- Rainy Days
- Mental Health
- County Management
- Fudge Wilson
- Weather Love
- Yesterday's Catch
- Pygmy Stories
- Lewallen Book
- Toxic Store
- Marco Tips
- Mendo Greatness
- Swami Talk
- Dalton Trumbo
THE NEXT FEW DAYS appear to be a respite from the rain. The forecast says a little might fall on Thursday, followed by a good "chance of rain" through the weekend.
OVER THE PAST THREE WEEKS, we had only three rain-free days. Put differently, over the past 21 days, 18 were wet. During that stretch Yorkville's season total went from 16.68 to 33.92 inches. That means 17.24 inches fell over those 18 days, averaging almost one inch per rainy day.
THUS FAR, EL NINO has given us just what we needed, a wet rainy season. Compare to last year, when we received a whopping four-tenths of an inch for the entire month of January! The rest of that 2015 rainy season went like this: February 8.6"; March .7"; April 2.4"; May .6"; and June 0". That, my friends, was a scary drought.
SHERIFF TOM ALLMAN'S mental health plan is not only doable, it's the best idea out there. Of course it's the only idea out there, but it's still a good idea and just may be on the November, 2016 ballot.
ALLMAN aims to find out if Mendocino County will approve a five-year half-cent sales tax increase that would raise roughly $22 million for a new, in-county mental health-specific facility where our chronic mental health patients and, hopefully, our large population of drop-fall drunks, would be housed and treated.
IN LIEU of a place other than the County Jail to house dangerously deranged people, the County now pays upwards of $800 a day for privately owned lock-up psychiatric beds in Yuba City or other distant venues. Drunks? They die in the street. They get no treatment at all other than three or four overnights a month in the County Jail.
THE COUNTY'S annual mental health budget is about $20 million. For that kind of money our chronics, fifty of them, (and another fifty drunks), could be housed at the Fairmont Hotel with bedside psychiatrists. As is, they all go to the County Jail, which is not designed for the mentally ill.
ALLMAN WOULD LIKE TO SEE that $20 mil spent on something effective right here at home because what we're presently doing is wholly ineffective, as Allman himself knows — his County Jail now functions as default psych ward and overnight sobriety room. To accomplish a real psych center and, hopefully, rehab berths for drunks, Allman's tax proposal would erect a building to house a brand new program. He has mentioned the hospital area of Ukiah as a possible site.
THE OLD HOSPITAL in Willits has also been suggested as a possible site for a mental health facility, which would spare millions in new construction costs.
THE SHERIFF has a great idea here, but to bring it off it's going to be necessary to establish it independently of the existing mental health morass of by-the-minute charging practices, exorbitant administrative costs, gross incompetence, and plain old fashioned scamming.
“WITH A $20 million mental health budget, we deserve to be in the driver’s seat,” Allman told Adam Randall of the Ukiah Daily Journal. “Right now, Mendocino County government can’t figure out how to treat mentally ill people. We’re really lacking in mental health crisis services.”
ALSO FROM THE JOURNAL, Allman "estimated that in 2015, deputies spent 1,000 hours on emergency mental health calls that technically weren’t related to a crime, which in retrospect, is 1,000 hours that weren’t spent toward county communities, and less time, for example, in strategizing with other law enforcement agencies in combating domestic violence, or teaming more with local schools, he said."
“At 2am when someone calls and says that someone is about to do something stupid, the best thing we can do is send somebody with a gun and badge,” Allman said.
SUPERVISOR DAN GJERDE, spoke to the Fort Bragg Advocate-News last week to clarify his views about the Mental Health fiasco (among several other topics). Gjerde repeated his complaints about Ortner’s high admin rates, and added that the County staff had “assured” him that the contract he voted to approve would be much more specific about the mental health services to be provided “in a subsequent contract amendment.” There were no amendments, and the Supes still have no idea how much Ortner is charging for alleged services.
WHICH makes one wonder: 1. Why not? And 2. Why would anyone — especially any sitting supervisor — believe anything those particular staff members ever said again regarding the subject of Mental Health if they’re willing to lie about something like that.
IN SPITE OF THIS GROSS STAFF FAILURE (also among many others), Gjerde continues to believe, “There will be reforms in the contracts and I think people can look ahead, as the county gets those contracts more in order, then the county will be in a better position to put it back out to bid again.”
GJERDE added that “there’s also always the option of bringing it back in-house, but I don’t think there are anywhere near three votes to bring it in-house. Management staff is very resistant to talking about bringing it back in-house (because of cost and more the risk of cost over-runs from year to year, is their biggest concern.”
GJERDE SHOULD INSIST that if they really put the contract out to bid (which is getting more doubtful by the day) that the County be required to prepare a bid for an “in-house option.” This would keep the bidders a bit more honest and force the County to prepare a bid package that is specific enough that a reasonable in-house option bid can be prepared and correctly costed out for comparison to the private bidders. The bid package itself should go out for public review before it’s sent out for bid, too.
DEMANDING AN IN-HOUSE OPTION would also end run the supposed “management resistance … because of the cost.” And Gjerde’s and/or staff’s worries about over-runs could be addressed fairly. (There’s no guarantee that a contractor won’t overrun either. It’s naïve if not corrupt to think otherwise.)
GJERDE also said he expects that the Kemper Report will help provide the specifics that should have been in the original Ortner contract in something called a “work plan” and some detailed and consistent reporting requirements.
IF HISTORY IS ANY GUIDE, however, management will continue to resist providing specific work standards, and will also resist any decent reporting. Reporting and tracking is something Official Mendo, especially in Social Services, is constitutionally allergic to — it would make them look bad when the work’s not done.
GJERDE’S modest expectations are reasonable but they don’t address any of the underlying management problems. Nevertheless we doubt that even Gjerde’s modest improvements will make it past CEO Carmel Angelo and Health and Human Services Director Stacey Cryer, who seem to think they can ride this lame old mare right into retirement (with their big, fund-depleting pensions) and leave their Mental Health mess to the next administration.
