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Off the Record (Aug. 21, 2019)

AS PUBLIC RADIO-MENDO'S senior critic — I began complaining about the station before it went on the air because I was acquainted with founder, Sean Donovan, and therefore immediately suspicious of the enterprise, suspicions soon confirmed, which brings us forward thirty years to Monday morning where my colleague, The Major, was listening to a KZYX interview with Supervisor Williams. "Who's that doing the interview?" I called out. "She's good."


AND DARNED IF IT wasn't Alicia Bales, aka Alicia Littletree, KZYX's newly appointed program director. I listened on, and must say Ms. Bales seems like a radio natch — informed questions, pleasing voice, moved the talk briskly along. The Major said Laura Hamburg also seems to be reporting out of the Philo bunker now, and she's a real pro of long standing. Prior to Ms. Bales, news reporting at KZYX, with the exception of Sarah Reith, ranged from pathetic to weird. This tentative praise assumes that Ms. Bales keeps it up. When I heard she was the program director I was expecting an unending audio parade of tiresome loons out of the Mendocino Environment Center, but so far so good. 

ALTHOUGH INTERESTING, Williams didn’t say much beyond what he’s already said at the various Supervisor’s meetings. Except for his comments to Ms. Bales about Measure V, which Williams was one of the sponsors of back in 2016, and the voters subsequently approved by over 62% but which has been on hold for years while Mendo waited for our corporate-friendly Attorney General to render an opinion on the enforceability of the Measure, which declared standing dead trees to be the public nuisance they obviously are.

DURING HIS KZYX  interview Williams ventured a guess that the Attorney General’s conflict claim meant they wouldn’t be issuing the anticipated opinion because the AG represents Calfire, an agency which has recently been planning to use hack&squirt for some of its fire safety projects. Williams noted that counties cannot regulate the use of poisons which the state retains jurisdiction over. 

(AS MENDO discovered years ago when a popular vote banned the aerial application of herbicides and pesticides, our vote alarmed both big ag and big timber so thoroughly that the Democrat-dominated legislature soon nullified Mendo’s ban. The nullification was led by Willie Brown with no opposition from the hack Democrats then (and now) occupying the Northcoast’s higher offices.) 

WILLIAMS said that the request to the AG was itself a delaying tactic to postpone possible enforcement. But the AG’s delay indicated that they couldn’t poke holes in it, Williams thought. He also noted that Measure V had been reviewed and approved previously by County Counsel as a legal way to mitigate fire hazards. Realizing that MRC will likely resist any attempt to enforce the law should the County ever pursue enforcement, Williams added that he planned to try to reason with MRC to do something about the hazard, including, Williams noted, the possibility that dead trees also pose “widow maker” risks to volunteer firefighters while fighting a fire, which has happened.


AT THE RISK of rousing the Appropriate Police given that Judge Gustafson has just died, the judge presided over the funniest session I've ever seen in a courtroom. It was June of 1989 and Don Lipmanson had been busted for the second time that year for growing marijuana near his home in Navarro. The first bust had resulted in an acquittal because the video of Lipmanson in the act of cultivating had been inserted upside down in the surveillance apparatus, and even the FBI lab couldn't convert the jumbled images into enough evidence to convict. 

AT ONE of the endless hearings of The People vs. Lipmanson, Gustafson presiding, and with the theatric David Eyster doing the prosecuting, Mrs. Lipmanson asked the judge, "Can I sing my testimony?" Gustafson paused to consider the unusual request before he said, "Yes, sure." At which Eyster exploded in exasperation, throwing his hands in the air as he shouted, "Why not? Get out the kazoos. Let's have a concert!"

MRS. LIPMANSON just happened to have a guitar with her and took the stand to warble out a mournful lyric about how the fascist surveillance helicopters had disturbed her nude sun bath in the Lipmansons' backyard. Her tremulously sung argument seemed to be that the surveillors were not only flying illegally low they seemed more interested in ogling her rather than hubbykin's pot plants.

