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A STORM SYSTEM producing heavy rain, strong south winds, and high surf will impact Northwest California Monday afternoon through Tuesday. Additional periods of rain and high mountain snow will continue through late week.
A STRONG ATMOSPHERIC RIVER will result in heavy rain across all of Northwest California Monday evening through Tuesday morning. Rainfall totals are forecast to range from 2 to 4 inches across valleys and the coastal plain, while 3 to 6 inches will be probable across the mountains, and particularly across west-southwest facing terrain.
(National Weather Service)
THE GOLDEN BEAR AWARDS
The California State Park and Recreation Commission (SPRC) invites Californians to recognize and celebrate individuals who have demonstrated leadership and contributed significantly towards a healthier California by helping to preserve the state’s natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation. The 2023 nomination period for the Golden Bear Award program is open now until June 30, 2023.
With 279 state park units, over 340 miles of coastline, 970 miles of lake and river frontage, 15,000 campsites, 5,200 miles of trails, 3,195 historic buildings and more than 11,000 known prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, the California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks) contains the largest and most diverse recreational, natural and cultural heritage holdings of any state agency in the nation. More than 68 million people annually visit California’s State Park System. Caring for these resources and providing high-quality recreational opportunities to all Californians is something that State Parks cannot and does not do alone. Partnerships with the public and organizations is key to safeguarding these unique places for current and future generations.
The Golden Bear Awards program helps recognize these individuals. Every summer, up to five awards – one statewide and one per division (Northern, Coastal, Central, Southern) – will be presented by the SPRC to individuals considered worthy of this award. To learn more about the history, qualifications and how to nominate candidates for an award, please visit parks.ca.gov/GoldenBearAward.
—California State Parks (California Department of Parks and Recreation)
ED NOTE: The AVA nominates David Severn of Philo, Ca, a guy who not only talks the green talk, he walks it.
IN SEARCH OF LOST TRUCK
by Tommy Wayne Kramer
From the time I met him in the 1990s as a one-man stampede through local bars and saloons until they found him dead on his kitchen floor, he was a big, belligerent, malignant, wonderful, caustic planet orbiting my life in erratic, chaotic, wobbly circles.
A handful of times he’d come bashing at my front door, like it or not, around 6 a.m. demanding I get dressed, give him coffee. (“Not so stingy with the fucking bourbon this time!”) And order me into my car to drive him around.
Because he’d lost his truck. Again.
It was mostly lost on weekends, always at night, and usually it was last spotted, or maybe last remembered, many hours ago at a bar. At times he’d conjure up a few semi-reliable clues but unless his truck was miraculously parked in my neighbor’s driveway I knew I was in for a long morning. His truck was never parked in my neighbor’s driveway.
This time he’d given the keys and 100 bucks to a guy at Harold’s Club. Wearing a green shirt, maybe. And a hat. Lots of teeth missing. Midnight, maybe?
The guy was supposed to fetch some cocaine and come right back. Sipping bourboned coffee he thought more about it. He might’ve left a few minutes later with John Jensen to pick up some crab the Petersens had caught earlier that day down at the Water Trough.
I asked if the Petersens always caught crab down at the Water Trough.
It took him 30 seconds to finish swearing at me for trying to confuse him because by the time I’d established that John had to borrow someone else’s vehicle to go get crab out of the back of his own truck, and then suggested it had maybe belonged to the toothless wanderer. We were both mixed up but only one of us was angry because only one of us was still out $100 and missing a truck.
Then he thought maybe the $100 wasn’t for cocaine after all. Maybe he’d lost it betting on the Raiders.
“Exactly!” I beamed. “And you probably lost your truck in the same stupid bet, and if your imaginary friend without a tooth was smart he already took it to Alex Tsarnas’s junkyard to meet the crusher. And I’m not sure the Raiders played last night.”
He swore some more. We rolled through a mostly empty Harold’s Club lot, then went south to the Water Trough because that was the extent of our so-called clues. Then Club Calpella and Taylor’s Tavern.
Clarification: My friend wasn’t just a monster kept on a leash in the basement of an AA clubhouse; he was also a lawyer, one of the best in Mendocino County.
He practiced law fewer hours a week than anyone could imagine, including his boss. The rest of the time he dabbled in other fancies: First editions, rare marbles, exotic animals in his backyard ranchette, paintings, carpentry, pocket watches, pelts, skulls and schemes to retire early to run a bait shop in Florida. Today we happened to be chasing down a beater of a Ford pickup.
By the time we got to Vic’s Bar in Redwood Valley the local market was open so he trotted over and got a pint of medicine. Not like it would foul his mood.
Inevitably we drove over to the Broiler just because we were within a mile of it, unlikely as it would be that the missing truck would turn up there. I asked why we kept looking in parking lots because wouldn’t the guy have to drive back home from whichever joint it was? And by the way how did your teethless pal get to Harold’s Club if he didn’t have a car in the first place and had to borrow yours?
“Good question,” he said, and it must have been pretty good because he quit cursing for nearly a minute while sweating out an answer. The healing powers of bourbon had revived him and he was feeling a spark brighter. Several more seconds of silence slipped by, then he looked up and said: “Alice.”
Alice ran Harold’s Club. Alice might know the name and / or whereabouts of the mysterious truck borrower.
Solved! I agreed, and suggested we hurry straight to her house. One of us could knock like hell on her front door Sunday at 7 a.m. while I waited around the corner.
He may have been offended at the heavy whiff of sarcasm, or my cheerful lack of loyalty, or maybe it was the recent infusion of his 80-proof breakfast smoothie. No matter. The phlegm-dimmed tide was loosed and out flooded nonstop waves of cursing mingled with threats, like diarrhea from a lard-fed goose. His swearing was always a thing of inspired beauty even when I was being targeted, as in here and now, including the flecks spattered on my windshield.
One who’s never experienced such verbal blasts cannot appreciate the rich imagery of his cursing, though it takes a hard shell to weather insults directed at your ancestral roots, your filthy sex habits, your deviant spouse, always culminating in predictions I’d spend eternity roasting in the fiery pits of Cleveland. Delivered with typical gusto, they were awesome marvels of the profane orator’s art.
Anyhoo, visiting Alice was off the list.
We always found his truck, each and every one of the six or twelve times I was called upon to serve in his two-man posse of repo men. One time we got back home, defeated and insulted because he knew someone was out there driving his truck, burning his fuel, probably heading for Reno with a hooker and a glove box full of cocaine.
Inside his house, a tiny red answering machine bulb blinked. A voice said the truck was behind the T&C Club a few hundred yards south of the kitchen we were standing in. Parked at 1:30 last night. Keys above visor. All’s well, etc. Also, the personal hangover I’d been hauling around all morning had been curbed by gnarly slashes of whatever cheap brown liquid had been in that pint bottle.
