Sunday, March 26, 2017

Now the Russians are coming to Napa, too

Apparently have come, in fact. With the head of the House Intelligence Committee on board. Get weirder.                                  

And from Daily Kos:
OK, this seems far-fetched and tenuous, but who wouldn’t have thought a Russian invasion of a US election and association with a US President was far-fetched and tenuous less than a year ago?  As a further caveat to this diary, I should also say I haven’t a clue who/what the source of this story is.
With all that in mind, here goes …
First, according to his 2014 financial disclosure report and reported in the LA Times, nearly all of Devin Nunes’ entire net worth of about $51,000 is apparently tied up in an investment in the Alpha Omega WInery of St. Helena, CA.
As reported in Addicting Info (the source I know nothing about), with distributors across the US, Canada and Mexico, this winery has few distributors worldwide and only two in other western countries, namely Switzerland and Russia.  The author of the piece in Addicting Info makes the point that there is no distributor in a NATO country in Europe.
From googling, I have not been able to find much information in depth about the Russian distributor, the Luding Trade Company.  Nor does there seem to be any suspicious information about the Alpha Omega Winery or its founders.  So for now this is likely a random factoid, and it’s possible everyone in Congress, Democrat and Republican, could be linked in some way to Russia.  But it sure seems that such a connection might be a prerequisite for those in the Trump orbit.
Again, for what it’s worth.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Napa Confidential: Limits on hillside development will rise again

     Last year's mandatory stream set-back and timber cutting initiative to protect Napa County's wooded hillsides was disqualified on a technicality. But it will not go away and could still end up before the state supreme court. There it might well be reinstated, but even if it isn't the initiative will rise again. And next time the number of signatories in the county will rise with it, as will stakes for both the undervalued watershed and those misguided organizations opposing its preservation.
    The so-called wine "industry" - they  used to be "farmers and "winemakers" - is working behind the scenes to propose a watered-down version of the initiative in hopes of saving some face and forestalling stricter regulations next year. But any compromise in this age of The Donald is opposed by what I guess we must now refer to as "wine industrialists." For instance, a spokesman for the Napa Valley Vintners still publicly refers to development in  the hills as "farming."
To order Napa:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A week for watching the woes and determined saviors of the only world we have

From the organizers of Washington's DC's enduring - and quite wonderful - annual Environmental Film Festival:                                                                        

                                         Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman
Thanks to The Reva and David Logan Foundation for its support of this evening. 
From the Montana Rockies to the Kansas wheat fields and the Gulf of Mexico, families who work the land and sea are crossing political divides to find unexpected ways to protect the natural resources vital to their livelihoods. Based on Miriam Horn’s book and narrated by Tom Brokaw, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman is the next chapter of conservation heroism, deep in America’s heartland.
A Discovery Documentary Film. Directed by Susan Froemke & John Hoffman. Co-directed by Beth Aala. (Saturday at 4 at the Carnegie Institution of Science on 16th St. NW)
For more than 20 years, the Environmental Film Festival has played a critical role in bringing together filmmakers, policymakers, scientists, educators, and citizens committed to the future of our planet.
Each March in Washington, D.C., we host America’s largest environmental film festival, presenting 150+ films to an audience of over 27,000.
By partnering with leading museums, embassies, universities and theaters, we aim to advance the public’s understanding of the environment and inspire action, through the power of film.
Founded in 1993, DCEFF is the longest-running environmental film festival in the United States. It has grown into a major collaborative, cultural event, both during the festival season and all year-round.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Can fiction foretell?

From the New York Times Book Review:


CreditEleni Kalorkoti 

In the spring of 1984 I began to write a novel that was not initially called “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I wrote in longhand, mostly on yellow legal notepads, then transcribed my almost illegible scrawlings using a huge German-keyboard manual typewriter I’d rented.
The keyboard was German because I was living in West Berlin, which was still encircled by the Berlin Wall: The Soviet empire was still strongly in place, and was not to crumble for another five years. Every Sunday the East German Air Force made sonic booms to remind us of how close they were. During my visits to several countries behind the Iron Curtain — Czechoslovakia, East Germany — I experienced the wariness, the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject, the oblique ways in which people might convey information, and these had an influence on what I was writing. So did the repurposed buildings. “This used to belong to . . . but then they disappeared.” I heard such stories many times.
Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. “It can’t happen here” could not be depended on: Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.
By 1984, I’d been avoiding my novel for a year or two. It seemed to me a risky venture. I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real. One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the “nightmare” of history, nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities. God is in the details, they say. So is the Devil.
Continue reading the main story
Back in 1984, the main premise seemed — even to me — fairly outrageous. Would I be able to persuade readers that the United States had suffered a coup that had transformed an erstwhile liberal democracy into a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship? In the book, the Constitution and Congress are no longer: The Republic of Gilead is built on a foundation of the 17th-century Puritan roots that have always lain beneath the modern-day America we thought we knew.
So the tale unfolds.

PhotoThe immediate location of the book is Cambridge, Mass., home of Harvard University, now a leading liberal educational institution but once a Puritan theological seminary. The Secret Service of Gilead is located in the Widener Library, where I had spent many hours in the stacks, researching my New England ancestors as well as the Salem witchcraft trials. Would some people be affronted by the use of the Harvard wall as a display area for the bodies of the executed? (They were.)In the novel the population is shrinking due to a toxic environment, and the ability to have viable babies is at a premium. (In today’s real world, studies are now showing a sharp fertility decline in Chinese men.) Under totalitarianisms — or indeed in any sharply hierarchical society — the ruling class monopolizes valuable things, so the elite of the regime arrange to have fertile females assigned to them as Handmaids. The biblical precedent is the story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah, and their two handmaids. One man, four women, 12 sons — but the handmaids could not claim the sons. They belonged to the respective wives.And so the tale unfolds.When I first began “The Handmaid’s Tale” it was called “Offred,” the name of its central character. This name is composed of a man’s first name, “Fred,” and a prefix denoting “belonging to,” so it is like “de” in French or “von” in German, or like the suffix “son” in English last names like Williamson. Within this name is concealed another possibility: “offered,” denoting a religious offering or a victim offered for sacrifice.Why do we never learn the real name of the central character, I have often been asked. Because, I reply, so many people throughout history have had their names changed, or have simply disappeared from view. Some have deduced that Offred’s real name is June, since, of all the names whispered among the Handmaids in the gymnasium/dormitory, “June” is the only one that never appears again. That was not my original thought but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish.At some time during the writing, the novel’s name changed to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” partly in honor of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” but partly also in reference to fairy tales and folk tales: The story told by the central character partakes — for later or remote listeners — of the unbelievable, the fantastic, as do the stories told by those who have survived earth-shattering events.

Over the years, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has taken many forms. It has been translated into 40 or more languages. It was made into a film in 1990. It has been an opera, and it has also been a ballet. It is being turned into a graphic novel. And in April 2017 it will become an MGM/Hulu television series.
In this series I have a small cameo. The scene is the one in which the newly conscripted Handmaids are being brainwashed in a sort of Red Guard re-education facility known as the Red Center. They must learn to renounce their previous identities, to know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.

The Handmaids sit in a circle, with the Taser-equipped Aunts forcing them to join in what is now called (but was not, in 1984) the “slut-shaming” of one of their number, Jeanine, who is being made to recount how she was gang-raped as a teenager. Her fault, she led them on — that is the chant of the other Handmaids.
Although it was “only a television show” and these were actresses who would be giggling at coffee break, and I myself was “just pretending,” I found this scene horribly upsetting. It was way too much like way too much history. Yes, women will gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook: We see that very publicly in the age of social media, which enables group swarmings. Yes, they will gladly take positions of power over other women, even — and, possibly, especially — in systems in which women as a whole have scant power: All power is relative, and in tough times any amount is seen as better than none. Some of the controlling Aunts are true believers, and think they are doing the Handmaids a favor: At least they haven’t been sent to clean up toxic waste, and at least in this brave new world they won’t get raped, not as such, not by strangers. Some of the Aunts are sadists. Some are opportunists. And they are adept at taking some of the stated aims of 1984 feminism — like the anti-porn campaign and greater safety from sexual assault — and turning them to their own advantage. As I say: real life.
Which brings me to three questions I am often asked.
First, is “The Handmaid’s Tale” a “feminist” novel? If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are “feminist.”


