Off the Record (Nov. 29, 2017)
by AVA News Service, November 29, 2017
OF ALL the terrifying (and depressing) stories to emerge from the Great Fires, this passage from the Press Democrat describing the care home rescue at Oakmont struck me as the most horrifying: "Lenghals and Kathy Allen were left alone to evacuate approximately 24 seniors remaining at the facility, including 14 in the dementia care unit, according to the suit. When they found the front door of the facility locked, Lenghals used the car hitch on her vehicle to break into the front door and prop it open, the lawsuit said."
TO FINISH out your days in a locked "dementia care unit" can't be anybody's idea of a happy ending. I hadn't known there was such a thing as a locked dementia care unit. What kind of life can that be? And Oakmont is a high end facility, too. Imagining the "care" the less prosperous elderly demented get. I read somewhere that the socialist hell of Norway institutionalizes less than half its elderly demented. Most are kept at home with services rendered in the home, not an institutional setting. (In this country we elect the demented president.)
MY EXPERIENCE with a demented elder, my mother, whose care was rotated among family members was, ah, unpleasant often enough, but nothing she did prompted us to even consider a so-called nursing home. And in between bouts of paranoia and denunciations of various relatives, with much of the criticism entirely warranted, she was content to gaze out the window, pore over her earthquake maps — she looked forward to watching the Big One on television — the televised news, to which she provided running commentary heavy on contempt. Crippling arthritis made it difficult for her to move without pain, but she was occasionally able to hobble out to the car for rides to points of interest. There were episodes of pure paranoia and nights when she would wander the house shrieking threats, but these were infrequent. She was often quite funny. One afternoon we were watching the Chuckle Buddies read the news when a segment about two women marrying appeared. "Quick, Bruce! Turn that off!" I was half out of my chair when she said, "Oh, never mind. It's probably a good thing homely people find each other." One day I took her to a neurologist, a young woman specializing in gerontology where the doctor asked, "When's the last time you saw a doctor, Mrs. Anderson?" "I've never seen a doctor!" Mom barked, "Why do you think I'm still alive?" The old girl worked most of her days as a registered nurse and had a very low opinion of the medical profession. "Don't tell me about doctors," she'd say at the mere mention of them. "They're all drug addicts and drunks." Which a number of them certainly were in the fifties when there was unimpeded access to the pills. She rightly blamed doctors for keeping nurse pay so low for much of her working life. "Hell yes, I'm for unions," she'd say. "The same week we finally got a nurse’s union my pay went from $300 a month to $600. Those bastards kept us down for years."
FINAL OFFICIAL RESULTS, were released last week. No surprises. Measure B passed with 83.5% of the nearly 19,000 votes cast.
A FRIEND WRITES: "Did hear an interesting tidbit the other day from my old friend who lives near Willits. He has a part-time local helper (one of the many to cobble together half a dozen low-wage jobs to keep food on the table and the lights on) who has a friend who works at Wal-Mart in Ukiah. His supervisor told him recently that he would be fired if he even applied to Costco (with its living wage and great benefits). This sort of thing isn't as illegal as it should be, in my humble opinion, but there you have it. He's understandably worried about losing his job. But thought it might be a good future thought as Costco takes shape."
THE 1973 WILLITS GANG RAPE and murder of 18-year-old Barbara Stroud is beyond sad. The only daughter of a Willits couple, the Willits police and Mendo sheriffs knew within days who the scumdogs were who did it. Unfortunately for justice, the Sheriff's Department deployed, of all things, sodium pentothal, or "truth serum," to help elicit the confession of Phillip Wood, who gave up the identities of his fellow creeps. Confessions obtained under the influence of truth serum had been disallowed, and the case against Wood and his co-defendants was thrown out, and that's where it all stood and still stands, despite latter day efforts by the Sheriff's Department to re-test clothing for dna using the latest identifying techniques. The guilty included Wood; Larry Eldon Phillips; Milton Leroy Phillips; Harold 'Puff' Harrington; Randy Russell Rowan; Dennis Lee Weeks. Most, if not all these sub-men are dead. They moved out of state after their crime and, from what we know of them, continued to live lives of dedicated scumbaggery. The Sheriff told me recently detectives thought they were close to a deathbed confession from Harrington but he died with no signs of contrition, let alone confession.
