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Off the Record (Jan. 25, 2017)

A HUGE NEGATIVE for contemporary demonstrations is the truly awful rhetoric out of the selected (self-selecting in Mendocino County) speakers. Young people turn out in droves for these things only to be force-fed hours of tedium even if they try to pay attention.

YESTERDAY'S march on Washington began with statements of the obvious from Gloria Steinem on through painfully stupid remarks by vulgar "celebrities" like Madonna and other national embarrassments. Any kid who listened to this "leadership" is probably re-considering Trump.

LOCALLY? A reader who attended the Ukiah rally said the first speaker, Estelle Clifton, "was really good and right to the point. After her it was the usual parade of usuals, so a lot of people, like me, drifted off to talk with friends while the whoever they ares droned on."

FORT BRAGG? No idea who spoke out there, but I doubt the rhetoric was any better than Ukiah. (The liveliest, most articulate, funniest, and most pointed local speaker I've seen in years is Rex Gressett of Fort Bragg who comes with a bracing Old Testament look to go with his thundering presentations to the Fort Bragg City Council. Agree with him or not, the guy puts on a great show.)

NOTE TO "ACTIVISTS": Words have meaning. Some people are better at speaking words than others. Yes, Ukiah and Fort Bragg are the rhetorical minor leagues, but where are the major leagues? Frisco's rallies are the same interchangeable collection of self-appointed bores and crackpots, their talking points right outta Democracy Now, but much less coherent. Hell, if a national rally can't manage a single good speaker, how can we possibly expect one in Ukiah?

A READER OBSERVES: “Demonstration speakers. They tend to bore because they mainly screech about the problems, the grievances, the injuries, the threats, and so on. People already know that…which is why they’re at the march to begin with.

What’s needed are speakers who can articulate and present an inspiring vision of what societies based on alternative values can become and how we might arrive at them. Many of us are weary of always hearing about and being ‘against.’ Who can address what we are really ‘for’?”

WERE THERE REALLY 2500 people marching in Fort Bragg against Trump provocations, real and imagined? From the film clips I saw there was certainly a large turnout, as there was in cities of all sizes across the country, and cosmically odd considering that Orange Man hasn't done anything yet.

CHECK THAT. Yesterday (Sunday), he knocked off a mortgage interest deduction for people of modest means, a crumb bum thing to do but a harbinger of great economic crimes to come. But, but, but….. But then on Monday he knocked off the TPP, a great move.

HOMEMADE PLACARDS are always proof of genuine political feeling, and say what you will about Orange Man he's already inspired a major burst of creativity: “Build a wall round Trump, I'll pay for it.” “Chin up, fangs out.” “This pussy grabs back.” “Melania! Blink twice if you want us to free you.”

ONE PATHETIC MALE shuffled along in DC with a sign that read, "On behalf of my gender, I'm sorry."

FATHOM FREED. Perhaps in accordance with President Barrack Obama's commutation of Chelsea Manning, Sheriff Thomas Allman has abbreviated Cap'n Fathom’s stay at the County Jail. The legendary Fathom, aka Alan Graham, the professed bastard son of Mussolini, was released from jail Wednesday and promptly joined the AVA’s Ukiah bureau for whisky and sea stories, his usual foghorn voice tempered by a touch of bronchitis. (Bruce McEwen)

FOR THOSE of you who’ve never enjoyed the Mendo County Jail experience, our jail, like most jails these days, humanely sequesters inmates according to a kind of vulnerability scale. The tough guys — professional criminals, the ultra-violent, gang shlebs etc — are in one unit where, since all of them are quick to deploy force and violence to get what they want, order prevails. The Catch-of-the-Day drunks, dope heads, bums, and miscellaneous screw-ups and incompetents, are pretty much confined together because they are accurately assessed as harmless. Many of them confirm the old joke that goes, “These people weren’t arrested, they were rescued. Extremely violent and or crazy people are shut away by themselves in isolation cells. The Captain Fathom types, the wacky mostly, have their own unit which, from my experience back in the day, reminded me of Monkey Island at the SF Zoo. The goofy guys, many of whom knew each other from the street as out-patients of various kinds, were a merry lot. They sang songs, whistled, laughed at nothing in particular, told each other jokes, played dominoes and cards, and generally seemed to have a great time. Jail was a safe, orderly place for them. I don’t think Sheriff Allman had Captain Fathom and versions thereof in mind when he tried to get a County mental health facility established, but a lot of these guys need something like their County Jail unit only on a full-time basis.

JOHN PINCHES, North County rancher and former Third District supervisor, and Ellen Drell of the Willits Environmental Center, have thrown their hats in the ring for the seat vacated by the troubled Tom Woodhouse. (History note, courtesy of the AVA’s research department: The phrase “throwing hat in the ring” arose when President Woodrow Wilson announced his second term candidacy while attending a circus and literally threw his hat in the ring).