Why interesting and important? Because women are interesting and important in real life. They are not an afterthought of nature, they are not secondary players in human destiny, and every society has always known that. Without women capable of giving birth, human populations would die out. That is why the mass rape and murder of women, girls and children has long been a feature of genocidal wars, and of other campaigns meant to subdue and exploit a population. Kill their babies and replace their babies with yours, as cats do; make women have babies they can’t afford to raise, or babies you will then remove from them for your own purposes, steal babies — it’s been a widespread, age-old motif. The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet. Napoleon and his “cannon fodder,” slavery and its ever-renewed human merchandise — they both fit in here. Of those promoting enforced childbirth, it should be asked: Cui bono? Who profits by it? Sometimes this sector, sometimes that. Never no one.
The second question that comes up frequently: Is “The Handmaid’s Tale” antireligion? Again, it depends what you may mean by that. True, a group of authoritarian men seize control and attempt to restore an extreme version of the patriarchy, in which women (like 19th-century American slaves) are forbidden to read. Further, they can’t control money or have jobs outside the home, unlike some women in the Bible. The regime uses biblical symbols, as any authoritarian regime taking over America doubtless would: They wouldn’t be Communists or Muslims.
The modesty costumes worn by the women of Gilead are derived from Western religious iconography — the Wives wear the blue of purity, from the Virgin Mary; the Handmaids wear red, from the blood of parturition, but also from Mary Magdalene. Also, red is easier to see if you happen to be fleeing. The wives of men lower in the social scale are called Econowives, and wear stripes. I must confess that the face-hiding bonnets came not only from mid-Victorian costume and from nuns, but from the Old Dutch Cleanser package of the 1940s, which showed a woman with her face hidden, and which frightened me as a child. Many totalitarianisms have used clothing, both forbidden and enforced, to identify and control people — think of yellow stars and Roman purple — and many have ruled behind a religious front. It makes the creation of heretics that much easier.

In the book, the dominant “religion” is moving to seize doctrinal control, and religious denominations familiar to us are being annihilated. Just as the Bolsheviks destroyed the Mensheviks in order to eliminate political competition and Red Guard factions fought to the death against one another, the Catholics and the Baptists are being targeted and eliminated. The Quakers have gone underground, and are running an escape route to Canada, as — I suspect — they would. Offred herself has a private version of the Lord’s Prayer and refuses to believe that this regime has been mandated by a just and merciful God. In the real world today, some religious groups are leading movements for the protection of vulnerable groups, including women.
So the book is not “antireligion.” It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny; which is a different thing altogether.
Is “The Handmaid’s Tale” a prediction? That is the third question I’m asked — increasingly, as forces within American society seize power and enact decrees that embody what they were saying they wanted to do, even back in 1984, when I was writing the novel. No, it isn’t a prediction, because predicting the future isn’t really possible: There are too many variables and unforeseen possibilities. Let’s say it’s an antiprediction: If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen. But such wishful thinking cannot be depended on either.



So many different strands fed into “The Handmaid’s Tale” — group executions, sumptuary laws, book burnings, the Lebensborn program of the SS and the child-stealing of the Argentine generals, the history of slavery, the history of American polygamy . . . the list is long.
But there’s a literary form I haven’t mentioned yet: the literature of witness. Offred records her story as best she can; then she hides it, trusting that it may be discovered later, by someone who is free to understand it and share it. This is an act of hope: Every recorded story implies a future reader. Robinson Crusoe keeps a journal. So did Samuel Pepys, in which he chronicled the Great Fire of London. So did many who lived during the Black Death, although their accounts often stop abruptly. So did Roméo Dallaire, who chronicled both the Rwandan genocide and the world’s indifference to it. So did Anne Frank, hidden in her secret annex.
There are two reading audiences for Offred’s account: the one at the end of the book, at an academic conference in the future, who are free to read but who are not always as empathetic as one might wish; and the individual reader of the book at any given time. That is the “real” reader, the Dear Reader for whom every writer writes. And many Dear Readers will become writers in their turn. That is how we writers all started: by reading. We heard the voice of a book speaking to us.
In the wake of the recent American election, fears and anxieties proliferate. Basic civil liberties are seen as endangered, along with many of the rights for women won over the past decades, and indeed the past centuries. In this divisive climate, in which hate for many groups seems on the rise and scorn for democratic institutions is being expressed by extremists of all stripes, it is a certainty that someone, somewhere — many, I would guess — are writing down what is happening as they themselves are experiencing it. Or they will remember, and record later, if they can.
Will their messages be suppressed and hidden? Will they be found, centuries later, in an old house, behind a wall?
Let us hope it doesn’t come to that. I trust it will not.
To order my novel, Nose, click on:  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Will they climb that wall?


