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Photograph by Sarah Phelan

Watch Who You're Calling Cowardly: This particular lion led the chants for the Santa Cruz Peace Coalition's 'Wizard of Oz'-themed First Night entry.



Each New Year's Eve, right around dusk, Nüz heads for the Town Clock end of Pacific Avenue, from which to enjoy the First Night parade, which begins to wind through town as the old year's last sunset fades to black across the December sky.

Traditionally, a fleet of unicyclers kicks off the parade, twinkling its way through the gathering gloom to clear the path for a pair of giant sun and moon puppets, which signals the setting of the last year and the rising of the new year, respectively.

First Night 2004 was no exception. From our vista spot outside Lulu Carpenter's, we watched helmeted Viking ladies belt out a breast-plate-heaving rendition of "Happy New Year," while bagpipers and Morris and flamenco dancers mixed it up with the ever laid-back Deckchair Brigade, the pint-size Beach Flats Soccer team, a freaky pair of dancing blue eyeballs and the red-legged, yellow-eyed pigeon that literally pooped all over the parade.

And while this year's parade theme was "Movie Magic," it quickly became clear that many participants (with notable exceptions like the Oscar-suited Great Morgani) responded to it with a collective "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Which made it a tad ironic when the Santa Cruz Peace Coalition, which deliberately built its act around The Wizard of Oz, got bumped to a place behind the end of the parade.

First Night executive director Blake Smith defended the last-minute decision to move the Ozers, noting that while the parade is meant to be nonpolitical, "when the SCPC showed up, all their songs had been changed to political messages." Nüz is told SCPCers were chanting stuff like "Hey, hey, Saddam is alive!" in between singing, "Some day, war will stop, and peace will be" to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The whole business must have left SCPCer Grant Wilson feeling a bit edgy, since he pointed out to Nüz that Yip Harburg, the lyricist who put the rainbow into the original Oz, got blacklisted in the 1940s.

But Blake says the fact that the Oz message got drowned out by drummers bringing up the rear of the parade was unintentional, noting that "peace itself, these days, is a political message."

As for the equally abrupt cancellation of the Chalk of Fame project, which would have allowed merrymakers to chalk messages in front of the Cooper House, Smith says police, city and First Night officials agreed at the last minute not to have this event, "because there was no permitting process in place"--an oversight that posed a potential legal conflict, given that the city had been prosecuting people under the umbrella of a statewide anti-graffiti law, for sidewalk chalking at this very location.

Zero Intolerance

With Smith and Wilson hoping to work out free-speech issues and with special permit requirements way ahead of next year's First Night, Nüz suggests we all consider calling this new year Twenty-Oh-Four, not Two-Oh-Oh-Four, a suggestion we overheard at a New Year's Eve party and which we assume is based on the notion that "twenty" gives an impression of youthful maturity (according to the Chinese calendar, the new year is actually 4701) as opposed to the fear-infused "zero years" feeling that began with Y2K and has continued unabated throughout Bush's presidency.

Feed the Caucus Monster

With the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process beginning in earnest at the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses, local Dems have a chance to make their preferences known before it's all over in terms of nationwide crowning. How? By participating in the mock presidential caucus organized by the People's Democratic Club, the Democratic Women's Club and the North Santa Cruz County Democrats Jan. 10 at the Vets Hall, 846 Front St.

"This may be the very first Iowa-style caucus in the country," says caucus organizer Julie Conway, whose main fear is that the Vets auditorium, with its 300-max capacity, won't be big enough.

Says Conway, "At first, we thought that would be more than enough room. Now, we're not so sure. We may have created a monster."

In between Congressmember Sam Farr (D-Salinas) kicking things off and Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) wrapping things up, reps from Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Carol Moseley Braun and John Edwards' campaigns will talk about why their choices are hot before participants get to vote.

Registration begins at 1pm and closes at 2pm. Call 426.6383

Verify My Vote, Why Doncha?

Speaking of voting, imagine dictating your vote to a person hidden behind a curtain. Unable to see this person, you don't know whether your vote has been recorded accurately--or at all.

Sound Big Brotherish? Local resident Bob Kibrick warns that when you vote on paperless touch-screen voting machines, such systems leave you with no way to verify that the vote you cast is what the machine actually recorded on its electronic memory.

Kibrick, a research astronomer and director of scientific computing at UCSC's Lick Observatory, notes that a recent state of California audit of Diebold voting systems (one of four such vendors used across the nation) revealed that in the 17 California counties that used such voting equipment and software, none of the machines were running software that had been certified by the state for elections.

"Such incidents challenge the notion that we can trust the software installed inside these machines," says Kibrick.

And then there's the fact that some of the most widely deployed voting system software was written by a convicted felon, who served time for embezzlement and insider software tampering.

So, just how did it come to this?

The Florida election fiasco made public serious problems with pre-scored punch cards--including hanging chads, pregnant chads, undervotes and overvotes--all of which led to a bipartisan commission on federal election reform, whose report led to the passage of the Help America Vote Act in October 2002.

Well intended as HAVA was, says Kibrick, it's led instead to one unreliable voting technology--punch-card ballots--being replaced with another questionable and costly technology.

"The problem is the technology has moved ahead faster than the government standards regulating it, which makes protecting against machine malfunction and deliberate fraud two distinct problems," says Kibrick, adding that since Santa Cruz County doesn't use a punch-card system, we aren't under deadline to switch to new equipment before the 2004 elections.

To learn more, visit verifiedvoting.org or attend the Jan. 10 meeting, second floor of the Santa Cruz Library, 224 Church St., 2-4:30pm.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the January 7-14, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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