All posts by michaelraffety

Michael Raffety has been editor of the Montain Democrat in Placerville, Calif., since 1986, the longest serving editor since the paper began as the El Dorado News in 1851. Before coming to work for the Mountain Democrat in 1978 he worked for the Amador Ledger. Raffety has reported on the El Dorado Irrigation District since 2008. He has a BA from San Francisco State Universiy and and an MA from California State University, Sacramento. He also taught part-time for Folsom Lake College from 1980-2003.

If GPS is knocked out by a solar storm LORAN will be needed


By Michael Raffety

One of the pieces of electronics that was I was rated to work on was LORAN receivers. LORAN is short for Long Range Navigation. It was also one of the pieces of equipment I never worked on and we never saw in the base aviation electronics repair shop at Naval Air Station Quonset Pt., R.I.

I mainly worked on radar and ultra high frequency radio. The UHF radio was a circuit of vacuum tubes with the frequencies controlled by a collection of gears. Most of the time I used a tool and frequency counter to adjust the gears so the pilots could dial the correct frequency.

I even worked on a 25-watt radio out of a PBY, a long-range seaplane widely used in WWII and afterward. Quonset Pt. was actually a seaplane base even though I only saw one. Our squadron had helicopters, C-130 turboprops and a C-121 Super Constellation (passenger plane with three tails).

When I qualified for flight training pay I got my flight time in on the helicopter as the pilot practiced auto-rotations over Narragansett Bay. On the helicopter I didn’t have to learn to make coffee for the pilot and navigator.

I never did fly on the C-130. In New Zealand the admiral had a C-47, which is a twin-engine airplane that most people would recognize as a DC-3. The admiral’s plane had a red carpet down the center of it. I got my flight time in on that when he flew from Christ Church, New Zealand, to the capital in Wellington to play tennis with the U.S. ambassador. The C-121 flew me from New Zealand to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

I mention the LORAN system because the Coast Guard was the last service to use the navigation system with a 1,500-mile range. I assume one of those LORAN units never made it into our shop because it didn’t have any moving parts and was very reliable. President Obama eliminated the LORAN. But GPS is a satellite-based system.  GPS could be knocked out of commission by an extreme solar storm or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear explosion high in the atmosphere.

Without GPS there would be no navigation backup since LORAN was discontinued nine years ago after President Obama called it obsolete.

We know the power of EMP because in 1962 a nuclear test by the U.S. knocked a British satellite out of commission and destroyed streetlights in Hawaii, according to a column by A.P.D.G. Everett and Alex Berezow in the Nov. 17, 2017, Wall Street Journal. The systems engineer and the senior fellow at the American Council on Science and Health, also noted that a truck driver with a GPS Jammer to prevent his boss from tracking him drove past Newark Liberty International Airport as his jammer blocked air traffic control signals.

Congress can reactive the LORAN system. It’s a much better system than navigating by the stars. Navigating by the terrain only works when not obscured by clouds. Terrain navigation is more appropriate for bush pilots. I’ve seen single-engine pontoon planes flying along the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska, about 100 feet above the water as they use the terrain to navigate.  A pilot really needs to have the map memorized for that area. Those channels are surrounded by mountains.

That type of navigation only works in a local area like the Alaska Inside Passage.

GPS needs a backup system. Congress should refund the LORAN system.


The B.S. detector and fake news


By Michael Raffety

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: “A new study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published earlier (in March) in the journal Science, analyzed the spread of 126,000 rumors tweeted by 3 million people over more than 10 years and found that false news spreads faster than truth.”

No shuttlecock, Sherlock.

Famous people like George Washington and Winston Churchill have said pretty much the same thing, based on a lifetime of political experience instead of a scientific study.

The quote about the study came from a Wall Street Journal feature by Elizabeth Bernstein headlined “It’s time to tune up your B.S. detector.”

Her best information was in sidebar headlined “How can you spot B.S.?” Her subheads read like advice to news reporters: “1. Check the source. 2. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. 3. Ask questions. 4. Don’t trust your gut. 5. Ask for evidence. 6. Pay attention to people who discount evidence. ‘I don’t care what the experts say’ is a red flag that the person is using B.S.”

