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Off the Record (May 13, 2020)

ONE MORE PLUG for the fiction of Annie Proulx and her lightest book so far, the comic masterpiece, ‘That Old Ace in the Hole,’ funniest thing I've read since ‘The Ginger Man’ and ‘The Magic Christian.’ (The last prescient in the Trump experience.) ‘That Old Ace in the Hole’ contains the truest, most vivid account of lust maybe ever, certainly in my experience of prose accounts of blind passion.

HIGHLIGHTS of last week's disasters include the usual Trump clash with media, and here we are with everything collapsing around us and our leader seems crazier by the day. Today's media contretemps involved the Morning Joe show, a TV talk show with this Joe Scarborough character and a speed rapping babe with big white teeth called Mika Brzezinski (daughter of Zbigniew). The dear leader tweets that Scarborough ought to be investigated for murder, claiming the accidental death of an aide to Scarborough might have been the work of Morning Joe. Scarborough responded, "This president, I ask that you get checked out. I ask that you take a rest, I ask that you take care of yourself. Maybe let Mike Pence run things for the next week," in an apparent reference to the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president to take over if the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Which should have been applied to Trump months ago. Pence, however, is a quiet nut but certainly also 5150 by any reasonable standard, but is also not a guy you want in charge at this time. Ditto for Biden. 

FEMA, according to unnamed sources, is estimating that the death toll from the coronavirus will reach 3,000 cases daily by June 1st. That number is nearly double the current level of 1,750 deaths a day from the disease. The projections, obtained by The New York Times, are based on modeling from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and pulled together in chart form by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

SOMETHING FISHY about that dozen-man daylight "invasion" of Venezuela, variously described as an attempt to kidnap the country's president and the first wave of a larger attempt to overthrow Maduro's government. Photos show one of the captured former special forces soldiers with his hands up while he's still in the surf. The rest of them, all described as former elite troopers of one kind or another, are then pictured as captives, lined up prone like so many tuna.

WHAT KIND of cockamamie scheme was this? I'd say it's not as cockamamie as it appears. I'll bet it's the first act of a scheme to bring down Maduro that conveniently plays out to the advantage of the orange incumbent during the run-up to the November elections, that this suspiciously incompetent special forces team will be the pretext for an all-out attack on the Maduro regime. (You land on a public beach in broad daylight to capture a hostile country's president?)

THE CATERWAULING from relatives of the captured invaders and the armchair warriors has already begun. Don't hurt them. Let them go, or else. Just the kind of appeals to faux-heroic intervention that appeals to Trump, himself a man who claimed bone spurs to keep himself out of Vietnam. The invasion of Venezuela will have the triple purpose of re-electing Trump; freeing the Rambo boys; and "restoring Venezuelan democracy" even though Maduro, and Chavez before him, were democratically elected.

AS PREDICTED, Secretary of State Pompeo has announced that "every tool" would be used to secure the release of Luke Denman and Airan Berry, the special forces boys detained in Venezuela after their daylight mini-invasion was foiled by the police waiting for them to wade ashore. This transparently provocative scheme will lead to wider action against Venezuela to enhance Trump's re-election chances.

THE ODIOUS Lindsey Graham has written that “the US must be willing to intervene in Venezuela the way we did in Grenada.” The problem, Lindsey, is that Venezuela isn't Grenada. Or even Guatemala whose democratically-elected government was overthrown by pure CIA fakery in 1954. Venezuela is a big country with a big military whose government has a lot of popular support. Grenada, small as it is, managed to put up a pretty good fight, with the equivalent of a CalTrans crew holding off the Yanks for several hours.

SPEAKING of Guatemala, your Boonville global affairs expert thinks a convenient way to think of the influence of the county's wine industry, and its many accompanying impositions on the rest of us, is to compare Mendocino County to any of the Central American banana republics.

IN GUATAMALA, for instance, when the United Fruit Company complained that uppity locals were complaining about their pay and working conditions, the Eisenhower government hopped to and the Arbenz government, democratically elected, was history.

THE ABREU CASE. Some rare good news has emerged from the local justice system. Tai Abreu, DA Eyster; and Public Defender Hoagland have reached an agreement that will see Abreu get a shot at parole in a little more than two years from last Thursday, May 21st. He had previously been sentenced to life w/o the possibility of parole for his part in the murder of Donald Perez in September of 2001 while the two other persons involved received 20-to-life and have been freed from prison. 