Over and out. And that, my friends, was distilled, 100-proof BS at his finest.
(Tom Hine misses him daily; TWK sez it would be nice to wish him a Happy 70th Birthday.)
KING TIDE PHOTOS from Jeff Goll: "First one is at the mouth of Big River just South of Mendocino. Second is at Van Damme Beach-Little River and the third one is at Seaside Creek Beach just North of Ten Mile River in Mendocino."
Re: the nap time photograph.
My mother reading to me and teaching me to read and write and my grandmother teaching me to make toys out of things in the junk drawer are among my first memories, along with a dream about a flying telephone, and putting a bobby pin in the electrical outlet, and sitting in a box playing with little cars and a stuffed lamb doll named Supsups.
I went to two preschools. One, Martha’s School, was wonderful– most of the day was outdoors in a public park; indoor activities were in a light, high, open building in the corner of the park. I think Martha had a contract with the city so the park was hers all day. She was quiet and cheerful and motherly and /sharp/. I had one conflict with another child there; it was over taking fair turns on the swing. I had to look all over the place for Martha, to complain to her. I found her sitting on a bench, smoking a cigaret. I described the situation. She took her sunglasses off, thought about it, asked me simply, “What do you want me to do?” Oh. Well, what /did/ I want her to do? I had nothing. She said, “That’s what I’ll do, then. All right?” I guess, sure. She smiled and put her sunglasses back on. Now, that’s the sort of person who belongs being a teacher.
The other preschool I went to, the year after that, was called The Viking School. It was run by a woman who much later I was reminded of, seeing the commandant of the prison camp Pasquale was confined in, in /Seven Beauties/. A hard, heavy, dense person. I think the men there were her sons. The whole thing was indoors in a concrete block building with light from fluorescent tubes, bare bulbs, and sparsely-place police-glass blocks set high up in the street-side wall that must have been the north wall because sun reflections off cars and trucks going by made the blocks flash. Nap time was a half-hour on canvas camp cots in rows in a room with the lights off, and there was /no talking/ at nap time. I talked with the boy on the next cot, was warned by a man, talked again, and was punished by spending the rest of nap time on my cot in the bathroom. A man came in to use the urinal and I tried to talk to him. He told me again that this is nap time, there’s no talking and that’s why I have to be in here, that he wasn’t going to tell me again, and this time he switched the light off when he went out. I got up and switched it back on.
There had been an open house of cheerful people making crafts out of egg cartons and powdered paint; I think that’s what had sold my mom on the place. But after the nap thing I described the situation and she never took me there again. I went to first grade a year early; that went much better, though, overall, my entire school career was pretty much a nightmare compared with reading and making and doing things and wandering around on my own in my granparents’ restaurant or in their house. High school was adolescence with a thousand other adolescents and that was horrible, especially gym class, which was usually spent running around a track in shorts with the headache you get in your ears and jaws from running in the cold, and there was the constant threat of tough boys knocking you down or merely threatening to. College was all right, for the most part, mainly because you could just get up and leave any time you felt like it, as long as you did the work, and did your work-trade work. And then real work was not bad, even in restaurants. Working in schools and radio stations and theaters was good; it was great to be paid to do radio at KMFB and to do sound for Mendocino Theater Company. Making teevee shows and publishing newspapers was best. It’s pretty good working for my current employer; sometimes I’m not sure how to proceed, proceed anyway and do the wrong thing and have to take it apart and do it again, but it’s varied work, many different things, construction, plumbing, wiring, yard work, making and repairing electronic things; I hardly ever have to do one thing long enough to get bored of it, the pay is good, and when I can’t come to work because something else is important, Tim adjusts.
I’ve never had a problem falling asleep when I need to. Forcing kids to lie still on a schedule, not allowed to talk or even read, is crazy. One time when I was about 13 my mother told me that Roland (stepfather) drank a glass of warm water and then moved his bowels every morning when he got up. Seven o’clock: wake up, drink the water, move the bowels. Just the idea of having a /scheduled time to take a shit/. Even all these years later I can’t come up with adequate words to describe my bafflement at the very concept. I mean, what must the internal world be like to someone like that? Maybe that’s why so many people believe in and look forward to Heaven, because the world is a prison to them all their lives, even the world inside their own head.
I guess I was just set off on thinking about these things by the photo of all those children lying, as if dead, on the floor of a school. I know that picture was taken a long time ago, but do they still make them do that, do you suppose?
Do any of you watch or listen to any part of Thom Hartmann's daily three hours of shilling for the Democrat Party while pretending to the most moral of men? A one hour edited version is furnished by Pacifica Radio to public radio stations like the one where I live (and on which I hosted a program for 19 years and back in 2014 exposed the nature of the US coup in Ukraine).
This morning I awoke at 5 am to Hartmann spread this poison which has become second nature to Democrat apologists and, unfortunately, there is no one on the air there (or most of the stations that play his sanctimonius crap) to refute it. Note: I don't support either side in this war and believe it is everyone's duty to demand its end:
Will America Keep Our Word to Ukraine?
As the Russian campaign of murder, rape, and destruction continues, America has both a moral and a legal obligation to defend Ukraine and enforce the Budapest Memorandum of 1994.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is visiting the United States today and speaking to a joint session of Congress.
He will be pushing back against those on both the extreme left and right who keep whining that in 1991 President George HW Bush said NATO would not expand toward Russia (a comment that was never reduced to writing and never part of any agreement) and the Minsk cease-fire Agreements, which President Putin declared on February 22 "no longer exist."
Hopefully President Zelensky will remind Congress that America is party to an actual contractual agreement to protect the integrity of Ukraine's borders, an agreement we signed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.…
CATCH OF THE DAY, Sunday, December 25, 2022
LAKE CARRIGG, Willits. Controlled substance, no license.
RICARDO GARCIA-GARCIA, Ukiah. DUI, county parole violation.
GABRIEL JAMES, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
ANTONIO LOPEZ JR., Hopland. Protective order violation, probation revocation.
JUANA MARTINEZ, Gualala. DUI causing bodily injury,
OMAR MEZA-MASIAS, Ukiah. DUI, no license.
PATRICK PAINTER JR., Ukiah. DUI, suspended license for DUI, no license, probation revocation.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, Ukiah. Protective order violation.
NOEL WICKSTROM, Willits. Domestic battery, probation revocation.
WHEW! GLAD THAT'S OVER
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
In my town we have an annual Lights Festival Parade.
It’s quite festive, with marching bands with their instruments decorated with lights, and floats from various businesses and organizations, all lit up.
One year I volunteered to make and stuff 29 tiger’s tails, so that my son’s class could march in the parade, dressed as their tiger mascot.