IF COUNTY MANAGEMENT’S “biggest concern” is cost overruns, not proper delivery of service that costs millions of taxpayer dollars, then clearly they are the root of the problem and should be replaced before any reforms are undertaken.
ANOTHER HUMBOLDT JUDGE Regularly Submitted Fake Paperwork To Get Paid, State Commission Finds
by Hank Sims
For the second time in four months, a state commission charged with investigating judicial misconduct has shamed a Humboldt County Superior Court judge for regularly submitting false work records in order to collect his salary.
In a “public admonishment” released Friday, the California Commission on Judicial Performance charges Judge Christopher G. Wilson with claiming, on eight separate occasions since 2011, he cleared cases earlier than he actually had, and had as a result received six paychecks that were not due to him, under rules set out by the California Constitution.
The commission notes that Wilson was privately admonished for the same offense in 2007, which it considered an aggravating factor in the current case.
The California Constitution requires all judges to decide cases within 90 days after they have been fully submitted and argued. If a judge fails to do so, then he forfeits his salary. (See Article 6, Section 19 of the Constitution at this link.) They are required to regularly submit signed affidavits stating that everything is on track, so that their paycheck may be released.
It is these affidavits, the commission says, that Wilson has fudged. While claiming that he had cleared all his cases on schedule, he had actually been late to various degrees — sometimes up to a month late.
Heavy workload is no excuse, the commission says:
A judge’s workload may make prompt decision of all matters submitted to the judge impossible, particularly in counties like Humboldt where the average workload appears to exceed the statewide average. However, that does not justify the execution of false salary affidavits or the unlawful receipt of salary for judicial office.
Beyond this public shaming — sort of a modern version of the stocks, it seems — it’s not clear that Wilson will suffer any consequences for serial violations of the Constitution he was sworn to uphold and protect, for personal gain. Back in September, the commission admonished one of Wilson’s colleagues on the bench — Judge Dale Reinholtsen — for similarly filing false work affidavits. At the time, District Attorney Maggie Fleming said that she would not be pursuing the matter.
“County District Attorneys do have the authority to bring charges against judges,” she told the Outpost via email. “In this case, I do not plan on bringing charges against Judge Reinholtsen.”
It’s relatively rare for the commission to issue public admonishments. Apart from Reinholtsen, only one other California judge was admonished in 2015, according to the CCJP’s website — and for different reasons entirely. Only 81 admonishments have been issued over the last 20 years, and a quick perusal seems to indicate that very few of them are for salary affidavit falsification.
Judge Wilson was paid $178,956 in 2015, according to the Sacramento Bee’s state employee salary database.
CHESAPEAKE BAY, NOT SUMMER
by Mitch Clogg
I worked for the Baltimore News-American at the time of the blizzard of '66. I had a blue-and-white 4-place airplane. The News-American asked me to take a photographer up for pictures. We took off the back door. He sat back there, hanging way out to get pictures. The bay was frozen. Eastern Shore communities were cut off from food, medicine, other necessities. My friend Hirsch Krieger, the man I was hurt with the winter of 1960, when we were on his Vespa and a drunk came down the steep, winding Ruxton hill and hit us. Now, Hirsch and I sat in front, gloved, not directly in the cold-as-hell blast. We kept checking with the photographer, who was operating a press camera bare-handed. The plane had a heater, about as aggressive as VW heaters in those days — (not). The photographer, older than us, was exhilarated, he kept assuring us he was fine, clicking away at snowbound farmhouses, stuck cars — almost all blemishes on the plain of white signified something amiss. Cold! When we landed, Hirsch and I laughed that our fingers were frozen into claws the shape of the steering wheels of the plane. Meanwhile, the photographer was in a hot rush to get back to the paper and develop his pictures. He shoulda been dead. I was living north of the city then, and the wind blew the snow into drifts along the highway like the ones you see in the Rockies and the Sierra, snow cliffs shoved and carved at the edges of highways.
The worst hit Ocean City took in my life was in winter. It was a nor'easter, winds of 50, 60, maybe 70. They kept blowing for the better part of a week, holding the Chincoteague-Assateague waters in the bays with big waves in the inlets and wind pushing the water away from the natural exits, and levels rose until the waves washed over the beach and boardwalk, all the way to the bay. I was in the airplane again. Some of the new, big hotels had no east-facing side, them having collapsed from wave action. Many of the wooden buildings I'd seen all my life were floated off their piers and cinderblocks, moved blocks away. The streets were covered with sand and water. There was a lot of destruction, but it looked more like natural vandalism, stuff moved around and dumped over. By the next summer, houses had been dragged back to their correct street numbers and most of the mess was cleaned up, which was remarkable, given how disordered everything was after the storm.
Linda and I visited OC in winter, once. I heard Bocaccio-type stories of what it was like there among the locals in winter. They lived up to it. We went to a hotel basement bar (like a bunker protected from the winter) where many of the faces were familiar and many women were in bikinis and everybody was rollicking down. The stories were true.
Here, now, El NiÑo has dumped rain until the ground sinks and water runs into your shoes. We're on a hill, above tsunamis and floods. All the same, every slight depression is a pond. The state's depleted reservoirs are filling. They still have a long way to go. I'm betting they'll make it. That's one of the things I like about weather (though I'm tired of the rain) is how it shrinks mankind to a more modest size. Storms are bigger than us. Droughts are. Instead of going up the hill with the dog tonight, I'll take him to the headlands. There's a full moon. Maybe it's out. There's a lull. Even if there's cloud cover, a full moon makes enough light that we won't fall off. I want to see. They've been warning about big waves. Big waves here are a show. Mendocino Bay's a dent in the coastline, but it lets you stand high & dry and watch mountains roll by, crash and disappear. There are seastacks offshore. Waves hit them. A geyser of water might shoot 100 feet into the air. Noise like cannon. If there's a person standing out on the headlands, they look black and tiny as pissants, standing there when an upside-down waterfall happens. The spectacle defies gravity. The water blasts up and seems to pause & hold as it changes direction from up to down. And the waves get sharp and pointy. At the crests, spindrift detaches and blows back in the direction the wave comes from, this graceful, dangerous-looking scimitar of white water. I love it. My complaints, my most serious, death-dealing complaints shrink and shrink before this production. The world cares nothing, not a jot, for my troubles.