The full five part series on the murder of Donald Perez and the Abreu case can be found/read at the bottom of the AVA’s special series webpage:

THE ADVENTIST HEALTH’S day of celebration at assuming control of Coast Hospital, leaving Mendo with no option to the Adventist's for-profit Mendo monopoly, to me is a sad occasion marking the end of community-owned medical care in Mendocino County. Prices will go up as care goes to people who can afford it, meaning a minority of people covered by the health insurance most people can't afford or are too young to get. The MediCare us geezers are awarded at age 65 should go to everyone, but. The celebration shoulda been at least half lamentations. (Geezers tend to vote, hence all the free stuff they get. The young tend not to vote, hence…)

RE MENDO'S new public health director, a reader notes: "Doctor Dolittle, San Diego, is being replaced by Doctor Wereglad Yourouttahere, San Francisco. I suggest that the next Chief Health Officer, Doctor Letmeadd Anotherpension should live in Santa Rosa or even closer. I’m willing to do the job for half the salary, I’ll just copy the neighboring county’s mandates and promise to live here! That will save the county money and increase the tax base, I’ll support local businesses and will not travel for a while."

ED NOTE: And during his first month at his preposterous salary, we'll be paying both Doc Vegas No Show and Doc San Diego Zoom. What a deal! Two for the price of thirty! On the other hand, Doc No Show may actually appear occasionally given our proximity to his home in San Francisco, not that these medical hustlers do anything other than relay Governor Newsom's decisions. Anyhow, this is damn near a phony position. Anybody with an MD can do it, and probably would do it for half the money. The hard fact of official life in Mendo is that the managerial class is wildly overpaid and a living refutation of the old caution, "Public servants should spend public money as prudently as their own." That one’s long gone, if it ever existed much of anywhere. Ditto for the proliferating array of non-profits doing nothing but walking around sucking up public money while keeping the walking wounded on the streets, and we won't even get into the Schraeders' annual twenty mil for virtually non-existent psych services. (Attend any non-profit or supe's meeting and you get the same depressing demographic — cringing, de-balled men while large, filibustering women  talk about pro-activity and in-services.) A second hard fact is that our supervisors are only hitting on one cylinder — Williams. The rest simply pick up their checks and try to look plausible on Youtube once a week. (We'll give McCowen a few atta boys for cleaning up after the bums, drug addicts, drunks, and untreated mental cases — funding units for the non-profits — but the guy makes $84 thou a year for doing it.) And CEO Angelo has got to go, and probably is going soon anyway, and then we'll get that Mendo Special — the "national search for excellence" — well, well what do you know, her excellency was right there in Carmel's office all the time hiding in a jar of hard candy! While I'm going Old Testament here I'll add that you can multiply Mendo government by the rest of the country's governments, factoring in show biz, dope, cheetos, gluttony and sloth generally, to which add a lethal virus, and this sucker is going down. We're a fat, lazy, whining, porn-drenched, decadent people who deserve everything coming our way. Trump is our natural, even inevitable, work product. Check that: Americans under the age of 12 are exempted from the indictment, but Trump-Biden would raffle all of them off at WalMart if it was to the advantage of them and their funders. 

MENDO'S new Health Officer, the well-traveled Dr. Joe Iser, is still subject to approval by the Supervisors. Meaning he's probably a shoo-in since the Supes aren't known for their independence from Ma Angelo. In his defense, CEO Angelo says the media reports, primarily a Las Vegas evening tv news documentary, isn't necessarily true. And, she said, it was the only one, which is not the case. The doc himself has unconvincing answers for each of the charges against him, none of them criminal in nature but indicate ethical flexibility unto no limit elasticity, certainly. If the charges are untrue, the Doc could have retired on a big libel pay day, but he never bothered to publicly refute anything until the Mendo public began questioning the wisdom of hiring him.

THE ACCUSATIONS include: Not showing up for work while traveling to places as far as San Francisco where he has a home and having a secretary open and shut doors and turn lights on and off to make it appear he was in the office while earning a $325k per year base salary plus $32k of vacation he never used; creating bad staff morale in several previous positions he’s held; firing two employees for filing whistleblower complaints; entering false numbers into an HIV tracking system to gain increased funding; creating a non-profit where he could work after retiring; and creating private dossiers on employees.