Lipmanson, nowadays

DON LIPMANSON went on to become a lawyer himself, having honed the requisite ethical skills in the drug trade. Mrs. Lipmanson became Joy LeClair and something of a radio pundit at KZYX. Mr. L. was finally convicted and jugged out at the County Jail on Low Gap Road, but successfully sued the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department for denying him work furlough to pursue his stained glass artistry under his patron, the well-known Ukiah aesthete, John Schaeffer of Real Goods. Lipmanson said he used his lawsuit winnings to go to law school, and the rest is history in the only place in America where history like this can be made.

ORDINARILY, $4.5 million for a new high school gym might beg questions about educational priorities, but the new gym under construction at Covelo is likely to give the whole community a needed morale boost, especially given the popularity of basketball in Native American communities. A fascinating documentary available from NetFlix called "Basketball or Nothing" films a season of high school basketball on the sprawling Navajo reservation in Arizona. The initial shot of the gym in the tiny town of Chinle, whose high school team the doc follows, surprised me. Their gym is huge, and often packed as the Chinle Wildcats battle other rez teams in fierce competitions for state playoff berths. The social life of the town and the surrounding area revolves around basketball season and the fortunes of the hometown team. That team, like Covelo's, also has to battle a quicksand-like social morass that drags many Native youngsters into drugs and consequent lives of futile despair. Basketball, in this setting, and this marvelous gym in the middle of literal nowhere Arizona, inspires young people to think bigger and better than the grinding poverty characteristic of reservation life. The film makes it clear how central the gym is to the more wholesome aspects of life in Chinle. Covelo, before the drug scourge took hold in the later 1960s, was a small school sports power only to fall into years of non-competitive teams that often didn't finish the season for lack of the basic self-discipline athletics require. The new gym at Round Valley High School will be worth every penny, and maybe even restore Covelo to the powerful sports presence it enjoyed long ago.

JUSTINE FREDERICKSEN of the Ukiah Daily Journal reported Thursday that the City of Ukiah awarded a contract of about $1.4 million to a Cloverdale construction outfit for “the final planned stretch [Phase 3] of the Ukiah Rail Trail, a paved walking path that runs north to south along the railroad tracks.” Phase 2, about a quarter mile of trail, previously cost about $1.5 million. We have not been able to find the official total length of the finished trail, but it was previously described as “in the center of Ukiah.” This latest “final” phase supposedly “runs north from Mason Street to nearly Brush Street” along the railroad right of way, which looks on the map to be about 1500 feet. So let’s assume that the total length of the Ukiah Rail-Trail is less than a mile at over $1.5 million per quarter mile, or at least $5 million for a mile of finished paved trail. The money is coming from a Caltrans grant. 

THE ONLY summary description of the project we could find was on the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG) website. (MCOG is the artificial intermediary joint powers authority that handles transportation project planning for the County. To venture into the thicket of Mendo organizations is to suffer a virtual thorn-storm of acronyms — M-blab, M-blob and so on.( “This project [is] a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian paved trail, within the Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-way in the City of Ukiah, including a pre-engineered flatbed rail car bridge, trail fencing, lighting, and safety enhanced crosswalks. 

LET’S NEXT ASSUME that this is the kind of hiking/biking trail that Senator Mike McGuire envisions for the North Coast Railroad Authority right of way — his “Great Redwood Trail.” McGuire says the Great Redwood Trail would run along the total length of the railroad right of way which is about 300 miles. So — and this is a big if piled on top of a big assumption, the math works out to over $5,000,000 x 300 or — and we can’t even imagine this number: $1.500,000,000. Or, $1.5 billion. The cost per mile will be less in some areas, but will probably be substantially more in the Eel River Canyon, on the remote chance this chimerical  project ever reaches Dos Rios. 

