KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. Black Bird Farm is still mostly known locally as Highland Ranch, ancestral home of the late Charmian Blattner, the Redwood Empire's longest-running print columnist. When Charmian was a girl, Highland was a long haul across the Navarro River and on up into the hills. These days, visitors can drive in off Greenwood Road.
THE PROPERTY became well-known as Highland Ranch under the gentlemanly auspices of George Gaines, about whom a negative word has never been heard. Mr. Gaines developed the property as a comfortable, high end retreat for comfortable, high end people. Not long ago Gaines sold Highland's lush 200 acres to the Hall family of Los Angeles. Jamie Hall, a young woman still in her twenties, daughter of John and Joan Hall, presides over the Highland property, now re-christened as Black Bird Farm and organized as a tax-exempt non-profit.
JOHN AND JOAN struck it rich in the oft-plundered gold fields of public education funding. The Halls were teachers at Hollywood High School when they discovered a particularly lucrative loophole in public education funding requirements, and very soon the Halls were multi-millionaires via a chain of store front charter schools called Options for Youth and Opportunities for Learning, paying themselves some $600,000 annually to run their publicly funded schools, a nice step up from their previous salaries at Hollywood High.
THE OPTION most frequently exercised by Options For Youth seems to have been millions in private profits for the Hall family. In 2006, a state audit concluded that the Halls had been "overpaid" by the state to the tune of $57 million, but since they'd been operating inside California's notoriously lax school funding guidelines, the Halls had done nothing illegal. They got to keep the money, some of which apparently made its way to Philo where more than $3 million was spent to buy Highland Ranch from George Gaines. The Halls also own a lavish ranch in Colorado.
THE HALLS set up a charity run by their daughter Jaimie seeded with $10.8 million, and it's that charity that seems to be the funding device fueling the fortunate Miss Hall's Black Bird Farm in Philo. Black Bird says it's an organic farm that brings in underprivileged youth for stays in lavish rural circumstances the individual underprivileged youth probably hasn't even seen on television. EXCEPT for the ranch foreman, all the old Highland Ranch employees have been sent packing. They say the Halls first drove down their pay to minimum wage then sacked them.
THE TRUE STATE of the economy: "As 2013 progresses, a further downturn will become visible through the orchestrated statistics. This time the Fed will have to get the printed money past the banks and into the economy, and inflation will explode. The dollar will collapse, and import prices–as globalism has turned the US into an import-dependent economy–will turn high inflation into hyperinflation. Disruptions in food and energy deliveries will become widespread, and a depreciated currency will cease to be used as a means of exchange. I wouldn’t bet my life on this prediction, but I think it is as likely as the Fed’s prediction of a full recovery that allows the Fed to terminate its bond purchases and money printing by June 2014. Americans, who have been on top of the world since the late 1940s, are not prepared for the adjustments that they are likely to have to make. And neither is their government.
(Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is The Failure of Laissez-Faire Capitalism. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format.)
