CONTEXT

August 31, 2016

What I did this summer

Filed under: commentary,history — jchatoff @ 7:17 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Not very damn much, to tell the truth. June and July just kind of slid by, the weather generally mild – often below normal – and pretty benign compared to the rest of the country.

At least until this month, when the wild fires started. They got quite close and for several days the air was nasty and cars were covered with ash.

IMG_5134

Sunset through fire smoke.

It didn’t last too long though and soon things went back to normal here in Pleasantville – normal until Sunday night, when an aggressive raccoon decided to make a meal out of my little Doxie-MinPin mix.

She’d barked just once and then run out of the room, barrelling through the screen door to chase the intruder off the porch. Seeing her mistake almost immediately, Lola turned and headed for the safety of the living room.

But the raccoon wouldn’t let go of her back leg until my sister-in-law grabbed a broom and whacked the crap out of him.

So we wound up in the pet ER and Lo came home with a big bandage on her foot and a pack of meds. The docs and techs were great and she seemed to be the only patient, so while we waited, we got into a little convo with the receptionist and I don’t know how – probably my doing – we started talking about Social Security.

She was shy of 30 I think, and mentioned in passing that she doubted that there would be any benefits for her by the time she retired and it just made me feel so sad.

It isn’t only the pitiful job market, student loans and climate change that have been dumped on Millenmials, it’s also the shocking inadequacy of mass media, which delights in fear-mongering and which can’t be bothered to provide actual facts.

Here’s a fact: Raising the cap or raising the tax – or both – would make benefits available for the indefinite future.

As it is, we are good until 2030.

At the moment, the cap is $118,500. After that amount, no SS tax is deducted. If you make 300,000 or 3 million, you pay FICA only on the first 118,500.

Raise that by 100,000 and every Millennial can enjoy a spartan but predictable old age like the rest of us.

For more actual facts, check out The Motley Fool: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/02/10/6-key-facts-about-social-security.aspx

May 15, 2016

Let a thousand salvias bloom…

…because, depending on who you talk to, there are as many as 2,000 species and so you can.

Some botanists insist there are only about 700, but there is a perfectly acceptable list of 986, so I’m sticking with that. Wikipedia has a list of them and just under the letter A you will find almost 80 salvia species.

rhea

Salvia farinacea ‘rhea’ – a beautiful blue, but a tiny bit water-needy

What’s good about salvias is that most of them are not only drought-tolerant, but are uncomplaining when it comes to mediocre soil, which makes them an excellent landscape plant here in Southern California. And all the places that will soon be just like Southern California.

Most of them are also extremely popular with pollinators, which, as we all now know, is a very important aspect of home gardens.

Salvias are the largest genus of the Lamiaceae or mint family – hilariously also known as the deadnettle family -and include shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals. And compare their variety, for instance, to their cousins the lavenders, which number only 39.

The name comes from Latin salvere, which means to heal, to feel well – clearly it’s been a medicinal herb for a very long time. Generations have used it for tea, though these days it is used primarily I suspect for its flavor, especially at Thanksgiving, when everyone touts their sage dressing.

Salvia_officinalis0

Garden sage. Photo by Kurt Stuber

Thus, Number One on the very long list of salvia species is Salvia officinalis, garden or common sage.

Salvia divinorum is also pretty well known, since it has psychotropic properties. And another member of the family – chia – is familiar to most people, though I was surprised to find it in the salvia family.

A lot of what makes salvias salvias has to do with the flower, which has a kind of orchidish look, but for all the gory details about the calyx and corolla, you’ll have to find your own way to Wikipedia. I still can’t keep my racemes and panicles straight.

Because they are low-maintenance and good for pollinators, I have recently become a huge salvia fan and I would like to share a great resource with you – http://www.fbts.com.

That is the link to Flowers by the Sea, a nursery in Mendocino CA that specializes in salvias and ships from now until mid-June. They literally have hundreds of salvias to choose from and the website is loaded with info. Go right to ‘Getting Started with Salvias’ and they will even tell you what’s best for your planting zone.

In any event, you can heal your garden and your water bill and make the world a better place for bees and butterflies this year, one salvia at a time.

IMG_4697

A lovely pink salvia I saw at the nursery – sorry, I don’t know its name, but there are many pinks to choose from.

