right?

8:56 a.m. – Hipster Younger Brother and Sentimental Mom are having the first loud confrontation of the day. Bro has put on some insufferable re-mix of Christmas songs he found on the Internet that just sounds like musical vandalism to me. Mom just wants some nice Nat King Cole. Bro’s looking for some support, but Mom plays the trump card. “You can play that stuff all day long after I’m dead and buried.” Is it too early for the rum?

9:06 a.m. – Devout Sister-In-Law is dressed for services and standing out in the driveway talking to Single Neighbor Lady who is holding a pie. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but it’s clear from Neighbor Lady’s expression that Sister is reminding her how the rest of us have forgotten the Reason for the Season. No argument here.

9:12 a.m. – Passive-Aggressive Teen shows up, stands in the doorway with a sneer and goes back to her room. We won’t see her until Wednesday.

9:17 a.m. – The Wife didn’t respond to her gift from me as I had hoped. She probably didn’t even know she needed jumper cables. She’ll thank me the next time she leaves her headlights on at work.

9:31 a.m. – I get a lot of dirty looks when I decide to start up my brand-new leaf blower in the living room. Thought it would be a good way to get on top of this wrapping-paper situation. At least, Nephew likes it, especially when I aim it as his face. Man, I’m going to have some fun with this baby.

9:35 a.m. – There’s a guy in the kitchen I’ve never seen before.

9:42 a.m. – “Little Drummer Boy,” beautiful song of devotion or wretched ear torture? The opinion seems about 50/50. There are no fence sitters on this one.

9:48 a.m. – Someone holds up a truly ugly sweater from a gift box. There could conceivably be times, I suppose, when you want to be truly repellant to the opposite sex. I share my theory that there are only six ugly sweaters in existence and they’re all in constant Christmas-gift circulation.

9:59 a.m. – Nephew and I eat a whole jar of maraschino cherries together. He eats three quarters of them. We have to do it quickly before his mother sees. This is what Christmas is all about. Red-toothed Nephew apparently agrees.

10:07 a.m. – The Wife wants the Christmas lights turned on. It’s broad daylight, I tell her. What’s the point? She says it’s just the right thing to do. I again point to the sun in the sky. We could go on all day like this. I do what I’m told.

10:13 a.m. – The painful truth is becoming apparent. There is no MacBook Pro in this house. Santa blows it again. Funny, when I was a kid, you wrote a letter to Santa, dropped in the mail and, bam, he delivered. Every year. Now, even with e-mail and Twitter and texting, the guy never seems to get the message.

11:02 a.m. – Nephew is in the throes of sugar-induced ecstasy, dancing around like some Sufi mystic. Someone dragged a finger through the bean dip. I picked up what I thought was coffee, which turned out to be root beer from last night. The Wife is asking about the empty jar of maraschino cherries. The stereo is playing what sounds like a Johnny Mathis song, if he were drunk and underwater. I grab the ugly sweater and put it on. Mom hands me the phone and demands I speak to Dotty, Hard-of-Hearing Aunt. And I do.

God, I love this holiday.

Get in the ocean, be in a movie

Surfers in Santa Cruz County generally don’t need much in the way of persuasion to get into the water. But next week, the producers of an upcoming film are counting on surfers to come out to Pleasure Point in big numbers.

Walden Media, which is producing a film based on the life of the late Santa Cruz surfing icon Jay Moriarity, is planning to shoot a key scene in the film Oct. 13 and 14 at Pleasure Point. It is a re-enactment of the paddle-out that took place as a memorial to Moriarity shortly after he died during a free-diving accident in the summer of 2001.

The film’s producers need about 1,000 extras to come out with wetsuits and surfboards to re-create the paddle-out. The scene will be shot from both the air and the ground.

The producers are asking each participant to commit to eight hours on the set both days, in the interests of continuity, with a check-in time of around 6:30 a.m. No stand-up paddle boards will be allowed to be part of the shoot.

Extras will not be paid, but lunch will be served and there will be several raffle prizes given away to those who participate.

The yet-to-be-titled film will star Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston and will be directed by Curtis Hanson for a late 2012 release. It will tell the story of the relationship between Moriarity and his mentor Frosty Hesson, as well as Moriarity’s efforts at becoming the youngest surfer to ever tackle Mavericks.

Anyone interested in taking part in the paddle-out should contact the extras producer at 831management@gmail.com.

