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ISOLATED SHOWERS are expected through the day for the northern half of the County Warning Area. Lightning is possible by the late afternoon for Del Norte, Trinity, and Humboldt. Showers for the interior are possible again late in the week as an additional lobe of low pressure swings over the area. (NWS)
STEPHEN DUNLAP (Fort Bragg): An overcast 52F on the coast this Monday morning. At 5am I cannot tell if it is fog, clouds or a mix? I expect clearing either way & a bit windy today. Our forecast this week is for generally clear with a few clouds showing up at times. It looks to be a bit breezy as well. This cool pattern is forecast to last until early July.
UKIAH NEEDS URGENT CARE
To the Editor:
Adventist is failing Ukiah without Urgent Care
How many of us have “urgent” health issues that do not remotely suggest the need for an E.R. visit, but end up there because of no urgent care.
In the last 30 days — I’ve had two such issues.
1. Kidney Stone — perhaps. Wanted to simply confirm and perhaps get pain meds.
2. Tic bite with a reaction which requires an antibiotic within 72 hours.
The first issues landed me in E.R. Perhaps $1,000 later (out of pocket, despite insurance) — and it could end up being a lot more.
The second issue… I tried getting a “squeeze me in appointment” with my Adventist doctor in Ukiah. They could not/would not squeeze me in. They offered to call all possible doctors in Ukiah — which they did…and could not get me an appointment within 30 hours. I then tried “Teladoc” and they were great, but the matter did not qualify for a zoom review.
I am in Fort Bragg three days a week and Ukiah four days, every week. I happened to be in Fort Bragg — and assumed that there was no Urgent Care here, because it is Adventist and the town is smaller than Ukiah. To my surprise, there is a “same day” appointment clinic. The process was amazing, the nurse practitioners were fabulous. I walked out feeling cared for and safe in my health decisions. I also felt the value exchange was completely appropriate.
So — how is it that Adventist in Fort Bragg has same day appointments (not E.R.) while Ukiah does not? This is a service failure to our community, plain and simple. I’m sure there is complexity to the backstory. Bottom line is that leadership at Adventist is failing to address community needs. It claims that Covid caused all of this; perhaps so? But Covid is long over.
This is not a blanket complaint about Adventist Ukiah. There is good service to the community in so many ways. Perhaps because that is the norm, I am more bothered by this failure.
Dear Anderson Valley Community,
This article appeared in the Ukiah Daily Journal. Forty two of our kids received $290,000 in local money scholarships. All I can say about grades and performance is: ninth grade matters, tenth grade matters, eleventh grade matters, and twelfth grade matters. Help us, help your student for career and college. This doesn't happen in other places. Enroll them for a college course and a sports team. Help their application look stellar.
On a side note a huge thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza, Mr. Toohey, Ms. Pasewalk, Ms. Malfavon, Mr. Boudoures, and many others for the breakfast fundraiser today at the fairgrounds. It was a pleasure to serve.
No school tomorrow. See you Tuesday.
ANOTHER STATE HOSPITAL FIASCO?
by Mark Scaramella
Let’s clarify and highlight what the Ukiah School Board announced a couple of days ago when they issued a press release entitled: “Ukiah Unified Trustees Declare Intent to Sell Redwood Valley Elementary School Property.”
Here we have a functioning school facility of about ten multi-room buildings, with all the associated infrastructure including water and septic and substantial amount of pavement, excellent traffic access and parking, apparently unused since 2010 when it was closed and later declared “surplus,” on a large 12.4 parcel of primo land right paved for roads and parking and recreational activities, including about four acres of bare land in the back, right on the Russian River.
According to the District, “Between December 2017 and April 2020, a variety of transactions were explored, and community input was sought. …Ukiah Unified offered the property for sale or lease to certain public agencies, such as city and county parks and recreation entities, as well as to additional public agencies, such as the Department of General Services, California universities,” after which they were “not able to sell or lease the property to any of these entities during this process.”
They don’t say why they were “unable” to sell the property. Was the price too high? (Unlikely.) Were there disclosure issues? Did somebody object to the sale?
And now they want to sell it on the open market with a minimum bid of only $900k, the price of a nice four-bedroom house in Ukiah Valley on maybe a half-acre of land.
Some old-timers will remember back in the 80s when the State offered the Mendocino State Hospital to the County for $1. Mendo refused at the time saying, almost insanely, that they couldn’t afford the upkeep. Not long after that the Buddhists bought the 90-acre site with thousands of square feet of usable buildings complete with large gardens and a vineyard for around $250k. That site could have been used for all kinds of useful public purposes. Instead, (some of) it is now being used by the Buddhists for their quasi-religious purposes with zero public benefit.
A number of points apply to this terrible development with the Redwood Valley Elementary School:
It amounts to a large gift of public funds if it sells for anywhere near $1 million.
There is no record of the Supervisors ever formally considering the acquisition or lease of the property during the period that the School District says they offered it.
The County is about to waste over $20 million on a Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) after having previously wasted about $5 million on a “Crisis Residential Treatment Center” on Orchard Avenue and about half a mil on an unused Training Facility in Redwood Valley — all with Measure B funds. There is no indication that the Measure B Committee or County staff ever considered this abandoned, “surplus” property.
The County claims that they are trying to do something about the shortage of affordable housing in the Ukiah Valley.
Conclusions: We doubt that a serious effort was made to sell the property. We doubt the County seriously considered buying it or leasing it for a public purpose. The combination of incompetence, timid and unimaginative officialdom making up the School District and County Administration, and overall official sloth will result in another Talmage Hospital-style fiasco where the property will either continue to lie dormant or be converted to some very limited private purpose while the County will continue to whine that they don’t have any place to build affordable style multi-family housing.
And then there were the good old days, Ronnie Reagan, Mendocino State Hospital (hmm, a state run motel with help for the alcoholic, addict and the mentally ill?’ Just a thought.) Charles Manson, and his family, and the massive motorcycle runs of the Hells Angels. Now we are supposedly going to solve the problem of homelessness by purchasing hotel and motels with no mental health services and pass out needles. Dreamer. It’s just creating an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mindset that can’t accept the reality of the fact that there are those who will never get better in free rooms or hospitals. I guess you are too young to remember the 60s and 70s other than what was printed in black and white. On the streets of Ukiah were the alcoholics of San Francisco and Oakland who were given one-way $5 bus tickets to Talmage that were wandering our streets because they wouldn’t go through the gates and self-commit. We had a forward looking Chief of Police Donn Salisbury who put them back on a bus to return to the Bay Area instead of housing them in a small city jail. A few of the locals who lived on the streets and under the bridges, whose names I’ll omit in respect for their heirs, would go into court in November for being drunks and addicts and actually ask for long enough commitments to jail to make it through the winter. Judge McCowen always accommodated them. The alleys of San Francisco were full of alcoholics and addicts begging for dimes. Did you forget the unromantic days of the Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park and the hundreds and hundreds who fled the city to hide on the streets and communes in Albion and multiple other places in our county? The mentally ill were hospitalized where they got help although not all could ever reintegrate into society. Anyway, just a reminder that a wheel goes around in the real world. Many of our street people then and now were Vietnam vets. I don’t care which political party was in power, both would and still do just sweep them under the rug and blame the other because no one wants to accept their own failure and they think we are stupid enough to believe anything they say so long as it is blaming someone else. Anyway, there is so much more I could say but let’s end with “Happy Father’s Day.”
CATCHING UP on an interesting consent calendar item from the May 9 Board meeting:
“Item 3am: Approval of Agreement with Russell A. Cormier (DBA Nutmeg Consulting, Inc.), in the Amount of $121,880, to Serve as Administrator of the Mendocino County Homeless Services Continuum of Care’s Coordinated Entry Data System, Including Oversight and Management of the System and Data Entered by Homeless Service Providers, Effective Upon Signing Through June 30, 2024.”
Translation: The new automated cellphone app they paid tens of thousands of dollars for is still not good enough. They have to pay another consultant to provide “oversight and management” of the grossly exaggerated homeless point in time count and the information that the supposedly trained staff people who run the County’s various homeless shelters enter about their “clients.” The levels of bureaucracy of the local Homeless Inc./Continuum of Care Inc. continue to expand into even more amazing layers.
BUDGET PUT TO BED; WEED’S BACK IN THE GROUND
by Jim Shields
At their annual budget hearing on June 6, the Board of Supes unanimously ok’d the 2023-24 budget mostly by utilizing over $7 million in one-time funds.
