It's not every day that the mayor of Berkeley gets a letter from an honest-to-goodness celebrity. So wags in Mayor Tom Bates' office couldn't help but get cruelty-free goose bumps when they saw that the boss had gotten a letter from none other than actress and animal rights activist Mary Tyler Moore. America's former sweetheart, in her latest role as chair of New York-based Farm Sanctuary's Sentient Beings Campaign, is trying to woo support from public officials for the idea that farm animals have feelings and deserve legal protections. So she naturally approached the leader of the most bleeding-heart city in the nation. "Mayor Bates," she wrote in her one-page "Dear Tom" letter, "you are in a position to help enhance the public health and well-being by enacting a 'Sentient Beings Proclamation' recognizing the threats posed by factory farming and acknowledging our obligation to treat farm animals humanely."
After reading the plea, one mayoral aide chuckled, "We already passed a sentient being proclamation, like, six months ago."
Pigs in Ballots
Speaking of farm animals, with everyone's attention fixed on the recall election, most would-be voters probably haven't yet concerned themselves with the recent ballot squabble over humane treatment of swine. The dispute wasn't between farmers and animal-rights groups, as you might expect, but rather competing animal-rights groups with differing agendas for improving the lot of farmed pigs.
On July 9, the Humane Farming Association of San Rafael received permission from the state attorney general to collect signatures for an initiative making it a misdemeanor to keep a pig confined in an enclosure for "the majority of a calendar day." Two weeks later, the Humane Society of the United States got the green light to petition for a similar ballot measure making it a misdemeanor to improperly confine pregnant farm pigs. Bradley Miller, national director for the Humane Farming Association, says he was surprised when he saw the competing initiative. "It was strange to us because we were originally talking to them about doing a joint effort," he says. His counterparts at the Humane Society eventually bowed out, saying they weren't ready to do anything. "It just left us scratching our heads," Miller says. But Eric Sakach, director of the Humane Society's West Coast regional office, told Bottom Feeder he, too, was surprised to learn of the other initiative. That they proposed similar measures within two weeks of one other was coincidence, he says.
As it stands now, both organizations are putting their pigpen initiatives on hold until after the recall. Bottom Feeder merely hopes that in the future the two groups will treat each other more humanely.
Bates Has Given Up
While Bottom Feeder can understand why someone would write Berkeley's mayor to express support for the feelings of farm animals, it can't understand why the Republican National Committee, the committee to reelect George W. Bush, and the National Rifle Association are clogging up the mayoral mailbag lately. During the summer, Mayor Bates has received solicitations from all three nonsentient entities asking for his financial support.
The July 21 missive from RNC treasurer Mike Retzer, for instance, began by asking Bates, a Democratic-diaper baby, "I don't want to believe you've abandoned the Republican Party, but I have to ask. ... Have you given up? Our records show we have not yet received your 2003 Republican National Membership Committee contribution." Retzer went on to warn that "Democrats and their liberal special-interest allies" are trying to delay the president's vision for America.
Mayoral aide Calvin Fong speculates that Bates, as mayor, gets put on a lot of mailing lists -- even those compiled by the enemy. "It's like spam," he explains. "Obviously, they don't know him."
Last week America's most beloved pothead -- no, not Pauly Shore -- Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong fame was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined $20,000 for selling drug paraphernalia over the Internet. Chong and sixteen other pipe-sellers around the country were indicted earlier this year by uptight Attorney General John Ashcroft's totally bogus Justice Department as part of its totally bogus sting, Operation Pipe Dreams. Dude. Man. Not cool.
Outside the limelight, two Berkeley businessmen also ensnared in Operation Pipe Dreams are hoping to avoid Chong's harsh fate. Nesser Zahriya and Waleed Zahrieh, who own Wicked, a Telegraph Avenue shop, were indicted in February. According to Zahrieh's attorney, Michael Stepanian, the men got in trouble for selling pipes to undercover agents and mailing the smoking devices to a phony distributor in Pennsylvania. They have been free since March on a $25,000 bond, court records show.
An old sign on the side of Wicked's store, which opened in 1995, once boasted that it was "Berkeley's phattest smoke shop." Ironically, the city's code police tried to extinguish the store's smoking section four years ago, claiming its owners didn't have the proper permits to sell bongs and pipes. Zahriya fought the city for more than six months, arguing he didn't need a special permit to sell smoking accessories. The Zoning Adjustments Board, a nine-member body appointed by the city council, ultimately agreed with him in January 2000, and told Wicked it could continue being as phat as it wanted to be.
Wicked patrons may have noticed in recent months that the store, which also sells hipster clothes and does tattoos, has stopped selling bongs and pipes on its second floor. That's because the feds ordered them to stop, Stepanian says. The lawyer stresses that his clients are doing everything they can to cooperate with federal prosecutors. Unlike Chong, who made jokes about his prosecution after pleading guilty, Zahriya and Zahrieh have been silent and respectful, Stepanian notes. Next month, the federal district court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has scheduled a hearing where the Wicked owners are expected to change their pleas to guilty. Stepanian hopes to get his guys home detention instead of prison time like Chong. "It's looking a lot better for them than it was for Chong," he says.
Forgetting Their Roots?
There was a fire drill at Berkeley City Hall last Friday, forcing bureaucrats to file outside and stand around the edge of Civic Center Park waiting for the okay to return to work. Since it was lunch hour, dozens of Berkeley High School students were already hanging out at the park, and lo and behold, Berkeley City Councilguy Kriss Worthington noticed the distinctive aroma of marijuana wafting through the air. Worthington told Bottom Feeder he couldn't help but smile at the sight of the famously liberal city's suits appearing uncomfortable and conspicuously "trying to avoid seeing what was going on." Man, what would Chong say?
"Guilty," most likely.
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