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Off the Record (April 8, 2020)

FORT BRAGG isn’t monkeying around with its social distancing directives. (Unlike Ukiah, where it’s all monkeys.) The Haul Road and the Big River beach and trail, and every other Mendo Coast public area, are cordoned off. It’s not as if the Haul Road is ever what could be described as “crowded,” but the shutdown certainly serves to reinforce the seriousness of our overall situation.

I’VE ALWAYS THOUGHT the late Norman Mailer’s theory that cancer was caused by rolling combinations of bad food, bad materials, bad architecture, and bad vibes, the whole of which shorts out the human system. If Mailer were still with us, he might say the comprehensive wrongness of our human habitat has begun killing us faster in greater numbers.

JUST FINISHED a history of the onset of World War Two that reminds me of our presently plagued dilemmas. It’s called “The Darkest Year: The American Home Front, 1941-1942” by William K. Klingaman. America was just recovering from the Great Depression. Millions of us were making money, often more money than we’d ever made, and World War Two kicks off, and suddenly there was more money but also rationing and all kinds of emergency restrictions, not to mention a draft and big military losses until our war production kicked in. And here we are not a hundred years later with our Potemkin economy cooking right along when we’re suddenly struck by a silent attack that threatens to bring down the whole show.

ON KZYX Tuesday morning I listened to Dr. Trotter talk with Camille Schraeder. Trotter is an ER doctor in Ukiah, Ms. Schraeder and her husband own Mendocino County's mental health franchise, a franchise that costs Mendocino County $20 million a year. If even half the adult population of the county were starkers, that’s lot of money to treat exactly how many people. Those number remain unknowable except to the proprietors, who may even claim them as proprietary, I don’t know. Trotter managed to elude prison time when a Ukiah High School kid overdosed unto death in 2003 on unsecured drugs he obtained from the Trotter home. Why unsecured drugs were in the doctor's home resulted in an expensive civil judgement against Trotter, but Mendocino County being the kind of place where history starts all over again every morning, here he is passing out advice on the radio. Trotter should have been criminally prosecuted but when’s the last time you saw a “professional” person prosecuted in Mendocino County?

THE CONVERSATION ranged from scattered to incoherent, with Schraeder speed-rapping staccato bursts of acronyms about this or that psych program as if people listening were familiar with them. As is typical with Mendo public radio talk the participants lathered each other up with what swell work they were doing as if they were an order of poverty-vow nuns and not the highly paid people they are. The quality of the work they do? Evidence of its effectiveness continues to be so sparse that former Sheriff Allman, expressing the collective desire of law enforcement for an in-county psych facility, got Measure B passed outside the existing array of helping professionals who leave much front line psych work to the county's police forces.

WHAT I LEARNED during the hour-long rah-rah with Schraeder and Trotter is that when locals nut up and wind up in Trotter's emergency room they can get interim help there, which is often complicated, however, by their street drug use on top of their psychological problems and their prescribed meds. Safe, secure help for more than a few days at a time is not available in-county, hence Allman’s Measure B which would build a place (or places) to provide it. Extreme cases, assuming they're found acceptable by expensive, distant psych facilities, and the subtext here is if that distant facility can get paid for them, are sent outtahere, frequently with a police escort which also drives up costs. At these distant lock-up operations medications are juggled, the patient is sent back to Mendo to repeat his or her hellish cycle.

MENDOCINO COUNTY pays out annual millions to these distant pill jugglers which, as former Sheriff Allman has repeatedly pointed out, Mendo could save these millions by treating the difficult people here at home if we built here at home the physical premises to provide longer term time-outs. 

MS. SCHRAEDER did mention a useful new entity called the Warm Line. Lonely, troubled people can call the Warm Line and talk to a warm, presumably sympathetic, person.