ODD POSTING by DA Eyster on his facebook page the other day — a ticket stub from a Brittney Spears concert he apparently attended as an adult thus, perhaps, making him a very unusual DA indeed. I asked the DA for an explanation. "I took my 7-year-old to that one; all I remember is all the moms were also dressed like Brittney." Whew! Case closed.

ADVANCE NOTICES claimed that Michael Jordan doesn't come off too well, personality wise, excuse the un-grammar, but the episodes of The Last Dance bio I've watched depict him, unsurprisingly, as a super-competitive jock not any different than a million other super-competitive jocks except he was in a class by himself as a basketball player. The controversy apparently arises in an episode to come that discusses Jordan's gambling addiction. Jordan responds that "I never bet on games. I only bet on myself, and that was golf. Do I like playing blackjack? Yeah… The League called me and asked questions about it and I told them I didn't have a problem because I could stop gambling. I have a competition problem, a competitive problem." I agree with Jordan. If you can stop, you don't have a prob.

WHICH got me thinking back to my sports days when I played all the sports in high school but was only good at one of them — baseball, which I played for a couple of years at the college level because it got me a free meal ticket, a free room, and a phony job in the college library where I could hide in the stacks reading and napping. All us jockos were housed separately from the legit students, which was a good thing because a lot of the jocks were engaged in what otherwise would be considered criminal activity — fighting and late night hijinks of all kinds. Ted Tollner was a baseball teammate, and Fred Wittingham, who went on to become a dominant linebacker with the LA Rams was a friend of mine because I wrote papers for him, an employment I couldn't refuse. All these years since I had deluded myself that although I was a pitcher and occasional outfielder I was a pretty good hitter. Nope. I also thought my pitching record was better than it turned out to be when I looked it up after a friend told me it was probably on-line. In two seasons, often pitching in relief, I was 4-6 with one win over UCLA, which was probably a fluke. I peaked in high school where all you had to do was throw strikes to get most people out. But I did throw — dramatic pause here — a 13-inning shutout against San Rafael High School, a record that will stand forever since high school kids are now limited as to how many innings a week they can pitch. By the time I got to college-level sports I'd lost interest in endless bus rides to Fresno with guys farting on each other, giving each other hot foots and arguing about whose high school team was better than whose. To pass the hours I'd start arguments with the head coach, saying something provocative to him then taking the opposite view of everything else he said. He always rose to the bait, but he was probably as bored as I was. Looking back, though, I know now if I'd worked at my game I could have been pretty good, but then all us old guys say that.

BETTER HURRY. The Democrats, in the form of Pelosi and Schumer, announced Thursday that they intend to get a massive, FDR-like New Deal going for the millions of Americans whose lives have been upended by the corona virus. Estimated at three trillion, the bill would include more direct cash, expanded unemployment offices and additional relief for those filing for unemployment — 33 million as of today — plus rent and mortgage suspensions and expansions of the food stamps program.

IT COULD HAPPEN HERE! (And probably already has.) The San Francisco Department of Public Health has announced that "limited quantities" of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco are being delivered to "addicts" being quarantined in hotels. But not to worry, "the substances are administered with the guidance of licensed physicians." … "Managed alcohol and tobacco use makes it possible to increase the number of guests who stay in isolation and quarantine and, notably, protects the health of people who might otherwise need hospital care for life-threatening alcohol withdrawal," SFDPH said in a statement.

THE LABOR DEPARTMENT says an additional 3.2 million Americans requested unemployment aid last week, adding to the roughly 30 million people who have already filed since the coronavirus lockdown began. Although the weekly figure is still historically high, it has dropped from 3.8 million claims filed the previous week. Couple mil more will put US at Great Depression levels.

COSTCO is now limiting customers to just three packages of meat per shopper, while Burger King has run out of burgers for their burgers. Tyson Foods, which had closed a number of plants last month after employees had become ill with the coronavirus, said the pandemic will disrupt the meat supply chain for many more months despite an executive order from President Trump to keep processing plants open. Virus trackers showed this week that six of the nation’s worst pandemic hot spots were in 

THIRTY-THREE MILLION of US have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus lockdowns began in earnest in the middle of March. Many more have tried and failed because of ancient software. But 20.5 million is the official number of jobs lost in April. According to a report released on Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the worst single month for job losses since records began to be kept in 1939. 

