Slight Respite | Lake Mendo | Susan Juster | Daphne Fontino | Next Flooding | Robber Returns | Bond-Graham Book | Motorcycle Thief | PA Emergency | Eileen Topples | Novelty Orchestra | Bales Sacked | First Car | Ed Notes | Capetown Petrolia | Can Kicking | Sinkhole Update | Ward Falor | Juice Bar | Shiveley Bridge | Clean CA | Gualala South | St Mary's | Humboldt Stevedore | KZYX Math | Yesterday's Catch | Rail Pass | Wood Stoves | Wavy 101 | Barking Journalists | Stay Mobile | Coal Miners | Country Walks | Popcorn Sez | Dying | James Farm | Porter Declares | 300 Hangovers | Notorious Memory | Marfork Club | Ukraine | ESL Class | Life | Sassy | Golden Globes | Windchime | Misinformation Class | White Owl
A BREAK IN THE WEATHER is expected today, with lighter rain amounts mainly affecting Del Norte and northern Humboldt counties. However, southerly winds will remain quite gusty. Rains will increase across the area again late tonight and Friday. Unsettled weather is forecast to persist into next week, with cooler temperatures and lowering snow levels. (NWS)
RAINFALL SINCE CHRISTMAS: Yorkville 25.80" - Boonville 18.21"
Susan Aisley Juster, beloved Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother November 27, 1943, Los Angeles, California - January 3, 2023, Philo, California.
Susan was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Mark and Ruth Evert Aisley, and sister to Miriam Aisley. She was raised in both Los Angeles and New York. Susan graduated from Fairfax High School, where she was in Girls’ League, earned a degree in Mathematics from UCLA, and ultimately obtained a certification in Electrical Engineering. Susan met her future husband Sherman Juster when both worked in the Superior Court in Los Angeles. Upon their retirement, Susan and Sherman left Los Angeles, settling in Philo.
They genuinely appreciated living in the country, and promptly named their home “Bishaert Farm,” which means "meant to be." Susan and Sherman relished becoming farmers upon moving to Philo, where they grew Christmas trees. They enjoyed their later years there after the property was converted to a vineyard. They quickly became contributing members of their community, and volunteered together on the Anderson Valley Ambulance Service for many years. Susan and Sherman valued the many and varied friendships they established in the Anderson Valley. Over the years, Susan continued to contribute by providing assistance to fellow members of the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community as well as other local organizations.
Susan loved her family. She is survived by five children, Rachel, Sean, John, Karen and Ellen, as well as eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Graveside services Sunday, January 22, 2023 at 11:30 AM, Evergreen Cemetery, 12631-12441 Anderson Valley Way, Boonville. Please consider making a donation in Susan's honor to Anderson Valley Ambulance Service, payable to AVVFFA, PO Box 414, Boonville, CA 95415
BODY OF UKIAH WOMAN RECOVERED FROM FLOOD-TRAPPED VEHICLE OUTSIDE FORESTVILLE
Daphne Fontino was on a 911 call with an emergency Sonoma County dispatcher Tuesday morning, reporting that water was rising in her vehicle on Trenton-Healdsburg Road, east of Forestville.
Then the call dropped.
Sheriff’s dispatchers immediately tried to call her back.
They called her multiple times. She never picked up.
A rescue team arrived with two helicopters and a boat and searched the area until sunset, when darkness made it too dangerous to continue until morning.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday, the submerged vehicle was found in a vineyard 100 yards off Trenton-Healdsburg Road. Inside was the body of Fontino, a 43-year-old from Ukiah.
“My heart is saddened and it is broken,” Fontino’s husband, Marc Fontino, told The Press Democrat on Wednesday.
A mother of three children and one step-child, she was among at least four people whose deaths have been attributed to a series of pounding storms in Sonoma and Mendocino counties since last week.…
NO FLOODING ON 128 OR 1 TONIGHT, maybe Saturday [MCN-Announce]
Based on the NWS Navarro Flood chart there should be no problem with the Hwy. 128 getting flooded until Saturday night about 5 PM when it is forecast to reach the 23 ft. flood stage and then reach a crest at 24.9 ft. about 9 PM. https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=eka&gage=nvrc1
Similar conclusions can be reached from the NWS Garcia River chart although a flood stage has not been defined. I think Hwy. 1 starts getting flooded at about 10 ft. on the gauge, and that won't happen until Saturday about 7 PM. However it will reach 9.7 ft. at 3 AM tonight, and 9.0 ft. at 9 PM Friday night. https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=eka&gage=grcc1
There is no chance of the Navarro sandbar returning in the foreseeable future due to high river flows keeping the channel open. That means no fear of backup flooding by the Hwy. 1 bridge.
Still lots of rain in the forecast. Rainfall forecasts have fallen a bit from a few days ago, so that's a good thing. Maybe even the Saturday night Navarro flooding will not happen.
Check highway conditions at https://roads.dot.ca.gov keeping in mind that info may be an hour or two behind real time conditions.
A former coast resident reports from his home in Montecito, adjoining Santa Barbara, that they had 21 in. of rain in two days! Floods, slides and sinkholes making life difficult, and I read that 20,000 residents were ordered to evacuate. And we thought WE had it rough.
My season total rainfall was at 21 in. as of Jan. 3. As of today it's 27.67 in.
MATIAS VIETTO, the 22-year-old Argentinian who robbed the Mi Esperanza market in Boonville at gunpoint back on December 9 has been returned to Mendocino County and booked into the County jail to face charges of robbery (of an estimated $20,000) and possession of a firearm in commission of a felony.
In the aftermath of the robbery, Sheriff’s investigators learned that Vietto had blabbed to friends that he was returning to Argentina and on December 12 Vietto was arrested by New York police on Mendo’s open warrant while trying to board a plane to Argentina. Vietto faces a possible sentence of four or five years or more.
FRANKLIN GRAHAM: The new book by Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston, ‘The Riders Come Out at Night’ was released on January 10, 2023, by Simon and Schuster. As one who has written many articles for the AVA, and is a part-time resident at Navarro, you may be interested with the “buzz” online for the book. The New York Times has a review, as does the SF Chronicle. The book’s rollout is now taking shape. The AVA had a hand in Darwin’s early career as a journalist.
NOT YOUR BIKE, SWINK
On Monday, January 9, 2023 at approximately 2028 hours, UPD Officers received multiple alerts from the Flock camera system of a stolen motorcycle that had entered the city limits. UPD Dispatch confirmed the motorcycle was reported stolen out of San Francisco. Officers and MCSO Deputies responded to the area and located the motorcycle in the 900 block of N. State St.
The driver of the motorcycle was contacted and detained without incident. The driver was identified as Paul Swink, 42, of Portland, Oregon.
The registered owner of the motorcycle was contacted and it was determined that Swink did not have permission to possess the motorcycle. Swink was placed under arrest and transported to the Mendocino County Jail where he was booked on the above violation.
The Flock LPR system continues to aid officers in their service to the community. It is not uncommon for outside agency incidents to carry over into other jurisdictions including ours. Flock helps us to aid other agencies, protecting the community from potential continued incidents that affect our community. As always, our mission at UPD is to make Ukiah as safe a place as possible. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cellphone, and email notifications by clicking the Nixle button on Ukiah’s website.