SPEAKING to a Humboldt crowd about the project last May, McGuire said the project “will take many years to complete,” adding, “We’ve always known that creating the Great Redwood Trail is not gonna by quick and it’s not gonna be easy. It has to be done carefully, not fast. It has to be done right.”  

TRANSLATION: Never gonna happen. The Ukiah Rail-Trail is the pet project of Ukiah City Councilwoman Maureen ‘Mo’ Mulhern who apparently is planning to run against Second District Supervisor John McCowen for his Supes seat. McCowen has been a big apologist for the North Coast Rail Authority scam over the years which never ran any actual railroad traffic. So, rail-trail fantasies being central to Ukiah political thinking, if “Mo” can somehow replace him, she will probably become the Great Proponent of the Great Redwood Trail which will replace the North Coast Railroad as the North Coast’s Greatest Waste of Money. And her mantra as regards the Great Redwood Trail could become: "Mo Money." (Mark Scaramella)

CONTINUING today’s unrelieved negativity, a white professor at the New School in New York City is being investigated by the university for using the n-word while quoting black novelist and essayist, James Baldwin. New School professor Laurie Sheck, who is also a Pulitzer-nominated poet, said the n-word during a graduate course this spring on “radical questioning” in writing. She reflected on the title of the 2016 documentary about Baldwin called “I Am Not Your Negro” and asked her students why this title altered Baldwin's original statement where he used the n-word in place of “negro.” An illiterate student  of the neo-snowflake generation immediately complained to the school's gutless administration, which duly convened a meeting with Professor Sheck to discuss the "appropriateness" of her use of the n-word in place of the word “negro.”

NEVERMIND that Baldwin himself deliberately deployed the n-word in the title of his famous essay and that replacing it with “negro” insults not only his intent but his memory as the wonderful writer he was. 

ERNIE BRANSCOMB is a Northcoast old timer and go-to guy for all manner of local information of the historical type. Here, in an on-line comment about the mud springs west of Laytonville, he says: "They probably call it the Mud fire because it is in the general location of the mud springs that are located on the South-East slope of Cahto Mountain.The mud springs are rather unique in that very soft and runny, clay-like mud bubbles up out of the ground at high tide and recedes during low tide. They are not connected to the ocean because they are located at about 1,700 feet above sea level. The springs form cones, shaped like small volcanoes, in the summer as the mud dries in the sun. The mud washes away down Mud Creek in the winter. A local curiosity. Been there, done that."

NOT RECOMMENDED READING but, since it appeared in The New Yorker, and kicks off at, of all places Fort Bragg's Glass Beach, the piece Not Recommended is by Cyrus Grace Dunham, and is called, "A Year Without A Name — Was the problem gender, or me." I'd guess you, but I didn't get past the first coupla paras of a long account of a person apparently trying to figure out if he's a she or a he, a search I doubt is of much interest to most people and, one would think, simply a matter of a glance downward, but The New Yorker is nothing if not trendy and gender bending is all the rage in some circles. (Since the setting of the account is Glass Beach, it occurred to me that Cyrus Grace might consult with Dr. Rohr at Coast Hospital who made the transition from Dr. William Rohr to Dr. Kathryn Rohr without losing Mrs. Rohr.)

THE ENTIRE edition of the mag was trendier than hell, kicking off with a Talk of the Town by editor David Remnick about how nice Toni Morrison and Barack Obama were and are and how vile Trump is. Duh. And there's a long, confused piece called "The Color of Injustice — Fighting racism by redefining it" by a black academic called Kelefa Sanneh. Which I read to see if I was a racist in the professor's view and came away not knowing if I qualified or not, but all-in-all I'd say, based on my record, I'm not, although the standard seems to be ever higher for us white boys. Then came a boring profile of a boring, mainline Democrat, Stacey Abrams. As an example of how sonorous the profile is, the editors give us this snoozer as a pull quote: "I have the right to do the things I think I should do," Abrams said. "My gender and my race should not be limitations." Double duh. There's a long article about "the transformations of a battered women's shelter, from radical feminism to the Why I Stayed era," which, of course, was depressing as all hell and even more boring than the Abrams bio. Battered women were followed by an over-long, failed poem with the usual pretentious bullshit New Yorker title, this one "Claude Monet: The Artist's Garden at Vetheuil, 1880," then the usual unreadable fiction, this one illustrated by an elderly, naked hippie as visual confirmation you won't want to read it anyway, then a book review convincing me not to read the book, a couple of nambo-pambo movie reviews by nambo pambo Anthony Lane (somewhere Pauline Kael is  weeping), the whole tedious issue containing not a single amusing cartoon!