Ted Williams, of the Coast’s 5th District, capsulized this year’s budget process, explaining, “Mendocino County has a footprint that is beyond its revenue, and this may be a good time to have a re-set in staffing, vehicles, facilities, health plan, everything, because we are not on a track that’s sustainable. We can kick it down the road one more year, and I think that’s what we’re doing with the seven million dollars in one-time funds. When I ask the hard questions (to the CEO and finance staff) and look at the (financial) printouts, I don’t see where the County has much money to its name.”
Williams was speaking Finance 101 reality. When you’re broke, there’s only two options available: increase revenues or cut expenses (including selling off non-performing assets).
Recently, Board Chair Glenn McGourty commenting on the unsettled state of fiscal matters, pithily summed up the County’s situation, “If you don’t know how much money you have in the bank, it’s difficult to do your business.”
John Redding, a former member of the Mendocino Coast Health Care District (MCHCD) Board of Directors, offered these insights on current budget woes:
“Using the financial data provided by the County’s website, a few things stand out. First, the cost of General Government (management, Supervisors, lawyers, etc.) has increased at a startling rate and has that hockey stick appearance. It is now 4x the amount spent on roads. Sheriff’s costs have not gone up nearly as fast. Second, look at the County’s sources of revenues and you will discover that 50% of it comes from federal and state aid. Which is too much dependency since a lot of that aid depends on the politics of the day. Meanwhile, County revenues in the form of sales and property taxes have stagnated and the long hoped for cannabis revenues never took off. I have said that the problem with the County’s financial predicament is the declining state of our local economy. With each passing day and another round of regulations, businesses find it harder to stay in business not just in Mendocino but throughout the state. Also, an inability to address the housing issue has exacerbated this problem by creating a worker shortage. The dire state of affairs in which we find ourselves begins first and foremost with those elected to represent us developing a sense of urgency about the problem.”
In a memo to the BOS captioned “Economic Development in the 2023-2024 Budget,” Supe John Haschak proposed re-directing $300,000 of the one-time funds so “we can meet the challenges of economic development in Mendocino County by supporting programs that have been proven successful and we will be positioned to take advantage of the opportunities ahead.”
Haschak proposed funding Visit Mendocino at $150,000 instead of the original $262,000 decided for the tourism organization, and allocate another $150,000 for economic development. Visit Mendocino claimed that for every “one dollar of county investment, 62 dollars are returned” to the local economy. Haschak pointed to another $12.5 million in “successful grants” related to economic development from a 2022 contract with the West Center. According to Haschak, “They (West Center) have convened the business community both inland and coastal in discussions about ways to meet the needs in MC and have created a campaign to ignite investment in Mendocino County. Additionally, West Center provides programs to strengthen our innovative startups (StartUp Mendocino) and our Hispanic Businesses (Centro Latino West).”
The Supes approved Haschak’s proposal, thus balancing the 2023-24 spending plan, but little of what they did goes toward fixing structural defects in County finances, which includes the budgeting process.
More Weed in the Ground
On my Saturday KPFN program, I told listeners that it’s apparent to me that weed production is on the rise. I know that to be the case for two reasons.
First of all, growers — these are mostly the mom and pop variety — have told me that after a year or two of fallowed grows, they’re once again tilling the soil.
Secondly, the Laytonville County Water District for the past several weeks has been operating on a peak-demand basis. Remember, you can’t grow weed without water.
I’m told that, depending on the quality, pot is fetching prices ranging from $300 to $900 per pound. Of course, these are black market prices but that’s really the only market that counts.
Hopefully, this trend will continue, since state and local governments have wrecked rural economies by creating unworkable, grossly complex pot laws and regulations.
A year ago marked the exit of most of the outsider, big-monied pot businesses, it also resulted in the current economic crisis visited on long-established local businesses, especially those in the unincorporated areas of this county. Almost all small businesses are hurting, some worse than others as suppliers and vendors demand cash on delivery. The real estate market is saturated with homes and properties abandoned by people who have cut a trail to parts unknown. Newspapers are full of legal notices advertising foreclosure sales on mortgage defaults.
Even though everyone — growers, non-growers, businesses, and local governments — have historically benefitted from “pot dollars,” no one seems to know or have any ideas about what to do about this mess we now find ourselves in.
If not for the state of California subsidizing this county’s failed pot program with a combined $17.5 million in grant funds, the situation would be even worse, if that’s even imaginable.
Naturally, government officials have done nothing other than look the other way, as rural community economies continue to nosedive.
This disastrously botched experiment with pot regulation has run its course because there’s just no place left for it to go.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)
DEPUTY! DEPUTY! I think I smell marijuana! Just got back from my second-ever Rasta-Fest. After a five-year timeout because of covid and the death of event founder, Warren Smith, the rastafarians seemed to have turned out in force for the festival's revival at the Boonville Fairgrounds. Mr. Smith, a genius organizer, came to Boonville with Rasta-Fest because venues closer to the cities also drew criminal gangs whose predations made event management more difficult than it needed to be. Boonville is just far enough from the bright lights to keep the undesirables away. (Won't ever forget a San Francisco cop exclaiming, “Hell, we can't arrest people just for being undesirable.”)
AS UNCOOL as I am, I was afraid that even with a press pass I might be turned away, but the rastas are probably the least judgmental people to gather in self-identified groups, and far more peaceful than, say, a Saturday night Fair crowd, at least those Saturday nights of yesteryear when the Sheriff's Department was out in force to suppress the drunks and the bar fighters. And in the early years of the annual beer fest, before the event was contained inside the Fairgrounds, the dude-bros were beating on each other all over town.
THERE wasn't a cop in sight Sunday afternoon, either inside or outside the Fairgrounds. The Mendo Sheriff's Department used to shake down, er, assess the event a large fee for security although even the on-duty deputies said the Rasta crowds presented no problems except for an occasional rogue drunk. As one put it, “Problems? What problems? They're all stoned.”
A RUMOR of an overdose death circulated this morning (Sunday) but, as of press time tonight, the rumor remains unconfirmed. Call me old school, but I was surprised to see so many children in the crowd, some of them bopping around to the tunes until I remembered Miguel Barajas, who used to run errands for us from the time he was in the second grade. He told me he and his friends attended the Rasta event every year from the time he was in kindergarten, sneaking in through the Boonville entrances, i.e., holes in the fencing and the “security.” As an adult, Miguel seems untraumatized.
AT LEAST ONE resident of Lambert Lane took off for Lake County for the weekend to elude the festivities next door at the Fairgrounds, and I'm sure she wasn't the only one. Three days of amplified tunes, whether Wisconsin polkas, Frank Sinatra or reggae, would tend to grate, but the music is religiously squelched well before midnight, and may even be a kind of sleep aid given its predictable rhythms.
AT TWO-THIRTY rasta-afternoon Sunday, I stopped in at the Mosswood Cafe for a pastry, settling for a brownie among exactly six remaining items. They were just about sold out, which would seem to mean that local businesses, despite the Fairgrounds being ringed inside with traveling businesses of all kinds, enjoyed a big weekend at the cash register.
FOR PURE DEVOTION to his faith, I am in awe of pastor Dave Kooyers who was advertising specific invitations to visiting Rastafarians, a less pious-seeming congregation not to be found, one might think, among all God's creation. But looks are deceiving when you remember that Rastafarianism is at least partly inspired by Christianity. “Rasta, Jesus, and the Bible,” read pastor Kooyers' flier, and I hope he packed 'em in Sunday morning. (Had to chuckle that the pastor's flier also stated “No dress code.” I should think! Given the number of women in Boonville over the weekend clad in dress ordinarily considered immodest at church services, the pastor gets high marks for such an elastic embrace of all God's children.)
APOCALYPSE NOTE: As the world seems poised to lurch from international financial meltdown to another deadly global pandemic to rampant inflation and war in Europe, some 20 million Americans, nearly 7% of all US households, are planning for an emergency, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Citizens stockpiling food and ammo apparently come in all varieties, from suburban “guardian moms” to multi-millionaire tech gurus. And while the chances of a meteor strike wiping out mankind or a world war plunging the planet into nuclear winter are still fairly unlikely, there is one thing for certain: “preppers” are willing to pay good money for all manner of products to safeguard their futures whatever the catastrophe.