THE WILLITS NEWS is gone. Well, not all the way gone but there is no longer a Willits News office in Willits. The paper's remaining staffers now produce the venerable north county publication out of the Ukiah Daily Journal's headquarters on South State Street, Ukiah.
DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA, commonly referred to by its doomed employees as "Dumb F@@k Media," owns what's left of The Willits News, the combined happy news Coast papers in the Beacon-Advocate and, their Mendocino County mothership, the Ukiah Daily Journal. Next stop for Digital First? Mumbai.
A TRUE CRIME associated with the demise of The Willits News is the refusal by the County Museum to accept the paper's old negatives and related items of historical value on the grounds that the Museum has no curator. So what? It does have lots of storage space, and newspaper archives, one would think, are crucial to the history of Mendocino County, albeit a county where history starts all over again every day. One would think someone in the County would be alert enough to ensure The Willits News archive was not lost.
CHARLIE ROSE, JOURNALIST? Please. This pathetic old fraud is a journalist in no known sense of the term. An army of staffers prepare his cretinous copy and he reads it. And he interviews celebrities. I’ve always suspected he might be Barbara Walters. Put alongside the truly brave reporters who write from the world’s combat zones, it’s insulting to describe people like Rose as “journalist.” BTW, because some old fool grabs your ass thirty years ago, that particular unpleasantness isn't exactly "male terrorism," as I heard one hysteric describe a recent harassment revelation. There are millions of women in the world, and everywhere in this deteriorated country, who endure far worse. And none of these famous male creeps would have been outed if Hillary had been elected. Trump has done three great services to America — he's destroyed both political parties, and he has triggered revelations (to the naive) that powerful men tend to behave like powerless men — badly.
THE MENTAL HEALTH ADVISORY BOARD will see each supervisor appoint one person from his or her district to join the mental health pros on the advisory board. According to Supervisor McCowen, "We will have an agenda item 12/5 to discuss the appointment process. I think we will approve asking applicants to fill out the standard application form. It will then be up to each Supervisor to select a member who, if the Board approves, will be presented for formal appointment by the full Board."
A BETTER oversight committee might consist simply of a couple of retired accountants and one person who is an adherent of Dr. Peter Breggin. Mental Health spending in this county badly needs looking after, and mental health practices? Well, look who's out there on the streets. Millions annually for what result?
UNTIL you drive around Mendocino County you can't understand how vast the county is. At least once a year I like to make a day trip from Boonville to Covelo, north on the Mina Road to Alderpoint, then west to Garberville, with stops at Kettenpom and, until it closed, the old store in Xenia. The Mina Road is a kind of alternate route for 101, which it parallels, and off which the dirt roads running in all directions could be your last mistake if you drive up or down one for a look around. Beautiful country, lots of bad hombres, and the women who love them (sic). People wanted by the law could hide out there unmolested the rest of their days. After the famous Covelo shootings of April, 1995 involving Bear Lincoln, and the deaths of deputy Bob Davis and Leonard 'Acorn' Peters, ignited by the earlier shooting death of Gene Britton, people close to Lincoln have told me that he eluded the massive police hunt for him on horseback, galloping out the Mina Road, and on into the maze of back roads where he was hidden by "hippies."
Farther back, and a little east of the Mina Road, George White, the nationally infamous "King of Round Valley," had his gunmen murder rival ranchers and random persons bold enough to be willing to testify against him for murdering his wife and attempting to murder another wife. A fascinating character called "Wylacki John" was White's chief gunsel. A white man raised by Indians, Wylacki John was fluent in the regional dialects. And there was a black community in Covelo, circa 1870. One of White's thugs was a black cowboy. A drive out the Mina Road on a clear Fall day and this is the reverie that might accompany you.
IT'S STILL the rural custom in Humboldt and Trinity counties to vandalize vehicles left by the roadside more than a day or two. Used to happen around the Anderson Valley but the hipnecks — products of marriages, or no fault couplings, between hippies and rednecks — who did it grew up, or at least got older and less energetic.
