I feel sorry for Berkeley.

The City Council folks often do these things that I'm really sure are well-intended, but that end up getting them into no end of trouble, kind of like Gilligan on "Gilligan's Island," who was always trying really hard to do something he considered helpful, but his clumsiness inevitably ruined the coconut cream pie.

Then everybody would yell at Gilligan for being Gilligan, and they would yell at each other because they were stuck on a deserted island with that blowhard Howell, but they were just wasting time when they really should have been out collecting more coconuts or building a viable raft.

If Tom Hanks and a volleyball could do it, so could they.

Yes, much like the Skipper's "lil buddy," Berkeley managed to be clueless and make a spectacular mess of things yet again in a national-spotlight kind of way when they voted in January to send a letter to the downtown Berkeley U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office saying the recruiters were "unwelcome intruders."

Berkeley surely deserved a slap with the Skipper's hat for that.

But having covered Berkeley for about three years a few years ago (until I couldn't stand being at council meetings till 2 a.m. anymore), I know in my heart that city leaders opposed the war and the military's recruiting techniques — not the soldiers as individuals.

Of course, I would think they might have learned by now to preface every public statement or city resolution or dog-walking ordinance with, "We support the troops," and maybe even, "We apologize in advance," before they say, "We hate the war," or "Curb your dog," because appearing to diss the troops is what usually gets people really mad at them.

But no. They said it all wrong, which they've done before. (Remember their brief and bungled post-9/11 ban on American flags on firetrucks? And the resolution asking to end the bombing in Afghanistan?) And just like back then, everybody freaked out and within minutes city officials received 30,000 e-mails and letters and phone calls from all over the country and Republican senators threatened to pull federal funding from city programs and it turned into this huge confrontational miniwar of a protest Tuesday with 2,000 anti-war and pro-military people out in front of the council chambers, shouting at each other in the middle of the street.

Four people were arrested. A flag was burned, which is really so cliche. The council back pedaled — just a little — deciding not to send the letter to the Marines, but stopped short of apologizing for the whole thing, which will no doubt cause them more grief and they shall forever remain stuck between a rock and their controversial principles.

Sigh. All this unrest about peace.

As Berkeley Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said during the meeting, "To err is human. But to really screw up, it takes the Berkeley City Council."

Indeed, Gordon. But more than Berkeley's lack of tact, more than their well-intended-but-poorly-executed efforts to change the world, I am always astounded at the reaction they get.

For one thing, if Berkeley is so berserk and lame, as many consider it, why does anybody care what a handful of liberal, tree-huggy, green-goofy elected officials think? Why not just shrug it off and say, "Oh well, it's them just being their Berzerkely selves," and go on with life?

Instead, people freak out and freedom of speech comes under fire in the very place it once flourished. And that's really all this was, you know. Freedom of speech. The anti-Marine-Corps-recruitment-office resolution was totally symbolic. The Marines have been recruiting for more than two centuries, so Berkeley's not going to stop them now. Berkeley's not going to stop the war. They're not even going to stop worldwide production of that dangerous butter substitute, but they can darn well come out against it if they want to. 

So it seemed pretty extra silly for everyone to get so huffy about Berkeley's stance. The protesters out there needed a big time out. They were not only vicious to the council, but vicious to each other, shouting obscenities and generally behaving badly. They all needed a mom to grab them by the ears and restrict their TV privileges.

I've known moms like that, and they come in handy. Those of us who have been here at the Tribune for a while fondly remember an incident that has gone down in Trib lore as "The Smacks by the Fax."

One of our editors and a business reporter — neither of whom still work here — got in a fight in the newsroom. And not just a war of words. Full-on fisticuffs. There was escalation. Maybe even a flag was burned. I'm not sure what it was about, but it got out of hand when one threw the other on a desk over near the fax machine, thereby earning the incident its permanent moniker.

As this scuffle unfolded, Theresa — our office manager back then, and a very effective mom on her own time — emerged from her office, stood over the scufflers with her hands planted on her hips and commanded, "STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!" And they did. Things went back to normal, and we never had any such foolishness again.

Those people outside City Hall on Tuesday needed to be scolded by Theresa. Or by Dr. Phil. Or maybe that sturdy woman on the Food Network who has a Southern drawl and cooks everything with a pound of butter. There'd be no sassing her!

With all this, I'm surprised the world runs as well as it does. What ever happened to taking a deep breath and counting to 10? Or doing unto others as you'd like them to do to you? Maybe next time, we should all take a step back and ask ourselves a big WWGD: What would Gilligan do?

For me, Berkeley resident Bill Newton, 59, who was interviewed during the protest, summed it up best: "Frankly, I think the City Council is pretty stupid," he said. "But the war is stupid too."

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com or 510-208-6493. Read Give'Em Hill every Sunday in Bay Area Living.