Another star out of Santa Cruz?

You can still hear the faint echoes of “Durbin Day” down at the Beach Boardwalk, and here we are again, looking at yet another potential pop star shooting into the stratosphere out of Santa Cruz.

His name is Chris Rene, and he floored judges on the opening episode of the new show “The X Factor” on Wednesday. Rene is a rapper who performed his own song ‘Young Homey,’ getting a standing ovation at the end of the auditions broadcast.

The parallels between Durbin and Rene are striking right out of the gate.

Both are from Santa Cruz.

Both have had significant personal demons to wrestle — Durbin famously dealt with Asperger’s and Tourette’s; while Rene said he was 70 days out of rehab.

Both are fathers of baby boys.

Durbin was the son of a trash collector. Rene has worked with a trash collector.

And both Durbin on “American Idol” and Rene on “X Factor” were saved for last during the first audition show.

Also, both are talents that clearly stand out from the pack.

Yet, here’s another intriguing parallel. We learned that Durbin came from a musical family — his father was a talented jazz bassist and his grandfather was also a musician. It appears that Rene is part of a prolific musical family as well. His sister Gina is a fine R&B singer, who also sings with the band Soulstice, featuring brother Gabriel. And, on top of all that, the Rene siblings’ grandfather was Leon Rene, a songwriter famed for writing the hit “Rockin’ Robin” and “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.”

Hold on for another ride, Santa Cruz.

Above is Chris Rene’s eye-opening audition on “The X Factor,” plus here’s a song from Gina Rene, plus a great song from Soulstice, and the Jackson 5’s version of Leon Rene’s “Rockin’ Robin.”

Remembrance and loss: The story of Dan and Lynn Wagner

We don’t have a word to adequately describe what happened to Dan and Lynn Wagner 10 years ago. “Tragedy” doesn’t quite get at the dimension of it; “nightmare” is entirely too cheap.

For many parents – or, frankly, most anyone with loved ones in their lives – it is literally unimaginable.

On Sept. 22, 2001 – in the midst of the long dark shadow cast by the events of 9/11 – the Wagners lost both of their children in a flash. Returning home from an all-day Christian-themed Festival at Main Beach, the Wagner family’s van was struck by an intoxicated driver. Killed on the spot were Harbor High students Amanda “Mandie” Wagner, 16, and her 14-year-old sister Carrie, bright, active girls, pretty – both were freckled and possessed of the same strawberry-blond hair – and deeply devout in their faith.

The circumstances of the Wagner sisters’ deaths make a mockery of the idea that anyone is safe from the cruelties of fate. They were coming back from an exhilarating celebration of their faith, seat-belted into a large van, their mom and dad in the front seat, cruising at a normal speed through a quiet residential neighborhood in the Seabright area. It was as mundane a setting as a sunny Tuesday morning in New York City 11 days earlier.

Even with the horrifying events playing out on the national stage, the accident that killed Mandie and Carrie tore a hole in this community’s sense of itself. For those who knew the Wagner family, it was a knee-buckling personal loss. But even for many of those who did not, news of the accident struck a deep spiritual vulnerability already bruised by the 9/11 incident.

But, though the Wagners story is one of sorrow, it is also one of hope and resilience.

Dan and Lynn live today in the same house where they raised their daughters. A beautiful painting of the girls hangs in the hallway by the front door, another drawing of them is back in Mandie’s bedroom.

What happened to Dan and Lynn would destroy a lot of people. But they made a decision long ago not to run from their story, but to live as examples of God’s grace and to redirect the love they would have given to their children to each other, their church and their community.

And then, in the midst of their pain, they reached out and made true to their Christian ethics, committing a remarkable act of forgiveness.

Lynn told me that ever since she could remember, she wanted to be a mother. But her mothering impulse did not die with her daughters. Whether she’s acting as surrogate to the kids in her neighborhood, counseling other couples who’ve lost children, telling her story at the Toastmasters public-speaking club, or, most significantly, regularly visiting women in the county jail to teach them about God, she has made her deepest pain into an instrument that can serve others.

Dan has made his own journey through a kind of emotional darkness that most folks pray every day remains for themselves only a theoretical concept. He said that he struggled for a long time with anger at God for taking his children away, but worked to get to a place where anger became acceptance. His faith, he said, is stronger than ever.

