January 18, 2018


After a whole month, just as I got used to seeing them perched atop the yucca, the loggerhead shrikes have decided to move on. Needless to say, the backyard seems empty without them. And, except for a bluebird in West Virginia long, long ago, they have been the highlight of my amateur birding career.

(Okay, props also to the prairie chicken last year – it’s stay was short, but very entertaining.)

Shrikes are special. First, they are the only songbirds that behave like raptors. They have the same hooked beak as eagles, but they do not have talons.

As a result, they must force their prey to self-destruct, driving them into corners or places where the insect, rodent or reptile impales itself on a thorn or spiky branch. I think that’s why they like our yuccas.(Reportedly, they are also fond of using barbed wire to do the job.)

Doesn’t that count as using tools? Doesn’t it make them smarter than crows? Birds, in fact – I just learned this – don’t have particularly small brains for their body size and what’s more, they have more neurons than most mammals and that is the important part.

The shrike is named for the scream it makes diving to harry its prey – a little orthographical evolution of some sort there – but I can’t figure out why it does that.  Unless the sound is some kind of avian stun-grenade, which maybe it is.

Our pair – they are monogamous and mate for life – may be regular backyard visitors, but no one around here seems to know. They may be refugees from the big fire, but more likely are from the Channel Islands off our coast, which has three kinds of loggerhead shrikes on three different islands.

Loggerhead shrikes are critically endangered but surprisingly the most successful restoration effort has been made on one of those islands by the US Navy. Wikipedia sums it up:

In 1977, the San Clemente loggerhead shrike was listed as endangered by the United States government, with an estimated population of 50. Between 1982 and 1999, the bird’s population was measured between 14 and 33 birds, bottoming out in January 1998.The removal of feral goats and sheep was completed in 1993.

In 1996, the Institute for Wildlife Studies conducted video research on the shrike for the Navy. In 1997, they were asked to come up with a strategy to raise the bird’s numbers. A $3 million per year breeding program was launched in 1999 and new policies were instituted to help the shrike. For example, snipers must aim around bird nests when practicing. Thanks to the program, the bird’s population reached 135 (captive and wild) specimens by 2004.[3] In 2013, an estimated 70 breeding pairs were alive in the wild.

I like the part about the snipers aiming ‘around”…

Here’s my favorite thing about loggerhead shrikes – if you asked countries to design a bird, they would be Japan’s entry. Pale gray, black stripe, white markings confined to the stripe. Simple, striking, utterly elegant. Like a kimono for a bird. I hope they come back.


January 12, 2018

Going through the floor

It’s been a hard winter here in southern California – hellish Santa Ana winds for two weeks, with humidity around 4 percent some days, then the fire (that would be the Thomas fire, now ranked as the worst ever) which burned a huge swath of the Los Padres National Forest as well as homes and businesses) and finally the rain that led inevitably to lethal mudslides.

It hasn’t been an especially atypical winter so far, but it has been extreme. And it’s not over.


Sunset through smoke from the Thomas fire…

But just as the East Coast is recovering from life-threatening cold, the Midwest the same and we from life-threatening drought, comes news that will really set your hair on fire: the oceans are sinking.

Like me, you probably thought they were rising. Well, the water is rising, but the floor is sinking. A researcher in the Netherlands has discovered that the ocean floor is being deformed by the weight of the water coming from Arctic ice melt – sinking last year by about one millimeter. Not very much, really, but that’s planet-wide. Every ocean floor is a little closer to the earth’s crust this year than it was last.

According to ZME Science, “Researchers had known that extra weight could cause the Earth to become squashed, but they wanted to know how much it could be squashed — and this is where the surprises started.”

They had not anticipated as much as that one mm, in short. And what the implications are, scientists can’t really say – it is so completely unprecedented – but there will be some. Right now, the one thing they do know is that they had dramatically underestimated the oceans’ rise, probably by as much as 8%.

What a wonderful species we are. You can find a link to the original publication at ZME Science if you want the gory details.