NOW THAT AMERICA is in free fall collapse, it will be interesting to see what and who gets funded in the new fiscal prioritization. Unfortunately, given the previous prioritization of them that has, it is unlikely to be mental health programs for them that don't have. Only way to restore US to our former profligate ways will be a version of Yang’s universal basic income (UBI). $1200 bucks arriving sometime in late April is a cruel joke. UBI at, say, five grand per citizen may stay blood in the streets. But, but, but… But nothing. We’ve already got a faith-based money system so whatever amount of funny money doled out eventually leads to the same place — collapse. Either way, given the givens of the leadership, we’re in for hard times, much harder than the Great Depression.

IRONY, I guess, is that the people deciding what is and what isn’t an essential service are themselves non-essential. For instance, if the County CEO’s office disappeared how long would it be before anyone noticed they were missing? Speaking for myself, I only pay strict attention to Doc Doohan; a lot of the stuff coming out of the county is just noise.

CRUEL & UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT, Jonah Raskin writes: “I thought readers of the AVA might like to hear the latest news about Derick Almena, the defendant in the Ghost Ship case. There was a hung jury for Almena at the end of his trial last year. His co-defendant got off. Almena is locked up in the jail in Santa Rita, waiting for his second trial, on 36 involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the fire in Oakland in 2016 that killed 36 people. That second trial has been put off until July because of COVID-19. My brother, Adam, works as a PI for Tony Serra, Almena’s lawyer, now 85-years-old. Adam told me this morning, that Tony had a phone call with Judge Trina Thompson (the courtroom is closed) and asked her to release Almena. She denied the request, though a jail nurse tested positive for COVID-19. Also one unit at the jail was placed in quarantine after a deputy became ill. Adam and I both think it’s cruel and usual punishment to be locked up in a jail where people have the plague. “If Derick dies behind bars, his death will be on Judge Thompson’s hands,” Adam said. I hope that doesn't happen.”

TOM QUINN COMMENTS in response to Fred Gardner’s first article on Terence ‘Kayo’ Hallinan: “I didn’t know that Hallinan had passed. Great guy. Had the privilege of working with him as co-counsel in a marijuana case in Lake County several years ago. Back in 77 after I first moved to the West Coast, Hallinan was running for SF Supervisor in District 5 when I went into his campaign headquarters on Haight St which featured that iconic photo of him in a coat and tie with a bloodied head after he got beaten by cops at an anti-war demo circa 1968, but Hallinan was edged out in a crowded field by Harvey Milk whose values he shared.”

PLAGUE NOTES: At the CostCo gas pumps about 10am Tuesday, a young woman was wiping down the hose handles after each use. I spilled some fuel hanging up. "Sorry," I said, "I spilled some." You sure did, she said. I couldn't get a precise read on her meaning but it had to be irritation. CostCo announced Wednesday that it was trying to cut back on over-crowding by limiting entrance to two persons per card which, unless my cataracts deceive me, is the average number entering the Ukiah CostCo. But in the cities, I guess, mobs are a bump away from fistfights over the last tp roll. 

AT SUNNY'S DONUTS, Maria was wearing a surgical mask. "Where's your mask, Bruce?" I'm wearing it, Maria, and it seems mostly to inspire anger, but I'm stuck with it. 

SAFEWAY cashiers were unprotected, no masks, no surgical gloves. The toilet paper shelves were empty, as were most allegedly protective items of the hand gel type. About half the shoppers wore masks, one of whom, an older man, skittered dramatically away from me when we came face-to-face at the yogurt. People were conscientiously keeping their distances, and lots were buying booze in the serious gallon sizes. 

AVA STAND SALES are down about a third in the Anderson Valley and Ukiah, which is bad for us but a positive indication that people really are socially distancing by staying home, the only way to beat this thing. Bookstores are closed, meaning another blow to our weekly sales. Bay Area book emporiums have always been good for us, as have the book stores in Mendocino County north to Arcata. We soldier on, the ancient editor muttered. 

I DREAMT the other night that I'd been wheeled into the Adventist emergency room. A green-smocked medical man, a maniacal grin on his face, leaned over me. "And who do we have strapped helpless to the gurney? Well, well, it's the Boonville fellow who called us a vegetarian cult and has had harsh words for our esteemed Doctor T?" A team of cabbages armed with pliers, started on my toes. 