CATCH OF THE DAY, January 24, 2016
LEON GIBSON, Fort Bragg. Drunk in public, probation revocation. (Frequent Flyer)
MICHAEL MCCLELLAN, Fort Bragg. Domestic battery, probation revocation.
MARCIANO PICENO, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
ROBERT SCHAFER, Willits. Domestic battery, interference of police communications.
PATRICK SHECKELLS JR., Ukiah. Burglary, controlled substance.
DAVID WORTHY, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
EXPLORING THE PYGMY
Did you ever get lost in the pygmy forest? How about at night between your driveway and the front door? I’d like to hear about it. I have been exploring the pygmy forest and trying get a picture of what it means to the community. I plan to share the things I discover here and in other local venues as an ongoing hobby. In the furtherance of this effort, I am asking for your poems, stories, music and art that relate to, or were inspired by the pygmy forest. Have you hauled soil in to mix with the pygmy forest sand and clay? What was that like. I’m anxious to hear about how the pygmy forest impacts your life.
Thank You, Joshua Lowell
LOCAL PEACE ACTIVIST PUBLISHES 1969 VIETNAM WAR REPORT
Land Of Frozen Laughter: A Community Development Volunteer in the Vietnam War, 1967-1969
John Lewallen, local peace activist and author of Ecology of Devastation: Indochina (Penguin Books, 1972), offers an intense two-year immersion in Vietnam during the era of the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Land of Frozen Laughter, the report Lewallen wrote in 1969 immediately after returning to Oregon from two years in the Vietnam war, now is a 200-page book available worldwide.
Lewallen, a founding member of Mendocino County Veterans for Peace Chapter 116, offers Land of Frozen Laughter as a contribution to the telling of truth about war, true experience, for the healing both of the traumatized person and the society which supports war.
The reader travels with Lewallen as he struggles to do community projects as one of the 400 International Voluntary Services volunteers who served in Vietnam, becoming an angry anti-war activist in a war zone, hunted by an assassination team. War historians will be interested in the ground-level reports of military strategy and battles, told through intimate portraits soldiers and civilians, Vietnamese, Chams, and Raglai Montagnards.
Portraits of "G.I. Vietnam," the macabre world of bars, bases and brothels where American troops met Vietnamese culture, and a surrealistic tour of Saigon's night life awaiting the final communist assault, are timely in understanding today's wartime environments.
"The support of family and friends, especially my wife Barbara, have allowed me to make this contribution to the worldwide movement for peace conversion on all levels," says Lewallen, now 73. "Cypress House publishing professionals in Fort Bragg enabled me to publish a world-class book and have fun doing it. I expect to present Land of Frozen Laughter to interested groups in the coming months."
Land of Frozen Laughter is available directly from the author, or at any bookstore from Ingram Book Wholesalers.
COMING SOON TO REDWOOD VALLEY
MARCO ON DISEASE VOLCANOES
Skunks, and popup ad blockers.
Everything bad that people have said on the listserv about wild animals -- they carry terrible diseases, and make annoying noises, and eat and dig in things we don't want them to eat and dig in, and they smell bad, and so on -- can be said about babies and toddlers, and people put their darling little contagion volcanoes in grocery baskets and carts, and not just some but every disease they carry finds a human host hospitable, having been incubated in a human host. A baby is a Russian doll for disease, as well as being one of a set of Russian dolls all by itself (if it's a girl).
Science has shown that the most shit-and-spit-germ-laden objects we handle in public are not gas pump hose handles nor elevator or ATM buttons nor paper money nor doorknobs nor even public toilet seats, believe it or not, but grocery carts and grocery cart handles.
When was the last time you saw a grocery cart being properly washed after being used as a baby buggy? When do they wash them, anyway? Ever?
That said, I can tell you what won't work to get rid of skunks. Several times in the 1980s skunks moved in under the house where Juanita and I lived in Caspar. They made high-pitched burbling noises and startled us awake with their surprisingly loud hissing and squeaking, and they sprayed their effluvium under there and the smell saturated the house, so it got into everything including the clothes. The house was very old, built nearly right down on the ground, so there was no climbing in and dealing with the problem in person. And the neighborhood had plenty of cats and dogs, which might have been alternately helping (by terrorizing the skunks) and exacerbating the situation (by terrorizing the skunks). And there were wild peacocks that had nothing to do with anything. And every February the Caspar blood bats would return from wherever they went in the fall, and coo their characteristic mournful cry (sounds like a cartoon turkey crossed with a loon) but that's a gentle and odorless sound, and it comes from the sea caves and from overhead, out in the sky, and it's benign and soothing.
Someone I trusted, but who turned out to be a prankster, told me skunks hate WD-40, so I drilled a hole in the floor in each room and emptied a can of WD-40 into the holes. Result: WD-40 smell was added to the skunk smell, and the skunks did not leave. Okay, I made bigger holes, and used two synthesizers, a powerful amplifier and tweeters from my P.A. system to blast what little space there was under the house with ultrasonic sirens. Days of this and steadily raising the volume to the point of ruining the expensive tweeters resulted in further not leaving on the part of the skunks.
