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Off the Record (Dec. 5, 2018)

AT LAST HOPE FOR MEXICO: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), 65, vowed to profoundly transform Latin America's second-biggest economy and to end corruption in the government at the ceremony in Mexico City. 'The government will no longer be a committee at the service of a rapacious minority,' said the new president. Nor would the government be a 'simple facilitator of pillaging, as it has been.' One of Obrador’s first acts was to put the presidential airplane up for sale. It’s a luxury job much like the fleet of presidential planes maintained here in the U.S., world headquarters for wretched excess.

Mexico's first leftist president in seven decades vows to see off 'rapacious' elite as he is sworn in at inauguration ceremony in front of tens of thousands

AN OMINOUS report from the United Nations issued last week says all the current international vows to reduce greenhouse gases won’t be nearly enough to stop the catastrophic destruction of our climate.  Even if every country meets its current pledge to cut back on emissions, global temperatures will still rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2100—nearly double the level that scientists say would cause ecosystems to crumble and put entire countries underwater and great numbers of their populations on the move. This prediction follows our government’s damning report released last week confirming that humans are the primary driver of climate change, and that we’re not doing nearly enough to stop it. Trump slammed his own government’s report by simply stating “I don’t believe it.”

THE CANADIANS ARE COMING. CordovaCann Corp. (“Cordova”) is a Canadian "cannabis consumer products company," betting a lot of money that they can make even more money from massive grows in Covelo. The Canucks are buying up $6.2 million in land and warehouse sites in Round Valley, with a team of NorCal growers as their local brain trust. Here in Boonville, an LA outfit has invested a large amount of money in industrial-scale grow houses visible from Highway 253. Unless the grandchildren of the original back-to-the-land growers can get their product to the East Coast's insatiable appetites, the big boys of the business are in the process of taking over every aspect of California's pot enterprise.

AUDIBLE PROVOCATIONS. Have there always been annoying speech tics or are there more of them lately? I wince at the following: (1) "Have a great day." I'm happy to have any kind of day, and agree totally with what they used to tell us in the Marines — every day's a holiday, every meal's a banquet (2) "That's exactly right." This one's now common in place of a simple yes. (3) "Great question!" We get that one in response to bland inquiries the caliber of 'Will the sun rise in the east'? (4) "It's interesting," says the speaker about whatever he's about to say. Let us be the judge of how interesting your remarks are, please. (5) "Incredibly important." An art show in Ukiah? And of course there's uptalk and, "like," once a harmless adverb, now sprinkled throughout the speech of the young. "Like I said to the dude, like you got some like zuzu's?"

ON LINE COMMENT last week from Jim Armstrong: "I have subscribed to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat for a long time. Delivered with Sunday’s paper was a letter sized ad for 7 day delivery and full “eEdition” and some kind of “app” at $99 for the next year. Fine print excludes current subscribers (like me to whom they sent the ad). Today I got my regular subscription bill: $563.94 for the same year and an almost 20% hike over last year. I wonder where I go for my kiss."

DOUG BOSCO and friends are the kiss of death for the Press Democrat, which hasn't been a must read regional publication since the day the Santa Rosa family who owned it sold out to the New York Times. Enter former Congressman Bosco. Speaking here as an on-line subscriber of the most reluctant type, I think the paper was still worth buying when Mike Geniella was reporting on local matters out of Ukiah. When the paper shafted him for the last time, after several previous shaftings censoring his reporting, and Geniella retired, that was it for the paper's Mendo coverage. What exactly the paper's small army of reporters and editors do all day is a mystery. Given the daily work product, the answer seems to be "Nothing." Charging such outrageous prices for subscriptions for "stories" on restaurants and wineries and police press release re-writes is a sign of desperation. It means the paper is not long for print world and is trying to make up losses by bilking the suckers who still subscribe. And selling off the paper’s real estate, as Digital First, a hedge fund company, has done with  the Ukiah Daily Journal, The Willits News and the Beacon/Advocate. The nut of the prob with the PD lies with the editors. They wouldn't know a real story if it kicked them in the ass. And anything that looks like it might cause unhappiness among their advertisers is a no-go. I'm always sad to see newspapers go, I grew up reading papers, and still try to wheedle yesterday's Chron out of pure force of habit. And I faithfully subscribed to the PD from my arrival in Mendo County. Still do. Reluctantly.

TO GET A SENSE of what is being considered at Old Howard Hospital converted into a Psychiatric Health Facility, we took a closer look at the floor plans as they are currently being discussed.

