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Mendocino County Today: Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Dry Day | 5 New Cases | 1B Begins | Plum Blossoms | Big Drop | Stone Kirk | Covid Variants | Life Lessons | Genevieve Alexander | Boom Rig | Willits PD | Idea Exchange | Mail Thief | First Look | Standard Budget | Ed Notes | Yesterday's Catch | American Dino | MAGA Nightmare | Dreamkillers | Man Shaming | Direct Confrontation | Loudest Voice | In Just | Sugaring Season | Stop Reading | Whale Watching | Tango Concert | To Daffodils | Economic Con | Capitalistic Greed | Perugate | Found Object

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DRY WEATHER, along with near-normal daytime and cool nighttime temperatures, will continue today across northwest California. Southerly winds will increase through the day Thursday and peak Friday morning. Rain is expected to move in Thursday night and Friday. The potential for rain and mountain snow will continue into early next week. (NWS)

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5 NEW COVID CASES reported in Mendocino County yesterday.

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Post Date: 03/02/2021 10:30 AM

Starting March 1, 2021, Mendocino County Public Health will be opening up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to the following groups, as directed by the state:

We are continuing to vaccinate all tiers of Phase 1A.

We are opening up vaccination eligibility to all tiers of Phase 1B, including food, agriculture, logging, education and childcare (including school bus drivers), emergency services, those over the age of 65, and lodging.

We are opening up eligibility to those between the ages of 16 and 64 with the following comorbidities or disabilities:

-Chronic Kidney Disease (stage 4 or over)

-Chronic Lung Disease (oxygen dependent)


-Heart disease

-Immunocompromised State (from chemotherapy, or other medical conditions)

-Diabetes (with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5%)

-Severe Obesity (with a Body Mass Index of >40)

-Sickle Cell Disease


-Chronic Disabilities (physical or mental)

Clinicians may use their judgment and include others who would be more vulnerable to COVID-19, or those whose condition would cause more difficulty caring for them if they contracted COVID-19.

If you fit the comorbidity or disability criteria above, please sign up for a county or hospital-hosted vaccination event. A doctors note with Physician letterhead will be required stating that you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine based on health condition. County-hosted vaccination events are tier-specific or occupation-specific, so be sure to only sign up for an event that you are eligible for. 

If you are eligible and sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, please bring proof of eligibility such as a drivers license, a letter with your name and address, something that shows your age, a letter from your health care provider regarding health condition, something that shows you work in one of the occupational categories such as a pay stub, business card, or letter from supervisor.

Vaccinations are confidential and do not affect immigration status.

"Since our vaccine supply is increasing, this is the time to get vaccinated," explained County Health Officer, Dr. Andy Coren. "It is a massive effort, and the County is working diligently with our partners to vaccinate as many people as we can efficiently and safely. It will take time, but you'll have your turn. Sign up at or call 833-422-4255."

Our vaccines are reserved for those who live in Mendocino County, or those who work in Mendocino County. Do NOT sign up for any vaccination event that you are not eligible for. Proof of eligibility is required, and you WILL be turned away if you do not qualify.

To find out which state-established vaccination tier you belong to, please visit:

To view all upcoming county-hosted COVID-19 vaccination events and their eligibility requirements, please visit:

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Plum Blossoms (photo by Annie Kalantarian)

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Cases/Deaths per Month:

  • 229 / 9 (Jul)
  • 392 / 8 (Aug)
  • 260 / 2 (Sep)
  • 210 / 2 (Oct)
  • 420 / 2 (Nov)
  • 964 / 4 (Dec)
  • 876 / 11 (Jan)
  • 382 / 5 (Feb)

(Mike Kalantarian)

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Church In Wales

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by William Miller, MD; Chief of Staff at Adventist Health – Mendocino Coast Hospital

Just when we started to think we were getting on the other side of this COVID pandemic, now we are hearing about it mutating. Is that a cause for concern? I will try to share a perspective, but the quick answer is that such variations are common with all viruses and while they make a very big difference on a global scale, they are less relevant to us as individuals. Here’s why. 

Viruses are not capable of replicating themselves. They must infect a host cell and take over its internal machinery, causing the cell to now manufacture virus. In this process, copies of the genetic material of the virus must be made. In fact, hundreds of thousands of copies. New virus proteins are also made and then assembled around the genes to make a new virus particle. In the case of the virus that causes COVID, the whole thing is then covered in a coating of cholesterol. Out of this coat stick proteins referred to as “spikes”. The virus particles then leave the host cell, ready to infect new host cells. These spikes act like a key that fits into a lock on the surface of a potential host cell. The lock is referred to as a receptor. 

During the process of mass production of viral genes, mistakes occur frequently. Remember, the cell is not designed for this manufacturing job, but has been pirated to do so by the infecting virus, so errors happen. These mistakes are called mutations. The majority of mutations have no effect upon the virus or the disease it causes one way or another. Many mutations are actually detrimental to the virus and lead to dud viruses that are ineffective. An occasional mutation, however, may turn out to be beneficial to the virus and give it an advantage. This, of course, is how all evolution works for plants, animals and humans.

Most of the variants that we are concerned about have mutations in the spike protein that allows the “key” to fit into the receptor “lock” more efficiently. The result is that these variants are better at gaining access to the interior of the host cell. This means that it takes less of them to infect a person and thus are more contagious. It is important to understand that how these variants spread is not what is changing. The primary way of spread is still respiratory droplets. So, masks, social distancing and hand washing remain effective. In other words, these new variants have not somehow figured out a way to get around your mask or jump further distances.

The most prevalent variant worldwide is G.614 and it is the one that first exhibited a mutation in the spike protein that improved its transmissibility; it is the one that we have been dealing with for most of this pandemic. It is a variant when compared with the original strain in Wuhan, but can be regarded as the “garden variety” one now.

B.1.1.7 is a variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom and is now the dominant strain there. It has been identified in 12 states in the US. The mutation that makes it important also involves the spike protein. As a result, it is about 50% more contagious. Let’s look at exactly what that means. Epidemiologists describe how contagious a virus is by how many people are likely to get infected when someone who has the disease is moving around in society. A lot of factors play into this, but an important thing to remember is that when someone gets infected, they are only contagious for about 10 to 12 days. So, the question then is, “How many close contacts of a contagious person will get infected during that time?” The answer for each virus is a number referred to as R0 (pronounced “R naught”). For COVID, R0 is 2.6, meaning that on average the virus will be spread to 2.6 more people by each person who gets the infection. Masking, social distancing and frequent handwashing drop this to close to zero. Returning to B.1.1.7, a 50% increase in transmissibility increases R0 to 3.9. This has huge implications from a global, epidemiologic perspective. However, for people who are practice masking, social distancing and handwashing, the change has little consequence.

It does not appear that B.1.1.7 causes any more serious illness and both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to be quite effective against this strain.

B.1.351 is the one first identified in South Africa. It has the same spike protein mutation as B.1.1.7, meaning that its R0 is the same. However, it has an additional spike mutation near the site where antibodies attach that may make vaccines slightly less effective when considered on a global scale. Studies, so far, have shown that people who got a COVID vaccine and then contract B.1.351 may get ill, but not as sick as those who were unvaccinated.

P.1. (previously referred to as B.1.1.28) is a variant that was first identified in Japan and comprises most of the cases in Brazil. It has both of the spike mutations of B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, plus a third one. It remains unclear how this third mutation will set it apart from the other two strains.

In California, a strain referred to as B.1.427/B.1.429 has caught a lot of attention. We don’t know as much yet about this variant as it was more recently identified. It appears to have accounted for about half the infections in California during the past few months. As with the other variants discussed, it has a mutation on the spike protein that increases its effectiveness. The R0 appears to be about 35% higher than the original strain leading to 0.9 more transmissions per infected person or about 3.5 (versus 2.6). There is debate as to how much this contributed to the large outbreak we saw after Christmas, or how much of that was due to social dynamics of traveling to visit family during the holidays which clearly played a very large role as well. B.1.427 does not appear to cause a more severe illness and both vaccines appear to be effective against it.

In summary, we will continue to see COVID viruses shift into new variants as time goes on. None of these mutations change how the virus is spread, only how well it attaches to the cells in your body if you inhale it. Thus, the same strategies apply to keeping it out of your nose and throat as before. It remains unclear if any of the variants change the severity of illness in any significant way, however, since they all have approximately the same mortality rate suggests that they do not. As for vaccine effectiveness, so far all the different vaccines worldwide do have effectiveness against all of the variants. The question is, will that change significantly with time. We may find that we need to get new updated vaccine shots each year like we do for influenza. 

(The views shared in this weekly column are those of the author, Dr. William Miller, and do not necessarily represent those of the publisher or of Adventist Health.)

