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A WINTER STORM continues to move through Northwest California into mid day. Heavy mountain snow, along with periods of moderate to heavy rain and gusty south winds continue to move with the front. The storm will move east of the region by Thursday night leaving cold, dry air in its wake. Afterward, another generally colder winter storm will enter the region by Friday afternoon and last through Saturday. Heavy snow, rain and wind are expected yet again. A dry air mass looks to settle over the region by early to mid next week. (NWS)
YESTERDAY'S RAINFALL (past 24 hours): Fort Bragg 1.91" - Laytonville 1.83" - Leggett 1.80" - Mendocino 1.75" - Yorkville 1.48" - Covelo 1.45" - Willits 1.42" - Boonville 1.15"- Hopland 0.92" - Ukiah 0.66"
EYSTER CONTINUES THE WAIDELICH STONEWALL
by Mike Geniella
Mendocino County District Attorney Dave Eyster continues to stonewall the status of an investigation into allegations that fired Ukiah Police Chief Noble Waidelich sexually assaulted a woman while on duty and in uniform. The probe has dragged on for five months, with few details made public.
Now Eyster is refusing to provide details about his recent attempt to pass off the Waidelich case to the state Attorney General’s Office for review and possible prosecution of Waidelich.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office in early November readily released a written response to Eyster’s formal request for possible recusal from the high profile Waidelich case, the second police misconduct prosecution handled by Eyster’s office this year.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Laurence concluded that “a recusal inquiry must focus on whether there is evidence demonstrating likelihood that the Waidelich investigation will not be handled in a fair manner, and not on how proceeding with the local prosecutor may appear to the public.”
Eyster is refusing to release the contents of the formal request he made to the state Attorney General.
So far Eyster has not publicly addressed any concerns about the Waidelich case, or his office’s controversial prosecution this past summer of a former Ukiah Police sergeant who had been accused of sexually assaulting two other women. At the last minute, the most serious sexual assault charges against veteran Ukiah cop Kevin Murray were dismissed by Eyster’s office, and the disgraced officer was allowed to plea to lesser charges. He was placed on probation in what one of his alleged sexual assault victims labeled a “sweetheart plea bargain.”
In the current criminal investigation into Waidelich, Eyster is formally refusing to publicly release a copy of his unusual request for state intervention.
“Disclosure at this point in time would endanger the successful completion of the overall investigation or a related investigation,” the DA’s office claims.
Eyster is also contending that any information exchanged between he and state prosecutors is “privileged.”
The DA’s formal denial to a request for information under the state Public Records Act is dated Nov. 15 and signed by Eyster’s top assistant Dale Trigg. It declares that the office is exempt from Public Record Act provisions because the DA letter to the Attorney General reflects attorney “impressions, conclusions, opinions or legal research or theories.”
The state AG’s Office, meanwhile, says it is processing the request for disclosure of Eyster’s original letter of recusal request and will advise. Under state law, public agencies have 10 working days to respond.
Eyster has publicly refused to provide any information since the Waidelich case rocked local law enforcement five months ago, including identifying the specific allegations made by a Ukiah Valley woman. Local law enforcement for months have only publicly acknowledged an investigation is being conducted into an unspecified “criminal complaint” made against Waidelich.
It was not until the state AG’s written response to Eyster in early November that the public finally learned that what is really at issue is a criminal complaint of sexual assault.
The AG’s Office publicly stated that, “The investigation arose from a complaining witness’ June 13, 2022, complaint to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office that Mr. Waidelich sexually assaulted her while he was on duty.”
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall took the complaint and at the time immediately asked for an outside investigation by Sonoma County authorities into the bombshell accusation.
Within days, Waidelich was fired. Sonoma’s conclusions were turned over to Eyster’s office by late summer, but the DA refuses to comment on any findings, or whether there may be grounds for possible prosecution.
Besides keeping the public in the dark, the uncertainty of the case status hangs over the heads of Waidelich, a popular Potter Valley native who rose through Ukiah police department ranks to become chief in November 2021, and members of his family. Waidelich declines to comment on the accusation he faces.
City Manager Sage Sangiacomo said at the time that personnel polices limited any explanation behind Waidelich’s sudden firing other than he violated established city policies. Sangiacomo said the actions of the former police chief were unworthy of the position he held. Veteran Ukiah Police Captain Cedric Cook is serving as interim police chief.
Waidelich’s unresolved case continues to dog the former police chief, city officials and Eyster.
The lack of any public statement by prosecutors, and the fact that details are still under wraps months after the complaint was filed has only exacerbated public concerns about the second high profile police misconduct case to be aired this year.
The woman involved is well known by local law enforcement and is a friend of many. She has, through an intermediary, declined to speak publicly about her experience with Waidelich.
Some insiders in the local law enforcement community believe Eyster may simply let the statute of limitations apply in the case without any public explanation. They say there appears to be no evidence to support prosecution of a criminal act, but that Waidelich’s conduct as police chief “was definitely outside any acceptable norm.”
For the public, however, it is hard to judge the reality of Waidelich’s predicament. Nothing is officially known about his encounter on June 13 by anyone except the woman, and investigators who looked into her criminal complaint. Eyster’s office for weeks has had the results of the investigation, and the time to decide whether there is any evidence to support the claim of sexual assault.
In effect, a blue wall of silence encircles Waidelich’s case.
His is the second of two cases that have raised questions about how allegations of police misconduct are handled in Mendocino County.
In July, former UPD Sergeant Kevin Murray and his team of Santa Rosa lawyers struck a plea deal with Eyster and his assistant prosecutor Heidi Larsen. Murray, whose criminal trial on five felony charges including sexual assault was twice postponed, ended up with only a year probation after three of the most serious charges were dropped by the DA’s office.
Murray’s plea deal provoked condemnation from one alleged sexual assault victim, generated widespread media coverage, and sparked demonstrations outside the Mendocino County Courthouse. The response was so negative that Eyster limited public comments on the DA’s web page, an act that flaunts accepted standards for government information sites.
LAST BARN SALE OF THE YEAR!
Lots of Christmas decorations and winter coats. The usual clothing, furniture, linens, kitchen items, DVDs, records, and more. Saturday, December 3, 10 am to 3 pm and Sunday, December 4, NOON to 3 pm. 12761 Anderson Valley Way in Boonville. Look for signs and flags along Hwy 128.
TWO BOONVILLE QUIZZES IN DECEMBER…
But not this week. We shall present The General Knowledge and Trivia Quiz at Lauren’s at The Buckhorn in downtown Boonville on the 3rd and 5th Thursdays of December: Dec. 15 and 29.
Hope to see you there. Happy Holidays,
Cheers, Steve Sparks, The Quizmaster.
AV JUNIOR SENIOR HIGH STUDENTS COMPETING TO FEED THE COMMUNITY!
Students at Anderson Valley Junior/Senior High School in Boonville, California are stepping up to feed their community. Over the next few weeks, they are having a class competition to collect food for the Anderson Valley Food Bank.
The AV HS Benchmark Goal Of 200 Pounds Of Canned Goods Has Already Been Met!
Standings as of Wednesday morning:
- 7th Grade: 58 items
- 8th Grade: 33 items
- 9th Grade: 35 items
- 10th Grade: 23 items
- 11th Grade: 33 items
- 12th Grade: 55 items
The Canned food battle continues for the next two weeks with the class bringing the most items earning an ice cream party and title! Good stuff to see kids care of their community!
Louise Simson, Superintendent
Anderson Valley Unified School District
AUDITIONS FOR MENDOCINO THEATER COMPANY’S 2023 SEASON
Mendocino Theatre Company announces auditions for the American premiere of Home, I’m Darling, by Laura Wade, a hilarious British satire on the romanticized lifestyles of 1950s and their unintended consequences upon a contemporary love and marriage. The first round of in-person auditions will be held Saturday, December 10, 10:00 AM to 12:00 Noon and Sunday, December 11 at 3:00 PM - 6:00PM, at the Community Center of Mendocino, 998 School St, Mendocino, CA 95460. To sign up go to: www.mendocinotheatre.org/auditions/. Actors may also opt to submit a video linked audition to Director@mendocinotheatre.org and Tori.firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to Prepare for first audition – two contrasting contemporary monologues, maximum 3 minutes oryou may also choose to memorize a speech extracted and compiled from the play by the director. Please contact Beth or Tori at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for details on this second option.
About The Play: Judy and Johnny have re-created their lives into the ultimate, nostalgic fantasy of the 1950s—picture perfect domesticity. Judy has traded her all-consuming job in finance to be a blissful housewife who dusts behind appliances, makes deviled eggs, and greets her husband with a cocktail and a kiss. Meanwhile, Johnny gamely plays the successful hubby in line for a promotion. But there are cracks in the fantasy—a pretty new boss, unraveling finances, Judy’s challenging mother whose ardent feminism was born of the real 1950s, and the couple’s friends Fran and Marcus whose own wedlock is complicated. Judy must face the darker underpinnings of love and marriage. This British social satire, winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2018, will have its American premiere at MTC.
For questions concerning the audition, please contact the director, Tori Truss, Tori.email@example.com For perusal scripts, please contact Beth, firstname.lastname@example.org NB: All roles are on a volunteer basis, with mileage, expenses, food reimbursements and lodging for out-of-town actors.
Rehearsals will be held February 1- March 1, W – F evenings; Sa – Su daytime
Performances are March 2 – April 2; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday Matinees at 2:00 (No performance Sunday, March 5)
MENDOCINO ART CENTER’S FREE FAMILY ART NIGHT
Saturday, December 10, 3pm-4:30pm
The Mendocino Art Center hosts a hands-on “Free Family Art Night” for children of all ages with Julie Karlonas! Stop by the Art Center and make holiday ornaments and enjoy refreshments. All materials will be provided. Special thanks to Harvest Market.
The art night is a preview of Julie’s “Art with Julie” six-week art sessions packed with exciting art projects specifically designed for four different youth age groups, starting the beginning of January.
More information: https://www.mendocinoartcenter.org/youth-arts
Mendocino Art Center
45200 Little Lake Street at Kasten Street, Mendocino
MR. SMITH COMES TO MENDOCINO: The Ag Commissioner Picture
by Jonah Raskin
Mendocino County is in a pickle, or if you don’t like that analogy choose one of your own that reflects the situation in which Ukiah finds itself. Without an Ag Commissioner and in dire need of one. After all, an agricultural county without an ag commissioner is like the world cup without a football. Or if that seems too far-fetched, a deli sandwich without a pickle.
In pioneer days, a California county could function without an ag commissioner, but not in the era of the internet. To play the game, follow the rules and be eligible for certain state and federal funding, Mendocino must have an Ag Commissioner.
Andrew Smith, the Sonoma County Ag Commissioner, has stepped into the breach. On loan from Sonoma, and with an office in Santa Rosa and another in Ukiah, he’s under contract for the next several months. Near the top of his to-do list is to work with the county’s executive office and board of supervisors to find a new Ag Commissioner. He’ll seek help from staff members still at work, eager to save the beleaguered agency and boost morale. Some of the work that Smith will have to do, might be called “damage control.”
In a phone interview with me he said that he wanted to “obliterate past stigmas, and improve the narrative.”
From Smith’s vantage point, “There isn’t a problem, but rather an opportunity for a Renaissance and for positive change.” He also said that while the job would be stressful, it would be worthwhile for him personally as well as for the whole county. “No pain no gain,” he might have said.
Smith didn’t name names, accuse anyone of muddying the waters or creating havoc, but he did say that he would not describe the situation “as a dumpster fire,” as some have called it. No doubt cynics would not want Mendocino to rise from its ashes and be reborn as a vital agricultural county.
I’ve been in and around Mendo long enough to encounter the nay-sayers and their ilk. They’ll spin any story until it turns black.
