Category Archives: column

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

‘Things we really need for Christmas’


By Michael Raffety

It still seems like yesterday that I went to Antarctica on assignment with the U.S. Navy, but in reality that was 50 years ago. About mid-December I noted on my Facebook page that I spent the fall in Antarctica when I turned 21 “On the Ice” and also spent Christmas at McMurdo Station. This time of year is summer down there. I also spent News Year’s Day there as well. As summer “warmed up” our Quonset hut, called the “Lifer’s Lounge,” hosted a barbecue outside. It was called the Lifer’s Lounge because it housed 2nd class and 1st class petty officers. I made second-class in my four years of active duty. The 1st class petty officers were on at least their second enlistment.

I worked “on the Hill” where the avionics shop was located. That was my workstation. It was as well equipped as the main avionics shop back at Quonset Point, R.I. The Hill was on sold ground. That meant as the sun stayed high all day long snow begin to melt and it became more challenging to get snow to make water.

The only things we needed water for in our hut was to reconstitute the freeze-dried pork shops or cook soup. Each hut had its own supplies of food in case of a storm. And each hut had its own supplies of beer in case of a dart tournament. The folks that really needed water were the photographers and the mess hall cooks. There were no flush toilets.

This past Thanksgiving my wife handed out “Things We Really Want for Christmas.”

The multiple-choice answers are “1. World peace. 2. Muscle tone. 3. Clean laundry. 4. Money trees. 5. Superpowers. 6. Self-acceptance. 7. Toe-curling love. 8. A few do-overs. 9. Tropical vacations. 10. Healthy gums. 11. Weight loss. 12. One of everything. 13. Happy families. 14. Perspective. 15. January. But most people will settle for chocolate.“ That makes me believe chocolate makers created this list.

Another anniversary will come Nov. 24, 2018 – The 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I mention this because of a fascinating article in the December issue of American Legion Magazine. I was a senior in high school when Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. I also remember when Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby killed Oswald as he was being transferred from the police station to the jail. The man in the light suit and light Stetson hat was Dallas Police Department Detective Jim Leavelle, who was escorting Oswald out of the station when a photographer caught the moment Oswald was shot by Ruby, the pistol visible, Oswald grimacing and Detective Leavelle leaning slightly backward and looking intently at Ruby.

Leavelle is now 97 and a member of American Legion Post 23 in Garland, Texas. The other big event in Leavelle’s life was being a sailor on the USS Whitney when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese airplanes.

Being handcuffed to Oswald when Jack Ruby shot Oswald wasn’t “even my closest calls,” Levelle told interviewer John Raughter. Leavelle faced gunfire several times during his 25 years with the Dallas Police Department, but the horrific view from his destroyer a mile and a half from Ford Island is the other big event in his life.

When Ruby pulled the trigger, Leavelle’s partner, L.C. Graves, saved Leavelle’s life by grabbing Ruby’s pistol by the cylinder “and I knew he wasn’t going to let it loose, and I knew that nobody could pull that trigger as long as L.C held that. But he already moved over enough. Ruby was still working his hand on the trigger trying to get off a shot. Had he gotten it off I would have caught it here (the chest). If my partner hadn’t grabbed that cylinder, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”

Later when they transferred Ruby to jail Ruby asked for a disguise. Levelle told the interviewer he said to Ruby, “Jack, nobody’s going to shoot you. In the first place you ain’t worth killing.”

The Dallas Police Department named its Detective of the Year Award after Jim Leavelle.

What a life –- being a close eyewitness to two momentous event of the 20th century. I’ll bet he chose No. 14. Perspetive.

Fish problems and the state’s wacky solutions


Michael Raffety

Everyone is worried about salmon runs. Salmon, however, have been taking care of themselves for millennia. Bruce Herbold, Ph.D, a retired fish biologist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, described the four different salmon runs in California as a “portfolio.” Each depends on different flows and different water temperatures, with the fall run having the lowest and warmest flows, at least by nature.

Herbold’s presentation was part of seminar presented Oct. 27 by the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association.

In contrast to these different salmon runs and their different needs, the state Water Resources Control Board is plotting to steal water from water districts along the American, Yuba and Feather rivers. At the Regional Water Authority Board of Directors meeting Nov. 9, RWA’s legal counsel told the group the state water board was aiming to take “unimpaired flows” of 35 percent to 75 percent. The state water board’s unimpaired flow plan is 427 pages.

The new executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board, Eileen Sobeck, also spoke Oct. 27 about the water board’s plan for updating the Bay Delta plan by demanding “unimpaired flows.”

Sobeck, a lawyer with a long Washington, D.C., career, essentially said water rights are subject to “water quality and flow requirements”

“The need for action can’t be doubted anymore,” Sobeck said.