HEY! The AVA has its off weeks, but never in forty years has the whole paper been utterly without interest!

DANGEROUS LIES. As Trump careens around the White House ruminating about buying Greenland and calling thin people fatsos, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have described the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri as "murder," although Obama's Department of Justice and the State of Missouri found that the 18-year-old Brown died when he was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson when Brown attacked Wilson and tried to grab his gun. Trump's scattershot racial provocations have obviously created whole worlds of bad feeling, and now the alleged opposition to him is selling straight-up race lies. No Democratic candidate for President has challenged Warren or Harris's assertion that Michael Brown was "murdered" — and where does that leave those of us who still have at least some residual regard for the truth of events?

THE CELEBRATIONS OF WOODSTOCK as a pivotal event carries me back through the thick mists of time to recall the then basic social split between hippies and the more politically-oriented youth, of which I was one of the latter. Hippies thought the best strategy was to turn on, tune in, drop out, hence the Northcoast's back to the land movement. A minority of the young were for direction action against The Beast. The rightwing has faithfully mischaracterized the dissenters of that time as "60's radicals," but, as my friend Frank Bardacke has pointed out, and he was a ringleader, the ferment was reformist rather than revolutionary. Free speech? Civil rights? Resisting the War On Vietnam? The beginnings of the Women's Movement? Strictly reform, although at the time it was equated with Bolshevism and, truth to tell, there were lots of us all for bringing down the whole system. But we were a minority and very young, and we were certainly a minority when the original “movement" jumped off which, as it's turned out, is the only "movement" in history to move steadily backwards and on into the fetid embrace of the Democratic Party. 

IF I'M OFF here I'm sure I'll hear about it, but I can trust AVA readers for a fair hearing, which is why I'm putting it to you: The other night I was in a discussion with two young women about the Epstein case. Just as I began to say, "Well, of course, the guy was a serial predator, but shouldn't a fourteen-year-old know enough by 14 not to be prey?" They both jumped my bones. "Better walk that one back right now, Mister. Are you crazy?" I blundered on. "Lots of people are prey all their lives, but these girls weren't orphans or fending for themselves on the streets of Calcutta…" 

I WAS SOON beaten into silence. "Good lord," one began. "There are so many issues to address here I don’t know where to begin," one said as the other one muttered damnation. "You should get educated about this kind of predator and the gullibility of their victims. Read up on it. The Me Too movement has gone a little off the rails… but this kind of predatory world is so dark it’s hard to fathom. Here’s where you should go with this: Would you have thought your daughter was responsible at that age? Those girls were not raised in families that helped them or protected them. This is not a story that is black and white where those girls are concerned. Wake up! Blaming the victim is a very ignorant place to be. Trump is so good at that. Are you like that, too?"

GULP GOLLY. I don't think I have Trumpian tendencies, and all I said was that girls and boys both have… have… What's the Victorian term? "Agency." That's it. Agency. Even if Epstein’s vics have only a loose grip on reality, and assuming they aren’t retarded, they'd have to know that an invitation from a middle-aged man to give him a massage wasn't an invitation to a church picnic, especially if he offered them 500 bucks. My daughter at that age? She would have told me immediately and, well, nothing close ever came up. She knew what she was doing by the time she was six, and like most kids, even little kids, she knew right from wrong.

