History


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The president isn’t just two-faced (Huffington Post graphic).

 You may recall the violence when white nationalists including the Ku Klux Klan held a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, NC, in 2017.  They were protesting the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.  As The New York Times then reported, “Groups such as the Neo-Nazi movement and the KKK have felt emboldened since the election of Donald J. Trump as president.” 

David Duke, former imperial wizard of the KKK, told the rally they were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump to take back our country.”  However, a peaceful counter-demonstration then followed, and this prompted one of the white nationalists, James Alex Fields, 20, of Ohio, to speed his car into the group, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 34 others.

Fields was quickly charged with second-degree murder and three counts of malicious wounding, but Trump refused to publicly criticize the white nationalist and instead falsely claimed there had been “violence on many sides.” In fact, Trump often amazes us by sticking up for disreputable public figures, such as Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, whom he says is “smart” and whom he credits with having “done an amazing job.” The result can make for some strange alliances.

From within Russia, US citizen Rinaldo Nazzaro runs an American Neo-Nazi group. He “left New York for St. Petersburg less than two years ago,” the British Broadcasting Company reported on Jan. 24.

“The American founder of a US-based, militant Neo-Nazi group, The Base, is directing the organization from Russia, a BBC investigation has found…. The Base is a major counter-terrorism focus for the FBI. Seven alleged members were charged this month with various offenses, including conspiracy to commit murder.

“Court documents prepared by the FBI describe The Base as a ‘racially motivated violent extremist group’ that ‘seeks to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethnographies-state,'” the BBC added.

Perhaps Putin’s hosting one of our domestic terrorists is yet another international “favor” our president wants.

First Lady Melania Trump previously modeled for the British ‘Gentleman’s Quarterly’ magazine. Obviously Trump considers her “hot” since he has made a point of prizing “hot” women. Two decades ago, he went so far as to openly promote his teenaged daughter’s sexiness.

In 1997 when his daughter Ivanka was 16, she hosted the Miss Teen USA pageant, and while she was on-stage, Trump turned to the then-Miss Universe and asked, “Don’t you think my daughter’s hot? She’s hot, right?” 

Never before in this country’s history has there been such a bizarre administration, and hopefully there’ll never be another. 

Candidate Bill Bailey (at far right) listening to jazz in Sausalito’s No Name Bar last Friday.

Thankfully, American politics on the local level are generally more traditional and draw more reasonable candidates, at least in this county. In West Marin, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni is currently running for reelection against challenger Alex Easton Brown. In Southern Marin, the Board of Supervisors seat is open, and Bill Bailey is one of the candidates for it. He’s a technical engineer running on a platform of fiscal reform.

Bailey frequently shows up for the Friday jazz performances at the No Name, just as I do. I’m not familiar with his campaign, but I’ve come to recognize him. Even when he’s squinting into my camera’s flash, his low-key, movie-star looks are unmistakeable.

Joining Lynn and me and our homeless friend Billy Hobbs at the No Name Friday was another friend, Guido Hennig of Switzerland, an engineer who visits San Francisco annually for business conferences. Given our nation’s political turmoil, I asked him about Europe’s impression of Trump and was told that it’s generally not very good. No surprise there.

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Artist Billy Hobbs (left) and yours truly on the deck of Mitchell cabin. Billy was homeless for more than five years after his 25-year marriage broke up. For a year he spent his days sketching outside the Point Reyes Station Postoffice, which is where I met him. He had been sleeping outdoors when cold, wet weather set in. This prompted my wife Lynn and me a month ago to invite him to stay with us until the weather clears.

Billy is an intriguing artist, so this week I’m posting a small sampling of his drawings.

The Sacred Tree is Not Dead depicts the chief of the Northern Cheyenne, White Antelope, before he was killed by a U.S. cavalry charge despite having been assured he’d be left alone if he flew an American flag on his tepee.

Lao Tzu, a Sixth Century BC Chinese philosopher. Billy calls Lao Tzu one of his favorite philosophers because of his emphasis on slowing down to smell the roses.

How It Really Went Down. Making his last stand on June 25, 1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer runs out of bullets and is killed, along with all 200 of his men.

Holding Up a Skull and looking through it was inspired by artist Georgia O’Keefe. 

A Pretty Woman. Billy hasn’t quite finished this drawing, but she’s still haunting.

Donald Trump, one of Billy’s rare political drawings. The president bends over to perform another scene from reality TV.