September 25, 2017

Many happy returns

Best birthday wishes to my fellow celebrants Barbara Walters, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Barbara is 88 today.

lo in field

Lola in the tall grass at the Douglas Family Preserve

To the Douglases, my thanks again for their rescue of 70 acres overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara and their creation of the Douglas Family Preserve – my dog and I think it’s the best work they’ve ever done.

September 18, 2017

One for the books

With 24 hours remaining in the recent legislative session, the California Assembly actually passed three housing bills Thursday night and on Friday the Senate approved them. Now it’s up to Jerry Brown.


Jerry Brown being sworn in as governor in the Seventies.

Call his office and ask that he stick to his promise to sign them.

They aren’t the best of the 132 bills submitted this session, but they are definitely something. SB-2 is basically an increased fee for filing at the county level and will raise – according to the Sacramento Bee – more than $250 million for low-income housing, beginning in 2019.

The state will take 30 percent and the rest will be returned to local governments. It’s not a lot obviously, but it will provide a steady, if modest, flow of funding for new housing.

What you want to do now is keep a very sharp eye on your Planning Board, Mayor, or City Manager – however your local government is set up. Who will manage the money? What is the plan? Is there a plan?

SB-3 allows a bond measure to appear on the ballot next year – it will raise $4 billion for low-income housing and another billion specifically for veterans’ housing.

Finally, SB-35 provides a ‘streamlined’ approval process for affordable housing. You want to watch when the government uses the word ‘streamlined.’ It often means unregulated, so I will take a closer look when time allows.

What is heartening about this news is that a number of representatives commented on the urgency of the housing problem and actually used the word ‘crisis.’

Yes, it’s a drop in the bucket, but finally they are paying attention.

Call Jerry at (916) 445-2841.


September 14, 2017

Wakey, wakey, Californians!

Filed under: commentary — jchatoff @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , , , , ,


[This is not the California Legislature – it is the Congress of Peru, but you get the idea…]

I’ve been a California resident for 25 years now, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen or heard something about our state legislature.  That of course is because I live in Southern California and the media here aren’t all that clear on where Sacramento is.

Admittedly, all politics are local, but for Los Angeles, they are downright parochial. So wake up, Southern Californians – the crisis is real, the crisis is here and steps must be taken.

California should be building about 180,000 housing units a year, but is – and has been for a while – building about half what it needs. And most of those units are high-end because that’s where the money is.

It isn’t that the state and city are unaware, but they seem to be moving at a rate that would shock even FEMA. There were 132 bills related to housing introduced in the legislature this year, but I only know of three that made it to the floor. (I could be wrong here, so I invite you to go to the site and check my numbers – but not until you retire, because they don’t make it easy.)

And in case you haven’t heard, tomorrow is the last day of the current session. Bills that aren’t voted on by the end of the day are dead. Try again in January.

So am I urging you to call or text your rep? No, I am not – I know a trick worth two of that.

We have three months to get organized, to read what’s been suggested so far, urge it’s re-introduction and contact our reps. Or suggest something better. But by the sacred soil of Tara, we will get it together so that no Californian ever goes homeless again!

Next week, specifics.





June 30, 2017

Under the Wire!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 4:42 pm

Just made it – but it’s still June so I can observe my seventh anniversary of blogging on WordPress. A total of 530 posts. They are thin on the ground these days, but I plan to return to a regular schedule soon. In the meantime, resist.

May 31, 2017

The merry month of May

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 8:35 pm

…during which our Glorious Leader continued to eviscerate as many environmental protections as he could get his hands on, dismantle federal efforts to transition from fossil to renewable fuels, created a budget that is positively malicious, cut the Census Bureau budget so severely that the director resigned and shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro out his way.

Census? Nah, we don’t need no stinkin’ census. Just reminds everybody how many poor people there are.

Montenegro, btw, is a tiny slice of what used to be Yugoslavia. The Prime Minister was at the Nato meeting for the first time ever because Montenegro just became a member. It turned out to be an even bigger day than the PM expected once the king of rude demonstrated his lack of manners and it all went viral.

