CONTEXT

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.)

belleau

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.

 

 

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April 28, 2018

Grow where you’re planted

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:05 pm

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…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

Sayonara

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.

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.

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

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 BoughtMilk.com.]

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.

15776504_10211924019684287_1152937904_o-1

 

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.

truck

 

 

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