POINT ARENA CITY COUNCIL TO DECLARE EMERGENCY
Mayor Barbara Burkey ~ Vice Mayor Anna Dobbins ~ Jim Koogle ~ Jeff Hansen ~ Dan Doyle
Agenda - January 12, 2023
Special Session -- 5:00 pm
A) Resolution 2023-01 Ratifying the Existence of a Local Emergency Regarding the Winter Storms of January 2023 as Proclaimed by the City Manager/Director of Emergency Services
1) Update from Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall
2) Update from Redwood Coast Fire Protection District Chief Mike Suddith
RIP “Eileen”- I can’t really believe it… I always ensured people that she’d be standing for long after I was retired. A tree that seemed to defy the laws of physics with its massive tilt.
Testament to the redwoods collaborative strength in numbers, having weathered hundreds of years of storms. When she lost one of 3 siblings that helped her stay ballasted, the support of the remaining two were not enough to cantilever her weight.
An eerie crackle sent chills down my spine this morning… A widow maker? No, this sounded more like the slow bending and twisting of wood a hundred feet away…Then popping, that increased in frequency until snap… I spot several branches rain from the canopy. A thunderous roar echoed through the cathedral of giants as I see her crash to the ground. The forest seemed uneasy for the few minutes after, the remaining debris of foliage followed slowly to blanket the fallen.
Of all the trees in this grove, this was the only one I named… Eileen, though meant only as a corny dad joke that has caught it’s fair share of sympathy laughs. I never thought I’d see the day, but I’ll never forget it either.
Steve Jahelka, Philo
KZYX SACKS ALICIA BALES (Coast Chat line)
Anna Marie Stenberg: I just learned that Alicia Bales, the program director at our Community radio station was FIRED today by the Station manager. If you feel as I do, that Alicia was putting the community back into KZYX and she deserves her job, make your voice known! Call the Station and comment on the KZYX web page. This is not ok!
* * *
Annie Lee: This is very upsetting. I just left a message for the station manager. 895-2324 x2.
* * *
David Gurney: Bogus. Alicia is the best Program Manager at KZYX in years.
* * *
Stenberg: Good. It was the Station General Manager Marty that fired Alicia. KZYX is our Community radio Station! The Community should have a say in who is the program manager. Alicia has been doing a terrific job! Call the listeners comment line 707 895 9619. Email the Board of Directors. email@example.com
* * *
Muin Daly: Putting Community back in KZYX is so very necessary, rather than buying so many shows from PBS. Shall we write letters?!
* * *
JR Rossum: I thought that she was doing a good job. Anybody know why they gave her the ol' heave ho?
Have you ever noticed how that every time you send them a little money, their signal gets weaker and they decide to expand?
* * *
Anna Marie Stenberg: There was no they as far as I know. Marty the General Manager fired Alicia. I believe its an ego power struggle. Call the comment line I posted earlier and email the Board of Directors. Take action; this is a community radio station.
* * *
Genese: I hope everyone realizes we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Do any of you actually know the facts or is this an unfair case of vilifying the general manager because she happens to be a paid employee?
* * *
Marco McClean: The general manager, Marty Durlin, is the CEO of Mendocino County Public Broadcasting Corporation, not an employee. And its a hallmark of cults like KZYX that faithful volunteers work for free to bring the money the boss and the boss' lieutenants keep for themselves. And all of the intrigue and drama and cutting off of metaphorical heads is done, you're absolutely right, Genese, behind closed doors. I can tell you from personal experience, from the very beginning of KZYX, before one was allowed airtime one had to sign a page of promises to the first of KZYX's rotten rat bastard managers, Sean Donovan, who set the tone for the operation, including a promise never to speak on-air or off-air about private, behind-the-scenes station business or you'd lose your airtime, you'd be excommunicated from the church. I'm paraphrasing, but that was one of the promises I drew a line through. Sean gave me another sheet and said, "What's the problem. I need you to sign this. Everyone else has already signed it. Sign it." I drew lines through items again and signed it. I wrote a few articles for the Mendocino Commentary on the subject. He phoned me before my show one night and told me not to bother coming in. That's the short version.
You will never hear the true story of Alicia's firing unless she tells you all about it. And, considering the entire shady history of the place and its people, it's unlikely that she will. She'll be nervous to, afraid to. They'll make up some bullshit about how she decided to move on, to be able to spend more time with her family, and how sad they are to see her go after the great job she did there and how much everyone loved her, and she'll say, Yeah, that's right, that's what it was. Family.
MANAGERIAL STALINISM has always reigned at pseudo-public radio KZYX, so it was no surprise, to us anyway, that program manager Alicia Bales had been fired. If not her, some other hapless, unsuspecting dupe. That's the way they roll at Philo headquarters.
WHY WAS MS. BALES OFFED? We'll never know. The cringing weenies who dominate the place are unlikely even to get out a weasley, explanatory presser, saying something like, 'The board of directors of Public Radio Mendocino found that the long-term interests of the enterprise were inconsistent with Ms. Bales' vision for programming, and since we were unable to reconcile the two, and we couldn't murder her, we decided to terminate Ms. Bales' employment.'
MS. BALES AND I have always been on opposite sides of the Bari Bombing. As a kid, she was an acolyte of the diva of Mendo dissent and, as I recall, once said, “Everything I know, I learned from Judi,” one of the more frightening remarks I've ever heard. Ms. Bales has always helped run interference for that great swindle, and, like others before her at KZYX, made sure dissenting views of the case were never heard on Free Speech Radio, Mendocino. (In the great world outside, people familiar with the case think it's obvious her ex-husband car-bombed Bari.)
BE THAT AS IT IS, Ms. Bales turned out to be a natch for radio. She has a good radio voice, she's smart (mostly), articulate, and very good at interviews and moving the conversations along. The only other person that KZYX has with all-round audio competence is Sara Reith, the station's local reporter.
NOTE TO MS. BALES: The Boonville weekly is available to you for a de-brief. Don't go quietly, Alicia. Take some of these bastards with you!
AS AN OFF AND ON MEMBER over the long years, and having had the distinct honor of being banned from the station by its founder even before it went on the air, but occasionally un-banned every ten years or so — I've always relished writing up its many scandals — the forceful takeover of the station by a Bari strike force; a rigged board election; a cho-mo interlude involving a programmer and a 12-year-old intern; several late-night management boffs in the on-air studio; the night the newsman went apeshit in the studio; the dependably fatuous reign of that creepy EST cult guy and his pals; the major bores who buy their way onto the air and the board of directors (cf Bob Bushanksy); the hilarious meeting arranged by a station manager and local rich people to raise money that raised not a dime, the rich people consensus being, “Are you kidding?”; and not to mention the many hours of unintentional on-air hilarity. But what the hell? It's an amateur operation, and it's located in Mendocino County, so what do you expect? KQED?
THERE DOESN'T seem to be the basic awareness at KZYX that it faces the same survival dilemmas faced by print newspapers, which is that few people under the age of 60 have any interest in either newspapers or a radio station staffed by fagged out old hippies doing the same goddam thing for more than thirty years! How could KZYX become a must-listen among the young? I have no idea. Confiscate their telephones?
