Tuesday, April 30, 2013

St. Helena Post Office Murals, Socialist Realism, the CIA, Charles Krug and the United Farmworkers...

I stopped off at the St. Helena Post Office last night, after hours, to mail bills that I had neglected to mail earlier. The Post Office is open 24/7. A beautiful building, it is one of those awesome edifices that were built during the New Deal. All across the country you can still find the vestiges of beauty of New Deal buildings, the Post Office in Oroville being another, that were built with functionality and aesthetics in mind. Seventy years later, we still get to enjoy them.
Within this Post Office, there are two murals on the wall. The first one, over the office, glorifies the harvest and I think the mural is almost as old as the Post Office (mid 30's). I might be wrong about that though.
The second mural is around the side and depicts Hispanic workers during the grape harvest. I'd say this painting, although in the same style, is from the 1980's. Once again, the farm worker is glorified.

In the 1950's, the CIA actually bankrolled a modern art magazine and did various other activities to fight against "Social Realism" or "Socialist Realism" that depicted heroic scenes of daily life and a sympathetic evocative spirit towards workers and commoners. Mural paintings like the two above were seen as being subversive. And perhaps they are.

Right around the time that the Farmworker mural went up in the Post Office, the United Farmworkers actually signed a contract with one of the biggest and oldest wineries in the Napa Valley: Charles Krug owned by the Peter Mondavi family. Skip forward to 2006 and the Farmworkers no longer held the political power they had during the idealistic 70's. The winery canceled the contract and fired 24 workers. The United Farmworkers called for a boycott of Charles Krug and picketed the facility for months. The bad publicity didn't go over very well in politically correct Napa where every winery has a bank of solar panels and their vineyards are certified organic. In October of 2010, the Mondavi family gave up and negotiated a new UFW contract.  All the fired employees were rehired with full back pay and they were given a decent raise.

The murals stand as a testament to the workers of the Napa Valley (of which I am one). The beautiful murals certainly are more powerful than some paint splotch thrown at a canvas. I'm sorry, but social realism trumps some CIA sponsored modern art abstraction. Only the CIA could give us art that bad. And the good thing is that now I can drink Charles Krug wines without feeling guilty. They make some decent and affordable Cabernet Sauvignons. And they are Union Made. We need more of that.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dan Logue's Homes and the Homeless...

These guys are all so damned entertaining to watch. I'm speaking of the elected Republicans that inhabit Northern California. Better to be entertained by them than to take them seriously. To take them seriously would be real trouble; you'd have to give up your hold of reason, your emotional heart and your ability to handle reality. It'd drive you to strong drink and maybe a hallucinogenic or two. That's how Hunter Thompson would have to handle the likes of Dan Logue or Doug LaMalfa: Good drugs to help salve bad politicians.

The anything-but-Democratic-leaning newspaper, the Appeal-Democrat of Marysville, had an article yesterday entitled: Assemblyman Logue opposes homeless rights bill--that featured Assemblyman Dan Logue doing his usual blustering about the cheesecake life the poor and homeless live. Quoting the paper:

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, said Friday he will not only oppose a bill that allows homeless people to sleep in public, he will fight it.

"My belief is that type of statute should be left up to the cities and not the state," Logue said. "The problem in Sacramento is, it's a one-size-fits-all approach to government."

Context: A San Francisco Assemblyman has come up with a creative bill that gives dignity and respect to the homeless by ensuring that public spaces have bathrooms and opportunities for hygiene needs. To quote the Appeal Democrat again:

"Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 5 was written to provide rights to everyone, regardless of housing status, for accessing public property. It would require the California Department of Public Health to fund the construction of health and hygiene centers for homeless people. In addition, officers would only be able to enforce local ordinances — such as bans on sleeping on park benches — if the municipality was providing enough support to its homeless population."

One measure of our increasingly Anti-Social Society is the lack of public restrooms available to the public. I've walked the streets of San Francisco, in need of relief of the number two kind, and have been unable to find a public restroom. Literally, businesses will not let the public use their restrooms; public parks had their public restrooms closed. I finally found a public park in San Francisco where you had to pay to use the toilet. I kid you not. Not everyone has the ability to pay to take a dump. Especially the homeless.