RESUMING NORTH COUNTY candidates: “They, Pinches and Drell, join Willits City Councilwoman and Mayor Holly Madrigal, local school teacher and union representative John Haschak, and Willits Unified school board member and large animal veterinarian Georgeanne Croskey. The AVA prefers the plain-spoken and unfailingly personable Pinches, but it seems to us that the appointment should go to Holly Madrigal, who ran against Woodhouse and narrowly lost to him. The Third District seat has been vacant since early January.

GIANTS FANS will understand this confession from Aubrey Huff as it relates to his schizo performance during his last year with the team: “People think steroids are the biggest performance enhancer, but I think it’s Adderall,” Huff said. “You feel invincible. It helps your mind so you’re more focused, the air is crisp, my eyesight was amazing. ... Then I got off it, and look how bad I was.” Adderall, for those of you unfamiliar with the wonderful world of pharmaceuticals, is an amphetamine.


OUR DEEPLY SUPERFICIAL state senator Mike McGuire has teamed up with San Francisco's middle of the road extremist, Scott Wiener, "to introduce their legislation which would require that any future presidential or vice-presidential candidate must make their tax returns public to appear on the California ballot....“

THE SCRAPPY Healdsburg second sacker, explains: "Donald Trump claims that no one besides the media cares about the transparency and accountability that comes with the release of tax returns. That’s not true. I care, and my constituents care."

I ASKED the next five people who walked into the office if they, as Mikey's constituents, "cared" about Trump's tax returns. Replies ranged from "No" to "Hell, no," with one guy going completely off: "Why doesn't that little press release clown do something real for a change!"

Kevin Starr

THE LOCAL ANGLE: The late and justly celebrated historian of all things California, Kevin Starr, died last week. Starr spent five years of his childhood at the Catholic orphanage in Ukiah called the Albertinum. Starr's parents had separated, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, but when she had recovered herself she retrieved Starr and his younger brother from the nuns and took them home to San Francisco. Both Starrs went on to lead productive lives, Kevin Starr a notable one.

THE ALBERTINUM was on the West Side of Ukiah. Its premises still are. After the Catholics came Greeks bearing gifts, and the site became a home for troubled children presided over by the Greek Orthodox Church. Post-Greeks, it then lay abandoned until recently when it was purchased by the Buddhists based at Talmage. Looked at on the faith continuum, the Muslims are next in line.

MANY GRADUATES of the old Albertinum orphanage retain fond memories of their stays there and still keep in touch via a kind of on-line alumni association. The mythology has it that orphanages were hellish institutions for children. They weren’t. The same mythology applied to state hospitals says that they, took, were torture chambers for the mentally ill. Some were, some weren’t, but California’s weren’t, and the institution at Talmage was a model for the entire country, and exactly what we need in this country now.

BEFORE AMERICA lost its way — It happened in 1967. I was there. I saw the whole thing — orphanages throughout the United States provided safe, stable homes for children whose parents were unable to care for them. In the late 1960s, that same pool of essentially orphaned children either became fodder for unstable, serial foster homes, or were declared "disturbed," warranting an expensive array of helping professionals to steer them on into chaotic adult lives.

HERE IT COMES! Mendocino County's annual homeless hunt. Er, count, technically called the Mendocino County Homeless Services (MCHS) Continuum of Care. Translation: A lotta government grant money depends on a high count. ($1.7 mil) Therefore, Hospitality House of Fort Bragg, for which the homeless are crucial funding units, is asking for volunteers to literally beat the bushes for big bucks. Think of it as a kind of Easter egg hunt. A bona fide homeless person will lead two-person teams to homeless lairs in a count that will begin at 5am on Thursday, January 26th, long before the homeless have arisen but while they’re still countable. If you can find them. No word yet on when the Ukiah count begins, and Willits doesn't count at all since it doesn't really offer much in the way of homeless "services."

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, before he went over to the other side, in both senses, said that the essence of American politics "is the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of public opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently ‘elitist.’ It is no great distance from Huey Long’s robust cry of ‘Every man a king’ to the insipid ‘inclusiveness’ of [Bill Clinton’s slogan] ‘Putting People First,’ but the smarter elite managers have learned in the interlude that solid, measurable pledges have to be distinguished by a reserve’ tag that earmarks them for the bankrollers and backers.”

TRUMP-OBAMA-THE CLINTONS TO A TEE. He made a lot of windy promises today that cheered struggling and/or unhappy white people, but his crackpot appointments, and from what can be gleaned from his vague policy statements, Trump is just another Republican, a more candid Republican than most, but a Republican. Lower taxes on the rich; blank check for the military; economic nationalism; green light for the cops to crackdown on black people, aka what Trump calls the "carnage of the cities."