KMUD outta Garberville is a true community radio station, and it survives by staying free of NPR and focused almost entirely on the Northcoast. KZYX has been wed, from its murky beginnings as a one-man hustle, to NPR, imagining a vast audience out there for government certified news and bland interviews with show biz figures. And music, music, music. Maybe NPR is the correct demographic assumption for partially tax-supported audio that assumes its paid-up members are mostly well-to-do conservative Democrats. Hell, that demographic calls the tune in Mendo, doesn't it?
MORE CAN KICKING
To the Editor:
I couldn't believe my ears.
At the Tuesday, 10 January 2023, Board of Supervisors meeting, during the Board's discussion of Agenda Item 4i (New Jail Building Funding) at 2hrs, 3 mins, 50 secs into the meeting, and for the next minute or two, Supervisor Ted Williams said the unthinkable.
I thought I heard Ted Williams announce that Mendocino County was broke, even perhaps, running up a budget deficit.
He then proceeded to blame past Boards for “kicking the can” down the road on big ticket items like deferred maintenance at the county jail, the unfunded pension liability, and the county's crumbling and outdated telecommunications.
Keep in mind, Ted Williams was on those “past Boards.” And so was John Haschack. Dan Gjerde, too. Dan Gjerde is the longest serving Supervisor on the current Board.
Where were Williams, Haschak, and Gjerde, when County CEO Carmel “Boss” Angelo ran the show? Why did past Boards allow themselves to be dominated by her? Why were they so subservient? So afraid?
Angelo controlled — and hoarded — all financial information. She controlled the budget book.
And the Board didn't say a thing.
Angelo controlled the Board's agenda and the Clerk of the Board.
The job chart of Angelo's County Executive Office ballooned into how many new assistant CEO positions and new analyst positions, as it consolidated power from other county departments and privatized county services, like mental health?
The Board didn't care.
Past Boards didn't simply kick the can down the road, as Ted Williams claims. They surrendered their authority to Carmel Angelo. They failed to govern. They held mere titular positions, and were happy to do so, as long as their paychecks cleared.
Ted Williams got a $135,139 total compensation package last year (source CalSalaries). Of this total $80,215 was received as a salary, $46,079 was received as benefits and $8,845 came from other types of compensation.
He was paid that sum to kick the can down the road.
* * *
JOHN REDDING: Well said. To make matters worse, the BOS at the urging of Supervisor Williams used $16.1 million in covid relief funds to balance last year's budget. That money was intended to aid small businesses and individuals who were harmed financially because of covid. This a case of one-time funding being used to pay for ongoing expenses (salaries), which is against the Board's own stated policy.
CREEKSIDE CABINS SINKHOLE UPDATE
On December 30, 2022, during heavy rain a culvert failed underneath a private encroachment onto the State roadway (Highway 101) at Creekside Cabins in Willits.
First responders arrived to inquire about the safety of residents on the property, locate a means of emergency access, and assess the needs of residents at the property. Mendocino County Social Services has subsequently established safety plans for residents, in addition to providing ongoing services, which include ensuring that residents have access to food, medical supplies (including oxygen) and emergency services.
On December 31, 2022, the Mendocino County Office of Emergency Services was notified by Caltrans that maintenance, repair, and replacement of the culvert was the responsibility of the private property owner. The owner/manager of the business was promptly contacted and informed of the need for both permanent repairs and temporary access and was referred to multiple contractors capable of performing this work. The owner selected a contractor, who met with CalTrans to arrange to start work. Responsible State authorities have authorized the owner’s contractor to perform repairs on an emergency basis.
Since that time, however, no repair work has begun on the property, and it appears that the owner does not intend to address the situation. The County has been informed that the property owner declined to engage their chosen contractor. The owner has not communicated any plan or intent to repair the encroachment and has made recent statements suggesting unwillingness to perform the work.
This matter has now been referred to Mendocino County Code Enforcement, the State licensing authority over the business (“HUD”), and CalTrans for appropriate enforcement action.
Mendocino County Social Services continues to assess the needs of and provide assistance to the tenants on the property, but the County does not have legal authority to gift a private business with resources to meet the landlord’s obligations. The County is evaluating the need and ability to expedite enforcement and abatement action based on any immediate health and safety needs of the residents.
ORGANIC JUICE BAR LITTLE RIVER
Hello wonderful community,
I would just like to share that Juice Me, a Mendocino juice company has a juice bar at Dennen's Victorian Farmhouse from 8 AM to 11 AM Monday through Saturday and 8am-10am Sundays. We also have breakfast to-go specials that change daily and are primarily plant-based and sometimes vegetarian!
Feel free to email me with any questions! Hope to see you there! Oh, and bring your own container or purchase a glass jar here because we aim to be zero waste at Dennen's Victorian Farmhouse. We also deliver juice directly to homes for free Monday through Friday that are within 1 mile of downtown areas on the coast ($2 per mile up roads). More information can be found on our website. Come sample the juice and see how yummy it is! Love to all! Stay dry and warm out there!
Daphne Mejia <firstname.lastname@example.org> www.juicemeplus.com
MIRANDA EDISON WRITES: I don't know if this helps the roadway trash discussion, but this is what I got out of DOT…
NEW YORK TIMES' GEOGRAPHY LESSON (via Steve Heilig)
ST. MARY’S SCHOOL TO HOLD A TK AND KINDERGARTEN OPEN HOUSE 2023-2024 School Year Registration Now Open
UKIAH, CA (JANUARY 11, 2023). St. Mary's School would like to welcome interested Transitional Kindergarten (TK) and Kindergarten families to its Open House on Tuesday, January 17th, at 6 p.m. The Open House will be an opportunity for families to learn about the school, meet the staff and get a tour. Families can also register for the 2023-2024 academic year while there.
Students at St. Mary's build a foundation for a lifetime of success through strong academics, spiritual growth, and social and physical development.It is committed to developing students who not only excel academically but who also distinguish themselves by their strength of character, dedication to community service and purpose-driven leadership.
"St. Mary's is more than just a school' said Mr. Andrew Soria, principal of St. Mary of the Angels Catholic School. "We are a community of encouraging teachers and staff, supportive parents, and compassionate students. We look forward to welcoming TK and Kindergarten students and their families to our Open House to learn more about what sets St. Mary's apart."
The upcoming 2023-2024 academic school year will include the opening of St. Mary’s TK. This program is designed for 4-year-old students to prepare for Kindergarten at St. Mary's, in particular building the social-emotional and basic academic skills to thrive as a student and life-long learner. Students will also be exposed to the values-based Catholic education St. Mary's is known for. TK classes will run five days a week on a half-day schedule in the mornings, with the option for extended care in the afternoon
Interested TK and Kindergarten families can enroll their students at the Open House or online at StMarysUkiah.org/Admissions. Students registering for Kindergarten must be five (5) years old by October 15th, 2023. Students registering for TK must be four (4) years old by October 15th, 2023.
Tours of St. Mary's are also available in Spanish. For more information, please contact Principal Andrew Soria at email@example.com.