HEATHROW CONNECTION. In the shrouded mists of its long-ago youth London’s Heathrow Airport had two terminals: Europa and Oceana, titles worthy of Lancelot and the Lady of the Lake. What romantic names to inspire visions of pith-helmeted explorers mapping the unsteady earth in the name of Queen, country and commerce. Now the mega-airport has grown to five terminals, but with the swelling has come modernism’s usual handmaiden: numbing mediocrity. Europa and Oceania are now named #2 and #3, making them easier to distinguish from their three new sibling terminals, but woefully less interesting. Yes, it makes it easier to navigate, but so do freeways and bulldozers. And every their ugly proof that architecture and civic responsibility are cost-conscious Orwellian utilities, like a three-hole punch to keep our thickening surveillance folders in easily accessible fighting trim. Whatever the terminals are called, and however many CCTV cameras recorded each sleep-deprived step, I land in Heathrow with my cousin and brother, bound for Edinburgh. We stumble through the post-Arthurian haze and embark on a sinister if banal dance to our connecting flight. After being herded off the plane and down a wheeled staircase onto the tarmac, we worm our way onto a shuttle bus that crawls like a meandering snail across acres of exhaust-streaked asphalt until stopping at the next checkpoint. Once papers and ID are approved we pass through grey double doors and, like slabs of meat on a slaughterhouse conveyor belt, up a tall escalator. A jog to the left (or maybe right) puts us into the belly of a beast-like shopping emporium. Perfume girls offer samples of Lurid by Calvin Klein, Sniff! by Casa de Escobar, and Dead Honey Bee by Monsanto. Newspaper vendors sell risqué tabloid gossip alongside dire warnings that fascism is patiently stomping the last vagabond sperm cells from the twin testicles of freedom and justice, to achieve the corporate state’s aim of leaving the planet genderless, hopeless and lost. After fighting through the clouds of toxic sweet we slog through boutiques kitted out with Milan’s disposable latest, pharmacies selling ear plugs and codeine, and numerous outposts of the British coffee chain, Nero. One imagines the Roman Emperor-God himself on a 23-hour Heathrow layover, soaking in the many hotel rooms for hire, cash vendors every 50 yards, and legions of nervous plebeians waiting for the Vandal hordes to put the torch to the empire. Amused and consoled by the cafés bearing his name, one imagines Nero grabbing a handful of this strange new money from his own coffers, or (more likely) a quick Caesarean swipe across cashier’s tempting doubloons. Beyond the screaming ghosts of tyrants and commercial jingles we take a grain elevator down to a subway platform. A gleaming train arrives, disgorges its human cargo, and we step into a clean, well-ventilated car that goes nowhere. Either robots or the invisible operator says, “Stand away from the doors” or some such kindly edict from Big Brother/Sister/Undecided. A mocking minute passes. We cattle begin to shift in our pen. Finally, just as the collective conscious begins to panic, an identical train arrives on the opposite site of the platform, causing several harried passengers to dash to the new chariot sent by Claudius or Cicero. Finally our train’s doors shut, and we’re whisked down the bright tracks for 180 seconds and WHISH out again onto another identical platform and another steep escalator – make that two escalators stretching side by side towards Mt. Olympus! Double the capacity, half the time! The motorized staircase has a magic effect on my psyche. To be mechanically transported at a leisurely pace is a sign that somewhere in the overwhelming cosmic dark flickers a kind and nurturing force. It’s a fairy tale I repeat to myself, enjoying the slight tingles of vertigo. For if we are traveling, then maybe someday we actually arrive. (—Z)
DEBBIE L. HOLMER, archivist of the Fort Bragg Advocate, remembers that 102 years ago, June 20th, 1911, “Jack London, the celebrated novelist, accompanied by his wife and a Japanese servant, drove into town behind four little ponies. The North Bay Counties Association has engaged this prominent writer to write an article for Sunset Magazine, boosting the resources of the seven counties. After a short visit, Mr. London left for Eureka Tuesday afternoon and intends to make a complete tour of the seven counties collecting data for his articles. This makes Jack's second visit to Fort Bragg. He passed through here on horseback for the first time shortly after the great earthquake and states that he is surprised to see the rapid strides of improvement our little city has made in the last few years.”
Three Days of Peace, Love, And...Raindrops?
by Steve Heilig
“I did not tell half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed” — Marco Polo, 1324
Rain? In late June? Sure California sorely needs it, but the forecast did make the honchos at the 20th annual Sierra Nevada World Music Festival a bit apprehensive. Early Sunday morning, while walking out by the high school and health center, it began drizzling as if things might get seriously wet, the dog looked at me like I was nuts for dragging him all the way out there from downtown, and I was reminded I had no rain gear nor umbrella. But it let up, to remain a light intermittent sprinkle that caused no real woes, and later a fast-talking wild-eyed woman wearing a sliced-up unstuffed stuffed lion on her head informed me she had “taken care of the rain thing” via some voodoo-type stuff she had “learned at Burning Man last year.” Whatever works.