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On a normal evening, this is how Mitchell cabin’s sitting area, dining area, and kitchen look. A journalism student once described the scene as a collection of “mismatched furniture.”

But for three evenings this week, here is how it looked as seen from the other end of the room (thanks to an oil lamp and 11 candles) as a result of PG&E’s turning off power to West Marin, along with many other communities. It was a precaution against high winds that might knock down power lines and spark wildfires in this dry weather.

Although most of West Marin was spared unusually high winds, the blackout cost Mitchell cabin not only its lights but also its water pressure. During the blackout, water coming from our faucets was barely more than a trickle. The cabin’s elevation is close to that of the North Marin Water District tanks on Tank Road in Point Reyes Station. As a result, gravity alone doesn’t provide much of a flow in our household water system, so we rely on an electric pressure pump to have strong streams of water in faucets, hoses, and in the shower.

Nor were showers much of an option during the blackout for any townsperson with an electric hot water heater. With the power back, I finally got to take a shower this morning. If the blackout had gone on for too many more days, Point Reyes Station might have developed a stinky population.

As I write at 6 p.m. Wednesday, power is still off in parts of Dillon Beach, Fairfax, Kentfield, Marshall, Mill Valley, Muir Beach, San Anselmo, Sausalito, Stinson Beach, and Tomales, the Marin Sheriff’s Office has reported. Better wear a face mask when you visit folks there.

But even before the blackout began life here was seeming strange. I looked up from my living-room chair a few evenings ago and was startled to see this damsel outside peering in the window.

Once I thought about it, however, the explanation was obvious. I was seeing a reflection from part of a plant holder hanging inside near the window.

Canada geese heading west to Drakes Estero for the night one evening last week. I get to see them most evenings if I listen for their honking around sunset.

Memories of spring: a kestrel on the railing of our deck.

Dealing with the blackout has been tiring, so I’ll stop here and take a snooze. Goodnight. I’ll sleep tight. And I won’t have any bedbugs bite; after all, Mitchell cabin is not a Trump hotel.

 

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Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)

What happens when a priest loses his faith? Spanish writer, philosopher, and political activist Miguel de Unamuno provides an inspiring look at the dilemma in his short novel, San Manuel Bueno, Martyr, which I just re-read. The book fascinated me when I took a Spanish-literature class at Stanford, and this prompted me to take a second look some 55 years later.

Unamuno was an early existentialist, and often at the core of his writing is the tension between intellect and emotion, between faith and reason. In San Manuel Bueno, Martyr, Unamuno tells the story of a priest, Don Manuel, struggling with that tension. He is intelligent, hardworking, provides volunteer labor, and is so kind that he inspires the members of his parish to be good to one another. Yet secretly he doesn’t believe everything he preaches.

“The imperturbable joyousness of Don Manuel,” says the fictional narrator Angela Carballino, “was merely the temporal, earthly form of an infinite, eternal sadness which the priest concealed from the eyes and ears of the world with heroic saintliness.”

“The marvel of the man was his voice; a divine voice which bought one close to weeping,” the narrator recalls. “How he did love his people! His life consisted in salvaging wrecked marriages, in forcing unruly sons to submit to their parents, or reconciling parents to their sons, and above all, consoling the embittered and the weary in spirit; meanwhile he helped everyone to die well.”

Ironically, Unamuno was known for standing up for his views.

A key section of the novel describes the death of the devout mother of the narrator, Angela, and Angela’s brother, Lazarus, who was a  nonbeliever. “The peace in which your mother dies will be her eternal life,” Don Manuel tells Angela. He then explains to Lazarus, “Her heaven is to go on seeing you, and it is at this moment that she must be saved. Tell her you will pray for her.” When the nonbeliever starts to object: “But…”, Don Manuel responds,  “But what? … Tell her you will pray for her, to whom you owe your life. And I know that once you promise her, you will pray.”

Lazarus, “his eyes filled with tears, drew near our dying mother and gave his solemn promise to pray for her…. And I, in heaven, will pray for you,” his mother replies. “And then, kissing the crucifix and fixing her eyes on Don Manuel, she gave up her soul to God.”

Lazarus later reveals to his sister that the priest had previously appealed to him “to set a good example, to avoid scandalizing the townspeople, to take part in the religious life of the community, to feign belief even if he did not feel any.” Don Miguel was not trying to convert him, Lazarus explains, “but rather [was feigning his conversion] to protect the peace, the happiness, the illusions perhaps, of his charges. I understood that if he thus deceives them — if it is deceit — it is not for his own advantage…. The people should be allowed to live with their illusion.”