CHECK THAT. Pervery did come up. One day, when she was about ten, my daughter had been down the street after school at her friend's house. This was Boonville, not Manhattan or even Albion. When she got home, I was reading the paper or otherwise distracted. Daughter lingered nearby until it occurred to me that something was bothering her. Finally, she blurted, "Do you think Mr. Christian should be walking around naked when I'm visiting?" I probably yelled, disbelieving. "Of course he shouldn't, and you're not going over there again, ever." Turned out the evil little perv was already under investigation for molesting his daughters. Deputy Squires told me later that the guy's kids and his wife were afraid to testify against him so the DA couldn't make a case. I also learned that some locals were talking about killing the man. That episode occurred at a time when lots of children were being raised in varying contexts of "Do Your Own Thing," and lots of them certainly suffered because they had no adults to turn to. 

TRUMP IS FINALLY RIGHT ABOUT SOMETHING. “We don't want crazy people owning guns,” the president said in Morristown, NJ. “They pull the trigger. The gun doesn't pull the trigger.” He said institutions need to be built to lock such people away. Trump said he wanted to rebuild the mental institutions closed in the 1960s and 1970s claiming they would help solve mass shootings. Speaking at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, he said: “We can't let these people be on the streets. … We don't want crazy people owning guns,” the president said. “It's them. They pull the trigger. The gun doesn't pull the trigger.”

SHERIFF ALLMAN has spent some asset forfeiture money on what he calls “self evacuation placards” that rural residents can pick up from local libraries. The placards are supposed to help law enforcement during a disaster in determining who has evacuated and who hasn’t. In theory, if the placards are properly deployed, a deputy would not have to go way up a long, remote dirt driveway in an emergency to notify someone of a pending or actual evacuation only to find out that they had already left. Allman also says the placards would make it easier to identify possible looters and other non-authorized people in a disaster/evacuation area. Presumably suggestions for placard use will accompany the placards at the pickup spot. Residents are asked to hang the placards at the end of their driveway when they leave. Deputies would then remove the placard and make note of the evacuation and use the contact info written on the placard to notify the resident when the evacuation order is lifted. The Sheriff told the Supervisors at the last July board meeting that he had ordered over 6,000 of the placards. 

LONELY PLANET STOPS IN FORT BRAGG “In the past, Fort Bragg was Mendocino’s ugly stepsister, home to a lumber mill, a scrappy downtown and blue-collar locals who gave a cold welcome to outsiders. Since the mill closure in 2002, the town has started to reinvent itself, slowly warming to a tourism-based economy, with the downtown continuing to develop as a wonderfully unpretentious alternative to Mendocino (even if the southern end of town is hideous). Unlike the entire franchise-free 180-mile stretch of Coastal Hwy 1 between here and the Golden Gate, in Fort Bragg you can get a Big Mac, grande latte or any of a number of chain-store products whose buildings blight the landscape. Don't fret. In downtown you’ll find better hamburgers and coffee, old-school architecture and residents eager to show off their little town.”

FROM an on-line paper last week: "Hongkongers fight for democracy. Algerians fight for democracy. Sudanese fight for democracy. Russians fight for democracy. What do Americans fight for?" If the daily provocations out of the White House don't get Americans into the streets, nothing will. Say what you will about us 60's people, we took action — well, some of us did, but the big demos for civil rights and the even bigger ones against the war on Vietnam expressed majority political opinion. Cyber-world seems to have made us dumber, distracted and apathetic. 

JOHN SAKOWITZ WRITES: “Four hundred years ago, on this date, the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown. The New York Times launches 'The 1619 Project', a major editorial initiative, examining the legacy of slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are. 'The 1619 Project' is not history your old high school U.S. History textbook. If you want to understand the brutality of capitalism, you have to start on the plantation. Our country's founding ideals were false when they were written. They were lies. As kids studying U.S. history, we were made to believe lies.”