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On April 4, 2013, at approximately 10:30 pm, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office initiated an investigation into the whereabouts of Genevieve Kathryn Alexander after her boyfriend reported her as being a missing person.

The boyfriend last saw Alexander walking away from the couple’s residence located at the Pomo Campground on April 4, 2013, at 3:30 pm.

Genevieve Alexander

Alexander was wearing a maroon fleece type of jacket, dark-colored pants and dark-colored tennis shoes at the time of her disappearance. It was suspected at the time of Alexander’s disappearance that she was having a delusional episode.

A Deputy Sheriff conducted an immediate area search of the bluffs/beaches of Sunset Way, Belinda Point, Schoefer Lane and Pacific Way. These locations were identified as being locations where Alexander frequented on occasion but the Deputy Sheriff was unable to locate Alexander.

On April 5, 2013, at approximately 9:00 am, Sheriff’s Office investigators, with the aid of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue Team, initiated a further search for Alexander.

During the search, it was learned that a resident who lived adjacent to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (18220 North Highway 1) had contacted a person trespassing on their property on April 4, 2013, at approximately 4:00 pm. The person that was trespassing matched Alexander’s physical and clothing description.

A Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue Team bloodhound (K9) began a scent search from the location of the trespass scene and ended behind the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens along the bluff line at a trailhead that lead downward toward the beach. 

While conducting a search of the beach, a pair of pants was found floating in the ocean a short distance out from the beach. When the pants were recovered they were identified as being the pants Alexander was wearing at the time of her disappearance.

A further search of this area was conducted by personnel from the United States Coast Guard (boat & helicopter) and the Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue Team.

As of April 5, 2013 at 5:00 pm, Alexander’s current whereabouts are unknown and no further items of clothing have been recovered.

The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens for aiding in the search efforts along with the United States Coast Guard and the many volunteers of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue Team.

Anyone with any information relating to Alexander’s disappearance or whereabouts is urged to contact the Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at 707-234-2100.

Age at time of disappearance: 30 years-old

Height: 5 feet 6 inches

Weight: 115-120 pounds

Hair: Brown

Eye color: Blue

MCSO #: 13-10542

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Message From The Chief:

To the Willits Community,

There has been a lot of traffic on social media and our local newspaper regarding your Police Department and its personnel. As you well may know, there is possible litigation pending regarding interactions between my predecessor and members of the Department and city staff. To make it clear, there has been no lawsuit filed against the City or the Department. I cannot and will not speak to any specifics, simply because we can’t.

However, I do want to speak, as your Interim Chief who has been here since early November, as to what I’ve experienced and seen in my time here. As a way of background, I have 43 years of experience in law enforcement. I was a Command level officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, before serving as the Chief of Police for Fort Bragg for five years. I come to Willits with some degree of perspective as to how things should and could run in order to deliver police service to the community.

What I’ve seen and identified is a Department with dedicated members willing to deliver service, with a lack of resources, at a level that I can only describe as professional, with integrity and compassion. Have I received calls from people complaining about their interactions with Department members? Yes, I have. But, I have also received just as many calls praising and complimenting the Department for its level of service. The calls that have been negative simply required an explanation as to what could or could not be done, and we move forward. And this is not unique to WPD. It happens with any police agency. My role and job is to identify instances or procedures that are systemically wrong and need immediate correction. Instead, what I’ve identified and observed are systems that are in place to keep operations running efficiently and deliver professional police services. There are things that given a lack of resources, are in need of replacement or fixing. And that is the Department Head’s job to prioritize and manage the budget accordingly to address these items. 

Our policies are continuing to be reviewed as to discipline, use of force, delivery of service, and the whole range of procedures and training, in order to continue adherence to California Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) guidelines and requirements. But this is something we all do as Chiefs in order to feel confident in our procedures and protocols, and ensure they are being followed. I remember a conversation I had with the city manager that brought me in. I basically asked if I was to be a shepherd of the Department until the permanent Chief was hired, or would I be able to act upon issues I identified as needing work, tweaking or addressing. Whether they were budget, equipment, training or personnel issues. The response was, to do both. Right the ship where it needed it and keep it going until the appointment of a new Chief. I have tried to do that from the very first day.

I’m proud to say, that every member of this Department has been and continues to work diligently, with compassion and dedication, exhibiting integrity and a professional approach to every situation. We are a young department in terms of experience, so counseling and training goes on almost every day. But I want to assure you that any mistakes made, are of the mind, and not of the heart. The former we can work with, the latter I have no tolerance for, and neither does the City Council or City Administration. 

On a daily basis, our members interact with all segments of our community. The service provided that I have seen, overheard or received feedback on, has transcended all races, genders, cultures and socio-economic standards. Our diverse community continues to receive the same level of professional service day in and day out. Having said that, I understand and appreciate that those individuals we take enforcement action on, may not see us in the best light. My job is to make sure they treat everyone with respect and dignity whether they are a victim, suspect, witness, bystander or a fellow worker. To that end, I will work on your behalf to continue the positive steps that were already underway when it comes to staffing, training, and a community policing philosophy and approach that you deserve and desire. 

I felt compelled to write this, as some members of our department have been targeted for what I can only describe as unfair and unjustified negative focus by some members of the community, acting on an unsubstantiated perspective, in order to further their own jaundiced outlook toward law enforcement.

The men and women of your Police Department deserve better than that.

Fabian Lizarraga

Interim Chief of Police

Willits Police Department

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On Sunday, February 14, 2021 at about 3:30 AM, Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies were alerted to a possible mail theft situation in the 18000 block of Ocean Drive in Fort Bragg.

Deputies arrived in the area and observed a single male subject walking away from the area.

Deputies contacted the male, identified as being Robert Hayes, 40, of Fort Bragg, and observed several items in his jacket. Deputies spoke with Hayes regarding the items and located multiple articles of mail from several different addresses. Hayes was also found to be in possession of heroin.

Hayes was ultimately arrested for Mail Theft and Possession of a Controlled Substance.

In accordance with the COVID-19 emergency order issued by the State of California Judicial Council, Hayes was not booked and released with a signed promise to appear in court on a later date.

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BELOW is a screenshot of Fort Bragg’s mid-year budget expense summary report. It’s only interesting because it’s a standard departmental budget chart, the kind we’ve never seen from County CEO Carmel Angelo and which none of the current Supervisors have ever asked for or about. (Former Supervisor McCowen mentioned it a couple of times, but never seriously pushed for after CEO Angelo shined him on time and time again.) What kind of a CEO can’t produce a chart like this on a monthly basis, much less at all?

(Mark Scaramella)

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THE ANDERSON VALLEY has always been a transient kind of place, and never more transient than now because lots of people with no interest in this place beyond its convenience as a grape or marijuana venue are here for a while and then they're gone. The mass house arrests required by covid have knocked out the few community institutions we had pre-covid, not that the transients would notice anyway. 

THERE are lots of comments like this one on Northcoast chat lines: “Please, please move pot farming down south or to Oklahoma. Leave the finest quality where it’s always been. It’s the small ma and pa gardens that made our area famous. These big grows have no soul, it’s just the money.” 

IT QUICKLY became "just the money" when Ma and Pa Back-To-The-Land discovered that their soma would fetch $4-$5 thousand a pound in the city, and right from the get the trend to big-is-better was just a matter of time, and here we are with the County easing the way for big grows, and with a large share of the pot business dominated by mellow-proof people with guns.

THE POT PEOPLE could learn from the wine juggernaut. When the wine boom kicked off in Mendocino County in the 1970s, right away you had them or their surrogates sitting as supervisors and occupying water boards. Wherever their interests were in play, the wine people had their grasping hands on the power levers. The pot people seem educationally challenged by comparison.

BUT THEY'RE both a plague on the land in their unregulated dependence on chemicals and their plunder of water in all its manifestations. If the wine people could siphon off rainfall before it hit the ground, they would, and don't tell me chemical use is regulated by the Ag Department. Tell that to the frogs, if you can find one. How many tons of chemicals annually wash off from the vineyards and pot gardens and on into our primary streams? The long-term effects of these assaults on the County's natural world are incalculable but already evident in dying or disappeared flora and fauna.

AS IN, for example, the sudden drop this morning (Tuesday) in Con Creek near the elementary school. Yesterday (Monday) it was already flowing about at mid-summer levels; Tuesday, half that.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Anderson Valley Elementary School. Jeez, will we ever get away from this Gradgrindian naming of parts for the name of a person, an illustrious teacher of yesteryear like Jim Jones, er, I mean Blanche Brown, my preference. Ms. Brown was a gifted natural botanist, founder of our annual wildflower show, much loved teacher who traveled on horseback from her home on Indian Creek to her first school in Peachland. (Jones, yes that Jones, taught the 5th grade here for two years and, by all accounts, did a good job.) Anyway, Ukiah's schools mostly have names, why not Boonville's schools?