(Click to enlarge)

OLD HOWARD HOSPITAL is a much larger facility than we thought. And converting it to a 16 bed PHF unit seems to be more capacity than anyone thinks Mendo County would need. But on closer examination, the proposed remodel sketch handed out for discussion at the Measure B Committee meeting this week shows that about half the space is designated as a lock up unit and the other half is a combo Crisis Residential, substance abuse treatment, training and office complex.

THE OTHER IMPRESSION one gets from looking at pictures and diagrams of the site is that it looks like at least two wings were added to the original building since it was first built back in the early 20th Century. The original adobe-looking core building is what appears to be most at risk for seismic damage. The wings may not be as risky and might be easier to remodel.

HOWEVER, even with the combo uses which seem to be under consideration, the proposed facility still looks too big, especially if there’s also a crisis residential facility on Orchard Avenue in Ukiah where the County and Redwood Quality Management previously bought property for that purpose and which is still under consideration.

OPERATING A FACILITY as big as the remodeled version under discussion would seem to be too costly and overly ambitious since it’s hard enough to get professional staff as things are and harder still if capacity is increased this much. Maybe a phased approach will be developed, because setting up the entire Old Howard as laid out in the current diagram and just opening the doors seems way out of scale for Willits and Mendo.

ON THE OTHER HAND, if existing staff currently employed by the County and/or Redwood Quality Management as “helping professionals” can be simply relocated to Old Howard staff jobs, the capacity question would be less vexing.

(Mark Scaramella)

GOVERNMENT. SIGH. The late Martin Becker was an interesting man. Locals will also remember Dot Becker, for years an assistant to Postmistress Thelma Pinoli at the old Philo Post Office. Martin was born in Poland, educated in Egypt. He was the only member of his family to survive World War Two, by which time he was a college student in Minnesota. A skilled linguist, Martin was attached to the first Army units to enter Germany and mop up the final pockets of resistance from the Third Reich. Martin's job was to translate as Army interrogators ferreted out high ranking Nazi war criminals trying to pass as ordinary soldiers. He said most of the interrogators had been American policemen whose interrogation techniques tended to be hands-on, sometimes multiple hands on. Stateside as a naturalized Yankee, Martin always marveled at local government’s seeming delight in complicating even the most ordinary transactions. He'd say, "I remember when government helped people. What happened?"

I THOUGHT about my old friend this week as I read a letter from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, an agency I'd never heard of but soon learned was the new name for the State Board of Equalization, a tax-setting outfit that taxes all of us unequally, with the money raised going to fund state government, grown larger and less helpful by the year.

DEAR TAXPAYER: Your Seller's Permit was revoked on November 15, 2018, as prescribed under Revenue and Taxation Code section 6070. Our records indicate (sic) that you did not file the sales and use tax return for the period: July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018.

I WONDERED how the state could revoke something I never possessed, so I called the Santa Rosa office at the number on the letterhead. A man with a strong Spanish accent answered, so strong I had trouble understanding him. I guess we should pause here for rote denunciations of me as a racist for mentioning the man’s accent. We exchanged mutual unintelligibilities until he clearly and crisply said, "I am transferring you to someone who can help you." After a very long series of rings a female voice mail message spoke in a Filipino accent. I've been to the Philippines so I recognize Filipino-accented English when I pucking hear it! And English-English from American English, and Chinese dialects from Mandarin. And French-accented English from American English. I’ve spent a month in Zamboanga, and you dare challenge my lingual credentials! And we'll pause again for rote denunciations of my racism, although I’m simply reporting what I heard. The Filipino lady's message said she was away from her desk for the rest of her working life but she'd call me back. Well, not exactly, but she might as well have. Of course she never called back. My colleague, The Major, called his attorney for advice. "We got some kinda bullshit form letter from the pucking state saying a license we never had has been revoked. Are they going to make us pay them off?" The attorney calmly replied, "Ignore it. They used to send me those things all the time. I just threw them away and they finally stopped coming."

JUST SAYIN' but Afghanistan, historically a disaster for the nations who've tried to subjugate the place all the way back to Alexander the Great on through more recently the English in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th, is now shaping up as even more of a catastrophe for the U.S. The Taliban controls much of the country and is attacking supposed "safe zones" in Kabul. Prediction: A Vietnam-like roof-top exit coming soon.

