Flooding in N. California


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Jonathan Von Renner checks on his son Jonathan Jr., and friend Emilio Ontivares in lower Guerneville, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Two Northern California communities are accessible only by boat after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks following a relentless downpour. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says Guerneville, "is officially an island" and another nearby town was also isolated by floodwaters. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

Jonathan Von Renner checks on his son Jonathan Jr., and friend Emilio Ontivares in lower Guerneville, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Two Northern California communities are accessible only by boat after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks following a relentless downpour. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says Guerneville, "is officially an island" and another nearby town was also isolated by floodwaters. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)


People paddle and row through the flooded Barlow Market District Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Sebastopol, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


A man uses a paddle board to make his way through the flooded Barlow Market District Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Sebastopol, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


California river floods 2,000 buildings in California

By HAVEN DALEY and OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ

Associated Press

Thursday, February 28

GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Floodwaters that turned two Northern California communities into islands were expected to begin receding Thursday as a rain-engorged river finally peaked after swamping thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings.

The Russian River in the wine country north of San Francisco crested at more than 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, Sonoma County officials said.

The river frequently floods in rainy weather but it hadn’t reached that level for 25 years and wasn’t expected to recede again until late Thursday night.

The estimated 2,000 buildings inundated by floodwaters were mainly in and around Guerneville, Khan said.

“Guerneville has essentially become an island,” Khan said. The nearby town of Monte Rio also was isolated when roads leading to it were swamped.

No injuries were reported and by Wednesday night the rain had eased but about 3,500 people in two dozen river communities remained under evacuation orders.

In addition, two sewage treatment plants weren’t working, leading to concerns about potential sewage spills, she added.

The river was one of several in Northern California that was engorged by days of rain from western U.S. storms that also dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada, throughout the Pacific Northwest and into Montana, where Gov. Steve Bullock signed an emergency order to help keep up the supply of heating fuel amid frigid temperatures.

Two Amtrak trains together carrying nearly 300 passengers stopped and reversed directions because of an avalanche that closed railroad tracks in the Sierra Nevada.

In Idaho, the mountain town of Stanley became marooned Wednesday after all three highways leading to the town were closed because of drifting snow, avalanches and the risk of more slides.

Several areas in California set record-high rainfall totals, including nearby Santa Rosa, which had nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in one day. The often-waterlogged Venado weather station 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Guerneville recorded more than 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain in 48 hours.

Dozens of people were rescued from cars that became stranded Tuesday and early Wednesday after drivers tried to cross flooded roads.

Nina Sheehan, who is visiting from North Carolina, had to abandon her rental SUV after it got stuck in a flooded hotel parking lot.

“We made a decision to take the rental car through the waist-high water and we got two thirds of the way and then the car stalled,” she said.

Rhondell Rasmus had pulled to the side of a road too flooded to cross in Sebastopol in Sonoma County late Tuesday night and emergency dispatchers told her to wait for help. But just before dawn, she awoke to find the car was nearly submerged and she was out of gas.

“The water just came up so fast next to my car, it was crazy,” she told the Press-Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa.

She wound up in an emergency shelter, bringing with her a handbag, a backpack and a pair of rain boots.

In Guerneville, streets became seas of muddy brown water. Jeff Bridges, a hotel co-owner who is president of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce, spent the day canoeing through town and gave a ride to a couple and their dog who were stranded in a low-lying apartment.

Five people whose homes were flooded were bunking down at his two-bedroom home.

“We saw quite a few fish swimming by my front porch,” he said.

Bridges said this flood was the fourth he’s experienced in 33 years and the locals took the disaster calmly.

“It’s the price you pay to live in paradise,” he said. “Buffalo, New York puts up with blizzards. Miami and Houston put up with hurricanes…we have floods.”

However, Bridges said it will take weeks to clean up his R3 Hotel, as he has done in past floods. More than 8 feet of water inundated the 23-room business.

“Anything that’s been flooded you’ve got to rip it out, sanitize everything…and rebuild,” he said, but added nonchalantly: “Everything’s fixable.”

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.

High court’s cross case could affect monuments nationally

By JESSICA GRESKO

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A 40-foot-tall, concrete cross on public land in a Maryland suburb of Washington is at the center of a case before the Supreme Court. But similar monuments elsewhere in the country could be affected by the high court ruling, states have told the justices.

The District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, which is behind the challenge to the Maryland cross, acknowledges that at least a handful of other monuments around the country could be affected if the court sides with them, though they disagree with those supporting the cross that the number is vast.