Like Mr. Jefferson Smith—played by Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 upbeat Roosevelt-era movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—Andrew Smith is an optimist and the can-do kind of civil servant increasingly hard to find these days. I know that from 30 years of experience in the California State University system. If there’s an issue, too many individuals will simply walk away from it. Not Andrew Smith, who has already rolled up his shirt sleeves and gone to work. He told me he wants to maintain the sense of teamwork that still exists in the office, amplify the morale and rebuild the foundation. That won’t be a slam dunk.
Once upon a time, there was stability in the office, though long ago, Ted Erickson kicked up dust when he included marijuana in the annual crop report in 1979. $90 million was his estimate. Tony Linegar performed exceedingly well during his tenure until he moved to Sonoma County. Before Linegar there was Dave Barkson, and after Linegar there was Chuck Morse who came up through the ranks but didn’t last as long as Linegar or provide much needed continuity and structure.
Ever since Morse retired, the turn-over has been dramatic, to say the least. Diane Curry followed Morse out of the ag office and then in rapid succession, Harinder Grewal and Jim Donnelly followed her. Whatever the reasons for the turn-overs, it hasn’t looked good or boded well. Staff have been worn down by the turnover and the lack of direction. Smith tells me they’ve wonderered “Who’s steering the ship?”
The Ag Commissioner is a demanding job. The qualifications are stiff and the responsibilities diverse and far ranging. There isn’t a large pool of qualified applicants and some counties, say Santa Barbara, seem more attractive than others. The position encompasses weights and measures; verifying the accuracy of the pumps at gas stations and ensuring consumers get what they pay for. Then there’s compliance with the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, and the safety of both applicators and fieldworkers. Fortunately for a new ag commissioner, cannabis is now in its own separate agency.
Still, it will continue to be the elephant in the room and a headache for anyone aiming to corral cannabis cultivation in the county. It's a slippery subject. Smith told me he wanted to figure out how much marijuana is actually cultivated and harvested in Mendocino. Without reliable data it’s difficult to ascertain the monetary value of the crop or to estimate how much money cannabis brings into the county, and how much tax revenue is lost to the underground economy.
After I interviewed Smith I interviewed Devon Boer, the executive director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, a non-profit and not directly connected to the county or the office of the Ag Commissioner. Boer is modest about her own knowledge and information, but she’s as informed about ag in the county as anyone I have met and know, including Linegar. Boer told me she didn’t think that the cannabis picture would improve greatly until and unless the feds legalize it. That won’t happen anytime soon, no matter what legalization advocates insist.
“Andrew can’t work miracles,” Boer told me. “But his perspective is beneficial.” Crucial to Smith’s perspective is that Mendocino and Sonoma are sister counties and ought to be sisterly with one another. As Boer pointed out, Sonoma and Mendocino have a lot in common, including a border, plus concerns about pest control, the Russian River which runs through both counties, plus weather, drought and climate change.
What affects Sonoma affects Mendocino and visa-a-vis. One can’t really thrive unless the other really thrives. Mr. Andrew Smith, who believes that both counties should and could thrive, has come to Ukiah, much as Mr. Jefferson Smith went to Washington, to get a difficult job done, and not hog the credit, but spread it around.
DESTINATION: YOSEMITE VALLEY
by Marshall Newman
For each of us, there are places that beckon; places to which we return again and again. No, not the necessary ones – home, work, markets and the like – but rather destinations where we find special pleasures, even though we know them well. One of mine is Yosemite Valley, tucked deep in the Sierra Nevada. The fact that Yosemite Valley is an international attraction assures I have plenty of company, but somehow never seriously distracts from the magic of the place.
Prior to 2022, the last time I visited Yosemite Valley was early spring 2005, a somewhat ill-starred trip that included car trouble and a scary drive into the valley through a snowstorm. This year I made up for lost time with two trips to Yosemite; an overnight visit in early May and a two-night stay in mid-October.
For most of us in Northern California, the route to Yosemite Valley is the same. Whether we get there via Highway 5 or Highways 280 and 205, we usually take Highway 120 from Manteca. The drive is flat and relaxing at first, then hilly (in a couple of spots, really steep), curvy and not-so-relaxing as it gains altitude before descending into Yosemite Valley. Highway 140 from Merced is an attractive alternative, being flatter, less prone to snow and more scenic as it follows the Merced River into Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately, Highway 140 also adds 45 minutes to the drive. Highway 120 was my route – mostly – both trips.
The drives on Highway 120 offered stark reminders of recent wildfires. The area east of the Rim of the World turnout was completely burned through since my last trip, as was an area on the western edge of Yosemite Valley.
Both trips took place during the “shoulder” seasons, before the flood of humanity that inundates Yosemite between late May and late September. As crowded as Yosemite Valley was on the weekend days of my visits, it is difficult to imagine the mob scene in summer.
My spring visit illustrates how crowded Yosemite Valley has become. Arriving around noon, I drove up to the famed Tunnel View. Bad idea. Both parking lots were packed, with cars waiting in line to get into the larger lot. I grabbed a clear spot – not designated parking, but not blocking anyone – in the smaller lot, ran across the road to shoot three or four pictures, and got out of there. Roadside parking on Southside Drive near Bridal Veil Falls was similarly packed.
For the duration of this stay, I left my car in trailhead parking near Curry Village. Lamon’s Orchard, which shades this parking lot, is very possibly the oldest relic of European settlement in the park; it was planted in the 1860s. Some Yosemite Valley historical locations – like the site of John Muir’s cabin near Yosemite Falls – are marked with plaques. Lamon’s Orchard isn’t one of them.
My main goal this spring trip was to hike the Mist Trail, which winds past Vernal and Nevada Falls. It did not go well. For various reasons, I only got a bit past the top of Vernal Falls before turning back. Still, I conquered the slick, uneven Mist Trail stairs both ways (no easy feat), enjoyed views of both falls and shot some good photographs. My favorite shot duplicates almost exactly a photograph from 140 years ago: the one difference is a good-sized tree that now graces the right side of the frame.
I spent the night in a tent cabin at Curry Village, specifically Tent 420 (despite the number, no special amenities were offered). Tent 420 was not luxurious, but it offered privacy (though not quiet), heat, and proximity to the common bathroom and shower facilities. Also close was Seven Tents Pavilion, a relatively new dining facility (it wasn’t there my previous visit). Dinner at the pavilion was unimpressive, but breakfast was good, highlighted by scratch-made oatmeal. There also is a Peet’s in the building, sadly open only from late spring to early autumn.
Leaving Tent 420 for breakfast, I noticed a section of light-colored granite on the sheer cliff below Glacier Point, probably the source of the 2008 rockfall that damaged Curry Village and caused some injuries. Rockfalls are surprisingly common in Yosemite Valley; 47 were documented in 2021.
As this was an overnight trip, I made only a couple of stops in Yosemite Valley the second day before heading home. Yosemite Falls was spectacular from the spring snowmelt. I looked in vain for a tall, slightly arched oak that appears in nearly every photograph of Yosemite Falls from the 1860s to the 1920s: whether it succumbed naturally or was removed during a widening of the access trail, it is no longer there.
Across Northside Drive from Yosemite Falls is Cook’s Meadow. Looking east towards Half Dome, there is a huge oak that stands out against the pines beyond. A couple of miles west, the El Capitan Picnic Area provided a pleasant stop, though not a great view of the monolith. A turnout a mile farther offers a cross-valley view of Bridalveil Fall.
On this occasion, its swirling mist lived up the name given Bridalveil Fall by the native Ahwahneechee: Pohono, “spirit of the puffing wind.”
My Yosemite trip in October was more leisurely and more luxurious. Two nights at Yosemite Lodge allowed time for some exploring and the room definitely was nicer than the tent cabin at Curry Village.
My wife joined me on this trip, so challenging hikes were out. I spent a portion of that first afternoon wandering Leidig Meadow, across the Northside Drive from Yosemite Lodge and Camp 4. Now I understand why 19th century Yosemite photographers often put the Merced River in the foreground of their pictures; the river provided open vistas of the rock walls and waterfalls.
Typical for this time of the year, several Yosemite Valley waterfalls were dry, and the Merced River was running low and slow. My main goal this trip was to see autumn colors, but that was not to be. Oaks and maples on the valley floor remained green in mid-October.
We took the two-hour valley bus tour Saturday morning. As during my spring trip, the valley was crowded. The bus had to wait at the Tunnel View until some “entitled” visitors moved their cars from designated bus parking.
Bus parking near Bridalveil Fall (where a new parking lot and trail are under construction) and Gates of the Valley was easier.
I discovered in the week before this trip that reservations at the best Yosemite Valley restaurants – the Ahwahnee Dining Room and the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge – can only be made through Open Table and best be made more than a week in advance.
We mostly dined at the former Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria, now renamed the Yosemite Lodge Base Camp Eatery. Ordering food there is done on kiosks, but the food is decent (in the case of the black bean veggie burger, really good) and affordable. Tables along the sides of the building were a nice touch for those concerned about eating indoors during these covid times. There also is a Starbucks at Yosemite Lodge, but it had already closed for the year.
We had one dinner at the Mountain Room. This restaurant has improved markedly since my last meal there. Definitely fine dining. One couple we met during our stay said they preferred it to the Ahwahnee Dining Room – high praise indeed.
In the afternoon, we walked from Yosemite Lodge to Yosemite Village, the valley’s main commercial and administrative hub. The area around Yosemite Falls has been completely renovated in recent years. Gone is the parking lot, replaced by restored native vegetation, new interpretive exhibits, a new shuttle stop and new restrooms.
The walk – indeed this entire visit – emphasized how much Yosemite Valley is an international destination. I passed tour groups from Japan, France and Germany. I heard conversations in Russian, Spanish and Italian. The one language I did not hear was Chinese, perhaps due to that country’s strict covid travel restrictions.
While in Yosemite Village, we visited the Yosemite Museum and the Visitors Center; the former focuses on Yosemite’s Native American history, the latter focuses on its geologic history. Degnan’s Kitchen and Loft had a line out the door and then some, but the Village Store provided a welcome snack fix.
After my wife headed back to our accommodations on the Yosemite Park Shuttle (very crowded), I continued to explore on foot. At the information tent near the Yosemite Museum, I asked the ranger how to find the site of Hutchings Cabin, where Yosemite’s best known 19th century innkeeper lived. She was not sure, but suggested I look near Hutchings Orchard. Following her instructions, I passed through the cemetery, skirted the athletic field (yes, an athletic field in Yosemite Valley, complete with a baseball diamond) and eventually found a scattering of ancient apple trees fronted by an open area that likely was the cabin site.
I also took the meadow trail towards Sentinel Bridge to grab some photographs of Half Dome.
Most Yosemite Valley trails in meadows have been converted to boardwalks in recent years to limit erosion and foliage damage. The initiative seems to be working; the meadows were in better condition than in the past.
On the drive home, we changed our route slightly, taking Smith Station Road south from Highway 120 to Coulterville. A portion of this route was the one John Muir took on his first trip to Yosemite Valley (the route Muir traveled to the valley was soon supplanted by the Big Oak Flats Road and the Mariposa Trail). The road is a true country lane, the type that encourages slower speeds and sightseeing. Coulterville is a historic gold rush town that – despite losing many buildings to fires in the 19th century – has retained its charm. It is fun place to explore, plus it is home to the Coulter Café and General Store, whose hamburger is worthy of a major detour.
Trips to “places that beckon” don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Such were these Yosemite outings. As wonderful as they were, Yosemite continues to beckon. And I will not wait 17 years before my next trip.