What did work every time was of course to give up, and in a few weeks the skunks left on their own. Also, since 1992 I've lived in places where there are plenty of ways to get in and out under the house, and nothing to keep any animals from coming and going as they please -- cats, dogs, chickens, crows, little bears -- and I haven't had another problem with skunks. Wood rats, now; they're smarter than small children about not getting caught in things and they even eat the wiring in your car, but there's something you can do: A neighbor boy built humane traps the size of a suitcase and gave them away, and I still have mine and it still works. When a wood rat becomes a problem by getting all the way inside the house (!) I tie peanut-butter-saturated yarn to the trigger.
That's the only thing that works, because no matter how smart they are, it's delicious peanut butter, and they can't just lick it off and run away and shut the trap from the outside and laugh at you; they have to tug on the yarn. When eventually the rat is caught, I take it down to a field by the ocean and let it out. Be free, smart little thing, though not as treacherous and clever as I am. Go forth. Evolve.
Re: the discussion of popup protection of the different internet browsers: I use Firefox and use the free add-on BlueHell Firewall. It keeps intrusive ads from intruding. And on the rare occasions where it blocks something that you actually want to see or do, you click off the blue demon, watch the video or play with the interactive map or chart or whatever, and click it back on later.
BlueHell Firewall is especially useful if you use torrent sites or anything that opens ads in second and third instances of your browser underneath what you're doing, that you discover later when you close things on top. BlueHell stops that happening.
It isn't meant to replace your operating system's software firewall or your router's hardware firewall; those should be on all the time; they're protecting you from things that don't necessarily ever show up on your screen to annoy you. And it doesn't replace your vigilant anti-malware program, of which you should only have one running (one's enough, no more). I recommend the free Windows Security Essentials for everything short of Windows 8 (set to automatically get updates and scan every night), Windows Defender that comes with Windows 8 and after, and once a month, or when suspicious, sweep with free Malwarebytes or Clamwin or Sophos or SuperAntiSpyware -- those are programs that just sit there like a broom in the closet and don't do anything until you deliberately bring them out and use them.
If you get a computer that comes with Norton or McAfee installed, the first step should be to completely uninstall Norton or McAfee, whichever one you got. If you don't feel competent to do it right, take it to Sage's Computer or someone else you trust and get them to do it, because otherwise Norton or McAfee will be slowing your computer and interfering with file access and regularly infuriatingly bugging you to pay until the end of time.
The only hard drive or system cleaning/tuning products that have never given me any trouble are GlarySoft's Glary Utilities and Piriform's CCleaner. And any time you install anything, don't just click okay, okay, okay but patiently stop at every progress window and uncheck everything (browser toolbar, media player, search engine, home page, etc.) that isn't the program you want to install.
Also it's possible to tell Windows to stop pestering you to upgrade to Windows 10.
WELCOME TO MENDOCINO - WE'VE GOT GREATNESS.
by Scott Peterson
CRAIG & SWAMI T
Swami Tattwamayananda gave a talk Sunday morning at the Vedanta Society in San Francisco entitled "Beyond Anxiety and Fear". The gist is to reverse the outgoing mental current inwardly and anchor it at its source, thereby eliminating the problem of attachment to externalities. (Otherwise, trying to solve the problems of the world is likened to "throwing ghee on the fire"). This yogic practice is the required spiritual remedy for the age of anxiety. Please know that I have extended my stay at the Red Victorian on Haight Street until 11 A.M. Sunday January 31st. I am, as usual, accepting offers both near and far to join with others who have a mystical activist approach. And by the way, the Swami and I spoke to one another after his talk, and I shared with him the recent successful efforts of Beyond Extreme Energy in Washington D.C., protesting at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He asked me what I am doing now. I said that I am not really doing anything now...just staying centered and watching thoughts go by. He smiled in response.
Craig Louis Stehr
January 24, 2016
RED, WHITE & BLACK LISTED:
Dalton Trumbo’s Adventures in the Cold War
by Jonah Raskin
1. The Fucking Blacklist
In a short, pithy letter that he wrote on June 14, 1950, shortly before he went to prison for contempt of Congress, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) asked his wife, Cleo, to save his dispatches from behind bars so that they might serve as “a record of my adventures in the cold war.”
Perhaps because he’d been a member of the Communist Party (CP) and a student of Karl Marx and Marxism — “motion picture writers are purely industrial workers,” he told the editor of Masses & Mainstream, the CP house organ — Trumbo grasped intuitively the big political picture, as well as the small but decisive role he played in it. Then, too his brand of Marxism prompted him to argue that the phenomenon of naming names was driven by economic motives. The witnesses who co-operated with the investigators wanted the jobs that were held by the witnesses who refused to co-operate, Trumbo insisted.
As one of the Hollywood Ten — whose members included John Howard Lawson, Edward Dmytryk, Lester Cole and Albert Maltz — he became a household name in the 1940s and 1950s and then again in the 1960s and 1970s when he reinvented himself as a screenwriter and directed the anti-war movie, Johnny Got His Gun, which he had written and published in the late 1930s and that won a National Book Award as the most original book of 1939.
An Old Leftist, Trumbo evolved into a New Leftist and a star of the new Hollywood of independent producers and directors. The famed California Communist Party member Dorothy Healey (1914-2006), a near contemporary of Trumbo’s, astutely observed, “Trumbo belongs to my son’s generation.” To support her claim, she might have repeated his often quoted remark, “some of my best friends were Communists.” Hardly a joking matter for the Old Left.
Never a Hollywood actor, Trumbo was nevertheless a savvy actor on the stage of history during the era of the cold war and McCarthyism, when politicians saw Reds nearly everywhere in the film industry, government and academia. So did newspaper columnists like Walter Winchell and right wing Catholic priests like Francis Cardinal Spellman who demanded that the Reds and their fellow travelers lose their jobs, suffer public humiliation, and, if necessary, go to jail on grounds that they violated the Smith Act which made it a crime to overthrow the US government by force.