Neither Don Manuel’s deception nor his losing his belief in God ever becomes public, and after he dies, his unsuspecting bishop sets in motion the process for beatifying him, hence the name San Miguel Bueno.

In 1901 Unamuno became rector of the University of Salamanca but lost the post in 1914 for publicly espousing the Allied cause in World War I. His opposition in 1924 to General Miguel Primo de Rivera’s rule in Spain led to his being exiled to the Canary Islands, from which he escaped to France. When Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship fell, Unamuno returned to the University of Salamanca and was reelected rector in 1931, but in October 1936, he denounced the fascism of General Francisco Franco and again lost the post. He was placed under house arrest and within two months died of a heart attack.

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This week’s posting is a gallery of wonderful cartoons from old New Yorker magazines, accompanied by relatively old (1980) Readers Digest jokes.

1930

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“The people upstairs are very annoying,” complained the tenant. Last night they stomped and banged on the floor until midnight.” His landlord then asked, “Did they wake you?” Shaking his head, the tenant replied, “No. Luckily I was up playing the tuba.”

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“Kind of makes one proud to be an American, doesn’t it?”

Making America great back in 1932.

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1932

 Before the ICE Capades got started, the Statue of Liberty welcomed refugees with: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” However, as the cartoon points out, not all Americans in 1932 were welcoming when certain desperate people wanted to come here.

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“I slept there once,” 1967

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July 4 was a unique holiday. Where else but in America can you find people who are paying off a revolving charge account, a home-improvement loan, a 48-month car loan, and a 30-year mortgage — and still celebrating their freedom?

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“Curiosity,” 1991

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A philosopher went into a restaurant and ordered a chicken-salad sandwich and an egg-salad sandwich — to find out which one came first.

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“Mind if I put on the game?” 1986

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A golfer sliced the ball from the tee over the hill into a valley. Hearing a yell, he dashed to the top of the hill to see a man lying unconscious below. When the golfer ran down to the man, the stricken fellow opened one eye and said calmly, “I’m a lawyer and I’m going to sue you for five thousand dollars.” The golfer replied, “I’m so sorry, but I did yell “fore.'” To which the lawyer responded, “I’ll take it.”

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“During the next stage of my development, Dad, I’ll be drawing closer to my mother — I’ll get back to you in my teens.” 1991

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A Little League coach told his young charges after a game, “Don’t take it too hard, fellas. Losing is no disgrace. The important thing is that you played hard and you played clean. You showed a lot of spirit, and your parents can be proud of their sons — just like the parents of the other team can be proud of their daughters.” At this one boy murmured to another, “I knew he was going to rub it in.”

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“Now, you wait right her while I go and ask my wife for a divorce.” 1985

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When the Browns had a son, they decided they didn’t want a common name for the boy and so named him “Fantastic.” While growing up, their son hated the name, and as an old man on his deathbed, he asked his wife to leave “Fantastic” off the tombstone and just put “Brown.” His wife complied with his request but felt that Brown by itself was too plain, so she added, “During his marriage, he never looked at another woman.” Now, everyone who passes the tombstone murmurs, “Fantastic.”

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I’ll sign off with three New Yorker cartoons parodying some of the various ways that men and women may see things. As should be evident, the magazine’s humor today remains part of that whimsical tradition, which is one reason I subscribe.

1951

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1976

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1952

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Washington High’s mural showing George Washington beside a dead American Indian.

In an April posting about Inverness artist Igor Sazevich’s new memoir, Time in My Coffee,  I noted that 83 years ago Igor’s father, Zygmund, helped artist Victor Arnautoff create the mural at Washington High that San Francisco school leaders have decided to cover over or obliterate. The mural shows George Washington standing over a dead American Indian and includes Washington’s black slaves.

School leaders believe showing the cruelty is offensive to native Americans and blacks. I criticized the proposed removal and quoted a San Francisco Chronicle editorial: “The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist.”

Unfortunately, for thousands of years there always have been people ready to destroy the art of past eras on grounds the subject matter isn’t proper for their own era.

The Great Sphinx at Gaza, Egypt, was carved around 2,500 B.C. and survived mostly intact until 1378 A.D. when a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose.

By some accounts, Egyptian peasants had been making offerings to the Great Sphinx in hopes of controlling the flood cycle in order to have a successful harvest. Outraged by this blatant show of devotion to a god other than Allah, Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose and was later executed for vandalism.