The Mountain Democrat is always a source of reliable information.

Sometimes, though, an interviewer will just put out some B.S. disguised among a lot of factual statements that sound entirely legit. I’m referring to the Jan. 5 lengthy feature/news interview of Rod Miller, identified in the caption as the “head” of the El Dorado County Cannabis Growers Alliance.”

The article had some real scary stats about the huge amounts of water needed to grow marijuana plants, with the biggest amount being 15 gallons per day for each mature marijuana “tree.” Tree is a good description. An organic vegetable grower in the south county sometime in the early 2000s booked a reservation for a long-term stay at the Hotel California after a sheriff deputy examined his marijuana orchard. That was our description after we saw the photos. It was an orchard. The plants were supposedly for medical marijuana patients. That orchard sure would have supplied a heck of a lot of bongs for back pain.

The organic vegetables for the restaurant trade and a local store were wholesome, but the real money was in the “orchard.”

This brings me to some B.S. by Rod Miller in the form of an indirect quote: “Promoting business, he said it would bring jobs and the use of marginal land in the county as well as prop up property values,” the writer wrote.

Because Miller already identified Georgetown, Garden Valley, Somerset and Grizzly Flat as big marijuana growing areas, what exactly constitutes “marginal land?” And how does a pot grower next-door “prop up property values?”

We got complaints at the Mountain Democrat from neighbors of pot growers about the smell. Pot growers also attract home invasion robbers to take their money and their crop.

Speaking of water use, the California Legislature is still trying to pass a law that would restrict homeowners to 55 gallons of water use per day, with the goal of ratcheting that down to 50 gallons per day.

“Failure to meet the targets would leave the districts open to financial penalties, but fines wouldn’t kick in until 2027,” the Sacramento Bee summarized March 16 in a lengthy story that included that note about state Sen. Bob Hertzberg’s legislation, SB606.

“It’s a very gentle glide path to start moving people to efficiency standards,” Hertzberg told the Bee. I presume he kept a straight face when he handed out that B.S.

The real wizard behind the curtain was revealed at the end of the Bee article:

“Environmental groups tend to favor very strict regulations on water use, but some are on board with this relatively moderate piece of legislation. Tony Quinn of the Resources Defense Council, said the bills strike the right balance between conservation and local flexibility.

“It’s a much more equitable way of ensuring long-term reliability of our supplies.” she said.

Gee, thanks for giving us enough water to stay alive. What would we do without the Natural Resources Council? Maybe cut down on the B.S.

A look back and a look into the future


By Michael Raffety

March 14 my biweekly column appeared in the Mountain Democrat and in the same issue was my wife’s announcement she won’t be seeking reelection as treasurer-tax collector.

As a result of that confluence I thought I would see what my horoscope said about the day:

“Libra: There will be moments of stress that you would do well to shake off as quickly as you can. One way is to get grounded, literally. Find a spot on earth, put both hands on your head and jump up and down.”

Really? Jump up and down? That has to be the corniest horoscope ever.

Jumping up and down is something I often do in my twice-a-week crossfit class in El Dorado Hills in lieu of trying to jump rope.

Tuesday, March 13, when driving back from crossfit I hit the thundershowers about near Shingle Springs Drive and had to slow down to 50 mph on the freeway with my windshield wipers doing double time.

The morning of March 14 my rain gauge had 2.3 inches of water.’s Placerville weather station had 2.56, which is recorded at Missouri Flat Road and Highway 50. The Mountain Democrat apparently stopped reading its rain gauge. George Osborne said he measured 3.47 inches at his house in Audubon Hills area of Camino.

At any rate March is getting off to a good start, especially with a large amount of snow expected at higher elevations and later on at lake level in Tahoe.

The rain year is going to end above 20 inches whether it is my rain gauge or the Placerville website’s. Getting above 20 inches and ending at 25 to 30 inches is a reasonable water year even if it is below the 144-year average of 39.33 inches.

