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Notes From the Edge 

The choices are dark and dreary, but the only candidate for governor is (be still, pounding heart) Gray Davis

Wednesday, Oct 23 2002

Page 3 of 3

For years San Francisco city fathers looted their own water-delivery system, refusing to maintain it while selling water at bargain-basement rates to suburban communities, car factories, and other such environmentally dubious enterprises. The system now needs billions of dollars in safety upgrades.

This fall, two self-interested business groups are battling it out at the ballot box: The S.F. Chamber of Commerce, made up of midsize employers, fears the city might lose control of its water system entirely and wants to raise money to repair the Hetch Hetchy system by raising water rates paid by San Franciscans and suburban water users. Hotel and office-building owners, meanwhile, seem determined to continue profiting from artificially low water rates and are spending buckets of money to defeat the measure.

Prop. A is a campaign spending battle between one class of cynical business (S.F. employers who'd love suburbanites to pay for at least a part of decades of San Francisco profligacy) and another (water-dependent firms that want to keep water rates artificially low, consequences be damned) that's even more cynical. Through it all, ordinary San Franciscans seem indifferent.

The other ballot measure you mention -- the latest convulsion in local pamphleteer Bruce Brugmann's quarter-century public power crusade, Prop. D -- also contains ample evidence that a polity has died.

In dark times, Arendt writes, the most pressing public issues cease to become matters of discourse. Instead, people '"shift from the world and its public space to an interior life, or else simply ignore that world in favor of an imaginary world "as it ought to be,' or as it once upon a time had been."

M. Brugmann, bless his soul, has based his career as a public ideologue on parsing the meaning of turn-of-the-century laws governing the Hetch Hetchy electric system. During the past decade he has sent thousands of "information" packets to reporters in San Francisco and elsewhere, upbraiding them (sometimes as many as a dozen times a year) for failing to jump into his crusade for public power. He has ordered his own writers, meanwhile, to pen hundreds of articles about PG&E's supposed usurpation of the intent of 1920s legislators.

If ever a life could be said to have been spent emitting Arendt's "exhortations, moral and otherwise, that under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality," it would be this man's. Any community with a thriving civic life would have no place for such a scourge. San Francisco voters, on the other hand, indulge Brugmann's fetishes.

Clearly, our city is descending into an age of misanthropy, and the citizens of the world ignore her trajectory at their peril. If humanity is to apprehend the awful civic path that looms before it, it is necessary to maintain a bureau in San Francisco.

Your unworthy acolyte,

Matt Smith

For a few days, I was despondent and gave up all hope of diverting my superiors' gaze from Gray Davis. Then a source who must remain anonymous sent me an internal memorandum.

From: John Mecklin, bureau chief/factotum

To: All NTW executives

Re: Success

Cloud: It appears that our man in San Francisco has had a nervous breakdown, or worse; he's writing tripe about German philosophers. Silver lining: He is in no condition to endorse Gray Davis, or anyone else, in any convincing fashion. Will advise of further developments.

As I read the words, my skin grew cold. I closed my trembling eyes, yet the glaring words wouldn't dim. What could those philistines possibly know about my nerves? Did they not detect the fluency of my voice? Could they not perceive how lucidly I proceeded through my argument? Had they no light with which to see in that city of eternal blazing sun?

Surely they understood that we live at the edge of a dark future. They must know we're courting social chaos; we're welcoming civic decay.

I had to tell them; I couldn't resist another moment. Dearest editors, I was bound to say, unless all thinking Californians vote for Gray Davis, our future will consist of dark, dark, Republican times.

1 Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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