April 19, 2016

Unequal pay days, Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 7:41 pm

Well, that was easy -thanks to a website called facethefacts.org, the effect of gender bias on paychecks all the way through our sunset years is right out there.

The two little dimes that women don’t get when dollars are being handed out add up, on average, to  $3,600 every year of retirement. Here’s the nice graphic:

wages

So, there you have it. Women are still living a little longer than men,  but if you think they’re having more fun, forget about it. You can find them during the last week of the month at the food bank or outside Whole Foods looking for donations.

*  * *

Californians, heads up – an Assemblyman from San Diego is trying to get rid of the Coastal Commission and flogging the bogus argument that cities and counties can handle our beautiful coast more effectively.

No, no, no. Never mind all the obvious arguments in favor of state-wide environmental policy, riparian rights enforcement and the fact that cities and counties can’t hand off their beach responsibilities to the state fast enough.

No, the true test of the California Coastal Commission – which has been an official non-partisan, quasi-judicial body since 1976 – is that over time it has managed to outrage everybody at least once.  You can’t ask for more.

Unless of course you are a rich person in Malibu determined to keep the hoi-polloi  out with fake No Parking and No Beach Access signs or that bane of modern American life, the Developer.

So if you can find out who represents you on the shadow planet Sacramento, tell them no messing with the CCC!

coast

 

April 12, 2016

Happy Pay Equity Day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 8:11 pm
Tags: ,

Or equal payday or pay day or something. Not very catchy and what does it mean anyway. And why April 12?

Ah, well, once you know that, you know everything. Here is how the White House visualizes it:

chart

Got that? Women work 15 and a half months to earn the same money men earn in 12 months.  (For comparable work, etc.)

Elizabeth Warren calls it a national embarrassment, quite rightly.

Whether or not anyone will correct this shameful situation is debatable – we have, after all, so many shameful situations to correct…

What I would like to know is, what are the ramifications of this discrepancy when men and women reach retirement age? Are the 20 million-plus women receiving Social Security benefits on average receiving 20% less?

Okay, I am not going into the weeds on this, trying to figure out how FICA deductions are affected, because I honestly haven’t a clue – I’ll ask the SSA and get back to you with their response.

box factory

These ladies working in a box factory would have liked a little gender equity. LoC

 

December 30, 2015

Eyes only

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 3:43 pm

This, the sixth and last blog of the year, is meant for a very small number of readers, possibly even just one, the one who will continue the work of family history.

Fact is mixed a bit with some fiction here, but I have carefully noted whenever a case is not documented. And I cannot tell the story without some invention.

tee

My Findagrave t-shirt

I begin with John, the first of our ilk, who was transported in 1676. I use the word ‘ilk’ deliberately/ for its Scottish origins, which I think John was. But all I know for sure is that he was brought from England by someone who very likely received about 50 acres of land for paying for his passage – and its likely he was indentured.

John arrived in 1676, 40 years into the settlement of Maryland, one of about 35,000 settlers, and like many he was too poor to pay his own way. That’s all we know a bout him.

He may have been the father or even grandfather of the first documented citizen. one Nathaniel of Charles County, who married Elizabeth in 1715 and produced at least four sons that we know of. This Nathaniel was doing okay, his wife having brought him 100 acres of land for tobacco production. Tobacco had been and was still the specie of the colony. You paid your taxes to Lord Baltimore with tobacco and bought more land with it.

That 100 acres. known as Churchover. came to Elizabeth from her mother, Jane Smith, who had received it as a dowry from her father, John Smith.

That land may have taken the family from the laboring class to landowners for the first time, because four generations later, boys were still being named John Smith.

So, at the time of the Revolution, the family could be said to have prospered. but afterward, things were a little dicey. Nathaniel and Elizabeth had another Nathaniel, born in 1723, and he and his wife Mary had 9 children, of whom at least seven had issue.

Divvying up the land – increasingly worn out by tobacco farming – would leave everyone hanging by a thread and so of the eight kids surviving, one took off for western Maryland and claimed his land patent, two girls married and became part of the Catholic migration to Kentucky and another boy also went to Kentucky, though not as a Catholic.

Kentucky had a lot to offer. It was still a frontier, but with good land that could be homesteaded and it wasn’t too hard to get to. In fact the Ohio River was the Route 66 of the 18th century – small towns peppered it on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides.

All you had to do was get to Wheeling WV, and you could do that via the Cumberland Road.