In the 6th century BC, ancient Greeks erected numerous phallic statues around a temple to the god Dionysus on the island of Delos. The statues survived intact for almost eight centuries until Victorian era explorers found the marble erections and broke them off as indecent.

Another crushing blow to cultural history occurred in March 2001 in Afghanistan. Two giant statues known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, on grounds they were “anti-Islamic.”

The two Buddhas, which were dynamited, dated back to 544 A.D. and stood 180 feet and 120 feet tall in a religious site. They were carved directly into a cliff and were the largest Buddhist statues in the world.

If Washington High’s murals are painted over, perhaps they can be replaced with a picture of a Buddha blowing up. This would demonstrate that San Francisco Unified School District’s censorship is in line with international practices.

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A Buddhist monk in Mandalay, Burma, admires a classic car back in 1986 when there were no new cars on the road. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

As a journalist I’ve always enjoyed photographing unexpected scenes. Here are a few I’ve found in the past 45 years.

A tired maid in Paris heads to work to prepare her employers’ dinner oblivious of the carefree billboard that merrily offers: “My blouse for a beer.” (circa. 1977)

“I clothed her for nine months. Now it’s Cleyeux.” The French company sells clothing for infants. (Paris, circa. 1978)

Enjoying themselves? Salvadoran soldiers in 1982 guard a Coca Cola bottling plant in San Salvador against leftist guerrillas. Ironically the Coca Cola sign looming in the background is headed “Disfrute,” which translates as “Enjoyment.”

Another ironic sign: The “Modern Pharmacy” in rural Guatemala, 1982.

When a high-speed highway from Guatemala City to Antigua was built in the 1970s-80s, Guatemala’s strongman, General Lucas Garcia, saw it as a chance for political propaganda. The sign says “One More Work of the Government of General Lucas.” However many local workers, like this pedestrian, couldn’t afford to drive it.

How a Third World country dealt with refugees. After America’s Southeast Asian wars ended in 1975 and the communist Pathet Lao took full control of Laos, at least 375,000 Laotians (more than a tenth of the country’s population) fled into neighboring Thailand. The Thais working with the UN lined up third countries — including the United States — to provide new homes for 250,000 of them. About 50,000 surreptitiously settled in Thailand, and another 3,000 returned to Laos. The Thai government housed the rest in a variety of camps. This refugee woman is sewing in a camp along the Mekong River, 1986. Many refugee men farmed small plots within the camp.

A Laotian refugee girl keeps an eye out for her mother, who has gone to the camp’s well.

Three other refugee children were clearly having a good time. 

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“Angel’s Truck Stop” by Lt. Colonel Angel Pilato, US Air Force (Ret.) was first published in 2011 and is now in its third edition. It was updated last year to include stories from some of the airmen Pilato writes about in her memoir.

Angelica Pilato at 25 being sworn in at the Air Force’s Detroit recruiting office.

Known as “Angel,”  Lt. Colonel Pilato served five and a half years in the US Air Force at the time of the Vietnam War, the last year (1971-72) at Udorn Air Base in Thailand.

Her memoir is an engaging mix of a personal history, wartime adventure, and a look at the difficulties faced by a woman officer in a male institution.

Pilato attended Officer Training School in San Antonio, where she was taught, among other things, “military protocol, etiquette, and how a WAF [Woman in the Air Force] should conduct herself in formal and informal situations.”

The next stop was Open Mess School in Ft. Lee, Virginia, where the sergeant assigned to assist her “tried everything he could to get me to sleep with him. I kept saying no, which to him seemed to mean, ‘Try again’…. In 1967, no policies existed against sexual harassment or hostile work environments. The unwritten policy was simply, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'”

Angel Pilato today, living in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

After graduating from Officers Training School as a lieutenant, she was assigned to Offett Air Base in Omaha, and was subsequently assigned to run the officers’ club in Seville, Spain.  However, when she got there, the base commander in Seville took away her club-manager assignment, gave it to a male officer with no food experience, and made her a keypunch operator.

Since Pilato was a Food Management graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology, she questioned the decision, only to have the base commander flatly state, “I’m not going to have any woman run my Officers’ Club. It’s as simple as that.”

Fortunately, the commander’s tour soon came to an end, and a new base commander made her the club officer. Eight months later, she was assigned the post of club officer in Bitburg, Germany.

The F-4 Phantom Fighter jet (such as this one in Bitburg) was “the hottest fighter at the time — the one every fighter pilot wanted to fly,” Pilato writes.