A WILLITS GUY calling himself “Lazarus” commented on the demise of The Willits News:
"The Willits News situation is unfortunate for several reasons. The over a hundred year old publication was sold in the early 90’s by a local cabal of big shots who built it up just enough to off it to the highest bidder. Local offers were submitted but none were acceptable. So the paper sold to a nationwide corporate owner, Mead Publications. They eventually stripped it down and sold it again to Dean Singleton, a nationwide owner. It should be noted he owned the Coast papers, the UDJ and the Lake County pubs. Singleton got sick and Media News took over. They changed the name several times but in essence the players were and are the same.
Then several years ago two former Willits News employees bolted and started the Willits Weekly. Four years ago TWN’s Publisher retired, from there it was pretty much downhill… The new editor was law and order with little emphasis on local color, which by the way is the WW’s strength.
It seems to have a come down to the bottom-line, like everything ultimately does. They quietly gave notice, sold or gave away the furnishing, dumped the history and moved to Ukiah….
As a local I hope the WW is up to it, they have no office, I have no idea about who gets paid, and what their ultimate goal is. One of the owners is older, and the other is a silver spooner, something goes wrong and they could be gone too.
RIP The Willits News, just another empty, gutted building in Willits that was once a vibrant work place…”
JENNIFER POOLE RESPONDS:
Lazarus’s comment is mostly wrong — no surprise there; remember, the “word on the street” was that Measure B would fail? But the most important point: Yes, the multiple corporate chains that owned the Willits News after the locals sold it could sort of be described as “the same,” although ownership was different, so not really, but “Digital First Media” is a different animal entirely.
All those other chains had corporate ownerships that were in the business of producing newspapers. Digital First Media’s owner is Alden Global Hedge Fund, and they are not a newspaper company. Hedge funds buy distressed properties and, depending on your point of view, 1. “turn them around,” or 2. Strip all the value out of them for short-term Wall-Street level profits and toss the empty husks aside.
Alden’s been stripping the value out of the Media News Group papers. For one thing, selling off the real estate nationwide — do readers understand that Digital First boasts of owning 800+ “multi-platform products” across the country? In Mendocino County, the Ukiah and Fort Bragg office buildings were sold in 2016.
The company has also been decreeing newsroom and business layoffs at a much higher rate than other corporate newspaper chains, and has a policy of “consolidation,” which means a couple of things. One: consolidating reporter duties — only one reporter covering, say, the county government, for all the papers in a region, not one reporter from each newspaper covering the county. The Digital First papers are also reprinting more and more regional news and feature stories — and producing fewer unique local stories in the local papers. Anybody who reads the local papers knows this is true.
Two: consolidating newspaper offices and consolidating actual newspapers. In spring 2016 Digital First consolidated the Oakland Tribune into a new newspaper called the East Bay Times, along with the Contra Costa Times, the Daily Review in Hayward, and the Argus in Fremont. According to the SF Chronicle story on the closing of the Oakland Tribune, “subscribers in Oakland, Hayward and Fremont will receive news inserts bearing the old local dailies’ names each Friday.” They did the same with the San Jose Mercury News that spring: Changed the name to the “Mercury News” and consolidated it with the San Mateo County Times.
We at Willits Weekly have been expecting Digital First to consolidate the Willits News with the Ukiah Daily Journal for a long time now. An argument could be made that it was the existence of Willits Weekly that actually kept the rented Willits office open longer in hopes of making a turnaround. Although there has been no formal announcement yet, a staffer on Facebook has said the Willits News will continue to be produced as a separate publication, but my bet is we’ll see “news inserts bearing the old Willits News’ name each Friday” in the Ukiah Daily Journal sooner than later.
As far as the personal stuff in Lazarus’ comment, most of that is wrong, too. I will plead guilty to being “old,” yes, although I’m not that close to retirement age, but there’s not a “silver spooner” among us if that means somebody born to wealth that’s always had everything done for him — just hard workers who are committed to the community.
Part of the collateral damage of the way Digital First runs its community newspapers is a speeded-up revolving door of reporters who come in to the community from elsewhere, looking for a few clips before moving on. That’s always been a venerable newspaper tradition for rookies, but at the local Digital First papers in recent years, the newcomers aren’t put on rookie beats, but are put into positions of responsibility where they have been known to publish stories full of embarrassing errors. Mostly, in recent years, the Willits News reporters haven’t even lasted a year.