THE RE-DO of Ukiah's squalid main drag seems like some kind of a grand, unending practical joke, and it's not going to work when, if ever, it's complete. Narrowing the street to one lane in each direction with parklets abutting? ("bulb outs" in the tech language) Fort Bragg wisely nixed this kind of street design years ago.

A NEW BOOK called "Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency" by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes says that Obama refused to support Biden for president because he was a “tragicomic caricature of an aging politician having his last hurrah.” Too bad that candor wasn't considered by the DNC before they foisted him off on the world.

BIDEN'S PUPPETEERS will, hopefully, heed the Democrats who want him to include recurring direct checks for Americans in his coronavirus recovery plan on top of the $1,400 checks included in the latest relief package. “We urge you to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in your Build Back Better long-term economic plan,” a Tuesday letter, spearheaded by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon, reads. “This crisis is far from over, and families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions.”

HUFF’S PUFFS: Jared Huffman: I was honored to be elected by my colleagues to continue my role as Chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee this February. Over the past two years, we have done extraordinary work to improve the health of our oceans and economy of our coastal communities, respond to the threat of climate change on water supplies, and advance smart solutions to natural resources challenges. I’m looking forward to building on that progress during the 117th Congress to tackle some of the most challenging conservation policy problems of our time. With the new Biden administration and Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, we will finally have a whole-of-government approach to addressing the increasingly dire impacts of our changing climate and ensuring environmental equity for all communities.

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CATCH OF THE DAY, March 2, 2021

Collicott, Lancaster

CAYTLIN COLLICOTT, Willits. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, false personation of another, parole violation.

CHRISTINA LANCASTER, Ukiah. Failure to appear.

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AMERICAN POWER is like a lumbering dinosaur living in a world whose political and economic environment has been transformed. It's a beast whose modus operandi has expired and no longer applicable. If it wants to avoid internal collapse — a process of decay already underway — American society and its capitalist economy must in some way be radically transformed into a more democratic, egalitarian and drastically less militarist economy. Can the American people mobilise for this challenge? 

— Finnian Cunningham

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WHO KILLED THE CALIFORNIA DREAM? If you think it was liberals, think again. Rather than liberalism, California is the victim of something quite different: high tech and the rough economic beast it calls “creative destruction.” A generation ago, Silicon Valley was heralded as the state’s salvation, but it has instead constructed a winner-take-all world of the superrich serviced by gig workers who face anxiety and uncertainty with every sunrise.

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I don’t understand what’s wrong with men having rights. 

I am a woman, a bit of a tomboy. But I’m not a man. My man is very different from me, much more powerful physically, and different in the way he thinks. Why would anyone suggest that a man shouldn’t have rights? He’s a human being, just like me in that respect.

Testosterone is a shockingly powerful substance. Believe it or not, testosterone played a large role in the development and industrialization of every nation. I’m glad that men exist, and I wish they were not berated for being men.

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Hello Bruce and Mark. I appreciate your movie and TV series recommendations, and here’s mine, below.

If one wonders how we got Nixon, Reagan, Bush Jr., Fox News, the Iraq War and Trump, Roger Ailes is a huge part of the answer. A must see if painful series exposing his manipulations, sexual abuse, bullying, lies and eventual downfall. He turned TV news into a class weapon that threatens our democracy today.

Tom Wodetski


The Loudest Voice, 2019 NR 1 season, When media veteran Roger Ailes becomes head of Fox News in 1996, he quickly upends the role of television in politics by airing nonstop conservative content. Within a few years, Fox's success makes it a potent force in shaping public opinion.

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by Stephen Elliott

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 28, 2021 – At the end of February, I went to Gillette Stadium about 20 miles west of home in Bridgewater, Massachussetts, and got my vaccination, first round. Sunny day with a brisk, cool wind blowing through the parking lot and chilling our long, socially distanced lines which snaked back and forth outside the stadium. 

Massachusetts has opened a tier that includes people 65 to 75 and I’ve just turned 72. I happily, cleanly, and completely retired from my law practice, mostly criminal defense, just a year ago. Then came corona. Every day I count my blessings as I devote myself to my new career year of small-scale farming. I see almost no one. I’m outside all the time.

Our line at Gillette moved along at a good pace. You could not but feel sympathy with your fellow creatures, all of us finally hapless, sometimes frail, mostly elderly, some in Patriots or Red Sox gear. 

We took an escalator up to the vaccination area, maybe halfway up the stadium. A nice young woman saw that I wore an indoor rowing t-shirt (from a contest in which my wife competes), and I learned that she’d been a college rower. She had me look down at the field, stripped of turf, as she gave me the virtually painless shot. 

Naturally I reflected on the Brady era as I looked around. Our social distancing had me in a reverie about tight ends, slot receivers, wide-outs, Jermaine Wiggins, Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, empty backfields, and spacing on the field, whether in football or soccer or even baseball. Where do you play? Where do you line up? Shallow or deep? “Spread the field!” How many nights did we see Brady, often when the hurry-up wasn’t even necessary, come out in the no-huddle and run 10 or 15 consecutive passing plays. Just for fun. Like soccer. Or rugby. Move, move, move. Sometimes a set-piece, other times just, “You guys go out, the rest of you guys block!” It worked. Oh, how it worked!

I’d never even been inside Gillette before my vaccination. A couple of times in the day of the great Steve Grogan, the old javelin thrower from Kansas State, I’d gone to the miserable old concrete shell that preceded silly, pretentious Gillette. Can’t think of Brady without thinking of the last game ever played in the old dump, the Snow Bowl against the Raiders in 2002. Brady came of age that night and Adam “Adam & Leave” Vinatieri kicked the 45-yard field goal, down 13-10, with half a minute left. That kick, in that situation, in the swirling winds and blinding snow, ranks up there. 

With Brady gone and the lock-down on, Patriots football seemed particularly pointless this year. I’m rarely in the car during lockdown, so I only caught a tiny bit of sports talk radio and heard or watched an hour or two of the Patriots this season. Total.

I sometimes take a five-minute drive to a parking lot of the local college, a pleasant spot overlooking a marsh with dry yellow cattails and big swamp maples, where I jump rope. Here’s what I heard the radio douches say on my way to my little corner of the parking lot. 

Early in the season Tampa Bay apparently screwed up a kick-off return, and so the Boston radio hosts go on about how Brady must regret going to a place with such terrible coaching, and how something like that would NEVER happen under a Belichick team. As if. Then in October some dude was predicting that Trump would win and the NFL players would quit in protest. He wished. They then go off on the Boston College football team for not wanting to play in corona time. I shut it down and switched back to my recorded book about the Potemkin, Red Mutiny. Three or four minutes of sports radio – for the year.

In the past I’ve heard people like Tedy Bruschi and the great Troy Brown talking intelligently about football and what happens on the field. It can be interesting. More and more, though, the radio guys suck up to ownership and trash the players. They freak when somebody like LeBron forms his own team around him. They gnash their teeth when Gronkowski comes out of retirement to play with Brady, or when Brady helps ease Antonio Brown back into the game. Three cheers for the workers! As a number of players have asked, how many tackles has Belichick made? How many passes has he caught?

It was nice to see Gronkowski make key catches and throw some crisp blocks. One of my favorite sequences was when, late in the third, Tampa Bay, up 28 to 9, Brady can’t handle a high snap and races back to fall on it at the 35, still within field goal range, but only just. Ryan Succop tucks it snugly above the cross bar and inside the left upright from about 53. The final nail. 

Farmers learn to hate waste, and to salvage everything. Be opportunistic. Make furrows to direct little water flows toward your plants. Make mini-dams to retain it. Save that goat and chicken manure from the neighbor. Prune back the berry canes and peach branches, burn them and burn some weeds with them. Mix the ashes into the compost. That field goal was all about thrift. Live with your mistakes. Salvage what you can!

That misplayed high snap oddly echoed the many times when, in huge moments needing a two-point conversion or a touchdown, Brady would fake as if the ball had been snapped over his head, jumping and frantically twirling in the air. You’d gasp, and then realize that the ball had been snapped directly to a running back, like Kevin Faulk, who’d ram it home. It always seemed to work.

These pleasant memories occupy me as I go about my farm work. No fewer than five neighbors let me use their land to tap maple trees, and cultivate for food and flower crops. Good sharecropping for me, free landscaping for them. I do all the work with hand tools and it becomes part of my training for seniors’ track and field. The “farmer’s walk” is a recommended lift. Carry one or two heavy objects from place to place. Beautiful in its simplicity. I’ve been carrying two five-gallon pails of sap for up to 350 yards for the last month. You can say of sugaring season, now, thank God, winding down, what Samuel Johnson said of Paradise Lost in his Life of Milton: “None ever wished it longer than it is.”

