‘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.

Limited salmon number of salmon return


By Michael Raffety

The Nimbus Hatchery celebrated the return of salmon that ad been released from the hatchery during the drought. The celebratory event was sponsored Nov. 16 by the Regional Water Authority and the Water Forum.

How many salmon retuned to the hatchery is not fully counted yet, but as of Dec. 8 the expected total return would be “close to” 10,000, according to Laura Drath of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. This is a reduced return due to the drought.

Long after the hatchery count is finished the non-hatchery count begins by kayak, canoe and assorted small boats. Actually the salmon counted have completed their life cycle and have died. To avoid double counting the carcasses the crews cut of their heads.

On average 50,000 salmon return to the hatchery and 20,000 salmon lay eggs on the American River west of the hatchery, primarily the lower American River, according to Drath.

That’s after releasing 4 million salmon smolts. That’s a 1.25 percent survival. The drought return of 10,000 this year amounts to 0.25 percent

One of the things the Water Forum has done is used 300 tons of gravel to create 30 acres of salmon egg laying environment.. The Forum has also worked with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to improve the cold water gates at Folsom Dam. Releasing cold water in the fall entices the Chinook salmon to move upstream.

The American River is a major water supply for 2 million people, said John Woodling, executive director of the Regional Water Authority. The RWA represents 25 water agencies from five counties This area has added 400,000 people and uses the same amount of water it did in 2001, Woodling said

The Lower American River attracts 5 million visitors annually.

Because the Coleman hatchery on Battle Creek trucked its smolts to release in Rio Vista, a lot of them didn’t have a sense of direction and wound up at Nimbus. Nimbus identifies the Battle Creek salmon by reading a wire in their heads, so their eggs can be sent off to the Coleman Hatchery.

Processing for eggs and reading their point of origin results in a lot of killed salmon, which are sent to a food processor, who then turns them over the Sacramento Food Bank.

It’s a virtuous cycle for a fish that takes two to five years to return to the hatchery.

Huge storm results in slow train to Berlin


“Train I ride sixteen coaches long”

Mystery Train by Junior Parker

By Michael Raffety

One of the problems with all the cable TV stations being totally German language is you miss some important news, like a “hurricane” in Berlin. That’s how the Germans referred to it, we came to learn later.

This was a problem for us because we were leaving a small town in western Germany and heading back to Berlin, where we had a hotel reservation.

We wheeled our suitcases out of the hotel in Bad Meinberg at 10 a.m. and walked half a block to the bus stop to wait for the 10:30 a.m. bus to the Detmold train station, a 20-minute bus ride. Our train to Hannover was due to leave at noon. The train was on time and got us to Hannover in about half an hour. There we waited in a cold wind for the 1:30 p.m. high-speed train to Berlin.

The overhead reader announced our train was canceled. We checked the schedule and found the next train was 3:30 p.m. That also was canceled.

Always, it seems somewhere along the way some stranger has stepped up and helped us out. This day it was an American who had come to Germany, learned the language and earned a teaching certificate. He taught at a private school and wound up being principal seven years after arriving in Germany. He also married a gal from Hannover..

His phone was tuned into the German train schedules. From him we learned about the “hurricane” that swept through Berlin flooding tracks and knocking trees over onto the tracks. The subway system – the U-Bahn –was flooded. The aboveground system in Berlin – the S-Bahn was also at a standstill.

Jim the principal said the 4:30 train was canceled and it was likely the 5:30 train would be canceled. Just as insurance he booked us a hotel in Hannover.

Then he got the word there was going to be a Berlin-bound train on Track 3. We were on track 8. At first it seemed like a false call. He doubted it and then somewhat later it appeared likely and we all hustled over to track 3.

We got on a Berlin-bound train about 5 p.m. Jim the principal also got on and canceled our hotel reservation at Hannover. Eventually we wound up in a compartment with one woman who kept whispering into her cell phone and three college students.

The women college students all spoke English, which became a real advantage as time wore on. The conductor or the engineer periodically made announcements mostly in German, with an occasional English announcement thrown in. We relied on the three gals to interpret the announcements for us. The announcements proved to be Berlin arrival times that were becoming later and later.

What should have been a two-hour high-speed train ride became a seven and a half-hour train ride that took us in an around-about way through hills and tunnels that we never saw on the ride from to our two small towns of western Germany. The train was packed with people standing or sitting in the aisles.

As time wore on my wife tried calling our hotel to tell them we would be there but would be later. She had trouble connecting until one of the standees opened our compartment door, dialed the number on his phone, spoke in German and handed it to my wife who then actually spoke to a desk clerk.

Again, strangers were very helpful and key to our successful journey. By the time we arrived in the Berlin train station or Berlin Hauptbahnhof. It was 12.45 a.m. We stopped to get two cold water bottles then proceeded to the only restaurant open – McDonalds. After quickly finishing off two plain burgers and catching a cab we arrived at our hotel at 2 a.m. – 16 hours after our original journey began.

The next day while touring Charlottenburg Palace we saw large tree branches torn down. The next day, though, along Kurfürstendamm (boulevard) we saw entire tree trunks sawed off and nearly ripped out of the ground. It was a heck of a storm. We felt lucky to have actually arrived in Berlin.