Another Jaguar discovery in Southern Arizona adds ro border wall dispute

By Tony Davis in The Arizona Daily Star

The discovery of a jaguar in the Dos Cabezas Mountains near Willcox marks the third time since 2015 a new one has been photographed in Arizona, and the seventh time the elusive cat species has been documented in Arizona or New Mexico in the last 21 years.
But this new addition to the region’s known jaguars, disclosed Thursday, does little to quell the longstanding dispute between state and federal biologists and conservationists over their significance in Arizona. The discovery has also amplified environmentalist concerns about President Trump’s plans to build a fence or wall spanning the entire U.S.-Mexican border.
The jaguar was photographed in the mountain range near Willcox in November by a trail camera run by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. But the photo’s existence wasn’t discovered until recently, the Game and Fish Department said in announcing the jaguar finding.
Game and Fish said five biologists have determined this jaguar was a different animal from one photographed in December 2016 and January 2017 in the Huachuca Mountains, and one photographed from 2011 to 2015 in the Whetstone and Santa Rita mountains.
They couldn’t tell the animal’s gender from the photo. All six jaguars previously found in Arizona and New Mexico since 1996 have been males. No female jaguars have been seen in Arizona since 1963.
Because of the lack of females, authorities have downplayed the biological importance of jaguars discovered in Arizona for years. Some scientists and conservationists have said these males could be harbingers of a future population and future breeding, however.
Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say this new jaguar discovery still doesn’t signify an Arizona population. That’s because the various discoveries have been scattered and sporadic, spanning several mountain ranges.
“I see biological significance in its discovery, because any time you have a rare species showing up with some regularity that used to be here historically,” it’s significant, said Steve Spangle, Arizona field supervisor for Fish and Wildlife.
“Obviously, we’re looking a lot harder. Like many things, the more you look, the more you see,” Spangle said. “That this species is using this portion of its historical range, we think it’s good news. To say this is a harbinger of a future population is way premature.”
The discovery does show that jaguars, who once lived as far north as the Grand Canyon, are trying to re-establish a population, said Kieran Suckling, director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which got jaguars listed as an endangered species in the United States in 1997.
“They’re consistently coming up over time, moving through every possible mountain corridor,” Suckling said. “It’s not like a jaguar is just randomly wandering up.”
Jaguars are far more prevalent in Mexico. But Sergio Avila, a scientist for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, said what matters is that the jaguars still exist at all in the broader region — not which country they’re in.

“What matters is that the habitat supports jaguars in Sonora, Arizona and New Mexico and that there is habitat connectivity between those places,” said Avila, a conservation research scientist. “This discovery once again shows this state’s connection to northern Mexico — it proves that jaguars are here to stay.”
But while this is a unique find from a biological diversity standpoint, “that’s not to be confused with saying that we have a population of jaguars that’s breeding, that’s established, that’s producing young,” said Jim deVos, an assistant Game and Fish director for wildlife management. “If you look at the number of animals we’ve seen, we’ve had periods of a year and two years where we haven’t seen any.”
If the latest jaguar is female, that would certainly be more important, “but I would still be hard pressed to say we have a population,” deVos said. “To me, a population is one that is thriving and producing young.”
Certainly, the discovery of two jaguars over a short period speaks to the presence of good habitat in the borderlands, said Susan Malusa, who was project manager for a three-year University of Arizona-run jaguar study that tracked the male cat in the Santa Ritas.
“As long as we have movement corridors that are intact, the wildlife can move,” Malusa said. “We have stewards of public land, whether it be Forest Service land or BLM land and the ranches out there, providing healthy habitat and open space for wildlife.”
That jaguar movement could be stopped if Trump’s plan to build a continuous border wall goes through, activist Suckling said. So far, all recently discovered jaguars have been found in mountain ranges away from existing stretches of border fence in Arizona, he said.
“If Trump succeeds in blocking these open passage areas with fences, future jaguars will not be able to get through,” he said.
Today, Arizona has about 123 miles of pedestrian border fencing, out of 372 total border miles, that are high enough to potentially block large animals. Another 189 miles have vehicle barriers low enough for jaguars to cross. The rest are unfenced.
The wildlife service won’t take a position on a border wall unless asked by the Department of Homeland Security to formally determine the wall’s impact on endangered species.
“We need to see what the wall would look like” to determine if it will block wildlife migration, deVos said.
“I believe the president said it doesn’t have to be a continuous solid wall — could be virtual wall in some places,” he said. The department will work with whoever builds the wall to try to design areas to assist wildlife movement, deVos said.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Napa Confidential: Official back-channeling?