St. Mary of the Angels Catholic School has been the sole center of Catholic education in Mendocino County since 1953. We are committed to creating a school environment that both nurtures and challenges our students to become the purpose-driven servant leaders they are meant to be. Serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade, St. Mary of the Angels Catholic School is accredited by the Western Catholic Education Association and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. For more information, please visit www.stmarysukiah.org.
KXYX MATH (Coast Chatline)
JR Rossum wrote: Have you ever noticed how that every time you send them a little money, their signal gets weaker and they decide to expand?
Marco McClean: JR, have you ever noticed that they pay just the manager and program director all the membership money you give the station? Around 2000 members at $25 or $50 a year, and a few who give a little extra, amounts to $100,000. The manager pays herself $60,000 out of that, plus full medical and dental and vision. If the program director gets $40,000, then that's all the money, to two people in the office.
But because of donations from corporations and rich ranch families and winery types, not to mention the $160,000 annual CPB grant, they have enough to pay the surprisingly small expenses of keeping on the air and keeping a roof overhead and the lights on, and enough left over so that lately they've bought and are spiffing up a new office palace in Ukiah, besides. You might recall my mentioning they don't pay the local airpeople, and that the airpeople's representative on the board has never brought it up, except once at a board meeting when I pointed it out, and the aptly named Jerry Karp, the airpeople's representative at the time, turned to the boardmember next to him, repeated what I'd said, and they both chuckled at the very idea of it.
Any suggestions of improvement or change in any area are simply stonewalled and ignored until objectors get tired and go away. That's the way it's always been at KZYX, all the way back to 1989. Ask Joel Waldman... Oh, wait, you can't. He died of old age waiting twenty-five years for his issues to be addressed.
Rudy Redwood wrote, "Geez. It seems like Alicia Bales has been there from the start but I thought that she was in the news arena. Too bad that these egomaniacs can just randomly fire the volunteers - she was a volunteer - not paid - right?"
No, Alicia Bales is the Program Director, the second-highest-paid person there, after the manager. Or was until yesterday. Next week there'll be another one. Meanwhile I think the second-highest-paid person might be the Business Underwriting Coordinator, or the Vice President in Charge of Fundraising Strategy. It might be the Logo Designer, or the Bells And Whistles Shaker and Blower. I dunno. It won't be any of the local airpeople who actually use the transmitter to do radio on KZYX, because all of them preparing for and doing their shows all year long, all put together, year after year after year, continue to be paid nothing,
CATCH OF THE DAY, Wednesday, January 11, 2023
ROBERT DANIELS, Fort Bragg. DUI causing bodily injury.
ERIC GARCIA, Redwood Valley. Controlled substance, under influence.
KENNETH GOODELL, Comptche. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
GORDON HANOVER SR., Ukiah. Probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
RONDA LAMB, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
LEVI LEON, Willits. Concealed dirk-dagger, controlled substance, paraphernalia.
PABLO MORA, Ukiah. Parole violation. (Frequent flyer.)
PATRICK REDMILL, Ukiah. Criminal threats, resisting, parole violation.
PAUL SWINK, Portland, Oregon/Ukiah. Attempt to keep stolen property.
MANDY VANARSDALE, Redwood Valley. Failure to appear.
MATIAS VIETTO, Argentina/Philo. Robbery, armed with firearm in commission of felony.
DEREK YOUNG, Vacaville/Willits. DUI with blood-alcohol over 0.15%.
MIKE KALANTARIAN WRITES: Looking to get away this spring? Amtrak is currently offering a good deal on their USA Rail Pass. Normally $500, you can get one now for $300. The pass is good for a 30-day period of travel with 10 stops. The deal lasts another week, until January 20, but you get up to four months, after purchase, before you need to use it. The Amtrak website (linked above) can be a little kludgy for viewing all their routes, but here's a website that provides a nice overview of the Amtrak rail system.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I’ve been looking around recently at prices and availability of wood burning kitchen cook stoves. My great grandma used one until nat gas and electric became available. Installing a kitchen wood burner is a lot more expensive than a regular gas or electric model. And it takes time to fire one up. But from that point on, and especially if you have access to free wood, no more utility bills from that particular kitchen appliance. And you are also on your way to having an off grid kitchen setup. Electricity down for a few weeks or even a month? No problem, you’ll still be cookin’ – and lots of neighbors will be very interested in your setup.
HIGHWAY 101 NEAR BANDON, OREGON
JOURNALISTS ARE LIKE DOGS, whenever anything moves they begin to bark.
— Arthur Schopenhauer
RIGHT YOU ARE, ANNE
Find a favorite place to walk and walk it regularly. Part of the secret to a good life, a healthy, happy life, is to stay mobile. You’ve seen the difference in people you know. Those who stay physically active stay healthy and are generally happy, positive people. Do it for yourself.
Sure, your doctor has advised the same thing to you, but really the benefit is provided to you by yourself. If you can, find a walking companion, as you’re more likely to keep up your activity if you have someone else to share it with. We choose different hills to walk, but even walking flatlands and small rises can give you a lift in life.
Give yourself this gift.
When on my country walks I go,
I never am alone:
Though, whom 'twere pleasure then to know,
Are gone, and you are gone;
From every side discourses flow.
There are rich counsels in the trees,
And converse in the air;
All magic thoughts in those and these
And what is sweet and rare;
And everything, that living is.
But most I love the meaner sort,
For they have voices too;
Yet speak with tongues, that never hurt,
As ours are apt to do:
The weeds, the grass, the common wort.
— Herbert P. Horne
by Paul Modic
I'm continually impressed with my peers, many of whom have moved back home to live with, care for, or be near their aging parents, or have moved them out here.
My mother had moved back across the country to Vermont to be near her 90-year-old mother a half mile away. Grandma lived at home till the end with her daughter, son-in-law, and her grandson who besides caring for her worked everyday to put out a weekly called “The Vermont Country Sampler.”
We brought Sally out west to live near my sister in Tacoma in 2005 after my cool grandma died, my mother’s husband died, and she recovered from breast cancer.
In September, 2019 I was prepping for a hip replacement, the hip was getting worse, and travel would have been difficult. I had three or four appointments in Willits pre-op but there was no way I could get up to Tacoma to visit her. The operation was in mid-February and rehab at home followed.
Then came the pandemic.
By May the nursing homes were in shutdown mode, the residents couldn't have visitors, couldn't eat together anymore, or leave their rooms. By mid-summer I had recovered from the operation but was afraid to travel.
Communication switched from email to telephone as she wasn’t able to go down the hall whenever she wanted to use the shared computer. Celebrations of holidays were achieved by cell phone though a small window in the door. A difficult life in an institution was made harder.
I started calling more, mostly rambling about my little life as she didn't have a whole lot to say about hers beyond complaining about workers who handled her roughly. I also started writing her letters and within a couple weeks I had a system down:
I printed off 50-100 photos from my computer archive every month or so, shuffled them then affixed them to a clipboard, and five days a week with my coffee I wrote a three page letter on the back of three photos in large legible handwriting as my morning warm up. (As an incentive/reward I didn’t look at which photo I was writing on until I was done with each page.)
I cut and pasted typed essays, stories, and vignettes on both sides of another standard page, stapled the whole mess together, sealed it in an envelope, and got it up to the mailbox each afternoon. I mailed her over a hundred of these mini-chapbooks over the next six months.