WE'LL SEE what the Democrats come up with in the way of the FDR plan they're talking about, and I doubt we'll hear any of our leaders indict capitalism — the unregulated type we've got going here — as the root cause. Even without Cheeto Head at the top of the national government, this terrible affliction needn't have caused the pain it's causing and will cause for the foreseeable future. Our privatized medical system has of course proved laughably unequal to the task, and as yet there's no mention of the needed Rooseveltian-quality help people are going to need to bring at least a semblance of stability to their lives. $1200 to a portion of upside down citizens is hardly going to right the ship.

SENATORS Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey have introduced the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act. Under the proposal, Americans making less than $120,000 — most Americans — would be sent $2,000 each month and for three months after the pandemic is over. This would expand on the $1,200 stimulus checks sent to Americans as part of March's $2 trillion CARES Act, which is way, way too little. 

NOT RECOMMENDED VIEWING but interesting is the four hour American Masters’ nauseatingly hagiographic documentary on George W. Bush and his repellant government as he and they ignite a steady series of disasters for two terms in office. Not to be too boringly repetitive, but the downward spiral had already been set in motion prior to Bush, and now this, a guy who makes Bush look like Abe Lincoln. In a country with millions of smart, capable people, what the hell happened?

REMDESIVIR, the drug that apparently beats back some cases of coronavirus, costs $9.32 to make, but will cost patients in the neighborhood of $4500. 

CAN we please suspend the resoundingly untrue mantra, "We're all in this together"? No, we aren't. Lots of people are doing just fine, our supervisors, for instance, and a slew of our highly paid public bureaucrats. Wait! I've got it! Everyone employed by the county who makes more than $70 grand take at least ten percent off the top, collect it every month, and give it to the in-county food banks. The Supes, evaluating them on the basis of their weekly performance, would give half their pay. (Food banks everywhere in the country are beginning to run out of stuff, especially money to buy goods.)

MENDO’S NEW (INTERIM) HEALTH OFFICER, Dr. Joseph Iser, was on KZYZ Friday morning with CEO Angelo. He told KZYX’s Alicia Bales that the “fraud” complaints against him had been determined to be “invalid” two years earlier and for some reason the Las Vegas TV station didn’t mention that. He said that the morale in his office got bad when he had to do some layoffs for budget reasons, also two years ago, but morale had recovered lately. And the claim that he was not present for work was “just not true.” He said that the woman who was reported to have opened and closed doors and turned lights on and off to make it look like he was at work denied that that happened. Iser said he was frequently out of the office for work reasons, but he put in lots of hours. Iser said he definitely intends to live and work in Mendocino County. 

CEO CARMEL ANGELO ADDED that the county had checked out the much misunderstood medico, “extensively” and all his references came back good and positive. Referring to the Las Vegas Channel 8 article and video, Angelo said she had not seen it before he was hired, but that “if the Board thinks the ugly press is too much, then they can direct us not to hire him.” Angelo said that “One or two stories can create a firestorm.” Angelo also said that they can’t just hire any old MD — public health is a specialty. “I hope Mendocino County and the Board gives him a chance,” said Angelo, adding that during the next month Mendo should consider itself “fortunate to have two good Health Officers” before Dr. Doohan leaves on June 1. 

MS. BALES is a good interviewer, articulate and bold, a departure from the usual KZYX format of "Tell us what a great job you're doing and, as we wrap up, what a wonderful human being you are in your outside life.” 

DEMOCRATS steadily reinforce the general sense of impending doom. Here's Newsom on Biden yesterday: “I'm enlivened by your candidacy. I'm proud of your service as we all are. This is a unique moment in time and unique moment in our history, and we're uniquely grateful to you. I just couldn't be more proud of you, and the prospect of your presidency."

CAN'T HELP but see the for sale signs sprouting on my San Anselmo street. Marin of course has the reputation as a kind of national haven of silly wealth — hot tubs and peacock feathers got their starts here — but overwhelmingly houses in most neighborhoods run to your basic three-bedroom, two-bath abodes, and on my street it appears that everyone works, and most are young families. But these houses, built post-War for working people, now go for lots and lots, and these mortgages must be killers. With so many people suddenly turned fiscally upside down, well, there goes the house which, in many cases around here, was purchased at huge sacrifice so the children would be assured of good schools.