For several years, the Wagners would leave town on the anniversary of the accident, but now they don’t feel that need so often. Time has begun its proverbial healing.

“I’m glad we’re able to put some distance between us and the accident,” said Lynn with obvious relief.

“We have a great life,” said Dan. “We have a lot to look forward to.”

It was while dealing with their crushing loss that the Wagners began writing letters to Lisa Tegenkamp, the woman driving the car that killed their girls. Lisa was serving a seven-year sentence in Valley State Prison for Women for gross vehicular manslaughter. While in prison, she had her own conversion experience, and began writing the Wagners in the same spirit of reconciliation.

In 2008, Lisa was released from prison and she met the Wagners face to face for the first time. It was such an emotional experience, said Dan, that he couldn’t stop crying. Lisa said that nothing at the time was more important in her life than confronting what she had done.

“I had to walk through it and not around it,” she said. “I wanted them to know what was in my heart.”

Since then, Lynn and Lisa have appeared together to speak in public about the accident and about their shared faith in God.

Upon her release, Lisa, 45, returned home to Santa Cruz, got a good job and recently bought a car. She has been part of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous for years, and devotes herself to helping those struggling with addiction.

“I feel like my life is a living amends,” she said.

All the while, the Wagners have been at the center of their community’s efforts to make sense of the accident. They have grown into deeper relationships with friends and acquaintances. Strangers still reach out to them in sympathy. All the while, for those who know them, they serve as living touchstones of strength, grace and emotional authenticity.

Though their daughters’ lives were lost, they’ve seen other lives changed, even saved, in the 10 years since 9/22. And yet, none of the survivors of that horrible accident – Dan, Lynn or Lisa – takes any sort of credit for the courage and the will they’ve shown. Whatever strength they have, they say, is on loan from God.

It’s a short walk from the Wagners’ home to Holy Cross Cemetery where Mandie and Carrie are buried, next to two empty plots where – hopefully, once 9/11 and 9/22 have both receded decades into the past – Dan and Lynn will make their eternal rest and the Wagners will become reunited as a family, at last.

Perhaps the most simple, eloquent and heartbreaking perspective of those dark times a decade ago comes from 16-year-old Mandie Wagner, just days before her own death. After the accident, her dad found in her e-mail box a short poem written by Mandie trying to make sense of 9/11. It ends with this:

“I always felt safe, like we were untouchable, unbreakable.”

Where’s the love for the middle class?

OK, let’s see a show of hands. How many of you, this Labor Day, identify with the term “middle class”?

C’mon, raise those hands high. Say it loud – I’m middle-class and I’m proud!

Really? Is that all? That’s not many. And what’s with all those sneers out there? What, you don’t like that word, “middle class”? Wow, more smirks. All right, I see I’m going to have to play hardball. OK, people, I want to see some pay stubs. You all can’t be Thurston Howell III.

I could just about paper over the whole of northern California – at least down to Santa Barbara – with all the doomsaying, numbers-laden magazine articles bemoaning the erosion of the middle class in the last year or two. But other than those who hang posters of Elizabeth Warren in their rec rooms, nobody really seems to give a fig about the middle class. And I find that perplexing.

There is a ton of things that a patriotic American can look to as significant U.S. contributions to the overall betterment of the world – better access to medicine, great colleges and universities, civil liberties, computer and telecommunications technology, the Super Bowl, microwave popcorn … I could go on all night. Even the things we borrowed from other cultures, we often make better, from Albert Einstein to Fleetwood Mac to “The Office.”

But none of those things are as liberating and as widely influential as the creation of a strong, vibrant and dynamic middle class. And, yes, even though that moon-landing thing was pretty cool, it is the vast and ever-expanding middle class that is the glory of post-war American society.

So, why now that the middle class is on the verge of collapse, are there so few defenders of it?

It has been said by people smarter than I that Americans are not comfortable with the idea of class. Boy, ain’t that the truth. What’s weird about that is that we are a people who love forming allegiances, be it to our family names, hometowns, sports teams, brands of beer or alma maters. You can find people who develop deep loyalties and actually shape their cultural identities around such things as Apple, Trader Joe’s or the San Francisco 49ers – OK, that’s a bad example. But you don’t see “middle class” emblazoned on any sweatshirts or car bumpers.