Half jokingly, Trumbo described himself as “a purgee,” a word that he seems to have made up, though his friends in and out of the CP surely knew that he meant to invoke the memory of the Soviet trials of 1936-1938 when Stalin consolidated his power and purged opposition both in and out of the Communist Party of the USSR. Trumbo also viewed himself as an “exile” from Hollywood. He noted, that he had been “banished from the motion picture industry” and that he belonged to a noble tradition of writers like John Bunyan, Miguel Cervantes and William Sydney Porter, AKA O. Henry, all of whom had been imprisoned.
If the Russians purged, so did the Americans, Trumbo argued, though for the most part he thought that Truman’s America was closer to Hitler’s Germany than to Stalin’s Russia. When the House Committee on American Activities (HUAC) asked him the $64,000 question, as it was called, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” he hemmed and hawed and then finally delivered the line he’d written for himself. “This is the beginning of an American concentration camp,” he bellowed.
Still, even in the midst of McCarthyism, which he viewed as a harbinger of fascism, Trumbo maintained his irreverent sense of humor, his razor-sharp wit and his subversive habit of finding echoes and parallels on both sides in the Cold War.
Unfortunately, the endearing traits of Trumbo’s irreverent personality — which he maintained even as prisoner # 7551 at the Federal Correctional Institute in Ashland, Kentucky — are largely missing from Trumbo, the 2015 biopic about him, his close-knit family, his loyal friends and mean-spirited enemies, that stars Bryan Cranston, who appeared in the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, and who smirks, squints, grins, scowls and more on the big screen but never plumb the underlying character of the blacklisted screenwriter he tries to portray.
Again and again, the film shows Trumbo reclining in his bathtub where he walls himself off from the world, drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes, and dashes off screenplays. Audiences don’t ever see anything of his life as a baker in the 1930s, the crucial decade that shaped him personally and politically as it did most communists of his generation, or as a soldier who fought in World War II in the Pacific. Trumbo, which was directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara, would have viewers believe that Dalton, Cleo, their son, Christopher and daughters, Nikola and Mitzi, stood slightly to the left of TV’s favorite Cold War American family, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and their sons David and Ricky. Indeed, the film’s producers might have called their production, “The Adventures of Dalton and Cleo Trumbo.”
The ambiance of the Cold War is sadly missing from Trumbo, though there are briefly flickering images of the Korean War and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 as spies for the Soviet Union. What’s also largely absent in the biopic is the screenwriter’s foul mouth that’s in fine form in many of his letters, and especially in one he wrote on December 8, 1957. In a dispatch to his LA lawyer, Aubrey Finn, he refers to the “fucking blacklist” — the film industry’s directory of untouchable actors, directors and writers that put many of them out of work and that also led to an underground network — a veritable black market, as it was known — that furnished scripts under aliases to independent producers like Frank King who’s played to perfection by John Goodman.
Trumbo told Finn, who had practiced law since 1937, that he wanted to “laugh the fucking blacklist out of existence.” A year earlier, in 1956, he had apologized to his daughter, Nikola, for his “sexual profanity” and for his nearly non-stop consumption of alcohol. He drank, he explained, out of boredom and when a sense of adventure abandoned him. He didn’t stop drinking or cursing, and he died of a heart attack at the age of 70 in Los Angeles, a Hollywood legend not only because of the blacklist and the black market, but also for the awards he won for writing the screenplays for two hit movies of 1960, Spartacus and Exodus, both of which sounded notes of rebellion and defiance that were never entirely erased from American popular culture all through the era of the Cold War and McCarthyism.
2. Literary Guerrilla Warfare
Still, the cold warriors and their ilk who operated in government, industry and academia exerted a profound, even a devastating impact on freedom of expression in the United States and on individual American writers, especially in the period that began in 1945 and that ended in the late Sixties, when the cult of anti-Communism lost much of its appeal especially with young radicals and left-wing intellectuals. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the co-founders of the Yuppies and consummate performers in the art of guerrilla theater, showed up in Washington D.C. in costume:
Hoffman wore an American flag shirt; Rubin donned the uniform of a soldier in the army of George Washington. Trumbo paved the way for Hoffman, Rubin and Company and the rambunctious brand of street theater practiced in the Sixties. “Every screen writer worth his salt wages the battle in his own way — a kind of literary guerrilla warfare,” he told Sam Sillen, the editor of Masses & Mainstream. The House Committee on Un-American activities was finally abolished in 1975. Trumbo didn’t live to see that day, though he probably would not have been surprised to learn that, though virulent anti-communism didn’t disappear from the American political landscape even when Nixon went to China and met with Mao.
At the height of the Cold War, famed writers went into exile, recreated their identities and reshaped their art. For a time, Trumbo and a handful of his out-of-work friends who were known collectively as the Hollywood Ten, relocated to Mexico and learned that the long arm of the FBI extended across the border. Richard Wright, the best selling African-American author of Native Son and once a member of the Communist Party, settled in Paris and continued to turn out fiction and non-fiction. Jules Dassin, a descendent of Russian Jews, and like Trumbo a blacklisted screenwriter, went to work in Paris where he made Rififi (1955) one of the all-time best heist motion pictures that comes with a thirty minute scene without dialogue and no soundtrack. Silence, Dassin seemed to say, could speak louder than words, at a time when silence was often taken as a sign of guilt.
Other writers, such as Zora Neale Huston, the popular African American novelist and ethnographer, and Tillie Olsen, a union organizer and Thirties radical, stopped writing for publication (for the most part) and lost touch with the wellsprings of the creativity that had sparked them through the Great Depression and then during World War II. Dashiell Hammett, the father of the American noir novel, and a member of the Communist Party, refused to inform on former friends and comrades and went to jail, where, ironically, he sat behind bars and listened to radio broadcasts based on his novel, The Thin Man with Nick and Nora Charles as America’s favorite cocktail-sipping detectives.