When she got covid toward the end of December communication became difficult on the phone. We were told that everyone at the facility had it, all the workers and the residents, and they kept coming to work anyway because the old people still had to be taken care of. They said we could come for a last visit but strongly recommended against it, that anyone who came inside would definitely get covid. My sister was going to go in but her sons forbade her,
She was sleeping a lot, on morphine, and it was frustrating trying to reach her through the front desk as she could no longer operate her cell phone. Sometimes they called down to the landline in her room but she rarely answered. I started making appointments with the social worker to try to reach her.
I kept on writing and sending my packages of letters, photos, and essays but didn't know if they were being received or read. Episodes from my little life were probably not of much concern as she was in the process of ending hers.
Each sibling tried to figure out what to say to her and my sisters sang her songs. I decided to read her a letter I had written to her on her 90th birthday earlier in the year. I asked if she wanted to hear it and her last words to me were, “If it's not too long.” When I was done a couple minutes later there was silence: was she asleep? Could she hear but not talk? I was floundering.
I realized I had been rambling on to her and maybe that wasn't what I should be doing. I asked my sister up there what to say and she gave me some brief talking points which I read to her the next time I arranged a call with the social worker:
Can you talk mom? Do you have something to tell me? We'll be okay. Everybody is good. We all love you and we want you to relax and rest.
Finally I figured out what to say in my own words and tried to reach her. Her morphine dose had been increased and she was pretty out of it.
The next morning I got the call.
* * *
We've said goodbye to Mom so many times, going out the door to school as kids and after visits as adults.
Arriving for a visit she was like a giggly girl even into her eighties when she greeted me at the door, like she couldn't quite believe I had made the 500 mile drive once again and was back where I belonged, at least for a few days.
Today we say goodbye again to Mom, to these ashes, to the yearly family reunions which have disappeared with her.
She was encouraging and supportive to her children: she loved us equally and we loved her. She was my biggest fan and supporter in creative and life pursuits as she was for all of us.
She took to the streets and avidly protested wars and social injustice and documented her life and the nation's with many essays and stories. We watched the March on Selma, Alabama together on our little black and white TV back in 1964 and in 1970 she was writing articles protesting the police getting computers in their cars.
I admired her adaptability when she went bopping down the street to Cafe Brousseau with her walker when her mobility decreased.
One of my clearest and fondest memories was during the last family gathering when the music was playing and I challenged everyone to go into the middle and bust a dance move. We all did, including Mom and I can still see her excited smiling face as she bounded in with her walker to dance a few seconds, happily surrounded by her children and grandchildren.
We were lucky to have a nice mother, this isn't always the case I've heard, and she was lucky to have us children who cared about her.
And now that the matriarch has gone it's the four siblings and her grandchildren who are left to wander in the wilderness without our guiding light: Sally O'Kane Modic McClintock (April 10, 1930-January 15, 2021)
She lived a full life.
KATIE PORTER, CALIFORNIA CONGRESSWOMAN, IS RUNNING FOR SENATE
Ms. Porter is the first announced challenger to Senator Dianne Feinstein, 89, who has yet to declare her 2024 plans but is widely expected to not seek re-election.
Representative Katie Porter, a third-term California Democrat who studied under Elizabeth Warren at Harvard University and became a social media darling of liberal Democrats, said Tuesday that she would run in 2024 for the Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein.
Ms. Porter, 49, is the first announced challenger to Ms. Feinstein, 89, who has not declared her intentions about 2024 but is widely expected to not seek re-election amid Democratic worries about her age and ability to serve. Last year, Ms. Feinstein declined to serve as president pro tem of the Senate and earlier relinquished her post as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee under immense pressure after the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
“It’s time for new leadership in the U.S. Senate,” Ms. Porter said in a video announcing her campaign.
Ms. Feinstein, in a statement released by her office, said she would “make an announcement concerning my plans for 2024 at the appropriate time.” She said she was focused on addressing the deadly storms battering California.
Ms. Porter’s early campaign announcement — which carries echoes of Ms. Warren’s entrance to the 2020 presidential contest, when she was the first major Democrat to embark on a bid — jump-starts a race that is certain to be among the most expensive intraparty contests in the country. A vaunted fund-raiser, Ms. Porter became widely known for her combative treatment of witnesses from the financial sector and Trump administration officials who appeared before her on the House Oversight Committee.
The Iowa-born Ms. Porter was a leading surrogate for Ms. Warren’s 2020 campaign and often hosted small events promoting her mentor. She worked as a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and in 2012 was appointed by Kamala Harris, then the California attorney general, to oversee a $9 billion settlement after the mortgage crisis. She was elected to Congress in 2018.
Ms. Porter won re-election in November by 3.4 percentage points in a district made much more Republican in California’s redistricting process, after prevailing in 2020 by seven points. Her seat may be tougher for Democrats to hold in 2024 without a candidate on the ballot who has Ms. Porter’s fund-raising acumen.
Other California Democrats who have not announced campaigns for Ms. Feinstein’s Senate seat but are believed to be considering bids include Representative Adam Schiff, who has already hired staff members in preparation for a statewide campaign; Representative Barbara Lee, who has told donors of her plans to run; and Representative Ro Khanna, an aide for whom said Mr. Khanna would decide on the Senate race “in the next few months.”
“It’s going to be a very exciting race with fabulous people — several have already talked to me,” said former Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who served for four terms alongside Ms. Feinstein before retiring in 2016. “The fact that Katie Porter has announced, I think, is going to open the door for a lot of early announcements.”
California, the nation’s most populous state with nearly 40 million residents, has not hosted a highly competitive contest for an open Senate seat since 1992, when Ms. Feinstein and Ms. Boxer were both elected for the first time.
Ms. Feinstein, in her sixth term, has been dogged by questions about her fitness to serve. Issues with her short-term memory have become an open secret on Capitol Hill, though few Democrats have been willing to discuss the subject publicly.
She has made no moves to suggest she will seek re-election in 2024. She has not hired a campaign staff and, in the latest campaign finance report for the period ending in September, had less than $10,000 in cash on hand, a paltry sum for a sitting senator.
THE MUCH MALIGNED GEORGE SANTOS
by Cesar Chelala
If anything shows the unconscionable attacks of the American media on decent politicians, it is what is happening now to Congressman George Santos. A man of notorious bad memory, he made some statements that have made him the object of ridicule. A careful analysis of this phenomenon, however, should help establish the accuracy of the comments on his personal integrity and on the veracity of his assertions. A man who has devoted his life to serving his country deserves no less.
Let’s start. He claimed that he earned a degree from Baruch College and that he held a Master of Business Administration from New York University. Both institutions, however, have no records of his enrollment or employment. Santos later said that he had embellished his resumé and told The New York Post, “I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my résumé…we do stupid things in life.”
Calling himself a “seasoned Wall Street financier and investor,” Santos claimed that he had worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Neither company has records of him. He was a regional director of Harbor City Capital, a Florida firm that was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a $17 million Ponzi scheme, according to The New York Times. Although he was an executive of the firm, he denied any knowledge of the fraud.