Prior to that reassurance, I had briefly envisioned in the fairgrounds a sprawling muddy trashy mess reminiscent of the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival (theme: “Three days of peace, love, and music"), but the sun played hide-and-seek throughout Sunday instead, raising a kind of semi-tropical steam, and it was actually a nice respite from the heat of days before. Pretty much everything else went smoothly too. By Sunday evening, an eighteen-year veteran of medical services at SNWMF reported, well, nothing; the firefighters said they had nothing to fight; staff at the local stores reported their usual busiest weekend of the year; law enforcement had only tangled with a handful of underage drinkers, my traditional morning trashwalk yielded only two plastic bottles the whole length of town, and a loud nonstop-lecturing guy (there always seems to be at least one) in front of Mosswood Sunday morning yelled into his cellphone “I'm at that festival! Where? I don't know! Boonieville! Where's that? I dunno! But it sure is pretty and peaceful here, man!"
The big and broad musical roster went off with nary a hitch as well, once the last-week cancellations of a couple key acts were taken care of (with replacements by stars of equivalent fame and quality, no small feat, that). As always, the mix was dominated by reggae music, leavened with African, Latin, and some other flavors. Two stages run simultaneously from late morning to late night; choices must be made, but they are happy ones. On the small “village stage” one can have a Sunday brunch show with older reggae founding figures like key Jamaican duo Keith & Tex — actually they do Motown-like “rock steady,” briefly-lived 1960s step in the evolution of Jamaican music from jazz-like ska to reggae, having been together since 1967 — and Errol Dunkley with a few hundred dancing nearly-ecstatic fanatics. Or one can dance with a similar-sized joyful crowd to the funkified sound of San Francisco's Afrolicious, or hear irresistible Columbian dance music from Candelaria, some heavy roots from St. Croix (Virgin Islands). Abja & The Lions of Kush, or feel a deep trancelike sound of proto-Rastafarian drumming by Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus — to pick some highlights from each evening. There are always pleasant surprises there, and a respite from the louder, more crowded “valley stage” where the bigger-named acts tend to appear.
Some other musical highlights? As promised by festival chief Warren Smith, the Korean band Windy City enchanted a large Saturday afternoon crowd with a unique, eastern-tinged take on reggae and dub, and seemed genuinely grateful to be there — they bowed to the crowd, and to each other, to start things off, and I was told they even did so to the van driver who brought them to town. Leroy Sibbles, a founding member of The Heptones, one of reggae's most revered harmony trios, energized the whole arena with a sort of history lesson on Jamaican music. More modern reggae roots star Luciano, one of the late replacements, repeated his performance from last year, standing somersault included, and likewise got a big ovation (and warned, seemingly apropo of nothing, “don't get hooked, on Facebook"). Don Carlos, the other late fill-in and another roots reggae veteran, was in top form as well. Sunday afternoon's African/French showcase was superb, with rousing reggae by the French band Danakil, an even more intense set by Fatoumata Diawara from Mali, and Bombino's blend of Saharan blues and Jimi Hendrix (Diawara was stunning both musically and visually, and her story is inspiring; Bombino's a nomadic Touraug, and his life story to date is also worth looking up). Other female energy was provided by Marcia Griffiths and Sister Carol, who both put on very strong sets of positivity.and Hollie Cook, who was a bit, well, chirpy for my taste and was called “a delightful little kitten” by one announcer, which struck some as a bit sexist but must have been accurate in his view. Her musical partner/producer Prince Fatty did double duty as a fine DJ and performer. There were dancers and drummers most everywhere you looked, especially on the lawn in between the stages — if one could get past all the tempting food and drink purveyors. Festival closer Alpha Blondy, a temperamental veteran star from the Ivory Coast who sings in multiple languages not only showed up, but got onstage almost on time, and wowed the crowd, some of whom had come just to hear his first appearance at this festival.