Anyway, health for all, health care for all, sport for the people!

It was all about Brady. It was never about Belichick, or, shudder, Kraft. In short, Brady could have walked out of the collected works of John R. Tunis. He’s consistently maintained his charity for people with Downs Syndrome. He’s always seemed gracious. He’s praised his teammates and opponents. He spoke against racism. He said that his relationship with Trump became “uncomfortable.” Diplomatic but definitive. Gisele has seemed to exert a good influence over him. And he played the game.

Does it matter that The Ringbearer brought home Number Seven with the Bucs instead of the Patriots? No.

Texas Red is a great young quarterback and the Chiefs (Change the name! Stop the chop! Dissolve the franchise! Dissolve all the franchises! Rebuild sports – and society – from the ground up!) are a good team, but, again, the last word belongs to Marty Robbins. 

There were forty feet 

between them when they

stopped to make their play,

and the swiftness of the 

Ranger is still talked about today.

Texas Red had not cleared 

leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped

and the Ranger’s aim was

deadly with the big iron on his hip. 

(from Big Iron by Marty Robbins)

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Join MendoParks & California State Parks for virtual and self-guided educational activities this year to celebrate the gray whale migration along the Mendocino Coast

Whale Watching Videos (coming soon!)

Complimentary Whale Watching Guides

Free Kid Friendly Activities

Binocular Rentals Available At The Ford House Visitor Center At The Mendocino Headlands State Park, 45035 Main St, Mendocino

Complimentary whale watching guides and free kid friendly activities available at the Ford House (45035 Main St, Mendocino) and MacKerricher (24100 MacKerricher Park Rd, Fort Bragg) Visitor Centers MendoParks Virtual Whale Festival, Saturday March 27th, 6:00pm PST: “Celebrating the Gray Whale Success Story with benefit concert from Steven Bates. Tickets are $20 with proceeds benefitting MendoParks, the 501c3 nonprofit organization that supports State Parks in Mendocino County with educational activities, park improvement, and visitor services. Join us for a whale-filled evening featuring: Whale talks & trivia Learn how to spot whales and more PLUS a closing benefit concert with Steven Bates! Tickets available now at:

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Ukiah, February 22, 2021 – In a sparkling season finale on Sunday, April 18th, at 2:00 pm, the Ukiah Community Concert Association presents an exciting online performance by Los Tangueros del Oeste, joined by world class Argentine Tango dancers. 

Los Tangueros del Oeste is the latest project by bassist/composer Sascha Jacobsen. It draws on his love of Argentine Tango music and dance with elements of Flamenco, Electronica and Jazz. With five generations of musicians in his lineage leading back to the Moscow Opera, Sasha Jacobsen has delighted UCCA audiences with his other groups, the Musical Art Quintet and Trio Garufa. He returns this time with his nuevo tango troupe of stellar musicians and dancers steeped in the fusion styles of Astor Piazzolla, Gotan Project, and Bajo Fondo. 

Join us April 18 at 2:00 p.m. for this vibrant finale to our virtual concert season.

Dance partner optional, concert viewers need only a reliably strong internet connection and an email address to which UCCA can send the Zoom link. After the performance, the program will be loaded onto UCCA’s very own YouTube channel and available to subscribers and single-event ticket buyers for 30 days.

Tickets for non-season subscribers are $15 and available online at UCCA offers free access to Mendocino College students who request in advance as part of our continuing educational outreach program. For more information, please call 707-463-2738, or send an email through our website: Visit us there, and Like us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Ukiah Community Concert Association has been presenting internationally acclaimed talent since 1947. This all-volunteer nonprofit’s mission is to build and maintain an enthusiastic concert audience by presenting stellar and enticing live performances. It is also our goal to encourage and develop music appreciation in the schools because Live Music makes Life Better! 

UCCA thanks our members for their continued support as well as our sponsors Schat’s Bakery, Black Oak Coffee, and Rivino Winery and W/E Flowers. Special thanks to the Mendocino Arts Club and Mendocino College Recording Arts & Technology club for their ongoing support and collaboration.

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The pandemic has been a financial and political boon to the 1%. Will they really change the pattern in the next round of bailouts?

by Matt Taibbi

Current and former Treasury Secretaries Janet Yellen and Lawrence Summers have been engaging in Internet flame war. It’s odd and cringe-worthy, like watching a rap battle break out between Romneys.

Summers started it. Waving salamandrine arms in alarm, the ex-Harvard president went on a media tour to insist that the Joe Biden/Yellen pandemic relief proposal would end in inflationary disaster. He wrote in the Washington Post a few weeks back:

“There is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation…”

Yellen went on her own morning talk show tour in response, insisting that there’s no risk that we’re anywhere near what Summers described as the best-case scenario, an “overheated economy in which employers are desperate to find workers and push up wages and benefits.” In fact, she said: “We’re in a deep hole with respect to the job market,” adding that minus a robust recovery plan, full employment would not return until 2025.

Until now, the Covid-19 relief programs most resembled the bailout policies of George Bush and Barack Obama in 2008-2009, which stressed recapitalization of the financial sector. The CARES Act initially appeared as more of the same: a Fed-fueled Wall Street romp pitched as a trickle-down rescue, that didn’t do much trickling down.

The result of such policies is sometimes euphemistically described as a “K-Shaped Recovery” (see TK Finance Dictionary, above). In this “recovery,” the happy upward prong of the letter K represents banks, real estate, the telecom sector, as well as anyone who owns any kind of financial asset, from a home to a stock portfolio. The down-pointing prong usually represents wages or the “real” economy, which humorously has often had to be described in press treatments in clinical terms, as a separate, alien thing.

In fact, the “K” is just camouflaging jargon for a faux recovery, in which massive upward gains for a few, that in the aggregate offset greater losses for everyone else, are pitched as a net positive for society overall. Joe Biden mocked this concept as a candidate. Is he serious about abandoning it as president?

A lot of Wall Street analyses are predicting a recovery that will be less, er monodirectional than last year’s CARES Act. As of now, people making above $65,000 are doing better than before the crisis, while low-wage workers are still down 20%, a situation Bank of America predicts will be remedied. “Biden's team is unlikely to break out the champagne over reaching full employment if it isn't evident across income and racial groups," the bank wrote, in a letter to clients. 

While the surface fight between Republicans and Democrats in the Trump era has been described as being over a thousand things — Russians, hate speech, white supremacy, “insurrection,” “kids in cages” — the real constant subtext has been a fight about that “K.”

The dirty secret of American politics going back decades is an ongoing cycle of popped speculative bubbles followed by government-aided rescues, with both parties embracing the concept of trickle-down “recoveries” built on statistical deceptions.

Since 1989, the share of national wealth owned by the top 1% has risen from 30% to 39% — you will frequently see this difference described as a rise not seen “since the roaring twenties”— while the bottom 90% saw their share fall from 33% to 23%. It’s not a difficult picture to explain: the rich have gotten richer, apparently at the expense of everyone else.

As previously noted, the split widened after the last round of bailouts, with the top 1% seeing their share rise 4% between the years 2010-2016, faster than before.

Even though the Occupy protests popularized these facts for the first time, the press in the Obama years was slow to catch on to the scale of the post-crash realities faced by poor and formerly working-class people. According to Federal Reserve statistics, the bottom 50% of the country saw its share of national wealth drop by over half between 2007 and 2013:

This was exacerbated by what was going on at the other end of the curve, where the crisis never dented those at the top of the distribution:

The Obama administration continually pointed to rising GDP, a surging stock market, or “record corporate profits” to offset the on-the-ground details of its uneven rebound. Obama himself adopted the language of Occupy, with the White House on October 16, 2011, proclaiming that Obama was “working for the interests of the 99%.”

In the last years of the Obama administration, overall incomes finally started to rise again, so much so that Paul Krugman of the New York Times was able to write a column just before the 2016 election touting the outgoing president’s “trickle-up economics,” noting among other things that taxes for the very wealthy had gone up. But despite some income growth, the overall wealth picture continued to show a schism. As the Fed wrote in 2017, “The distribution of income and wealth has grown increasingly unequal in recent years.” If you went by overall share of wealth, you still saw that nagging K:

If you ask Democratic Party strategists, some will privately concede that they made a big political error by not making sure that the recovery plan after 2008 didn’t look quite so one-sided, a move that left a door open for protest campaigns by both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Even Summers says this now, claiming he agrees “with the general consensus of progressive economists” that “it would have been much better if the Obama administration had been able to legislate a much larger fiscal stimulus in early 2009, in response to the Great Recession.”