Ammiano's bill is masterful: it rewards cities that have shelters and services for the homeless. Cities that choose to deal with their homeless problem by using harassment or "bus therapy" will be punished. This is a compassionate bill that helps communities make the humane and compassionate decision when it comes to dealing with the homeless.

Assemblyman Dan Logue ain't that kind of guy. He used to push Nevada as a model state when it comes to taxes, business incentives and frugal government. When Nevada crashed during the recession, Logue decided that Texas was the best state to model California after. But back to Dan Logue's Nevada. I learned tonight by colleagues that Nevada is being sued by a number of states for the comprehensive use of "bus therapy". Bus therapy is when you round up the homeless and mentally ill and literally buy them a bus ticket to another state. That's the Dan Logue way of handling the mentally ill. That's the Rural Republican way of handling the mentally ill. And that's what Dan Logue wants to do in Chico or Oroville or Marysville.

Of course, Dan Logue has no clue what it means to be homeless; he has a plethora of homes. He ran a rather shady real estate business for years and owns several homes in the Marysville area. Last year, when it looked like he would have to run in another Assembly District due to District lines being redrawn, he just changed his address to a house he owns in a gated community in the Foothills. No, Dan won't ever be homeless. He is like that greedy old Potter in  "It's a Wonderful Life"--squashing humane attempts at creating a homeless bill of rights while he sits back in his luxury gated community complaining about how soft the Homeless and Poor folk have it.

He is one puffy prick.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Joni and I hiked down the canyon today. We took a different route and ended up bushwhacking through lots of poison oak. Soon after starting, we noticed a nest in a tree. This nest is only a few hundred yards away from our house--but because we've never hiked down the canyon this way, we'd never seen it before. At first we thought they were Bald Eagles (I know animals aren't supposed to be in the upper case, but I feel that animals should get Capital treatment). Later, we figured out they were Osprey.
We saw four of them. Four sharing a nest? Some might be juveniles, but they looked much too mature to be in this year's batch. They didn't care for our presence (we were with the dogs) so we hightailed it out of there as quickly as possible.
Osprey haven't recovered as well as Bald Eagles in California. The Fish and Wildlife lists them as birds of "special concern". Osprey haven't fared as well due to their migration patterns that take them to Mexico where they have been exposed to pesticides that are illegal in the US. Plus they rely only on fish for their diet: any animal that is dependent upon one food source is much more vulnerable. Think Monarch Butterfly and the milk weed plant (which is rapidly disappearing from the Midwest due to Roundup). Of course, a diet of fish for the Osprey means that they are exposed to more toxins than most other foods. The fish the Osprey are eating in Lake Oroville and the Feather River are not supposed to be consumed by humans more than once a week. For these Osprey, it is all they eat.
I managed to get a few hurried photos on the way down and again on the way back up the canyon.

Friday, April 26, 2013

California Lilacs...

I'm luckier than most: I live with a botanist. Joni has her degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in fresh water ecology. Her knowledge of life in the woods always amazes me. Especially because I can't remember anything. 

Every year Joni teaches me the names of the local flowers. Does it stick with me until the next year? No. For example, the five foot bush below is our California version of wild lilac. They aren't as fragrant as the lilacs I grew up with back in Minnesota. But they are beautiful. Joni tells me she doesn't think they are all that related.

Ceanothus---Joni reminds me. Every year. Next year it will be the same. We will take a walk and I will ask her, in my yearly tradition, what's the name of this flower?

Doug LaMalfa, the Energizer Bunny of the Christian, Fossil Fuel, Radical Right.


Keep tabs on the local Republicans out here in the hinterlands of California and you will soon come to realize that these folks are a few eggs short of a dozen. And in trying to understand the local politicians like Doug LaMalfa and Dan Logue, it will behoove you to figure out if they are just playing to the gallery or are they really that stupid and Neanderthal?

In LaMalfa's case, I really do think he believes most of the venom that he spews. He is as slick as snot on a doorknob. Unlike his predecessor Wally Herger, LaMalfa seems to be intent on actually doing something in Washington in addition to lining his own pockets with cash. He has the energy of a zealot. And he has figured out that constituent service is the way for the most whacky of whacked out Right Wing politicians stay in office. His staff members are answering e-mails regarding letters to the editor before 7 am on Saturdays. That's devotion. (And it also explains why I no longer am included on LaMalfa's twitter feed, Facebook page or his Chief of Staff's Twitter feed).

