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.


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:

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!


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.




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:



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



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 –

December 31, 2014

Not the last post

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , ,

crowd…although it was a near thing. Maybe it’s generational or maybe it’s just seasonal, but the amount of misery in the world has been overwhelming recently. And, it seems that every progressive value that I hold dear has been sucked up and spit into a landfill by our corporate overlords. Resistance is futile.

Until yesterday.

In the midst of a mighty whinge I was brought up short by someone whose opinion I value highly who said, ‘What do you mean, it’s all over? I feel exactly the opposite – I feel like I live in the best of times!’

Granted, she’s a younger generation, but not so much younger that she didn’t understand the problem.

‘All my life the corporations have run things – ever since there have been corporations, they’ve been trying to run things. Now, for the first time, people know about it.

‘People know about everything and that’s what is so fantastic. Listen, you know when that little blind kid got in trouble and they actually took his cane away? I sent an email to the school district telling them how crappy that was and I got a reply forty minutes later saying they were concerned and were taking appropriate steps, blah, blah.

‘Think about that – forty minutes! That means they already had a reply ready. And that’s because they’ve probably heard from hundreds or even thousands of people who were outraged about what happened.

‘There was a time when no one would have heard about that, except for the people involved. Now we know everything. Some kid doesn’t get his lunch and everyone on Facebook is screaming about it and also offering to pay for it.

‘It’s a fantastic time and it’s because of the internet.’

She paused and I muttered something about net neutrality.

‘Yes, you’re right – it’s very important. But you know what? I’m not worried because generations that take the net for granted aren’t going to let them screw it up. We have the hackers. Some great brain will figure out a way around it if necessary.’

We kept talking and in the end she quite cheered me up. And, since the only cure for depression is action, I decided I won’t quit, but will keep talking here about what matters to me.

So, to my daughter – thanks for that.

And to everyone else, a happy and healthy New Year!

October 31, 2014

Like the man said…

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , ,

…if you want a friend in this town, get a dog. Lo looks pretty long-suffering today, but it’s only for a half hour or so.

Happy Halloween to all.
[NB It was Harry Truman, btw, talking about Washington.]

September 10, 2014

Net neutrality now!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 9:14 am


September 4, 2014

Where no techie has gone before

Formerly Lovemans, now the high tech center of the world – really.


Quick – where in the US is the highest of high tech, the sharpest of cutting edge technologies, the Mecca of entrepreneurial geekdom?

San Jose, California? Redmond, Washington? Cambridge, Mass.?

Oh, please – they are so over.  Try Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Chattanooga, you see, has what they are calling The Gig and The Gig is the fastest internet broadband (1 gig per second) on earth.

On earth! Which is pretty spectacular when you consider that the US ranks No.31 in internet speed overall – behind Uruguay and Estonia. Except for this one little town, which has an internet speed 50 times faster than any in the world.

And it’s cheap, because it has been created by the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, which is a municipal utility. How the EPB developed The Gig and what it has meant to the renascence of the city is a wonderful story and you can find all the fascinating details here:

One result is that the century-old Loveman’s department store has been repurposed to house a number of tech start-ups and is apparently a hive of activity these days.

Is there a downside to all this? Only if you’re Verizon, AT&T or Time Warner. The first two are part of a group demanding that the FCC shut down the Gig because, among other things, municipal broadband is ‘unreliable.’

And some other reasons, all of which are just gobbledegook. They are completely  shameless in their pursuit of profits.

Time Warner is asking the North Carolina legislature to outlaw a similar effort in Wilson NC. Wilsonians installed their own municipal broadband because TW was such a failure.

You just have to love capitalists – they are always going on about a free market, but they turn such an adorable shade of  purple when they’re actually faced with one.

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