That’s ironic, because in December, 2008, Summers wrote a secret, 57-page memo for incoming president Obama, telling him that although the “economic outlook is grim and deteriorating rapidly,” and the economy would lose 3 to 4 million jobs in 2009 in the absence of fiscal stimulus, the bigger overall worry was the deficit. He told Obama to stress a policy that focused on charting a “fiscally sustainable course,” so as to avoid “sticker shock to the American public” that might reduce “your ability to pass your agenda and undermining economic confidence at a critical time.”

Obama took that advice, and the result was a recovery that achieved the opposite of what Summers argued, draining confidence in the system. The Democrats would likely have been fine had a traditional Republican been the opponent in 2016, but they rolled snake eyes and drew the one GOP opponent willing to stir up the class divide.

Trump stuck with Republican orthodoxy in some areas, preaching tax cuts, curbed immigration, and defense spending as economic solutions, but his kinky twist was attacking both Republicans and Democrats as tools of a crooked banking elite. He borrowed more shamelessly from Occupy rhetoric than Obama, promised “the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal,” and positioned himself as “Crazy Bernie’s” brother from another ideological mother, regularly talking about welcoming Sanders voters with “open arms” — a move that seemed to freak out Bernie himself, who at the time was struggling to get Hillary Clinton to even pretend to listen to his polite demands in the Democratic platform debate. 

As Clinton was ghosting Bernie, in fact, Trump in June, 2016 all but asked for his hand in marriage, saying, “It’s not just the political system that’s rigged. It’s the whole economy.” This ended up becoming a major running theme of his campaign.

What’s amazing, looking back at that time, was that there were still analysts in the commercial press who kinda-sorta agreed… with Trump. CNN’s writeup of Trump’s “rigged economy” speech said that while “few economists would go as far as Trump and Sanders… in saying the entire system is ‘rigged,’” it was “hard to deny” that the middle class was shrinking, the typical family was earning the same then as in 1996, and the majority of Americans believed their children would be worse off than them financially. 

To make a long story short, Trump won, at least in part because of anger about a gamed financial system. However, after three years of a frothy economy that presented a mixed picture on the wealth inequality front, the pandemic saw Trump preside over a grotesque repeat of the 2008-2009 bailout strategy he once denounced. From March through October of 2020, billionaires increased their net worth by $637 billion, while 40 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. In his campaign against Biden, Trump resorted to waving the K-shaped recovery at crowds, asking things like, “How’s your 401K?” — apparently unaware that most people no longer have one. 

There seems to be near-universal recognition that the next recovery plan will have to at least appear different from these previous versions. Suddenly, representatives of both parties are fighting to see who can sound most like Samuel Gompers in their promotion of recovery plans. 

Last Friday, February 26th, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that one of the key elements of the Democrats’ relief package — a significant minimum wage increase, from $7.25 to $15 — could not be passed through the budget reconciliation process, which allows votes to go through via simple majority. 

Leading Democrats reacted as if the previously unknown Elizabeth MacDonough had shot their dog. “We are deeply disappointed in this decision,” cried Chuck Schumer. “Democrats in the House are determined to pursue every possible path in the Fight for 15,” said the $114-million woman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Sanders was furious with the MacDonough decision and helped propose a work-around that would raise taxes for companies that paid less than $15 an hour. Surprisingly, he was joined by Missouri Republican Josh Hawley. When was the last time you heard something like this coming from a non-Trump Republican politician (grammar error notwithstanding)?

“For decades, the wages of everyday, working Americans have remained stagnate [sic] while monopoly corporations have consolidated industry after industry, securing record profits for CEOs and investment bankers.”

Polls have consistently shown that even majorities of Republicans now favor ideas like $1400 relief checks. Is this a philosophical shift? Doubtful. More likely, it signals increased awareness even among Republican voters that K-shaped rescues long ago turned the American economy into a parody of “normal” capitalism. Why should any voter reject a small rescue check from the state on ideological grounds, when BlackRock, American Airlines, SeaWorld Entertainment, and countless other ticker names are getting big ones no matter what you do?

This is a fascinating moment in American history. On the one hand, generations of elite-focused politics have left a tiny oligarchical minority not only in possession of massively increased wealth, but also political power. Since 2008, we’ve seen increased disparities in income, but also criminal justice outcomes, regulatory attention, access to tax loopholes, political influence (through decisions like Citizens United), vulnerability to surveillance, and rights to transparency, and, lately, speech. With the corporate-friendly Biden administration in office, there’s a clear opportunity for his backers to continue the K-shaped influence distribution if they wanted.

But we may be at the end of the era where even the most rapacious interests feel they can get away with such policies. Between the 2016 election of Trump, the near-nomination of Sanders in 2020, and widespread unrest on both the left and right, it sounds like the Washington consensus is inching toward the realization that they finally have to deliver something significant for ordinary people, if they want to keep their cushy DC sinecures, to say nothing of staying pitchfork-free.

Is the right move simply spreading the Fed largesse to more working people, in the form of more direct checks and/or unemployment benefits? God knows, but the question that interests me is how America’s political elite views the situation.

For decades now, we’ve watched our politicians continually make decisions that widened wealth and influence divides, while blowing off possibilities of backlash from below. For a long time, there was a rationale behind this, because the big-money capture of both parties left the Volk without obvious avenues for revolt. The two parties didn’t need to govern with the bottom half of the country in mind, so they didn’t. They continued their myopia even through disasters like the Trump election. 

Is it possible those days are over? Did Biden learn from the Obama/Summers experience, even if just on a cynical political level? I’ll believe it when I see it, but we’re at least hearing politicians sound like they recognize the days of being able to sell a “K-shaped recovery” are probably over.


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by Donald G. McNeil Jr.

As has been described elsewhere, this was a Times “Student Journey” arranged by Putney Student Travel in Vermont. They’re expensive, and most of the students are from private schools. Some go to Oxford or Florence. The Peru trip’s theme is rural public health, and included towns in the Sacred Valley, a couple of mountain villages, a day of first aid training, visits to salt-making ponds and ancient farming terraces and a full day of hiking in and around Machu Picchu.

My job was to deliver three talks about global health and also make myself available to the students as much as possible, including during meals. No drinking was allowed, including by me. We slept in modest hostels, sometimes with no hot water. I was paid $300 a day.

I had done the exact same trip in 2018. I was a hit, so Putney invited me back. This time, I was less eager to go — hiking at altitude in 2018 had been pretty exhausting, and I didn’t need to see Machu Picchu again.

I’d also had a big struggle with the Putney head office in 2018. They had initially said all medical expenses were up to me and had refused to add me to the medevac insurance they carried on the students and leaders. Apparently, no other Times expert had previously questioned this in the contract. But since a medevac home from someplace like Peru can cost up to $250,000, I said I couldn’t go unless they put me on their policy. They finally relented; but then their contract language was vague and self-contradictory. I had to ask them to rewrite it twice and I finally had to spell out exactly what it should say. It wasn’t pleasant, but my advocacy meant that all other Times experts routinely got medevac insurance too. However, the arguments created some bad feelings.

Ultimately, I went mostly as a favor to Jan Benzel, the retired Times editor and friend whose job was to recruit experts.

From day one, the 2019 trip was very different from the 2018 one. The three leaders — who were with the students for a week before I joined — were different from the more apolitical “adventure tourism” leaders of the 2018 trip. The tone felt more like a big lesson in how to be an anti-colonialist and to romanticize indigenous medicine. Almost from our first conversation, I felt some tension with Leader 1. The other two were quite easy to get along with.

The students were nice — about 20 young women and two young men. Since everyone asks: most were white, none were black, one was Asian, a couple might have been Hispanic but I didn’t ask, and the guy from Spain was Basque because we talked about it.

Leader 3 was Colombian; 1 and 2 were a couple or former couple from Reed College; I think she was part Asian and he was part or all Hispanic. I never asked about anyone’s ethnic identities because it didn’t seem important.

The other element that was very different was that a few students intensely wanted to talk politics. Maybe they hoped I was Nick Kristof. I’m not. I rarely talk politics with anyone. I’m a science reporter, not an opinion columnist. My friends tell me off for describing Ebola victims at lunch; my lunch buddy John Schwartz forbids anyone asking me “What are you working on?” while he’s eating.

My political views are eclectic and mostly private. I also don’t usually try to change other people’s minds. I know what I think and I don’t care if anyone agrees with me. I do make a lot of jokes — and I sometimes needle my friends about their dogmatic liberal or conservative beliefs. But if someone wants to argue with me, I usually explain my position once and then, if they still want to argue, shrug and say “De gustibus non disputandum” — matters of taste aren’t worth disputing — and try to change the subject. My kids will tell you I said “de gustibus” a lot when they were little.

I also don’t vote or even register to vote because I don’t ever want to be accused of partisanship. That’s not required by Times ethical standards, it’s just my own attitude. I did once break down and vote against a candidate I despised, but I regretted it and never voted again.