ON THIS DAY IN MENDOCINO HISTORY…
June 18, 1948 - Mrs. Laura Lammers, cousin of Mendocino Beacon editor and proprietor Auggie Heeser, passed away shortly after midnight at the Redwood Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg at the age of 77. She had been in the hospital for just a few days, but her health had been declining for about six months.
Laura was born in Mendocino in 1871, the second of five daughters of Alfred and Catherine O’Meara Nelson. Growing up in town, she attended the local schools and eventually became a teacher herself. In 1892, Laura married George Lammers, a local banker and bookkeeper. Around 1900, Laura and George, along with their young daughter Catherine, relocated to San Francisco, where George worked for the Bass-Hueter Paint Company. They returned to the coast in 1907, initially residing in Elk, before settling in Mendocino the following year.
The Lammers family made their home with Auggie in the Kasten-Heeser House (now part of the Mendocino Hotel Garden Suites). This historic home, with the front entrance on Albion Street and the rear entrance on Ukiah Street across from the Beacon building, is the town’s oldest house, constructed from the first redwood lumber milled in Mendocino. In the words of Auggie, Laura “presided over the Heeser home” for the next 40 years. “She was as close as any sister and devoted herself to my welfare and that of the other members of her family.”
Laura was also active in Mendocino’s community. She was a co-founder of the Mendocino Study Club, a women’s club established in 1908 to promote the intellectual and spiritual development of its members through education and study, and she was a member of the Ladies Aid Society for many years.
Laura was survived by her daughter, Mrs. Catherine Swanson; two grandchildren, Mrs. Laura Bierly of Stockton, and Mrs. Edith Enochs of Mendocino; three nephews, Jesse E. Nichols of Piedmont, George A. Nichols of Fort Bragg, Francis Alfred Nichols of San Leandro, and five nieces, Mrs. Ardelle Harris of San Francisco; Mrs. Naomi Linney of Piedmont; Mrs. Grace Conelly of Manila; Mrs. Katy McLean of Caspar, and Miss Laura Jo Nichols of Healdsburg; three great-grandchildren, Robert, Michael, and Karen Enochs. Her funeral services were held at the Cannarr Chapel in Fort Bragg.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Sunday, June 18, 2023
ABDON ANDRADE, Boonville. DUI, suspended license for DUI, failure to appear.
KAYLA BRIANS, Upper Lake/Ukiah. Domestic battery.
SHIRLEY GRIMES, Willits. Leaving scene of accident with property damage.
CHRISTIAN GUTIERREZ-GARCIA, Ukiah. Domestic abuse.
VELASCO HERNANDEZ, Sonoma/Ukiah. DUI.
DAVID MARTINEZ-ANDRADE, Ukiah. DUI-alcohol&drugs, more than an ounce of pot.
ANTONIO MUNOZ, Redwood Valley. Protective order violation, county parole violation.
WIN FRIENDS, INFLUENCE PEOPLE
by Tommy Wayne Kramer
One of the things Mendocino County taught me was the value of being a conscience-free liar when useful and/or profitable.
People have been coming to Mendotopia for years and decades, and a fair percentage of them reinvent their history and background as they cross the county line.
I never considered the strategy when I served my time as a Ukiahan, instead suffering the burden of being just another displaced Ohioan looking for work in a field not too far from journalism. And eventually I got a few jobs, mostly upside the head and between the eyes.
Nonetheless I soldiered on until my brain fog cleared (time elapsed: 40 years) and left Ukiah. Here in the Carolinas at long last I understand the wisdom of reinventing my past, my history, my entire existence so as to shed my Ohiofornia background.
If I’d arrived in the south back in the 1980s I would probably have bragged about (lied about) my surfboarding championships and the six hot tubs on my Malibu estate.
But not now in the south. Californians today are viewed as germ-bearing beasts in Hawaiian shirts, driving expensive imported SUVs, happy about the cheap gasoline, free real estate and insignificant taxes. Recent newcomers believe themselves surrounded by ignorant church-going locals who drink the kinds of wines Californians abandoned 50 years ago. Redneck rubes are Republicans; they can’t help being the way they are.
Arriving in the south deep into the 21st century make my Golden State years even more suspect, and having been born in Ohio doesn’t help. If there was a caste system I’d be an Untouchable.
So I’ve come up with a more agreeable history to make my acquaintance with neighbors in my new small town near Charlotte.
Allow me, please, to introduce myself as Colonel Beauregard Stonewall Kramer. I’ve affected a rather convincing limp which I explain by insisting I’d rather not talk about it. If pressed I confess to a minor crackup on the third turn on the final lap of the 1978 Daytona 500. (A NASCAR event, for bonus points.)
Good start, eh? Who would suspect their new Deep South neighbor is, in reality, a former unemployed hippie vegetarian drug dealing beach volleyball-playing welfare cheat who once partied with Paris Hilton?
I then change the subject to authentic southern food, of which I let it be known I having strong feelings. I feign horror at the notion of mingling baby back pork ribs with vinegar of any sort. Indecent, really, to even invite the two to the same barbecue pit.
My beef brisket is snuggled in a crumbled cornbread dry rub and served with (and this is a rule of mine) pecan-stuffed hush puppies. No corn on the cob, no coleslaw, no mac ’n’ cheese on the same platter with my barbecued brisket with pecan-stuffed hush puppies.
It was handed down, I sigh reverently, from ol’ Miz Sapphire, bless her li’l pea-pickin’ heart, with a promise recipe details would be shared with no one but blood kin, ever. I take that vow seriously, I lie.
Then I call for another Cheerwine Boilermaker with Rebel Yell Bourbon, chipped ice in a Tom Collins glass, darlin’. Chug-a-lug.
Folks down this way appreciate a man who’s a stickler on certain things, even if it makes him unpopular in some circles, such as the circles newcomers from California and New York roam in.
Now a fresh round of Rebel Yell and a story or two. In the pocket of my black silk sport coat I keep a card with potential subjects to entertain the newly acquainted, and bore the old familiars. Topics:
1) Ah keeps mah dawgs in Tennessee 2) Grow most of my tobacco in western Georgia 3) Never drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby, 4) Haven’t missed a Kentucky Derby since that time I had to get a bullet surgically removed from up near my left lung, deposited there in a duel by a scoundrel from Louzeeanna, 5) Acquired this here pearl-studded cane in a poker game aboard the Vicksburg Queen round about 1980, and on and on. NASCAR events, Billy Graham, Scriptures (careful!) Tarheel football, Crimson Tide football, football.
These ramblin’ yarns don’t serve much purpose other than filling up dead air during which suspicious folks might otherwise ask pesky questions, unearth questionable discrepancies in my resume and lead to uncomfortable follow-up queries.
All put together it could result in a hurried, lengthy return to Ukiah, where people already know so much about me it isn’t much worth trying to lie.
(Tom Hine does recall one time when he threatened to return to Mendoland as a credentialed Augur, and depending on whether or not I can find a suitable cape and wand, may follow through. TWK says Book Your Appointment now as sessions are limited.)
CRIME AND CRIMINALS, the on-line comment of the day:
It is hard but not impossible. I have many friends with felonies (some served multi-year prison sentences). Some have gotten their lives together but the majority are still doing the same shit at 40 years old as they were when they were 20. The difference between the two groups is the ones that turned their lives around, took accountability for themselves and made significant positive changes in their lives. One of them caught an 8 year prison sentence in his early 20s. He is now a doctor doing his residency. Another, did some time in county and battled a heroin addiction for almost a decade. He is now a finance manager at a car dealership and has a wife and three kids and two beautiful homes. On the flipside I have more friends who are still addicted to drugs, many homeless who have done little to nothing to make their situation better. They don’t want to work or do the hard thing in life and make good decisions. It seems everyone is a victim of the system these days, but in reality they are only victims of their own mentality.
