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The writing on the wall 

Vandalism has been around for a long time longer, even, than the Vandals themselves, who were a bunch of warriors who got together one day and decided it would be fun to sack Rome. They may have given a name to wanton destruction seemingly for destruction's sake, but the practice actually dates back to prehistoric times when one caveman spent all night and part of the next day drawing the perfect mammoth on a cave wall, and, after he was finished, some joker in a saber-tooth-tiger-skin loincloth came and drew little spears sticking out of it. Get it?

The practice has been refined over the years to include drawing mustaches on people's faces in posters and spraying public walls with paint. Oh, and trashing campaign signs.

Elections are never pretty. They're ugly, to the point that no extreme makeover would ever help. We'd need an entirely new body if we wanted to overhaul the current system, and with what I've seen about how other countries sometimes get their leaders into power, I think we should stick with our own homely way of doing things. Ugly is better than deadly, at least in my book.

And I'm not just talking about what the candidates do to each other: the slung mud, the backstabbing, the lies filtered through spin cycle after spin cycle to come out as basic truths.

I'm talking about we, the people, who get so worked up worrying that we can't make decisions for ourselves that we start taking away others' rights to free speech, pushing our system a little more toward the Third World way of doing things. That's double-plus un-good.

Here's an example: Current Atascadero mayor and simultaneous mayor candidate Tom O'Malley put up signs around town to let people know who he is and that he's running again. They say "Tom O'Malley for Atascadero City Council," but he replaced the apostrophe in his last name with a little shamrock. Get it? Vote for me, I'm Irish!

That's all well and good. Good and well. Even if you hate the man, you can just stick your tongue out at the sign while you drive past and go home and burn a bowl of Lucky Charms on your lawn in protest, or something. You can make your own signs. You can ultimately and this should be obvious vote, and ask other people to vote the same way. I recommend doing that before the election, but take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

Not the case, here.

Somebody taking a cue from that first loincloth-wearing primordial scribbler spray-painted the word "WALMART" in a circle with a line through it over Tom's name. Hate Wal-Mart all you want, people, but don't take your frustration out that way. Join an anger-management group or channel it into gardening or something. Burn a bowl of cereal, if that's even possible. Spend a while figuring out if it is possible. (Hint: It's easier if you use alcohol instead of milk.)

Or, better yet, come up with some rational reasons why Tom should be linked with an anti-Wal-Mart message and write them down.

If you're surprised by my take on all this, I'm sorry. I just really hate vandalism except for when people put those surfboard stickers on the pedestrian-crossing signs, so it looks like the little man is getting ready to hit the waves. Get it? Also, I saw a deer-crossing sign once, and someone had stuck a red sticker on its nose, so it looked like Rudolph. Ha! How clever!

But political signs? Please.

And the problem's not just limited to Atascadero. Police Chief Jim Copsey in Grover Beach just sent out a fax reminding everyone, everywhere that stealing and vandalizing campaign signs is illegal. Turns out city council candidates there were suffering under the same sort of shenanigans, which is an Irish-sounding word I should've used back when I was talking about Tom's wearing of the green. People were stealing signs. Vandalizing them. Sacking the free speech we hold so dear and don't you go giving me any lip about how you're exercising your own right to free speech by pulling stunts like this, mister. I've heard every excuse in the book.

Jim in Grover pointed out that election-sign tampering is a misdemeanor, saddled with a fine of $1,000 or a six-month jail stay.

The trouble is worse in Santa Maria to the south, where, I hear, somebody defaced signs to call incumbent city council candidate Alice Patino the B-word, which, in case you've never heard it called that before, is a word that's bad when you use it to describe a woman, either good or bad when you put "son of a" in front of it, and good if you put "in'" after it. I'm thinking that this was meant in the bad sense. Fellow incumbent candidate Marty Mariscal had the same stuff happen to him, though I think the vandals used different words.

I know what you're thinking. None of this is new. It happens all the time. As long as there are elections, there will be campaign graffiti, stolen signs, and all the rest.

That's probably true. But if we, the people, expect more from our candidates, we should act like, well, something other than Vandals, who, if you know your history, eventually surrendered to the Romans they'd kicked around before.

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