Even though I always looked like my father, comparisons usually ended there.

We had very little in common. He was a scholar with no interest in sports. I was a jock who really struggled with my studies.

He was patient and sedentary, an avid reader and crossword specialist. I can’t sit still, I’m impatient and I can only read newspapers, magazines or listen to books on tape when I’m on a long road trip,

Leo is very much on my mind this week because it’s my father’s Yahrzeit, the Jewish anniversary of his passing. He died 18 years ago, at the age of 79.

His father, Paul Damski, was a famous boxing promoter in Berlin and the sporting DNA obviously skipped a generation. Leo never once came to one of my games, from Little League to high school football, wrestling and baseball. Paul would drive 20 miles from Manhattan to watch me wrestle on Long Island and then go out and play golf the next morning.

Despite economic challenges, Leo was a shirt-off-his-back, pick-up-the check kind of guy, qualities that he inherited from his more successful, more expansive father.

My father was happy sitting in his jewelry store all day, schmoozing with customers and reading Michener novels and doing the crossword puzzle when nobody was around. His world revolved around my mother Rachel, and he had very few friends or interests that didn’t include my Mom.

He was easy going and had a very bearable lightness of being. Even now, my Mom, almost 94, is understandably suspicious and untrusting—after all, she lived through the the depression and the holocaust and Kristallnacht before escaping in 1938.

Dad left Germany three years earlier, before things got really ugly, and if anything, he was trusting to a fault. He loved the creative side and social aspects of owning a small town jewelry store, but the business challenges eluded him.

He was a great listener and happy to schmooze or offer a fair price to a customer, but my mother had to often step in to look after the bottom line.

His favorite hobby was collecting coins and stamps. During my sophomore year of college, I wrote a short story entitled The Stamp Collector. It was about a man who escaped from real world problems by subverting himself in his stamp collection.

My professor liked the story but unfortunately my father came upon some files in one of my drawers and read the story. I’m sure he was very hurt, but he couldn’t really bring himself to discuss it with me but he told my mother and she told me.

Before there was Google, there was Leo. You could ask him anything about World History and he would have a ready answer. He had gotten a solid enough education in German Gymnasium—their high school—and he continued to self-educate himself. After he arrived in New York, he had to work to help support his parents and younger brother and wasn’t able to apply to college.

After working as a traveling salesman, Leo ended up working in a airplane parts factory as part of the war effort—although he was now an American citizen, he had a punctured ear drum and wasn’t able to serve so this was his way of contributing to the country that saved his immediate family from extinction.

His father Paul got out of the boxing business—he said it was mob controlled and didn’t want any part of that— so he opened a jewelry business in midtown Manhattan. He invited Leo downtown one day, saying he had a surprise for him. There on the front window of the 46th Street Jewelry exchange was the sign “Paul Damski and Son”.

Leo was no match for his charming and powerful father so, despite my mother’s warnings, he joined Paul in the jewelry business. Eventually my mother convinced him that he needed to breakaway and together my parents opened a store in Long Island, where they had moved so that we kids could grow up with some trees around us.

He settled into what must have seemed like an idyllic life, especially knowing how tragically early life ended for his whole extended family in Europe.

He was proud of his kids, but left us to navigate on our own. My mother was his world, and his only escape was the fellowship of his Masonic Lodge. Otherwise, it was all about life’s simple pleasures.

He would do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, and he would fill it out as if it was a form, from top-left to bottom right, almost never having to jump ahead to look for an easy one further down on the puzzle.

When he died, there was his last puzzle, in ink, half-finished, by his bedside. I’ve framed that puzzle and it is one of my most prized possessions.

Now that I’m mellowing out, I’m finding more Leo in me. I definitely inherited his schmoozing gene, and my family always says that I’m a pushover when it comes to any kind of negotiation.

My love of music is definitely from my Dad. We would drive around and listen to WNEW and play a game to identify the singer, whether it was easy, like Sinatra, or challenging, like Dinah Washington.

When Sirius Satellite radio replaced my 40’s on 4 Channel with the Billy Joel Channel, I wanted to burn their house down but luckily some other old coots must have complained and it was Bye Bye Billy Joel and Hello Benny Goodman.