THIS MAN, my father Len Lettau, has taught me many great lessons, for example; when I was in 5th grade; I went to a Saturday morning basketball camp, I was terrible at sports at a young age, by the time I got to High School I was a very good athlete, but at that age; we'll I was always the last kid picked; even the girls were picked ahead of me; so at the B ball camp on this one day, the boys were terribly cruel to me; when I got home I was in terrible emotional shape, I was crying profusely as I told my parents what had happened; when I finished lunch my dad told me to “get in the car” not knowing why he said that, or why; I did; he took me to the hardware and sporting goods store; and bought the supplies we needed to mount a basketball hoop on the roof of our garage by the end of the day; He never consoled me or felt sorry for me or encouraged me to feel sorry for myself; he just got busy
Now I don't mean to say all was perfect, he had a very quick temper when I was a kid, and that scared me! I know as a young man I tested him a lot; my moving to Cal in 1986 I to live in a commune; tested his Catholic working class values quite a bit; when I changed my last name to reflect my animal medicine; I was well outside the parameters of anything he could understand; despite these challenges he always tracked me and has worked to keep his heart open; and I know many of you admire my perseverance with all the adversity I’ve faced these recent years; and while I proudly claim that as my own; rest assured this man modeled that to me; when times get hard don’t sit around and lament this world is a hard place; go build yaself a new hoop!
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Moms on Facebook often remark that raising boys is mostly a matter of trying to keep them alive until they’re grown. One of the boys I used to babysit was quite adventurous. Once we ran into his aunt and uncle at a restaurant and they told us tales of driving by his parents’ house and seeing a baby crawling around on the roof, and of driving down a busy thoroughfare near their house and seeing a baby crawling along the road. The kid wasn’t even old enough to walk. I had trouble keeping him from escaping, but he never got more than a half-a-block away on my watch.
ONCE A RICH PERSON gets past a billion, their sense of humor tends to go, along with their tolerance for ordinary people. They can’t begin to spend the money, but they can’t stop thinking about it either. The clever ones don’t buy into the fallacy that the riches are actually theirs: they offload as much as they can, then leave the problem firmly where it belongs, in the hands of their children. Being filthy rich isn’t a burden, but it’s not a blessing either, for the upsetting reason that the things money can buy so often stand at a terrible distance from the things it can’t. Rich people go round and round, because that’s all they can do, flying and racing and shaving off the seconds, never getting over the fact that time isn’t a luxury but a slayer.
The aliens in the old TV advert for Smash bust their rivets at our follies, and I tried to imagine them confronted with the story of Bryan Johnson, a tech billionaire devoted to living forever, who took blood from his 17-year-old son, Talmage. Some truths are better expressed in a headline, so I chose one from my new favorite online publication, the Edge: Your Longevity Magazine: “Billionaire Vampire-in-Training Injects Himself with Teenage Blood to Reverse Biological Age.” Johnson, who is 45, spends $2 million every year on the quest for immortality, which would be a Wordsworthian task — you know, splendor in the grass and all that — were it not for the fact that he also invests heavily in “an overnight erection tracker.” “Elective plasma transfusions from young donors,” according to Rebekah Harding of the Edge, “are the newest craze in the biohacking community.”
The procedure “hopes to regenerate hair growth, boost cognitive function, and stave off other markers of biological aging.”
Yes, this is happening in Dallas. Yes, Bryan looks like Hannibal Lecter. (Talmage, by the way, already looks about 105.) But we in the UK also have our own supersized mindfuck when it comes to the accumulating and spaffing of cash. You may not believe it, as the cost of living crisis rages and the planet boils, but London — having just lost its status as Russia’s favorite laundromat — is now the private jet capital of Europe. “The obvious reason that private airlines have done so well in Britain,” says the Times, “aside from our island geography, is the proliferation of rich people.”
A private jet takes off or arrives at a British airport every six minutes. The chief executive of Diamonteé Jets believes in giving customers the discretion and privacy they have come to expect. In the middle of May, he was flying a small battalion to the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix, to say nothing of West Ham fans to Prague.
(London Review of Books)
UKRAINE, SUNDAY, 18 JUNE
The death toll in Ukraine's major dam collapse has risen to at least 45 people, officials said. The flood carried filthy water downstream and off the southern coast, posing serious health risks.
Ukraine says it hit a "significant" Russian ammunition depot in the southern Kherson region Sunday, and successfully struck other targets in occupied areas.
Heavy fighting continues along the southern and eastern front lines. A Russia-backed official says Ukraine has retaken a village near Zaporizhzhia. Moscow denies the report, saying troops repelled attacks there and to the east.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Chinese foreign minister in Beijing. The two sought common ground on a range of issues including Ukraine, though officials set low expectations.
by Matt Taibbi
Matt Taibbi: The big news of the week obviously Walter, I don’t know if you heard this, but Donald Trump was arraigned again, and I’m at a loss about how even to react to the way they cover these things anymore. I mean, I know you have some thoughts about this. First of all, just your general impression of this moment in time and how a sane person should respond to it?
Walter Kirn: Well, last week I predicted that the Trump indictment arraignment would be the disinformation complexes Gulf War in the sense that it would become the occasion for hyperactivity on all fronts. And there’s going to be star making, and there are going to be moments, and there are going to be news reels that last forever, all generated by this event. This event, or is it a pseudo-event, as Daniel Boorstin said in the early sixties, was the norm for a media saturated age. It’s both. In any case, I was able to, as is true of some of my prophecies, but not all of them, see it come true within a matter of days because the eve of the Trump arraignment was an occasion for the most hyperbolic rhetoric and stage setting that I’ve seen since Nancy Pelosi walked the articles of impeachment across the floor of the Capitol maybe.
But even given the fact that now we’ve had two Trump arraignments and two impeachments and a Mueller investigation, and pretty much not a six-month period for the last six years that hasn’t involved some dire guillotine-like moment for Donald Trump, this one was hysterical. You had Wolf Blitzer come on the day before and – he had a shock in his eyes. They were unfocused, they were wide, and he talked about a possible insurrection too around the arraignment of Donald Trump.
Matt Taibbi: Let’s stop and listen to that SOT, as us media people say. This is the 24 second clip of Wolf Blitzer that shot around the internet on I guess June 11th. So, at the beginning of the week I saw this. I’ve seen Wolf Blitzer on TV for I don’t know how many decades now. I’ve run into him on planes. My understanding of him is he’s not the worst guy in the world, pretty boring in real life. But I watched this in a state of shock. Here’s what he said:
FBI special agents across the country are actively looking for possible domestic terror threats related to Trump’s upcoming court appearance in Florida. Sources say some pro-Trump groups are already making plans to travel to Miami and support the former president as he faces these federal charges in the classified documents case.
Matt Taibbi: In this clip, the authorities are worried about active terror threats, and then he goes to a clause about how supporters of the president, as we speak, are making plans to travel to Florida to support the president. But there’s no other clause! The normal script there would then say, “They are making plans to go to Florida, and FBI sources say among those supporters are some who might have plans to commit a terrorist act,” or, “We have intelligence that domestic unrest is on the way.” That wasn’t in the script. It was just, “They’re going there to support him.” And you put that side by side with authorities are looking actively at threats. They’re not even bothering with the allegation of terrorist organizations. You are part of this Klan, so therefore naturally we’re on guard. I mean, did I read that wrong?
Walter Kirn: There’s a presumption of guilt about any supporters who are out there and might be coming. Is that what you’re referring to?
Matt Taibbi: Yeah.
Walter Kirn: Yeah. Well, it does leave you a little speechless all of this, because it’s so outside the boundaries and the norms that we’re used to with journalism. And like I say, I was not sure whether he was predicting a hurricane that was bearing down on Florida and we could inevitably expect would make landfall. I didn’t know if he was narrating the OJ Simpson Bronco Chase in some way.
Matt Taibbi: There was a lot of that this week. Yeah.
Walter Kirn: Judicial dramas on television all refer back to the OJ Simpson case in modern memory in the same way all classical literature went back to the Iliad. It is the Homeric Epic of TV legal dramas. And so, Wolf Blitzer, of course, also is a star of Gulf War coverage. And so we had a combination of the gravitas of the Gulf War coverage, the OJ Simpson Bronco Chase suspense-making, and all of the previous Trump problems all thrown together in this little clip. And the next day, or whenever the arraignment was compared to this, nothing happened and is now of course forgotten. Like Jim Kramer’s stock picks, this won’t be held against him. The fact that nothing happened, we’re getting into the realm of prophecy. That nothing happened, maybe the result of Wolf Blitzer warning that would, and the FBI heading off any possible terrorist activity. We should not judge him harshly by the fact that none of what he talked about occurred.