But the Putney contract says Times experts should be available to talk to the students, including during meals. So I did. In 2018, some students and I spent hours trying to top each others’ bad puns. On the 2019 trip, talk at the table constantly turned to politics. The “heated argument” described in Ben Smith’s article about the trip (He said “a series of heated arguments,” I only remember one I’d even tentatively describe as heated) was mostly between me and Leader 2, who was sitting next to me, but with several students vigorously participating. It did turn confrontational, in that they didn’t like my views. But I saw it as answering everyone’s questions as frankly as I could. I felt I was trying to show them that the world is a more nuanced place than they assumed. It ended with Leader 2 and me sitting alone afterwards, talking in a friendly way. Even she said I’d given her a different perspective on some issues.

I remember Sophie vividly. The only answer I gave Ben Smith when he sent me quotes from her asking for comment was to ask him to consider not printing her name, even if she went on the record, and even if she was legally an adult. My ouster from the Times has inflamed people across the political spectrum and I was afraid she would be doxxed or her social media accounts or credit scores hacked, and she might not realize how ugly being a target can be. I have no social media presence, and I’m not young with a whole life ahead of me in which one incident can loom large.

Sophie did approach me as soon as the trip started. I was flattered that she wanted to talk. She was smart and serious and clearly had a good heart. Also, she could have been the twin of my older daughter at 17, her name is my daughter’s middle name, and I had watched my daughter get married only a week before. If one wanted to look at this through a Freudian lens: it was as if I had stepped back in time and the daughter who barely spoke to me for several teenage years because of an ugly divorce suddenly wanted to talk.

She did ask me about “Guns, Germs and Steel” and said she felt it presented a Eurocentric colonialist view.

But I remember my answer differently than she does. I said I’d suggested it for two reasons: much of it is about how germs changed history, which I would be talking about. And its opening scene is set in Peru, with Pizarro capturing the Incan emperor, Atahualpa. Jared Diamond’s thesis, I argued, was not a racist one saying European culture was inherently superior. He was showing why 10,000 years of Eurasian and Pan-American history had made it possible for Pizarro to sail to Peru and capture Atahualpa, rather than Atahualpa sailing to Europe to capture the King of Spain.

Eurasians had geographical luck on their side, simply because their continent was oriented east-west with wide temperate zones, rather than north-south with deserts and jungles: inventions like gunpowder could spread from China to Spain. Unlike Africa and the Americas, it had many docile, easily domesticated animals. Eurasians got diseases like proto-measles from those animals and became immune, while the Incas never did. As far as I could tell, I said, Diamond was no racist. His book has a scene in which one of the New Guinea guides on his bird-watching trip asks: “Why do white people have all the cargo?” Diamond said the guide was just as smart as he was, but he and all his ancestors grew up on an isolated, mountainous island and so their civilization advanced more slowly.

Sophie is quoted as saying she “backed down, apologized and “felt terribly guilty.”

That is not how I remember it. I remember the conversation continuing, with her asking me how I felt about Medicare for All, charter schools and standardized tests. I said I had just become eligible for Medicare but had stayed on my Guild-Times insurance because I liked it. I was — and am — very much in favor of universal health care, but not necessarily solely through the Medicare bureaucracy because I like having choices. On the second question, I said my kids had gone to local schools in South Africa and France that were the equivalent of “charter schools” and had gotten very good educations; it all depended on how the schools were run.

My answer about standardized tests seemed to bother her the most. I understood her to be against ever using them, because they have cultural biases. I first answered with a joke: when I took the SAT in 1970, I said, one question was “What is this house made of?” The correct answer was “clapboard.” But I was from California and had never heard of clapboard, so I lost points — so the test was clearly biased against Californians, I said. I don’t remember her laughing. But I added that I thought such tests were still necessary, even if they were flawed. If you had 10,000 students applying to a school with 500 spots, how would you screen so many? I remember her suggesting that applicants should write essays and be interviewed. I said that was impossible, no school had enough money or time for that, so I thought at least some testing was inevitable.

I very soon had the feeling that I was somehow disappointing Sophie.

Later, in Ben Smith’s article, Sophie quotes me as saying: “It’s frustrating because Black Americans keep blaming the system, but racism is over, there’s nothing against them any more — they can get out of the ghetto if they want to. They need to stop blaming the system and do something for themselves.”

I don’t like the expression “fake news,” but parts of that quote are just ridiculously inaccurate. I certainly never said “racism is over.” Where in the world would I have gotten that absurd idea? I would also be very surprised if I used the word “ghetto” unless I was doing it ironically or within air quotes. I think I stopped using that word soon after Elvis released “In the Ghetto” in 1969.

The students and I had a 90 minute discussion about racism, affirmative action, crime, incarceration, global warming, imperialism and a dozen other issues, which I’ll detail more of below. I did say “colonialism is over” and “apartheid is over” — perhaps Sophie misheard me.

In the same article, an anonymous 17-year-old student is quoted saying she or he “corrected me” during the infamous “n-word conversation” just as she was used to correcting her grandparents and her friends’ parents. And that I had refused to apologize to her.

“You correct them,” she said. “You tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to talk like that,’ and usually people are pretty apologetic and responsive to being corrected. And he was not.”

I do not remember anyone stopping that conversation to “correct” me. I remember simply going on, after I understood what was on the video, to say that I felt the school had overreacted by punishing a student for something she had done as a 12-year-old.

Had a student tried to “correct” me, I probably would have pointed out that I’m a Times reporter and we print the real grownup versions of bad words when we have to (or at least we did in 2019.) I probably would have described the internal Times debate over Richard Pryor’s obit. But I believe I never did that because I don’t recall that conversation ever happening.

I do remember a student saying she “felt obligated to speak up for brown and black people who can’t speak for themselves.”

My response was: “Careful — that sounds like ‘pick up the white man’s burden’ language.”

She reacted sharply, saying, “What?!” She clearly thought I had said something racist.

I explained: “It’s Kipling. ‘The White Man’s Burden.’ It’s a poem saying white people are obligated to civilize the world. When you say that, you’re sounding like one of those Victorian ladies who felt it was their job to speak for the poor benighted natives. In my experience, black and brown Americans are perfectly capable of speaking up for themselves.”

So if that was the student who thinks she was “correcting” me and did not get an apology — well, she’s right. She did not.

Almost every conversation I engaged in during the trip was after my lectures or during meals with a trip leader present or nearby. Nobody stopped me from talking. No trip leader took me aside to say I’d been offensive. The Putney contract says that if your behavior as an expert “jeopardizes the success of a trip,” you can be asked to go home. I was neither spoken to nor asked to go home.

The one somewhat heated discussion I remember was at a restaurant near a train station in Ollantaytambo. Some of the assertions Charlotte asked me about came from it.

During the August 2019 investigation, I wrote a long email to my union rep, Barbara Davis, recreating as much of that conversation as I could remember. I’m quoting it here, slightly edited to remove names and some issues I’ve already explained.


I’ve spent hours trying to piece back together that whole conversation in my mind. It was very wide-ranging: We got into African history, colonialism, Rwanda, Latin American history, the United Fruit Company, the CIA, affirmative action, whether black Americans had opportunities or not, what my translator in Zambia once asked me about America, and lots of other stuff.

Much of the conversation was between me and [Leader 2], who was sitting next to me. She is an adult in her 30’s, a Reed College graduate and a grad student at Hopkins. The table was full of students when it began, and some participated, some more vigorously than others. By the end it was just [Leader 2] and me talking. I did not have the feeling that any students walked out because of anything I said. Our group was so big that we had to eat in two rooms, so people went back and forth, and also had to go collect their stuff to walk back to the hotel.

To me, it wasn’t an angry discussion. People, including me, were emphatic, but no one was shouting or upset. Certainly nobody cried. But I’ve been told that arguing with me can be pretty overwhelming — I talk really fast, and I let out a barrage of arguments, details, asides, etc.

I can’t recall all of it, of course, but the parts connected to the questions you asked went something like this:

Basically, [Leader 2] and some of the students were taking a standard left-wing view of the world. We got onto colonialism. There was a lot of criticism of the U.S.

I argued that one had to draw a distinction: the United States was never an imperial colonialist power in the way that Britain and France and Portugal were. Because we started off as a colony, we had a protective — or you can call it paternalistic — attitude toward the New World and warned Europe to stay away: ie. the Monroe Doctrine. Yes, we had some colonies we inherited in the Spanish-American War, and yes, we sometimes conquered other countries, like Mexico, but we didn’t keep them and rule them as England or France did. After World War II, I said, we changed our attitude and started propping up the dying colonial system. Mostly because our enemy, the Soviet Union, was supporting the liberation movements. I said I thought that was a huge mistake: people seeking liberation from colonial powers should have been natural allies for us. In Vietnam, for example, I said, we stepped into the place of France, the former colonial power, while our natural inclination should have been to side with Ho Chi Minh. He initially was very pro-American, the O.S.S. had supplied him with weapons to fight the Japanese, and he based the constitution of Vietnam, which I read in college, on the American constitution.

