William Smithers and the Wizard of Sacramento : An E-Book Review

As explained in my previous post lately I have been communicating with performers from Star Trek : The Original Series.  Last week I received a reply from William Smithers who played Captain Merik in the second season episode “Bread and Circuses” which Roddenberry intended to be the final proper episode of Star Trek before the backdoor pilot “Assignment Earth” launched a new series.

Mr. Smithers, now 93 years old, was kind enough to sign a photograph of himself in character and included a business card with a link to his website.  From here I learned that in 2018 he published an e-book called “The Wizard of Sacramento”, which analyzes the political career and leadership style of former California Governor Jerry Brown.  I also saw that Mr. Smithers enjoys it when readers interact with the document and publish reviews.  Considering he was kind enough to sign an autograph for me, the least I could do was read his book.

The cost of entry is not onerous.  American Amazon sells the e-book for .99 cents, while the Canadian side sells it for $1.32 Canadian.  As I do not have a kindle I purchased the pdf version on Smashwords, and was even gifted a coupon for my first purchase.

Coming in at 35 pages, this document can easily be read in one short sitting.  As Smithers himself explains this document is much too long to be an op-ed piece, and to short to publish as a traditional book, but modern digital publication standards provide a nice middle ground.

Smithers carefully limits the scope of this publication.  It is not a biography, but rather an independent assessment of Jerry Brown’s performance as Governor of California, with particular attention to his most recent years in office.

At first glance the title may suggest to the reader that Mr. Smithers is enamored by the California Governor. However, this publication is not a hagiography.

While never directly calling the governor corrupt, Smither tees up examples from Brown’s administration to allow the reader to inevitably reach this conclusion themselves.  While never directly saying it, Smithers appears to object to the role of money within the American political system and the necessity of Brown and the Democratic Party to bend to the will of the energy companies in order to obtain the capital necessary for political survival.

Smithers juxtaposes Brown’s reputation as an effective leader who turned around California’s ailing economy using environmental deregulation, with the negative environmental and health externalities his decisions have downloaded onto California’s less affluent and often minority populations.  This is touched upon in Chapter Two where he describes how working-class families in California’s less affluent Kern County watched toxic disposal facilities created near their homes and farms.  Smithers uses Kern county as the canary in the coal mine for Brown’s leadership style – that it signaled his reelection did not require low income nonwhite farmers – and that his continued deregulation and nonexistent oversight of California’s energy companies systematically endangered the health and lives of Californians.

Chapter Three of the document is among the most effective.  In this part of the book Smithers explains how nonexistent legal oversight was replaced by a significantly watered-down bill requiring oil and gas companies to test their sites and the waste water they generated and provided a long grace period for these companies to build the infrastructure and human capital required to ensure compliance.  Never-the-less as Smithers explains using material from the Los Angeles Times, many of these companies did not bother complying with the testing or reporting requirements, or when they did feign compliance much of the required data was missing from their reports.  Smithers’ writing suggests the governor’s strategic inaction effectively invalidated any attempts to hold the oil and gas companies accountable.

This brings us to Chapter Four, a short two-page chapter where Smithers recounts a class action lawsuit filed by Californians against Governor Brown to allege his administration was engaged in racketeering.  In this example Brown is complicit in the oil and gas companies flouting reporting requirements in exchange for political donations.

The document continues by mapping out the scandals Brown experienced in office.  One of the scandals actually involved a literal map, where Governor Brown allegedly used state resources to have a graphic analysis of land he owned created to be analyzed for potential oil wells, with the obvious conclusion that Brown wanted to enrich himself by cashing-in on his own deregulation program.  Smithers’ expands that Governor Brown’s justification of his use of public resources for this purpose – that all Californians can request such a service – is shattered by the fact that there is no evidence of anyone else receiving the same service, others who requested the same service were refused, and that Brown’s own staff in the agency filed a whistleblower complaint against him.

Chapter Six consists of extensive quotations related to a watchdog analysis of Brown, and by extension the Democratic Party of California.   This suggests that Brown and the Democratic Party were focused on campaign revenue at the expense of environmental protection – even suggesting that the party was using questionable measures to evade existent campaign contribution limitations.