But then came the War of 1812 and afterward, a great push to expand the frontier and so Congress was very generous with land patents to vets and even authorized money for new infrastructure.  Thus the Cumberland Road became part of the new National Road and got a macadam surface.

And three sons and a daughter of John Smith’s grandson – who bore his name – set out for Ohio.

But that part I have invented. Yet how else to explain that two brothers and their sister settled in a town through which the National Road passed, while the third brother paused just long enough apparently to hear the news about land in Missouri, whence he traveled immediately.

Or maybe he – Jesse – meant to go there all along, being the youngest of the three and thus more adventurous.

Now back to what is documented.

It turned out to be a poor choice, for Missouri very nearly put an end to Jesse’s line and that would have included me. He and his wife and two sons and a granddaughter all died over the course of two or three years, owing to an epidemic of black measles.

Black measles was a painful, rapid disease involving a bad rash and people still die of it, but now we call it Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  Researchers died trying to nail it down, but in the 1870s, when the ticks came to northeastern Missouri, it was still a horrible mystery. They finally found the tick vector in the 1920s, though it is still fatal in about five percent of cases.

But I am here because one son had gone to Ohio to visit family and had met his cousin Ellen and married her and stayed in Ohio.

Where no more disasters befell them – aside from WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, Viet Nam, and the usual floods, drought and recessions that we all live through.

But all this genealogy has solved one mystery:  Why my father diagnosed every illness as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. He made a joke of it and that little catharsis must have eased a great fear passed down through three generations.

September 27, 2015

Gone fishin’

Blue whale about to breach off the coast of Catalina Island, 9.25.15 - photo by J Chatoff

Blue whale about to breach off the coast of Catalina Island, 9.25.15 – photo by J Chatoff

I would like to thank Senators Warren Magnuson of Washington and Ted Stevens of Alaska for their work in creating the Essential Fisheries in our coastal waters – I’m pretty sure that’s why I was able to see two of the largest creatures that ever lived on earth feeding in the waters near Catalina Island last Saturday.

On October 11, 1996, Congress passed the Sustainable Fisheries Act (Public Law 104-297) which amended the habitat provisions of the Magnuson Act. The re-named Magnuson-Stevens Act (Act) calls for direct action to stop or reverse the continued loss of fish habitats. Toward this end, Congress mandated the identification of habitats essential to managed species and measures to conserve and enhance this habitat. The Act requires cooperation among the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Fishery Management Councils, and Federal agencies to protect, conserve, and enhance “essential fish habitat”. Congress defined essential fish habitat for federally managed fish species as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.”

I am a big fan of the federal government and of those men and women of foresight who participate in it. I love those old boys who could see which way the wind was blowing and thought it was their job to do something about it.

Pew Research has a good take on it: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/imported-old/other-resources/2011/04/07/success-story-rebuilding-americas-fisheries-with-one-single-act

Warren Magnuson died in 1989 and Ted Stevens in 2010, but that happily feeding blue is a legacy to be proud of.

July 4, 2015

Happy Fourth

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 1:20 pm

from the pedicab drivers of Venice Beach!

pedi

March 28, 2015

Where’s the beef?

The short answer is, on a boat to China. That’s also the long answer.

After an entire adulthood of paying somewhere between 59 cents and $1.89 a pound for hamburger, I suddenly find myself saying, ‘Oh, only $3.69 a pound – well, that’s not too bad.’

The cost of food has risen so fast in the US that it is very hard to keep up. Foods that were cheap in my childhood are now luxury items – fish, cheese. bacon, pickles, jam. The only thing my mother resorted to occasionally that I can still afford is liver. But she was able to smother it with so much bacon we hardly knew what we were eating. I have to resort to onions.

Grow your own!

. Grow your own!

So here are three important things to remember as we face a future of rice and beans: First, do not for a moment think that ‘agri-business’ is more about the first part than the second. Profits before people.

Second, agricultural exports go a long way toward redressing our perennial trade imbalance.The USDA pulls no punches: ‘This surplus helps counter the persistent deficit in nonagricultural U.S. merchandise trade…’

In other words, we don’t make anything anyone wants to buy anymore, except food.

Third, if there is a fairly finite amount of wealth in the world, then the rise of Asian middle classes – most notably China’s – parallels the decline of our own.

The most recent numbers from the USDA are for 2009, which is sad, but you can see that the trends in ag exports portend higher and higher prices. We are close to a full quarter of our food being shipped out.