At some point, a student took issue with my having said the U.S. wasn’t a colonial power, saying something like: “Don’t you realize what the CIA has done? Don’t you realize that the United Fruit Company interfered in central America to protect its banana monopoly? (This was the same student who had said she thought the book I recommended, “Guns, Germs and Steel,” was “written from a white, Eurocentric perspective.” This student herself was white, from Greenwich, CT and went to Andover but mentioned multiple times over the week that she had a Latino boyfriend and he had opened her eyes to a different view of the world.)

I got exasperated and said something like: “Look, I don’t accept the far-leftie notion that there’s this Manichean split: all the evil in the world is done by white men, Americans, the US government, the CIA, colonialism or whatever, and all the rest of the world — brown and black people, women, Latin America, Africa, etc. — are their victims. That was the line I heard at Berkeley 40 years ago when everyone read Max Weber and socialist countries actually existed and everyone was trying to prove they were more radical, more Communist, more Trotskyist, more Spartacist than each other.

Yes, I said, Latin Americans drown in the Rio Grande — but they’re swimming north, trying to get into this country, not trying to get out. They don’t think we’re the Evil Empire. They think we’re a land of opportunity, of democracy, of relatively low crime compared to theirs…

Yes, I know what United Fruit did. And it was bad. But that was 100 years ago. And colonialism is over. Most colonies freed themselves 50 years ago, in the 60’s.

Apartheid is over too, though in the 1990’s.

When I covered Africa, none of the countries were colonies. They were all self-governing.

The world is a different place from that Berkeley stereotype, I said. But I get the feeling that that stereotype is still the norm on college campuses.

And, yes, the CIA has done some terrible things — torturing people in Afghanistan, the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in Iran, etc. But don’t assume it’s this omnipotent agency that rules the world. Actually, it’s pretty incompetent — it didn’t predict 9/11 for example, it took 10 years to find bin Laden.

Latin American and African countries, I said, have to take some responsibility for their own futures. They can’t just say “It’s all America’s fault” or “it’s all because of colonialism.” They have to elect decent presidents, they have to fight corruption and straighten out their economies, they have to fight crime… And I said this isn’t just me that thinks this. Even Nelson Mandela went to Rwanda and Burundi and made a very harsh speech warning Hutus and Tutsis that they had to stop killing each other because they were giving bigoted whites an excuse to say Africans acted like animals.

[Leader 2] said something like “Well, maybe people do have to take more agency over their lives.”

Eventually, the discussion came around to domestic stuff — I don’t remember how, exactly.

I said the same principle applies in the U.S. People have to take some responsibility for their own destiny. For example, yes, a disproportionate amount of the prisoners in U.S. prisons are black. And, yes, some of them are there because of ridiculously unfair drug laws and arrests for petty crimes like turnstile-jumping and because of institutional racism. But some of them are there because they actually committed violent crimes. You can’t blame it all on institutional racism. My own daughter, I said, is a public defender in the Bronx, but she realizes that not all of her clients are simply victims of a racist system. Some of them actually did what they’re accused of. And, I added, in my opinion, black teenagers don’t do themselves any favors by adopting the gangsta ethic — dressing like thugs, glorifying violence, beating up women. Nobody will hire you if you look like a thug — even Obama said “pull your pants up — there are grandmothers here.” It practically taunts the cops to target you. And once you’ve got a prison record, it’s really, really hard to get a decent job.

A student interrupted to say something like: “Don’t you realize that they don’t have any choice? The system is rigged against them.”

No, I answered, I really disagree with you. People DO have choices. We’re not still living in the age of slavery, we’re not still in Jim Crow, it’s not all rigged. We’ve had a black President, two black Supreme Court justices, many black members of Congress, governors, mayors. There are scholarship programs, there’s affirmative action. People need to take advantage of those things. (That’s where I gave the example we talked about. I said some conservative whites think affirmative action has gone on long enough, but I disagree. Slavery lasted 300 years.* You need more than a generation or two to make up for that damage, so affirmative action should last 300 years at a minimum. And that’s when I said affirmative action wouldn’t have succeeded when a super-smart black kid got into Harvard, it would have succeeded when a dumb black kid got into Harvard because his black grandfather had gone there, gotten rich and left Harvard a lot of money. Because that’s how people like George Bush got into college.)

(An aside: an anonymous student told the Washington Post that I had said: “nepotism is affirmative action for white people.” I no doubt said it at this point in the conversation — to point out that white people who thought the world was a pure meritocracy before affirmative action programs were created were lying to themselves.

(I may have mentioned to the students that I found my own job at The New York Times through nepotism. When I was 22, I had just moved to New York, was applying for journalism jobs and having no luck. I had some older cousins who had a neighbor who was a Times editor. He agreed to meet me and read my college clips. He said I didn’t have enough experience to be a Times reporter, but he would put my name in for a copy boy job. I worked my way up from there, but without that first foot in the door, I wouldn’t be at the Times.)

*(I underestimated. This conversation took place two months before the 1619 Project was published.)

To get back to my email to Barbara:

Then we shifted to talking about poverty. I don’t remember what student questions or statements led to that.

I said: Look, Americans don’t really understand what poverty is. Probably nobody at this table, and nobody they know, has dealt with real poverty by world standards. Poverty under the U.N. definition means living on less than $2 a day. The world’s bottom billion live like that. Lots of people in Africa and Asia do, some people in Peru do. But no one in the U.S. does — you can make a lot more than $2 begging on the subway, there are soup kitchens and food pantries. Poor people in the US don’t die of starvation, whereas I’ve been in villages in Cameroon, for example, where kids died because they lacked 50 cents worth of deworming medicine.

To make the point, I told a story about Bonaventure Salongo. He was assigned as my driver when I rented an Avis car in Zambia. I originally said I didn’t need a driver, but they said insurance became mandatory without a driver, and the insurance was $15 a day while the driver was $5 a day. So I met Bonaventure. He was great — he was a former English teacher, but Avis paid better even at $5 a day. He ultimately became my fixer/translator, so I would pay him $100 a day for that, which the going New York Times rate, so he loved it when I showed up.

At one point, Bonaventure asked me if there were poor people in the U.S. I said yes, there were, but probably not what he meant by poor people. Poor people in the U.S. had hot and cold running water. He said nobody had that in the Zambian townships, the water came from a spigot at the end of the street. I said you could be poor in America — poor enough so that the government gave you money — and still own a TV set. He said “But if you own a TV, you can make money. You can invite your friends over to watch it and sell them beer.” Not only that, I said, but you could be poor enough in America so that the government gave you money — and still own a car. “Now I know you’re lying,” he said. “Because a man who owns a car IS a rich man. He uses it to give people rides.”

That’s when [Leader 2] mentioned her Malawian friend at Hopkins who criticized black Americans in the Baltimore neighborhoods nearby. She said something like: “Now I see where he might be coming from.”

I said, yeah, in my experience there was often tension between African or Caribbean immigrants and some black American because the former came from countries where everyone was black — the cops and the robbers, the rich and the poor, the corrupt pols and the honest ones, etc — and they saw America as a place full of opportunities and didn’t agree with the “I’m a victim, the system is rigged” viewpoint of some black Americans.

That’s as much as I can remember of that conversation.

I think I also told Leader 2 about my kids’ babysitter. She was from Grenada and a single mom. She really pushed her kids to excel, and they got into scholarship programs that sent them to Eastern prep schools. Her daughter was even the hockey team goalie. But when they came back to Brooklyn, their friends would accuse them of “acting white.” That depressed them and made them want to drop out. I thought that was incredibly destructive, I told her.

I’m sure many Americans of many political stripes will take offense at one or another — or maybe lots — of the things I said that night. I’m not trying to appease either liberals or conservatives here. I’m trying to simply be as truthful as I can about what I actually said in Peru, since it has received such a ridiculously disproportionate amount of attention from the American media.

The portrait the Daily Beast paints of a dyspeptic old man abusing students by spouting “wildly racist and offensive comments” is inaccurate. I was trying to engage them in a serious conversation that opened their eyes. Which is what, as a Times Expert, I had been assigned to do.

I did notice that Sophie looked upset during the evening — perhaps close to tears. The next morning, I sought her out after breakfast, and we had a conversation that I remember this way:

I said: “Sophie, I’m sorry things got heated last night. I understand your point of view. A lot of it used to be mine, too. Like I said, I went to U.C. Santa Cruz and Berkeley back in the 1970’s, when everything was about socialism. But 40 years of life and reporting in 60 countries has taught me that life is more nuanced than that. These issues aren’t that simple. They’re more complicated.”

