“In 1911, Johnson and the Progressives added initiative, referendum, and recall to the state government, giving California a degree of direct democracy unmatched by any other U.S. state.”

It seems clear that Johnson believed that direct democracy could counter the machinations of entrenched special interests (in his day, mostly industrial trusts). What he could not have foreseen was the rise of a professional ballot initiative industry, one that succeeds fiscally whether or not it succeeds at the polls and thus has a vested interest in introducing ballot measures every election cycle. Thus, the California constitution is now hostage to the whims of single issue fundraisers and out of state interests, a group that now functions as an unelected shadow legislature.

I don’t blame the “fundies” for making valid use of a system to further their interests, however much I disagree with those interests. It also seems that the California State Supreme Court shares my dislike of the initiative process as a vehicle for deciding matters of basic human rights, but as was stated in their opinion: “our task in the present proceeding is not to determine whether the provision at issue is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals, believe it should be a part of the California Constitution. Our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.” The constitution as it currently exists allows for such actions, and it is at the constitutional level that the problem needs to be tackled.

I’ve written about my own feelings regarding the question of gay marriage before. I still don’t believe in it personally, but of course believe that if a right is extended to some citizens of a nation it should be extended to all. The lesson of Hiram Johnson is that even the acts of self termed progressives can produce results far beyond their intention.

The real task in front of Californians is to find some way to balance Johnson’s ideals of direct democracy with some mechanism to prevent the continuing cynical abuse of of the initiative system.


I felt sorry for Elizabeth Alexander, the poet selected to follow the President. Talk about a tough act to follow. And how intense has Dianne Feinstein’s life been? Seeing her make the introductions, looking remarkably similar to when she announced the Moscone/Milk shootings (I mean hairdo and all, not in bearing) made me think that you truly cannot predict the arc of a life or the consequences of an act.

I’m back on the job after three days away (back to everything really – I’ve been without lj, wordpress, email and cellphone), most of them spent being sick, just at the point that I was congratulating myself on not getting sick like everyone around me. The hubris stick, it hurts.


Snow coming on. The year winding down for all us Julian calendar types. People are posting their year end wrap-ups. Most of the time I don’t read them and we know this lil journal is self absorbed enough that I probabaly shouldn’t write one; I’m always chewing over the meaning, for me, of what just happened, to me. But here goes anyway:

When I think about where things are at just now for the country, here’s the image that comes up: we have been sick, sick in body and sick at heart for years now. Those who have believed in the current crop of leaders, have seen the economy turn to quicksand, the moral compromise of many of those leaders, and the elusiveness of the supposed security those leaders promised. For those of us who chafed under the Bush administration, we have endured the unease of seeing Cheney’s termites at work on the constitution, and watched helplessly while the rest of the world came to regard us as either rapacious porn peddlers or half crazed bullies. On either side, impotence and frustration. You can’t walk around with that kind of knowledge year after year and not feel its effect. So this year’s election asked us in effect: you’re sick, what are you prepared to do about it?

Amazingly, America somehow summoned the courage to go with the unknown, experimental treatment. We don’t know if it’s going to work. We haven’t even begun to feel the real effects of the pill we took this November. But one of the immediate benefits was the reaffirmation of the American willingness to strike out in a new direction, something that in itself is powerful in its implications. At a time when so many nations, frozen in their suffering, have been unable to make change or worse have chosen to retreat into more oppressive and centralized states (Russia, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Israel, Iran), America’s choice highlights the underlying strength of our governing principles.

Anyone who has done any sort of recovery work will recognize this feeling: you start going to meetings and you start experiencing the “Pink Cloud”: hey I decided to stop drinking and now all my problems are solved! I can pay my rent! I feel great about everyone, and so on. After a short time comes the inevitable crash: the problems that one was turning away from with addiction are separate from the the addiction itself. And so you have to begin the painful work of facing each of those problems sober. It can feel scary and tempt one to despair to see the full extent of the mess the binge has caused. It’s this queasiness that I feel the country is in now. The full extent of our challenges remain unknown, and as they come into focus it’s tempting to question our choice to face them. And many are bone weary. But the choice was the right one


Those who know me either through this journal or elsewhere, know that I am tidy only episodically. Usually I would spend some time bemoaning this. I won’t. But I have been going through a slovenly patch. Today, I’m making an effort to shift that.

Recycling goes out on Thursday night for Friday collection. Last night I managed to take out two boxes of corrugated board which had the effect of clearing a space in front of my kitchen window. I’d been living with it blocked for so long (months let’s say) That I was taken aback to see the light spilling in. There are quite a few other piles like that around my house.

I’ve been reading Alan Bennett’s Writing Home, which in it’s way is cheering for the project of this journal. A reminder: it’s enough to record impressions; do that enough and you end up expression opinions. Bennett’s diaries contain many notes about life under Thatcher, and in reading them I get an interesting angle on what life is like under Bush: a daily flow of sanctimonious thuggery. Bush certainly hasn’t led with Thatcher’s iron noblesse (we’re more easily awed by the folksy style here anyway), but he has presided over the most aggressive attempt to undermine the constitution in the past century. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t griped about it enough. I hope I’m more on the watch for the coming administration.

A friend asked me at lunch the other day how I was, and in response I launched into a long description of a dream I had just had. It was a funny response, but one that was attempting to express the way in which I feel at a turning point. I don’t quite understand the dream but the clarity of the remembrance seemed important to me somehow. This has been a very big year for me, full of good news on the career front, as well greater personal prosperity than I have enjoyed in many years. Normally I would find a way to fritter that all away, but I feel that somehow now I have the tools to tackle the future differently.