HAPPENED on an interview with Steve Bannon the other day. Most readers of the ava being au courant and comprehensively cool will know that Bannon's considered the driving intellectual behind Trump-ism. Bannon has conceded that Trump is an “imperfect vessel” for what amounts to white nationalism, but also concedes that Trump's the guy who gave international scumbaggery a great big boost. Bannon, on another occasion, was less kind to the Big Cheeto, denouncing him as "just another scumbag" when Trump fired him. Bannon now flits around the globe encouraging white dictators in Eastern Europe to keep out immigrants, and appears as cheerleader for fascist entities in Germany and England. I speak here as a person (obviously) with no special knowledge of global affairs, but scratch a Trumper and you come up scared white boy/girl. Just thought I'd pass it along because as things deteriorate these fascisti will be a force to reckon with.

PAULINE KAEL wrote one of her finest essays on the emotional experience of watching Shoeshine: “When Shoeshine opened in 1947, I went to see it alone after one of those terrible lovers’ quarrels that leave one in a state of incomprehensible despair. I came out of the theater, tears streaming, and overheard the petulant voice of a college girl complaining to her boyfriend, ‘Well I don’t see what was so special about that movie.’ I walked up the street, crying blindly, no longer certain whether my tears were for the tragedy on the screen, the hopelessness I felt for myself, or the alienation I felt from those who could not experience the radiance of Shoeshine. For if people cannot feel Shoeshine, what can they feel? My identification with those two lost boys had become so strong that I did not feel simply a mixture of pity and disgust toward this dissatisfied customer but an intensified hopelessness about everything… Later I learned that the man with whom I had quarreled had gone the same night and had also emerged in tears. Yet our tears for each other, and for Shoeshine did not bring us together. Life, as Shoeshine demonstrates, is too complex for facile endings.”

FESSES UP. Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin said Sunday that the true unemployment numbers are more like 25 per cent, 3 per cent higher than the current stats demonstrate, and overall Great Depression numbers. Apparently, the administration is waiting to see what kind of economic effect the $1200 checks have had, another demonstration of how far out of touch these people are with the true economy of the country.

HEARTENING, though to see rent strikes popping up in LA and on the East Coast, but so far the Bay Area is quiet. Some of the big landlords have agreed to suspend rents, some haven't.

TRUMP has announced a $3 billion food buy - part of April's $16 billion farmer assistance program - would begin next week, one more indication that ruling circles are at least partly aware that the national food supply is more precarious than they thought. The ramifications of the plague are unending and unanticipated, with a lunatic at the head of the national government. 


[1] “There’s going to be a lot of trouble.” 

No kidding, maybe sooner rather than later. Has anyone noticed that supermarket shelves are getting bare? I go to the supermarket every week and a half. On my last visit it had the same look as photos of bare store shelves in the collapsing Soviet Union. It’s scary. Friends who live elsewhere say the same is happening in their neck of the woods. Isn’t making sure the food system hangs together something the federal gov should be keenly interested in, or is the Golden Man going to say this is a problem for the states to handle, like he has with critical medical equipment? Imagine there was no food for all the hungry jobless people sitting in their cars lined up for a handout.

[2] It’s time to do a google search for recipes for rice & beans because you’re going to need it. I’m talking dry rice and dry beans here, not canned or in packages you drop in boiling water. As the shelves in stores slowly empty and the truckers go on strike, I’d stock up on those two items. Speaking of truckers, there was a demonstration in DC yesterday of hundreds lining the street demanding better wages. So I guess the fools at the top of the pyramid still think it’s a good idea to squash the ones on the bottom? Who do they think delivers their Chardonnay?

[3] The new health order by our absentee health officer now allows landscaping and gardening work, but only if it is not for purely aesthetic purposes. This seems completely arbitrary – who is going to decide whether your gardening activities are for aesthetic purposes? The sheriff? What does this have to do with public health and preventing the spread of Covid? It is these types of proclamations that piss people off and make you feel like your fundamental rights are being violated. If one is practicing safe physical distancing while gardening, who cares if the work is aesthetic or not? What a crock.

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