Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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Now on the San Francisco Ballot: The George W. Bush Sewage Plant

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 12:54 PM PDT

It's the mother lode of all potty jokes: In November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to rechristen the city's Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant as the George. W Bush Sewage Plant.

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So great is the pun potential--Cleaning up Bush's mess! Memorializing the president of the affluent with effluent!--that Keith Olberman covered the issue with the help of a comedian and newspapers are dropping stinkers too (LA Times: "San Franciscans' Planned 'Tribute' to Bush Stirs Some Muck"). The website of the initiative's sponsor, the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, says, "No other president in American history has accomplished so much in such a short time." So much, well, you know.

In the spring the members of the Presidential Memorial Commission began circulating a petition in support of the measure, often in city parks, while wearing Uncle Sam outfits and blaring patriotic music from a boom box. Yesterday the San Francisco Department of Elections certified that they'd turned in enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, opening a new chapter in the time-honored tradition of wacky San Francisco ballot measures.

Not everybody in the city supports the idea. Officials at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission say the plant is an award winning facility. (A more fitting memorial would be the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, which in February spilled 2.7 million gallons of poop water into San Francisco Bay). San Francisco, after all, cleans up its own shit just fine.

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Bush's Own Version of the Bush Joke

| Fri Jul. 11, 2008 1:54 PM PDT

This week at the G8 summit in Japan, George W. Bush wrapped up a meeting on climate change with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

"He then punched the air while grinning widely," the Telegraph reports, "as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy looked on in shock."

Bush's Napoleon Dynamite moment might have been an effort to laugh off an earlier gaffe: A White House press packet at the G8 had described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as one of "the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice." After furor erupted in Rome (Corriere Della Sera called it "a faux pas of unprecedented proportions"), the White House explained, candidly, that an official had simply lifted the passage from the Internet without reading it.

What to make of Bush's humor? Separating out the gaffes and the Bush Jokes, it seems divided between an ascendant strain of ironic-self-mockery and a still-going-strong Wayne & Garth aesthetic. From a recent event with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

So Bush is a doofus, but why?

Downstream of the Tar Sands, Canada Launches a Comprehensive Review of Cancer Rates

| Thu May. 22, 2008 1:45 PM PDT

Canadian health authorities announced today that they would launch a "comprehensive" review of cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, a small town 70 miles downstream of Canada's massive tar sands mines. In 2006, local doctor John O'Connor reported unusually high rates of cancer and other diseases in the town, where many locals subsist on fish and wild game. A few months later, when authorities filed a complaint against O'Connor for "raising undue alarm," they kicked off an epic dispute between the government and industry on one side and O'Connor, locals, and environmentalists on the other.

At the heart of the debate is whether Canada can continue to mine the tar sands, which now serve as the single largest source of U.S. foreign oil, without destroying its environment and poisoning its citizens. The impact of the tar sands on global warming is clear, but the health concerns of Native American groups may ultimately do more to curtail the sands--the world's largest strip mines. In the weeks since Mother Jones published a comprehensive story on O'Connor's fight, environmental pressure on the government has mounted. In late April hundreds of ducks were poisoned in a tar sands tailings pond, prompting renewed protests and a government pledge to investigate. The latest move by health authorities shows that the environmental health threats of the Canadian tar sands remain, to say the least, a sticky issue.

Scenes From a Nader Fundraiser at a San Francisco Dive Bar

| Sat May. 17, 2008 12:50 PM PDT

The 540 Club, in an old bank building at 540 Clement Street in San Francisco, is the only bar in town to call an elephant its mascot. A 300-pound stuffed pachyderm blobs on a ledge above the front door, a cast-off inherited after the San Francisco zoo shuttered its elephant exhibit. The bar's logo, a pink elephant found on its tables, its business cards and the forearm of its soda jerk, is described by the staff as "the universal symbol of alcoholism and sloth etc," and not as any sort of inducement to Republicans. In fact, the threat, in liberal San Francisco, of being labeled a GOP sympathizer never really occurred to the owner of the bar, Jamie Brown—until this week, that is, when he found himself debating whether to supplement the elephant with a stuffed donkey. The bar was set to hold a fundraiser for none other than the Great Spoiler, Ralph Nader. "What the hell?" Brown said Sunday morning, apropos of nothing, as he dragged on a Camel and waited for Nader's entourage to arrive. "Just in general, what the hell?"

Brown had sent two emails announcing the event. One said Nader would be coming. The other said this wasn't a joke. The local media had called to ask if the fundraiser was a ploy to sell drinks. Patrons hadn't known what to think. A few days after the email went out, during the bar's "Uptown 20s Jazz and Big Band" night, one drinker had supposed Nader would read from Don Quixote; another wondered of the man: "What did he do? Was it a car dealership?"

"I still think people think it's a joke," Brown said that morning before the Pabst Blue Ribbon clock struck noon. Nader was running late. A small crowd at the bar nursed pint-sized bloody marys. Brown, who sported several days stubble and a severe bed head, excused himself for a moment. "I need a shot, sunglasses, and a pack of cigarettes," he said.

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