She replied, sounding a little distressed and a little bitter, I thought: “When did you begin thinking like that?”

I said: “Piece by piece, not all at once. Over 40 years. Look, I’d love to talk to you again 40 years from now and see if your thinking has changed at all. But I can’t — I’ll be dead.”

She did laugh ruefully at that.

As I described in part 3, Charlotte at first asked me some questions I couldn’t answer. Slowly, as I thought about them over the next few days, I remembered other moments from the trip. I wrote another email to Barbara and we arranged a second hearing so I could answer them. It says:

I was asked: “Did you make fun of a student’s hometown?”

I remembered this: At some point, some student mentioned that she was from Boston. I said something kiddingly like: “Nice town…except for that baseball team.” She retorted with something like: “Oh, yeah? How long has it been since the Yankees won the Series?”

I laughed and said “OK, you win. I’m not really a Yankees fan anyway. I’m from San Francisco, so, to the extent that I’m a baseball fan at all, I like the Giants.”

She certainly didn’t seem offended. She understood it as NY-Boston/Yankees-RedSox kidding. Maybe someone else didn’t.

I was also asked: “Did you make a joke about doctors and Jewish mothers?

Yes — now I remember that I did. It was NOT that “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” episode with Peter Sagal joking with Michael Bloomberg about whether his mother was disappointed that he didn’t become a doctor.

It’s from a bit of one of the three lectures I gave, the one about me: how I grew up, how I became a journalist, how I became a health writer, what it’s like to work at The New York Times, etc. (It know that sounds egotistical, but the Putney people actually ask us to do it: to talk about our own careers because students are interested. Last year, I made it the third of my three lectures. This year, I was asked to make it the first.)

Parts of it come from the bio bit in the stock speech I give at medical conferences and at med schools.

I explain that, no, I’m not a doctor. My degree is in Rhetoric. That I was pre-med for a year, but when I told my mother what I was thinking, she laughed and said: “Donald, you’re never going to be a doctor. You don’t have the patience to get through medical school.”

And then I always make the same joke: “So, if any of you are wondering what it’s like to NOT be raised by a Jewish mother, that’s pretty much it: you say you want to be a doctor, she laughs at you and says ‘It’ll never happen.’”

In front of medical audiences, that usually gets a laugh. In Peru, it didn’t.

I later remembered that I actually did sing a bit of a song about Boy Scouts during a shaman ceremony, so I wrote another email to Barbara about that:

I’ve been lying awake wracking my brain trying to figure out what the hell the students were talking about. Just now, at 5:30 AM, I suddenly remembered when I did sing a bit of Boy Scout song.

It was during the afternoon/evening with the second shaman, the Incan one. Like I said, it was this endless ceremony that lasted maybe three hours all told from the early singing to the ultimate burning of the sacrifice. But most of it was us sitting on the ground in a circle around him while he built an offering to the gods. I sat so long that I finally had to get up — my butt was killing me, and we were in an abandoned pueblo and I was in the cold draft from the doorway. So I got up and leaned against the wall, out of the wind. Nothing disrespectful. While standing, I also took pictures, but he was clearly fine with that, since others were taking pix too.

At one point, the shaman wanted to open a bottle of red wine he had on his “altar” to pour on his offerings. But he didn’t have a corkscrew. So [Leader 3], one of the three leaders, tried a technique I’d never seen before — he took off his sneaker, put the bottle in the heel, and started pounding the heel against the wall to get the liquid to drive out the cork.

By this point, we were all laughing because it looked like, even if he didn’t smash the bottle and it actually worked, he was going to shoot wine all over us.

After about three whams on the wall, someone said “Wait a minute! I have a corkscrew!” I think it was [deleted], the kid from Spain. And he pulled out a pocket knife with a corkscrew on it and saved the day. And I said: “[deleted], you’re a Boy Scout!” And I sang a bit of Tom Lehrer’s song “Be Prepared” (“Be Prepared — that’s the Boy Scout’s marching song, Be Prepared — as in life you march along, Be Prepared — to hold your liquor pretty well. Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell….”)* Tom Lehrer is a satirist from when I was a teenager and I know bits of a lot of his songs.

So maybe somebody took offense at that.

*(Like a lot of Tom Lehrer songs, that one does have some offensive lyrics, but I never sang those. I believe I only sang the first line or two. I wrote out four lines to show Barbara it was a satire.)

There was also another moment later when I was taking pictures up close as the shaman built his two-sided pile of offerings: He was explaining — at length — which god got sweet gifts and which god got savory ones. One side got crackers and salt and fruit, one side got cookies and candies. And at one point, he solemnly unwrapped a chocolate Easter frog and put it on top of the pile on the left. I was behind him. I smiled — I probably even chuckled silently — and leaned in to get a picture of it. I attach the pic below.

So if one of the teenagers thought I was disrespectful to a shaman by reacting without solemnity to an unexpected chocolate frog, I plead guilty.

But, overall, I was perfectly polite to that shaman, even though I thought the whole thing was hokey. He and his wife came back to our hotel with us with big bundles that turned out to be Incan handicrafts for sale. They sat in the dining area for an hour trying to get the kids to buy. I had the feeling that he does this ceremony for tourists regularly in return for a fee.

I didn’t ask him any questions because there was nothing medical about what he did.

But I did say later to the others — not in his presence — that his ceremony was obviously not strictly Incan, but included stuff from the Catholic mass. [Leader 3], who was sitting next to me, at first seemed shocked said “What are you talking about?” I said, “C’mon, [Leader 3], you’re Colombian. Weren’t you born Catholic? Did you go to Mass? He gave us the coca leaves to eat between two fingers exactly like Holy Communion. Red wine is not an Incan thing — it came from Europe. And that bell he kept ringing is the exact same little bell I rang as an altar boy.” And I think he agreed.

Maybe someone thought that was “making fun” of a shaman but I thought it was a useful observation about cultural exchange.

Obviously, I badly misjudged my audience in Peru that year. I thought I was generally arguing in favor of open-mindedness and tolerance — but it clearly didn’t come across that way. And my bristliness makes me an imperfect pedagogue for sensitive teenagers. Although the students liked me in 2018, some of those in 2019 clearly detested me. I do not see why their complaints should have ended my career at the Times two years later. But they did.

And now I’d like to put this behind me. I had hoped to be remembered as a good science reporter whose work saved lives. Not for this.

* * *

FOUND OBJECT (you supply the caption)


  1. George Hollister March 3, 2021


    by Donald G. McNeil Jr.

    What happened in Peru for Donald McNeil, and company was an expensive, big waste of time. Those “students” get a de facto failing grade. Better to stay home. BTW, there is more to Peru than Machu Picchu.

    • chuck dunbar March 3, 2021

      What a sad, stupid mess of things here. Glad McNeil is telling his side of the mess, and it is a shame he lost his job over all this. He’s right, the world is a complicated place and not so easily fits into neat packages and stories and outlooks. Sounds like a good, dedicated, wise, worldly journalist….

      • chuck dunbar March 3, 2021

        2 more quick thoughts on this one:
        Donald McNeil sounds like a guy I’d like to hang out with, jokes and sharpness and worldly learning and all…
        And, again, thanks to the AVA for finding and printing this piece–I’d seen little references to it all here and there but this puts so much into perspective…

        • George Hollister March 3, 2021

          I think we agree. There is so much to learn when traveling abroad, particularly to a place like Peru, but you had better put your American perspective aside, including your political perspective. If you are going to spend your time arguing about American politics, whatever the narrative, it is best to stay home, and it will save you money as well. Having lived in Peru, I will say, your American political perspective is irrelevant there. You are likely just a dum gringo with money, and nothing more.

          • chuck dunbar March 3, 2021

            Nicely said, George, wise thoughts here from your own personal experience. And yes, we do agree.

  2. Stephen Rosenthal March 3, 2021

    FOUND OBJECT: We’re moving to Texas!

  3. Harvey Reading March 3, 2021

    “China stole your job” cartoon.

    I was wondering when someone would remember that fact… Kaputalist scum right here in the good ol’ us of a stole your job. Don’t forget it this time around, you dullwits!

  4. Marmon March 3, 2021

    The girls on today’s catch of the day look like they could use a big hug.


  5. Dick Whetstone March 3, 2021

    “Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
    Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I’m in
    Should I hate ’em for having our jobs today
    No I hate the men sent the jobs away

    “I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
    All lily white and squeaky clean
    They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need
    Their shit don’t stink and their kids won’t bleed
    Their kids won’t bleed in their damn little war
    And we can’t make it here anymore”

    James McMurtry
    We can’t make it here anymore

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