First, the state water board is working on San Joaquin River flows. Sobeck referred to a “budget of water inflows that can be scalable.”

Phase 2 is the Sacramento River, where she said the state water board will seek “protection of fish and wildlife.” I didn’t know deer, raccoons, squirrels and birds were the state water board’s mandate.

“We’re working as fast as we can,” she said, indicating wrapping up their flow demands by the end of November.

The water board has a history of coming out with complex rules at the end of November and giving water districts and cities two weeks to respond.

The State Water Resources Control Board is actually getting a two-fer. In addition to its quest for seeking release of “unimpaired flows,” the water board is also going to require “permanent conservation,’ Sobeck said.

Increased flows will do little more than drain Folsom Lake. The real problem facing salmon and Delta smelt are predator fish like bass introduced for sport fishing. Not satisfied with small mouth bass, in 1980 large mouth bass, a Florida fish, were introduced into the Delta and California waters, according to Doug Demko of FISHBIO, an environmental consultant and fisheries specialist. Demko told the Oct. 27 group of water district representatives that “90 percent of the fish biomass is non-native.”

These predator fish are gobbling up salmon. Demko noted that in 2009 there was a declaration that “the predator fish population must be reduced to prevent a precipitous decline (to salmon) … that will “become irreversible.”

Since 2000 we’re lucky to get 7 percent survival” of returning salmon, Demko said. Of the fish leaving Battle Creek in Shasta and Tehama counties there is only a 4 percent survival rate, Demko said.

The real battle facing California is getting rid of the predator fish the Department of Fish and Game allowed to be imported from the Mississippi and Florida.

Birth rates on the upswing in Germany


By Michael Raffety

In California, if not in the rest of the country, one can look for an improvement in the birth rates by the number of women with babies in what cold best be called chest-packs, as opposed to backpacks.

I’m not seeing a lot of those.

In fact, the U.S. birth rate for women between the ages of 15 and 44 dropped a full percentage point in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the first quarter of 2016.

In Germany, though, I saw a lot of baby buggies or strollers, many of them pushed by guys with beards. News accounts confirm my observations. After years of declining birth rates the Germans reached a high of 1.5 children per woman in 2015, or 56 births per 1,000 women.

Russia has had a declining birth rate, but when we walked along St. Petersburg’s upscale Nevsky Prospect on a sunny Saturday we spent the whole journey on our way to the Shopping Galleria dodging couples with baby buggies, lots of them. The good weather brought parents in from the surrounding area and suburbs.

This baby boomlet may be limited to St. Petersburg, but I wouldn’t discount the monetary reward President Vladimir Putin is offering to mothers giving birth.

China, though, is facing a potential demographic disaster. Here is how “The Outlook” by John Emont expressed it in the Nov. 13 Wall Street Journal:

“Demographic trends may also make it harder for goods trade to accelerate, as aging populations in the developed world spend more on services like health care. Some Asian exporters have demographic challenges of their own, including shrinking pools of low-cost labor.”

China’s new labor force entrants have declined by 3.45 million and its elderly population amounts to 14 percent, but will be 24 percent by 2030. There are 120 boys born for every 100 girls in China.

“A 2016 study conducted by a Japanese research firm found that even though nearly 70% of unmarried Japanese men and 60% of unmarried Japanese women weren’t in relationships, most people still say they want to get married,” according to Business Insider.

Japan’s elderly population is 27 percent compared to the US. elderly population of 15 percent.

Japan’s birth rate of 1.4 births per woman appears to be shrinking. It certainly plays a role in the moribund state of the Japanese economy.

Germany is a prosperous country. I believe their economic confidence plays a key role in their rising birth rates.

In St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect was created by Peter the Great (ruled from 1682 to 1725) as the beginning of the route to Novgorod and Moscow. It was named after 13th century Russian ruler Alexander Nevksy. Nevsky protected the northern borders of the Rus against invasion by the Swedes. More importantly in 1242 he defeated the Teutonic knights of the Holy Roman Empire at Lake Chad.

Cinematic genius Sergei Eisenstein made a 1938 film about Alexander Nevsky’s army defeating the Teutonic knights. Eisenstein, with the aide of a musical score by Sergei Prokofiev, set the standard for battle scenes. He also used symbolism to equate the Teutonic knights with Nazi officials. Many of the knights, burdened by heavier armor and armored horses, sunk in areas of thinner ice during the winter battle on Lake Chad.

Russian winters have been the country’s best defense against invaders, including Napolean and Nazi Germany. At the Hermitage art museum there is a whole room devoted to portraits of Russian generals who defeated Napolean.