See my masterpiece! This 4-year project depicts local history through 200 portraits of real people. Experience fun at the worksite and hear about what happened in the Ukiah Valley from the time before human habitation, through the millennia of rich Native culture, proceeding into the immigration deluge that came with the Gold Rush, and on through the stages of life in this town.
The complete subject content including source photos and the stories that lie behind every figure can be seen at www.historymural.com.
And in future videos. This project was funded by the Judy Pruden Historical Preservation Fund at the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, matched by lots of work by Lauren Sinnott and Adrian Sinnott.
STEPHEN 'STEVE' SCHWARTZ. I knew him as Steve Schwartz long before he became Lulu LaFlamme. My first awareness of him came one night at a packed event on upper Market Street featuring Bertrand Russell's secretary, Ralph Schoenman, soon fired by Russell who assessed him this way:
“I found him not only impetuous but aggressive and entirely undisciplined and I realized that these characteristics might well make him seem a ‘dangerous young man,’ as I had been warned that he was, to anyone of whom he did not approve. I early recognized his lively instinct for self-dramatization, his swash-buckling assumption of the importance of his own role in the center of the stage. His conviction of his unshakable belief in the penetration and breadth of his understanding were obvious…” But he could talk and he was interesting. Schwartz was yelling that he was some kind of traitorous Trotskyist.
MY BROTHER and I had become foot soldiers with Bay Area CORE, which involved communists from the old CPUSA, a fact known to us because we also knew the young Terrance Hallinan, later San Francisco's DA, a guy who derived from the old CP, not that we cared, but a couple of years later I was held up in Peace Corps training while that bureaucracy and the FBI checked my democratic bona fides. Via a FOIA request years later I got the results of the FBI's Anderson research which placed me at the famous '65 demo in Alabama where Bull Connor turned the dogs loose on civil rights demonstrators. I was in fact in the middle of Borneo at the time, and so much for the FBI's sleuthing then and now. (See the AVA archive on the bombing of Judi Bari, a spectacular episode that also baffled the feds. Or did it? It's more likely the perp was one of their own who got a free pass to murder his ex to spare the feds the embarrassment of his affiliation with the Hoovers.)
SO WE'RE listening to Schoenman when suddenly, from the back of the room this little fat guy with a penetrating buzz saw voice starts yelling at Schoenman for his perceived political sins. “Who's that guy?” The reply was, “Oh that's Steve Schwartz,” no further explanation necessary. The various Marxist sects spent more time and energy denouncing each other than they did undermining capitalism.
THIRTY YEARS LATER, I was invited to a television show hosted by a couple of bewildered haircuts called Ross and Anne, one of my weirder media experiences. I thought I was going to talk about Redwood Summer, but no sooner had I begun my spiel, that buzzsaw voice from three decades earlier rang out, “Mendocino County seems to have released Mr. Anderson from jail so he could be here today.” It was Schwartz. Also on that panel, which had to have been the oddest in local media history, were a soon-to-be disgraced talk show guy, Bernie Ward, later convicted for possessing child pornography; a gay priest called Miles Riley; a voluptuous woman dressed in a mini-skirt and halter top who said she made pornography for women and, as I dimly recall, a mystified liberal who, like me, was disoriented by both Schwartz and his fellow panelists. I barked back at Schwartz and both our mikes were immediately unhooked as the live audience commenced slobbering over the lady pornographer. Redwood Summer was no match for that babe!
SOMETIME later, I was walking through North Beach when I saw a red-stenciled bit of street art proclaiming something like, “Steve Schwartz is a bourgeois prick.” Similar public denunciations of Schwartz, by then a Chron reporter specializing in libeling dead communists, popped up all over North Beach. I thought it was all very funny, but I knew lots of people who had serious intellectual beefs with the guy and were much less amused by him. And say what you will about Schwartz, he is an intellectual of sorts, with a lot of published books on a range of subjects, from defaming accounts of the Bay Area left, an ongoing specialty, to treatises on Muslim sects about which he seems quite knowledgeable. He says he's became a Mohammedan, Sufi division, and has adopted the middle name, Sulyman. Other scholars on the subject say Schwartz is full of it, but I was startled one morning to see him introduced on CNN as a scholar of Wahabi Islam. “Wow!” I thought, “Zelig has nothing on this guy!”
I'VE READ two of Schwartz's books, both of which I profited, from although… “From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind” seemed at least ten degrees off as he bashed as alleged communists, among others, Maya Angelou, whom he claims was a party member when she was very young and living in San Francisco. I also liked his “Brotherhood of the Sea, A History of the Sailor's Union of the Pacific, 1885-1985.” But his is the only book on the subject I've read.
ALL THE WHILE, which has only belatedly occurred to me, I was a regular patron of Minerva's Owl, a wonderful SF bookstore on Union, then Levi's Plaza, presided over by a gracious, erudite older woman who may have been Schwartz's mother, wife of his leftwing father who'd started the store in the 1950s. Where he got his famous truculence from is a mystery, at least to me.
I'D HAVE PERIODIC contact with Schwartz, a master of invective, who would write in to the ava with creative insults at our efforts, typically signing off with versions of, “Have fun in amateur land, morons.” I remember one epistolary exchange with him that was so annoying, and wrong, that six of us denounced him in ed replies, a record for us.
BATTLING SCHWARTZ became a kind of family affair, with my nephew, then a young barista at Cafe Trieste, often exchanged insults with Schwartz, a regular at the famous North Beach salon/coffee shop where he would he'd wow the old beatniks with his encyclopedic knowledge of… Well, all kinds of things, that chainsaw voice rattling off the cappuccinos and on out Grant and Union. When Schwartz discovered that Robert Mailer was my nephew, he remarked, “I guess that makes you the monkey's uncle.”
ABOUT A YEAR AGO, I began to get these strange communiques from “Lulu LaFlamme,” complete with celebratory color photos of Ms. LaFamme's breasts. Mother of God! It's Schwartz! He'd “transitioned,” as they say, and now writes almost daily accounts of his public life as a woman which, you can imagine, has inspired much comment from people who remember him as the male sage of the Trieste. But Schwartz-Lulu, arguably the most combative, and certainly the smartest, trans-sexual in the history of this whole new gender, has always seemed to revel in the animosity he inspires, and can be depended on to give as good as he gets.
I CONFESS that I've always had a soft spot for the guy/gal. I don't understand why a man pushing eighty would undergo the cruelest cut of all, but I'm worried about Lulu. Her accounts of hostile public encounters are harrowing, although he's always seemed up for verbal combat, but physical hostility? Of course Lulu never backs off, and says she carries bear repellent to ward off her enemies, of which she probably has more of the personal type than any living American. I wish her well.
* * *
AVA, July 2001:
BILL MANDEL, former KPFA Russian specialist (one of the first to be fired during the station’s early '90s purges) was kind enough to autograph a copy of his book, “Saying No To Power,” when I bought one at his table at the Anarchist Book Fair last Saturday in San Francisco. I took the opportunity to show him the current AVA and the letter denouncing him by the AVA’s communist beat reporter, Steven Schwartz. When I came back around to his booth about half an hour later Mandel replied, “Hey, Schwartz spent almost a whole column denouncing me, and he never mentioned my book!” — ms
SCHWARTZ, who seems to haunt the more exciteable elements of the Bay Area left, came up again a couple hours later. A man who looked like a younger version of Allen Ginsberg came up to the AVA table and asked, “Are you the editor?” “No, I’m the typist. Who are you?” “I’m Howard Besser,” he replied. “Steve Schwartz called me a ‘tenured ape’ in your paper last week.” (Schwartz also called him a “gorilla.”) According to Schwartz, Professor Besser screamed at Schwartz about Schwartz’s Spanish Civil War writings “in a deranged manner.” Professor Besser was obviously irritated at Schwartz's characterization of him. “Why don’t you respond?” I asked. Professor Besser said he barely remembered the incident, but he certainly didn’t remember shouting at Schwartz. “I hardly know the guy. I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” Professor Besser said. “I don’t think it’s worth replying to.” Professor Besser went on to inform me that he had been told of Schwartz’s mention of him in the AVA by Kevin Keating. Keating, AVA readers will recall, is a long-time nemesis of Schwartz and a self-styled “anarcho-communist” who created a mini-media furor in The City a couple years ago when he launched his one-man “Yuppie Eradication Project.” Keating was arrested last year at SFO when he emerged from the first-class section of an Air France flight during which he'd gotten into a fight with the crew over the quality of the wine; both the first-class flight and the nature of the dispute are believed to be anarcho-communo-syndicalist firsts. — ms
* * *
Lulu LaFlamme offers some views on some matters: a casual street interview
HILL MUFF STORM PREP, AN ON-LINE COMMENT:
I made a few emergency kits for myself and family using leftover Mcann’s Steel-Cut Oatmeal tins, after having previously seen this valuable tip in the RHBB comment section. These oatmeal tins work great due to their removable/resealable lids. (Avoid the new plastic containers—the metal tins are still available in some stores.) Alternately, similar containers can also be purchased at any paint store. I also included matches, a compact emergency blanket, a small Maglite flashlight, extra batteries, a flint/steel fire starter, along with tiny soduku & crossword puzzle books. An emergency NOAA-certified radio with a hand crank is also advisable. These typically have built-in flashlight and can also be used to charge a cellphone.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Wednesday, November 30, 2022
DANIEL BOLTON, Salt Lake City/Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-intoxication by drug with alcohol.
NATHANIEL HAYES, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
CARLOS OGAWA, Fort Bragg. Forgery, bad checks, stolen property, offenses while on bail.
WILLIAM POWELL, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
JUSTIN QUINLIVEN, Willits. Domestic battery, false imprisonment.
ANTHONY TOLBERT, Laytonville. Parole violation.
CODY WILLIAMS, Covelo. Failure to appear.
JUSTIN WOJCIK, Bridgeville/Ukiah. DUI, controlled substance, paraphernalia, suspended license for refusing drunk/chem test, vehicle registration forgery, stolen property, failure to appear.
We're very saddened that Aline Kominski-Crumb, cartoonist, mother and Robert's wife for almost 50 years, has passed away at 74 years old. Aline previously beat her bout with colon cancer — changed her diet, stopped drinking and transformed her body with her intense yoga workouts — but quickly succumbed to pancreatic cancer in the last several months of this year. Because her father died from pancreatic cancer at an early age, Aline always feared it would claim her too, and her fears were ultimately justified.
She was the hub of the wheel within her family and community. She had huge amounts of energy which she poured into her artwork, her daughter, her grandchildren and the meals which brought everyone together. It was her energy that transformed the American Crumb family into a Southern French one, with her daughter Sophie living, marrying and having three French children there. Aline will be dearly missed within that family, and from the international cartooning community, but, especially by Robert, who shared almost the last 50 years of his life with her.
THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE 'MONSTER'
by Patty Jenkins
I followed the entire Aileen Wournos case as it was breaking. I had been on a road trip in Florida the year it was happening. I remember hearing about these murders, but it wasn't getting a huge amount of press until they knew that it was a woman.
Some people I spoke with about the story didn't understand the psychological effect that Aileen's past had on her. That's why I wanted to make the movie. I wanted to show how you can go down that road. Yes, she totally crossed the line, but there is a way that you become indoctrinated into believing that what you are doing makes sense, it happens all the time. I see a world where millions of people go to war and become capable of doing this sort of thing every day, and these people are understood and honored. All I'm saying is that it's something that happens to human beings. If you can understand that it happened to men in Vietnam, if you can understand that it happens in the war in Iraq, then why can't you understand that a street prostitute can go through the same thing after years of abuse in equally extreme conditions as a lot of those men at war?