I couldn’t figure out how to stuff the tiger tails in any efficient way, so it took me forever.
Anyway, one year I’m sitting on the grass watching the parade and I hear horrified gasps coming from behind me.
Omigod! Some church decided that their float was going to include a half-naked Jesus, covered with blood, and hanging from a cross, while a loudspeaker threatened us all with eternal damnation.
Not exactly the standard entry in the parade. And they didn’t show the next year. Perhaps their application was denied.
“In the general uproar of gifts and unwinding of wrappers it was always a delight to me to step out on the porch or even go up the street a ways at 1:00 in the morning and listen to the silent hum of heaven diamond stars, watch the red and green windows of homes, consider the trees that seemed frozen in sudden devotion, and think over the events of another year passed. Before my mind’s eye was the St. Joseph of my imagination clasping the darling little Child."
— Jack Kerouac
NEW LABOR LAWS
Job hunters will be able to know how much a position pays before applying. Public employers found to be interfering with union activity will pay sizable fines. Family leave benefits will improve.
These are some of the changes coming for California workers and businesses as the calendar flips to 2023. Here’s what you should know about new laws taking effect next year:
Employers with more than 15 workers will have to include salary and wage ranges in their job postings and provide that information to any employee or applicant who requests it.
The state’s labor commissioner can fine employers up to $10,000 for failing to comply with Senate Bill 1162. There are also fines for failing to submit demographic pay data to the state.
“California has the strongest equal pay laws in the nation, but we’re not letting up on our work to ensure all women in our state are paid their due and treated equally in all spheres of life,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement after he signed the bill into law.
Minimum wage increase
This January, California’s minimum wage will rise to $15.50.
That’s a 50-cent-per-hour increase for businesses with 26 or more employees, and $1.50 an hour for those with 25 or fewer. This will be the first time all employers in the state will pay the same minimum wage, regardless of size.
Legislation signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 tied increases beyond $15 an hour to inflation. Gov. Newsom announced in May that this latest increase was based on inflation exceeding 7%.
“The wage increase will benefit millions of California households that are struggling to keep pace with the highest rate of inflation in decades. For years, the state minimum wage has increased steadily while inflation numbers remained modest,” Newsom’s office said at the time.
Greater union protections
Farm workers will be able to vote by mail in union elections starting next year.
Under AB 2183, authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, farm workers can choose to vote at a physical location or mail a representation ballot card to an Agricultural Labor Relations Board office. Newsom signed the bill at the end of September, one year after he vetoed an earlier iteration of the measure.
It was a major reversal by Newsom, whose staff had said less than a month earlier that he planned a second veto. He faced pressure from the United Farm Workers, who marched 335 miles to the Capitol, and from top Democrats including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Also in the new year, government employers in California will face financial penalties for deterring or discouraging union activity. Under SB 931, the Public Employment Relations Board has the power to fine employers up to $100,000 if it finds that workers were prevented from participating in a union.
A first-in-the-nation fast-food council (maybe)
A groundbreaking law establishing a fast-food regulatory council was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1 . But it now faces a potential referendum challenge backed by corporate restaurant chains like In-N-Out and Chipotle.
Gov. Newsom signed AB 257 on Labor Day. Opponents announced the referendum campaign a day later. Fast-food worker strikes followed, along with allegations that petitioners were lying to voters about what the referendum would actually do. On Dec. 5, the industry coalition submitted what they said was over one million signatures to the Secretary of State’s office for verification.
The state has yet to verify and approve the referendum for the 2024 ballot.
Are California ballot measures a ‘parallel legislature’ for wealthy interests? Labor thinks so.
Paid family leave
Millions of Californians will have access to greater paid family leave in the new year.
SB 951 extends, through 2024, temporary increases in benefits from 55% of wages to between 60% and 70% depending on income.
Starting in 2025, workers making under $57,000 will be eligible for the benefits between 70%–90% of their pay. All other workers are eligible for benefits between 60%–70%.
“California families and our state as a whole are stronger when workers have the support they need to care for themselves and their loved ones,” Newsom said in a statement after the signing.
“California created the first Paid Family Leave program in the nation 20 years ago, and today we’re taking an important step to ensure more low-wage workers, many of them women and people of color, can access the time off they’ve earned while still providing for their family.”
— Maya Miller, Sacramento Bee
AVA COST OF LIVING CALCULATION
STOP ALL THE COCKS!
(The Buried History of Stanford University)
by James Lasdun
If you’ve spent time at any of the private colleges and universities in the US, you may have been struck by something mirage-like about the campuses: a distinct lightness of being, despite the stony masses of the buildings. It’s partly an effect of the heavy deployment of architectural pastiche to create the illusion of antiquity, but it may also have to do with the fact that many of these institutions arose as much out of vanity or whim as necessity. If some magnate hadn’t been seized by the monument-building urge, they simply wouldn’t exist. Whatever else it may be, Sarah Lawrence is William Van Duzer Lawrence’s tribute to his wife, Sarah; Vassar is Matthew Vassar’s tribute to himself. Smith and Williams, in Massachusetts, sprang up to commemorate their donors.
But for sheer iron-willed capriciousness and morbid narcissism, nothing comes close to Stanford University – or rather, Leland Stanford Junior University, as it is still officially called. As the historian Richard White puts it in his lively new account of the institution’s origins, “without the dead child – Leland Stanford Junior – the Stanford campus would be just another patch in the suburbs sweeping south from San Francisco.”
Leland Stanford Jr, born in 1868, was the precocious only child of an immensely wealthy Gilded Age couple. His father, Leland Sr., made his fortune from the Central Pacific Railroad. His mother, Jane, was an ardent Spiritualist, whose beliefs about communication with the dead turned out to be a dangerously effective preparation for bereavement. The two doted on him (Jane was almost forty when she gave birth). They treated him more as a companion than a child, taking him on their European travels, where he offered advice in fluent French to famous painters – Meissonier, Bonnat, Carolus-Duran – and had an audience with the pope. At thirteen he began collecting antiquities for a projected museum. And at fifteen he died, felled by typhoid in Florence, in March 1884.
In accordance with his mother’s beliefs, death was far from the end of the boy’s illustrious career. Accounts of his transition to the next stage differ in their particulars, but the gist is that he visits one or both parents, either as a specter or via a hired psychic, and instructs them to establish a seat of learning. “Father, I want you to build a university for the benefit of poor young men,” he declares in the most affecting version, “so they can have the same advantages the rich have.”
For several months he remained physically with his distraught parents, pausing at select mortuaries as they made their way slowly back to the States. From New York he accompanied them to California in a black-draped railway carriage. There, after an interment and a memorial service featuring the contemporary equivalent of $600,000 worth of flowers, construction of the university was begun on the family’s estate in Palo Alto.