Chapter Seven describes environmental damage caused by industry inaction in Aliso county, and suggests that Brown’s inaction to rectify the situation, and his strangely timed announcement of a state of emergency were caused by the appearance of the Governor’s sister on the board of the offending oil and gas company, Sempa Energy. While Smithers’ never outright calls this either nepotism or corruption, the reader is clearly directed to this conclusion.

Smithers’ conclusive writing in Chapter Nine is some of his most effective and I will quote it here:

“…Brown, throughout his second occupancy of California’s state house, has bathed in the financial rewards oil/gas/energy conglomerates provided his campaigns, Oakland charter schools, preferred ballot measures and media coverage, while in return he has assured almost every program, legislative agenda, governmental appointment, regulatory posture and regulatory inaction desired by them. And in so doing he endangered the health, safety and lives of many Californians”.

Having summarized some of Mr. Smithers’ writing and conclusions, I should now analyze the publication itself on its merits.

Ultimately, at 35 pages this document is not a deep dive into California politics or the Governing philosophy of Jerry Brown. While never directly calling Brown or his administration corrupt, obligated to monied interests in the oil and gas industry, or uninterested in environmental and minority protection, Smithers’ uses his research to create a roadmap for the audience to reach this conclusion via their interaction with the text.  At-times the organization of the document is uneven.  Some chapters are heavy on analysis, while others are drowning in quotations from other publications.

This document is not a landmark publication on the subject, rather it is a jumping off point to aid the reader in future research into California politics in general, and Governor Brown in particular.    In the end, I believe this is what William Smithers was aiming for, and he has effectively executed that goal.

“The Wizard of Sacramento : Governor Jerry Brown” by William Smithers is available digitally from both Amazon and Smashwords.  Mr. Smithers’ official website, with more information about his career, including an enormous archive of his Santa Barbara talk show can also be found at http://williamsmithers.com.  Those who enjoyed this document can also find free of charge a large selection of Mr. Smithers’ op-ed pieces republished on his website.  While this publication is perhaps only tangentially interesting to fans of the Star Trek television series, anyone with an interest in environmentalism, government, and politics will enjoy reading it.

I would like to finish this blogpost by again thanking Mr. Smithers for responding to my autograph request, for being part of a series which has given me great enjoyment in my life, and for his long-dedication to holding a mirror to the society in which he lives.


Star Trek

Growing up I always enjoyed the Star Trek television series.  The CBC used to play episodes of The Original Series on the weekends.  I distinctly remember seeing the episode “Arena” and thinking the Gorn Captain looked silly. I also remember enjoying the episode “Space Seed” with Ricardo Montalban where Captain Kirk wonders aloud what will become of Khan after he and his crew are marooned on a distant planet.  Thankfully I watched this episode before watching the second movie which answers this question.

My generation grew up with Star Trek The Next Generation in syndication on cable, and Star Trek Voyager regularly running on local TV stations.  In hindsight Voyager was a missed opportunity.  The show involves crews from two different factions thrown together on the opposite side of the galaxy forced to work together to get home.  The concept has a lot of potential, but in execution there is very little interpersonal conflict between any of the Voyager Crew.

Unlike Deep Space Nine which features a stable of recurring characters, Voyager is peppered with abandoned possibilities. By the late 90s and early 2000s the reruns of The Original Series had been replaced with reruns of The Next Generation, so there are numerous episodes I’ve never seen.

Lately with the addition of The Original Series on Netflix I have been working thru watching all 79 of them.  I’ve concluded that Star Trek episodes are a bit like musicals.  When done right they are very good and hold up in a timeless way.  When they are done badly, they are terrible.

The worst episode of them all was “Spock’s Brain”.  Marj Dusay plays an alien who beams aboard the Enterprise, and steals Spock’s brain out of his head.  Then the Enterprise crew has to find her and put Spock’s brain back into his head.

That’s it.  That’s the entire episode.

During the early 2000s Marj played the villain Vanessa Cortland on the soap opera All My Children which I used to watch during lunch in high school.  For some reason I decided I wanted to contact her and get her autograph.  Unfortunately, Marj died before she could respond.

Now am I attempting to contact as many actors from the Original Series and collect their autographs as I can before they are all lost to history.  It is surprisingly early to locate their addresses online and many have been kind enough to respond.

It has been an enjoyable hobby.  Occasionally I will open my mailbox and find one of my self-addressed stamped envelopes has boomeranged back.