When we were selling the movie, many buyers had a wall against seeing a woman this way, as if this film was some sort of first. I would always say, Look at Shakespeare and the Greek myths. Women aren't any different than men in their capability to become violent creatures. When people criticize 'Monster' in that way, I would always wonder: Would you ever say that about 'Taxi Driver' or 'Badlands'? And after it came out people would say to me: How dare you make a movie like this? Did anyone say that about Scorsese? Or 'The Godfather'? What do they mean, How dare I? How dare I make an inquisitive movie where I'm trying to understand how somebody turned out a certain way? When I see people become capable of doing horrific things, I'm interested to know how they got there.
'Monster' was the first title that I thought of, but I didn't think that it would stay. The first question that I posed to myself was: how many times can you call someone a monster before they become one? It was amazing to me how long she held out before she started killing people. When you look at the story, you're like, "Wow, she had held a gun for 11 years before she shot anybody." She was even raped during that time period as well. The reason I ended up sticking with it was because I knew that everybody thought it was going to be an apologist film, a super feminist film. I wanted to say: No, everything you think about her is true, she's a total "monster," so let's go and see what a "monster" is. When I was writing it I wasn't talking to anybody who saw her the way that I saw her, so I just thought, "Fuck it, I'll write it in the way I see her." It was such a great gift to get to work from that place.
The only reason the movie got made was because it was about a lesbian serial killer and the only reason that we ever got any press was because Charlize Theron got fat. Crime, at least for me, was a topic behind which I could explore all kinds of things that aren't talked about in common society. Crime opens up the door to talk about issues. I was able to tell a love story with subtlety because all anyone cared about was: lesbian serial killer.
* * *
About Aileen Wournos:
I felt really bad way for Aileen that no information about post-traumatic stress disorder was ever made available to her. She lived in this very simple world. Right before she was executed she wrote a letter saying, "Dear Jesus, please forgive me for the things I've done. The thing that you don't understand is that I did have a hard time, I had to sleep in the snow and stuff as a child, but I do admit that I was a very dirty sexual child and started seducing men even at the age of six." She never had any mental health support to differentiate what was and wasn't her fault. It's not her fault that from age 6 she was having sex with adult men! Aileen was so filled with shame and self loathing over things that she had nothing to do with. She was roped into feeling very complicit with every bad thing, from her birth -- she was the daughter of a criminal passing through town -- to what she was forced to do to survive before the murders. She was branded from day one.
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOME INVASIONS:
Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that most, if not all, of these home invasion type robberies are committed by people the victims know. Or set up by people they know. Otherwise, how would strangers off the street know that this person had shit they’d be interested in stealing? How did they know the victim had a safe? Someone told them, that’s how.
I hope they catch these cretins.
“ALREADY TOO LOUD!”
— Bruno Walter on seeing the orchestra reach for their instruments at the start of a rehearsal
I SOLD A BOOK THE OTHER DAY
by Byron Spooner
I sold a book the other day. I’ve sold literally, no exaggeration, millions of books in 45 years as a bookseller, but this was a unique event; this time it was a book I had written.
I was in Green Apple Books, the one on Clement Street, the original. My wife, Judy, and I trade books with them all the time, which is one of the advantages of living in the Richmond District of San Francisco; the bookshop once voted the World’s Best is also our neighborhood bookseller. Back in December when my book first came out, Kevin, one of the partners, and a friend I’ve known and sporadically worked with over the decades, had been kind enough to take some copies of my book on consignment and display them in the store. This I considered something of an honor; Green Apple doesn’t do this for just anybody.
The guys from the Beat Museum and Bird & Beckett, Jerry and Eric, also friends of mine, made similar accommodations for me. I always figured years of making friends in the book trade would eventually pay off in some however small fashion and now ‘eventually’ had finally arrived. That’s how things have aways worked in bookselling.
“Two? Three?” I said. I had to run out to the car to get them.
“Five,” Kevin said, which meant he was going to display them as opposed to just sticking a couple of copies spine-out on a shelf somewhere.
“You’ve earned it,” he said when I registered surprise, meaning the abovementioned 45 years, I guess.
He put them up on the rack in the center aisle of the main floor—face-out, eye-level—next to a book called ‘We Run the Tides’ by Vendela Vida and above Etal Adnan’s ‘Shifting the Silence’ and David Diop’s ‘At Night All Blood is Black’ which, according to the hand-scrawled shelf-talker, won the 2021 International Booker Prize; a prime location and in great company. The fact that Judy and I knew Etel, who died last November at 96, was an added, between-us, bonus.
There’s a thrill that’s hard to describe, one I hope I’ll never get over, to see a book you wrote on the shelf in a bookstore, especially in a bookstore you admire as much as I admire Green Apple.
I took pictures, feeling like a geek, standing there.
The next time we stopped in, a couple of weeks later, I saw someone had moved my book around to the other side of the rack, a slightly less prominent location, but still a good one, still face-out, still eye-level. This time it had been placed between Stephen Graham Jones’ ‘The Only Good Indian’ and the new Roddy Doyle, ‘Love.’ I was pleased; Judy and I’ve been Roddy Doyle fans since The Commitments in 1987. I have no idea who this Stephen Graham Jones is, but his book had a handsome cover, the kind that makes you want to pick it up and take a closer look, maybe turn it over.
“Put the book in the customer’s hand,” was always instruction number one, advice I’d given to hundreds of novice booksellers, “don’t just point at it. Make the customer put it back.” Having a cover that makes the customer want to pick the book up is the next best thing. Just like the cover of my book, or so I’m hoping.
There were still the original five copies on the rack which probably goes a long way toward explaining why someone moved it to a less desirable spot, business being business and all that. This bothered me slightly, but only slightly; after all, the book was never intended for mass distribution; I never entertained fantasies—serious ones anyway—of fame and bestsellerdom. Judy and I had decided to publish my book, and hers, under our own imprint after I’d spent an ungodly amount of time trying to engage with an agent. I finally decided, after over 150 unacknowledged queries, that it didn’t matter to me if my book came with a national bookstore distribution plan, a first edition of 3,000 copies, a five-figure marketing budget, groupies and a budding heroin habit; I just wanted a couple of hundred copies I could hand sell to my friends.
For Judy’s book, earlier in the year, I set up a seller’s account with the Ongoing Criminal Enterprise known as Amazon. It took an unconscionable number of hours to get this done and between being a Luddite with sloppy work habits and being treated like a potential criminal out to make a dishonest buck—takes one to know one, guys— it was an extremely unpleasant experience. The only reason we did it at all was so out-of-town friends and relatives would have an easy way to buy her book.
“You can get it through Amazon,” we’d say breezily.
We sold most of Judy’s books at signings and events and through word-of-mouth. It’s nearly sold out now. In the first four weeks on Amazon we sold something in the range of ten copies. Twenty bucks each, plus shipping. We did the shipping, not Amazon. We laid out for the postage, confident that Amazon would reimburse us since they were strongarming it out of our customers—otherwise known as our relatives and friends. And at the end of the first month Amazon sent us a check for $6.40. This was what was left after monthly fees, the cut they take out of every sale, other fees, surcharges, the pizza fund, additional fees. The Bezos-Is-Out-Of-Beer fee.
“Fuck,” I said, not so breezily.
Green Apple had recently shrunk itself, giving up the second storefront it had occupied for years and, in the process, moving the fiction section upstairs to the second floor, with its floorboards that creak and groan under the customers’ weight. I had a bookstore with an upstairs once; we called it “the mezzanine,” rather than “the upstairs” though the difference between the two lies somewhere between negligible and non-existent. People warned me it was next to impossible to get people to climb a flight of stairs to shop on a second level. I ignored them. They were right.
The day I sold my book there weren’t that many people upstairs at Green Apple either, at least compared to the number visiting the main floor. Maybe that will change as people get used to the fact that fiction, mystery, sci-fi, all popular sections, are upstairs. We’ll have to see.
Coming into Green Apple is always an opportunity for me to scan the display racks from a professional bookseller’s remove, especially now that I’m retired and out of day-to-day touch with what’s happening. I can’t help feeling like an outsider looking in. I’ve only been two years away from this end of the business, not a long time, but I’m definitely not part of it anymore.
I take in what’s new—new books by authors I’m familiar with, new authors I’m not familiar with, new books by authors I know, authors with different publishers, books about people or subjects I’m interested in; snakes, punk, birds, reactor meltdowns, midgets. Who’s climbing the hill, who’s on top of it and who’s over it. A swirl of colors, typefaces, images. I’m also watching for trends and currents in design, geography, content, authorship, etc., and shifts in those trends and currents.
For four years the shelves were heavily populated with books dealing with Trump and his troupe of malevolent morons. Biden hasn’t managed to capture nearly as much interest, at least so far.
Undoubtedly the war in Ukraine will soon become the dominant subject. The environmental crisis is still prominent but not as much as a while ago. I think people are more depressed about it than anything at this point, and don’t want to read about it as much. I keep in mind that these racks are a cross-section of popular thinking only in San Francisco and its environs; one needs only to step into a bookstore/newsstand in any airport in the country to get a graphic, eye-opening measure of just how far-right the country has drifted.
Currently, women authors are being published, and purchased, at an unprecedented clip. And race has been in the front of everyone’s mind since Trayvon and George Floyd and before—
since Emmett Till really—with books by authors of color, and about race in general, elbowing with the women for display space particularly with this month being Black History Month and with Women’s History Month right on its heels. Diversity is all the rage, writers from all over the world are being published and grabbed up. The briefest glance at the racks tells you the centuries-long hegemony of white male writers is now over, thoroughly stomped out.
After I take in the display racks I check out the overstock stacked neatly in bins underneath them, seeing what the buyers are betting on, what they think they’re going to sell in quantities large enough to warrant investing serious dollars in, to have enough handy to replenish their displays several times a day. The trends hold down there as well. People of color. Women. Diversity.
My book is about exactly none of these things. It has a few black characters, one Puerto Rican, but no one makes a federal issue out of it. More men than women, I would guess, but mostly because a lot of the stories are about my father, who was a man.
If you really stretch the definition of diversity I suppose you could get it to cover a female Czechoslovakian character that figures into one story in a minor way. A couple of kids—one white, the other Black—want to make their local wetland into a National Park, but it’s played more for laughs than for any eco-agenda. Not bucking trends, just sort of ignoring them.
I also looked around the main floor and didn’t see my book anywhere. It’s pretty hard to miss with an illustration of a giant ‘54 Buick Roadmaster busting out of the cover and down your throat.
I figured they’d moved it to New Fiction upstairs to create room on the racks on the Main Floor which are more valuable, more productive, real estate by dint of not being the second floor if nothing else. I knew Judy was already upstairs, looking for novels and stories about women’s relationships with horses—Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry maybe.
After a brief search, I found my book up there in a carrel in the section labelled New Fiction, as I’d anticipated. It was still face-out but down around knee level, you had to be really looking for it. There were still the same five copies, which explained the knee level.
Still the same intoxication, though, the same jolt of recognition. The need to pinch myself. I remembered as I stood there how my friend Jack Hirschman put it, “The fulfilment of a lifelong dream.”
There are other attendant thrills that come with that dream fulfillment; being able to tell your friends you’re a writer with a straight face, without feeling like a complete fraud, putting “Writer” in the blank space on a form where it asks, “Profession:________.”
Standing in the New Fiction carrel with me was a tall woman in her forties with an armload of hardcover books and giant black clogs strapped to her feet. The swoon of seeing my book again prompted me to blurt out, “Here’s my book,” and point to it. I said it to bring myself back into the world of worn wood floors and an ancient PA calling people to the phone. To touch base with Mission Control. I’m not normally one to strike up conversations with women I don’t know.
The woman said, “What?”
I said, “Here’s the book I wrote.”
“Oh? Can I see it?”