TABLE

 

 

The US Meat Export Federation has more recent data and is happy to report that even though volume was slightly down in 2012, profits were higher. Here are some numbers for that year:

MEAT

 

Well, at least farmers aren’t pouring milk on the ground or burning oranges like they once did to protest low prices and their inability to make a living wage.

That’s because there aren’t any farmers these days. Just corporations that go to Congress and get things fixed when they aren’t happy.

So I guess I better pull out the geraniums and put in tomatoes this year. If only I had room for a cow…

February 17, 2015

The Bead Game, Part II

beads

 

Well, having lost fully one-third of our little book club, and noticing that another third has fallen mysteriously silent, I soldier on alone with Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel – which continues to have a noticeably deleterious effect on my writing style.

But there is a horrible fascination to this book – it just unrolls, going on and on as if there is a destination ahead. I’ve got to page 246 without having encountered even the smallest sort of denouement and yet…

And yet I continue to believe that sooner or later something will happen.

The story of Joseph Knecht so far is unremarkable except for the larger context – he is recruited for the elite schools of the intellectual province of Castalia, encounters one or two peers and one or two teachers who prove to be significant in his life, but with one exception they are rather shadowy characters.

Hesse is not interested at all in the following aspects of his hero: his childhood, his parentage, his intellectual development, his interior life, his emotional responses to most things (with the exception of some enjoyment of nature) or even his appearance.

It is a strangely sterile world Hesse creates for Joseph – no food, no sex (no women at all really), no clothing, no weather to speak of, no animals, no buildings except for schools and a monastery.

What are all those words for? Now that I think about it, fewer than half probably refer to Joseph – his love of music and his interest in the Glass Bead Game, though never to the detriment of his other studies.

The rest are spent on the importance of Castalia itself and how it created a true culture which saved the world from the Age of the Feuilleton. (Feuilleton in this case means gossip and Hesse, writing in the ’40s, is eerily prescient about our time.) Castalia exists solely to perpetuate the Bead Game (no beads involved actually), an effort to interweave the history, culture and spirituality of all time into one overarching human experience.

Or something like that.

I have the distinct feeling this book is going to end with a whimper. At the very least, mine.

February 5, 2015

The Bead Game, Part I

Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse

Today, I’d like to share with you some information about a book I am reading.

The book is not a manual, a political biography, an as-told-to, or the latest economic exegesis.

It is actual literature, Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game] by Hermann Hesse, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.

This particular edition was published by Henry Holt in 1990 and features a foreword by Theodore Ziolkowski. I say features because the foreword is so fact- and analysis-filled that I very nearly put the book away, convinced that I already knew all I needed to know about it. (Google Ziolkowski and you discover that he has had a distinguished academic career, is now Professor Emeritus at Princeton and has written extensively on Hesse.)

But the most interesting factoid in the foreword, for me personally at any rate, is his reference to the edition available in the 60’s, when Hesse was a hot ticket among hippies, mostly for Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. He describes it as a poor translation, the translators seemingly unaware that it is a parody of the ponderous school of biography, filled with irony and inside jokes.

(Additionally, according to Ziolkowski, the title of Magister Ludi used for that early edition is somewhat misleading.)

That’s about the time I first read it and his criticism goes a long way toward explaining why it left an impression of being mind-numbingly boring.

Yet, over many, many years, the subject of the book – The Bead Game – remained burned in memory and often seemed an appropriate metaphor for any number of human endeavors.

So. I wanted to read a real book and I wanted to know what the Bead Game is really about. I prevailed upon two other book lovers to read it along with me and so we are a book club of three. And, I hope to resuscitate an old practice – to spend an entire day reading a book.

That may not happen because I see now that I live in what Hesse calls the Age of Feuilletons, a time in the past (the book takes place centuries in the future) when society was obsessed with gossip. My attention span may be severely compromised.

Curiously, Hesse in the early 1940s, describes exactly what is happening now, not in terms of the form of course, but absolutely in terms of content.

Which reminds us that humanity has always been obsessed with gossip – one of the meanings of feuilletons – but not perhaps so utterly drowning in it as we are at the moment.

[Hmmm – I see my prose is becoming every bit as ponderous as Hesse’s, but I swear I hadn’t meant it to be parody….]

– Next, more about the Age of Feuilletons –

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