After Lt. Pilato was able to make the Bitburg Officers’ Club more profitable, the wing commander rewarded her by letting her take a flight in an F-4. Once the jet was airborne, she was allowed to take the stick and do a couple of rollovers. Pilato called it “a thrill of a lifetime.”

The Udorn Officers’ Club, which came to be known as Angel’s Truck Stop.

From Germany, Pilato, now a captain, was posted to Udorn Air Base in Thailand where she managed the Officers’ Club. Pressured by the wing commander, the lieutenant managed to add a fancy patio to the club. The project forced her to hire laborers under false pretenses — as if they were parttime cooks and servers — to do the job since no construction-worker positions had been authorized. Nonetheless, the commander was pleased.

Article in the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Udorn was home base for fighter pilots heading to North Vietnam and Laos. She writes about the “bravado and confidence” felt by pilots “flying the hottest planes on the planet.”

Many of the men had “tealocks,” as lovers were called in Thailand, even if the lovers weren’t Thai. Pilato over time had several, including two wing commanders, and eventually had to reluctantly fly to the Philippines for an abortion when the father-to-be declined to marry her while overseas.

Perhaps the most emotional section of ‘Angel’s Truck Stop’ tells the story of Capt. Roger Locher (center), who was shot down over Laos and hid for 23 days until he could be rescued. The rescued pilot’s arrival back at Udorn was celebrated throughout the air base. Famished and thirsty when found, what he wanted first was a Coors beer and Spam. 

Capt. Marty Cavato made his own moving appearance in the book and for the latest edition contributed an account of his own.

The fighter pilots heading for Communist targets generally gave little thought to the lives they were taking. Getting themselves and their crews home safely was their main concern. Capt. Cavato, however, provided a heartwarming exception.

“The altitudes and speeds we flew and the usual presence of a jungle canopy prevented us from actually seeing the enemy,” the captain wrote. But on one unusual day, “we were startled by what we saw on the road.

“It took a while for it to sink in — there was an enemy column in the middle of the road.” To Capt. Cavato’s surprise, the soldiers took no shots at the aircraft but just kept marching. “Then another thought came to me: they’re marching home.

“In less than a month I’d finally be heading home…. I pulled our F-4E up sharply and turned west. I finally told my [radio operator], ‘They look tired. They’re marching north. They’re going home. I’m tired too. I’ll be going home soon too. Let’s just let them go home….’ As time goes by, I think about that column of soldiers more often. I got home, and I hope they did too.”

“When a man becomes inebriated, any modicum of mild-mannered virtue that he might have had turns into mayhem and mischief.” — Lt. Colonel Pilato

A captain and a lieutenant colonel attempt to dunk Capt. Pilato in a bowl of ice water after losing out in an Officers Club raffle.

The North Vietnamese were using Russian MIGs, and when the US pilots shot one down, it was cause for a major celebration. As a prank, the crews began driving trucks into the lobby of the Udorn Officers’ Club — jamming a truck in the doorway on one occasion. All this led to the club being nicknamed Angel’s Truck Stop. The phrase “Shit Hot!” painted on the truck was a common fighter-pilot expression meaning “wonderful.”

Despite periodic rowdiness by pilots in the club that made her job more difficult, Pilato generally retained her poise. Officers could get smokes in the club, which prompted this photo captioned: “Should a gentleman offer a lady a Tiparillo?” The line is from one of the cigar’s commercials.

Pilato had arrived in Thailand excited about her assignment, but the deaths of airmen she knew, her reluctant abortion, and the chaos of her work led ultimately to her hating the war and her role in it.

Angel’s Truck Stop is a must-read for anyone interested in the treatment of women in American society, especially in the military. The memoir is alternately humorous, grim, and uplifting. <http://www.angelstruckstop.com>.

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If you like wildlife, state government wants you to kill some of it.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced it will try “to recruit new hunters and anglers throughout the state” because hunters provide 60 percent of the funding for fish and wildlife conservation through license fees and taxes on guns and ammunition, The San Francisco Chronicle reported three months ago. 

That funding has been steadily declining. “Only about 5 percent of Americans 16 and older hunt — a 50-percent decline in just five decades,” The Chronicle explained. “The decline is attributable to urbanization, the rise of media entertainment, restricted access to hunting territory, and a lack of free time. Additionally, hunting declines as the population ages, and as the Baby Boomers grow ever older, the number of hunters will continue to plummet.”