I finally got brave enough to attempt crossword puzzles and on-line Scrabble even though I’m lucky if I can finish the Wednesday NY Times puzzle—in pencil, with a well-used eraser.

The greatest gift my father gave me was his incredible curiosity and fascination with the way the world works. It’s why I’m glued to NPR and BBC, read a lot of newspapers and constantly think how nice it would be to call Leo to discuss how this all came to be.






Climate change is becoming less abstract and more real for me as I am spending a lot of time lately working in California. The Golden State is looking very parched these days and there are great many stories floating around in the media and around the dinner table about just how much this phenomenon will affect our lives and livelihoods.

I don’t spend too much time thinking about whether this is made by mankind or Mother Nature or some inexplicable cosmic force. I figure let’s err on the side of caution and do what we can as humanoids because what else can we do?

I’d rather find out twenty years from now that we didn’t really have to stop pouring aerosol spray into the atmosphere than to find out we should have.

I think a lot about the future because it is my nature to ponder but I also have a more practical stake in these outcomes: five kids and hopefully some grandchildren and I want them to enjoy their lives as much as I am.

Oh, and let’s not forget the rest of the human race, which doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record, but has definitely done some magnificent things.

I’m not above crowing about how smart I think I am for leading a migration to the Great Northwest, where the trees are still green and bountiful. So far only one of my kids has actually followed my lead, so I decided to consult someone who knows a lot more about these things than I do.

His name is John Yearsley and he has a lot of fancy letters after his name, one of which is MIT. That means he’s smart and John’s particular field of expertise is water.

I figure if I’m going to keep telling anyone who will listen that they should take advantage of affordable real estate, excellent public schools and yes, it rains a lot and we are damn proud of the fact that we are surrounded by water, then I better back that up with some science.

So John was nice enough to take some time to answer some questions about our water and our future.

Mel: Do you have any short term concerns about the water supply in Bellingham?

John: Yes and no, of course. The likelihood is low that I or any of my friends or neighbors will not see water coming out of the tap whenever we turn it on in the next five years. Nevertheless, there is uncertainty about the reliability of the two sources for Bellingham water, the Nooksack River and the Lake Whatcom watershed. The Nooksack River has many competing interests for its water including irrigated agriculture, dairy farms, municipal drinking water supply, industrial water supply, in stream flow requirements and tribal rights. Furthermore, extraction of groundwater from permitted wells and exempt wells has an as-yet unknown impact on Nooksack River flows. (Did you know that you can withdraw an unlimited amount of water from a permit exempt well for watering livestock or for watering your lawn?) Lurking in the future of the Nooksack River watershed is the specter of climate change. Climate models for the Cascades predict more precipitation falling as rain in the winter at mid-level elevations (3000-5000 feet), resulting in less runoff from snowmelt in the summer.

The reconveyance of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land to Whatcom County was the one bright spot in the future for Lake Whatcom. Earlier this year, the DNR transferred (reconveyed) 8800 acres of forest lands, much of which includes the Lake Whatcom watershed to Whatcom County parks. It’s been logged, of course, and I believe there are some conditions under which it can still be logged. However, it is a great acquisition and could do much in preventing further development in the watershed. Both Portland (the Battle of Bull Run) and Seattle have interesting histories of logging in their watersheds which could well be resurrected in the event there are proposals to log the Whatcom property. The forest provided funding for the Mount Baker School District when it was under the jurisdiction of the DNR and some out in the county cried “foul”. The county settled with the school district for something under one million dollars, as I recall. There was also a law suit, but good sense prevailed. Ironically enough, it succeeded because it had the support of a previous council member notable for her staunch conservatism.

The rest of the story is not so good. In 1998, the Washington State Department of Ecology listed Lake Whatcom and many of its tributaries as impaired for nutrients and coliform bacteria under the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972. This is supposed to initiate planning and, eventually, implementation of a program that results in improved water quality in the lake. Much studying has ensued, but no action as far as I can tell. Hence, the clogged water intakes in the summer from algae prompting the city to ask for voluntary water conservation.