It opened in 1891. Classes were held in the Quad, but to anyone visiting at the time the educational mission would have seemed secondary to the commemorative. There was a Memorial Church, a Memorial Arch, a museum for Leland Jr’s bric-à-brac – jade bird, beaded necklace – and a mausoleum for his mortal remains. In 1893 an exact replica of his bedroom was installed in the museum. His father was added to the mausoleum later that year. An empty sarcophagus awaited his mother, its inscription already chiseled into the marble, complete except for the date of her death: ‘Jane L. Stanford. Born in Mortality, August 25, 1828. Passed to Immortality ...’
The man appointed as the university’s president, an ichthyologist named David Starr Jordan, was a surprising choice. He was, on the face of it, as rational and progressive as Jane was mystical and reactionary. He had spent his career promoting the liberal agenda of the time – which included eugenics along with pacifism and anti-imperialism – and described himself as a “minor prophet of democracy.” He also had a special disdain for the fad of spiritualism, and it embarrassed him to think that he owed his job “to a message from a dead child.” But with promises of a budget thirty times that of Indiana University, where he was currently president, as well as full control over hiring and firing, he had grounds for believing the opportunity was too good to pass up. He seems to have imagined he could handle Jane with judicious acts of obsequiousness, for which he had a definite flair. But he had seriously underestimated her.
Among her advantages in their increasingly frosty relationship was her continued communication with her dead husband and son – “my two spiritual advisers,” as she called them – whose deceased status rendered them infallible. Under their guidance she laid out a pedagogic vision requiring Stanford students to be taught that “every one born on earth has a soul germ” and that “cultivating the soul intelligence will endow them with that which is beyond all human science and reveal to them God’s very self.” To that end she unilaterally hired a professor of personal ethics, Reverend Hepworth, who preached that “the departed are nearer to us, very much nearer than we dare think.” The Darwinian ichthyologist was not happy with any of this, but he kept his powder dry for bigger battles.
The most damaging of these involved a popular young economist on the faculty, Edward Ross, whose public pronouncements against capitalism in general and railroad companies in particular so affronted Jane that she demanded Jordan fire him. Academic freedom had been a contentious issue on campuses since the rows over the teaching of evolution in the 1870s, but by now the leading universities had more or less enshrined it as a right. As Charles Eliot, Harvard’s president, wrote to Jordan, “it would be a great calamity for the Leland Stanford University if it should come to be known that a professor had been obliged to leave it because Mrs. Stanford expressed a wish to that effect.”
Jordan, to his credit, put up a fight, unctuously professing his reverence for the “mother of the university” while imploring her to reconsider. But Jane held firm. Her decision had been made on the basis of “disappointment, reflection and prayer,” and was not negotiable. A solution seemed to be reached when Ross was persuaded to resign quietly for the good of the university. But then he decided to go public after all. The uproar that followed would have been a challenge for any administrator, but Jordan handled it with outstanding ineptitude.
First he told people that Jane had forced the decision, swayed by friends at the railroad companies in which she held shares. Then he retracted the story and went groveling back to Jane, telling her she was right about Ross, who was “at bottom just a dime novel villain.” Around the same time, as if taking careful aim at his own foot, he published a satire on spiritualist cults, inventing one that claimed to regrow its adherents’ teeth – an obvious crack at Jane, whose teeth were mostly missing.
The faculty was up in arms over Ross’s firing. Several professors decamped in protest. A different president might have offered his own resignation at this point, but Jordan believed he was crucial to Stanford’s survival. The self-styled prophet of democracy went to war against the remaining dissenters, establishing what one of them called a “reign of terror.” Jane wasn’t perturbed by the bloodletting – she wanted more of it. But she never forgave Jordan for what she perceived as his betrayal in dragging her name into the scandal, since she had expected him to take sole responsibility for Ross’s removal. And it was no secret that she was intending to force him out when, to her great surprise, and in a manner not at all resembling the painless glide from Nob Hill to heaven that her beliefs had led her to expect, she “‘Passed to Immortality” on February 28, 1905.
I once taught at a small liberal arts college where, under cover of budget cuts, the embattled president abolished tenure and fired seventeen faculty, most of whom had clashed with her over the years. The campus, set in the bucolic hills of Vermont, turned into a nightmarish little theater of paranoia and intrigue. Loyalists denounced the fired professors for various unspeakable crimes, anonymous statements circulated in their defense, conspirators huddled in dark corners, and observers from the AAUP, the academic professionals’ association, were escorted off the premises by security. I’d been too recently hired to stack up any plausible grounds for dismissal myself, but I quit anyway, and tried to capture the hysteria in a pitch for a screenplay.
The problem, as I realized after watching several producers’ eyes glaze over, was that however momentous these campus dramas may seem when you’re in the thick of them, they are not, after all, Paris during the Terror, or Moscow in the Purges. The stakes are just not very high – or can only seem so by an effortful mental extension – and I did wonder how interesting White’s scrupulously researched book would be if I didn’t know in advance that one of the parties was going to come to a gruesome end.
White makes claims for the story as a window into the Gilded Age, as well as a fable for our own moment: “In an age of staggering inequality, it is set in another age of staggering inequality.” Both claims are valid, to a point – but really it was the promise of strychnine that kept me glued.
Whether Jane’s interferences in the running of the university had any direct link to her fatal poisoning, or the attempted poisoning that preceded it, remains open to question. But they demonstrated some traits of hers that almost certainly did. Dangling money to exert control was one of them. As the richest woman in San Francisco, she had plenty of it to dangle, and she made sure to keep its potential recipients in a state of compliant uncertainty. The generous funding she’d promised Jordan never quite materialized, or not in the way he’d been led to expect. When she did finally make a substantial grant to the university, she put a clause in the deed allowing her to do whatever she wanted with the money, including withdrawing it for her own benefit. She prevented Jordan from paying competitive salaries, and pestered him about petty expenditures such as the $3 doorstops in the chemistry building. Regardless of whether he played any role in her murder, he certainly benefited from it, and he led a largely successful effort to cover it up, deliberately hiring incompetent detectives and unscrupulous medical examiners.
His motive, again, was ostensibly to protect his beloved institution – this time from challenges to Jane’s will, in which she left the bulk of her fortune to the university. An official murder investigation would have brought her eccentricities under close scrutiny, which might have provided a basis for claims that she was of unsound mind when she wrote the will. If Jordan really was involved in her murder, then the cover-up also served to deflect suspicion from himself.
But even if he wasn’t, it would be hard to imagine him failing to take some private satisfaction in having his tormentor’s death ruled the result of natural causes – including indigestion and “fright” – rather than cold-blooded murder.