Willits Weekly pays all our freelance reporters, feature writers and photographers, thanks to the businesses — mostly but not entirely in Willits — who have been supporting the paper with the advertising revenue that pays the bills. We pay considerably more per hour than we ever earned at the Willits News or Ukiah Daily Journal, although we do not have fulltime workers: all of our freelancers have other gigs or jobs. Former employees of the Willits News have estimated (I can’t vouch for this) that the newspaper sent $250,000 to $300,000 in profits outtahere every year to the corporate owners while newspapers were still thriving. Long before Willits Weekly started in May 2013, the Willits News had already lost many of its local advertisers — rates were too high, and the readership of the paper was declining due to poor decisions made locally and by the parent company.
Willits Weekly doesn’t expect to ever make anything even close to that much profit, but we can reasonably expect to operate like any other successful, small-town business with owners who work hard and that provides a needed and appreciated service. Fingers crossed!
Digital First / Alden has been getting quite a lot of attention in the liberal/lefty press lately. There’s a “Digital First Media Workers” page and an “AldenExposed” page on Facebook, both run by the Newspaper Guild union — some of the newspapers are union shops — which is a good place to keep up. Here’s the September 17 story on Alden in The Nation: “How Many Palm Beach Mansions Does a Wall Street Tycoon Need? As many as destroying America’s hometown newspapers can buy him.” The answer? 16 Palm Beach mansions. At least the day the story went to press….
And for those who think, well, of course, newspapers are dying, that’s why this company has to take these extreme cost-cutting measures, as this October 23story in The Street about Digital First CEO Steve Rossi stepping down reports, Digital First “maintains the most strict budgeting regimen in the industry,” leading to “profit margins top[ping] 25% in numerous markets.”
One more link: an interesting story in Forbes magazine from December 2015, “Paper Lions: Why Hyperlocal Newsweeklies Are Making A Quiet Comeback”
— Jennifer Poole, editor, Willits Weekly
LEST WE FORGET, Mendocino County's two most egregious cases of sexual harassment were committed by prominent local liberals. Long-time judge at Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg, Jonathan Lehan, repeatedly exposed himself to a female staffer.
When she complained she suffered an inconvenient job transfer. The infinitely indulgent Commission On Judicial Ethics found against Lehan but not strongly enough to remove him from the bench. The late judge Ron Brown, probably with the connivance of the rest of the county's black robes, moved Lehan temporarily to Ukiah. But, in the county where history begins all over again every morning, Lehan was soon back at his Fort Bragg post, neither he nor the public none the wiser.
LUKE BREIT, an occasional resident of Albion, and long-time aide to various Northcoast solons, harassed a female state worker — a married woman — so severely she left her job. She sued the state and won a large settlement funded, natch, by the taxpayers.
I ASKED ELEANOR COONEY what she thought of the recent sex scandals, adding this dated anecdote: I'm probably wrong, but this kind of thing didn't seem as prevalent in my youth, not that anyone did any surveys or even talked about it. My mother, a registered nurse, said she got "pinched" a lot, but seemed to assume it as a given of the female experience. She often told a story about John Wayne when he checked into the Marin General Hospital to rest after making an epic called China Camp near San Rafael. "Now there was a real man," she said. "And a perfect gentleman," looking pointedly at my deficient (in her eyes) father. My daughter says she's received her share of verbal unpleasantness but nothing beyond that. She also said that when she lived in the Castro gay men would hiss mean stuff at her on the street. She said her friends had the same experience, which was a revelation to me. Nothing surprises me anymore, and in a sexually obsessed culture like ours everyone seems to be enjoying the scandals. I am, certainly, although I was sorry to see Kevin Spacey fall. I liked him in House of Cards.