Mel: What should we be doing about this?

John: No easy answers here for the Nooksack River. The Water Resource Inventory Area No. 1 (WRIA 1) project is working on a detailed implementation plan for managing water in the watersheds included in WRIA 1. Meanwhile, the farmers are forming water districts for projects that would “provide more water for farmers, particularly those whose use exceeds their rights and to pay legal fees” and so on. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen soon. One of the quickest steps in the right direction, however, but also difficult, would be to close the permit exempt loophole.

The same goes for Lake Whatcom. The City of Bellingham’s use of a body of water for water supply that has 6500 homes in the watershed, (many of them on the shoreline with questionable wastewater treatment, motor boating, human and animal swimmers and construction) is probably not unique. I imagine it’s a lot better than Calcutta’s, but water supply sources like Seattle’s or Portland’s are more like what I think of as appropriate.   The reconveyance helps, for sure, but even that was something of a battle. Checking the bottom of boats at Bloedel Donovan isn’t going to solve the water quality problem and it may not even solve the invasive species problem. Something the city and county could do, however, is to buy properties as they come up for sale and tear them down; or at least look at the cost of that compared to other solutions. As is, the lake is getting worse each year according to the Department of Ecology. It will probably continue to do so as population pressures increase.

Mel: I asked you this once before. If I were to suggest a place for my 30-something kids to move to that will still have abundant water in their lifetime (perhaps the next 60 years), and you told me Marblemount. Why Marblemount?

John: Marblemount is, except for City Light’s company town at Newhalem, the last community on the mighty Skagit River. It’s also at the confluence of the Cascade River with the Skagit. Rainfall there is copious and water use by the few who live there is minimal, although there are a few farms that probably irrigate in the summer. It’s basically upstream of all water users in the Skagit, the biggest river in the Puget Sound basin. Plus, it’s only 50 miles from I-5.

Mel: Whether climate change is mostly caused by mankind or not, what can we do, if anything, to stop it?

John: Here’s what I believe (the Nicene Creed for climate scientists): I believe in all the conservation laws (energy, mass, momentum and all the others). I also believe that committed, intelligent scientists use these laws to simulate the effects of mankind on the climate and these simulations, with their associated uncertainty, show that, yes, mankind’s burning of fossil fuels is changing the climate. Furthermore, these results are consistent with observations and analyses of the real world. I would recommend caution in believing this is true simply because 99% of the science says it is. There are examples of cases in which 99% of the scientists said it was this or that, but it turned out to be something different. Think of phlogiston, for example, as a scientific theory explaining combustion. Discovery of the role of oxygen in combustion did in phlogiston. However, as of yet, the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that mankind is altering the climate. Hansen, Sato and Ruedy have a Scientific American-level article, “Perception of Climate Change” that is useful in this regard.

Although it would take a long time (decades) to reverse the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the climate, there are many things that could be done to make this happen. Most all would have benefits other than simply reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The list is long, but comes under the general category of consuming less.

Mel:  Yes, we can definitely do a lot more as consumers to be more responsible stewards of our planet.

I’m wondering if there are specific suggestions you would make or have made to our elected officials in terms of regulatory steps that would really have an impact?


Mel, The problem is systemic and universal.   I don’t believe necessary regulations could be developed, implemented and reinforced.  Regulations are not the answer, is a better way of saying it.  According to a survey by Ipsos MORI, 46% of Americans either don’t know or don’t believe man is changing the climate.  Count several of our prominent legislators in that group.  The rest of us are not behaving any differently than the 46%.  Consider all the people who believe that spending $90,000 for a Tesla electric car is saving the planet.  Ironically, the largest percentage (93%) of people who believe man is changing the climate are Chinese.  The Chinese government would have no problem enacting regulations (and enforcing them).  But they’re not.  Europeans seem to me to be the most aware and willing to address the problem at a personal level.   But it would require more than that and it would have to be on a global scale.