I took one off the shelf and handed it to her. She took in the Roadmaster on the front cover and flipped to the back and started in on the slightly-inflated author bio and the blurbs—written by some of my better-known buddies—glancing at me furtively to confirm that I was indeed the same person as in the ten-year-old cover photo. She slapped it on top of her stack.
“I’ll take it,” she said, “My husband is starting a collection of short stories—books of short stories—and this’ll fit right in.” Nice. A literary couple. So many times you hear about one spouse wanting to talk about Cormac McCarthy and Ornette Coleman and all while the other wants to watch Pro Wrestling or The Shark Tank or something and wishes everybody would just shut the fuck up.
“Great,” I said, “Thank you.”
At that point I beat it over to the carrel where Judy was building her own stack. I had nothing constructive to add to my conversation with the woman and figured it would be best at that point to just leave well enough alone. I couldn’t wait to tell Judy about what had just happened but had to wait until the woman went back downstairs.
Now there were four copies left on the shelf.
One part of getting ready for my book to come out was Judy and me deciding to give the Ongoing Criminal Enterprise the old heave-ho and starting our own web site to sell our books directly. A friend helped us set it up, a friend who had been my deputy for going on two decades before I hung up my bookselling shoes. Bookstore sales didn’t figure into this plan either, if we sold any we would consider it incidental, lucky.
In what seems a stunningly small-minded policy for an immense organization run by a certifiable megalomaniac, Amazon informed me I could never, ever again have a seller’s account if I cancelled the one I had. Infantile corporate petulance, Bezos taking his ball and going home. My brain shrugged at this news, and it was, for a change, right to do so. For one thing, it made a huge difference to us to be able to control our own destinies, to make our own decisions. The Ongoing Criminal Enterprise pressured us as sellers with strict deadlines, and serious consequences for missing them, insisting we pack and ship every order in less than 48 hours, constantly making us run off to the Post Office, I’d wait in the car while Judy would go inside, stand in line, listen to people bitch. And all for no money.
We sold books like mad, too, both of us, off our new website, people were coming out of the woodwork, from high school fifty years ago.
“They’re selling like French toast,” we would say.
And the money was ours. We still charged postage, but we could take the packages to the Post Office Any Goddamned Time we pleased.
After the woman tromped downstairs with my book on top of her stack, I told Judy about the little incident, and she seemed happy for me. She knows me and she knows booksellers; small delights are the only delights most of us can count on and even those are few and far between.
I gathered a stack of my own: Denis Johnson’s ‘The Stars at Noon,’ paperback, a nice hardcover of the first volume of Larry McMurtry’s four-volume ‘Berrybender Narratives’ (I always get aspirational in a bookstore, like in a million years I’m gonna read a four-volume “saga”), a new copy of Jennifer Haigh’s ‘Mercy Street,’ which Richard Russo had glowingly reviewed on the cover of the previous Sunday’s Times Book Review. Judy took home an Annie Proulx, though not the one she was looking for, and a collection of Alice Munro stories. And—What could be better?—we exited with a small balance remaining on our credit slip, not enough to get us very far, but still.
A woman I’d never seen before went home with a copy of my book. I can only hope she or, more likely, her husband, get a few laughs out of it. I thought it might be a good way to pass the day, standing there in New Fiction, handing copies of my book to everyone who came up the stairs. But I’m not a bookseller anymore, I’m a writer.
‘Mercy Street’ turned out to be very good but not as good as Richard Russo made it out to be. He and Jennifer Haigh are probably friends. That’s how things work in the writing game too.
A SURVEY OF THE AGROABSURD
by Bill Hatch
The Kumeyaay People have lived in the region between the Pacific Coast of San Diego County, Baja California Norte. and Imperial Valley for 10,000 years. They hunted, fished, gathered and traded according to the seasons, from Bighorn sheep in the mountains to Mesquite beans in the desert, from abalone to yucca, rabbits to pinon nuts. They lived with this land for millennia before there was a Mexico or a United States. Even the desert provided for them abundantly.
But then, shrewd white men arrived and discovered that the soil of this desert was in fact a rich alluvial plain of Colorado River silt that could be cleared, ploughed, harrowed, irrigated, planted and made to grow profitable crops for export on the railroad. So, they bought a great deal of land, developed a small canal from the Colorado, sold land to other white men, who began the new form of gaining food – not by gathering the fruits of this rich desert, but by planting crops and gambling on markets.
Soon, the gamblers started a more ambitious canal, the All-American Canal. It blew out and flowed north into the Salton Sink for three years, creating the Salton Sea. It took the resources of Southern Pacific to stop the flow in 1907.
Farmers went on to develop the desert for more than a century, first creating Imperial County out of eastern San Diego County in 1907. In 1911, they created their most powerful institution, the Imperial Irrigation District. In 1922 they bargained in the 7-state Colorado River Compact for 3.1 million acre-feet of water out of California’s total share of 4.4 million acre-feet. An acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons or three-quarters of a football field covered in a foot of water.
Although Imperial Valley is the last stop in the US for the Colorado River, due to its early development of irrigation and the volume of water it wanted and created the irrigation system to get, and the legal doctrine of “Prior appropriation rights” (first in use, first in right), Imperial Valley receives more water than five states in the compact and almost as much as the whole state of Colorado.
Prior appropriation rights are not the only method of distribution of river water in the West. The first water right recorded on the Colorado River was given to the San Luis Peoples’ Ditch, in 1854, a community owned and operated irrigation canal in the San Luis Valley established under the Spanish (ultimately Arab) acequia irrigation system. The New Mexico Acequia Association protects this communal system of water distribution to this day in that state. Utah also has its own community irrigation tradition. I point this out because so many people, urban or rural, particularly in Southern California, think Imperial Valley is a normal, inevitable fact of human progress.
It isn’t. It’s not normal or inevitable that any California irrigation district should contract to provide 5 acre-feet of water to its members, about 500 farms owned by a few large, absentee farmers, in control of 3.1 million acre-feet of water from a catastrophically overdrawn river. A benchmark figure for irrigation in California is around 3 acre-feet for almond orchards or vineyards.
Today, the largest commodity in Imperial Valley is feedlot cattle, mostly for Holstein steers and heifers, provided by the California dairy industry, largest in the US. Next comes alfalfa, sold to California dairies, feedlots and horse ranches and exported to Asia and Arab countries. Alfalfa is in several ways a beneficial crop: its long roots loosen soil and fix nitrogen in the soil, which tends to improve rather than deplete soils. But the price is more than 6 acre-feet of water to irrigate it.
The feedlot Holstein steers and heifers in those temperatures need between 15-30 gallons a day depending on age and weight, (adapted from Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle: Eighth Revised Edition: Updated 2016). Last year the seven Imperial Valley feedlots reported feeding 460,000 head.
Imperial Valley, a desert in the southeast corner of California, hardly figures in the thoughts of urban Southern Californians. Their hectic lives do not foster any curiosity about the crisis of infrastructure, economics, law and politics that underlies their water and power supply. Mainstream Southern California media has pacified environmental concerns for decades and reassures them daily that new technologies to desalinate and recirculate wastewater will provide enough water if, as the usual academic advises, “we use it wisely.”
Whatever may be done, if anything is done about the Colorado River, will be decided by Power and Money, Southern Californians say.
This simple clarity is undimmed by thoughts of the Common Good or the Public Benefit. It is not per se political; in fact, it simply recognizes the brutal private Power and Money operating behind the array of public agencies and bought politicians against state and federal law and regulation.
But Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam and its electric generators, is at 25-percent capacity. La Nina is still in place and the drought will continue, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Power and money will decide the winners and losers of Colorado River water next year and the decision will be sold as, somehow, beneficial to economic growth and the environment. But, that growth is not for everyone. Imperial, Tulare, and Fresno counties, each national agricultural powerhouses, are the three poorest per capita counties in California.
The Bureau of Reclamation has clearly adjudicated authority to decide apportionment of water in years of drought. Last summer BOR Commissioner Camille Touton gave the three lower river states, Arizona, Nevada and California, a month to come up with a plan for voluntary cutbacks. They didn’t and she didn’t use her authority to mandate cutbacks.
Touton began her political career in Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s office. The top priority for the river of her boss, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, appears to be enforcement of the water rights of the 29 Native American tribes that have been promised since the 1922. The Assistant Secretary for Water and Science is Tanya Trujillo, a Washington resource bureaucracy attorney, who like Haaland, began her political career in New Mexico. Their careers were made by climbing the ladders of NGOs and public agencies and politics that feed on the river for the sake of grants and elite careers.
On the legislative side, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, has been the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. His letter to Secretary Haaland last summer began:
“Dear Secretary Haaland, As you know, climate change and unsustainable water use are bringing us close to a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System. Avoiding this disastrous outcome will require a major change in status quo management approaches and significant reductions in Colorado River water use by all Colorado River Basin states, including Upper Basin states. Toward that end, in the absence of voluntary water use reductions, I respectfully urge the Department to fully use its existing legal authorities to require an additional 2 to 4 million acre-feet in water conservation to protect the Colorado River System…”
But Grijalva will be removed from his position when Republicans take control of the House. The front runner for House speaker is Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield CA, who is sure to be a powerful advocate for California agribusiness getting every drop of Colorado River water it believes it is owed. Haaland and Touton caved under pressure when Pelosi and Grijalva were in power. What chance has the river, despite Interior’s latest threat last month to impose cuts Grijalva suggested with McCarthy, a split Senate and another Californian, Vice President Kamala Harris, breaking tie votes?
For these reasons, the rotten politics behind the lower-states’ division of river’s water is a scandal concealed by superior PR. Nevada and Arizona will get large cuts next year, but California is likely to get much less because of it political clout, including an agreement with Arizona made 50 years ago:
“’…in 1968 when Arizona went to Congress to get federal funding to build the central Arizona project, California took the legislation hostage and would only allow them to get that federal funding if they agreed to put a clause in that would have Arizona take all of California’s cuts,’ says John Ensminger from the Southern Nevada Water Authority.” By: Joe Moeller , KTNV, Aug 17, 2022
Meanwhile, demand for water in the Imperial Valley is growing, irrigation efficiencies cannot keep up with it, the river is in severe decline, the Salton Sea continues to shrink, yet IID’s water rights remain nearly divine in its service area as the river water itself gets saltier by the year.
“In California’s Imperial Valley, which grows about 80 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables, irrigating with Colorado River water has caused some fields to become so salty that they have been abandoned. During the 1960s, so much salt flowed into the Colorado River from U.S. farms that Mexico, at the downstream end, could no longer use it for irrigation; a solution was finally negotiated in the 1970s requiring major reductions in the river’s saltiness. Laws were passed, and an array of federal program were created that gave farmers incentives to improve their irrigation methods.” –Jodi Peterson, KYNF, Dec. 22, 2020.
In coming months California will make gestures for the media, like the offer the state made to cut 400,000 acre-feet next year, with IID offering to cut 250,000 acre-feet in the coming season. But in the lower graphs of the story, the IID spokesman added the condition that the federal government would have to help it deal with the Salton Sea, a huge sump for agricultural runoff from Imperial County, which has begun to shrink in recent years, due partly to improved irrigation methods and partly to global warming. The shrinking has left several hundred yards of a shoreline of toxic dusts. Intense windstorms pick up dust and pollute the air as far north as tony Palm Springs. Plans to mine the bottom for lithium are going forward, but a recent proposals to pipe in seawater from the Gulf of California failed to get county approval.
Taxpayers, through the mechanism of the Farm Bill (a new one coming next year) and other spending bills aimed at drought-affected farmers, will pick up much of the losses a few large farmers will sustain, through subsidized crop insurance and payments to fallow land. The grandchildren of the row-crop gamblers of yesteryear are playing with house money these days. But you can’t fallow a date grove or a citrus or almond orchard, and crop insurance doesn’t pay workers not to work in fields that aren’t planted.