WELL, YEAH BUT.. Foundational myths against realities aside, the true miracle is that we’ve stuck this long and have come this far to produce the greatest show on earth, and given the size of our fine fat population most of us wouldn't trade it, even for Norway. Why just now looking out my office window, a laughing family of five has emerged from the Redwood Drive-In slurping ice cream cones. USA! USA!

FROM SUNDAY'S PD: "To reduce the risk of wildfire, PG&E is prepared to initiate public safety power shutdowns based on weather conditions, particularly high winds. As previously reported by our staff, Sonoma County has more customers with a high probability of having their power shut down than any other county in California. These events could last for days and affect a large portion of our communities. At The Press Democrat and our affiliate publications, we have been working diligently to prepare for the impact of a shutdown and want to let you know what you can expect from us…"

WHICH IS NOTHING. Unless you consider a partial guide to allegedly helping sources unreachable during power shut-offs. A respectable media would be demanding that PG&E become a truly public utility, not capitulating to the arbitrary decisions to shut us down by a handful of shareholder reps.

PROUD BOYS IN PORTLAND. Proud Boys? Sounds like a Jamaican reggae band minus the fun. A thousand people for and against — total — showed up to exchange insults, but the media run-up to the ho-hum non-event made it seem like it was the first battle of civil war. A large majority of my fellow Americans, I daresay, wish a plague on both houses. I do. On one side you've got proud boys who can't spell fascist, on the other fascists who think they aren't.

LOCAL DEADBEATS must have salivated at this announcement in local papers: "Flow Kana will be hosting a series of free community picnics throughout the Emerald Triangle in August and September, including one in Hopland this Sunday..... About Flow Kana: Flow Kana is the first family-run cannabis company to empower family-run, independent farms. By giving scale to cultivators and brands that place community and the environment first, Flow Kana is able to bring truly intentioned, beautiful sun-grown products to all of California."

FLOW KANA hosting free community picnics throughout Emerald Triangle? What’s next? Full page color glossies of junior tokers lighting up in sunlit fields of corporate cannabis? As George Carlin always said, "Take away the bullshit and this country collapses like a busted souffle."

FLOW KANA has got to have major money behind it. I know I'm not the only one to suspect that Big Tobacco is fronting their major property purchases around here and also paying for the "family" events like the one advertised above.

THIS SONOROUSLY DECEPTIVE lede in last week's ICO got us laughing out loud: "Point Arena Council members and city residents on Tuesday expressed concern that the Housing Element draft required by state law, does not accurately represent the capacity of the city and community. But passing it is the only option in order to obtain certain grant funding from the state…"

THE COUNTY OF MENDO is expected, by the delusional State of California, to get 1,826 new housing units up and teeming with grateful citizens, like, maybe, one of these days. It would be truly miraculous if even a hundred of the desired units got built here in any one year. Meanwhile, the County talks housing to perpetual death while ignoring, as former Supervisor Pinches often suggested, installing a few trailer parks on County-owned land here and there throughout marvelous Mendo. And the Supervisors are unlikely to recognize, let alone draw upon, the remarkable Ledsons, the father-daughter team who own and manage the Circle Trailer Park in the center of Ukiah, the only true low-cost housing program in the County.


The key here is to dissect the problems. Yes, White males are the wealthiest, and Blacks in general the poorest (with lower class Whites giving them a run for their money). But what are we talking about here? In my view the fortunes of lower classes in general in the US and much of the western world are diminishing, not just because of racism or bigotry, but especially because of the inordinate influence of a small group of extremely wealthy people on international trade and investment practices. And because of the stranglehold of Wall Street on Main Street. Are you complicit in your own oppression? Good question. Maybe the question can be reconfigured: do you support the neo-liberal agenda, having bought into the presentation of open borders as one of tolerance and openness to new cultures and new-comers, as an agenda of people who are superior in intellect and social attitudes. Because maybe you better have a second look at what you’re buying into.

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