The monuments most likely to be affected are large crosses on public, not private, lands and where there’s a prominent cross that isn’t part of a larger memorial or setting such as a cemetery, said Monica Miller, an American Humanist Association attorney.

By the same token, those monuments could be insulated from challenges if the other side prevails, as many observers think is likely given the court’s conservative makeup.

A look at the cross at the center of the case and cross memorials in other states:

MARYLAND

If the justices wanted to take a field trip to see the cross at the center of the case, it wouldn’t be hard. The cross is located on a large, grassy traffic median in Bladensburg, about 5 miles from the Supreme Court.

Sometimes called the “Peace Cross,” it was completed in 1925. A plaque on the base of the cross lists the names of 49 soldiers from the area who died in World War I.

While a trial court judge ruled the memorial was constitutional, an appeals court disagreed. Those challenging the cross are telling the Supreme Court that it should be moved to private property or modified into a slab or obelisk. They also note that the nearly 100-year-old monument has been deteriorating. Chunks have fallen off and restoration work planned years ago has been put off while the case has moved forward.

FLORIDA

A 34-foot-tall concrete cross in Pensacola’s Bayview Park has been the site of a sunrise Easter service for decades.

The first Easter service was organized at the site in 1941. A wooden cross was put up for the gathering, which was organized by the local Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1969, however, the group installed the concrete cross that stands today. Lighting and maintaining the cross costs Pensacola around $200 a year.

Four people sued over the cross in 2016. They have the backing of the American Humanist Association, the same group behind the cross lawsuit now before the Supreme Court, and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Two lower courts have ruled against the cross.

KANSAS

A cross near Lyons, Kansas, honors Father Juan de Padilla, a 16th century Franciscan missionary. Installed in 1950, the cross was a gift to the state by the Knights of Columbus.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter in 2018 objecting to the cross, asking that it be removed or moved to private property.

NEW MEXICO

A bronze cross on a concrete pedestal stands in the town plaza in the center of Taos. Paid for by private donations and dedicated in 1960, the cross is part of a memorial honoring young men from the area who fought and died in World War II. Beside the cross are flagpoles flying the flags of the United States and New Mexico, and in front of the cross is a sculpture of three soldiers.

The town says it has been threatened with lawsuits similar to the one currently before the Supreme Court. If the high court doesn’t side with supporters of the Maryland cross, Taos told the justices, it would “virtually guarantee Taos would be drawn into costly and unjust litigation to remove its memorial.”

TEXAS

The Seaman’s Memorial Tower in Aransas Pass used to be topped by a cross, but it’s been removed because of wear. The 80-foot-tall tower still has a crucifix on its front, however. Lu Arcemont, 82, who chairs a commission that oversees the tower’s maintenance, says she hopes to see a cross topping the tower again.

Arcemont is the keeper of the tower’s history. It was dedicated in 1970 as a memorial to area fisherman who died at sea, their names on plaques on the tower. At first the tower was topped by a 22-foot wooden cross. A smaller, metal cross later replaced it. As for the crucifix on the tower’s front, Arcemont says her husband carved it out of a telephone pole.

Arcemont hadn’t heard of the Maryland lawsuit, but she was quick to distinguish her town’s memorial. She called it a “living memorial” because names continue to be added to it. People also sometimes scatter family members’ ashes at the site. “The reason we have a crucifix and a cross on our tower is so it represents both religions — Protestant and Catholic,” she said.

Aransas Pass is about 20 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.

Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

Political operative arrested in North Carolina scandal

By EMERY P. DALESIO and JONATHAN DREW

Associated Press

Thursday, February 28

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The political operative at the center of an election fraud scandal that has engulfed a North Carolina congressional race was arrested Wednesday on charges of illegal ballot handling and conspiracy. Four people working for him were also charged.

Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., 63, was accused of directing workers to collect and mail in other people’s absentee ballots during the 2018 Republican congressional primary and the 2016 general election. It is against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a close relative to handle a mail-in ballot, a measure aimed at guarding against manipulation.

Prosecutors are still investigating evidence of ballot tampering by Dowless and others working on behalf of GOP candidate Mark Harris during last fall’s congressional election in the mostly rural 9th District, which includes part of Charlotte and extends eastward across several counties.

The indictment represents the first charges in a scandal that has cast doubt on election integrity and will leave a congressional seat unfilled for months.

“These indictments should serve as a stern warning to anyone trying to defraud elections in North Carolina,” state elections director Kim Westbrook Strach said.

Dowless was arrested less than a week after the state elections board decided that his work for Harris, starting with the primary, tainted the Republican’s apparent victory in November. The board ordered a new election but hasn’t set a date.