The people that will be hardest hit are, as always, the local farmworkers, who live in Imperial Valley or across the line, breathe lousy air, care for their asthmatic children and elders, drink polluted water in punishing heat, and will lose jobs that bureaucrats call “unskilled labor.”
(Bill Hatch lives in the Central Valley in California. He is a member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of San Francisco. He can be reached at: email@example.com.)
SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE
Twitter Apologizes For Censoring News Of The First Son At Play
An unsolicited new idea that you will like.
It seems like if the percentage of young people voting was higher in would work in the Democratic Party's favor. We are talking about voting. We want voters under 50 and especially those between 18 and 30 to vote in much higher percentages. As they age, older voters become more selfish and narrowminded — but they vote.
The proposal is for a trial run in the 2024 California election with the hope that other states will adopt it.
All persons will receive a ballot by mail and all ballots must be returned. It's called mandatory voting. You do not need a vote, but under our proposal most will be eager to vote.
The candidates are 12 in number. Your representative and senator plus state offices from Governor to Board of Equalization.
Out of numbers from 1-100 you must assign a number to each of the candidates you voted for. You must write the number down on the numbered detachable strip on the ballot. This is your lottery ticket. Don't lose it. The governor has some children. They will conduct the drawing. 100 numbered play turnips will be placed in a sack. The children will draw out 12 turnips.
The person who has a match for the most of the 12 play turnips wins the first prize of $5,000, a modest sum because this is a trial. But there should be a lot of smaller prizes to track potential voters.
After the 2024 election we will have some idea how much running this lottery will cost. But we cannot ask the State of California to pay for it because they need millions for their failed homeless programs. Instead, we will ask the participants of the 2024 election to slip a $1 bill into their return ballot. No dollar, no lottery. We hope this lottery will attract Democrats.
SINCE THE FEBRUARY REVOLUTION, many homes of the rich, and especially the aristocracy, have been commandeered by organized gangs, either with official approval or without. Once they settle in only rarely (as with the anarchists in Durnovo) do the authorities attempt to evict. Indeed, since the original inhabitants of the palaces used to spread themselves thinly, one or two to a wing, and the squatters now pack themselves at least 6 to a room, you can claim that under "democracy" 100 times as many people lived in palaces as under the Czar.
— Lenin, as channeled by Alan Brien
THE GREAT ESCAPE: The True Story of Three Alcatraz Inmates
by Cara Stiles
Though the prison has been closed for decades, Alcatraz has earned its place in infamy. In its heyday, “The Rock” was considered impenetrable. At least thirty six prisoners attempted to escape the island – all were captured, shot, or swallowed by the sea.
All of that changed one fateful day in June 1962, when a group of three men plunged into the San Francisco Bay in hopes of finding freedom. For years, their fates were unknown – most speculated that the prisoners had drowned in the tumultuous waters. But, 51 years after the fact, the discovery of a mysterious letter forced the FBI to reevaluate their presumptions about the daring escape artists of Alcatraz.
Back in January 2013, the San Francisco Police Department received a shocking message. “My name is John Anglin,” the handwritten note began. “I escaped from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris.” Dropped into the laps of authorities was a long overdue clue to one of the most notorious mysteries in US history.
Back in the 60’s officials deemed that the unaccounted for men had almost certainly drowned in the dark, icy bay during their escape attempt. But, with the letter in hand, a shadow of doubt was suddenly cast over the long-accepted story.
For years, the escapees were presumed dead simply because it seemed to be the most plausible outcome of the case that had stumped law enforcement for years. However, the letter recovered in 2013 told a very different story. Naturally, some skeptics cast doubt on the validity of the document.
Unsure what to believe, the police department kept the letter under wraps for years. After careful examination, it was finally determined that there was some cause to believe the contents of the note. So, in January 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reopened the cold case.
What makes this particular escape remarkable is the fact that Alcatraz was designed to make it virtually impossible to escape. Until its closure in 1963, only the most despicable criminals were sent to the maximum security prison.
Of course, that never stopped those incarcerated from trying to escape. So, how exactly did Anglin and co. succeed where so many others had failed?
Believe it or not, these crooks were not the first individuals with enough moxie to attempt escape. At least a few dozen incarcerated inmates had taken the same risks over the years. Twenty three individuals were quickly captured and brought back behind bars.
Others weren’t so lucky. At least six men were shot and killed by guards as they attempted to execute their plans. Those that made it to the water drowned or disappeared.
Four men were a part of the group meticulously plotting a path to freedom – John and Clarence Anglin, Frank Lee Morris, and Allen West. The four men had cells near each other and endless hours to perfect their master plan.
Over the course of the investigation, it was revealed that the Anglin brothers knew Morris, as they had been shackled together while serving prison time in Atlanta. Fed up with penitentiary life, these men had nothing to lose – making them the perfect candidates to try something so risky.
Frank Lee Morris was nothing short of a criminal mastermind. At the age of 11, he was orphaned and forced to look after himself as he was shuffled between foster homes. Just two years later, he was convicted of his first crime. Over the years, his cunning increased and he developed into a skilled criminal.
After pulling off a string of armed robberies, the authorities ultimately caught up with him. He ultimately served time in Georgia and Florida before winding up at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the South”.
Unfortunately for those supervising him, Morris was never one to follow rules. Against all odds, he managed to escape the high security conditions in Louisiana. From there, he remained on the lam for about a year. During that time, he fell right back into his previous life of crime.
When the police finally caught up to him, they sent him to the real-life Alcatraz, where he reconnected with the Anglins. Morris proved to be a natural ringleader, and had no trouble convincing his old pals that he had the credentials to pull off a second prison break.
Born in Georgia, the Anglin brothers moved around early in life to help their parents with seasonal farm work. Two of thirteen children, they maintained a close bond that spanned far beyond adolescence.
Each year, the family migrated up north for cherry picking season. There, they splashed around the frigid waters of Lake Michigan and eventually grew into strong, skilled swimmers. Years later, this would prove to be crucial in their plans to escape Alcatraz.
Naturally, John and Clarence were perfect partners in crime as they reached adulthood. Like Morris, the two were serial bank robbers. Targeting establishments after hours, they took precautions to avoid interacting with or injuring others.
Because of their stealth, the two were able to pull off robberies for several years. Eventually, in 1956, they were caught, incarcerated, and sent to Atlanta Penitentiary.
Morris wasn’t the only one with escape on his mind. Several times, the Anglin brothers attempted to escape Atlanta Penitentiary. This eventually landed them at Alcatraz, where they met up with Frank Lee Morris.
Collectively, the men knew a thing or two about what it took to fool guards and get out of jail. Pulling in fellow inmate Allen West, the group of four men started to ponder how it might be possible for a person to escape “The Rock” alive.
In order to understand precisely how the men made their way off the island prison, there are a few factors to take into consideration. Firstly, the four men were among Alcatraz’s very few non-violent offenders. Because they didn’t have a record of harming others, they were able to function under the radar and attract less attention from prison guards.
Furthermore, Alcatraz functioned as a factory as well as a prison. Those that found themselves within the walls of the penitentiary were forced to work making furniture, clothing, and shoes. As the men produced various resources, they were able to slowly but surely collect supplies for their eventual escape.
So, why exactly did the inmates need to accrue a collection of supplies? Their highly complex plan to escape Alcatraz, the notoriously isolated jailhouse, involved leaving behind handmade, human-like dummies.
Unlike today, escape attempts would likely be met with gunfire on the part of the tough Alcatraz guards. Therefore, it was of the upmost importance that the prison personnel not expect anything suspicious for as long as possible.
Each member of the team had their own set of responsibilities to take care of prior to the night of the great escape. The task of creating dummy heads to fill the beds of the escapees fell on the shoulders of the Anglin brothers.
The dummy heads were made with the supplies that were readily available – primarily, soap wax and toilet paper. The brothers were able to add a human touch to their creations with leftover hair collected at the Alcatraz barber shop.
The dummies were just one part of the plan. The team also fashioned tools like picks and wrenches using everyday items, such as cafeteria spoons. With them, they’d chip away at bits of the wall whenever they were afforded the chance to do so.
Between 5:30 PM and 9 PM, the men were afforded a few precious unsupervised hours to work. After removing the vents in each of their cells, they were able to chisel away at the existing opening. Before long, they were able to create holes large enough to crawl through.
The task of fashioning tunnels and holes in the foundation of the prison was made easier by the fact that Alcatraz itself was beginning to crumble. Years of exposure to saltwater destroyed the pipes, and constant leaks deteriorated the walls over time.
By the time the escape was being planned, the prison was in serious need of repairs in certain areas. The salt water had even eroded the foundation’s cement.
Believe it or not, guards didn’t notice the banging and chipping of the inmates at work. This was thanks to the prison reforms of the 1960’s, which allowed inmates an hour of music. During this time, the prison would be filled with noise.
Whenever possible, Morris had an accordion that he would play. The noise of the instrument perfectly masked the sound of his fellow gang members hard at work.
Eventually, the prisoners discovered that the utility corridor was essentially unguarded. If the men could get the holes in each of their cells wide enough, they’d be able to climb up three floors to access the roof of the building. The only obstacle they’d have to overcome would be to shimmy up a large shaft to make it outside of the building.
Initially, the men found that the majority of the shafts were cemented shut. But luck was on their side – they eventually found an access point that they were able to pry open using a hand-fashioned wrench.
By the spring of 1962, both Anglin brothers and Morris had fashioned holes big enough to make the escape. The passageways were a claustrophobics nightmare, hardly large enough for a human body to squeeze through. But that was all the men needed to pull off their plan.
But getting out of the walls was only half the battle. Over the months, the men had stolen and subsequently stitched together a makeshift raft and set of life preserves using raincoats from the factory. Without these supplies, the men would have surely drowned in the icy bay.
When all of the preparations were in place, all the men had to do was wait for Allen West to finish his escape route and signal that he was ready to go. Once West was ready, the gang would be able to slip out at a moment’s notice thanks to months of preparation on their end.
On June 11th, 1962, West signaled the others to let him know that he would be able to make it out of his cell. But, despite their thorough planning, the men would soon discover that not everything would go exactly according to plan.
When lights went out on the day the gang received West’s signal, the plan was finally put into action. They weren’t entirely confident in whether or not they’d succeed – chances were high that they wouldn’t make it out of the ordeal alive. However, the promise of freedom was enticing enough that they were willing to take the risk.
Adrenaline pumping through their veins, they weren’t going to succumb to their own fears. Instead, they tucked their decoys snuggly in bed and moved out as quickly as they possibly could.
Unfortunately, they ran into a snag over the course of their escape. The Anglin brothers and Morris were able to get out of their cells with ease, but the same could not be said for Allen West. Although he had signaled the gang, he had evidently misjudged the size of the hole he had built.
Initially, Morris did what he could to help his accomplice out. However, the cement wouldn’t budge, and the group came to the decision that West would have to be left behind.
The men had been working together on their escape for months, so the decision to leave West behind was not one that they took lightly. However, the group knew that they weren’t left with many options. If they had tried to widen West’s hole on the spot, they would have certainly garnered attention from the guards.
So, West allowed the others to go on without him, resigned to his fate as a captive. Ultimately, leaving him may have been what saved the lives of the others – after all, the weight of one less man ultimately made the escape raft lighter.
After squeezing through their tunnels, the men entered the utility corridor and climbed up 30 feet of plumbing to make it onto the roof. They then had to cross the rooftop and climb down an additional 50 feet of piping to make it to the ground.
When they finally set foot on solid land, they were able to silently make their way past the unsuspecting guards. They made it all the way to the shore, where the gang had to stop to inflate their rain jacket raft.