Mel:  Yikes.  Marblemount, here I come!!!

fish out of water



Born in Bismarck, North Dakota. Graduated Mount Vernon High School. Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master Degree in Geology and Geophysics (Oceanography) from MIT. PhD in Water Resources University of Washington.

Environmental Scientist US EPA Region 10 1970-2004

Affiliate Professor University of Washington 2006-Present

Research Interests: Ecosystems Modeling, Impact of Climate Change on Stream Temperature

Interests: Gardening, birding, hiking, biking

Organizations: Nature Conservancy, American Geophysical Union, Whatcom Chorale, Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee

There is a reasonably good photo at my University Web site:


First Run Credit: Bellingham Muse


Boy was I wrong!

You might remember a column I wrote suggesting that the South should rise again and secede from the Union after all. And this time we won’t put up a fight.

My thinking was based on the perception that American was a Purple, not Red, country and those people in the Deep South would be happier living in a place that reflected their values, a one-man-one-gun, anti-abortion, country where gay marriage and legal pot would be forever banned.

Last Tuesday was a wake-up call for me and a lot of others. America is trending red, partly because left-leaning voters are too damn busy blogging and face booking and texting and smoking weed to vote in a measly mid-tern election.

Turns out I had it backwards. We are the outliers here on the Left Coast and we are the ones who need to secede and form our own country.

It’s going to include Washington and Oregon and California, Hawaii and Alaska and it’s going to be called Pacifica.   The Alaskans might resist joining but they will benefit by having wealthy neighbors who could definitely use their oil and natural resources.

Not that we will need much oil. We’re going to be a solar-powered nation with lots of electric cars and charging stations everywhere.

Marriage equality and freedom to smoke weed will be constitutionally protected rights. Gun ownership with be sensibly regulated.

We will be bi-lingual with Spanish as a second language, but we will also have a sensible immigration policy. Our border with Mexico will be much shorter and much easier to patrol and will put the Coyotes and drug smugglers out of business. There will no longer be a flood of illegal immigrants but there will be adequate opportunities for those who qualify.

We won’t proclaim ourselves the greatest country in the world—we’ll just settle for being a wonderful country. We’ll start with 48 million people and the seventh biggest economy in the world.

We’ll be superstars in the tech world, including Silicon Valley and Microsoft. We’ll boast Hollywood and Boeing, world class ski areas and amazing surfing beaches.

And we won’t be slouches when it comes to professional sports, including the last Super Bowl and World Series champions.

Our universities will be nothing to sneeze at either, and Harvard will become known as the Stanford of the East.

You might be asking yourselves why the United States would just sit back and let us go but I’m hoping the Bush Doctrine is still in place. If we believe in bringing democracy to the Middle East, we certainly have to support it in the Far West.

Each state will retain its own capital and the national capital will be Melvindam. You read about that Utopic place right here in an earlier column. It will sprout on the California Coast between Santa Barbara and Buellton and will house one million residents, all of whom get an ocean view from their subsidized housing. We will be creating a national capital just as Brazil created Brasilia.

I’m expecting very cordial relations with our neighbors in Canada, the United States and Mexico, so we will have a very small military budget. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I’m assuming we will eventually join NATO and we will likely send troops to support NATO missions but we won’t be arrogant and lead the charge.

I’ve left a message for President Obama because I know he religiously reads this column and I would rather tell this to him personally, man to man. He grew up in Hawaii so I realize that Donald Trump is going to say “I told you so—Obama wasn’t born in America after all”. Hopefully I’ll hear from the President before you are reading this on Wednesday.

Basically, I’m going to say it’s nothing personal, he’s got a great country there, and we are going to live as neighbors in perfect harmony.

In fact, we will offer him dual citizenship because he now owns a home in Palm Desert, California.

In case you are wondering what my role will be in this new country, I would be proud to be considered a Founding Father and I certainly expect to be one of the signers of our new constitution, but I’m categorically saying I will not run for Premier or Prime Minister or whatever we’re going to call that person.

I’ll be too busy between getting Melvindam up and running and making the occasional golf outing to Palm Desert with other world leaders.