TURNS OUT NPR'S film critic didn't recognize one of the most infamous movie scenes ever. Government Radio fired their long-time film critic David Edelstein after he joked about a scene from Last Tango in Paris where the actress said she “felt raped.” Maria Schneider was raped in a scene from the 1972 film, a fact she confirmed decades later when she said, weeping, that during the infamous “butter scene” in the 1972 movie butter was indeed used as lubricant. She said director Bernardo Bertolucci conspired with actor Marlon Brando to spring the unscripted non-consensual sex scene on her at the last moment. After Bertolucci died aged 77 Monday, Edelstein shocked fans by posting an image from that moment between Brando, 48, and Schneider, 19, on Facebook and captioned it: “Even grief is better with butter.”

WE GOT A NICE LAUGH out of the PD’s recent report of the Santa Rosa City Council’s decision “to end free downtown SMART shuttle service amid low ridership, high cost.”

Even at zero cost the “free” shuttle service from downtown was averaging just 20 riders per day, and few if any of those 20 were actually getting on the SMART train it was intended to connect to.

The free shuttle was supposed to connect the downtown SMART station in Railroad Square with Santa Rosa's parking garages and other central city locations such as Old Courthouse Square about a half-mile walk to the east.

PD reporter Will Schmitt went to great lengths to pretend that the process of setting up and then canceling the shuttle was somehow reasonable, reporting preposterous statements of the obvious as if they were noteworthy.

At one point Schmitt said, “The service struggled to attract substantial ridership.” And City transit planner Yuri Koslen followed up with, "Based on the stop-level data, we can see that very few people are using the service for circulation downtown."

The actual cost of the “free” shuttle service was a whopping $13,000 per month. So they racked up a bill of at least $156k going back to last December to carry what would have been a total of 240 people a half a mile at $650 per trip before they finally concluded that the “free” service wasn’t working out too well.

The Santa Rosa City Council also strained to explain the startling waste of time and money. One councilman said that the problem was that it started “mere weeks after the October 2017 wildfires devastated the city.” “[Chris] Rogers [the Councilman] also highlighted the cost of riding SMART … as a possible obstacle for the city shuttle's success.”

A ticket to ride SMART after your $650 free half-mile shuttle trip to SMART averaged almost $50 to get from Santa Rosa to Nowherevsille a few miles away.

The sagacious Rogers also said that, “The average person who would benefit from the shuttle is not actually taking the SMART train because it's too expensive."

Another problem the transportation planner Mr. Koslen noted was that the shuttle was redundant: “Koslen also noted that Santa Rosa's own public buses make numerous hourly trips between the SMART station and downtown transit mall, and that SMART passengers using Clipper Cards receive free transfers to CityBus, making the ParkSMART shuttle ‘slightly redundant’." (Just slightly redundant?)

He left off the more redundant option of actually walking the half-mile.

Schmitt ended his unintentionally hilarious report with, “Steve Birdlebough, chairman of the Friends of SMART group, expressed optimism that any public discussion of the ParkSMART shuttle — even a conversation about its potential demise — might boost ridership in the coming weeks. However, his own experience pointed to the scarcity of passengers on the free SMART bus. ‘I've ridden ParkSMART about four times,’ he said at Tuesday's council meeting. ‘I've been embarrassed by being the only rider along with the driver most of those times, but it is a nice service’."

And that from the “chairman” of the “friends” of SMART!

(Mark Scaramella)

STAND BACK! Ukiah has been named as one the "best hippie towns" in Northern California by the editors of the SF Chronicle, right up there with Bolinas, Fairfax and Occidental, three little towns that haven't been affordable to any but well-heeled hippies since, I dunno, 1980. Mendocino County hasn't been identified as a counter-culture bastion since like forever, has it? These kinds of stories are a measure of newspaper desperation, the thinking apparently being they attract readers. Maybe they do. I read it and looked at all the pictures, too. Ukiah's hippie cred is supposedly established by a photo of a guy standing in a marijuana garden. Whatever "hippie" means to you, Ukiah is just about the last place I associate with "hippie." I can't remember the last time I even saw one, or encountered a person who self-identified as a hippie. Albion was a kind of last bastion, but so many children of Mendo's original hippies did a 180 from the, ah,  random lives of their parents, hippie was pretty much a one generation phenomena. When's the last time you saw a bona fide young person togged out in tie-dye? With the pot business being taken over by the bullet heads of corporate land, another couple of years rimmers will have to wear suits and ties to their interviews.