Yet, class is one of the most important things to know about you, at least in terms of your place among other people. So, if there’s nothing inherently wrong with being neither rich nor poor, why all this bashfulness about standing up for the middle class?

A lot of it is the legacy of the political left from the 1960s. Somewhere along the line a middle-class standard of living got equated to “middle-class values,” an all-purpose but rather vague term of contempt that contained everything from a tolerance for mediocrity to a tendency for hypocrisy. And, in the generations since, we’ve somehow internalized that contempt for the middle class.

Is there moral flab to be found in middle-class people? Unquestionably, yes. But you can make the same kind of meaningless generalizations about the prejudices of working-class people, or the greed and vanity of upper-class people. Those classes, however, have their positive counterbalancing images of appeal, be it John Mellancamp’s T shirts and blue jeans, or Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking a cigar – OK, another bad example.

Where’s the icon of the middle class?

Celebrity culture also has contributed to the quarantine of middle-class consciousness. With fame comes fabulous wealth, and that’s a dynamic that makes it impossible for someone genuinely embodying a middle-class lifestyle to gain any kind of prominence in order to present a credible role model.

Congress used to look out for middle-class people because it actually contained some middle-class people. Personal wealth has created a threshold that makes running for high office a fantasy for regular folks. Our last middle-class president was Harry Truman who retired to his modest house in Missouri with little more than an Army pension of $112 a month.

Coincidentally, it’s Truman that presents the most compelling image of middle-class authenticity and decency. And he’s been dead for 40 years.

Perversely, the most prominent icon of middle-class life might be Warren Buffett who lives in the same nothing-fancy home in Nebraska he bought in 1958 for $31,000. And he’s one of the handful of the richest humans to have ever lived. What’s wrong with this picture?

Left to their own devices, societies generally separate consistently into two camps of a enormously wealthy few and a struggling, subsistence-living many. The middle class is an artificial construct. It is a ladder that allows people to transcend the circumstances of their birth and make something better of themselves, and what could be more American than that?

But like all ladders, the middle class has to be built and maintained. The American middle class represents the greatest triumph of the partnership between private enterprise and government. The rungs of that ladder were built with plentiful, well-paying jobs, sure, but also things like affordable college tuition, the G.I. Bill, safety-net social programs, mortgage tax deductions, etc.

Now, we have one political faction that finds its unseemly to climb that ladder only after they’ve already done so, and another that, having reached the rooftop, wants to push the ladder away.

Can’t anyone speak up for the middle class? Harry Truman, your country needs you.

PETA and the legend of Lady Godiva

When the East Coast earthquake hit last week, I was on the phone to Washington D.C., talking with the Devil.

Yes, there are many devils in Washington these days, depending on where you’re standing. But this particularly one has managed to make herself the Evil One to at least two wholly separate demographics, each of which view the other like a vampire views the morning sun. That’s no easy trick these days.

Her name is Ingrid Newkirk, and she’s the co-founder, leader and animating spirit of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and to call her controversial is to call a hurricane a “spot of rain.” She eats controversy for breakfast – hold the bacon, please.

For more than 30 years of brazen and near absolutist defense of animals to live free from the exploitation of humans, Newkirk has been Public Enemy No. 1 for those to whom hunting animals – and/or eating them – is a way of life. But she’s also become a scourge for many feminists who believes she contributes to the sexual exploitation of women, and who are generally no friends to the radical carnivore crowd. Imagine being in an elevator with Ingrid Newkirk, Ted Nugent and Gloria Steinem, an equilateral triangle of mutual contempt.

And how did this come to be? If you are at all paying attention, it is not news to you that PETA has for years used human flesh to protect animal flesh. The group’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” ad campaign in the 1990s launched a long-standing and still robust effort to use sex to raise the group’s profile, and nobody can argue that it hasn’t worked. You can’t even count the number of models and quasi-celebrities who’ve posed nude in cheesecake posters for PETA – though, if you’re a 17-year-old boy, you’ve probably tried.

Now comes news that PETA’s naked ambitions have jumped into an entirely new, and positively weird, evolutionary realm. This month, it was announced that PETA has registered for the new .xxx Internet domain in order to create pornography to promote animal welfare and vegetarianism, a move we should call the Full Employment Act for Jay Leno’s Joke Writers.

If that sounds like going from a vodka-and-tonic after work to swigging moonshine out by the dumpsters, well, Newkirk doesn’t care what you think.