If you are planning to stay in the original 46—yes, you’ll have to redo your flags—we want you to know that we would love you to visit our Purple Mountain Majesties and our beautiful white sandy beaches and the aqua waters of Pacifica.

This will be an extremely colorful yet color-blind nation.




Good news, bad news.

The good news is that now that we are no longer filming Psych, I’ve lined up some jobs in Hollywood.

The bad news is that I have to be in Los Angeles for extended periods of time.

This is a real struggle for someone who loves the Northwest, especially during an extended drought that is turning the Golden State into the Dust Bowl.

Locally, the smog is horrible and the traffic is in a state of permanent gridlock. There is no longer a rush HOUR in LA—the freeways are always jammed and the overflow has spilled into all of the local streets.

You take your life in your hands just walking around because pedestrians are regarded as at best irritants and at worse easy targets.

If this sounds cataclysmic, that is exactly what it is. This place has reached a critical mass and the city fathers and mothers just keep issuing more building permits to grow the tax base.

As you all know, the Zookeeper is all about solving problems and not just complaining about things. Taking the bull by it’s horns.

Sometimes the best solutions are incredibly easy. The population of Los Angeles is a shade over 4 million and I have found a way to reduce this number by 25 percent.

I am forming a new city—let’s call it Melvindam (think Amsterdam)—that will take one million residents of the LA Basin and move them to a wonderful breezy location along the California Coast. It’s a 30-mile stretch between Santa Barbara and Buellton.

There are a great many people who live in Los Angeles who don’t need to be there. They aren’t working in the movie industry or the aerospace industry and they mostly have service jobs that could easily be transported to Melvindam.

If you are a doctor or a merchant or in any of the service industries, a city of one million will give you lots of patients and customers and clients.

If someone has to commute, I am installing a high-speed commuter train along existing tracks that run along the Pacific Ocean. Those lines will be able to connect to the new Metro subway system that is crawling towards completion in Los Angeles.

After scouting many locations, I chose this stretch to build my city because it is primo land that slopes down to the ocean and it is very sparsely inhabited. There will be very little disruption to the very few existing residents, and while we will remove those residents using eminent domain, we will certainly reward them at a reasonable rate.

If they don’t like it, too bad. How do they think the railroad and every interstate highway was built in America. Steven Spielberg and James Cameron and the others who are rumored to have big beautiful ranches up there that they hardly ever go to—get over it. Think of the greater good. Take one for the team, the big team—Planet Earth.

One of the great things about this location is that the housing will be built in a sustainable cluster and virtually every residence will have an ocean view. The lack of really high end housing will keep away a certain, shall we say, elite type of buyer who might prefer to have a big house somewhere behind a wall.

Water won’t be a problem because I am running a pipeline from an Arctic iceberg directly to Melvindam. This might sound outrageous but the city of Santa Barbara actually researched just such a solution during the seven year drought in the 1980’s. True.

All the cars and trucks and buses will be either electric or run on natural gas and hydrogen as that becomes more readily available. Needless to say, if you a regular reader of the Zookeeper, you won’t be surprised to hear that leaf blowers will be banned.

Imagine, a beautiful location overlooking the Pacific Ocean with wonderful westerly breezes and no smog and no noisy combustion engines. Every once in a while the whoosh of a high speed train going by.

And don’t worry. If we sell out before you can get your act together to make the move, I’m already eyeing a lovely stretch of Oxnard farmland for our companion city, Meltopia.



My name is Mel and I have a problem!

I am addicted to caffeine. But my addiction has developed into a very expensive habit. I love coffee—very good coffee.

Recently a study showed that half the coffee drinkers in American would be satisfied with the freeze-dried varietals. This made me sad.

I guess I just identify with the high class users. I feel sorry for those poor fools who are addicted to the buzz but don’t care about taste or freshness or color or terroir.

My life took a very definite turn for the better when I discovered, via a recommendation from a friend, an amazing coffee roaster who lives ten minutes from my house in Bellingham.

It’s in the boonies, and you drive down a long dirt road to a little settlement where you are greeted by a lovable Yellow Lab.

Inside a small log building, on the second floor, is an amazing roasting machine that was developed on nearby Camano Island.