Smart women and creepy North Koreans, plus a peculiar Iranian scam

Sept. 18, 2017

By Michael Raffety

While everybody worries about the weird politics of colleges these days, one interesting fact is under the radar. For the most recent year available, 2016, women earned 139 degrees to every 100 men who earned degrees. It’s been that way for a long time. It was 135 women to 100 women bachelor degrees earners in 1982. The information comes from the Department of Education.

Economist Mark J. Perry made the calculations in 2016 for these ratios.

In 2016 the percentage of women wining bachelor’s degrees was 60.6 percent. In 2017 that percentage increased to 60.9 percent, according to the stats from the U.S. Department of Education that go back to 1869-70. Men earned more degrees until 1978 when the balance began tipping toward women with 50.3 percent of the bachelor degrees going to women.

The tipping point for master’s degrees going to women happened in 1982, with the percentage of women hitting 50.3 percent. More women began earning doctoral degrees in 1987, with a percentage point of 50.4 percent.

In 2017 women earned 57.9 percent of the master’s degrees and 58.3 percent of the doctoral degrees.

To earn any of these degrees takes hard work, dedication and persistence. Apparently more women have these characteristics than men.

. . .

One of my favorite sports columnists is Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal. Folks back east tend to go to the beach for vacations. Going to the beach in Northern California is not a high priority vacation. Summers tend to be foggy along the rocky Northern California Coast. People in Southern California can more easily make a day trip to the beach. But back east it’s a whole vacation to get out of New York City and spend a week at the beach, Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard.

Back in July Jason Gay wrote a column about “How to exercise on vacation.” My plan when on vacation is to do a lot of walking. In New York City we walked all over – to the Fashion Institute of Technology to the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. In Philadelphia we walked along the waterfront until we got downtown. We even walked all over Boston during a rainstorm left over from a hurricane. The beauty of walking is that we can eat well and come home weighing the same as when we left.

Of course, we take the subway to farther away places like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

. . .

The U.S Treasury Department is starting to clamp down on North Korea’s access to the financial system and ditto for Chinese firms doing business with North Korea. The hermit Kingdom will still find a way to make money. After all, North Korea is a criminal enterprise. One of their moneymakers is counterfeiting

The North Koreans have made money stealing from the Bangladesh Central Bank and the Bank of Ecuador. It is also said they are behind the WannaCry ransom-ware plague. A July 28 Wall Street Journal story by Timothy W. Martin noted a report by the South Korean government said North Korean hackers have planted malware in ATMs in South Korea to steal bank information. The North Korean hackers then sold the stolen data to people in Taiwan, China and Thailand.

The Hermit Kingdom hackers even tried to breach financial networks of at least 18 countries, including Mexico, Norway and India.

. . .

Speaking of hackers, there are hackers, probably from Iran, who put up fake LinkedIn profiles. An Aug. 21 Wall Street Journal story by Kelsey Gee, noted that job seekers are getting scammed by fake job applications. This is the consequence of many employers shifting to digital applications that they run through word analysis to see who they like. They should go back to printed resumes and letters of introduction.

Russians raise statue to celebrate early 20th century secret police chief

Oct. 2, 2017

By Michael Raffety

Besides capturing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Russia has troops on the western border with Ukraine along a thin strip of Moldova called Transnistria. The Russians have occupied Transnistria since 1992. Also since 2014 The Russians and their proxies have occupied the eastern portion of Ukraine.

Since 2008 Russian troops have occupied part of the Black Sea state of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains. The two occupied territories are South Ossetia and Abkazia. Georgia became independent in 1991. The Russians have surreptitiously moved the border farther into Georgia.

The threat against the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia is constant, whether it is crossing the board to snatch an officer from one of the Baltic states or waging cyber warfare against them, the Baltic states are wary of Russia. All three are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Common Market.

Russia, under Vladimir Putin, is afflicted with nostalgia for its lost empire, either the Czarist empire or Soviet empire. The most immediate manifestation of this nostalgia is a new statue unveiled in Kirov, a city 500 miles east of Moscow. That statue is of Bolshevik secret-police chief Felix Dzerzhinsky. The head of Cheka, as it was known then, killed thousands without trial during the Russia Civil War of 1917-1922.

During Joseph Stalin’s reign the number of deaths from starvation, execution, death in Gulag camps has been estimated between 15 million and 30 million.

This is not the only statue of Dzerzhinsky. There is one in Moscow that was moved to a park once referred of as the Park of the Fallen Heroes.

Last year a 50-foot-talll state of Prince Vladimir, a 10th century monarch who was credited with bringing Christianity to Russia, was erected across from the Kremlin.

It’s an old country with a lot of history, but its revolutionary past is a history of cruelty. Of course one can say that about the French Revolution as well.

By the time this column appears in October my wife and I will have exited Russia and I’m sure I’ll have some interesting observations, including the struggle to get a visa for Russia.

Our mission has been to visit the Hermitage, one of the world’s greatest repositories of impressionist and post-impressionist art, along with a bunch of Renaissance art. The Hermitage, of course, is in St. Petersburg. The U.S. has wanted to build a consulate in St. Petersburg. That remains in limbo while Russia and America take turn reducing embassy and consular personnel.









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