Everyday LaMalfa is coming out with something awful. Earlier this week he stood in the hallowed floor of the House of Representatives and praised China for their lack of environmental regulations when it comes to burning coal. Even though there is no coal mining going on in our District, and despite the fact that we are amongst the sunniest Districts in the US (Go Solar!), LaMalfa whored himself to the coal interests by standing in support of a Kentucky politician who was calling for relaxing environmental standards when it comes to the production of coal. Shame.

The next day, LaMalfa endorses a local anti Gay Sutter County Supervisor, James Gallagher, as LaMalfa's handpicked successor to State Assemblyman Dan Logue. Brian Gallagher acted surprised when LaMalfa put out his press release. LaMalfa alluded to working with Gallagher on flood control projects. They might have done that, but the only thing they really have worked together on is making sure that our school books don't point out that some very influential people have been Gay or that Gays and Lesbians should not have the right to marry. James Gallagher headed up the effort in Sutter County to pass Prop 8, which banned Gay Marriage in California. In this video, Gallagher and LaMalfa are seen collecting signatures to stop the teaching of Gay History in our public schools. It seems that the contributions of Gays like Gore Vidal, Leonard Bernstein,Walt Whitman and J. Edgar Hoover should remain forever safely hidden in the closet.

The video is obnoxious, but instructive. I don't agree with the amateur videographers "in your face" style--nor do I agree with his Libertarianism---but the video does point out just how extreme LaMalfa and Gallagher are when it comes to the Politics of Sexual Preference.

And now LaMalfa is out trumping up Keystone as a way to energy independence. Doug LaMalfa is quickly making a name for himself amongst the Fossil Fuel lobby. And all of this within just a few days. LaMalfa has become the Energizer Bunny of the Radical Right with all his newsmaking activites from Ammo conspiracies on Fox to Keystone to the endorsement of Gay Bashing Supervisors to praising the merits of Coal. LaMalfa is proving himself to be an embarrassment to California.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Cedar Tree

I have a short loop walk in the woods I take most every day that I am home. The dogs know this walk well and patiently ask, in their doggy ways of asking, to take this walk after I've had my morning coffee. If more people took walks in their local woods every day, I don't think we would ever see someone develop the property they walk through. We'd have a moratorium on development overnight. No one would be able to stand to see their beloved stomping grounds paved over with the implements of civilization.
I've long been an advocate for property rights. Property has rights. So do trees. Rocks. Plants. The things that inhabit a wooded area. This lone cedar tree also has rights. This is a brave tree: I can't find another cedar tree in the vicinity. In fact, I don't know how common these trees are at this elevation. I haven't seen many. I like to think the seed for this tree originated in the poop of a Stellar Jay. Stellar Jays migrate in the winter down to this elevation and the area I walk in is populated by quite a few Stellar Jays. I imagine they've been doing this for thousands of years: escaping the snows up above and wintering in our  neighborhood. Just like the Black Tailed Deer that migrate out of the higher elevations down to our neck of the woods.
I like to think a migrating Stellar Jay planted the seed for this tree.

I've seen bigger cedar trees. This one is a healthy adult. Big enough--but in a few hundred years she will be much bigger. I'm no judge of the age of trees, but I'd guess it must be around 100 years old. Three hundred years from  now, I hope she will still be standing tall and strong here in my beloved wood. 

The tree survived the 2008 fire. She is scorched, blackened, burned for the first thirty feet of the tree.

Here you can get a little indication of the size of the tree, as the dog we call "Little One", our smallest dog, weighs around fifty pounds, stands a few feet from the tree. When I posted a photo of the tree on Facebook, a friend of mine said that trees should have a name. She asked me if I had a name for this tree.

I replied that I'm sure the tree has a name; she just hasn't told me what it is yet.

I regret that this tree will never be able to tell me her name and that I may not get to continue visiting this tree. There are signs of development going on. A new path being widened. Spaces being cleared on the walk that look like they are being marketed as sites to build a home. I found a piece of paper on my walk not too long ago, that had the property lines drawn on it for this area.