Here, a gifted man, let’s call him Rodrigo, demonstrated to me the art and the science of coffee roasting. The beans come from the best growing regions in the World, all along the equator but spanning the globe from Central American and South to Africa and Asia and back via New Guinea.

Rodrigo would pop the beans like pop corn and listen for the second crackle to know that the bean had reached it’s full potential.

I took a few bags of beans—real coffee drinkers grind their own beans every morning because freshness is paramount!

When I went through two pounds in about a week, all I had to do was call Rodrigo and leave word designating which varietal I wanted and when I would pick up the small sealed bags.

The beans are roasted to my specifications the next morning and I pick them up any time after 1 PM. If Rodrigo isn’t around, I find my bags on a short bench with an open tin can where I deposit $15 per pound.

Rodrigo always leaves $5 bills in there for change of twenties and he’s never been ripped off—ever.

The ceremony is only beginning. The next morning I wake up under a cloud, grumpy, negative, unable to put a whole sentence together.

I grind the beans, pour over heated filtered water, and magic happens. Minutes later, I am sipping optimism, I am sipping personality, I am sipping articulation. The brew, with a little half and half added, is the color of Shari Belafonte and it is the nectar of the Gods.

Very often, I have a song stuck in my head and I start singing it to myself. It might be something I heard on the car radio the night before or a song that came up in a conversation and graciously I keep it to myself and sing it under my breath.

Off I go, ready to take on the d-bags and save the world and perhaps even create something wonderful.

Thankfully, I have some self control so I only allow myself to have one big cup in the morning and one big cup in mid-afternoon. The afternoon cup is always away from home and it’s not from a chain! It’s from one of the wonderful coffee shops in Bellingham that take this just as seriously as I do.

There is an inherent challenge in this process: how to make a great cup of coffee when you haven’t had your coffee yet. The other day, I was scheduled to play golf very early in the morning. I woke up, ground the beans, flipped the switch and jumped in the shower.

I had forgotten to put the coffee pot under the cone and I came back into the kitchen ten minutes later to witness an industrial disaster. There was a pool of hot coffee on the counter and it had dripped into all of the open drawers below it and of course onto the floor.

I called my amigos and bailed on my golf game and spent the next 15 minutes cleaning up before my wife woke up.

Each drawer had it’s only little coffee flood but I managed to mostly make the place look presentable. Luckily, coffee is a smell I love because there was an aromatic reminder of my little disaster for the next few hours.

You see, I have a problem. I am addicted to caffeine…


Tough morning for a news junkie! Globally, the insoluble Middle East
Crisis, Putin trying to restart the Cold War, and no cure for the Ebola

Locally, people in LA walking around with surgical masks because of the
combination of hot weather, drought and terrible smog.

I did the only sensible thing I could think of, something that I only do
under the most dire circumstances.

I stopped and bought a donut!
post-apocalyptic donut

Check out the pilot I directed for “Working the Engles”

Watch Full Pilot HERE


I drove 3.1 miles from my house, parked, got in a short line, showed ID, and walked into a brave new world.

Bellingham’s first pot shop. Their first customer was from Abilene, Kansas, and he arrived at 4:30 AM for an 8 AM opening. The first sale went down at 8:03. I showed up the next afternoon.

The vibe was hip industrial, like one of those coffee places where they roast the beans right in front of you.

There were two dudes with badges hanging around their necks. No uniforms. One guy looked like a surfer and the other looked like a bouncer. They were very friendly.

I asked for the cheapest, weakest thing they had in the store and I bought a small bag marked Cheese Quake. It had the lowest percentage of THC of everything on the menu—4.7—and it cost $19 bucks for a gram, including $5 for the governor.

Considering my heritage, I asked that it be renamed New York Cheese Quake, and of course they agreed. I could have asked for the salesperson’s first born child and she would have nodded and smiled.

It took me 9 minutes to get home. Halfway there, I passed Squalicum High School, about 5 minutes from the pot store, officially named Top Shelf Cannabis. This is going to be a tease for the high school kids because you have to have ID to prove you are 21 years old.