I missed some acts I'd wanted to see, but that's unavoidable. A bit less wow-ing, for some of us, were the brothers Marley — Damian and Stephen, sons of Bob Marley and what they call collectively their “Ghetto Youth Crew.” A renowned reggae legend who knew Marley senior once scoffed “Ghetto youth, them? — Only ghetto them youth have seen is from a jet airplane.” In other words, they might be seen to be playing a role, banking on their dad's legend, and/or debasing his legacy a bit with some rude-sounding “dancehall” music. But the youth dem love it, as they say in Jamaica, so who am I to criticize on that level; It's hard to follow in the musical footsteps of a world-idolized musical figure — whatever happened to Frank Sinatra, junior? Sean Lennon? Etc? But these guys try, as they drew a sellout crowd of mostly younger fans on Saturday night, so they must be doing something and must be doing something right (besides multiple product 'brand' marketing of things like “Marley's Mellow Mood” drink, which is mostly sugar water, at this fest given away freely by some very alluring product representatives). Again, whatever works — I guess.
They were undeniably loud, too. The bands stop earlier than they used to, but can certainly be heard outside the fairgrounds. The next morning, while I sat reading a front-page New York Times story about how pot cultivation destroys animal habitats and nature in general via various transgressions, including water diversion (shocking; and, sounds familiar?), a number of locals who chose to remain nameless were complaining about the roar and rattle. “It shook my doors and windows last night,” one said. “We're still trying to figure out how to mitigate the impact of all this sound at a time when the fairgrounds is in trouble financially” said another. While all seemed to admire the dedication and sensitivity of the festival organizers, “It's still got to be tweaked a bit” seemed to be the sentiment. One person identified as a doctor opined that such noise could “damage the human chest,” a seemingly dubious assertion given that thousands of chests inside the fairgrounds, where it was much louder, seemed to be quite healthy. But “They're going to hear about it,” predicted one local, adding “there's got to be some way to turn it down.” Some folks then stuck around to solve the looming national and international challenges of national security, immigration policy, affirmative action, gay marriage, climate change, and the San Francisco Giants. All in a morning's work, but we had to move on, as my dog had his barking appointment with the numerous tough junkyard-types in the front yards up and down 128 — although he only yells back if there is a secure fence preventing actual encounters.
Whatever one might think or say, it is undeniable that the “vibe” in the festival is one of true “niceness” (a Jamaican term that means just what it would seem to). Jamaica has been called “the loudest island in the world” for how far and wide its music has spread. Thirty-two years after Bob Marley passed on, “Somehow, wherever you go, you will hear Marley there” said old pal Charlie from Point Arena, who related he once heard Bob Marley music on the Ganges in India (likewise, I heard his songs in the Sahara desert). “Whatever you are going through in life, Bob wrote a song about it,” another festival attendee said. “I have two grandkids named Marley” said another (in my own experience, those are usually dogs). Obviously Marley is just the most visible public representation of reggae, the music's enduring worldwide icon. It is striking to see his messages of struggle, spirit, unity, and yes, ganja live on in a multiple-generation gathering decades on. It's not your average all-American gathering. The words of so many reggae songs are serious messages and questions, like “What is the future of the human race?” — not what one tends to hear pondered in the dominant hip-hop/pop tunes of our time. If you think about some of the likely answers to such questions, things can look dark quick. Most SNWMF attendees are clearly there for a good time only, and they get that. For this one weekend, anybody who makes the trip to Boonville can get a whole year's worth of not only music, but smiles, hugs, good and sometimes wackily fascinating conversation, tasty healthy food, equally good libations, fine views of the surrounding hills, and probably much more that, like Marco Polo, I will omit. Because you really had to be there and might not believe it if you weren't. ¥¥