     Reports of a ranking member of the Napa County board of supervisors in close email contact with ranking members of the Napa County Grapegrowers. If the subject's business - and it is - it should, according to the California supreme court, be public. See

Monday, March 13, 2017

A lifestyle vintner's now president. What's it mean?

     A story in Politico ( was about Trump's environmental policies, if that's the right word, and raise interesting questions for the increasingly broad community of American wine. Trump bought a fait accompli Virginia vineyard, winery and manor house at a fire-sale price back in 2011. His - Trump's - profile perfectly matchers that of the typical lifestyle vintner, with one big exception: he doesn't even like the stuff.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Can California stay clean?

              Stakes are high for the Environment

                      By Noah Feldman, from The Napa Register

    The Trump administration is considering a new assault on American legal and constitutional structures by taking on federalism — and vehicle emissions. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency reportedly will try to revoke a waiver that California has enjoyed for 45 years, which allows the state — and any state that wants to copy it — to regulate tailpipe emissions more stringently than the federal government does. 
    A revocation by President Donald Trump and the executive branch is almost certainly unlawful. The Clean Air Act expressly says that California must be granted the waiver if its emissions rules are “at least as protective of public health and welfare” as the federal government’s. That means anything more protective must be granted. If the revocation happens, there is sure to be a protracted legal fight.
    The stakes are high for the environment. Because 15 states follow California, and cars sold in states bordering those states may comply with California rules, 130 million people are potentially affected.
    But the stakes are also high for the federal design of the Constitution. The California waiver provision reflects the delicate balance between states and the federal government in environmental regulation. Revoking it falls within Congress’s power, not the president’s.
    The Clean Air Act’s waiver provision is unusual — and it flows from federalism principles.
    Under the Constitution, as a default, both states and the federal government share the capacity to regulate most activities. The states have an inherent regulatory power, known as the “police power.” The federal government gets its power to regulate from Congress’s authority to make laws on matters affecting interstate commerce. State and federal power can overlap, as in the case of the punishment of drug crimes.
    Because federal law is the supreme law of the land, according to the Constitution, federal law trumps state law when the two conflict.
    Congress has a special power that allows it to deal with that conflict by barring states from regulating in areas where they might interfere with federal rules. This power is called “preemption”: Congress “preempts” state law when it has occupied the whole field of regulation to the exclusion of the states. Sometimes Congress says expressly that it’s preempting state laws; sometimes the preemption is implicit.
    The Clean Air Act is an example of federal preemption — in part. Section 7543 of the law says that no state “shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles.” That includes “certification, inspection, or any other approval relating to the control of emissions from any new motor vehicle.”
    Yet as soon as the law takes away states’ regulatory power, it restores it to California. The law says the EPA administrator “shall ... authorize California to adopt and enforce standards.” It’s up to California (not the federal government) to determine “that California standards will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.”

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    The only ways to block California from using its own standard are if the EPA administrator determines that the California rules are arbitrary and capricious — which they aren’t — or if “California does not need such ... standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.” So long as Los Angeles has smog, the conditions for restricting emissions are going to be compelling.
    The historical reason for this design is that California had been regulating emissions long before the federal government got into the act.
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Monday, March 6, 2017

Stealing water under cover of wine: sneak preview

"... this isn't about wine, but water. Vines are just the cover crop."                                                                        
    To be shown in full on March 14, opening day of Washington's Environmental Film Festival: