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.



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.





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.

October 19, 2016

‘Neither Snow nor Sleet, nor Aging of the Fleet…’

I am a huge fan of the US Postal Service, so their recent years on the Republicans’ Ten Most Wanted list of government agencies has been painful to watch.

truck Joshua Reading at Foreign Policy magazine summed it up nicely: “The biggest obstacle to a more efficient post office may be the U.S. Congress, which has failed to approve reform efforts such as setting up retail outlets in post offices, raising prices, shuttering less-used offices, and ending six-day delivery. (As part of its new cost-saving measures, the USPS has managed to circumvent Congress by keeping only parcel service on Saturdays so that, technically, there’s still some service six days a week.)”

But things are finally improving for the venerable USPS – someone had the bright idea of playing to their strengths. They do after all go everywhere and now they do it for Amazon, Fed Ex and even UPS.  That last mile has turned out to be very profitable for them.truck

And that means they can finally replace their geriatric truck fleet – the Northrup Grumman trucks that were new in 1987 were set to be retired after 24 years, but were declared usable – by necessity -for another six years. Now the deadline is upon us and so the USPS is taking bids.

This is a $6 billion contract which does not seem like small beer to me, but maybe it is, because Ford, Nissan and GM, who were all automatically short-listed, failed to make the cut;  I suspect they weren’t interested. (For more, go to Motley Fool.)

Here are your finalists:

  • AM General
  • Karsan Motors
  • Mahindra
  • Oshkosh
  • Spartan Motors
  • VT Hackney

AM General evolved from Jeep via American Motors and gave us the Humvee. Karsan is a Turkish company, Mahindra is Indian and VT Hackney is a subsidiary of VT Systems, which is a subsidiary of a company mostly owned by the government of Singapore.truck

Apparently the old rules no longer apply, because I thought federal contracts had to go to American companies, preferably with union workers.  So call me old-fashioned or ultra-nationalist or whatever you like, but I think American tax dollars should support American workers. Oshkosh is one of the top 100 federal contractors already, so I vote for Spartan, which was started by  four engineers from Diamond Reo when that company closed down years ago. I think six billion will matter to them and be a good thing for the state of Michigan.

In any event, all six finalists have gotten $37 million to build a prototype, which should be available for testing next year. The USPS is looking for fuel efficiency of course and any other green breakthroughs the companies can come up with.  Pretty soon the little truck on the corner wil be brand spanking new and we may have not just the largest (six thousand pieces of mail go through the USPS every second) but the most efficient postal service in the world.




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.


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:

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.


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.


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 –

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.


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

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