Harris is not running in the do-over election; his Democratic opponent from November, Dan McCready, is.

Harris has not been charged and has denied knowledge of any illegal practices by those involved in his campaign. But he, too, could come under scrutiny. During last week’s board hearing, he admitted writing personal checks to Dowless in 2017, a potential violation if the payments weren’t reported.

Dowless has denied wrongdoing and did not respond to phone and text messages Wednesday. A woman hung up on a call to Dowless’ attorney.

Dowless was charged with illegal possession of absentee ballots, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He was booked into a Raleigh jail. The four others were charged with illegal possession of an absentee ballot and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The crimes “served to undermine the integrity of the absentee ballot process and the public’s confidence in the outcome of the electoral process,” the indictment said.

Dowless was accused of directing his workers “to mail the absentee ballot in such a manner to conceal the fact that the voter had not personally mailed it himself” — an act the indictment said constituted obstruction of justice.

In last fall’s congressional election, Harris led McCready by 905 votes out of about 280,000 cast, but the state elections board refused to certify Harris as the winner because of the fraud suspicions. Last week, Harris abruptly dropped his bid to be declared the winner and called for a new election, and the board agreed.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who pursued the charges announced Wednesday, is still looking into evidence of irregularities in November. She indicated it could be weeks before any decisions are made on charges.

According to evidence at the elections board hearing, Dowless and his assistants illegally gathered up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail, and in some cases forged signatures and filled in votes for local candidates.

Dowless refused to testify before the board without immunity from prosecution.

Dowless is a political junkie with felony convictions for perjury and insurance fraud — which led to a prison sentence in the 1990s — and several worthless-check offenses. He came to Harris’ attention because he was known to produce votes.

Harris said he wanted to sign Dowless onto his 2018 campaign after noting the Bladen County man’s work resulted in one of Harris’ Republican rivals scoring an incredible 98 percent of the mail-in ballots in the 2016 primary.

Harris hired Dowless despite repeated warnings from the candidate’s son, now a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, that Dowless was probably resorting to illegal methods.

In fact, Dowless had been on the radar of state elections investigators since 2010, when he was suspected of vote-buying but never charged. That was one of at least a half-dozen instances over the past nine years that prosecutors and election officials received complaints of serious irregularities in Bladen County.

The four other people charged in the case were paid by Dowless to collect ballots during the spring of 2018, when Dowless and his team were on the Harris campaign payroll, and during the 2016 general election, when Dowless himself successfully ran for a local soil and water conservation post, prosecutors said.

Jail records indicated he hadn’t posted bond as of early Wednesday evening.

The Conversation

What drives the appeal of ‘Passion of the Christ’ and other films on the life of Jesus

February 28, 2019

Author: S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Cinema and Media Studies, by special appointment, Hamilton College

Disclosure statement: S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Church isn’t the only place people go to learn about Jesus.

At the beginning of Lent, 15 years ago, devout evangelical Christians did not go to church to have ashes marked on their foreheads. Rather, they thronged to theaters to watch a decidedly Catholic film to begin the Lenten season.

That film was Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which would go on to gross over US $600 million globally. It brought to screen a vivid portrayal of the last few hours of the life of Jesus and even today many can readily recall the brutality of those depictions. The film also stirred up a number of cultural clashes and raised questions about Christian anti-Semitism and what seemed to be a glorification of violence.

This wasn’t the only film to bring Jesus to cinema in such a powerful way. There have, in fact, been hundreds of films about Jesus produced around the world for over 100 years.

These films have prompted devotion and missionary outreach, just as they have challenged viewers’ assumptions of who the figure of Jesus really was.

From still images to moving images

For the last two decades, I have researched the portrayal of religious figures on screen. I have also looked at the ways in which audiences make their own spiritual meanings through the images of film.

Images of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, have long been part of the Christian tradition. From amulets to icons, paintings to sculptures, Christianity incorporates a rich visual history, so perhaps it is not surprising that cinema has become a vital medium to display the life of Jesus.

Inventors of cinematic technologies, such as Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers, were among the first to bring Jesus’s life to the big screen at the end of the 19th century. Hollywood continued to cash in on Christian audiences all through the 20th century.

In 1912, Sidney Olcott’s “From the Manger to the Cross” became the first feature length film to offer a full account of the life of Christ.

Fifteen years later, crowds flocked to see Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings”, demonstrating the power of a big budget and a well-known director. Writing about DeMille’s film some years later, film historian Charles Musser commented how the film evoked “Christ’s charisma” through “a mesmerizing repertoire of special effects, lighting and editing.”