MENDO GADFLY John Sakowicz has been selected to serve on the Ukiah Valley Sanitation District's board of directors. Sako was one of four candidates. The District is in a complicated and protracted legal battle with the city of Ukiah over what the Sanitation District says Ukiah owes them for back payments for sewer hookups. The Sanitation District says that Ukiah's accounting department (which does the books for the Sanitation District) has been underpaying the Sanitation District for decades and using the "savings" for nebulous and inappropriate city services. The Sanitation District probably has a point, but figuring out how much the City owes the District (they share the plumbing; federal grants are involved with all the associated strings, etc.) will take a long time with both sides spending lots of money on lawyers. Clearer heads of the type no longer holding official positions in Mendocino County would have split the difference long ago and saved all the legal costs and hassles. If Sako wants to make a difference, he should try to come up with a settlement that his new Sanitation District Board members would like and that gets the City and the District out of court and out of the hands of lawyers.

SAKO WRITES: “On the merits, UVSD’s lawsuit vs. the City of Ukiah is winnable. Both the facts and the law support UVSD (Ukiah Valley Sanitation District). The evidence, although going back many years and a bit esoteric, as it’s based on a lot of forensic accounting, is strong. The case is winnable for the UVSD, but at what cost? That is the question. Personally, I love the idea of a consolidated water and sewer district in the Ukiah Valley. As a start, I think the City should transfer its sewer interests to UVSD. I’ll explain: Cities should primarily be in the business of public safety — police, fire, ambulance and emergency medical services, and inspection and code enforcement — and not in the business of public utilities. I don’t know how it came to pass that Ukiah, a small city of only 17,000 people, became an “empire” of public utilities — electric, water, sewer, plus all of Ukiah’s RDA (redevelopment) projects. Nor should a small city like Ukiah have a payroll of over 300 employees, and be paying its city manager a total compensation package of $251,669 in 2016, with numerous other city employees making more than $200,000 (in total pay and benefits).

(ED NOTE: According to there were 36 people making over $100k as Ukiah employees in 2015, the last year posted. With benefits, that number rose to more than 100 people making over $100k in pay and benefits, and 11 making over $200k in total pay and benefits. All this for a city of fewer than 17,000 people!)

SAKO CONTINUES: “Back in November, the City of Ukiah claimed to be so broke it needed to pass a special tax to fix its potholes, remember? Baloney! Ukiah spends money on the wrong things and does a lot of creative accounting to come up with enough to cover its budget shortfalls, including over-billing the UVSD. Another example of City mismanagement and creative accounting is the old Vichy Springs dump. Closed in 2001, it has yet to be capped and sealed, despite raising the ire of state and federal environmental agencies. Why? Why the delay of 15 years in the environmentally fragile Sulphur Creek watershed area? Why, indeed? Is the money really there in an enterprise fund to fund the cap and seal job? Or does the City play a game of find-the-pea with its various enterprise funds to cover shortfalls in other areas? Ukiah is not a sympathetic defendant. I think a settlement between the UVSD and the City of Ukiah is achievable in mediation, but Ukiah will have to make concessions. In any case, Ukiah should also downsize.

UVSD, for its part, must realize the total burden this lawsuit is putting on the City. Added together, the lost opportunity costs with “purple pipes” and other capital improvements, the lower credit rating, the missed bond refinancing, the litigation costs, and the emotional costs, are crushing for the City of Ukiah. The case is winnable for the UVSD, but at what cost? That is the question for both the City of Ukiah and the UVSD. What is the middle ground? How do we get there? I pray it happens sooner than later. And I hope to be a leader in going forward. John Sakowicz, Ukiah

A READER NOTES: “I don't think Ukiah has 200 employees unless you are counting seasonal workers like lifeguards and summer kid’s programs. There is a lot to criticize about the way the city is run, but the Sanitation District lawsuit is using the money from one group of ratepayers to sue another group of ratepayers. The approx $4 million in attorney fees and any settlement will be paid by the ratepayers. The $4 million for the attorneys is money that will never repair a leaky pipeline, pay for upgrades, or employee salaries. It is money lost forever to the system.”

TOMMY WAYNE KRAMER WRITES: “I’m almost done reading a book by James Gavin called ‘Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee’ but I keep returning to page 352 where this little gem is slipped in. Allow me to quickly set the stage. Miss Peggy Lee was dining with Truman Capote and Dotson Rader at an expensive Beverly Hill joint called Le Restaurant. “…Lee brought up the subject of past lives. According to Rader, she explained: ‘I’ve been reincarnated many times. I’ve been a prostitute, a princess, an Abyssinian queen.’ ‘Oh really,’ asked Capote. ‘What do you remember?’ ‘I remember being a prostitute in Jerusalem when Jesus was alive. I remember the crucifixion very well. I’ll never forget picking up the Jerusalem Times and seeing the headline “Jesus Christ Crucified.’”


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One Comment

  1. Harvey Reading January 25, 2017

    The Peggy lee anecdote was hilarious.

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