He stated that he had founded Friends of Pets United (wonderful name, we must admit) an animal rescue organization that was a tax-exempt charity that saved thousands of cats and dogs. No records were found of it as a tax-exempt organization. In 2017, Friends of Pets United held a fundraiser event for an animal rescue shelter. The organizer of the event declared that Santos never gave him any of the funds that were collected. Mr. Santos later backed away from the claim that he had founded the group.
He said that he owned 13 rental properties that were managed by his family. However, such properties were not listed on his campaign disclosure forms nor in public records. Also, three times in the mid-2010s he was evicted from rented properties in Queens (in Jackson Heights, Whitestone, and Sunnyside) due to his failure to pay rent. On his second eviction, a Queens court entered a civil judgement for $12,208 against him.
A man of notorious bad memory, he declared that he had forgotten he owed this money. Nobody should be blamed for memory shortcomings, as older people like me can testify. Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, always a good sport, defended Santos’s actions. Although acknowledging that Santos had lied, she likened it to similar behavior by Democrats holding office.
In 2008, Santos spent some time in Brazil, where his mother was working as a nurse. A man of notorious good taste, he faced charges in that country for stealing a checkbook belonging to one of his mother’s patients, from where he spent $700 at a clothing store. Both Santos and his mother confessed to the crime, but they returned to the U.S. before a Brazilian judge summoned him.
Nobody should be blamed for wanting to dress like a gentleman. This is something that Brazilian authorities do not understand, since they are still determined to press charges against him for his unpaid debt. On January 2, 2023, The New York Times stated that state prosecutors from Rio de Janeiro would now revive the fraud accusations against him, now that Santos’s whereabouts are known.
All these facts point to the fact that Santos is a man of unusual imagination and daring, necessary traits for somebody who wants to make his mark as an outstanding legislator. Undaunted by the accusations against him, Santos declared to The New York Post that the controversy about his actions “will not deter me from having good legislative success. I will be effective. I will be good… I intend to deliver on the promises I made during the campaign.” What is still puzzling, however, is why a man who has had such a deceitful past has not been rebuked by the Republican leaders in Congress. The answer to this question is simple. He is just one of them.
(Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.” CounterPunch.org.)
UKRAINE, WEDNESDAY, 11TH JANUARY
Russia appears to be focusing its efforts on capturing the key eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, as a fierce battle for control of the area intensifies. Kyiv denied claims that Moscow's troops have taken the town, saying fighting is ongoing.
Poland announced Wednesday that it will send Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine as countries step up their support for Kyiv. The Pentagon Tuesday said the US will soon begin training Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot missile system in Oklahoma, which Russia's ambassador to the US said confirms the country's "de facto involvement" in the war.
Russia appointed a new head for its so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine, just three months after the previous commander was chosen.
8,000 DIFFERENT THINGS CAN KILL YOU, BUT ONLY ONE WILL SUCCEED
by Bill Bryson
But it is so much more than that. It works 24 hours a day for decades without (for the most part) needing regular servicing or the installation of spare parts.
It runs on water and a few organic compounds, is soft and rather lovely, reproduces itself with enthusiasm, makes jokes, feels affection and appreciates a red sunset.
How many machines do you know that can do any of that? There is no question about it. You are truly a wonder.
And how do we celebrate the glory of our existence? Well, for most of us by exercising minimally and eating maximally.
Think of all the junk you throw down your throat and how much of your life is spent in a near vegetative state in front of a glowing screen.
Yet in some kind and miraculous way our bodies look after us, extract nutrients from the miscellaneous foodstuffs we push into our faces and somehow hold us together.
Even when you do nearly everything wrong, your body maintains and preserves you. Most of us are testament to that in one way or another.
Five out of six smokers won’t get lung cancer. Most of the people who are prime candidates for heart attacks don’t get heart attacks.
Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turns cancerous and your immune system captures and kills them. Think of that.
A couple of dozen times a week, well over 1,000 times a year, you get the most dreaded disease of our age, and each time your body saves you.
Our bodies are a universe of 37.2 trillion cells operating in more or less perfect concert more or less all the time.
An ache, a twinge of indigestion, the odd bruise or pimple is about all that in the normal course of things announces our imperfectability.
There are thousands of things that can kill us – slightly more than 8,000, according to the World Health Organisation – and we escape every one of them but one. For most of us, that’s not a bad deal.
‘Feel this,’ the doctor is saying to me. We are in the dissecting room at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Dr Ben Ollivere is directing my attention to a piece of detached tubing in the upper chest of a male body.
I am struck by a powerful thought. In the dissecting room, the human body is no longer a wondrous piece of precision engineering. It’s meat.
Ben instructs me to stick my gloved finger into the interior of the tube and feel it. It is stiff, like uncooked pasta.
I have no idea what it is. ‘The aorta,’ Ben says, with what seems like pride.
I am frankly amazed. ‘So that’s the heart?’ I say, indicating the shapeless lump beside it.
Ben nods. ‘And the liver, pancreas, kidneys, spleen,’ he says, pointing out the other organs of the abdomen in turn.
Ben is an old friend and a distinguished academic and trauma surgeon. There isn’t anything in the human body that doesn’t fascinate him.
‘Just consider all that the hand and wrist do,’ he says. He tugs gently on an exposed tendon in the cadaver’s forearm up near the elbow and, to my surprise, the little finger moves. Ben smiles at my startlement and explains that we have so much packed into a small space in the hand that a lot of the work has to be done remotely, like strings on a marionette.
‘The wrist is just a thing of beauty,’ he goes on. ‘Everything has to go through there – muscles, nerves, blood vessels, everything – and yet it has to be completely mobile at the same time.
‘Think of all the things your wrist has to do – take a lid off a jam jar, wave goodbye, turn a key in a lock, change a light bulb. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering.’
Ben’s field is orthopaedics, so he loves bones and tendons and cartilage the way other people love expensive cars or excellent wines. ‘See that?’ he says, tapping a small, smooth, very white obtrusion at the base of the thumb, which I take to be a bit of exposed bone.
‘No, it’s cartilage,’ he corrects. ‘Cartilage is remarkable, too. It is many times smoother than glass: it has a friction coefficient five times less than ice.
‘Imagine playing ice hockey on a surface so smooth that the skaters went 16 times as fast. That’s cartilage.
‘But unlike ice, it isn’t brittle. It doesn’t crack under pressure as ice would. And you grow it yourself. It’s a living thing.
‘None of this has been equalled in engineering or science. Most of the best technology that exists on Earth is right here inside us.’
Before we move on, Ben examines the wrist more closely for a moment. ‘You shouldn’t ever try to kill yourself by cutting your wrists, by the way,’ he says.
‘All of those things going in are wrapped in a protective band called a fascial sheath, which makes it really hard to get to the arteries.
‘Most people who cut their wrists fail to kill themselves, which is no doubt a good thing.’
He is briefly thoughtful. ‘We are designed not to die.’ This seems a slightly ironic thing to say in a big room full of dead bodies, but I take his point.
We tend to think of our bones as inert bits of scaffolding, but they are living tissue too. They grow bigger with exercise and use just as muscles do.