Is there more of this stuff than there used to be? Possibly. The "sexual revolution" of the sixties turned all of us loose, and this could be the flip side. On the other hand, sexual abuse back in the "good old days" was way more tightly contained, and victims had just about zero recourse. Peel back the Norman Rockwell veneer, and all kinds of abominations doubtless festered beneath. Pornography's always been around, of course (wasn't FANNY HILL published in, like, 1748?), and in the late 1800s and early 1900s Anthony Comstock made it his business to try to stamp it out (the ultimate futility), but of course nowadays the world of hyper-smut is only a click away. It would be naive to declare that this has no influence. The porn of today is to the porn of yesteryear as an AK-47 assault rifle is to a flintlock...
But this whole "sex scandal" biz is getting out of hand. If ever there was a situation that called for nuanced thinking, this is it. And we're failing. We're at a point now where Al Franken pretending to grope whatsername's titties through a Kevlar vest is the equivalent, in the quasi-hysterical public mind, of Bill Cosby drugging and raping or Roy Moore trying to force an underage girl to give him a blowjob in a car. A hand on the knee is not the same thing at all as a hand on the crotch. It just isn't. And now, of course, stupid ugly rankly hypocritical politics has poked its opportunistic snout into the mess…with President Pussygrabber himself waving the baton.
I, too, mourn the loss of Kevin Spacey. What an actor. First became aware of him in "The Usual Suspects," and totally dug him. Remember the moment in "House of Cards" where he sets up his drunk friend in a faked suicide in the garage? I swear, Spacey sucked his eyes back into his head a fraction of a centimeter, making his sockets two sinister caves… What an actor.
FROM the Press Democrat accounts of the Pixar Perv: "These included statements that Lasseter [the Pixar magnate] was known for ‘grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes’' in situations that were not always purely social, as at parties." Huh? Like it’s ok at parties?
THE GRASSY KNOLL, an update. I was about a third of the way through, "JFK and the Unspeakable — Why He Died and Why It Matters” by James W. Douglass when I recommended it. The book was recommended to me by Jeff Blankfort who got his recommendation on the book from Ray McGovern, former CIA man become lefty become author. I was sorry to have missed Blankfort’s KZYX interview with Douglass. I am now here to modify my recommendation, and without citing chapter and verse am also here to say I still recommend the book as consistently interesting, but I think a lot of Douglass’s assertions, that there was an earlier Chicago-based conspiracy to murder Kennedy for instance, are single sourced by people who don’t seem totally credible. I’m also not convinced that Kennedy was not a fully committed Cold Warrior, albeit a much more flexible one than the other crackpot realists then driving American foreign policy. If Oswald was, as he claimed before he was gunned down by the Mafia-affiliated Jack Ruby, simply a “patsy,” he had to have been the all-time naive patsy. “OK, Lee, we’re gonna get you a job at the Book Depository. Now that you’re there we want you up on the 6th Floor with your mail order rifle, the one with the scope on it, and when Kennedy’s motorcade comes around the corner you pretend to shoot at him while the two other guys shoot from the front. We’ll get you outta there, no prob.” Oswald may have been the patsy he said he was, but had he lived he would have had a lot of ’splaining to do to exempt himself from sole responsibility. I think he was definitely a shooter, if not the shooter, but I also think Douglass makes a strong case that there was some kind of conspiracy to kill Kennedy and that Oswald was employed by the American government at least as an FBI informant. How all the moving parts to the conspiracy moved, and at whose behest they moved is not known.
SHERIFF SHEA, as recalled by the PD: "His department was marked with greater controversy in later years, including a 1985 botched drug raid where deputies targeted the wrong house for a major marijuana smuggling operation, and a 1987 incident where a deputy used a youth as a human shield to fend off an angry mob. Shea retired after two terms, citing accomplishments such as a countywide narcotics task force and an anti-marijuana program “that’s the political envy of the state.”
THAT BOTCHED RAID made Point Arena's Billy Hay a millionaire. Not that the Hay family didn't earn it, what with being bullied, insulted, and physically mistreated for a number of hours until the macho masterminds figured out they were on the wrong property.
A DEPUTY fending off "an angry mob" with "a youth as a human shield" seems to have escaped our eagle-eyed vigilance, but has certainly piqued our interest. We're going to research that one and report back.