“I’m a feminist,” she told me just a few minutes after an earthquake shook PETA’s offices in Washington. “There are different ways to look at feminism. My generation, we fought for the right to take our clothes off.”

OK, see what she’s doing there, students of rhetoric and communication? She’s slyly putting her critics in the realm of rabid Taliban-like patriarchal lunatics who make women wear head-to-toe tents in public to repress their own sexual thoughts. This woman is no amateur.

“I don’t think it’s sexist in any way for a woman – for political reasons, or for any reasons – to shed her clothes,” said Newkirk, who will be visiting Scotts Valley next month in an event hosted by the local group Center for Animal Protection and Education (CAPE). “It’s just become knee-jerk feminism to tut-tut women who want to do what they want with their own bodies.”

In PETA’s case, though, the messenger is threatening to overwhelm the message. Not only does the group use nudity (almost always female, by the way) in its ads, naked protesters are a significant part of its street actions as well. If putting a young woman wearing nothing but a little paint in a cage really evoked disgust at how animals are treated, that’s one thing. But these kinds of images poke around in that dangerous territory between disgust and arousal. And that’s what so infuriates people.

Newkirk, however, is unbowed.

“We seize every opportunity,” said Newkirk about the recent move into the porn business. “A lot of people will be looking at those sites. Like it or lump it, pornography is a favorite habit for millions of people. We would not be doing our job if we ignored it. If we can get an animal message on a triple-X site, fantastic.”

What she’s practicing here, of course, is classic ends-justify-the-means thinking, an intellectual construct that has led to both great good and great evil. It is, in fact, at the heart of just about any ethical action that we all undertake every day.

In the late few decades, awareness of the suffering of animals for human purposes, not to mention vegetarianism, has gone from a far-out, fringey concern to a thoroughly mainstream idea – Bill Clinton, for goodness sake, recently came out as a vegan. And, love it or hate it, PETA probably deserves a good deal of credit for raising that kind of awareness.

But Newkirk – who, it should be noted, was a very gracious and considerate interviewee – is applying one set of principles in her chosen realm, and another when it comes to sexism. Eating a ham sandwich, she would contend, may be, in some small way, the first step on a road that leads to appalling animal abuse. But, to her, the idea that a naked woman on a poster might lead, in the same small way, to the abuse and repression of women is absurd.

Her attitude may, in fact, come from an 11th century English legend that became one of the greatest publicity stunts in the history of Western culture, when an English noblewoman rode naked through the streets to protest taxation.

“I just love the Lady Godiva idea,” she said.

Yeah, a thousand years later, we’re still talking about that one.

Listen to Wallace Baine, with Richard Stockton every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on KUSP (88.9 FM) or truefictionradio.net

Here come the Pixies … and Jimmy Webb and Leo Kottke …

If you haven’t gotten yet to experience Cabrillo Stage’s “Hairspray,” Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s new season or the Cabrillo Music Festival, then do so immediately, because as all poets labor to tell us, time passes without remorse and what’s here today will go poof tomorrow.

Still, even as summer dies — excuse me, reaches late middle age — there’s plenty to look forward to on the horizon for your live-entertainment needs.

Intriguing new shows just announced includes the Pixies at the Santa Cruz Civic in November. The Pixies — along with Husker Du, the Smiths, the Replacements and others — are compelling proof that there was a hipster music alternative back in the 1980s. The great alt-rock band, featuring Black Francis and Kim Deal, thrilled critics with their 1989 album “Doolittle” and it’s in the name of revisiting “Doolittle” that the band will be touring this fall, playing the album in its entirety.

Other notable dates in coming months include the underappreciated singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb, playing Sept. 28 at the Kuumbwa. Webb became famous for all those songs Glen Campbell recorded with city names in the titles — “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” — but he also wrote the infamous “MacArthur Park.”

The distinctive guitarist Leo Kottke plays the Rio in December. The legendary McCoy Tyner plays the Kuumbwa Oct. 15. Local jazz legend Lile Cruse will be honored, also at the Kuumbwa in October. Plus Hank Williams III, Branford Marsalis, Oregon and Dave Alvin.

For literary types, the local bookstores will be welcoming Laurie R. King, Charles “Cold Mountain” Frazier, Calvin Trillin and Jeremy Rifken.

You can check it all out at our Futures Index.