At around 11:30 at night, the raft was ready to go and the gang set sail. They were never seen or heard from again, and the next morning the guards finally discovered that the men were missing.
That morning, all of the residents of the island were woken up by the sound of blaring sirens, signaling that there had been a security breach. Most of the prisoners and personnel were initially confused – surely, no one could have found a way out of the fortress. But, as they soon discovered, that was exactly what had taken place.
Although Allen West was left behind, he hadn’t quite given up on his hopes for freedom. Continuing to work on his hole through the night, he was finally able to squeeze through and make it out of his cell. Straight away, he ran after his three co-conspirators.
Unfortunately for him, by the time he was atop the roof they were long gone. He was then faced with a difficult decision; he could either return to his cell and safety or brave the treacherous waters of the bay. Not wanting to risk almost certain death, he went back inside.
Allen West crawled back to his bunk and waited til morning, when the alarms inevitably went off. The entire prison was searched, and eventually the authorities deduced that West was the only individual with any knowledge of the escape plan.
He cooperated with his captors fully and told them about the plot they had hatched. However, we may never know whether West was being entirely honest. According to his testimony, the men were headed to Angel Island, where they planned to steal a car, some clothes, and be on their way to start new lives.
There was a hole in West’s story – there weren’t any reports of robberies within the two week period following the escape. Either the men didn’t make it past the bay, or they landed somewhere else entirely.
There were other holes that cast doubt on West’s story. He claimed to be the mastermind behind the escape plot, despite not making it out of the prison. Nevertheless, his account was all Alcatraz had to work with. The FBI was called in to investigate the whereabouts of the trio.
Some of the men’s personal belongings were found floating in the freezing waters of the bay in the days following the escape, but there were never any bodies recovered. Had the men fallen overboard, they almost certainly would have perished – the temperatures of the San Francisco Bay hover in the low 50’s, regardless of the season.
According to experts, an adult male would be able to survive for around 20 minutes in the water before their body functions would begin to fail. Furthermore, the men weren’t acclimated to the cold, as the prison itself was intentionally kept warm.
Only one hint that the men may have perished ever emerged, about a month after the escape. A Norwegian freighter spotted the sighting of a body about 17 miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge, donned in clothes similar to a prisoner’s uniform. However, by the time authorities made it out to the area, the alleged body was long gone.
For years, the efforts of the FBI were fruitless. After 17 years of investigation, they closed the investigation for good, concluding that the men likely drowned during the course of their escape. However, clues eventually cropped up to the contrary.
According to a 2015 documentary produced by the history channel, evidence emerged that at the very least, the Anglin brothers had survived the ordeal. For instance, the family received handwritten Christmas cards that matched their script (although the delivery date could not be confirmed).
Eventually, the Anglin family even produced a photograph of the two men, taken in Brazil in 1975. Forensic experts analyzed the snapshot carefully and concluded that, “more than likely”, the two were indeed John and Clarence.
A deathbed confession from one of Anglin’s many siblings further pointed to the possibility that John and Clarence may be making a new life for themselves elsewhere. Just before Robert Anglin passed away, he confessed that he had been in contact with the two between the years of 1963 and 1987.
Though the Anglin clan has allegedly heard from the brothers, they’ve been deterred from actively searching for John and Clarence. The escape from Alcatraz is still an open Interpol investigation, and if the brothers were found, they’d be severely punished.
When the letter written by John Anglin was received by the police department, it seemed to confirm some of the rumors that had been floating around over the years. “We all made it that night, but barely,” Anglin reminisces. He then goes on to explain that Frank and Clarence had passed away in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Anglin also explained where he had shacked up over the years. Though parts of the note were illegible, it was revealed that he had spent the majority of his time post-escape in North Dakota and Seattle, Washington.
One of the last lines of the note proved to be the most shocking, as Anglin confessed that he was most recently living in “Southern California”. If the letter is indeed authentic, Anglin may have been living within a few hours of the prison he tried so desperately to escape all of those years ago.
As it turns out, the letter writer was evidently suffering from very poor health. In need of serious help, Anglin wrote in hopes that he might be able to seek medical treatment if he agreed to go back to jail – an unconventional offer, to say the very least.
The letter concluded with an attempt at a negotiation. If a television announcement was made promising that he would be imprisoned for no more than a year and would receive adequate medical attention, Anglin would reveal his exact location.
But, before law enforcement could begin negotiations, the validity of the letter had to be investigated. Firstly, a careful analysis had to be conducted to determine whether any additional information could be gleaned from the note.
A lab full of forensic analysts searched for possible traces of DNA or partial fingerprints that might have been left behind on the paper’s surface. Handwriting experts also were brought in the compare the letter against writing samples sourced from all three escapees.
Eventually, local news outlets claimed that the results they garnered were inconclusive. In other words, the authenticity of the letter could not be confirmed or denied.
In the past, US Marshals had claimed that it was certainly possible that the prisoners could have escaped Alcatraz alive. Nevertheless, after the letter was released to the public, a representative claimed that the Marshals did not believe in the legitimacy of the note.
Despite their doubts, the Marshals Service has claimed that they will continue to investigate leads until proof emerges that they are dead – or, at the very least, that they’ve reached 99 years of age. But, with that milestone quickly approaching, concrete proof is unlikely to emerge. After all, the FBI’s 17 year investigation ended when they were unable to gather any credible information that the trio was still alive.
The letter only reached the public eye when a local news station was provided with a copy from an unnamed source. When the story broke, the Marshals were forced to provide a statement on the matter.
As the only organization to keep the case open after so many years, the Marshals knew the case inside and out after decades of investigation. “There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of them would have changed their lifestyle and became completely law abiding citizens after this escape,” they stated
With renewed interest in their case, a group of researchers got to calculating what sort of conditions the inmates would have met the night of their escape. According to their findings, the current would have been in their favor if they left around midnight and there’s a very high likelihood that they would have been able to survive the treacherous waters.
With that information in mind, it makes sense why the Marshal’s Service has maintained an active warrant for the men all through the years. Back in 2009, a deputy stated that the organization “doesn’t give up looking for people”.
In March 2018, the last guard to leave Alcatraz shed a bit more light on the situation. In honor of the 55th anniversary of the prison’s closing, Jim Albright agreed to an interview in which he was asked whether he believed Anglin and company could have survived their escape.
“I believe they drowned, I really do,” Albright stated in the interview. In his opinion, the men couldn’t have possibly made it to safety. Instead, he believes that the alleged John Anglin letter came from an individual desperate to find cancer treatment by any means necessary.
To this day, there still isn’t conclusive evidence on the fates of Frank Lee Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether law enforcement was ever able to get in touch with the author of the 2013 letter.
However, if the men are indeed still out there, they would be quite elderly. John Anglin would be 86 years old, while Clarence would be 87. Frank Morris would be celebrating his 90th birthday.
U. S. TO PAY MILLIONS TO MOVE TRIBES THREATENED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
The Biden administration will give three Native tribes $75 million to move away from coastal areas or rivers, one of the nation’s largest efforts to date to relocate communities that are facing an urgent threat from climate change.
The three communities — two in Alaska, and one in Washington State — will each get $25 million to move their key buildings onto higher ground and away from rising waters, with the expectation that homes will follow. The federal government will give eight more tribes $5 million each to plan for relocation.
“It gave me goose bumps when I found out we got that money,” said Joseph John Jr., a council member in Newtok, a village in southwest Alaska where the land is quickly eroding. It will receive $25 million to relocate inland. “It will mean a lot to us.”
The project, funded by the Interior Department, is an acknowledgment that a growing number of places around the United States can no longer be protected against changes brought by a warming planet. The spending is meant to create a blueprint for the federal government to help other communities, Native as well as nontribal, move away from vulnerable areas, officials said.
“There are tribal communities at risk of being washed away,” President Biden said on Wednesday afternoon at a gathering of tribal leaders. The new funding, he said, will help tribes “move, in some cases, their entire communities back to safer ground.”
Relocating whole communities, sometimes called managed retreat, is perhaps the most aggressive form of adaptation to climate change. Despite the high initial cost, relocation may save money in the long run, by reducing the amount of damage from future disasters, along with the cost of rebuilding after those disasters.
But relocation is also disruptive. In 2016, the Obama administration gave Louisiana $48 million to relocate the small coastal village of Isle de Jean Charles, which has lost most of its land to the Gulf of Mexico. Residents struggled to agree on where the new village should be built; it wasn’t until this year that people began moving into their new homes.
Another challenge is deciding which places to help first. This year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs held a contest, in which tribal nations applied for up to $3 million in relocation money. Of the 11 tribes that applied, only five received funding; the bureau would not say how it had decided which tribes to help relocate.
The $25 million awards announced on Wednesday, which will fund a significant portion of the cost of relocation, followed a process that was more opaque. According to officials, there was no application process. Instead, the Bureau of Indian Affairs considered tribes that had already done some degree of planning for relocation and applied five criteria, including the amount of risk they currently faced, whether they had selected new sites to move to and their readiness to move.
Some experts expressed concern about how the Interior Department decided which tribes to help relocate.
The lack of a formal application process for the latest relocation grants “strikes me as an unfair way to make funding decisions with such significant implications,” said Samantha L. Montano, an emergency management professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
“Every community faces some kind of climate risk and will require federal support in mitigating that risk,” Dr. Montano added. “There is no clear plan for how those funding decisions will be made in effective, efficient, or equitable ways.”
In addition to Newtok, the other tribes to receive $25 million were Napakiak, a village on the shore of the Kuskokwim River that is losing 25 to 50 feet of land each year to erosion, and the Quinault Indian Nation, on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, whose main town, Taholah, faces a growing risk of flooding.
The Quinault nation has selected a new site on higher ground, said Fawn Sharp, the nation’s vice president. She said the new money will be used to build a community center, which will also house a health and wellness center and be the site of general council meetings. The structure will also serve as an emergency evacuation center.
The $25 million will make up about one-quarter of the total cost of Quinault’s relocation project, said Ms. Sharp, who is also president of the National Congress of American Indians.
“For years, our pleas have seemed to fall on deaf ears,” Ms. Sharp said. With the new money, she said, “they’re paying attention to us.”
Eight other tribes will get $5 million each to consider whether to relocate and to begin planning for relocation if they decide to do so. They include the Chitimacha Tribe, in Louisiana; the Yurok Tribe, in Northern California; and other Native villages in Alaska.
The federal government needs to learn how to help relocate communities that want to move, said Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Interior Department. The new funding will be a chance for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to learn to coordinate its relocation efforts with other agencies that work on disaster recovery, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Because of the impact of climate change, it’s unfortunate that this work is necessary,” said Mr. Newland, who is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community. “We have to make sure that tribes can continue to exist, and continue their way of life.”
BE IT RESOLVED: DON'T TRUST MAINSTREAM MEDIA
by Matt Taibbi
Tonight at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, I'm teaming up with The War on the West author Douglas Murray in the prestigious Munk Debates. Our opponents are Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author and New Yorker staff writer, and Michelle Goldberg, MSNBC contributor and columnist for the New York Times. The subject tonight: "Be it resolved: Do not trust the mainstream media."
You can probably guess which side I'll be arguing. Below, a transcript of my opening remarks (you'll receive this as the event begins). More on the event after its completion. Thanks to everyone for being patient this week as I prepared.
My name is Matt Taibbi, I’ve been a reporter for 30 years, and I argue for the resolution. You should not trust mainstream media.
I grew up in the press. My father was a reporter. My stepmother was a reporter. My godparents were reporters. Every adult I knew growing up seemed to be in media. I even used my father’s TV mic flag as a toy. I’d go in the backyard, stand with my back to the house, and play “live shot”:
Chet, I'm in Norwell, Massachusetts, where firefighters are battling a three-alarm blaze...