This means we are probably going to create a gray market. I can hear it already, “Hey, grandpa, can you pick me up a couple of grams of My Blue Heaven at Top Shelf when you’re heading back from the Shell Station?”

At home, I took pictures of the small baggie of pot, the historic receipt and the headline in today’s Bellingham Herald.

photo 1

Then I gave the baggie to my son because I don’t smoke the stuff and besides I don’t have rolling papers or a pipe and even if I did, I couldn’t roll a joint if my life depended on it.

So why did I do it? For history. For posterity. To experience something I could not have experienced before.

Actually, there is a very nice aroma emanating from my son’s room. I’ll catch up with you later.

photo 2




If you’ve been reading my column for the last few years, you know that the one thing I can’t tolerate is Intolerance.

So much of the violence and conflict in the world is a by-product of social, cultural, financial, and religious differences in addition to the age old battles over land and property and power.

We tend to think of these things kinds of simple-minded prejudices happening halfway across the globe in Tibet or Syria or Africa.

But then something happens in our own backyard that makes us realize that intolerance and the ignorance and stupidity that fuels it are unfortunately among those basic instincts that must be discouraged and suppressed first through education and when that fails, the rule of law.

Recently, three graduating seniors from nearby Lynden High School chose quotes from Adolph Hitler to post under their yearbook pictures. The quotes somehow went undetected by the faculty advisor and the students were seemingly unpunished and allowed to graduate with their classmates.

To make matters worse, several of their classmates told the news media in interviews that they didn’t understand what all of the fuss was about.

The Bellingham Herald ran a very short piece about the incident with no follow-up. They did publish some letters from local residents who were very upset that the school allowed this to happen and seemed anxious to sweep the incident under the rug.

One woman wrote that her husband risked his life fighting Hitler’s Army in World War Two so that Der Fuhrer’s psychotic nationalism was not allowed to spread across the Atlantic Ocean.

Another woman wrote that she grew up in Holland and had to endure constant bombings that killed her brother and two of her childhood friends.

She wrote: “What made them do this? It was just for fun, they said. What were these children, now supposedly young men, educated and responsible, taught in history class? If they were told about everything Hitler did, and all that happened during this terrible war, this is incomprehensible!”

Rabbi Joshua Samuels of Congregation Beth Israel in Bellingham wrote in the synagogue newsletter that he’s disappointed “that the principal and the superintendent failed to make this incident a teaching moment.”

Rabbi Samuels went on to write “this IS a big deal. It IS news. People DO care. And there IS something to see and it’s disgusting and offensive. Where is the education? Can we count on parents and teachers doing their part as well?”

Washington State is considered to have a well-educated, progressive population.   However, one of the lessons of this disturbing incident is that there are pockets of hatred and intolerance everywhere.

In 2001, gravestones of Filipino and Japanese and Jewish Veterans on Bainbridge Island were painted with swastikas. Six years later, small American flags placed at the graves of Veterans on Orcas Island were vandalized and burned and replaced with swastikas.

Seeing an opportunity, Neo-Nazi groups in Oregon recently sent recruitment letters to Lynden High School students. Because of free speech, that is totally legal however despicable it is to me.

But the publishing of Hitler’s quotations in the high school yearbook is not protected speech. My editor Sandy Stokes can strike anything from my column that she thinks is offensive or inappropriate and that editorial control certainly holds for a high school newspaper or yearbook advisor.

It’s not always pretty to dwell on the past but if we ignore the lessons of history, we will let ignorance and stupidity reign!



He was born Donald Tokowitz in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, where for many years Jews and blacks and Latinos lived together in harmony far from affluent Beverly Hills and Hancock Park.

He married Rochelle Stein and together they changed their name from Tokowitz to Sterling, saying that it would help them in business.

I would invoke an old saying I used to hear that you can take a person out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of the person but that would be unfair association for everyone else who grew up in a ghetto,  including my relatives in Poland.