KATY TAHJA'S History of Mendocino County, covering the past 150 years of our deceptively placid appearances, is finished, the Comptche scholar has announced. In any formal sense there aren't any previous County histories. There's Genocide and Vendetta, if you can find a copy — they go used for upwards of $400 — is a pretty good history of the original White-Indian interface, the gist of which is accurately expressed in the book's title. There's a commercial history circa 1880 sold by subscription at the time by a company which drily listed an area's lead citizens and businesses if enough people bought one beforehand. There are lots of individual memoir-like accounts by old timers, some collections of interviews and, at the crucial Held-Poage Library in Ukiah, a large, random collection of letters, newspapers, artifacts and books pertaining to Mendocino County. But Katy Tahja's the first person I know of who has tried to put the whole show between two covers.

FAIR PLAY for Reuben Foster. Sports fans will recall that the Forty Niner linebacker was hauled into court last year on domestic violence charges. The alleged victim recanted on the stand, but in the meantime the Niners suspended Foster, depriving him of making a living from what he does best — tackling opposing ball carriers for several million dollars a season. Three weeks ago, the same woman, described as Foster's fiancé, again accused Foster of hitting her. This time, the Niners booted Foster clear off the team, not even waiting to see if these second charges were true. Then, when Foster was immediately claimed off waivers by Washington, a deluge of criticism was aimed at the DC football team. All this, and Foster hasn't even entered a plea.

YOU’D THINK CHRIST Himself had gone back up on the cross, and if anybody still needs lessons in how craven our media are G.W. Bush’s exit establishes that obvious fact beyond all doubt. These week-long sendoffs of bad people, and Bush was certainly one, are inflicted on us. I asked around Boonville, “Are you sad Bush is gone?” The answers ranged from, “Who?” to “So what?” I daresay most Americans would answer the same way. (When Joe Biden came on-screen to laud Bush I dove for the remote so fast I spilled my coffee, but not before Clinton came on to do one of his lip biters to fake his sorrow at Bush’s passing. Not to be outdone in phony sentiment and group delusion, the Obamas, and even Orange Man, joined the festival of false feeling and history re-writes. What a country.)

FRIDAY NIGHT at the movies. We sat down to see what we could find on NetFlicks.  I recalled someone telling me that The Kominsky Method was worth 90 minutes out of the only life we'll ever have. Starring Michael Douglas and Allan Arkin it was stupid and vulgar, even by prevalent flimic standards of stupidity and vulgarity. We lasted ten minutes with Kominsky. Back to the NetFlicks menu where we lit on Handia, a genius film in the Basque language about a real life 19th century giant named Miguel Arteaga, whose brother tours Europe to exhibit the giant to save the family farm. A beautiful and poignant story all the way, and the best movie I've seen in a long time. (If you're not moved by it there's something seriously wrong with your emotional equipment.)

PS. The Coen Bros "Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is also highly recommended. It contains a couple of vignettes you won't forget. Pollyannas should stay clear. (Quick Pollyanna test. You are one if you think Joe Biden is credible.)

CHINESE THINKER, JIM GIBBONS WRITES: Can't help but reply to your latest fitness comment in Off the Record (Nov. 21). No, I'm not going to challenge you to a push up contest, I pretty much stopped doing them when I stopped running a little over two years ago. My new routine is less than yours, and my six-pack abs are now a two-pack plus mini keg, not quite 140 pounds yet, so I'm still skinny (everywhere but my belly). Sad, I know, but the good news is I either ride my bike or walk on days I don't play ping pong or go to yoga classes. Your "Chinese Thinker," by the way, is what we yogis call "plank." Good ab workout. We do it both on our hands and forearms. How long can you hold it? This week I set a personal record of three yoga classes. I don't have the discipline to do it at home, but if I pay in advance I feel inspired to go….

ED NOTE: Four minutes, the only time I measured the time I spent in the position, not that I’m what you would call a My Body, My Temple kinda guy. I do just enough to prevent Full Vegetative State.


[1] In the trying times to come, I recommend investing in whiskey, guns, and gold, not necessarily in that order. In a disorganized society, those should see you through.

When people in their deep wisdom tell me “You can’t eat gold.” I answer, “Really, do you eat your federal reserve notes? Do you eat your bond certificates, your jewelry, or your valuable paintings?”  Everything has its proper role and place. You can’t eat hot lead, but it may be useful when someone comes to take your cans of beans.

[2] Real gender dysphoria is extraordinarily rare and yet somehow it is all of the sudden the rage, as if it is fashion or just dress up. How could someone do this to their child? Life is hard enough, let alone add another layer of complexity to a poor child’s mind when they are not even fully developed. It just shows how depraved and sick our society is. Children are not even allowed to just be children any more. Their innocence is purposefully being destroyed by people who if we are honest are basically pedophiles and perverts.

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