The full story of the cold war and American culture — “the furies and complexities of an ugly time,” as Trumbo described it in 1957, near the end of the blacklist — has never been told entirely, though bits and pieces have emerged in articles and books such as Douglas Field’s American Cold War Culture, and Frances Stonor Saunders’ excellent The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. In her groundbreaking book, Silences, Tillie Olsen addresses in part the impact of cultural climate on the production of literature and the arts, though she also leaps beyond the overtly political and strays into the personal arena. As Olsen shows, the political and the personal aren’t mutually exclusive. Passions and politics combined, colluded and clashed during the Cold War; friends turned on former friends to save their own skins and their own careers, or banded together for protection and safety. American writers who wrote for the theater, for radio, TV, newspapers and magazines as well as for big and little publishing companies were hard hit by the frigid climate of the Cold War, but they also found ways to continue to express themselves and to reach audiences, albeit sometimes small. After the success of the Broadway hit, Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller turned his attention to the seventeenth-century Salem Witch trials in his 1953 play, The Crucible, which he framed as an allegory about McCarthyism, naming names and political hysteria. In his autobiography, Miller explained that the Congressional hearings about communism were nearly identical to the Puritan obsession with witchcraft. “The main point of the hearings, precisely as in seventeenth-century Salem,” he wrote, “was that the accused make public confession, damn his confederates, as well as his Devil master and guarantee his sterling new allegiance by breaking disgusting old vows.”
Critics objected to his analogy. Witches weren’t real, whereas communists were, they argued, though the play packed real wallop and helped raise awareness about the nature of the anti-communist crusade. Arthur Miller and his contemporaries were a remarkably resilient lot, especially if they were young writers, such as Norman Mailer, William Styron and Flannery O’Conner who started their literary careers in the late 1940s, though even novelists like them who belonged to the post-war generation were affected by the cultural malaise that engulfed the society soon after Winston Churchill delivered his Iron Curtain Speech in Fulton, Missouri in 1946 and the World War II alliance between the U.S and the U.S.S.R. crashed and burned.
The explosion of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the birth of the nuclear age and the perceived threat of nuclear apocalypse also chilled expression, though the bomb also inspired writers to create some of their best work. William Styron incorporated the bomb and its psychological fall-out into the last section of first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, with its Faulknerian stream of consciousness. Then, too, a young poet named Allen Ginsberg, who had grown up in a left-wing Jewish family, addressed the nation itself in a short 1955 poem entitled “America” in which he exclaimed, “Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.” Ginsberg’s editor, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the founder of City Lights — the first all-paperback bookstore in the US — was put on trial for obscenity in San Francisco after he published Howl and Other Poems.
Indeed, from coast to coast, the Cold War revived American Puritanism and provincialism — the fear of all things international, especially Russian and Soviet — along with cultural conformity and “political correctness,” as it might be called today. The verdict in the 1957 trial — Ferlinghetti was found not guilty — and the subsequent popularity of Howl, with its homage to rebellion, helped to spell the end of McCarthyism and Fifties anti-communism.
That same year — several hundred miles to the South of San Francisco and in Hollywood of all places — another nail was driven into the coffin of Cold War conformity when actress Deborah Kerr announced on Oscar night that the winner for best motion picture story (for The Brave One) was a man named Robert Rich. Mr. Rich was not in the audience to accept the award, but rather at home with his wife Cleo, his son Christopher and his daughters, Nikola and Mitzi. In the film industry and the mass media, rumors quickly spread that Robert Rich was the pseudonym for Dalton Trumbo, though when reporters confronted him he neither confirmed nor denied them. He smelled the end of the blacklist and didn’t want to jump the gun and celebrate prematurely. It wasn’t until 1960, when he was given credit as the screenwriter for both Spartacus and Exodus that he finally allowed that Robert Rich had been his pseudonym.
3. Robert Rich
Years ago, Robert Rich was the name that I borrowed when I wanted to write honestly about my own experiences at the university were I taught English and didn’t want to lose my job. “Somewhere Off the Coast of Academia” was the title I gave the essay. I felt I had to do what Trumbo had done: adopt a pen name and protect my own identity. I’d grown up in the 1940s with parents who were Communist Party members, not unlike Dalton and Cleo, and I knew the importance of aliases, clandestine activity and battling behind the scenes.
I also knew something about American cultural life before the blacklist and the coming of McCarthy. Indeed, I came to believe that Communists and their fellow travelers had invigorated Hollywood during World War II with a string of populist, anti-fascist movies like Casablanca. Indeed, if “Jews invented Hollywood,” as Neal Gabler argued in An Empire of their Own, Reds pulled the industry out of a slump that followed the making of masterpieces, among them Citizen Kane and The Wizard of Oz.
Trumbo’s 1944 movie Ten Seconds Over Tokyo was the first film I ever saw; my dad, who was a small town lefty lawyer, took me to see it in the local movie theater. Dalton Trumbo’s name appeared on screen. My father pointed it out when it appeared on screen and explained that he was a radical.
Soon afterward, I learned about the Hollywood Ten, the blacklist and the anti-communist crusade. In January 2016, when I watched the movie Trumbo, I came to realize that my own experiences in the 1940s and 1950s were similar to those of the Trumbo kids — Christopher, Nikola and Mitzi — though we grew up on opposite coasts, and though my family was Jewish, culturally speaking, while they seemed to have little if any sense of ethnic identity.
What we had in common was the fact that our parents were Reds at a time when Reds were vilified in the mass media. The cultural climate of the era meant that families like ours were closely knit, that we knew the importance of keeping secrets and that betrayal and informing, or “ratting,” on one’s friends was tantamount to a sin. It wasn’t fun to be the son of persecuted Reds, but the culture of the Old Left — the folk music, the novels of Howard Fast, and the sense of union solidarity — stood us in good stead. It also helped later in life when teachers tried to make us believe that America was the most perfect society ever on earth. CP Historians like Herbert Aptheker told us otherwise.
Christopher Trumbo, who was about my age, went to Columbia College in New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s the same time I was there. We took the same classes, though he didn’t engage in protest as I did. When Christopher was an undergraduate, Dalton urged him unapologetically to read Albert Ellis’s Sex Without Guilt, which he called “a manual for masturbators.”