Matt Taibbi: If we could make it just a small point here, because there was a subplot that I thought was interesting before we get to some of the other craziness. And accompanying that Wolf Blitzer tweet in many cases was a tweet by Lara Logan, who you might remember. I wrote very harshly about Lara Logan once upon a time because she criticized my late colleague Michael Hastings for breaking the unwritten rule of not writing nasty things about people you’re embedded with. And she actually pretty humorously threatened to cut my balls off at one point, but she’s okay. She believes what she believes. She’s been through a rough time. She’s had some experiences out there and in coverage that you know are as serious as they come. But she wrote a tweet that said about Blitzer’s coverage, “Incredibly, this still passes as reporting for CNN effectively pushing the narrative that anyone who votes for Trump is a terrorist. Citing the FBI as a signal to millions that they’re being set up for political reasons yet again. Don’t show support for Trump or we’re coming for you.”
Now, this came out on the 11th. The next day in the Atlantic, there was a huge piece that of course had to be in the works, so it couldn’t have been about that tweet, but let’s just be clear, it came out the next day. It’s a piece in the Atlantic, “A star reporter’s break with reality. Lara Logan was once a respected 60 Minutescorrespondent. Now she trades in conspiracies that even far right media disavow. What happened?” It’s a picture there with her face in schism because they’re trying to depict literally that she’s a schizophrenic basically, that she’s lost her mind.
Matt Taibbi: And it begins by talking about the fact that she’s walking through Mogadishu and she’s ducking for cover as bullets crack overhead in Afghanistan. And it reminds you that she was once held in high regard as a journalist. Now, if this sounds familiar to you, it’s because every reporter who’s ever dropped out of the cultural mainstream has had this happen to them. I think the prototypical type of profile like this was the one about Glenn Greenwald when he was in the middle of not agreeing with the Russiagate story and the New Yorker did a story calling Glenn Greenwald, The Bane of their Resistance. And it did much the same thing that this Lara Logan piece did, basically saying that Glenn was pathological, he was affected by an unhappy childhood, and mixed-up feelings about being gay and therefore his views were pathologized. They couldn’t be taken seriously.
Matt Taibbi:And then they quoted former colleagues saying that his views about Russiagate were affected by the fact that he was troubled by “the ascendance of women and people of color in the Party, and the fact that that coalition defeated Bernie Sanders.” He had a former editor say that. But this is what they do. In my case, New York Magazine did a story with me with a portrait of a misshapen head, and it starts off with a recounting of my past as a much-respected financial reporter. And then went into how I’ve lost my mind too, “What happened to you, man?”
Walter Kirn: In your case, what was the psychic break? What was the trauma or the terrible influence back in your early family or whatever it might be?
Matt Taibbi: They didn’t do that as much. They cast me as a child of privilege. But the reporter is a good reporter, Ross Barkan. I think they wanted a hit piece and Ross didn’t really deliver. He did a very thoughtful piece that was critical in parts that I think were fair. He basically said that I wasn’t doing the same reporting that I used to do, and that’s a legitimate criticism. I can hear that. But it’s this other thing where they go after you and they say, “What happened to this person?” This is now, it’s a 100% tendency of anybody who drops out of prominent media.
Walter Kirn: Or becomes too prominent, like Tucker Carlson. Didn’t the New York Times basically psychologically profile him as having all these issues and mother issues and et cetera? Has it not happened to Seymour Hersh? I’m sure somewhere along the way.
Should I become a problem for anyone, I can’t wait for the one on me because they will literally have a canopy, a cornucopia of things to diagnose. And you’re right, it’s a template now. You go outside the bullpen, and you are going to be diagnosed with one of a number of maladies, but more importantly, it’s going to be signaled to the world and to your colleagues that you’re now radioactive.
I think Lara Logan left the respectable tent as far as those who consider themselves respectable define it quite a while ago. Why they needed to take a new run at her, I’m not sure. It’s been a long time since she’s had a mainstream seat from which to speak. So, it seemed a little piling on. I read another, and I can’t remember where it was, I read another profile of her maybe over a year ago, which came to all the same conclusions. It portrayed her as paranoid. It started with her sitting in a cafe on a Parisian street, afraid that somehow there were lurking Islamic agents in the crowd or something, maybe even snipers or something. And I thought they were done with her. I thought that they’d already crossed her off their list.
She must be gaining audience for her podcast or something, who knows? But back inside the tent on CNN and CBS as they were God preparing for the Trump arraignment, we got an extra special exclusive look at Trump the night before the arraignment, it was a handheld camera or as though he was under surveillance and he was having dinner and greeting supporters at the Doral National Country Club, one of his properties. And they went around the circle of five people competing to be outraged over the fact that he was enjoying himself the night before this arraignment. Some concluded that he just doesn’t take it seriously enough. Others that he’s so addicted to the support of his flatterers that he can’t help but have dinner with them the night before. And that is somehow indicative of a character disorder. But in any case, they spun this little footage of Donald Trump walking around the night before as though it was the most psychopathic, ominous, and ridiculous display of disdain for our democracy ever seen on TV.
Matt Taibbi: It was like we were watching a Sinaloa chainsaw video or something like that. I’ve met Van Jones. I liked the guy when I met him, I thought he was all right, off camera. He seemed pretty mellow and not full of himself like a lot of people on TV are. But he’s up there in this panel and they’re showing Trump having dinner basically, Trump. And there’s this big Chyron, “Exclusive video of Trump on eve of arrest,” and Van Jones is up there and he’s basically saying:
Erin Burnett: Right? Van, he wants to look like this guy. Look, I’m coming into my club.
Van Jones: We now have a playbook for how the former president gets indicted and what he does the day before, what he does the day after. This is crazy. This is crazy.
Erin Burnett: But when you put it that way.
Van Jones: This is not normal, guys. This is weird. So we know that he’s going to be tomorrow, he’ll be somber in court and he is going to go give a big... And we’ll probably do this again in Georgia. The Republican Party needs to look around for somebody else to represent. That’s all I have to say.
Matt Taibbi: Van says we now have a playbook for what Trump does on the eve of an arraignment, and essentially the implication is, he has dinner and then goes into this soliloquy: “I mean, this is crazy!”
To be fair, it is not easy to sit there on a panel where all you got is a piece of looping video and make content out of it. That’s the job for cable TV. But they went over and over this idea that him doing something other than, I don’t know, crucifying himself or-
Walter Kirn: Well, since they didn’t have a camera in his bedroom and couldn’t show him sleeping soundly the night before his arraignment, which would’ve been even more pretentious. How dare he lay his head on a pillow, close his eyes, and dream the night before an arraignment? The whole thing was construed as outrageous. When in fact, what you’re seeing with your eyes, and this is a metaphor for the media today, what you’re seeing with your actual eyes is Donald Trump in an incredibly generic situation, standing there shaking people’s hands in front of a room where he either has had or is about to have dinner. It’s completely banal stuff.
If they really aren’t just speaking to their most hardcore audience, if they expect any more that they’re influencing America at large, then they can say goodbye to that aspiration after pulling stuff like this. Because if you came upon this without already needing your fix of Trump hate, it looked absurd. I mean, he could have been doing anything. He could have been tanning. How dare Donald Trump catch some rays the night before his arraignment? How dare he eat dinner? How dare he go to sleep? How dare he exist?
He should have gone into a closet with shards of glass in his shoes and whipped himself all night long before appearing in the morning. And one after the other of these panelists said, “Shouldn’t he be meeting with his lawyers? Why isn’t he meeting with his lawyers? Don’t they take this seriously?” Well, he met with his lawyers, I’m sure he meets with his lawyers half the day long. Just because they don’t have video of it doesn’t mean he’s not doing it. They made it look as though all the guy ever does is walk around having dinner, and he may have not even prepared legally for this case. That’s how unserious he takes it, which is ridiculous because part of what he’s being arraigned for is comments he’s made to lawyers.
If Donald Trump had never spoken to his lawyers, there would be one less count against him. But I don’t know that there is any innocent behavior that the guy could participate in that could not have been construed by this panel as in some ways ominous or in some ways proof of his flagrant disregard for democracy. I don’t know how they got that footage, but like I say, I can’t imagine any footage that they could not have construed in the way they did. When people see a candidate or a figure like Trump, whatever they think of him, being maligned literally for eating dinner, it will I think naturally detract from any other charges made against him. If dining is a crime for this person, then what isn’t? And so they’re undermining their own media case against him.
It’s not just the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome in which repeated charges start to make the audience deaf. It’s the heaping on of contempt for every breath the guy takes, such that it’s all lost in a fog of hatred that will never be picked apart and cannot possibly influence public opinion. The other point they keep making on that panel is that how dare he keep running for president? Isn’t it selfish when you’re facing such serious charges to expect the nation to entertain you as a candidate for president when you should be defending your very life?
Matt Taibbi: Van Jones says, “This is crazy. This is not normal. The Republican Party needs to look around for somebody else to represent it.” So, in other words, because he’s so cavalier about his case and is not spending every waking hour figuring out how to defend himself, and they kept repeating this phrase that an indictment “must be the most important thing that ever happens to you in your entire life.”
Walter Kirn: Unless you’re Donald Trump. And then it’s just Tuesday.
Matt Taibbi:Erin Burnett is saying, “How come there’s nobody in his circle to tell him about the solemnity of this moment?” And they just keep going around and around.
Walter Kirn: Matt, I want to see a graphic on this of little dog treats coming down from the top of the screen each time they topped each other with another implication against Trump. It was as though they were really competing for pats on the head or dog treats that would fall into their mouth when they emphasized these points, and the points became more and more ridiculous. Isn’t there someone who’s not telling him he can’t smile on TV anymore?
Matt Taibbi: How is there nobody in his circle who isn’t telling him that he has to be focused 1000% on what our reaction to his behavior is going to be? And if you behave differently, we would of course say nice things about him. If Donald Trump was sitting there driving nails through his hand in self-mortification for his crimes…
Walter Kirn: They’d use it as evidence of mental illness. Or if he was indeed as solemn as they say they wish him to be, they would use it as evidence of guilt. “Trump must truly be worried this time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Trump so gravely concerned about a charge. It must be that it worries him deeply.” There is absolutely nothing you can do to exonerate yourself in the eyes of those who loathe you.
If you’ve ever had an experience with a breakup, these are Donald Trump’s angry exes. And they pretend that they were ever different? I mean, they’ve been pulling this act nonstop for years, almost nightly. And yet they act as though they’re just coming to these conclusions. They’re looking at the evidence and they’re disturbed by it. But they’ve been disturbed by everything the guy’s done since he walked out of Trump Tower.
Matt Taibbi: Every single segment about the upcoming arraignment, you’re right: they basically took the OJ coverage and almost shot for shot recreated the scenes. Him getting into a car to go to the courthouse and the photo of... Oh, actually, what was the famous photo of the plane arriving? That wasn’t OJ, that was somebody else’s plane.
Walter Kirn: I mean, if we’re really to pick it apart in terms of its symbolism and semiotics, there was also a little bit of Nixon’s resignation here.
Matt Taibbi: Yes, I’m sorry. That’s what I’m thinking of. The helicopter leaving.
Walter Kirn: There was a shot over which they unspooled their commentary on CBS. Of Trump’s scene from, I don’t know, a crane or a drone, it was some high angle that is unachievable normally, of him going up stairs to his plane in silhouette and the loneliest man rejected by all who think and are decent, walking to his execution contemplating his sins. And it was done from far away and in silhouette and in black and white, and it was obviously meant to be some iconic image. When I watch these things, I feel like I’m looking through the wrong end of a telescope or something. I no longer identify with the commentary whatsoever. It used to be that these people tried to channel what they believed to be the average American reaction, and they tried to reflect it back at America and guide it a little and color it and fill it in.
But now it’s as though there is a video camera on a loony bin, and they sometimes turn it on for the American audience to watch. And you see them in there in their little contained asylum raving about things and making points that no one could possibly think of naturally if they weren’t winding each other up and competing. And you go, “Who am I watching? Who are they playing to? Is this even meant anymore for the audience or is it a completely insular activity that I’ve been given a peephole into?” I look at it and I go, “This is behavior that is not only inorganic and not only unrepresentative of the conversations that I imagine the country is having.”
It looks like what they accuse Lara Logan of. It looks a little mental, it looks a little mad. And they’re hiring less and less eloquent and less and less impressive people for these panels, I’ve got to say.
They used to be experts with a little bit of panache and depth to their commentary, but these were the least deep comments I think I’ve ever heard. And watching them in their little bughouse talking to each other and upping the ante on their condemnations of Trump for having dinner and daring to smile and not being with his lawyers for one minute that day, I thought, “When America sees this, do they feel like, ‘That’s how I feel too?’ Or do they think, “Who are these people and what are they doing and what’s bothering them? They need to get outside. Is this really their job?”
They’re discrediting themselves by the second and it makes me think we’re no longer in a real market economy for news.
Matt Taibbi: We haven’t been for a while, have we? This was something we talked about when Tucker Carlson got booted off the air at Fox. In a normal market economy, you don’t get rid of your biggest cash cow.
Walter Kirn: I think it’s still a market, but it’s a very specialized market with a very niche clientele. And MSNBC, now that Tucker’s off Fox has now moved to the top of the ratings. Fox is having real problems keeping its audience. And that’s what it took to get MSNBC there, the removal of one of their most popular rival hosts. But when I watched this stuff, and especially a compilation of it as we put together, and I saw over and over what looked like an underground Warhol film of behavior inside a news asylum and I thought, “They’re broadcasting this every night. Are people at home cheering? Are they cocking their heads and going, ‘What’s up?’ Are they just going about their business washing dishes because this is now the wallpaper that we live next to?”
I don’t know. But it no longer seems like news to me, it no longer even seems like normal commentary. It’s like watching some strange game show/group therapy session.
Matt Taibbi: Every single one of these stories had the same elements. You would see at the end of a CBS segment that the anchor looks somberly into the camera and says, “There could be some unrest with people who are impassioned.”
And Wolf Blitzer will look into the camera at the end of an interview and shake his head and say, “Let’s hope it remains peaceful.” This is similar to the first indictment where the cameras lovingly panned over the barricades and the riot cops who were just prepared for the worst. And you looked at the print stories ahead of the arraignment and it was just one after the other on the same theme. Vice had an amazing story, “We need to start killing. Trump’s far right supporters are threatening civil war.” And it quotes a random person on Twitter saying, “We need to start killing these traitorous fuck-stains.”
Then there’s another person who’s talking about Merrick Garland saying his children are fair game as far as I’m concerned. Politico does a story where “Tish James is increasingly worried about a lone wolf attack,” because she’s afraid of the violent Trump contingent. And of course, she gives this interview on Pod Save America. USA Today wrote, “Will Trump draw violent protestors to Miami?” This was from Will Carless, the correspondent who’s on the extremist watch. This is a new thing, by the way, in media, the extremism desk, which suddenly exists at a lot of papers. All they’re really doing is warning about threats. We no longer have a Moscow desk or a Jakarta desk or a Tokyo desk, but we do have extremism desks at some of these papers and they’re there to warn us about stuff that mostly doesn’t happen.
Walter Kirn: Let’s ask the question that I think has to be uppermost in any one mind at this point. What are they really up to? What are they really doing? Are they merely satisfying a bloodthirsty audience? Or are they laying the groundwork for events that they can be pretty sure will occur in this sense? You can go to Twitter at any moment and pluck out a person who’s predicting a civil war.
You can go to Twitter at any moment if you are really devious and counterfeit a person who’s predicting civil war. Social media as an indicator of national sentiment is the most dubious format ever. Since we hardly know whether our own friends are real on social media, we really aren’t in any position to adjudicate the terroristic threats being made. They could be made by weird Al Yankovic for all we know, or a bot or foreign AI or whatever.
Why are real news outlets granting such status to Tweets? That’s strange. They must want to create a narrative. They must want to create a sense of sinister foreboding. Secondly, why are they creating the expectation of wider conflict in this country? They really are. They’re all but saying that it’s inevitable. They’re certainly saying that it’s desired and maybe even widely desired, or even among Trump supporters almost universally desired. So what are they really up to? Are they fellow citizens like Walter Kern and Matt Taibbi who would really not like to see this stuff? Or are they bloodthirsty characters out of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network who would actually, if they could, hire a terrorist army to stage events that they could have exclusive rights to film?
They seem closer to the second than the first, frankly. But it’s the nature of the world now that they don’t have to go out and hire a terrorist organization like Faye Dunaway did in Network, to be on the Mao-Tse-Tung hour.
Walter Kirn: They can construct one, they can carve one out of social media utterances, they can find intelligence and legal and law enforcement sources that will predict them. And so when it all comes down, it appears that they’re spoiling for a disaster. It’s as though for a few weeks you had people saying, “Planes aren’t very good now. Pilots are reporting that their dials inside the cockpit are going crazy.” The FAA is saying, “We’re probably going to have a crash soon.” There’s chatter on the internet among pilots that, “We’re losing control of our planes. I don’t know what’s happening. Something very bad is about to take place.” It’s as though they’re predicting aviation disaster. But if they were doing that, we would go, “Oh my God, this is the most ghoulish thing I’ve ever seen.”
But because they’re predicting insurrection and proto-civil war, and they’re doing it supposedly from the good side of the barricades, we let them go on.
Matt Taibbi: In your metaphor, what would be the response of society? There would be calls for everybody to stay at home and nobody take flights anymore. And for the immediate imposition of extraordinary measures, mandating that all travel henceforth be by State-constructed train or something. It’s not Paddy Chayefsky from this sense. This is not entertainment that works. It doesn’t work as an entertainment product.
In the early days of Russiagate, we did see that there was a bump in ratings that appeared to be organic because people were sucked into the drama of the potential end of a presidency, especially of a figure who is genuinely hated by quite a lot of people in this country.
But since then, there’ve been so many cry wolf incidents and the coverage has gotten so weird and nonsensical that it’s just a crappy product, it doesn’t work as entertainment, and I don’t think people particularly want it either. I think most people are like you and me, Walter. I can’t watch this stuff unless I’m heavily medicated now. I mean, if I want entertainment, I’ve got to pick up an old book or something along those lines or some movie that has nothing to do with any of this. This feels like the opposite of entertainment. It’s not something they’re doing to make money, I don’t think. But the propaganda imperative, it seems pretty obvious to me that the notion of, “Let’s create a lot of anxiety about threats and the inability of Americans to get along with one another.”
Walter Kirn: It gets budgets approved, it makes careers, it allows people to start little Centers at their university or college that can compete for headlines, attention from the press and money from the government. I can’t help but feel that it’s a form of conditioning, that we’re all inside a Skinner box where we’re rats inside a controlled environment and they’re pumping it full of scare words and they’re watching to see what we do. And though they constantly pretend to want nothing less than conflict, though they continue to evince horror at the thought that there are terrorists and insurrectionists among us, who are they fooling? I mean, every satire of the press that’s ever been made has basically had one point in the end, which is that the people who supposedly cover conflict neutrally are really the biggest cheerleaders for it because it creates the demand.
The oldest Ohio uncle sitting on the porch will tell you it sells papers. But now as you say, it’s not that it sells papers, it pleases someone at the top, it pleases the real client, which seems to be the national security agencies. As I say, the audience I think is just left slack-jawed at this spectacle, but they are competing for dog treats from above, and that is indeed who they’re speaking to and performing for. And they’re helping us down this path of ceaseless apprehension, political conflict, perhaps civil conflict. Imagine that someone had fired off a gun at the Trump arraignment or come screaming through a barrier in a car, would they have been horrified by that? Would they have wished it had never happened? Would they, as Americans say, “What a sad day?” Or would they have leapt on it like ants on a dropped croissant?
Matt Taibbi: A dropped Zagnut.
Walter Kirn: A dropped Zagnut! Their bloodthirstiness is no longer hidden from anyone perhaps but themselves. And portraying this upcoming presidential campaign whose shape is taking form before our eyes as a proto civil war, which is what they’re doing, I can moralize about it being irresponsible, but we’re past the point at which responsibility and notions of civil morality restrain anybody. We’re headed for something. And just as I was able to confidently predict that the Trump arraignment would be an excuse to start monitoring, filtering and reading Twitter threats on the air, I can tell our audience with my real integrity intact, that something bad is going to come and it’s not going to come for the reasons that they’re talking about. It’s going to come because the country is being turned into a tinderbox by the people who pretend to be neutral. They are the strongest actors in this play.
I don’t see people out on the street engaging in this. I don’t hear people screaming at each other in restaurants. The source of this is the people who are supposedly observing, and the observers have become the actors.
Matt Taibbi: This has been a consistent feature of political news since Trump got elected. The Russiagate story, one of the weirdest things about it from the very beginning was the open rooting for it to be as bad as possible. I mean, one would think we would all as Americans not want it to be possible for somebody who was a, let’s just say even informally a Russian agent, to get elected to the presidency of the United States, that would be a catastrophe for all of us.
But you could see there was glee in the eyes of people who were reading the news for years at the possibility that that might turn out to be true, that that might be proved by Robert Mueller, who was basically deified for taking on the role of seeking to prove that to be the case. Then I thought the even weirder story was the pandemic. When that happened, and people were... It was almost like they were hoping that this was going to be the worst thing that ever happened in the world, that there were not going to be any already available treatments for it, that could even ameliorate the symptoms of it.
There was one narrative that everybody seemed to agree on was the correct one, which was, “This is going to kill us all. We cannot discuss any aspects of this story that suggest anything less than total panic and total alarm. And the only solution to this is a technological wonder that lay in the future and will be revealed to us by a cadre of experts who are working diligently without our input, and will tell us when they’ve got it handled.”
Don’t you remember that in the first couple of months of the pandemic, the emotional tenor of the way they were delivering that? That was odd. And it’s the same thing here.
Walter Kirn: My personal pandemic narrative and the public pandemic narrative could not have been more at odds. As it happened at the beginning of the pandemic, and I’m not going to go too far with this, my father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. So I had a serious family crisis that overlay the national crisis. In order to be with him, in order to be at his side as he died of this incurable disease, I had to break rule after rule. I had to ignore quarantine orders, interstate quarantine orders, I had to bring in health workers who broke quarantine orders, I had to prevail on a hospice group to come to his house when they were not supposed to go to people’s houses, especially the houses of people who had just come from other States and so on. So in order to deal with my personal crisis, I had to just ignore the pandemic.
And at every turn, I was being told as I ignored it, that I was putting myself and people around me in greater and greater danger. But I had this force majeure. So as their warnings grew graver, as their visages grew more concerned and sober, and as we heard that there was no treatment for this thing, that even to dare suggest there might be a treatment was in some way heresy. To even try things in advance of maybe a coming vaccine was itself irresponsible and somehow even reckless. I became more and more not just skeptical, but aghast at the way in which I was being prepared for disaster while real disaster was going on.
Matt Taibbi: I didn’t know that about your father, by the way. I’m sorry.
Walter Kirn: I mean, he was an older man, and I was blessed to be with him in his last days and last month. But at the same time, in order to do that, I had to ignore COVID hysteria. And I looked at it askance. I was never sucked into it, mostly because I couldn’t afford to be. I had a countervailing concern. And looking at it in this way through the wrong end of the telescope, seeing it as small compared to what was going on in my life, I was able to note patterns in it that I might not have, were I caught up in it. And what revealed itself over and over was, you were not to... It was heretical even not to be scared. People were performing fear and concerned at greater and greater levels. They were being provoked to greater and greater concern, but they also on social media and so on, were almost competing to be the most frightened, the most solitary, the most locked away.
Walter Kirn:“I wear three masks.” “Well, I wear four.” And you saw the way in which social reinforcement in a panic operates. And now that they’re basically starting another panic, I’m seeing those same patterns obtained in which people literally are competing on CBS to be the most afraid of domestic terrorism, to be the most concerned about what might happen tomorrow, to declare it a deadlier threat... Wait, it’s not just deadly, it’s ultra-deadly. And that same self-reinforcing social spiral of greater and greater warnings and more and more intense concern is happening over the Trump thing. Now, where is it leading? Like you say, policies, laws, if they were warning about the risk of aviation disaster, we would start to demand laws. Do they want us to start to demand an FBI agent on every corner? Do they want us to demand a warning on Twitter that is even more scary than the ones they already put there?
You may become converted to extremism if you read this Tweet. This thread has been deemed a level nine threat to national security. You must register your social security number if you wish to go on. Are we going to start calling for that? Because, as you say, with COVID or with any other looming threat, the usual next step is to ask for safety, to demand procedures, new laws, new protections.
Matt Taibbi: And what shape will that take? I think Donald Trump was almost incidental. Certainly, they want to prevent him from getting elected, but it very much feels like they want a holistic approach to preventing this from ever happening again. We cannot allow the uneducated, unfiltered thoughts of the ignorant, racist masses. We can’t allow that to ever coalesce into anything meaningful ever again politically. So, what do we have to do?