So Donald Tokowitz was a hater from the beginning, a self-loathing Jew who wanted to associate with the white establishment living in the more expensive parts of Los Angeles.  How he got Sterling from Tokowitz is beyond me.  Usually there is some connection between the original name and the modern westernized version but in this case Donald and Shelly tried to sound as WASPy as they could.

If you are getting the impression that this is a man who I despise,  you are correct, and this hate affair did not start just recently when the rest of the world discovered what an imbecile Donald Sterling is.

I’m an original Los Angeles Clippers season ticket holder, going back to 1984 when the San Diego Clippers moved to Los Angeles.

Tokowitz went to law school but in those days it was difficult for Jewish lawyers to get into prestigious firms and somehow the name change didn’t fool anyone, so Sterling did divorce and personal injury cases and earned enough to buy a building in Beverly Hills.

He built up a fortune in real estate and bought the Clippers for $12.5 million even though he knew absolutely nothing about basketball.  He became, according to the New York Times and Forbes magazine, the “worst owner in all of sports”, putting together the worst won-lost record including basketball, baseball, football, and hockey.

At the same time, he tried to evict people of color from his buildings, describing black tenants as “stinking and breeding vermin”.  This is a matter of court records as the sterling Sterling’s paid a huge fine and were ordered to clean up their act.

Unfortunately, nobody was making him clean up his act as a basketball owner.  Sterling figured out early that he could make a fortune with a bad team and didn’t feel compelled to pay top dollar for the best players and coaches.

My son Michael Damski and a close friend started a blog a few years ago entitled Fire Sterling, which was mostly about what a horrible owner the man is.

Now the world knows what a horrible person he is as well.

Sterling was caught on tape exhorting his young “friend” V. Stiviano that she shouldn’t be seen in public with Magic Johnson, one of the most popular and iconic figures in the Los Angeles sports world.

Stiviano was involved in a lawsuit with Shelly Sterling, who was suing Stiviano for the return of a $1.8-million Los Angeles duplex as well as a Ferrari, two Bentleys, and a Range Rover she said her estranged husband bought for Stiviano.

In the continuing soap opera that has been played out in the media in the last few weeks, Stiviano told Barbara Walters that she and Sterling were just friends.  Maybe I’m just a bit cynical but it’s amazing how much the price of friendship has gone up lately.

Also, there is an enormous irony in that Stiviano grew up in the same Boyle Heights neighborhood and attended the same high school, Roosevelt, as Sterling and is part black and part Mexican-American, yet he was caught on tape saying it was okay for her to sleep with black people, but she shouldn’t be photographed with the likes of Magic Johnson.

Sterling is now banned from attending games which is wonderful for me because I sit across the court and I no longer have to see him slouched on his court side seat mocking his players.  Baron Davis, UCLA star, recently retired, said he hated playing for the Clippers because Sterling would constantly raze him if he didn’t like the way he was playing.

We all love the American Dream because a person can rise up from poverty and become a monumental success but unfortunately class doesn’t come along with wealth.

In fact, it’s amazing to me that Sterling can be so stupid in so many other ways.  In his interview with Anderson Cooper, he said he apologized for what he said, but what was clear is that he was saying he was sorry that his true self was revealed to the whole world.

He then went on to say to Cooper that Magic Johnson was a poor role model to kids because he caught and conquered the AIDS virus and of course that became the most prominent sound bite from the interview.

You would think at some point the Sterlings would try to make a hasty retreat into obscurity and cut their losses but they have laid down the gauntlet and this is likely to end up in a very messy court case because it’s not easy to force someone to sell their business, even though the Clippers are a franchise of a league with strict covenants.

One thing is pretty certain, if the Sterlings still own the Clippers when it’s time to start the 2014-15 season, there is likely to be a huge boycott of players, home and away. Michael Damski was on sports radio this week saying if Sterling still owns the team on opening night of next season, he will no longer be a fan and he speaks for many of us.

Perhaps the cruelest irony of all is that the more publicity this gets, the price tag just goes up as people from Magic Johnson to Oprah Winfrey to Matt Damon say they are interested in paying half a billion or more to buy the team, meaning the Tokowitz-Sterling dynasty will be able to keep it’s dirty business afloat in a sea of infamy.