ONE OF OUR street informants, Ukiah branch, said the consensus street opinion is that the new shelter on South State is quite helpful, with showers and practical assistance of various types. Our informant said his overall impression is that there are fewer homeless around. "I only saw one angry homebum who was raging about a government plot to stop him from getting coffee at McDonalds." 

NEWS REPORTS from around the country say that food banks are running out of both donations and volunteers, many food bank volunteers being retirees, an age group at risk from the beast. The surprise consequences from the plague are many and not good except that air pollution is down. Help is leaving a lot of people out. Serious social disorder before the end of the summer. 

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS now total about 10 million, with lots more in the plugged pipeline. The plague's consequences are dire and often unpredictable. One example that hadn't occurred to me was that in all the lamentations about the shortage of ventilators, I believe it was Dr. Fauci who pointed out that these machines require trained people to operate them, and even with plenty of ventilators there will be a woeful shortage of operators. 

FAUCI, incidentally, is being denounced by the fascisti as, in one insult I read, "a Hillary-loving agent of the deep state." If there was a true deep state of the Russian-Putin type, President Yobbo would have been removed before he got anywhere near the White House. And all the talk, from the hysterical sectors of the left about Trump pulling off a coup and not leaving office, well, he is unprecedented and unpredictable, but he's not the kind of figure the military are likely to get behind to pull it off. Might give it a try, though. We're not only in uncharted waters, the mother of all typhoons is blowing.

TEN MILLION Americans are out of work in just March, which includes an unknown number here in rural Mendocino County. More than 80 percent of Americans are under some form of lockdown, up from less than 50 percent just a few weeks ago, leaving state employment offices overwhelmed by an avalanche of applications. Before the virus hit, unemployment in the US was at its lowest in 60 years and the economy was stronger than it had ever been, but that was always the rosy view; millions of employed people were not making ends meet, and now this.

DURING the Great Depression of the 1930s, there were about 125 million Americanos, half of them still on the farm or in small towns. My mother's family, for handy example, lived in small-town Southern Illinois where my grandfather had been a coal miner. For almost five years, in my mother's telling, "We damn near starved, but everyone had big gardens and the neighborhood shared a cow." Their storm cellar was floor to ceiling in food my grandmother had "put up" — preserved. Roosevelt's WPA programs, and Roosevelt himself, were rightly regarded as righting the Good Ship USA. With 330 million people now, a Rooseveltian effort will be required to pick up the pieces of this collapse, but there's no Roosevelt in sight and the population, to put it gently, is much less disciplined, much more volatile, than it was in 1930. (Gun sales are way up since the virus kicked in. The herd feels it coming.)

A COUNTY MATTER? Agenda Item 9a) (Board of Supervisors Agenda, April 7, 2020 Closed session: Conference with Legal Counsel — Existing Litigation: Thomas Allman v. Adam Aldrich. Mendocino County Superior Court Case No. SCUK-CVPT-20-73829

ALL OF US routinely deal with the unhinged these days, the great unhinging having begun with The Summer of Love, 1967, but the fascinating Netflix doc, The Tiger King, even by today's lunatic standards, is a departure. I sat there smacking my head, muttering, "Jesu Cristo what possibly can be next?" And what comes next is even more astonishing. Fascinating, though, for sure.

YEARS AGO, in a particularly deluded period of my youth, the primary delusion being that delinquent youth would be less delinquent under the redwoods than beneath Oakland and Frisco street lights, me and rover boys were enjoying a hot day swim in a Rancheria pool when several counter-culture babes appeared. "Hi, we saw your pond from the road and here we are." Without further word, they were nude and into the drink. The delinquents stood around salivating at the sudden female flesh, their adolescent fantasies come to life. I said to one of the nymphs, "Uh, really, you're welcome to go for a dip but you've got to cover up." I'll never forget her impromptu tutorial on the beauty of the revealed human body. "Heh, heh," I began with a strangled laugh as I launched into my own impromptu lecture, the gist of which was, "If I wasn't here you and your friends would be gang raped and your throats cut." I didn't put it that harshly, but tried to point out the obvious, obvious to everyone but the more naive flower children, that junior criminals famously lack impulse control, which nude female bodies put to severe tests. Please, for your own safety ladies, get dressed. They did. But it was only one frustrating encounter of many annoying interfaces with those who had, they thought, shucked all convention. Another night I caught a long hair coming out of the Boonville Lodge with a couple of bottles of whiskey for my squad of errant youth. Got him in the act of handing the goods to the kid. I snatched the booze and poured it out. The lead delinquent was damn near in tears, and the contributor stared at me as if I were some kind of rural temperance fanatic. The long-hair whined, "Aw, man, weren't you ever a kid?" Yeah, but I never pounded down a fifth of whisky when I was fifteen, and maybe you'd like to stay up all night with a bunch of drunk teenagers but I'll pass. Ah, those were the days.