I love the news business. It’s in my bones. But I mourn for it. It’s destroyed itself.
My father had a saying: “The story’s the boss.” In the American context, if the facts tell you the Republicans were the primary villains in this or that disaster, you write that story. If the facts point more at Democrats, you go that way. If it turns out they’re both culpable, as was often the case for me across nearly ten years of investigating Wall Street and the causes of the 2008 crash for Rolling Stone, you write that. We’re not supposed to nudge facts one way or another. Our job is to call things as we see them and leave the rest up to you.
We don’t do that now. The story is no longer the boss. Instead, we sell narrative, as part of a new business model that’s increasingly indifferent to fact.
When there were only a few channels, the commercial strategy of news companies was to aim for the whole audience. A TV news broadcast aired at dinnertime and was designed to be consumed by the whole family, from your crazy right-wing uncle to the sulking lefty teenager. This system had its flaws. However, making an effort to talk to everybody had benefits, too. For one, it inspired more trust. Gallup polls twice showed Walter Cronkite of CBS to be the most trusted person in America. That would never happen today.
After the Internet arrived and flooded the market with new voices, some outlets found that instead of going after the whole audience, it made more financial sense to pick one demographic and dominate it. How? That’s easy. You feed the audience news you know they will like. When Fox had success targeting suburban and rural, mostly white, mostly older conservatives – the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes infamously described his audience as “55 to dead” – other companies soon followed suit.
Now everyone does it. Whether it’s Fox, or MSNBC, or CNN, or the Washington Post, nearly all Western media outlets are in the demographic-hunting business. This may be less true in Canada, where there’s a stronger public media tradition, but in the U.S., it’s standard.
Call it the “audience-optimization” model: instead of starting with a story and following the facts, you start with what pleases your audience, and work backward to the story. In this system, the overwhelming majority of national media organizations cater to one “side” or the other. For instance, according to a Pew Center survey from a few years ago, 93% of Fox’s audience votes Republican, while in an exactly mirroring phenomenon, MSNBC’s audience is 95% Democratic.
Our colleagues on the other side tonight represent two once-great media organizations. Michelle, the Pew survey says the audience for your New York Times is now 91% comprised of Democrats. Malcolm, the last numbers I could find for the New Yorker were back in 2012, and even then, only 9% of the magazine’s readers were Republicans. I imagine that number is smaller now.
This bifurcated system is fundamentally untrustworthy. When you decide in advance to forego half of your potential audience, to fulfill the aim of catering to the other half, you’re choosing in advance which facts to emphasize and which to downplay. You’re also choosing which stories to cover, and which ones to avoid, based on considerations other than truth or newsworthiness.
This is not journalism. It’s political entertainment, and therefore unreliable.
With editors now more concerned with retaining audience than getting things right, the defining characteristic across the business — from right to left — is inaccuracy. We just get a lot of stuff wrong now. It’s now less important for reporters to be accurate than “directionally” correct, which in center-left “mainstream” media mostly comes down to having the right views, like opposing Donald Trump, or anti-vaxxers, or election-deniers, or protesting Canadian truckers, or any other people deemed wrongthinkers.
In the zeal to “hold Trump accountable,” or oppose figures like Vladimir Putin, ethical guardrails have been tossed out. Silent edits have become common. Serious accusations are made without calling people for comment. Reporters get too cozy with politicians, and as a result report information either without attribution at all or sourced to unnamed officials or “people familiar with the matter.” Like scientists, journalists should be able to reproduce each other’s work in the lab. With too many anonymous sources, this becomes impossible.
We had an incident a few weeks ago where the lede of a wire service story read, “A senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland.” That’s the kind of story where if you get it wrong, you can start a war, but they still put all their chips on one unnamed source. That’s very risky practice even if you’re right.
That story turned out to be wrong, which sadly is no longer uncommon. In the Trump years an extraordinary number of “bombshells” went sideways. From the “pee tape” to the Alfa Server story to speculation that Trump was a Russian spy (recruited before disco) to false reports of Russians hacking a Vermont utility to an evidence-free story about Trump’s campaign manager somehow sneaking undetected to meet the most watched human on earth, Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, we’ve accumulated piles of wrong stories.
I’m no fan of Donald Trump. I wrote a book about the man called Insane Clown President. But I’ve compiled a list of over 100 of these “bombshells” that went belly up, from “Bountygate” to MSNBC saying Russian oligarchs co-signed a loan for Trump to countless others, because these stories offend me. A good journalist should always be ashamed of error. It bothers me to see so many of my colleagues so unashamed.
This by the way isn’t a wholly new phenomenon. After the WMD fiasco American news media didn’t do a self-audit. Instead we promoted the people who got it wrong and fired the ones who didn’t.
The excuse, “At least we’re not Breitbart,” doesn’t even hold. Think about another of these bombshells, the one in which Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen supposedly went to Prague to meet with Russian hackers. This story came from the now-disgraced dossier of former British spy Christopher Steele. It’s been refuted multiple times, including by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who flatly declared Cohen “never traveled to Prague.” Yet the tale will not die.
From MSNBC to CNN to McClatchy we’ve had leading media outlets continue to take seriously the idea that Donald Trump’s lawyer traveled to Prague to scheme with “Kremlin Representatives” over how to fix the election using Romanian hackers, who according to Steele would afterward retreat to Bulgaria, and use that country as a “bolt hole” to “lie low.” If that’s not a conspiracy theory, I don’t know what is.
This story is every bit as nuts as the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. I would venture to say it’s crazier. It’s at least more creative. No serious journalist would go near a story like this without a lot of evidence. Yet our leading media people believed it with none. Because they’re not doing journalism. They’re selling narrative, and this was good narrative.
News media shouldn’t have a “side.” The press has to be seen as separate from politics, not just because this is a crucial component of trustworthiness, but also because the media derives all its power from the perception of its independence. If a news organ is seen as too connected to one or another party, it loses its ability to serve as a check on power. How can you “hold Trump accountable” without credibility?
Getting things right is hard enough. The minute we try to do anything else in this job, the wheels come off. Until we get back to the basics, we don’t deserve to be trusted. And we won’t be.
IT WAS NEVER ABOUT UKRAINE
by Ted Snider
In his March 21 press briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price told the gathered reporters that “President Zelenskyy has also made it very clear that he is open to a diplomatic solution that does not compromise the core principles at the heart of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine.” A reporter asked Price, “What are you saying about your support for a negotiated settlement à la Zelenskyy, but on whose principles?” In what still may be the most remarkable statement of the war, Price responded, “this is a war that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine.”
Price, who a month earlier had discouraged talks between Russia and Ukraine, rejected Kiev negotiating an end to the war with Ukraine’s interests addressed because US core interests had not been addressed. The war was not about Ukraine’s interests: it was bigger than Ukraine.
A month later, in April, when a settlement seemed to be within reach at the Istanbul talks, the US and UK again pressured Ukraine not to pursue their own goals and sign an agreement that could have ended the war. They again pressured Ukraine to continue to fight in pursuit of the larger goals of the US and its allies. Then British prime minister Boris Johnson scolded Zelensky that Putin "should be pressured, not negotiated with." He added that, even if Ukraine was ready to sign some agreements with Russia, the West was not.”
Once again, the war was not about Ukraine’s interests: it was bigger than Ukraine.
At every opportunity, Biden and his highest ranking officials have insisted “that it's up to Ukraine to decide how and when or if they negotiate with the Russians” and that the US won’t dictate terms: “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” But that has never been true. The US wouldn’t allow Ukraine to negotiate on their terms when they wanted to. The US stopped Ukraine from negotiating in March and April when they wanted to; they pushed them to negotiate in November when they did not want to.
The war in Ukraine has always been about larger US goals. It has always been about the American ambition to maintain a unipolar world in which they were the sole polar power at the center and top of the world.
Ukraine became the focus of that ambition in 2014 when Russia for the first time stood up to American hegemony. Alexander Lukin, who is Head of Department of International Relations at National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow and an authority on Russian politics and international relations, says that since the end of the Cold War Russia had been considered a subordinate partner of the West. In all disagreements between Russia and the US up to then, Russia had compromised, and the disagreements were resolved rather quickly.
But when, in 2014, the US set up and supported a coup in Ukraine that was intended to pull Ukraine closer into the NATO and European security sphere Russia responded by annexing Crimea, Russia broke out of its post Cold War policy of compliance and pushed back against US hegemony. The 2014 “crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s reaction to it have fundamentally changed this consensus," Lukin says. "Russia refused to play by the rules."
Events in Ukraine in 2014 marked the end of the unipolar world of American hegemony. Russia drew the line and asserted itself as a new pole in a multipolar world order. That is why the war is “bigger than Ukraine,” in the words of the State Department. It is bigger than Ukraine because, in the eyes of Washington, it is the battle for US hegemony.
That is why US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on November 13 that some of the sanctions on Russia could remain in place even after any eventual peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia. The war has never just been about Ukraine: it is about US foreign policy aspirations that are bigger than Ukraine. Yellen said, “I suppose in the context of some peace agreement, adjustment of sanctions is possible and could be appropriate.” Sanctions could be adjusted when negotiations end the war, but, Yellen added, “We would probably feel, given what’s happened, that probably some sanctions should stay in place.”
That is also why the US announced a new army headquarters in Germany “to carry out what is expected to be a long-term mission” while it simultaneous began pushing Ukraine toward peace talks. The military pressure on Russia and support for Ukraine will survive the war.
It is also why on June 29, the US announced the establishment of a permanent headquarters for US forces in Poland that Biden boasted would be “the first permanent U.S. forces on NATO’s eastern flank."
It is again why, on November 9, the State Department approved the sale of nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System to Lithuania. They are not to be used by NATO in the Ukraine war. But they will, according to the State Department, “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the military capability of a NATO Ally that is an important force for ensuring political stability and economic progress within Eastern Europe.” At the same time, the State Department approved the potential sale of guided multiple launch rocket systems to Finland to bolster “the land and air defense capabilities in Europe's northern flank.”
Presumably, the delivery of upgraded B61-12 air-dropped gravity nuclear bombs to NATO bases in Europe is also not in the service of current US goals in Ukraine.
Though to the US, the war in Ukraine is “bigger than Ukraine,” it is also “in many ways bigger than Russia.” Although the recently released 2022 National Defense Strategy identifies Russia as the current “acute threat,” it “focuses on the PRC,” or the People’s Republic of China. The Strategy consistently identifies China as the “pacing challenge.” The long-term focus is on, not Russia, but China.
The National Defense Strategy clearly states that “The most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security is the PRC’s coercive and increasingly aggressive endeavor to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences.”
If Ukraine is about Russia, Russia is about China. The “Russia Problem” has always been that it is impossible to confront China if China has Russia: it is not desirable to fight both superpowers at once. So, if the long-term goal is to prevent a challenge to the US led unipolar world from China, Russia first needs to be weakened.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently said that "China will firmly support the Russian side, with the leadership of President Putin . . . to further reinforce the status of Russia as a major power."
According to Lyle Goldstein, a visiting professor at Brown University and author of Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry, an analysis of the war in Ukraine published in a Chinese academic journal concludes that “In order to maintain its hegemonic position, the US supports Ukraine to wage hybrid warfare against Russia…The purpose is to hit Russia, contain Europe, kidnap ‘allies,’ and threaten China.”
The war in Ukraine has never been just about Ukraine. It has always been “bigger than Ukraine” and about US principles that are bigger than Ukraine and “in many ways bigger than Russia.” Ukraine is where Russia drew the line on the US led unipolar world and where the US chose to fight the battle for hegemony. That battle is acutely about Russia but, in the long-term, it is about China, “the most comprehensive and serious challenge” to US hegemony.