June 30, 2020

The second wave

Filed under: commentary,Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 4:38 pm

They warned us and they were right. Follow the rules or this thing will come back. So it’s flaring up all over and the numbers are spiking and everyone is pretty upset because we’re going to have to go through all the same stuff we’ve already been through and couldn’t wait to put behind us.wave

But we can do it and we can do it better and faster because now we know the drill. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay six feet apart, avoid crowds. On the upside, it is summer and we can all be outside most of the time which will reduce the risk.

We must do it. For ourselves and for each other, but mostly for our children. Every rule you follow is not just for yourself, but for a new generation. If we cheat, it hurts them. Not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually. They need to feel safe as well as be safe and they need to go back to school because that’s where their friends are.

We have all known, even if we didn’t want admit it, that we were leaving our kids a world much worse than the one we grew up in. But no one predicted that it would change so fast or become a matter of life and death for both the young and the old.

You know what you have to do. Do it now. Don’t whine. Just do it.

Yeah, I’m pretty much just reminding myself.



June 23, 2020

Now we are ten

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:08 am

Ten years of blogging here at WordPress, 541 posts for an average of about 60 a year. Last year is a statistical anomaly that really skews the numbers because I only got around to posting twice.

And this year is also an anomaly…in pretty much every respect. Here’s a thousand words showing why:


I hear a little carping out there: “You’ve been stuck in your house for three and a half months haven’t you? Did you have something better to do?”

Well, no I didn’t. But i have now learned that a pandemic does not in any way focus the mind. Like Henry Foe – of whom more next week – I have become scattered and uneasy in my thoughts. I am obsessed with the numbers of cases, deaths, positives and negatives and asymptomatic implications.

Anyway, I’m feeling pretty cranky at this point – my threshold for pandemics, quarantine and hand sanitizer turns out to be fairly low. I doubt that I am alone in this – witness the rush to get back to the old normal when things began to taper off.  Sadly, we are learning our lesson about that.

If you’d like something uplifting to read go to the Archives and start with Post No, 5 and work straight through to 500. That will cheer you up.

In the meantime, I’ll try to collect my thoughts and make this a better year.






June 23, 2019

Nine years and counting

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 10:00 pm

Just noticed that WordPress has wished me a happy anniversary – nine years ago today – and I would like to thank them for the free space they’ve provided, the editing tools that my old MacBook can still handle and the restraint they show in urging me to pay them to prevent ads.

Over those years I have written a lot about history, quite a bit that’s political and only occasionally indulged in a complete rant. I started with the intention of providing lots of content and did – for about three or four years.IMG_7411

But then came years of distraction, followed by years of upheaval and now, back to distraction again.  These days all my politics, all my interest in the environment and the natural world and even the history of the human race has been narrowed to one tiny strip of land and one little packet of seeds.

It is, in fact, my first real garden in Southern California and half of it is populated with the results of scattering $4.99 worth of wildflower seeds.(The other half is herbs and tomatoes.)

IMG_7355Included are sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, bergamot, nasturtiums and borage, among others. And the greatest of these are the sunflowers. It is one thing to send a check to a non-profit to save the bees and it is another altogether to watch the bees gather pollen onto the backs of their legs from the flowers in your yard and fly off to feed the brood.

Today, the bergamot – also known as bee balm – burst into bloom and the arrival of hummingbirds is anxiously awaited.

So, although I really do mean to discuss impeachment as described by Alexis de Toqueville – an absolutely fierce intellect – in Democracy in America, it will have to wait. The tomatoes are starting to pink up and soon it will be time to compare heritage and modern hybrid varieties.

wherever you are and whatever you are doing, grow something.IMG_7429




May 26, 2019

climate change

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 5:16 pm
Tags: , ,

Moving four times in 18 months? Not conducive to blogging. Not even helpful for thinking in general. Just a constant refrain of “Where did I put that?” running through one’s head…

Flower border six weeks ago

But settled – one can only hope – at least for a while, it’s time to look out the window. Happily, I am closer to the ocean again and since the ocean moderates the climate, there will be less unsettling drama of heat and cold and wild winds and pouring rain.


So far today we have had overcast, weak sun, sprinkles, high winds, hot sun and dark clouds but no rain. The winds will not abate until after sundown and the low temp tonight is 10 degrees below normal.

The winds are especially stressful, both physically and psychologically and they seem more frequent this year — many days with steady 10-15 mph and several with 20-25 and gusts up to 40 mph.

Flower border yesterday

I’ve read a number of predictions about the effect of climate change on Southern California, but they tend to focus on the results of rising oceans and ocean temperatures and the economic and health costs of increased heat. (Notably, all studies predict heat, but camps are divided as to whether SoCal will be like Death Valley or the Amazon jungle.)

And everyone has been left flat-footed by the speed with which it is all happening.

In any case, I am here to tell you that Southern California is a great place to live (no mosquitoes) but after 25 years I feel completely confident in asserting that it’s not as nice as it used to be.

So I hurried to get plants in and tomatoes started just in case this becomes the Year of the Last Herbaceous Border.

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.

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