THE $30 MILLION in paper checks for millions of Americans lacking direct deposit, won't be sent out until April 24 because the government doesn't have their banking information. And some of those checks won't reach people until September, underscoring the reality that many Americans will be waiting five months to receive money. And millions of people can’t go two weeks without money coming in. 

INTERESTING speculation in the current Atlantic called, "The Revolution Is Under Way" by Rebecca Spang, a professor somewhere whose specialty is the French Revolution. The prof draws some correct parallels, I'd say, and Trump in his bloated incompetence resembles Louis XVI, with Louis having a big edge in smarts, but the USofA is both more volatile and also comes with a capable military, not to mention militarized police forces. The French military turned their weapons on their officers, and the aristos were left undefended until Napoleon bailed them out. Prediction from the ava: When the food banks run out, as some of them in urban areas already are, and supply lines start to break down as "civil disorder" breaks out, we'll see the military running things in large swathes of the country because the federal government, under Trump or any Democrat I can think of, will be incapable of holding US together. The coronavirus is truly revolutionary, but what kind of revolution we're going to get remains to be seen, but it's going to be rough for sure. (Like what do you know, Mr. Outback Editor? Nothing more than you but please argue with my opinion.)


[1] Private healthcare insurance and pharmacy is expensive because you are paying for the 3-5 administrators that are standing behind every front line health care worker. You are not just paying for the nurse and the doctors time, but the salary of 3-5, six figure administrators to work 9-5 (with benefits) and be on the company’s softball team on the weekends. These administrators also intentionally understaffed the healthcare facilities that a person is likely to frequent. With the exception of a few places, hospitals are routinely understaffed, and don’t even talk about long term care. That incident in Washington state with the elderly care unit, one sick CNA who has to work to feed their family, could easily have infected those elderly patients, most CNAs have two jobs to make ends meet. CNA’s and nurses commonly have from 15-20 patients to care for in a long term care facility. That kind of service is low quality and your bill still comes to 4000-12000 a month. That’s not intensive medical care, that someone like me bringing you pills in a cup with a cup of water, taking vitals and a 2x a week visit from an occupational therapist. The CNA’s, nurses, and attending physician, and PT’s, OT’s ST’s do ok but that isn’t even a fifth of the cost of staying there. You’re paying for the administrators lifestyle. We have pharmacists who are working like slaves in some of these chain pharmacies. They make good money, but there is a limit to how hard a person works before it gets dangerous to the patient. You seem to think that the free market will provide, yea for those administrators ,who are denying you optimal care because they have to get their cut.

[2] Whoo! Last day of March, 2020, and one has to admit it’s been a transformative month. A short 30 days ago I don’t think I’d heard of the C- Virus yet; I was like a clueless character in a 50s sci-fi film, (when a radio report in the background briefly mentions strange meteorites crashing into farm fields in the next county) out in the driveway spooling monofilament onto one of my fishing reels, looking forward to spring, radio playing in the background, and on the news report a brief mention of a new sort of flu emanating out of Wuhan Province, China. Which I didn’t pay much attention too. Truly a Black Swan event, one for the ages.

One Comment

  1. Robert Townsend April 12, 2020

    Am I the only one who thinks this is ironic? The attorney for the defendant in a case where people died trapped in a fire with no way to escape is arguing his client is stuck in jail and could get sick?

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