But there was another trait of hers that was perhaps even more likely to have precipitated her demise than her unlovely way with money. As White puts it, “Jane Stanford over the years became obsessed with the sexuality of young women.” On the university front, this manifested itself mainly as a growing opposition to allowing them through the doors. Having originally been in favor of co-education, she came to regard female students as a threat to the chasteness of her “boys,” and she began agitating for their exclusion. Jordan resisted, and so did Jane’s main adviser (in the realm of the living), a former student named George Crothers, whom Jane had recruited solely because of his physical resemblance to her son. Crothers shared Jordan’s desire to see Stanford succeed, but unlike Jordan had no personal ambition wrapped up in the project. He also, crucially, took no money for his services, which put him in a stronger position to influence Jane.
He forged a compromise on the co-ed question, though its terms reveal how extreme Jane’s latest foible had become. Matrons were to be brought in to police the female students. Mounted guards would be hired to watch over campus morality. Students found “conspicuous in their attention to the opposite sex” would be turned over to the university authorities.
But on the domestic front there was no Crothers to wring even these grim concessions. Along with her four Chinese servants (one of whom had a possibly murderous, money-related grudge of his own against the Stanfords) Jane employed an English butler, a maid and a secretary, Bertha Berner.
Berner lived and travelled with Jane much of the time, but was also caring for her own mother. Between her obligations to both women, she had little chance to make a life for herself. But in her discreet way she attracted men and clearly didn’t share her employer’s straitlaced views. In later years she fondly recalled flirting with Lord Kitchener while accompanying Jane to a garden party at Windsor. On another occasion she found a necklace hidden under her plate by a secret admirer. She grew close to several male visitors to the Stanford household, and at one point almost certainly became involved with the English butler, a married man named Albert Beverly. Jane did her best to thwart her at every turn. She pressured Beverly to resign and refused to re-engage him for a trip to Hawaii despite Berner’s strenuous attempts to persuade her that they would need a man along for the voyage.
The secretary was clearly running out of patience with her imperious employer by the time they left: “I could bear no more,” she later said. The first attempt on Jane’s life had come a month earlier, when someone put rat poison in the bottle of Poland Spring water on her bedside table. The maid was dismissed, but Jane seems to have been unable to believe that anyone could seriously want to harm her, so that was as far as the matter went. In Hawaii her nemesis struck again, this time using pure strychnine.
White devotes much of his book to sifting through conflicting newspaper reports and other testimony from the investigation. There may be a few too many triumphantly dredged-up cold case minutiae for some tastes, especially concerning the comings and goings of the bottle of bicarbonate of soda in which the second dose of poison was secreted. There are certainly too many elaborate hypotheses that turn out to be red herrings. But the story is a mystery after all, and White has an ingenious theory to present, which requires the elimination of competing theories. He follows the rules of the genre, in other words, delaying his solution until the very end, with all the necessary twists along the way.
But the most intriguing aspect of the case is Jane Stanford’s personality, and its warping effect on those around her. White doesn’t psychoanalyze her, but it seems clear that her growing horror of sex was closely bound up with her neurotic attachment to the dead. She couldn’t bring back her lost child, but she could dissolve the boundary between this world and the hereafter, at least in her own mind. “My husband or son are with me all the time,” she told a reporter, adding with the blandness of the truly cuckoo: “They never come together, but in turns. Their stay is limited to within two weeks’ time.”
She had the pharaonic means and will to project her delusion onto the world she ruled over, imposing a regime of sepulchral stasis in which no change was to be permitted, and certainly no procreation: stop all the cocks! Among other things, she informed Crothers that she intended to continue working for the university after her death. He can’t have been surprised to hear it.
Prolonged exposure to Jane turned Jordan from an idealistic scientist into an embittered, vindictive bureaucrat. “If someone wanted to make a macabre joke,” White observes of Jane’s funeral, “they could not have done better. Leading her procession to the grave were people suspected of her murder, people who covered it up, and those she despised and wished to fire.” Jordan belonged in all three categories, but it seems fair to say that it was Jane who twisted him into this abject parody of himself.
In the enigmatic Bertha Berner, Jane’s effect was more subtle, if possibly more deadly. Berner was one of those figures of uncertain status beloved of 19th-century novelists – tutors, governesses, impoverished relatives – whose combination of refinement and powerlessness makes them perfect instruments for registering their benefactors’ humanity, or the lack of it.
Despite ruptures between the two women, the written testimony of both suggests a surprising degree of affection on both sides. Jane described Berner’s love as “god-giving,” and never for a moment suspected her of tampering with her Poland Spring water in Nob Hill, or – in the brief time left to her after consuming it – her bicarbonate of soda in Hawaii. For her part, Berner, under suspicion after the murder, sounds as tender and innocent as any wronged Victorian heroine with nothing but her own true heart to defend her: “I base my trust for final vindication upon the knowledge that I have not done anything to my dear Mrs. Stanford for which I need to reproach myself.”
White finds something damningly “oblique” in those words. I can’t say I see it myself, but if he’s right (and he does have other evidence against Berner), then Jane’s tyrannical behavior incubated a virtuoso of malice and dissimulation. If he’s wrong (and by the same token there are significant holes in his case), then Berner becomes a figure of equally preternatural patience and forbearance.
Either way, she’s an intriguing character, whose equivocal role in the story would have lent itself beautifully to fictional treatment by any of the subtler practitioners of her day. Jane always wanted William James to teach at Stanford, and he did finally agree to come (though he arrived after her death). He didn’t much enjoy his time there: “every lecture a dead weight,” he wrote to his daughter as the semester dragged on. It was too bad Jane hadn’t included his brother in the invitation: Henry might have found the atmosphere more stimulating.
Stanford currently holds third place after MIT and Cambridge in the QS World University Rankings, and has no reason to dwell on the less salubrious details of its origins. Prospective students touring the campus are given a sanitized version that skirts the reality of what White sums up as “a dubious and insecure fortune laundered into a monument to the founding family, and a school rejuvenated through the blood of one of its founders.”
But Jane’s woeful spirit lingers on. It’s there in the pomp and solemnity of Frederick Law Olmsted’s campus layout. It’s there in the hacienda-necropolis style of the buildings themselves. It’s there in the museum, where, if you care to look, you can still find the slate “apports” on which the dead Leland Jr. is supposed to have chalked his responses during séances. It would be unfair to link her with the brutally sexualized murder of the newly wed Arlis Perry inside the Memorial Church in 1974, but something of Jane’s horror sexualis had clearly infected the campus guard who killed the young bride of a Stanford student.
And she seems to be making good on her promise to keep working for the university after death – at least in the sense of continuing to persecute Jordan. In 2020 Jordan’s name was expunged from the campus after his enthusiasm for eugenics finally caught up with him. Meanwhile, hers was added: you can now approach the Memorial Court along Jane Stanford Way.