‘The bone in a professional tennis player’s serving arm may be 30 per cent thicker than in his other arm,’ Margy Pratten, an associate professor of anatomy told me – citing Rafael Nadal as an example.
Look at bone through a microscope and you will see an intricate array of productive cells just as in any other living thing. ‘Bone is stronger than reinforced concrete,’ says Ben, ‘yet light enough to allow us to sprint.’ All your bones together will weigh no more than about 20 lb (nine kilograms), yet most can withstand up to a ton of compression.
‘Bone is also the only tissue in the body that doesn’t scar,’ Ben adds. ‘If you break your leg, after it heals you cannot tell where the break was. There’s no practical benefit to that. Bone just seems to want to be perfect.’
Even more remarkably, bone will grow back and fill a void.
‘You can take up to 30 centimetres of bone out of a leg, and with an external frame and a kind of stretcher you can have it grow back,’ Ben says. ‘Nothing else in the body will do that.’ Bone, in short, is amazingly dynamic.
The skeleton is, of course, only one part of the vital infrastructure that keeps you upright and mobile. The bulk of you, no matter how modestly built you are, is muscle.
You have more than 600 muscles altogether. We tend to notice our muscles only when they ache, but of course they are constantly at our service in 1,000 unappreciated ways – puckering our lips, blinking our eyelids, moving food through the digestive tract.
You need a dozen to move your eyes over the words you are reading now. The simplest movement of the hand – a twitch of the thumb, say – can involve ten muscles. Many of our muscles we don’t even think of as muscles – our tongue and heart, for instance.
Altogether, you are about 40 per cent muscle if you are a reasonably slender man, slightly less if you are a proportionately similar woman, and just keeping that mass of muscle uses up 40 per cent of your energy allowance when you are at rest and much more when you are active. Because muscle is so expensive to maintain, we sacrifice muscle tone really quickly when we are not using it.
Studies by Nasa have shown that astronauts – even on short missions, from five to 11 days – lose up to 20 per cent of muscle mass.
All of these things work together in a deft and splendid choreography. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in your hands.
Inside each of them you have 29 bones, 17 muscles (plus 18 more that are in the forearm but control the hand), two main arteries, three major nerves (one of which, the ulnar nerve, is the one you feel in your elbow when you hit your ‘funny bone’) plus 45 other named nerves and 123 named ligaments, all of which must coordinate their every action with precision and delicacy. The hand is a marvellous creation without question, but not all its parts are equal.
If you curl your fingers into a fist, then try to straighten them out one at a time, you will find that the first two pop up obediently enough, but that the ring finger doesn’t seem to want to straighten out at all. Its position on the hand means that it can’t really contribute much to fine movement and so it has less in the way of discriminating musculature.
Nor, surprisingly, do we all possess the same component parts in our hands. About 14 per cent of us lack a muscle called the palmaris longus, which helps to keep the palm tensed.
It is rarely missing from top-ranked sportsmen and women who need a strong grip to perform, but is otherwise quite dispensable.
It is often noted that we have opposable thumbs (by which is meant that they can touch the other fingers, giving the capacity for a good grip) as if this were a uniquely human attribute.
In fact, most primates have opposable thumbs. Ours are just more pliant and mobile.
What we do have in our thumbs are three small but resplendently named muscles not found in any other animals, including chimps: the extensor pollicis brevis, the flexor pollicis longus, and the first volar interosseous of Henle.
Working together, these muscles in the thumb allow us to grasp and manipulate tools with sureness and delicacy. You may never have heard of them, but these three small muscles are at the heart of human civilisation. Take them away and our greatest collective achievement might be winkling ants out of their nests with sticks.
The feet, our other disproportionately bony outposts, receive a lot less praise and attention when it comes to discussing the features that make us special, but in fact the feet are pretty marvellous, too.
The foot has to be three different things: shock absorber, platform and pushing organ. With every step you take – and in the course of a lifetime you will take probably something in the region of 200 million of them – you execute those three functions in that order.
Our feet were designed to grasp, which is why you have an abundance of bones in them. They were not designed to support a lot of weight, which is one reason they ache at the end of a long day of standing or walking. Ostriches have eliminated this problem by fusing the bones of their feet and ankle – but then ostriches have had 250 million years to adjust to upright walking – roughly 40 times as long as we have had.
The miracle of human life is not that we are endowed with some frailties, but that we aren’t swamped with them.
As we have seen, our genes come from ancestors who most of the time weren’t even human. Some of them were fish. Lots more were tiny and furry and lived in burrows. You are the product of three billion years of evolutionary tweaks.
We would all be a lot better off if we could just start afresh and give ourselves bodies built for our particular human needs: to walk upright without wrecking our knees and backs, to swallow without the heightened risk of choking, to dispense babies as if from a vending machine.
As modern-day humans, we pass our existence within this miraculous, warm wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted. How many among us know even roughly where the spleen is or what it does? Or what our lymph nodes are up to?
How many times a day do you suppose you blink? Five hundred? A thousand? You’ve no idea, of course. Well, you blink 14,000 times a day – so many that your eyes are shut for 23 minutes of every waking day.
Yet you never have to think about it, because every second of every day your body undertakes an unquantifiable number of tasks – a quadrillion, a nonillion, a quindecillion, a vigintillion (these are actual measures); at all events some number vastly beyond imagining – without requiring an instant of your attention.
In the second or so since you started this sentence, your body has made a million red blood cells. They are already speeding around you, coursing through your veins, keeping you alive.
Each of those red blood cells will rattle around you about 150,000 times, repeatedly delivering oxygen to your cells, and then, battered and useless, will present itself to other cells to be quietly killed off for the greater good of you.
Altogether it takes seven billion billion billion (that’s 7,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000, or seven octillion) atoms to make you. No one can say why those seven billion billion billion atoms have such an urgent desire to be you.
But your atoms are just building blocks, and are not themselves alive. Where life begins precisely is not so easy to say.
The basic unit of life is the cell – everyone is agreed on that. The cell is full of busy things – ribosomes and proteins, DNA, RNA, mitochondria and much other microscopic arcana – but none of those are themselves alive. The cell itself is just a compartment – a kind of little room to contain them, and of itself is as non-living as any other room.
Yet somehow when all of these things are brought together, you have life. That is the part that eludes science. I kind of hope it always will.
THE GOLDEN GLOBES, A REVIEW
by Jaci Smith
There are quite a few things in life that bore me. Sean Penn every time he opens his mouth, anti-vaxxers, Harry and Meghan — tolerance is not my middle name.
But the 80th Golden Globes took boredom down to a whole new level, so much so that I thought I'd entered the first stages of rigor mortis.
And, apparently, America agrees. The TV rating absolutely collapsed, down 23% from 2021 to its lowest audience ever.
Broadcast by NBC after a hiatus last year, following claims of racism in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whose members make up the judging panel, it was deemed time for a shake-up. Alas, it was anything but. Far from shaking things up, the HFPA delivered a three-hour diluted cocktail of such breath-taking tedium, even the audience — normally so practiced at donning fake smiles, especially when the camera is on them — looked as if they'd rather be on a one-way ticket to euthanasia.
