May 28, 2018

Befehl ist Befehl

Today, Memorial Day, we are honoring the men and women who gave their lives in defense of their country. Most of them did not die repelling a foreign invader – the last time a foreign enemy set foot on American soil was the War of 1812.

No, they died in defense of something altogether intangible. They died defending words.

Words like freedom, equality, democracy and justice.

Mostly they died defending those words in other countries, because they knew what those words meant and they knew they must be defended everywhere.

They attacked fascism where it lived.

Now it is here. It demands blind faith. It corrupts those words to its own ends. It bludgeons people with fear.

And, because it is the politics of the bully, it makes war on children.

That is the line in the sand.

For that, there must be zero tolerance.

No one needs to know the legalities involved in the current practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Every decent person knows in his or her heart that it is immoral. It flies in the face of God.


Acting Chief Carla Provost of the U.S. Border Patrol

It is time to watch Judgement at Nuremberg again. Time to remember that the international court ruled that the so-called Nuremberg defense – ‘I was just following orders’ – is sometimes no defense at all.

The Nuremberg defense is often called ‘Befehl ist Befehl’ in German – orders are orders,

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” (Nuremberg Principal IV)

Stop the War on Children. Give those babies back to their mothers.

Put that on a postcard and send it to Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at the Department of Homeland Security. And send another to Carla Provost, Acting Chief of the US border Patrol.



May 1, 2018

Alright, class, listen up

Everyone quite over the silliness about the missing oak sapling? And did you see any mention of the story behind France’s gift to the U.S.?

I only heard about it once and as a very off-hand reference. Nothing about how that little tree has been nourished by the blood and bone of the United States Marines and Infantry that died at Belleau Wood in June of 1918. In a way, some of them came home this past week.

The Battle of Belleau Wood took place in June of 1918 – this is its centenary year – and was the bloodiest battle the Marines had experienced up till then. There were nearly 10,000 casualties and almost 2,000 died.

World War I had a staggering death toll over all and more than its fair share of bad generalship but Belleau Wood was special. It took three weeks for the combined French and American forces to get the the Germans out of the forest – the Allies were forced to attack by crossing wheat fields which provided no cover at all. (See re-enactment photo below.)


Lucas G. Lowe, U.S. Marine Corps

But the forest was barely 60 miles from Paris and thus pivotal in stopping the German advance. And so, at a very high price, it was done.The Marines attacked the woods six times before the Germans were finally pried out, going up each time against machine gun nests, artillery and mustard gas.

To this day, “Marines actively serving in the Fifth and Sixth Marine regiments are authorized to wear the French Fourragère [braid] on the left shoulder of their uniform to recognize the legacy and valor of their regimental predecessors.”(Wikipedia)

When it was all over, the French dubbed Belleau the ‘Forest of the Marine Brigade’ and in 1923 Belleau Wood was officially designated an American Battle Monument.

Merci, President Macron, for the memento of our sacrifice.



April 28, 2018

Grow where you’re planted

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:05 pm


…and after living out of a suitcase for more than two years, I’m finally planted.

Not where I expected to be or where I thought I would like to be, but still, somewhere, not just with a roof over my head but reunited at last with all of my personal belongings. Someday, let’s go into the subject of humans and their stuff – I think there’s a lot more to it than we care to admit.

One of the first things I unpacked was my little picture of Richard Kobayashi. It’s just a snap that I downloaded from the Library of Congress years ago and ran off on my printer, but I always put it where I’m likely to see it once a day because Richard Kobayashi is one of my heroes.

I don’t know much at all about Richard, neither before nor after the day his photo was taken by Ansel Adams when Adams was sent to the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar to photograph the detainees and their living conditions.

But this much is clear: he was growing where he was planted. And so quite literally were his cabbages. He was obviously very proud of them. More than proud, in fact – they gave him joy.

There is no comparison, of course, between Richard’s situation and my own. But he is a good reminder on a bad day that it is a much better idea to create a little joy than to wait for it.


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.


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