Will I still have visiting rights to this tree after the property is subdivided and some hippy dope grower fences the property off and brings in a double wide? I don't know. At this point in my life, I can't imagine not being able to visit this tree. And will the Stellar Jays that brought the seed for this tree from the much higher elevations where this variety of cedar tree is much more common--will those generations of Stellar Jays still have the habitat to visit this grove and this tree? I don't know.

Again, if the person who owns this property walked it everyday like I do, I don't think they'd sell it off in 10 acre sections as part of their inherited wealth's retirement plan. Some things are more important than money. A place to walk, to recreate, to visit my old friend the Cedar Tree, to watch the Stellar Jays scramble and cackle at me---how much are those things worth?

Better to be poor in retirement than to be deprived of a beloved tree and the flora and fauna that surrounds her.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shifty Work...

I've had a slothful approach to exercise over the last couple of years. I just haven't felt like getting out there and working out or taking a major hike.

 I've noticed over the course of my career, where I have changed shifts often, that it takes a year or two to get used to the time change/body clock of a new shift. Of course, I never got used to working nights--and I hope to never, ever have to do that shift again. There is something painful about staying up all night; especially those awful hours between 4 am and 6 am where your whole body hurts and sleep is the only thing you can think about. Talk to a night shift worker and within a couple of minutes they will tell you: 1. how many hours they slept that day; and 2. what drugs/techniques they use to initiate sleep when the sun is blazing outside. They will tell you about black out shades, eye coverings and what combination of Benadryl, Restoril, Ambien, Valerian root, cannabis, Lunesta or Melatonin they take in order to get a few hours of sleep. And it gets worse.  When you've worked a night shift and the sun comes up, your body's rhythmic clock wakes up with the sun and sleep becomes impossible. Sunlight wakes you up no matter how tired you are. At least for me: I never slept when I worked the night shift.

And I am always thankful to go to bed when it is dark outside. If you've never worked the night shift, you won't understand how this feels. So, I challenge you to stay up all night for a week and try to sleep during the day. You will become exhausted and depressed in a hurry.

 Always say "thank you" to any public servant (nurse, police officer, 911 operator, Denny's short order cook) who puts their health and sanity at risk by working the night shift. Women who work the night shift get breast cancer more than women who work normal shifts.

Back to shift changes.

I notice that  every time I change a shift, it takes forever to get used to it. When I moved from swing shift to day shift,  it took years to get used to that. And this time I moved from the day shift to a semi-swing shift (I start at 1 pm) and it has also taken me a couple of years to get used to the change. The first time I noticed this was when I changed from a swing shift, after having worked it for five years, to taking a day job. I didn't feel rested for over a year. I was always tired.

Which is why today is so important: I got up and took a hike with some friends. And it has been almost two years of working this semi-swing shift before I actually accomplished that goal. 52 years old and 30 years of working odd shifts and I finally figure this out!

Only a person who has worked various shifts can understand how it feels to change shifts. I don't think many of us do that gracefully. And I've read the studies about the quickest way to make an employee sick and depressed is to vary their shifts often. Changing shifts is hard on a body; it is especially hard over age 50.

So here's to actually having managed to get a hike in before work. I'm amazed it took me this long to figure out the problem.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Compliments from Jaime O'Neill and the Bulletin Board

Our local convenience store, lovingly called "the Domestore", is a bastion of hillbilly weirdness not seen this side of Appalachia. It is a grimy place filled with those who live out where not many people can find them. As such, they tend to be a bit "different" in their politics.

This Domestore has a bulletin board where you can find wood, or a person to do chores for you. Joni told me that someone had posted an Agenda 21 flyer there. When I dropped by there this morning, sure enough, there was the paranoid flyer. I posted my Agenda 21 article to add balance to the board.

Jaime O'Neill, who happens to be one of the best writers in California, writes a column for the small town paper of Paradise. Paradise is lucky to have him write for them because Jaime's work has graced Newsweek, the SF Chronicle, the Sac Bee, the High Country News, 60 Minutes and, of course, the Chico News and Review. Over the last month, Jaime and I have been tag teaming Guest Comments and Features in the Chico News and Review. I'm lucky to be in such good company.