Years later, Christopher followed in his father’s footsteps and wrote for TV. Unfortunately, Christopher has a minor role in the movie, Trumbo, though in real life, he was closer to his father than his two sisters. In 2003, he mounted an Off-Broadway play based on his father's letters. He also collaborated with scholar Larry Ceplair on a biography Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical that was published in 2015 and that is packed with facts and information, largely undigested.
Cleo’s role in the movie also disappoints; the real Mrs. Dalton Trumbo was far more involved in the cause of the Hollywood Ten than Trumbo allows. All too often the picture shows her as a devoted wife and mother, and not the spunky, outspoken radical that she was. Even before I adopted the alias Robert Rich I felt a kinship with the man who had used it as his nom de plume during the Cold War. I enjoyed Trumbo’s movies, including the black-and-white noir classic Gun Crazy (1950), which was originally titled “Deadly Is the Female,” that features a trigger-happy femme fatale played by Peggy Cummins. In the late 1970s, when I read Bruce Cook’s biography, Dalton Trumbo, as well as his letters to Cleo and others, collected in a volume titled Additional Dialogue, I realized that Trumbo was an odd though endearing Communist — indeed a Communist like no other — though like my own father, who was also a member of the CP, he consistently stood up for the underdog in most any fight.
Trumbo helped to organize the Screen Writers Guild, whose members included Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Ring Lardner Jr., one of the Hollywood Ten, who would go on to write the screenplay for M*A*S*H* in 1970. Since Hollywood was a company town, organizing for the Guild was often underground and in secret. By the time the blacklist came around, Trumbo had lots of practice with clandestine meetings, as did my father who joined the Democratic Party when he belonged to the CP, pushed Democrats to the left, as best he could, then defended public schoolteachers accused of Communist Party membership and served as a lawyer for the National Association of Colored People (NAACP).
Like Trumbo, he occasionally looked to the Soviet Union for political guidance. Trumbo withdrew his pacifist novel, Johnny Got a Gun after Germany attacked the Soviet and it was no longer possible to be against the war. But Trumbo also went against the CP notion that artists ought to harness their work to political causes. In an essay, “What Shall We Ask of Writers?” that he published in The New Masses in 1946 when he was a loyal CP member, he wrote, “I have come to believe that the accepted understanding of art as a weapon is not a useful guide, but a strait-jacket.”
Like my father, Trumbo wasn’t guided day-in and day-out by dicta from Moscow. Rather, he was inspired by a tradition of homegrown American radicalism that included the abolitionists of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and by the performances of artists like Charlie Chaplin, Pete Seeger and the Weavers. Critics of the movie, Trumbo, complain that it ignores Stalinism and the allegiance of American Communists to the Kremlin, and while that’s not entirely anti-communist propaganda it doesn’t account for the popularity and the success of the CP that boasted millions of members during the 1930s, in large part because it genuinely addressed the needs and wants of ordinary working citizens who were hungry, homeless and out of work.
Dalton Trumbo and my father, Sam Raskin, belonged to the same generation that came of age with Prohibition, FDR, the Spanish Civil War and the anti-fascist cause. Populists and progressives, they also shared a knack for subterfuge. “The crisis has brought out all my craftiness and guile; I am like a shrewd old fox,” he wrote soon after he was called to testify in Washington, D.C. about communism and communists in Hollywood.
Then, too, he had a willingness to buck Communist Party dogma and to go his own way. Shaped irrevocably by the economic hardships of Depression of the 1930s, Trumbo worked in an LA bakery for $18 a week when he was a young man.
Like Trumbo, my father embraced the American dream. He aimed to live well, which meant that he worked hard, made plenty of money and then promptly spent it, though he never invested in the Stock Market. The crash of 1929 kept him away from stocks and bonds. Trumbo earned as much as $75,000 a year before the blacklist, at least twice as much as my father made and about the same when he blacklist broke. Trumbo and his friends in Hollywood were often described as “swimming pool communists.” Where I grew up, radicals like him were called “Cadillac Marxists.”
In 1952, and newly released from prison Trumbo told his agent, “I want to make a lot of money.” Ten years earlier he’d observed that contrary to popular belief Hollywood didn’t corrupt writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and himself — he’d started out as a novelist in the 1930.
“It’s the getting married and having kids that really corrupts them,” he explained, perhaps tongue-in-cheek. In much the same vein, my father would say, “nothing is too good for the working class.” Like the Trumbo kids, my brothers and I lived in a comfortable middle class house and never went hungry or knew economic hardship.
Dalton Trumbo, Sam Raskin and their peers and contemporaries believed for the most part that membership in the CP was no one’s business but their own and that the government had no right to pry into a citizen’s political affiliations. Still, there were major differences between them.
Unlike my father, who was a small town lawyer, Trumbo was a major public figure who coupled his own personal battle against the blacklist with a bigger, broader movement to end the Red Scare, the blacklist and put a stop to HUAC and the hysterics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.
4. Second Performances
What the movie Trumbo doesn’t really show is that while Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten, he also belonged to what might be called the Hollywood One. “In an odd way, he always seemed to be in competition with everybody on practically everything,” his friend Ian Hunter observed. In 1951 Trumbo told Herbert Biberman, “I am not interested in pamphlets, speeches or progressive motion pictures. I have got to earn money very quickly.” In 1958 when Alvah Bessie extended an invitation to go on the road, appear at public meetings and join with others to denounce the blacklist, Trumbo rejected it. An individualist rather than a collectivist, he told Bessie that “inroads on the blacklist have not come through organizations or mass meetings or honoring banquets or petitions; they have occurred through the stubborn efforts of a very few individuals who have conducted a small guerrilla warfare strictly on their own.” He added, “A restoration of good public relations for Hollywood blacklistees is the sine qua non of breaking the blacklist.”