. . .

The March 13 Wall Street Journal had a “Main Street” column by William McGurn with the headline “The NCAA cannot fix college sports.”

“…it’s such a scandal that so many athletes never see a degree, or get one that isn’t worth anything,” McGurn wrote.

When the University of the Pacific recruited my son, Wolfgang, from American River College in 2005 they went on to win the Big West championship in 2006 and played the University of Massachusetts to double overtime before losing to them in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

All of my son’s college team graduated on time. They had an assistant coach who made sure everyone completed their classes and maintained their required grade point averages. My son took summer classes to make sure he met all the requirements. Other players also took summer classes. My son met his future wife in a summer botany class. They were both business majors.

McGurn cites “a study from the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center concentrated on black male athletes from 65 schools that dominate the NCAA’s Division 1 sports. It found only 55.2 percent graduate within six years.”

Sure, there are a lot of mostly black players who don’t complete college. They are NBA material and leave after one or two years to stand for the NBA draft.

I can tell you the black kids on my son’s team at Pacific graduated on time and they had worthwhile degrees. I met the whole group of graduating seniors in their cap and gowns gathered around that assistant coach.

. . .

 What does the future hold? My wife brought home a bag of fortune cookies:

“You will visit many countries.”

“You will bring sunshine into someone’s life this week.”

“You will have many friends when you need them.”

And finally cookies often offer advice:

“Don’t give up, the beginning is always hardest.

What was the point of the War of 1812?


By Michel Raffety

What do we really know about the War of 1812? Gen. Andrew Jackson beat the British at the Battle of New Orleans and the British burned the White House.

The “Battle of New Orleans” became a song written by high school history teacher Jimmy Driftwood and performed by country western singer Johnny Horton. Both the songwriter and the singer won Grammys in 1959.

Actually Jackson was the only successful general of the War of 1812. Much like the Civil War when President Lincoln went through a lot of generals before finding one that would actually pursue and beat the enemy as Ulysses S. Grant did, President James Madison also was plagued with a lot of incompetent generals.

Madison’s biggest problem was picking generals from the Revolutionary War. By 1812 they were pretty old and the ones available weren’t that competent. In fact, they lost Detroit they burned and looted a few towns and homes and farms in Canada, which caused the Canadians to unite behind the British.

The biggest naval battles were on Lake Erie and a repeat of the Revolutionary War on Lake Champlain. Lake Erie was pretty much a stalemate, but the British were again defeated on Lake Champlain.

Jackson and his army of 5,300 didn’t just win the Battle of New Orleans, but they defeated a British invasion of 7,500 veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. They were known as the “Invincibles.” Jackson’s Tennessee sharpshooters killed three British generals and more than 2,000 British troops were killed, wounded or captured. No longer invincible, the remaining British general ordered his men back on their ships and they sailed away.

The breastworks Jackson’s army built are still visible today. I saw them on a PBS TV show recently.

Communications were slow in 1814. The main Battle of New Orleans and the defeat of the British took place Jan. 8, 1815. An American delegation led by John Quincy Adams negotiated a peace treaty with the British. It was signed Christmas Eve, 1814, in the city of Ghent in the Netherlands. It took 45 days for the ship to cross the Atlantic in the winter to bring the treaty for Congress to ratify.

The real meaning of the War of 1812 is contained in the title of a book I just finished: “Unshackling America, How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution” by Willard Sterne Randall. It was copyrighted in 2017.

The title seemed so interesting when I read a review in the Wall Street Journal that I immediately ordered the book.

A journalist and retired professor of history, Randall has written six biographies, including Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. What sent him off to research the War of 1812 was an interlude between the publication of his hardbound and paperback versions of “Thomas Jefferson, A Life.” While looking for errors and omissions in his book he reviewed some manuscripts on microfilm at the New York Public Library. That’s when he discovered a diary of Jefferson’s travels to New England in the summer of 1791 with his friend James Madison.

During a dinner in Bennington, Vermont, Jefferson learned the British had built a stockade on North Hero Island in Lake Champlain.

This fort was far across the border in American territory. It was used to stop and search American boats carrying trade goods into Canada. Jefferson, the first secretary of state, hustled back to Philadelphia to inform President Washington about this violation of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Randall wrote, “The building of a new fort on American soil in peacetime was my first hint that the struggle for American Independence had not ended.”

By the end of the war the American government was bankrupt as a result of the successful British blockade of American ports along with burning of ship building facilities. As a result the country developed its internal trade more. It beat off a major British invasion of Baltimore with humongous defensive breastworks built up by all able-bodied men. They withstood rocket attacks and a 40-foot flag atop Ft. McHenry kept flying through the attacks, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write what became the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” that replaced “Hail Columbia.”

With the U.S. Navy bottled up in port for the duration of the war the country wound up with an intact navy, command of the seas, a complicated national anthem and the Oregon Trail, pioneered by fur trader John Jacob Aster after the British destroyed his station at Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River.


Folsom Nutcracker follows tradition established in 1955

Belltower 2-12-2018

By Michael Raffety


My daughter bought me a ticket to the December Nutcracker performance at the Harris Center. It was the best Nutcracker performance we had attended in the Sacramento area.

The last time she and I attended a Nutcracker was with my late mother when we attended the performance at the Sacramento Civic Center. Music for that performance by the Sacramento Ballet was canned.

The Harris Center performance was by the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet, originally based in Folsom and at one time performing at Folsom High School, it is now based in the El Dorado Hills Business Park.

I rated some of the principal dancers very well. Especially noteworthy among the men was Anthony Savoy. Savoy was awarded “Maryland All State Dancer in 2006, later joining the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company in 2010 as both a principal and soloist dancer. In 2016 he joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet, touring the Ukraine and Russia. He also appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Got Talent.”

I dwell on Savoy’s resume because I regard him as a real coup for the Pamela Harris Classical Ballet Theatre. Having seen both Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov perform in San Francisco I expect to see strong male dancers.

Savoy fit that bill for me, by doing what is more easily described as scissors kicks straight up and down, grand jetes and jumping side kicks, plus mid air twirls and spins with one leg out. There are fancy French names for all the moves. Either way they require lots of training, strength and muscle memory.

The company had some really excellent female dancers as well, but my favorite is always the men’s solo performances.

I rated the Nutcracker at Folsom College’s Harris Center as superior to the Sacramento Ballet because the Harris Center’s performance featured a live orchestra. The Folsom Lake Symphony with maestro Peter Jaffe performed very well throughout the approximately two-hour performance. It was a real treat to listen to a live orchestra instead of the canned music of the Sacramento Ballet.

Another advantage of the Nutcracker performance by the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet Theatre is they did the full George Balanchine version of he Nutcracker, including the Christmas tree that grew overnight. My recollection of the Sacramento Ballet version is they did not feature a growing Christmas tree. I compare all Nutcrackers to the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. I found the Pamela Hayes presentation to be closest to the San Francisco presentation. Of course, the San Francisco Nutcracker is closest to the George Balanchine choreography.

Balanchine was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1904. His name was Giorgi Melitonovich Balanchivadse. The family name is Georgian. He was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg in 1913. Later at the Petrograd Conservatory he choreographed two dances.

While visiting Germany with Soviet State Dancers he and his wife and two other dancers escaped to Paris where there was a Russian expatriate community and Sergei Diaghilev invited him to be the choreographer for the Ballet Russe.

In 1933 a wealthy American art patron invited him to America where they founded the American Ballet School and the New York City Ballet. He was artistic director for 35 years.

In 1938 he relocated to the West Coast and did choreography for five movies.

Back in New York after the war he formed a new dance company, the Ballet Society that later became the dance company of the Lincoln Center.

It was here that in 1955 he created his version of the Nutcracker and he played the role of Drosselmeyer, the old man who brings presents and creates magic.

Balanchine created ballet magic for America and many companies have followed in his choreographic footsteps ever since.

Balanchine died in 1983 at age 79.

A Sunday obituary recalls statewide pollster’s local focus


By Michael Raffety

I used to have a weekend subscription to the Sacramento Bee. Half the time they could not get the Sunday paper delivered to me. The other half it would be late, really late. I would come back from running around the El Dorado High School track about 7 a.m. or 7:15 and the Bee box would be empty. I would turn around and drive to the store to buy a Sunday paper. Half the time I would come back with my $3 paper plus tax purchase and find the Bee had finally delivered. Pretty annoying.

I got a good deal on subscription to the Wall Street Journal. The delivery worked pretty well – for a while. Then it turned flakey like my weekend Bee subscription had. It was being delivered by the same person who couldn’t get my weekend Bee subscription delivered consistently. The Journal finally switched me to mail delivery.

Democrat delivery, by comparison is golden, absolutely golden. It’s in my box by 6 a.m., though I usually wait till 6:30 a.m. to drive down the hill and pick it up. I wait to get dressed as opposed to hustling down in my bathrobe.

I mention the Sunday Bee, which I now always buy at Safeway, because Bee was the only place to find an obituary story about pollster Jim Moore, who was a resident of Camino. Jim Moore was a big name pollster for Capitol Democrats and statewide Democratic office holders. He even polled for state ballot measures.

Jim Moore also had a little polling operation just for El Dorado County issues.

Shortly after I became editor he would drop by weekly or biweekly and just chitchat with me. He was an interesting guy to talk to. I knew he was feeling me out and looking for a way to influence me. I tend to be cagey.

At the time there were a group of publishers from the Gold Country that would get together for either monthly or quarterly meetings. I lined up Jim Moore as a speaker for the next dinner meeting of Gold Country publishers. He gave a great talk. Everyone found him fascinating.

This was when our office was downtown. When we moved to Broadway. He produced a tabbed survey book for the Mountain Democrat. By that time he was really pushing a viewpoint. He didn’t like our conservative local editorials. They grated against his Democratic nerves. He thought we should be more like the Davis Enterprise.

The Enterprise is one of our sister papers. I had a pretty good relationship with the Enterprise’s editor. We have had some joint issues that we confabbed on. Everyone knows Davis is a liberal university town. The editorial policy of the Enterprise is suitable for its readership but not suitable for El Dorado County, and vice versa. The Mountain Democrat’s conservative, no-holds-barred editorials worked here, but I had no illusions that they would work in Davis.

So publisher Jim Webb and I found Jim Moore had turned from a straight pollster to an advocate. In fact, Moore’s survey appeared to us to be slightly slanted. We did our own readers survey that we printed in the Mountain Democrat and got a 10 percent return on a full page list of questions. Ten percent was actually a big return.

Jim Webb also contracted with another opinion survey outfit, which confirmed our own readers survey.

Jim Moore gave up on the Mountain Democrat after he got two persons elected to the Board of Supervisors, one of whom he largely controlled almost on a daily basis.

When we told him we weren’t going to be like the Davis Enterprise he left in a huff and tried getting Jim and me fired through a letter writing campaign by his local liberal coterie.

The campaign failed. Jim Webb and I kept a list of those who had written letters. Eventually I threw mine away. It just didn’t seem mentally healthy to hold on to a grudge that long, especially since I had once counted some of those letter writers among my friends. I had already resigned from a committee promoting local hiking trails because of the campaign against us, which included one of my fellow committee members. They were disappointed because they were hoping painter Thomas Kinkade would designate them as a charity for the year. The Mountain Democrat was well connected with Kinkade.

And I stopped sponsoring and moderating candidate debates after being attacked as not being partial by one of Jim Moore’s surrogates.

Once Jim Moore started actively promoting and campaigning for specific candidates and local measures in El Dorado County he lost his objectivity. You might say he went over to the dark side.

Jim Moore was 66 when he died Jan. 1, reportedly of heart failure. Though he owns a vineyard in Camino, services took place in Napa County.