My friends Mike, Josh and Tim perform the podcast Two and Change where they discuss politics and current events, while Mike and Tim throw in Star Trek references whenever possible.  Tim and his wife Laura even got married in a Klingon ceremony complete with battling using Klingon Bat’leths, suggesting a dedication to fandom that I don’t possess.

Josh, however, didn’t grow up with Star Trek and tells me that if you are not watching it with nostalgia goggles it looks very silly.

So, I have come up with a new project and a use for all these autographed photos.  Me, Mike, Josh and Tim are planning on watching episodes of the Original Series and discussing them with Josh to get a fresh perspective on an old subject matter.  The current plan is if we use a video component, we are going to decorate the “set” with these autographs.

Tentatively we are thinking of calling the show Nerding Out With My Friend, and I think we should start with some of the better episodes like “The City on the Edge of Forever” or “The Trouble with Tribbles” before we introduce Josh to episodes like Spock’s Brain.  If we don’t foster a love of Star Trek in our friend, at least we will have a great time and produce something creative.

In the meantime, here are some of the autographs the Star Trek actors have been kind enough to send me.


Pandemic Birthday

I was born on the 4th of July.  As a Canadian child it was a relief that I didn’t live in the United States, because this meant that other kids could come to my birthday party.  Now that I’m getting older it is less of a celebration and more a sense of dread from my quickly approaching middle-age.  At least, unlike my grandfather, I still have all my hair intact, even if it is graying quickly.

Never-the-less I normally try and celebrate with friends, usually with dinner at my favorite pub, sometimes followed by a movie.  Some cinemas in Canada allow you a free movie ticket on your birthday and it seems a shame to waste the opportunity.

Current circumstances mean this isn’t possible.

Instead a slept until noon, and spent the day listening to podcasts and binging British crime shows.

One tradition I wouldn’t give up is my birthday cake from Dairy Queen.  We’ve been getting a Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake every year since I was a child, and since the stores are open this is one tradition I can still take part in.  I hauled by twin-brother in the car and we picked up a rather too large cake, then I consumed far too many calories while watching yet more British crime shows.

Evidently, I am getting to the age where I just want to be left alone to celebrate on my own.  Perhaps I am turning into a curmudgeon prematurely.

Oh well.  Happy Birthday to me.  Hopefully next year I can celebrate my birthday on a beach.


Jordan's birthday cake
One tradition I can keep alive during a global pandemic

Canada Day in Isolation

I wouldn’t consider myself to be overly nationalistic.  I also don’t think I have very many traditions or rituals the I follow.  Never-the-less, on Canada Day you can usually find me at Labatt Park watching the London Majors play a baseball game, followed by fireworks over the Thames River.

In fact, I can only think of a few times in my life when this wasn’t the case.  There was a Canada Day as a teenager when my family was spending the summer in England and we toured a ruined castle.  We questioned why the castle was flying a Canadian Flag, and the tour guide reminded us that it was Canada Day – we were so jet lagged we lost track of what day it was…come to think of it we also forgot my birthday that year.

When I was 19 I spent Kanada Tag in Germany with some friends while on a high school student exchange.  I honestly can’t remember if we did any kind of celebration.  We probably waved flags and drank beer in the back yard.

Finally, when I was in Australia I spent Canada Day with hundreds of Canadians celebrating in North Sydney organized by a wonderful group of people called “Network Canada”.  They bill themselves as the largest Canada Day celebration outside of Canada.  It is complete with artificially created snow, a giant inflatable snowman, Poutine, Perogies, imported Moosehead and Caesar cocktails. I even won a prize, which I think was a package of Tim Horton’s coffee.

Last year I went downtown minus and hat or sunscreen which I quickly corrected via the exchange of money in a variety store, then I mingled downtown before following the traditional baseball game along with some friends.

But this year is different.  Due to the COVID19 Virus, the baseball game and the fireworks are both cancelled.  With nothing else to do, I picked up a full shift at work and I will be making double time-and-a-half today.  When that’s done I will probably sit in a Muskoka Chair in the backyard, listen to a podcast and halfheartedly wave a tiny Canadian flag.  This Canada Day I will earn some extra money so that I can take a vacation when this pandemic is over, and hopefully next year we all go back to our Canada Day traditions.

For now, here is a photo of me at last year’s Canada Day in an enormous Muskoka Chair, and another one of me with a government issued Canadian flag and an awkwardly placed Blue Jays hat.