We have to make sure that they don’t talk to each other, that they’re de-amplified, that we have an international consensus about how to prevent these kinds of things from breaking out. It feels like that’s the policy response, that they want to make sure on every conceivable level that there’s never anything like this again. I think we all know people in our lives for whom that fear is already in them like a cancer. It’s just not ever going to leave. Do they want everybody to have it? I think they want everybody to have it.
Walter Kirn: Well, they do. I think we’re going to see the term stochastic terrorismback in the news pretty soon, because now pretty much anything Trump or his supporters or his aides or spokespeople say can be used retroactively, should there be any outbreaks of violence as the alleged cause of them. They may talk about stochastic terrorism, but do they ever talk about stochastic panic? If they truly believe that pronouncements on TV have repercussions in the real world, then why are they all scaring us to death?
RUSSIAN PRE-TRIAL DETENTION
by Eliot Rothwell
In August 1959, a group of students from Oxford travelled to Moscow on a red doubledecker bus they’d bought from the London Transport Authority. One of them was Nicholas Daniloff, an American studying law at Oxford. His grandfather, General Yuriy Danilov, had served as chief of operations for the Russian Imperial Army but emigrated to Paris after the October Revolution. Daniloff told me a few years ago that the trip deepened his resolve to become a foreign correspondent in the Soviet Union.
In August 1986, when he was the Moscow bureau chief for US News and World Report, Daniloff was arrested by the Soviet authorities on espionage charges. He was held in Lefortovo prison for 13 days, before being placed under house arrest while the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated a prisoner exchange. By the end of September, he was free to return to the United States, swapped for a Soviet representative to the UN, who had been arrested in New York on espionage charges.
Three months ago, Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was arrested in Yekaterinburg on espionage charges. Like Daniloff, Gershkovich was born into a family of emigrés. His parents are both Soviet-born Jews who left in 1979 and settled in the United States, where they met. Like Daniloff, Gershkovich is now confined to a cell in Lefortovo. But Daniloff was soon released and returned to the US. He even came back to Soviet Union a few years later, as perestroika took hold. Gershkovich’s future, however, is far from clear. His “pre-trial detention” has been extended until at least 30 August.
Gershkovich arrived in Moscow in 2017 and took a job with the Moscow Times. Russian journalists faced arrest and exile. Their ability to investigate had been steadily eroded, and their publications forced to shutter or accept more Kremlin-pliant management. But Western correspondents could, broadly, go about their reporting. Gershkovich and his colleagues published scoop after scoop from across Russia, most impressively during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. He later moved to Agence France Presse and then, in January 2022, to the Wall Street Journal.
A couple of days after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, I made dinner for three journalist friends at my apartment in Moscow. By the end of the next week they had all left Russia. I followed them at the end of March. Some journalists remained in the country, if they had Russian families or worked for international broadcasters, but the majority left, at least temporarily.
Gershkovich was one of those who travelled in and out of Russia to continue reporting from inside the country. After his arrest, few feel able to take the risk. A friend who works for a newswire was waiting for the Russian authorities to issue accreditation so he could return to Moscow when he learned of Gershkovich’s arrest. He withdrew his application.
Western correspondents, long seen as irritants by the Russian authorities, are now considered agents of the “collective West,” a term which has gained prevalence in Russian propaganda in the last two years to describe the enemy. But Russia continues to issue visas to tourists and residents. A few of my Western friends are still in Moscow, working in finance or IT, or teaching English. They say that little has changed in their daily lives, at least on the surface. They spend time with the same Russian friends, visit the same bars and restaurants at weekends. But with the arrest of Gershkovich, and the departure of Western correspondents concerned for their own safety, their vital reporting on how ordinary Russians relate to the war and navigate its effects will be lost. That, it appears, is what the Russian authorities want.
(London Review of Books)
WHY PROPAGANDA WORKS
by Caitlin Johnstone
It’s not really deniable that western civilization is saturated with domestic propaganda geared toward manipulating the way the public thinks, acts, works, shops and votes. Mass media employees have attested to the fact that they experience constant pressure to administer narratives which are favorable to the political status quo of the US empire. The managers of empire have publicly acknowledged that they have a vested interest in manipulating public thought. Casual naked-eye observation of the way the mass media reliably support every US war, rally behind the US foreign policy objective of the day, and display overwhelming bias against empire-targeted governments makes it abundantly obvious that this is happening when viewed with any degree of critical thought.
To deny that these mass-scale manipulations have an effect would be as absurd as denying that advertising — a near trillion-dollar industry — has an effect. It’s just an uncomfortable fact that as much as we like to think of ourselves as free-thinking sovereign agents immune to outside influence, human minds are very hackable. Manipulators understand this, and the science of modern propaganda which has been advancing for over a century understands this with acute lucidity.
By continually hammering our minds with simple repeated messaging about the nature of the world we live in, propagandists are able to exploit glitches in human cognition like the illusory truth effect, which causes our minds to mistake the experience of having heard something before with the experience of having heard something that is true.
Our indoctrination into the mainstream imperial worldview begins when we are very young, largely because schooling is intertwined with the same power structures whose information interests are served by that worldview, and because powerful plutocrats like John D Rockefeller actively inserted themselves into the formation of modern schooling systems.
Our worldview is formed when we are young in the interests of our rulers, and from there cognitive biases take over which protect and reinforce that worldview, typically preserving them in more or less the same form for the rest of our lives.
This is what makes it so hard to convince someone that their beliefs about an issue are falsehoods born of propaganda. I see a lot of people blame this problem on the fact that critical thinking isn’t taught in schools, and I’ve seen some strains of Marxist thought arguing that westerners choose to espouse propaganda narratives because they know it advances their own class interests, and I’m sure both of these factor into the equation to some extent. But the primary reason people tend to remain committed to their propaganda-installed perspectives actually has a much simpler, well-documented explanation.
Modern psychology tells us that people don’t just tend to hold onto their propaganda-induced belief systems; people tend to hold onto any belief system. Belief perseverance, as the name suggests, describes the way people tend to cling to their beliefs even when presented with evidence disproving them. The theory goes that back when humans lived in tribes that were often hostile to each other, our tribal cohesion and knowing who we can trust mattered more to our survival than taking the time to figure out what’s objectively true, so now we’ve got these brains that tend to prioritize loyalty to our modern “tribes” like our nation, our religion, our ideological factions and our pet causes.
This tendency can take the form of motivated reasoning, where our emotional interests and “tribal” loyalties color the way we take in new information. It can also give rise to the backfire effect, where being confronted with evidence which conflicts with one’s worldview will not only fail to change their beliefs but actually strengthen them.
So the simple answer to why people cling to beliefs instilled by imperial propaganda is because that’s just how minds work. If you can consistently and forcefully indoctrinate someone from an early age and then give them a mainstream ideological “tribe” with which to identify in their indoctrination, the cognitive glitches in these newly-evolved brains of ours act as sentries which protect those worldviews you implanted. Which is exactly what modern propaganda, and our modern political systems, are set up to do.
I often see people expressing bewilderment about the way the smartest people they know subscribe to the most ridiculous propaganda narratives out there. This is why. A smart person who has been effectively indoctrinated by propaganda will just be more clever than someone of average intelligence in defending their beliefs. Some of the most foam-brained foreign policy think pieces you’ll ever read come from PhDs and Ivy League graduates, because all their intelligence gives them is the ability to make intelligent-sounding arguments for why it would be good and smart for the US military to do something evil and stupid.
The Oatmeal has a great comic about this (which someone also made into a video if you prefer). Importantly, the author correctly notes that the mind’s tendency to forcefully protect its worldview does not mean it’s impossible to change one’s beliefs in light of new evidence, only that it is more difficult than accepting beliefs which confirm one’s biases. It takes some work, and it takes sincerity and self-honesty, but it can be done. Which is happy news for those of us who have an interest in convincing people to abandon their propaganda-constructed worldviews for reality-based ones.
Sometimes just being patient with someone, showing empathy, treating them how we’d like to be treated, and working to establish things in common to overcome the primitive psychology which screams we’re from a hostile tribe can accomplish a lot more than just laying out tons of objective facts disproving their believed narrative about Russia or China or their own government or what have you.
And above all we can just keep telling the truth, in as many fresh, engaging and creative ways as we can come up with. The more we do this, the more opportunities there are for someone to catch a glimmer of something beyond the veil of their propaganda-installed worldview and the cognitive biases which protect it. The more such opportunities we create, the greater a chance the truth has of getting a word in edgewise.