In Hollywood’s portrayal, Jesus was a white, European man. In Nicholas Ray’s 1961 film, “King of Kings” Jeffrey Hunter made a deep impression on his audience in the role of Jesus with his piercing blue eyes. Four years later, George Stevens’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, cast the white Swedish actor Max von Sydow in the lead role.

In all these films, evidence of Jesus’s Jewish identity was toned down. Social or political messages found in the gospels – such as the political charge of a “kingdom of God” – were smoothed over. Jesus was portrayed as a spiritual savior figure while avoiding many of the socio-political controversies.

This was, as Biblical studies scholar Adele Reinhartz put it, not Jesus of Nazareth, but the creation of a “Jesus of Hollywood.”

Global moral instruction

Many of these films were useful for Christian missionary work.

An advertisement for Olcott’s film, for example, stated how it was “destined to be more far-reaching than the Bible in telling the story of the Savior.” Indeed, as media scholars Terry Lindvall and Andrew Quicke have noted, many Christian leaders throughout the 20th century utilized the power of film for moral instruction and conversion.

A 1979 film, known as “The Jesus Film”, went on to become the most watched film in history. The film was a relatively straightforward depiction of the life of Jesus, taken mainly from the gospel of Luke.

The film was translated into 1,500 languages and shown in cities and remote villages around the world.

The global Jesus

But, as majority Christian population shifted from Europe and North America to Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and South Asia, so did portrayals of Jesus: they came to reflect local cultures and ethnicities.

In the 2006 South African film “Son of Man”, for example, Jesus, his mother and disciples are all black, and the setting is a contemporary, though fictionalized, South Africa. The film employed traditional art forms of dance and music that retold the Jesus story in ways that would appeal to a South African audience.

It was the same with a Telugu film, “Karunamayudu” (Ocean of Mercy), released in 1978. The style resembles a long tradition of Hindu devotional and mythological films and Jesus could easily be seen as part of the pantheon of Hindu deities.

For the past four decades in southern India and beyond, villagers have gathered in front of makeshift outdoor theaters to watch this film. With over 100 million viewers, it has become a tool for Christian evangelism.

Other films have responded to and reflected local conditions in Latin America. The Cuban film “The Last Supper,” from 1976, offered a vision of a Jesus that is on the side of the enslaved and oppressed, mirroring Latin American movements in Liberation Theology. Growing out of the Cold War, and led by radical Latin American priests, Liberation Theology worked in local communities to promote socio-economic justice.

Meanwhile, the appeal of some of these films can also be gauged from how they continue to be watched year after year. The 1986 Mexican film, “La vida de nuestro señor Jesucristo,” for example, is broadcast on the Spanish-language television station Univision during Easter week every year.

The power of film

Throughout history, Jesus has taken on the appearance and behavior of one cultural group after another, some claiming him as their own, others rejecting certain versions of him.

As the scholar of religion Richard Wightman Fox puts it in his book “Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession:” “His incarnation guaranteed that each later culture would grasp him anew for each would have a different view of what it means to be human.”

Cinema allows people in new places and times to grasp Jesus “anew,” and create what I have called a “georeligious aesthetic.” Films, especially those about Jesus, in their movement across the globe, can alter the religious practices and beliefs of people they come into contact with.

While the church and the Bible provide particular versions of Jesus, films provide even more – new images that can prompt controversy, but also devotion.

Jonathan Von Renner checks on his son Jonathan Jr., and friend Emilio Ontivares in lower Guerneville, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Two Northern California communities are accessible only by boat after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks following a relentless downpour. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office says Guerneville, "is officially an island" and another nearby town was also isolated by floodwaters. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122411454-a4d950f71e1e407bb0e79551539560e0.jpgJonathan Von Renner checks on his son Jonathan Jr., and friend Emilio Ontivares in lower Guerneville, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Two Northern California communities are accessible only by boat after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks following a relentless downpour. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office says Guerneville, "is officially an island" and another nearby town was also isolated by floodwaters. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

People paddle and row through the flooded Barlow Market District Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Sebastopol, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122411454-c3ad7ca764c4471ab17976e1e54df9bf.jpgPeople paddle and row through the flooded Barlow Market District Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Sebastopol, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A man uses a paddle board to make his way through the flooded Barlow Market District Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Sebastopol, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122411454-d94946916bb5440d8b9748d95bc2b052.jpgA man uses a paddle board to make his way through the flooded Barlow Market District Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Sebastopol, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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