Trumbo also adhered to his own personal agenda and not to a party line.
Like Thoreau, who wrote in Walden, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” he followed the whims of his own conscience. Indeed, though he’d joined the CP in 1943 and left it in 1948, he became a CP member again in 1954 when membership was unthinkable to all but a tiny minority. “The Smith Act trials were so sinister, the madness of McCarthyism so corrosive, the cowardice of the CIA liberals so loathsome, that I wanted, I deeply wanted — to associate myself as closely as possible with their victims,” he explained.
Then, too, when he looked back at the blacklist after it was broken, he went out on a political limb and infuriated members of the Hollywood Ten, along with his own wife, Cleo. In 1970, when the Writers’ Guild honored him with the Laurel Award, he told the audience, “it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.” The film Trumbo recreates that speech and treats Trumbo as a hero. What it doesn’t do is show the fallout from his remarks.
“This is factual nonsense and represents a bewildering moral position,” Albert Maltz observed. He added, “he does not speak for me or many others.” Bruce Cook concludes his biography of Trumbo with the observation that he was “materialistic, professionally ambitious, and half-drunk on the romanticism he poured into his motion picture scripts.” Cook also notes that “For every screenwriter, director, and actor who made it back after the blacklist there were probably four or five who never did,” a fact that gets lost in the hagiography of Trumbo. Moreover, recognition was slow to come to Trumbo, even after the blacklist was broken and the commercial success of Spartacus and Exodus gave him back his good name. In 1975, the Academy officially recognized him as the winner of the Oscar for The Brave One, and presented him with a statuette.
Moreover, it wasn’t until 1993 that Trumbo was posthumously awarded an Academy Award for writing Roman Holiday, a 1953 romantic comedy which starred Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
Otto Preminger, who directed Exodus, the epic film for which Trumbo wrote the screenplay, noted that like Ben Hecht, Dalton Trumbo “got used to a higher lifestyle” and that they were both “spoiled for higher ambitions as writers.” He added, that if Hollywood had not used their talents “they would have become greater writers.” But that is pure speculation. What we do know is that after a brilliant early career, Trumbo enjoyed a brilliant late career, not only as a screenwriter but also as a director and that he came through the blacklist and time served in prison with a sense of dignity and with his wife and family in tact, no mean feat.
“Second performances are always better than opening nights,” he wrote in his 1949 pamphlet, The Time of the Toad, which he subtitled “A Study of Inquisition in America” and that showed, along with his 1956 pamphlet, The Devil in the Book, that he could write powerful propaganda that aspired to the condition of art. “A nation may be betrayed from within and survive; it may even be betrayed from without and survive,” he wrote at the conclusion of The Devil in the Book. “But nature and history forbid it to betray itself.”
5. Real Freedom
On the whole, Trumbo has been unfavorably reviewed in liberal mass media like The New York Times. Critic Manohla Dargis called it “ill conceived” and suggested that the real Trumbo would not recognize the cinematic portrait of him. At the same time, Trumbo has been favorably reviewed in left media. Writing in Counterpunch, Roger Harris, a member of the California Peace & Freedom Party, noted gleefully that it offered “a sympathetic portrait of a communist.” It does that, indeed, but it also infantilizes communism. In a scene that appears early in the movie, Trumbo tells his young daughter Nikola, as she rides horseback, that communists are people who want to share what they have with those less fortunate than them. Harris exclaims, “How refreshing it is to see a film like Trumbo written from the point-of-view of the communist victim.”
But there’s nothing about the working class and revolution and nowhere does the Trumbo on screen utter the kinds of Marxist insights that the real Trumbo made, as for example, when he said in 1946 on the cusp on the blacklist, “the freedom of the artist to express himself decreases in proportion to the increase of capital investment required for the production of the work.”
Writing in Counterpunch, in an article titled “Why Trumbo Is One of the Most Important Movies Ever Made,” Louis Proyect, the moderator of the website “The Unrepentant Marxist” writes, “my nomination right now for best actor of 2015 is Bryan Cranston, if not for all time, in his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo.” Talk about over the top! Was Proyect working for the producer? He adds that Cranston “brings a weight and a thoughtfulness to his performance that is truly remarkable.”
Roger Harris is a tad less enthusiastic than Proyect; apparently not all radicals see eye-to-eye or think the same way. “The film ends with the rehabilitation of those blacklisted in Hollywood,” Harris explains, “but does not go on to expose how anti-communism has persisted and taken new forms to the present day, including undermining unions and third parties.” Movie mogul and creator of the Stars Wars franchise, George Lucas, would agree, at least in his unguarded moments. Not long ago, he compared Disney to “white slavers,” then took back his barbed comments because he didn’t want to burn his bridges with the media conglomerate.
Lucas also told TV-host and interviewer, Charlie Rose, "I know a lot of Russian filmmakers and they have a lot more freedom than I have. All they have to do is be careful about criticizing the government. Otherwise, they can do anything they want."
He also pointed out that he, like other filmmakers, had to "adhere to a very narrow line of commercialism." Trumbo would probably echo Lucas’ views, though he would also point out that he and many of the Hollywood Ten found ways to criticize the government and upend the tenants of commercial, conformist American society in films like Spartacus, Johnny Got His Gun and The Sandpiper (1965) that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, with a script by Michael Wilson and Dalton Trumbo. As communists, The Ten learned how to write subversively, how to reach mass audiences, and how to make money, too. For all these reasons and more, I chose the alias Robert Rich. I’d choose it again.
For Further Reading:
Ceplair, Larry and Christopher Trumbo. Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical. (2015).
Cook, Bruce, Dalton Trumbo. (1977).
Trumbo, Dalton. Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo. (1970).
Trumbo, Dalton. The Devil in the Book. (1956).
Trumbo, Dalton. The Time of the Road: A Study of the Inquisition in America (1949).
Trumbo, documentary directed by Peter Askin, 2007.