Media Hawk, February

The Other Bureaucrats

The bureaucrats at the San Diego Unified School District make too much money. At least that’s the word on San Diego Rostra, where on January 23, a blogger who calls himself “rego” savaged the school administrators for their apparent exclusion from a proposed 8 percent pay cut for the 2010–2011 academic year. Rego — miffed that not everyone will share the pain — writes, “What about the bureaucrats?” As it happens, the Rostra legion knows a lot about bureaucracy, including, it seems, high-level bureaucrats from two millennia ago.

Judging by its windy online preamble, Rostra — part of the San Diego blogosphere since the cobwebbed times of fall 2009 — aspires, apparently, to some lofty goals. Name-dropping with abandon, the site invokes the spirit of Cicero, Julius Caesar, Brutus, and Cassius, history book heavies it celebrates as “giants.” One can almost hear the fanfare as it trumpets, “SD Rostra brings back the spirit of public thought and debate that existed in Ancient [sic] Rome.” But Latin textbook luminaries aside — does Rostra do anything new or different? To get a bit of “imperial” insight, as it were, I spoke with Barry M. Jantz, the moving — if not shaking — force behind the site.

“I’m a bureaucrat myself,” pronounces Jantz — almost brightly. Neither imperious nor pompous, he says that — along with a handful of undisclosed kindred politicos — he started SD Rostra to provide a locally-focused “center to right” political forum. He explains, “Rostra is an offshoot of [website] Red County. When they started to do more national stuff, they weren’t as conducive to local issues. I felt that we needed a site that emphasized San Diego.” Jantz, while hardly a household name among the rank-and-file, is a longtime fixture in local Republican circles, an insider with connections up the proverbial GOP “yin-yang.” Since 2004, he’s been the chief executive officer of the Grossmont Healthcare District; before that, he served three terms in the La Mesa City Council. All the while, Jantz, who sits on the board of directors of the San Diego Taxpayers’ Association — a “citizens’ watchdog” group — has hoisted the banner of fiscal conservatism.

I queried the veteran ’Diego politico about the San Diego Unified article: Does he feel the same way about other bureaucrats, e.g., health-care administrators? Would he be receptive to an 8 percent cut in his $160 K annual salary? Jantz danced — “The issue hasn’t come up; it’s for the policy-makers to decide.” He was also quick to state that “rego” — whoever that is — speaks “only for himself. He’s one of about 30 or 40 regular bloggers, including local politicians, who’d rather express their opinions anonymously.”

“How Many Cops Does It Take to Get a Naked Man Out of the Water?”

That’s the reaction of a poster on the OB Rag website, who added, “I bet Southeast San Diego wishes they could get this much manpower when there is a shooting in their neighborhood.” Indeed — how many cops does it take to “secure” the beach from a skinny-dipper? That was one of the questions posed by the OB Rag’s coverage of a recent Taser take-down by the San Diego Police Department. On January 30, the online Rag headline read, “Breaking news on Newport, naked man nearly incites riot.” Putting aside the awkward grammar, one might also ask: Was it the nude dude — or the men in blue (black, actually) — who did the inciting? As with any incident involving the use of force by the police, it depends on who you ask.

According to the Rag, the man waded into the “surfing only” section next to the Ocean Beach pier, whereupon he received a mixed reaction (catcalls and cheers) from folks lolling about the tide pools as well as from OB’s contingent of folks hangin’ on the boardwalk. After a brief — and one would assume chilling — immersion, the fellow was then greeted by lifeguards and police, who forcibly “detained” him by wrestling him to the ground. This, in turn, apparently riled up a handful of spectators who, the Rag said, began to shout epithets at the police — who then reacted by rushing a sizeable squad to the scene. With Johnny Law’s pod having been swelled by reinforcements, it was now Taser time, not only for the miscreant-in-the-buff, but for an unidentified man on the seawall, as well.

The story elicited 37 blog comments, many of which suggested that the SDPD’s actions were inappropriate, perhaps even laughable. One poster, Chris Moore, said, “I’m not at all convinced this kind of overwhelming police response to one addled goofball is necessarily the answer — it turns a small problem into a big one. I heard 5000 sirens screaming all around here, and I looked out my window to see if a plane had gone down off the beach or something. I couldn’t believe it when I found out it was all over one silly, tripped-out streaker.”

How many police officers were actually massed at the corner of Abbott and Newport? The Rag reporter, Nate Hipple, wrote that the initial deployment (of unspecified numbers) was, within minutes, bolstered by the arrival of at least a dozen more police cars. Many blog posters seemed to be taken aback, perhaps amused, by the numbers. Dave Sparling wrote, “I was riding my bike on Cable when a cop car passed me going about 65.... I counted 17 cop cars. [I] said yes, there is a comedy god. This has to be the worst over-reaction ever. I thank SD’s finest gang for a great comedy bit that will be up on You-Tube.” (Nate Hipple was not available for comment.)

Requiem for a Bookseller

Perhaps he was just reiterating a eulogy to those already in the know, but Arthur Salm, columnist for the online San Diego News Network, recently penned a simpatico send-off for the books of the late Wahrenbrock’s. As local habitues of the musty, dusty (and much-loved) downtown used-book seller know, the cramped little maze of a place went under last summer; Wahrenbrock’s demise had been feared by San Diego bibliophiles after longtime owner Chuck Valverde died in 2008. Still, the unceremonious farewell to the goods themselves — in the form of an ongoing liquidation sale — has been, according to Salm, a melancholy, unsettling thing.

Salm, a familiar voice at the San Diego Union-Tribune until resigning in April 2008, lamented, “When the doors slammed shut last summer, it was surprising (there was no warning) and odd (there was no going-out-of-business sale.) Then, suddenly, fliers announced a can’t pass up liquidation sale: all books $1. Friday [January 29] was the first day of the sale. At 9:55 a.m., about three dozen people were waiting in line outside 726 Broadway.” Recounting his own fondness for the place, its peccadilloes and its denizens, Salm misses the quirkiness of the proprietors, whom he characterized as “knowledgeable-to-the point-where-it-got-weird Wahrenbrock’s folk.”

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