Terror attacks in St. Petersburg precede World soccer cup play


By Michael Raffety

Ten people were injured by a shrapnel-packed bomb at a supermarket in St. Petersburg, Russia, Dec. 27, according to a news brief in the Wall Street Journal. The bomb ”went off at a storage area for customers bags.”

We didn’t visit a supermarket in St. Petersburg, but we did visit a good-sized market around the block from our hotel. That was quite an experience. My wife brought some apples along with our other items to the cash register. The apples occasioned some indignant mystery instructions in Russia from the clerk. Eventually we figured out that unlike an American market there was no weighing scale at the cash register. So, my wife went back to the scales by the apples and a kind gentleman showed her how to bag and mark up the apples so she could check them out at the cash register.

I took along a Russian-American dictionary/phrase book. After trying to study that I immediately threw it back in the suitcase. I’m pretty good with languages, but I found Russia totally unpronounceable.

At the market we shopped at there were no stored customer bags. We were given plastic bags to haul our goods back to the hotel room.

In Berlin, Germany, we shopped at a bigger market on the opposite side of the block from our hotel. We had to buy a cloth bag to carry out our goods in. Unlike American supermarkets, they didn’t seem to sell plastic bags. What’s more it cost 1 Euro to get a shopping cart unlocked. It’s a way to keep people from taking the shopping cart back to their apartment entrances. Return your grocery cart to the lock chain and you get your Euro back.

The 2018 World Cup playoffs are going are going to be in St. Petersburg, where Russia invested $1 billion to build a new soccer stadium, Kretovsky Stadium. It may be a draw for terrorists.

In April 2017, 15 people were killed and 45 injured from a subway bomb in St. Petersburg. In December, acting on a CIA tip about a terrorist attack planned for the Kazansky Cathedral, President Vladimir Putin thanked President Donald Trump for helping to prevent the attack.

The Kazansky Cathedral is a large Russian Orthodox basilica modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, complete with huge flanking Corinthian colonnades.

In France you can get Sky TV from Britain in hotels. In Germany there is never a TV in English. It’s all in German. The morning shows featured guys in Levis and T-shirts.
Some may wear plaid shirts. Some even weare sport coats with their jeans. It’s seemed shockingly casual.

I find German easy to pronounce, but that doesn’t mean I could understand what they were saying on TV. I found myself switching to French language news, because the subtitles were a lot easier to understand.

Our favorite show on German TV show was watching international snookers competition, a much more sophisticated game than billiards. Also fascinating was watching the final bowl game of American style football between the New Yorker Lions and the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns. It was raining like crazy, but the fans, covered with clear plastic rain gear cheered lustily and did not leave. The Unicorns won by passing once in the rain, giving them a 1-point advantage. This league has been playing since 1947,obviously dating back to the American occupation of West Berlin.

Another event that has been going on since 1947 was yacht races on Wansee. The chef at the French restaurant attached to the first hotel we stayed at in Berlin invited us to the barbecue and fireworks that followed the race. We knew which stop on the S Bahn was Wansee, but were reluctant to walk in a strange place at night.

The people of St. Petersburg are a tough bunch. In World War II, when the city was called Leningrad, it was the longest siege of the war, if not in history. It lasted from Sept. 1, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944.

The population before the war was 3.1 million. As the siege began, 1.7 million were evacuated. Artillery bombardment and starvation killed 1.5 million civilians and soldiers. Another 1.4 million civilians were evacuated, but most were killed by bombardment and starvation.

At the peak in January-February 1942, 100,000 starved to death per month.

Hitler ordered historical monuments around St. Petersburg destroyed. The Nazis burned Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin and the Peterhof Palace

Directors at each have done remarkable jobs assembling craftsmen and restoring both these palaces to their original grandeur, such that they look like they are nearly new. Now they are packed full of pushy Chinese tourists, many factory workers rewarded with a group trip to another communist country. The Russians appreciate the money but grumble about their lack of understanding of Western culture of politeness. To me the Chinese are group oriented and will do anything adhere to their group. They also don’t set off bombs