(Courtesy, the London Review of Books)
CROWS IN THE WIND
by A.E. Stallings
Hooded Crow: Corvus cornix
On windy days the crows cavort
Down slides of air for autumn sport.
They dive and spiral, twirl and spin,
Then levitate to ride again.
That wind that makes their airy slide
Comes tumbling down the mountainside,
Tousles the heads of trees and drops
To the sea beyond the cypress tops,
And drinking at the sea’s blue lips
Makes paper sailboats out of ships,
Whose distant swiftness seems repose
Compared to capers of the crows.
Their calligraphic loops concur
In copperplate of signature,
Or in formation they prepare,
Drilling at dogfights with thin air.
Watching them, I want to say
They are intelligence at play
And in their breath-defying flight,
Daredevils of a deep delight.
Of course, who would not rather be
An aerobat of ecstasy?
But it takes grounding to observe
Their every barrel roll and swerve
Against the sky, the way their skill
Makes the unseen visible
With two unlikely forces twinned:
Their turn of mind, the wanton wind.
INCREASING RIGHT-WING PANIC ABOUT COMMUNISM is based on three major delusions:
1. That actual communists are anywhere remotely close to having power or taking power in the west.
2. That entirely capitalist things like the World Economic Forum, the Democratic Party, and the Biden administration are "communist".
3. That China is a threat.
Rightists are panicking about communism more and more because they have been trained to panic about communism by the propaganda they consume. They have been trained to panic about communism because we're in a new cold war and their panic serves the empire's information interests. In reality panicking about communism in the west right now makes as much sense as panicking about ghosts or space aliens, but the illusion of a threat is made to feel real by the three delusional narratives I just listed.
— Caitlin Johnstone
THE DEMOCRATS ARE NOW THE WAR PARTY
The Democratic Party has become the party of permanent war, fueling massive military spending which is hollowing out the country from the inside and flirting with with nuclear war.
by Chris Hedges
The Democrats position themselves as the party of virtue, cloaking their support for the war industry in moral language stretching back to Korea and Vietnam, when President Ngo Dinh Diem was as lionized as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. All the wars they support and fund are “good” wars. All the enemies they fight, the latest being Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, are incarnations of evil. The photo of a beaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris holding up a signed Ukrainian battle flag behind Zelensky as he addressed Congress was another example of the Democratic Party’s abject subservience to the war machine.
The Democrats, especially with the presidency of Bill Clinton, became shills not only for corporate America but for the weapons manufacturers and the Pentagon. No weapons system is too costly. No war, no matter how disastrous, goes unfunded. No military budget is too big, including the $858 billion in military spending allocated for the current fiscal year, an increase of $45 billion above what the Biden administration requested.
The historian Arnold Toynbee cited unchecked militarism as the fatal disease of empires, arguing that they ultimately commit suicide.
There once was a wing of the Democratic Party that questioned and stood up to the war industry: Senators J. William Fulbright, George McGovern, Gene McCarthy, Mike Gravel, William Proxmire and House member Dennis Kucinich. But that opposition evaporated along with the antiwar movement. When 30 members of the party’s progressive caucus recently issued a call for Biden to negotiate with Putin, they were forced by the party leadership and a warmongering media to back down and rescind their letter. Not that any of them, with the exception of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have voted against the billions of dollars in weaponry sent to Ukraine or the bloated military budget. Rashida Tlaib voted present.
The opposition to the perpetual funding of the war in Ukraine has come primarily from Republicans, 11 in the Senate and 57 in the House, several, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, unhinged conspiracy theorists. Only nine Republicans in the House joined the Democrats in supporting the $1.7 trillion spending bill needed to prevent the government from shutting down, which included approval of $847 billion for the military — the total is boosted to $858 billion when factoring in accounts that don’t fall under the Armed Services committees’ jurisdiction. In the Senate, 29 Republicans opposed the spending bill. The Democrats, including nearly all 100 members of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus, lined up dutifully for endless war.
This lust for war is dangerous, pushing us into a potential war with Russia and, perhaps later, with China — each a nuclear power. It is also economically ruinous. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven U.S. debt to over $30 trillion, $6 trillion more than the U.S. GDP of $24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spend more on the military than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined. Congress is also on track to provide an extra $21.7 billion to the Pentagon — above the already expanded annual budget — to resupply Ukraine.
“But those contracts are just the leading edge of what is shaping up to be a big new defense buildup,” The New York Times reported. “Military spending next year is on track to reach its highest level in inflation-adjusted terms since the peaks in the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2008 and 2011, and the second highest in inflation-adjusted terms since World War II — a level that is more than the budgets for the next 10 largest cabinet agencies combined.”
The Democratic Party, which, under the Clinton administration aggressively courted corporate donors, has surrendered its willingness to challenge, however tepidly, the war industry.
“As soon as the Democratic Party made a determination, it could have been 35 or 40 years ago, that they were going to take corporate contributions, that wiped out any distinction between the two parties,” Dennis Kucinich said when I interviewed him on my show for The Real News Network. “Because in Washington, he or she who pays the piper plays the tune. That’s what’s happened. There isn’t that much of a difference in terms of the two parties when it comes to war.”
In his 1970 book “The Pentagon Propaganda Machine,” Fulbright describes how the Pentagon and the arms industry pour millions into shaping public opinion through public relations campaigns, Defense Department films, control over Hollywood and domination of the commercial media. Military analysts on cable news are universally former military and intelligence officials who sit on boards or work as consultants to defense industries, a fact they rarely disclose to the public. Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star army general and military analyst for NBC News, was also an employee of Defense Solutions, a military sales and project management firm. He, like most of these shills for war, personally profited from the sales of the weapons systems and expansion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the eve of every congressional vote on the Pentagon budget, lobbyists from businesses tied to the war industry meet with Congress members and their staff to push them to vote for the budget to protect jobs in their district or state. This pressure, coupled with the mantra amplified by the media that opposition to profligate war funding is unpatriotic, keeps elected officials in bondage. These politicians also depend on the lavish donations from the weapons manufacturers to fund their campaigns.
Seymour Melman, in his book “Pentagon Capitalism,” documented the way militarized societies destroy their domestic economies. Billions are spent on the research and development of weapons systems while renewable energy technologies languish. Universities are flooded with military-related grants while they struggle to find money for environmental studies and the humanities. Bridges, roads, levees, rail, ports, electric grids, sewage treatment plants and drinking water infrastructures are structurally deficient and antiquated. Schools are in disrepair and lack sufficient teachers and staff. Unable to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, the for-profit health care industry forces families, including those with insurance, into bankruptcy. Domestic manufacturing, especially with the offshoring of jobs to China, Vietnam, Mexico and other nations, collapses. Families are drowning in personal debt, with 63 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned.
Melman, who coined the term “permanent war economy,” noted that since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its discretionary budget on past, current and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. The military-industrial establishment is nothing more than gilded corporate welfare. Military systems are sold before they are produced. Military industries are permitted to charge the federal government for huge cost overruns. Massive profits are guaranteed. For example, this November, the Army awarded Raytheon Technologies alone more than $2 billion in contracts, on top of over $190 million awarded in August, to deliver missile systems to expand or replenish weapons sent to Ukraine. Despite a depressed market for most other businesses, stock prices of Lockheed and Northrop Grumman have risen by more than 36 and 50 percent this year.
Tech giants, including Amazon, which supplies surveillance and facial recognition software to the police and FBI, have been absorbed into the permanent war economy. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle were awarded multibillion-dollar cloud computing contracts for the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability and are eligible to receive $9 billion in Pentagon contracts to provide the military with “globally available cloud services across all security domains and classification levels, from the strategic level to the tactical edge,” through mid-2028.
Foreign aid is given to countries such as Israel, with more than $150 billion in bilateral assistance since its founding in 1948, or Egypt, which has received over $80 billion since 1978 — aid that requires foreign governments to buy weapons systems from the U.S. The U.S. public funds the research, development and building of weapons systems and purchases them for foreign governments. Such a circular system mocks the idea of a free-market economy. These weapons soon become obsolete and are replaced by updated and usually more costly weapons systems. It is, in economic terms, a dead end. It sustains nothing but the permanent war economy.
“The truth of the matter is that we’re in a heavily militarized society driven by greed, lust for profit, and wars are being created just to keep fueling that,” Kucinich told me.
In 2014, the U.S. backed a coup in Ukraine that installed a government that included neo-Nazis and was antagonistic to Russia. The coup triggered a civil war when the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, the Donbass, sought to secede from the country, resulting in over 14,000 people dead and nearly 150,000 displaced, before Russia invaded in February. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Jacques Baud, a former NATO security advisor who also worked for Swiss intelligence, was instigated by the escalation of Ukraine’s war on the Donbass. It also followed the Biden administration’s rejection of proposals sent by the Kremlin in late 2021, which might have averted Russia’s invasion the following year.
This invasion has led to widespread U.S. and E.U. sanctions on Russia, which have boomeranged onto Europe. Inflation ravages Europe with the sharp curtailment of shipments of Russian oil and gas. Industry, especially in Germany, is crippled. In most of Europe, it is a winter of shortages, spiraling prices and misery.
“This whole thing is blowing up in the face of the West,” Kucinich warned. “We forced Russia to pivot to Asia, as well as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. There’s a whole new world being formed. The catalyst of it is the misjudgment that occurred about Ukraine and the effort to try to control Ukraine in 2014 that most people aren’t aware of.”
By not opposing a Democratic Party whose primary business is war, liberals become the sterile, defeated dreamers in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground.”
A former convict, Dostoevsky did not fear evil. He feared a society that no longer had the moral fortitude to confront evil. And war, to steal a line from my latest book, is the greatest evil.
“At one of my first Toughman competitions, some people were kind of laughing, saying, 'Look at this fat slob who is going to get his ass kicked.' Those same people weren’t laughing after I destroyed this body-building boy. I destroyed him. The following day, Showtime came to me and said, 'How many people did you bring to the fight?' I said 'Just my wife, why?' They said at least 30 people were out there with Butterbean shirts on.”
— Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch
SAVING THE PLANET AT A BEACHSIDE RESORT
by Laleh Khalili
COP27 was held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, at the tip of the arid Sinai Peninsula, just around the corner from the world’s busiest shipping lane. Ursula von der Leyen showed up early to make deals for the European Union. She signed a contract to buy rare minerals from Kazakhstan; made a timber deal – presented as a plan for the ‘sustainable development and management’ of forests – with Congo, Guyana, Mongolia, Uganda and Zambia; bought hydrogen from Egypt, and lithium and cobalt from Namibia. Egypt’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources signed seven memoranda of understanding with Bechtel, Shell, General Electric and others, covering things like the development of decarbonization technologies and feasibility studies for producing ammonia. Egypt is setting up a carbon trade market in Africa, and Singapore was looking to buy carbon credits from Morocco (if you are a major emitter, you can buy carbon credits from a neutral emitter to offset your pollution). In side meetings, Caribbean engineers gave lessons on ways to secure funding from the Global Climate Fund and oil companies, and how to build carbon capture and storage units.
The whole thing took place in the vast grounds of the Tonino Lamborghini convention center. The presidency occupied the permanent buildings and most of the rest of the conference was held in temporary structures. It’s amusing that a climate change conference was held in a venue named after a gas-guzzling sports car, though for the duration of the conference it was rebranded as the International Convention Centre. Alongside many salons named after pharaohs, there were three large halls containing the pavilions for individual countries, NGOs and transnational organizations. The most easily accessible hall included the pavilions of the host country, the EU, the US, the UK, Germany and India. It also included the vast, opulent, high-tech pavilions of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is set to host COP28 next year and sent 1073 delegates to Egypt, a number of them non-citizens recruited for forward planning. Saudi Arabia built two geodesic domes not far from the convention center to publicize the Saudi Green Initiative, which concentrates on ‘emissions reduction, afforestation and land and sea protection’. It is also building the ‘smart city’ of Neom, seventy miles away as the crow flies across the Straits of Tiran and the Red Sea, and its pavilion gave a vision of an eco-future replete with robot technologies seeding forests in the desert, mechanisms to warn of oil spills and sandstorms, and alternative fuels. Saudi Arabia held a two-day forum on its green policies but refused to commit to the 1.5°C climate change pledge.
The US sent just 136 delegates to the conference (there were 35,000 in all), but all the meetings at its pavilion were packed. Most of its delegates were senior diplomats and civil servants who were met by embassy officials when they got off their planes so they wouldn’t have to mix with the hoi polloi on the shuttle buses from the airport. An official from the Department of Defense spoke about the US military’s domestic and overseas disaster relief role and its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The US special envoy for biodiversity and water resources had a discussion with the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, who expressed gratitude to the Biden administration for welcoming the private sector into the green game. A number of delegates representing NGOs and businesses were former US government officials. China’s 65 delegates had a discreet corner decorated with flags, pandas and Xi Jinping’s red book. Israel’s pavilion, placed near the one for the US, held events on agri-tech and on ‘maximizing every drop’ of water, much of it drained from Palestinian aquifers into pools and farms in the settlements.