The host, Jerrod Carmichael, said he was there only because he was black and was also getting paid $500,000. He looked as if he was asleep on the job. Maybe he was, which was why, after pacing the stage throughout the opening monologue — every word looked as if was having to be extracted from him with pliers — he sat down on the edge of the stage.
Would he ever get going? Was he just nervous? Delivering his material with all the speed of a maimed sloth, he came to life only when he told the audience to shut up — which he did on a number of occasions throughout, at one point becoming really exasperated at the level of noise. It's called losing your audience, mate.
We learned that the real reason he was given the gig was because the director had told him he was chosen because he was such a talented comedian. Really? Where is the humor in saying the HFPA didn't have a black member until the death of George Floyd? Or that the Beverly Hills Hilton, where the event was taking place, was 'the hotel that killed Whitney Houston.' Two people who died in tragic circumstances. There were a couple of snickers in the room, but both 'jokes' were largely met with the kind of faces people make when they discover they've picked out the coffee cream in a box of chocolates.
He really didn't elicit much laughter at all — the nadir of any comedian's life — but then awards audiences face this problem constantly now. Do they laugh or boo? Do they laugh at the bad taste jokes and risk the camera picking up their guffawing, or do they sit stony-faced and look suitably disgusted, in order to convey their moral superiority?
This lot seemed genuinely confused and looked more bored than any actors I have ever seen. In my experience, they tend to enjoy these events — especially the winners — but less so at the Oscars. where you have to go eight hours without going to the rest room.
When Ricky Gervais hosted the 2020 Golden Globes, the audience thought he was hysterical — Tom Hanks aside. Even though Gervais called out the Hollywood elite for being the critics they undoubtedly are, they appeared to register a fundamental truth — preaching to others about the state of the world while luxuriating in their mansions and expressing moral outrage while at the same time turning a blind eye to predator and rapist Harvey Weinstein.
But then Hollywood has always presented itself as a great moral arbiter. As they did last night, actors take the opportunity, in their speeches, to lecture everyone else about what they should or should not be doing — before they get in their Bentleys en route home.
There was widespread outrage among the Hollywood elite at the 2022 Oscars when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage for allegedly dissing his wife. But that outrage didn't last long. Jesus didn't forgive tax collectors in a tenth of the time it takes this lot to forgive those who go astray.
At least Brendan Fraser stood by his guns and boycotted this years' awards, despite being nominated, after claiming HFPA Phil Berk sexually assaulted him.
The speeches last night will also go down as the most boring in awards ceremony history. The tedious shape of things to come was clear when Ke Huy Quan took the stage to pick up the award for Best Supporting Actor in any Motion Picture — Everything Everywhere All at Once. His acceptance speech went on. And on. And on. Dear Lord, was he ever going to stop? Where was Carmichael barking his instructions when you needed him?
It was the same with Michele Yeoh, who picked up Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, for the same movie. She banged on and on, too — and even shouted at the piano player, Chloe Flower, whose music was the cue to leave the stage, to shut up. Flower would have been forgiven for wrapping a piano wire round her neck.
Wokeism in the speeches aside, the problem with most of the speeches were the endless thanks. Austin Butler, who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture for Elvis, could not stop declaring his endless love for everyone — his fellow nominees, Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis himself. Love was gushing out of his every pore. Is there anyone he doesn't love? As Elvis sang — Baby, I Don't Care.
Ke Huy Quan's (above) acceptance speech went on. And on. And on. Dear Lord, was he ever going to stop? Where was Carmichael barking his instructions when you needed him? +6 View gallery Ke Huy Quan's (above) acceptance speech went on. And on. And on. Dear Lord, was he ever going to stop? Where was Carmichael barking his instructions when you needed him?
One question about the beeps they put in for swear words — why don't they put them in for blaspheming, too? I'm no religious enthusiast, but it seems to me odd that if someone were to get up on stage and blaspheme against Mohammed, there would be outrage. But somehow, it's all right to say 'Jesus Christ!'
There were a few good speeches in amongst the ocean of words. Ryan Murphy was given the Carol Burnett Award and even though he appeared to thank everyone in the room, it was a heartfelt speech that made you realize just how far we have come in terms of diversity — HFPA aside.
Visually, the event offered nothing in terms of excitement of glitz, either, and the room was equally underwhelming — namely, those hideous golden colored chairs that litter every hotel conference and looked as if they'd been retrieved from a dumpster in the afternoon. Couldn't the events manager at least have put a nice covering with a bow over them, to make it more appealing to viewers? The hideous gold/orange set was likewise vile, like something out of the 1930s — plain and way too big. Aida could easily lose an army of Egyptians on a stage like that.
It gave us one laugh, though, when Sean Penn turned up on stage with a tan that blended easily into the orange background. Didn't he look in a mirror before he left the house?
As for the direction — pointless shots of people's heads, the occasional chair seat, cutting away from the main stage with often shaky bizarre camera angles, for no reason whatsoever. At various points, the speech was slightly out of sync, too.
And get a bigger venue. Winners were taking far too long to get to the stage, especially some of the women in enormous billowing frocks that made you worry they might be in traction by the end of their speeches.
At least there were some great costumes and, for the most part, the frocks were better than those wheeled out at the Emmys last year. Jenny Ortega — Netflix's Wednesday — stunned in Gucci, as did Jessica Chastain in Oscar de la Renta, and Lily James in Atelier Versace. Poor Lily said that what she was looking forward to most was getting out of it, and the way she was clutching her waist, seemingly in distress, on the Red Carpet, it was impossible not to feel her pain.
Clare Danes came in Giambattista Valli Haute Couture, but in a cream pattern of squares and a pink bow that made her look as if she'd been raiding the Downton Abbey curtain rails. The sublime Billy Porter did not disappoint, as per usual, and resurrected his 2019 Oscars look with a tuxedo gown, but this time in fuchsia.
Jerrod Carmichael looked astonishing in several changes of costume — which was lucky, as he was in urgent need of something to detract from his material.
Inevitably, I didn't like a lot of the results. Where was The Menu in the winners list? The star of that brilliant movie, Ralph Fiennes? How did Wednesday and Jenny Ortega not pick up anything?
Overall, it was the dullest awards night in living memory. On the evidence of Tuesday night, maybe next year we can go back to the ceremony not being broadcast at all.
HOW FINLAND IS TEACHING A GENERATION TO SPOT MISINFORMATION
The Nordic country is testing new ways to teach students about propaganda. Here’s what other countries can learn from its success.
A typical lesson that Saara Martikka, a teacher in Hameenlinna, Finland, gives her students goes like this: She presents her eighth graders with news articles. Together, they discuss: What’s the purpose of the article? How and when was it written? What are the author’s central claims?
“Just because it’s a good thing or it’s a nice thing doesn’t mean it’s true or it’s valid,” she said. In a class last month, she showed students three TikTok videos, and they discussed the creators’ motivations and the effect that the videos had on them.
Her goal, like that of teachers around Finland, is to help students learn to identify false information.
Finland ranked No. 1 of 41 European countries on resilience against misinformation for the fifth time in a row in a survey published in October by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Officials say Finland’s success is not just the result of its strong education system, which is one of the best in the world, but also because of a concerted effort to teach students about fake news. Media literacy is part of the national core curriculum starting in preschool.…