THE FOLLOWING is all we could find, but if an “angry mob” was involved that mob was not mentioned in any account we could find. (Mr. Dorner, Mr. George Dorner. White courtesy telephone, please.) We did find this paragraph from the AVA, of April 20, 2016:
SHERIFF'S DEPUTY CRAIG KEISER has died from a fast-moving cancer. Keiser enjoyed a long and unblemished career with the Mendocino County department save for a bizarre episode in Covelo when he was a rookie cop. He'd stopped two young men with whom he was soon engaged in a vicious, post-stop fight. Matt Dalson, then 17 years old, was arrested and charged with attempted murder because it was determined he'd knifed Keiser. Dalson was acquitted by a jury after it learned that the deputy was drunk when he encountered Dalson. Dalson had claimed self-defense. A Willits emergency room doctor testified that Dalson had suffered the worst injuries he'd seen from a beating. This all happened when Tim Shea was Sheriff and unwitting rookie deputies from SoCal were being assigned to Round Valley.
(AVA, July 2, 2014) — Ukiah’s venerable Water Trough bar at the south end of State Street, bartended and babysat for the last quarter century by the affable Larry Mayfield, will close in September. We’re pretty sure it’s the oldest bar in the County under one owner, Ted Schamber, who, until a few months ago, pulled a shift or two behind the plank himself until he got too old to report for active duty. There’s a couple of old bars in Fort Bragg, maybe one legitimately old one in Willits, but the Trough pre-dates World War Two, as does Mr. Schamber, who has seen it all and then some. Patrona, the upscale eating place on the north end of the County Courthouse in Ukiah, has bought Schamber’s liquor license, not that you’re likely to see anybody at Patrona ordering up a shot and a beer. And then another one. And a third. Then just the shot. And what the hell, Larry, let’s make a night of it. My, my. If the Trough’s walls could talk we’d have the true history of Mendocino County just for the listening.
TROUGH FIRE, Bruce McEwen Writes: The outbuilding at the Trough that burned the other night was used to store left-over stuff from the parking lot yard sales that used to go on at the Trough. Many regulars would bring stuff to sell and set up tables in the Trough's big parking lot. When it was over, the stuff went in the storage shed. It was back in the southwest corner of the property, next to that old rundown place where your brother once lived when Robert Mailer was a kid, and there were some boards in the fence that could be taken out and a kid could get in and access a secluded little hidey-hole behind the shed -- to smoke meth and other things back there. It would be my considered opinion that this was the cause of the fire, as there would be no good reason to torch the place for insurance money or anything like that. And it was far enough away from any other buildings that the fire dept. could let it burn down w/out much danger of it spreading. The most significant loss would have been some long folding tables and chairs used for Roger's Famous Barbecues at the Trough in the Good Old Days. The wood pile for the fireplace inside the Trough was close to the shed, but all that cord wood would have been long gone by now, so only bark and wood-pile debris would have been left as fire hazards.
RONNIE JAMES, the Mendo Coast's go-to animal lady, asked people for their fave recipes for keeping mice out of their car engines, a question I've asked myself after seeing the damage they did to a friend's truck, a truck often driven: "Thanks for all the anti-rodent suggestions," Ms. James writes, "here's the list: peppermint oil on cotton wads or spray, lavender, Bounce dryer sheets, moth balls, and something called Rodent Sheriff, FreshCab, sonic buzzers, and simply leaving the hood up. Peppermint oil was the most frequently mentioned..."
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE WEEK: Opening weekend of the “gun” part of deer hunting season here is very informative. You see actual men and cartoon men.
Actual men: rusty old truck, well-worn but well-cared-for rifle or shotgun that may have belonged to dad, mismatched but carefully chosen clothing, a mix of blaze orange, surplus, and a bit of hunter-type camo. Stanley thermos with some coffee and a lot of scratches. Quiet, joking a bit, downplaying any venison they’ve culled.
Cartoon men: giant lifted new truck with tons of stickers for products + Salt Life stupid sticker, $2000 rifle with $1000 scope, treebark-pattern camos just gotten from Cabela’s. Yeti cooler with all the matching goodies. Full of loud stories that are all fake.
You cannot buy maleness. But a lot of men try. FWIW, with high winds the deer were nowhere to be seen, but I enjoyed some time sitting alone in a tree.