Today Jaime wrote a column in the Paradise Post that was quite friendly to me. As I said on Facebook, it felt a bit like Harmon Killebrew complimenting you for your hitting. When we first moved to Concow, I noticed Jaime's writing right away. You can't help but notice his writing: it is that good. He has an easy style with dramatic imagery and, somehow, manages to be high brow and proletarian at the same time. Anyway, you can read Jaime's column here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Supervisor Bill Connelly, Agenda 21 and Tea Party Armed Revolution...

It is wildflower time in the Foothills. Warm temperatures and wildflowers make for wonderful walks with dogs and spouses. It reminds me why we live out here in the country. Rural America does seem to be getting a bit weird though.

Agenda 21. It just keeps coming up from the paranoids around here who are willing to blame almost everything on the United Nations. The Chico ER had a letter writer doing it again today, this time stating that Democrats and Tea Partiers are united against Agenda 21.

And then my county supervisor, Bill Connelly, sent out an inflammatory e-mail against the "fire tax". California spends vast amounts of money on Calfire, which is essentially the fire department for rural counties. The state government spends millions on fire protection for wildland areas, so last year the Democrats in the state government imposed a rural fee on properties that are in the wildfire zone. It costs about $100 a year. I think it is a reasonable fee given that we have built a whole lot of homes in wildfire areas where they probably shouldn't have been built in the first place.

Well, this fee doesn't sit well with many rural residents. And they are outraged about it. Rural residents are outraged about many things, including the feared loss of Second Amendment rights. The Paradise Tea Party on Tuesday got their town council to vote in favor of the Second Amendment (whatever that means). Rural people are worried. They hate the new fire tax and they are worried about the big bad Government stepping in and taking their firearms away.

Bill Connelly, combines both outrage at the fire tax with a spooky veiled reference to firearms, in an e-mail he sent to his constituents today. It reads:

Senator Jim Nielsen will be hosting the Paradise Ridge Fire Tax Town Hall April 30, 2013 at the DeSabla Fire Hall located at 15264 Skyway Magalia, California from 6:00 - 8:00 P.M. This is a call to arms. Please attend and voice your opinion.
Frankly, I think stirring up this sort of anti-tax frenzy with a "call to arms" (the bold type was in the original) is a dangerous thing to do amongst many of these unhinged people.
Let us also remember a letter to the editor in the Paradise paper two weeks ago, written by a former mayor of Paradise and the chair of the Paradise Tea Party, that contemplated using arms against our government. You can read that treasonous and psychotic letter here. These Tea Party people are getting a bit spooky.


Coyotes, Agenda 21 and Doug LaMalfa

And then it was April.

Things have been busy here in northern California. Both personally and professionally. The piece I wrote on the Coyote Hunt in Adin did very well. It raised quite a ruckus and the reaction was both friendly and hostile. On line, the thing got almost 800 "likes". There were multiple letters to the editor that both complemented and vilified the piece. Bob Speer, the soon to be retired editor of the Chico News and Review, and a very experienced and talented editor who always makes me look good (even if he tames down my style a bit),  had some nice things to say about the article. And I did get a mention in the San Francisco Chronicle by Peter Fimrite (who has done excellent work on the coyote issue).

Having pissed off multiple hunting groups and ranchers, I moved on to taking on our new Congressman. Once again, I waded in where others didn't want to go and caught Doug LaMalfa stating some incredibly stupid, conspiratorial things. The piece I wrote ran as a Guest Comment last week in the Chico News and Review. This one didn't quite foster the response that the coyote piece did. But Bruce Ross, the editor of the better than average Redding paper, did report on it in his blog. Doug LaMalfa did comment on the thing by way of his highly unethical Chief of Staff, Mark Spannagel. Essentially, they try to bury the statements in tedious detail (but they didn't deny it). This all made me think of that famous quote by Claud Cockburn (himself a former Commie journalist) that: "never believe anything until it has officially been denied".

I received quite a bit of criticism regarding the coyote piece. That didn't really matter because I felt for weeks after writing the thing that I had thousands of coyotes looking over my shoulder, giving their approval. I felt like I had done something right and good and important.

And the LaMalfa comment didn't garner as much attention as I had hoped. One letter to the editor (but a good one). No other outlet picked up the bizarre statements by LaMalfa. I had hoped that the Chico ER would follow up on it; nope. A conspiracy of silence. Oh well, give him time. Watching LaMalfa is good political theatre. I intend to keep an eye on the guy.