The next hall had smaller spaces allocated to delegates from a handful of European countries and many African ones. The third hall hosted the pavilions for Brazil, Australia and Malaysia and the stands for many businesses. Green capital and its blue maritime sister were all the rage. The International Chamber of Commerce adopted ‘Make Climate Action Everyone’s Business’ as its motto. Its pavilion had comfortable meeting areas, and held events online and in situ for corporate executives from around the world. Most of the sessions I attended were dominated by businesspeople from the US.
Ikea sponsored a pavilion, and the names PwC, Deloitte and EY appeared on lots of stalls. Nigeria displayed the logos of its partners: Agip, ExxonMobil, Shell Nigeria, Chevron, Total, Indorama petrochemicals and the Pan Ocean shipping company. Citi, 3M and SalesForce partnered with the United Nations at its main stand. JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank, along with the Atlantic Council (‘a nonpartisan organization that galvanizes US leadership’), had underwritten the Resilience Hub. Representatives of ESG divisions – environmental, social and government – were everywhere, talking about carbon trading, sustainability credits and community engagement. Most of the ESG representatives were women, people of color, or both. The business pavilions all had daily networking events and were always full of people. Where impenetrable acronyms were not used at their meetings, there was much talk of innovation, disruption, resilience, energy security, community engagement and a ‘just transition’.
The International Chamber of Shipping sponsored a couple of well-attended talks at which the CEO of one of the world’s biggest diesel engine producers for ships and trains, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, expressed skepticism about the viability of new, more eco-friendly fuels – he preferred a slower transition via natural gas. Green financing and newfangled (and sometimes unproven) technologies were promoted ad nauseam by corporations and lobbyists. Carbon capture is the biggest favorite at the moment because it makes no demands on the actual production of CO2 gas. The technocentric fantasy that a new invention will make it possible for us to keep consuming fossil fuels is a salve for the guilt of consuming countries, and a cynical nod at whatever international treaty the world’s biggest polluters have signed.
More than six hundred fossil fuel lobbyists, the most at any COP conference, were registered as delegates. BP’s chief executive, Bernard Looney, and four of his colleagues attended as delegates of Mauritania’s Ministry of Petroleum, Mines and Energy. The head of the International Copper Association, a representative from a Canadian firm that still burns coal to produce electricity, and a range of energy producers held side events. Representatives of an ‘artisanal mining company’, Ford Motors and various consulting firms participated via video link. Lobbyists for agribusiness were also present. The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, a joint venture between the US and UAE governments, is listed by the UN as a ‘climate champion’ despite one of its ‘knowledge partners’ being the North American Meat Institute, a major livestock industry lobbying organization.
The biggest sticking point of the negotiations at the conference was ‘loss and damage’: how to force the world’s industrial nations, which are also the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, to pay reparations to those who suffer most from the effects of fossil fuel use. Industrialized countries don’t want to accept any liability because they fear being flooded by lawsuits or, even worse, being asked to bring in more dramatic policies to curb growth, consumption and carbon production. On the Tuesday of the second week the G77 nations and China proposed to set up a global fund to pay damages, with the specifics to be negotiated at COP28. Lula’s arrival the same day – by private jet – seemed to have energized the negotiations. The next day the Brazilian pavilion was heaving with people trying to catch a glimpse of him.
Everything in Egypt seemed to carry the COP27 logo, even the headrest protectors on Egyptair’s planes – it is the official airline of COP27. Egyptian television channels had the COP27 watermark in the corner of the screen. At Cairo International Airport, a brand new section of the domestic terminal fast-tracked international delegates to Sharm El-Sheikh. You could see all the Egyptians flying to other domestic destinations through the glass. In Sharm El-Sheikh itself, hospitality businesses were happy. They needed to make some money because Russian and Ukrainian tourists were in short supply this summer (though not entirely absent, even during the conference). But scuba-diving businesses had to shut down during the first week of the conference, probably for security reasons, and local taxi drivers weren’t too happy either, since there were numerous electric buses transporting the delegates between their hotels and the convention center. Smaller vans ferried workers from the convention center to their segregated cafeteria, and to their residences. Hundreds of Egyptians were recruited to act as technology assistants and guides and have been living in Sharm El-Sheikh since October.
Everywhere you looked Mukhabarat (secret service) guys in spiffy black suits lurked, even in the desert outside the town. Petrol stations serving massive SUVs with tinted windows and ‘Special Security’ emblems must have been doing a roaring trade. The Mukhabarat guys were doing good business too, as they wandered round the conference center and through the town, or sat in hotel lobbies and restaurants, glowering at human rights activists. They were around whenever anyone dared to speak of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a British-Egyptian activist held in the Wadi El-Natrun prison, who had been on hunger strike for more than two hundred days and stopped drinking water during the first week of COP27. British officials have made concerned noises about his detention, but not enough to make the Egyptian government feel it has to release him. Their inaction is reminiscent of the Italian response to the murder of Giulio Regeni in 2016 by Egyptian security forces: international trade takes precedence over the lives of citizens. The one unequivocally heartening event at COP27 was the People’s Plenary, held on the penultimate day, during which civil society activists from around the world chanted ‘Free Alaa’ and – his watchword – ‘We have not been defeated.’ What will ultimately determine Abd El-Fattah’s fate, and the future of the planet itself, will be popular politics, not formal meetings at beachside resorts.
UKRAINE, SUNDAY, 25TH DECEMBER
Putin: Russia ‘ready to negotiate’ over Ukraine
Russia is ready to negotiate with all parties involved in the war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has said, while accusing Kyiv and its western allies of “refusing” to negotiate.
Speaking in an interview with Rossiya 1 state television, Putin said:
“We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are.”
He added that Russia was acting in the “right direction” in Ukraine because the west, led by the US, was trying to cleave Russia apart. He continued:
“I believe that we are acting in the right direction, we are defending our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people. And we have no other choice but to protect our citizens.”
Moscow has persistently said it is open to negotiations, but Kyiv and its allies suspect Putin’s claims are a ploy to buy time after a series of Russian defeats and retreats on the battlefield.
* * *
The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis have used their Christmas addresses to call for an end to the war in Ukraine.
During his sermon, Justin Welby referred to the suffering of millions facing famine amid fighting in South Sudan and the ongoing war in Ukraine, appealing to the leaders of both countries to bring an end to violence and in turn “bring hope to millions”.
“Even if the world forgets injustice, pays no attention to a war, God is present through Jesus in the world … In this child God shows God does not give up on us.”
Pope Francis in his Christmas message said the world was suffering from a “famine of peace”.
Delivering the 10th Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message of his pontificate, he urged people to look beyond the “shallow holiday glitter” and help the homeless, immigrants, refugees, and the poor.
“Let us see the faces of all those children who, everywhere in the world, long for peace,” he said from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.
“Let us also see the faces of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes due to the devastation caused by 10 months of war,” he said, to tens of thousands of people in the square below.
— Jane Clinton