Hunting doesn’t appeal to me. As I see it, the state’s encouraging hunting — accompanied by purchases of guns and ammunition — in order to bolster license fees and taxes makes as much sense as it would to encourage double parking in order to collect more in parking fines.

Solar panels.

The curse of solar panels. Solar panels are becoming popular in Afghanistan, The Economist reported last week, but they’re not being used primarily for homes. They’re mostly used for growing opium to make heroin, which “helps fund the Taliban, as well as pro-government warlords who are scarcely better.” The panels provide the electricity for opium farmers to pump water from deep wells, and that’s lowering the water table, the magazine noted. “Shallow wells have gone completely dry.”

Judaism’s Star of David

Still another, but happier, surprise. In a review of the book Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, the same Economist also reported that in contrast to historic anti-Semitism, “Jews are now the country’s best-liked religious group — but the warm attitudes transcend philo-Semitism.” What’s happened? “By 2010 around half of all Americans had a spouse of a different religious tradition. Neighborhoods, workplaces, and friendships have become more religiously diverse.” It’s clearly counterproductive to be prejudiced against one’s friends and associates.

The Victorian-era poet Robert Browning (1812-1889).

One of the English poet Robert Browning’s most memorable lines is: “God is in His heaven, all’s right with the world,” which is from the poem Pippa Passes. “But,” as the linguist/journalist Bill Bryson points out in his book The Mother Tongue, “it also contains this disconcerting passage: ‘Then owls and bats/ Cowls and twats,/ Monks and nuns in a cloister’s moods,/ Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry.’

“Browning had apparently somewhere come across the word twat — which meant precisely the same then as it does now but pronounced with a flat a — and somehow took it to mean a piece of headgear for nuns. The verse became a source of twittering amusement for generations of schoolboys and a perennial embarrassment to their elders, but the word was never altered, and Browning was allowed to live out his life in wholesome ignorance because no one could think of a suitably delicate way of explaining his mistake to him.”

The rainbow flag of the LGBT movement.

Another racy surprise. Researchers had concluded that gay men tend to have more older brothers than straight men. Harper’s magazine, however, last October reported further research has found that “holds true only for those who are prone to be the receiving partner during anal sex.” Make of that what you will. I won’t hazard a guess.

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Talk about being timely (that’s our name after all), I had no sooner written about several topics in Time in My Coffee, Inverness artist/architect Igor Sazevich’s newly published autobiography, than another topic in the book was suddenly all over Bay Area news.

Igor captioned this collage, “From top: Father’s portrait of Victor Arnautoff; Detail from Victor Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High School; Father in his studio; Me on [a high school friend] Don’s shoulders; Father’s sketch of me.”

Time in My Coffee took on new significance this past week after a public controversy arose over Arnautoff’s mural at Washington High in San Francisco. As the book relates, Victor’s father Zygmund had helped produce the mural.

The muralist had met Igor’s father “at the California School of Fine Arts, become friends, and worked together on a few projects. At Washington Victor had been commissioned to paint large frescos on each side of the grand stairway leading to foyer, and father had helped with mixing the plaster undercoats….

“While the majority of the panels portrayed the struggling working class, one wall depicted Washington pointing the way forward to his troops, a slain Indian warrior at his feet. While I was at the school, this mural was a rendezvous spot: ‘Meet you under the dead Indian.’”

In response to 75 years of such comments, school board members are now talking about getting rid of the mural, possibly by painting it over or moving it somewhere.

Better to teach the history. As The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on Wednesday: San Francisco school leaders have “taken up an unwinnable argument in deciding what to do about murals at George Washington High School — depicting the first president’s life and times — that some find hurtful and racist.

“The paintings should stay for several important reasons. They’re hardly a one-sided glorification of the past. Instead they underline the harsh treatment of Indians and slaves. To miss this shot at the Founding Fathers era is to miss the subversive message by muralist Victor Arnautoff, a noted Depression-era leftist….

“Contemporary views and sensitivities shouldn’t be ignored. An explanation of the artist, his times, and the suggestive power of the mural should be provided for viewers. The sight of a dead Indian or hunched-over slaves cannot be ignored without comment or thought.”

I would add that Arnautoff’s work also deserves to stay because he was a major artist in San Francisco history. Arnautoff was, for example, also responsible for several significant murals in Coit Tower, which were themselves once controversial, as Igor notes. One mural that upset some people during the Red Scares of the McCarthy era included a newsstand selling the Communist Daily Worker but not mainstream newspapers.

‘Time in My Coffee’ is available at Point Reyes Books, Gallery Route One, & Book Passages in Corte Madera

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