Doctors are saying that DTSD is on the wane and that the population is recovering from Trump shock, but I don’t believe it – anxiety and depression are probably as elevated as ever. It’s just that long-term hysteria is unsustainable.

But it is possible to turn off the tv, avoid social media, and use your phone only to make calls. To spend much of the day talking to plants and animals is truly a nourishing pastime. I have been speaking to the Early Girls for five weeks now and in one or two more they should be ready to pick. I don’t much care what they taste like – I have just been grateful for their company.


Early Girl tomatoes really are – they went into the ground six weeks ago and are ripening fast now.


March 31, 2017

The Peter Principle

When last we spoke I promised in all innocence to provide you with a thorough analysis of what happened to anti-trust law during the Reagan administration.

O those were the days.deer

It was only four days into the current administration and I had no idea I was about to become a deer in the headlights. Now, after more than two months of the new regime, I am still in a defensive posture, trying to focus on the most recent insult to my core beliefs before the next blow falls.

Yet, above all the greed, corruption, destruction of our national value system, intensifying of inequality and just plain meanness – abolish Meals on Wheels? Really? – hovers the golem of ineptitude.

The common fallacy that a good businessman can govern is nonsense by definition; business is not government. Apparently they are no longer explaining the distinction in elementary school.

Part of what we are seeing is what Laurence J. Peter predicted for every organization: since promotion is based on past performance rather than potential to adjust to new requirements, every employee will sooner or later rise to a position for which he or she is completely unqualified.

In short, The Peter principle states that ‘In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.’

I give you the Trunp Administration. A veritable clown car full of Keystone Kops – which would be hilarious if it weren’t so terrifying. I think we must all remain in a defensive posture.

hair-on-fireMeanwhile – in the category of hair-on-fire – supportive as I am of a vigorous free press, I find the alarmist headlines about our ISPs selling our browsing history a bit over the top. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t our searches currently available to whoever? How else to explain the ads I keep seeing for storage facilities from here to Kansas City since I looked up the cost of renting a storage pod a couple of weeks ago.

January 24, 2017

I’m A Believer

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 2:10 pm

For a very long time, I was convinced that if we could not have Paul Goodman’s Jeffersonian anarchy, we should at least strive for universal socialism. But I finally came to the conclusion that socialism only works for small heterogeneous states – in short, for Scandinavia.

These days I espouse full-bore capitalism and I am shocked at how few real capitalists there are.

I doubt there is a single CEO that believes in real capitalism. Never mind what they say – their goal is real monoplo\y. It’s the only explanation for their devouring interest in politics.

Real monopoly wants the world to rely on half a dozen companies for fuel, a handful of media outlets, and privatization of all utilities – just for openers. Real monopoly is well on its way towards owning our water and this – courtesy of Oxfam – is where our food comes from: chart

Real capitalism is defined by competition in free but regulated markets. Just like law enforcement in cities, the government should be there to encourage good behavior and discourage cheating.

That’s why we got the Sherman Anti-trust Act. It prevented the 19th century commercial practices of price-fixing, monopoly and other unethical trade practices.

[Incidentally, did you get your invitation to sign up for a rebate from the dairy industry? If you’ve used any dairy products in the last ten years you can join the class action claim to get your $10 settlement – the industry was found guilty of rigging the price from 2003 until the present in the following states:

Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wisconsin.

To sign up before the end of the claim period on Jan.31, go  to]

Because I am a true capitalist I plan to spend a lot of email-writing energy urging my representatives to restore Sherman to full strength. How it got so sickly will be the next topic.

December 31, 2016

Moving on

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 6:45 pm

There is a great deal to say about 2016, but it is much too soon to say it. Let me mull it over for a bit and I’ll get back to you.

In the meantime, I am celebrating the heavy rains that freed Northern Califormia from the grip of the drought this fall -We went from 40 to 20% of the state officially drought-stricken this year, though we in the south are still on short rations.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous New Year.



Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: