Blog Archives

January 13 – 19, 2021

Highlights this week:

BRATTON…Capitol Punishment, untweeting Trump and censorship, Pence’s secret plans, Bookshop Santa Cruz & Palace Stationers, Movie Critiques. GREENSITE…on UCSC Growth. KROHN…Chris Krohn will be back next week. STEINBRUNER…Contaminated soil in Aptos Village, access (NOT) to board of Supes, building in rural areas, PATTON…Three dimensions of history. EAGAN…historic Deep Cover and Classic Subconscious Comics. QUOTES…”Inauguration”


HOLY JOHN GETTING A HAIRCUT. April 23, 1954. One of my favorite photos, showing Katherine Strubergh and her daughter working hard at their sculpture of the Last Supper. They built it around 1930, in Los Angeles. This 3/4 size sculpture is probably still located at the Santa Cruz Mortuary. Call 831-423-1601 if you’d like to see it. 

photo credit: Covello & Covello Historical photo collection.

Additional information always welcome: email

DATELINE January 11

CAPITOL PUNISHMENT. The investigations of the who, why and how about the January 6th attack on the Capitol are going slowly. We may never get a definitive truth from 1/06, just as we’ve never been provided the honest facts from 9/11, or J.F. Kennedy’s assassination. From reports we know the invaders knew where unmarked offices were. We know there were numerous warnings that an attack would be forthcoming, and yet there was insufficient protection in place. It looks to me like there was much inside planning and direction before, during, and after the invasion. Now we need to wonder and prepare for January 17 – and of course inauguration day. But January 17th…what’s planned for that date? And can’t we have this inauguration be special, and extra safe, by doing it virtually on the 20th? Tradition is tradition but so are assignations and riots. Jumping ahead just a little, could we suppose that Mike Pence had a controlling hand in all of this, including his supposed split from Trump? And that just maybe Pence will be running for president in 2024, based on his “split” from the Trump? There’s also the possibility that this split is part of Trump’s overall strategy for that dark future!!!

THE NEWS, GOOGLE, TWITTER. AND FREE SPEECH? With the cries to stop Trump and his Tweets, and his followers using Facebook, Parler and the internet to broadcast their hate messages, we need to consider the difference between internet sources and our newspapers and mass media principles. Who decides what Fox news announces,? Who makes the CNN or MSNBC decisions? We call those free speech sources ,but their owners are the deciders and the decision makers. So shouldn’t the internet message sources be just as free in their content? A

BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ AND PALACE STATIONERS SUPPORT. So sad to read and learn about Palace Stationers store leaving Pacific Avenue and downtown. Old-timers remember when the Trowbridges opened the first Palace Stationers almost 72 years ago, and had a few other locations downtown. We need to support our remaining downtown, especially Bookshop Santa Cruz. The Bookshop has been downtown for over 55 years, and owned and operated by the Coonerty family all that time. I am very happy to relate that I have bought every one of my Christmas gifts — and continue to buy all my relatives’ birthday gifts — at the Bookshop for years, and I want to continue to do so….

THANKS FOR CONTRIBUTING. Last week I ran an appeal for financial support to maintain BrattonOnline’s technical support. Webwoman Gunilla Leavitt tells me the response was wonderful. I haven’t, and won’t, check up on who gifted what, and I still have no idea even about how many subscribers we have. WE can always use more funding, and as previously mentioned – none of us who write for BrattonOnline receive any funds at all. As I stated last week… Those costs have risen, and we want to pay webwoman Gunilla Leavitt more so she can better handle those finances. You can use PayPal directly, or click the donate button on the right. The PayPal email is and you can use the send to family and friends feature. The name that comes up when you send money is “Online Payment”. You can also use Venmo (@Godmoma) or CashApp (@Godmoma9) if you would rather. We thank you for the support! 


Aside from CNN, MSNBC, PBS and a few sneak peeks at FOX news this past week, here are some of the movies worth considering. 

HIS HOUSE. (SINGLE). A young couple from the Sudan migrates to a town in England and is assigned to a haunted, beaten up government apartment. They fight the ghosts of their young daughter who drowned, even stranger neighbors, and a genuinely scary night witch. In addition to these problems, the couple has to deal with racism. Go for it.

EQUINOX. (SERIES). 26 years ago, this Danish girl’s classmates (21 of them) suddenly disappeared. She decides to investigate this mystery which has most of the town and her relatives completely mystified. Half truths are revealed and the real truth seems too impossible to believe, but you’ll appreciate it when you watch the entire series, I did.

TINY PRETTY THINGS. (SERIES). Not much to watch here, as a young black girl (16-18) from Compton goes to dance school in Chicago. She has many, many problems with the other male and female students and faculty. The acting is terrible; the plot is relenting, trite, and boring. Do not watch. 

DNA (SINGLE). The French title is actually ADN. This is a French film about the Alzheimer’s death of an old man, and the infinite decisions and interplay of emotions it brings to the surface. The strained relationships and brutal battles this Algerian family are forced to face, are so realistic that it’s painful – but well done. 

30 COINS. (SERIES). You guessed it…the 30 coins are the ones that Judas received for betraying Jesus. There’s this priest in Spain who has a very shady past, and also does exorcisms. 

More than that, a cow gives birth to a human baby – and there’s enough plots to keep you focused at least through the first two episodes

The movies below are not ranked in any particular order. I’ve eliminated some of the most boring, time wasting flops…enjoy what’s left!!  

DOCTOR SLEEP. Stanley Kubricks’ The Shining, taken from Stephen Kings’ book, and starring Jack Nicholson, remains a classic. Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor and claims to be – and tries hard to be – a sequel taking place 40 years after The Shining. There’s a Jack Nicholson lookalike, a few scenes near the end of that classic hotel, views of the twin girls standing in the hallway, but it’s a lame attempt. There’s also the repeating phrase “Pain purifies steam”, which is as mystifying as it is confusing. Do not go to any trouble or expense if you expect to be treated to a deserving sequel.  

BORDERTOWN. Be sure to link on to the Finnish Bordertown, there are many Bordertowns online. A conflicted chief investigator leads his team through clues and false leads to solve some complex murders. Like Sherlock Holmes, the investigator has his flaws and a mysterious past. Watch this one it’ll take your mind off reality.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY. George Clooney plays a terminally ill, very alone guy stationed on a doomed earth in 2049. He tries to communicate with astronauts including Felicity Jones, warning them to not return to earth after an EVENT that destroyed everything. It’s mystical, dull, pointless, and a poor addition to Clooney’s career.

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS. 99 on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet it’s hard to find. Try HBO, or Prime video. It’s the story of a teenage girl and her girlfriend traveling to New York City from Pennsylvania and having to go through very realistic, inhuman, authentic issues and problems to end her pregnancy. It’s cruel, truthful, and will leave you with new energy to change the abortion laws and practices…don’t miss it. 

THE MESS YOU LEAVE BEHIND. An engrossing series. A young new teacher in Spain replaces one who either committed suicide or was murdered. The Students are hiding something, and they share or lie about their connections. Many time frames, from past to present. It’s based on a book and is well worth watching. 71 on Rotten Tomatoes.

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM. (Single) This near musical is adapted from the play by the same name. It’s also acted as a play more than as a movie or straight drama. It all takes place in 1927 when Ma tries to record the first of her more than 100 songs. The late Chadwick Boseman is Ma’s choice for first trumpet, and Ma’s played by Viola Davis in case you don’t recognize her.

MY OCTOPUS TEACHER. (Single) A documentary by a filmmaker who for some personal reason decides to relate to an octopus in the ocean near the tip of Africa. The octopus is about 1 1/2 feet across and has a very threatened life from sharks and nature. The octopus befriends the filmmaker and the movie is surprising and revealing in the ways it details the complexity of all our lives. Highly recommended. 100 Rotten Tomatoes

ROSE ISLAND (Single) Based on a true and fascinating, engrossing story of an Italian  guy back in 1968 who actually built a platform off the Rimini coast and tried to establish it as his own country. It actually went to the United Nations and later they moved international territory boundaries from 6 to 12 miles offshore. Watch it and dream. 78 Rotten T’s

THE CALL.(Single) Korean movies have a certain something that set them way apart. It’s mostly intelligence, clever plots and not quite spelling everything out for the audience. 100 on Rotten Tomatoes!!! An old cell phone rings and communicates between 20 years of haunting calls. Daughters talk to dead grandmothers and all in the same house. Time switches, serial killers separated by time. Fine acting. You’ll be puzzled and completely engaged watching this one.

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN. (Single) Try very hard to imagine Mel Gibson and Sean Penn together in a true story about the creating of the first Oxford English Dictionary. This movie was made three years ago and it’s so bad Mel Gibson tried suing the production company to get out of it. He lost. Sean Penn is supposed to be a lunatic murderer who is also a language fanatic. Gibson who’s from Australia fakes a Scottish accent and takes charge of the Oxford dictionary through the letter T. Sean Penn becomes bald with a ten inch beard and adds a significant amount of words to the project. To realize our Oxford Dictionary has this history is mind boggling. The movie is dull but unusually fascinating…if you like words. 43 on RT

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA.  (Single) Will Ferrell is too old now to be playing these loony goofballs. There really is a Eurovision Song Contest and apparently it’s almost as odd as this movie makes it out to be. Rachel McAdams who is now 42 plays her dimple cheeked cute role as best she’s allowed to do. It’s Farrell  (aged 53) who has outgrown the kind of humor he worked so hard at 15 to 20 years ago. 64 on RT. Oops I forgot to relate that Pierce Brosnan is in it too, most likely just for the money.

PROM. (Single) This is a big new musical in every sense of the word. It stars Meryl Streep singing, dancing and mugging her way through this simple copy of a Stephen Sondheim type show. Even though the “plot” centers on our serious and contemporary prejudice against gay men and lesbians Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden make it all cute flashy, obvious, and not quite memorable. 

WHAT WE WANTED. (Single) An Austrian relationship challenge. A couple can’t have children, whose fault is it? His or hers? We watch and relate to their problems. They take a vacation in Sardinia. The couple next door add huge problems to our main characters. If you’ve had issues in your relationships this may or may not be your best choice…but you will relate to this saga I guarantee.

MANK. (single) Mank is short for Mankiewicz as in Herman Mankiewicz who was the screenwriter of  Orson Welles “Citizen Kane”. C. Kane for non movie goers has been generally regarded as the best movie ever made. It’s on several worldwide “best of” lists and you owe it yourselves to see it at least once. But Mank the movie is mostly made for movie nuts. Amanda Seyfried plays Marion Davies, Charles Dance is William Randolph Hearst, and Tom Burke is Orson Welles. Mank was a professional screenwriter who drank more than anybody and somehow managed to finish the script for Citizen Kane just in time. Gary Oldman is way over the top when he plays Mank, but with the flash of this very Hollywood script he fits in perfectly. You’ll love it.

THE MITFORDS. (single) A fine documentary movie about the wild, wooly, and brilliant  six Mitford sisters. Plus there’s info here for all Santa Cruzans who remember when Jessica Mitford visited and lectured at UCSC. It should be called A Tale of Two Sisters. Jessica who we called Decca was an ardent left wing proponent. She married Oakland Civil Rights Attorney Robert Truehaft and they both attended my wedding in San Francisco back in 1967. Decca’s sister Diana was actually in love with Adolf Hitler and remained that far fascist right all of her life.  Watch this documentary it’s a family like no other.

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK. (single) This is Woody Allen’s newest movie and although it bears a lot of resemblance to his earlier movies it’s only a poor copy at best.  It has a 45 on Rotten Tomatoes and that’s generous. Elle Fanning plays a poor copy of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall doing her flighty-nutty best to be like other humans. Jude Law is in it too but we’ll never figure out why, he does nothing to further anything. Timothee Chalamat is the usual Woody Allen type character in the movie and he has little reason to be there either.  It lacks the charm, sharp humor, social commentary and the class of what used to be Woody’s signature on cinema.

PROFESSOR T. (Series) Egged on by daughter Jennifer I too really liked the Belgian crime series Professor T. It’s not easily available so try going to PBS Passport series, it’s well worth your searching time. The Professor teaches at the Antwerp University and is a habitual germophobe. He advises the local police and detectives and manages to bring in humor which makes this 3 series very enjoyable. Beware of the German version and the Czech copy, 

THE LIFE AHEAD.(Single) To see Sophia Loren at age 86, and see her looking like she’s 86 is a treat. She plays a holocaust survivor who acts as mother to some children of prostitutes.  Her interaction with a Senegalese 14 year old boy is a neat piece of cinema and it’s directed by her son Edourdo Ponti. 


January 11

UCSC has just released its draft Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The coverage in the Sentinel with quotes from upper management attempts to lull us into a false sense of complacency. It’s the same tactic used by city upper management when they presented their Wharf Master Plan to the various commissions and ultimately to the city council in late November. Don’t fret, they say, it isn’t what it seems.

With the Wharf Master Plan, as they ignored 2,600 petition signers and scores of emails protesting the new buildings that will tower over the current Wharf building profile and cover the sea lion viewing holes, and walkways that will change the historic character of the Wharf, project managers assured that approving the Plan won’t necessarily mean that it will happen. “It’s just a placeholder” they bleated. “A benchmark. It gives us maximum flexibility. Plenty of time for public input to make changes later on.” 

With respect to the LRDP, the placating tone started with the Sentinel reporter writing: “Despite public belief, this is not a goal the university is trying to reach, it is a number it is prepared to be able to accommodate within the next 20 years.” That number refers to a projected 28,000 students (plus staff and faculty) by 2040: a one third increase over the current enrollment of 19,000 students (plus staff and faculty). 

Continuing with this “don’t get your knickers in a knot” language, the director for Physical and Environmental Planning Services is quoted as saying: “It is not an enrollment plan. I think that is sometimes not made clear”…”It doesn’t constitute a mandate for projected enrollment. In any kind of plan, we really need to think through where we might be in 20 years, so we project out to the outer envelope of what might be possible. The purpose of the land use plan is to establish the capacity that would be needed to support that enrollment, should we get to that number.”

UCSC used the same assurances with past LRDP’S.  Enrollment in 2005 when the current expiring LRDP was drafted was 14,500. Here we are 15 years later with an enrollment of 19,000. It was capped at that number for 2020 only after major efforts, lawsuits and settlement agreements from community members and politicians who worked hard to get that cap. 

There’s no basis for believing the doublespeak. In the same article the Vice-Chancellor addresses the controversial proposal to build on the East Meadow. Despite massive opposition and a successful lawsuit for the time being, she is quoted as saying: “When you look at the history, many have said the intention of the campus founders were that the location would be kept pure.” “When you actually look at the first two LRDP’s, development was planned in the East Meadow. It was envisioned to have professional programs. It was envisioned to have some housing to support those students.”

The message is clear. If it is “envisioned” in the LRDP it will come to pass. That is the intent. The only hope to protect our town that simply cannot absorb a third more UCSC student, staff and faculty growth is massive, organized opposition of a political and legal nature. Measure U passed by 77% of Santa Cruz voters. Despite its having no teeth, Measure U sent a clear message. The town is not anti UCSC or students: it is an issue of carrying capacity and we are beyond maximum on every level. Roughly half of the student body of any size wants to live off-campus after their first year. You can’t force them to live on campus and there is no plan for low rent campus housing. 

When I started work at UCSC in 1979 the campus population was 6,000. That meant 3,000 students renting in town. At the current 19,000 students, that means (pre and post Covid) 9,000 students renting in town. A 300% increase. The impact on off-campus rents is obvious…it raises them. The student increase allowed for in the new draft LRDP means 14,000 students will be renting off-campus. Who do you think the market rate new downtown (and coming soon to your neighborhood) 8 story apartments are aimed at? Low-income workers? There will be a few crumbs swept in their direction perhaps, but this class and demographic shift in the make-up of our community will change Santa Cruz far more than a mere earthquake was able to do. Unless we all get involved. You can find how to do that at 

Gillian Greensite is a long time local activist, a member of Save Our Big Trees and the Santa Cruz chapter of IDA, International Dark Sky Association    Plus she’s an avid ocean swimmer, hiker and lover of all things wild.

January 11

Chris will be back next week.

(Chris Krohn is a father, writer, activist, and was on the Santa Cruz City Councilmember from 1998-2002. Krohn was Mayor in 2001-2002. He’s been running the Environmental Studies Internship program at UC Santa Cruz for the past 14 years. He was elected to the city council again in November of 2016, after his kids went off to college. His term ended in April of 2020.

Email Chris at


January 11

Why is the County allowing their contractor to store highly-contaminated soil in the Aptos Village Project Phase 2 area?  That’s what I asked County Environmental Health staff member, Ms. Patricia Atkin, when I recently happened to notice multiple piles of soil on plastic and covered.  She confirmed the soil removed from the railroad bed excavation at the County’s Aptos Creek Road intersection with Soquel Drive is contaminated, but assured me it will soon be hauled away to a Class 1 landfill at Kettleman City.  That’s about 170 miles away!

She refused to provide me with any soil test results that would make known what the contaminants are or at what levels they were found.  The Environmental Health Data files show no recent reports or analysis submitted since the September 20, 2019 independent environmental consultant’s review of the Soil Management Plan (maybe paid for by Swenson, maybe paid for by the County) that indicated numerous irregularities and errors to correct.

Apparently, someone at the County signed off on it anyway.  What bothers me is that, compared to the identical project that you and I paid for at the nearby Trout Gulch Road and Soquel intersection, the piles of contaminated soil at Aptos Creek Road are much, much smaller.   What happened to all the soil excavated from the railroad bed areas?  Hmmm… 

This project, known as Aptos Village Project Phase 2B, includes adding traffic lights as mitigation for the traffic increase anticipated by Swenson’s Aptos Village Project Phase 2.  The County’s Phase 2A involves Swenson building another railroad crossing connecting Parade Street with Soquel Drive, eliminating most of the precious on-street parking for existing Village businesses due to a new turn lane on Soquel Drive to accommodate Swenson’s new gateway entrance.  

However, before that can be done, the County will likely declare eminent domain proceedings, on Swenson’s behalf, against the Bayview Hotel to close that private crossing, as a condition of Swenson and the County getting approval from the Public Utilities Commission for the new Parade Street crossing.  Never mind that the 1876 deed stipulates that the Hotel owner, Jose Arano, allowed the railroad to pass through his property on condition the crossing to the Hotel remain open in perpetuity.  

You and I will pay for all legal fees the County has to spend, as part of the deal favoring Swenson.  Cozy, no?

Take a look at the new lights, and note the cameras watching at both Aptos Creek Road and Spreckles Drive, just across the bridge.  All told, this project will cost public taxpayers about $7 million, and has been top priority by County Public Works for annual funding requests from the state since 2014, largely for the benefit of the Aptos Village Project developers, primarily Swenson.

Just a mere handful of people were able to call the Board Clerk and figure out how to access the virtual-only Board of Supervisor meeting last Tuesday, January 5.  The access information is hard to find on the website agenda for this Tuesday, January 12, as well.

Somehow, one is supposed to intuitively know to click on “agenda” as the agenda is in fact before you, in order to find access information to participate in the meeting.  One improvement made over last week is that the telephone access number is provided, however the meeting ID number that is required to access the meeting is not.

Last week’s Special Board meeting ushered in Supervisor Bruce McPherson as Chairman, who took immediate action to reduce all public comment to only two minutes.  I think Supervisors should also be held to two minutes, as is the policy of the Watsonville City Council that public and elected officials have equal time.

Supervisor Manu Koenig was installed as Vice Chairman, and did a stellar job of asking staff to address questions raised by the public: Why are the CZU Fire evacuees staying at the County Fairgrounds having to pay $900-$950/month?  How many are having to do that and why?  Staff did not know, but Supervisor Koenig requested they report back at the next meeting with clarification.  

Wow.  A breath of fresh air and respect for the public!

It will be interesting to observe how many people are successfully able to access this Tuesday’s meeting.  As always, there are many critical matters buried in the Consent Agenda.  For example, Item #44 wherein the Count Public Works Director / Deputy CAO Matt Machado will be given the ability to sign multiple contracts awarding emergency repairs and tree removal (Swanton Rd., Felton Empire Grade, and Smith Grade) worth a total of $4.82 million. 

No competitive bidding.  That explains why the Board voted last week to extend the Local State of Health Emergency Due to the CZU Fires.

Community Tree Service got all three emergency contracts for tree removals.  That company also got the contract without competitive bid a few years ago to remove all the large trees from around the County Building.  One would think the County would at least consider Huerta’s Tree Service, the local company who did the massive shaded fuel break tree work on Highway 17 last year, under CalTrans competitive bidding.

Also, consent Agenda Items #40 
Public Hearing to Consider Modifications Proposed by the California Coastal Commission to the County’s Vacation Rental Ordinance, County Code Section 13.10.694; adopt a resolution accepting the Commission’s modifications; adopt a revised Vacation Rental Ordinance based on the modifications, and take other actions as outlined in the memorandum of the Planning Director  This will  affect vacation rentals in the Aptos/Seacliff, Live Oak, and Davenport communities.

and #41 will : Schedule a public hearing for January 26, 2021, beginning at 9:00 AM or thereafter, to consider Coastal Commission modifications to recent County Code amendments approved by Resolution 190-2020 and Ordinance 5346, related to Accessory Structures, Home Occupations, Temporary Uses and Structures, and Hosted Rentals, and take related actions, as recommended by the Planning Director

2021/01/12 09:00 AM Board of Supervisors Regular Meeting – Web Outline -…

This will pertain to agricultural, residential and timber areas.

Consent Agenda Item #34 will approve the County Sheriff to hire 10 new deputies from other law enforcement agencies, provide a $25,000 incentive to work here for three years, and provide 10 weeks of vacation immediately after completing training.  

Consent Agenda #19 agrees to have the County foot the bill an additional year (until June 30, 2022) for Redevelopment Agency holding and gift of public land to the MidPen Housing group for the affordable housing and two medical clinics that will be built on highly contaminated soil at 1500 Capitola Road.


There are many new rules coming down the pike that will further restrict and likely ban development and rebuilding in rural areas of the State. 

The new rules would restrict building or re-building in areas with single ingress/egress in both State and Local Responsibility Areas.  This could mean neighborhoods such as Rolling Green Estates in Aptos, and many other rural communities.

SB 55 (Stern) Development Prohibition on State Responsibility Lands

On the first day of the 2021-2022 Legislative sessions, Senator Henry Stern (D-Calabasas), introduced Senate Bill 55, which would prohibit all commercial and residential development in Very High Fire Hazards Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) and State Responsibility Areas (SRA).  This measure is identical to the unsuccessful SB 474, a last-minute effort by Senator Stern which RCRC ( Rural County Representatives of California) strongly opposed in the previous legislative session.

While RCRC supports the underlying goal of mitigating the loss of life and property in high fire prone areas, SB 55 will ban anything from a simple Christmas tree farm in one area of the state to a new restaurant in another. Depriving individual property owners of the ability to utilize land or engage in legitimate business also presents potential “takings” challenges, adding associated costs, not only for the affected individual, but to taxpayers of the state. Meanwhile, California continues to struggle with a housing shortage, especially homes affordable to those with low and very-low incomes.  In addition, the increased loss of life and structural damage caused by California’s recent wildfires have caused reconsideration of housing development in fire-prone areas and the further winnowing of available lands for development. RCRC believes that these challenges require a holistic, equitable, and reasonable policy solution – something that is lacking in SB 55.

RCRC’s letter of opposition can be accessed here. This legislation will be eligible for action January 7, 2021; however, it is not anticipated this bill will be set for hearing before March. For more information, contact Tracy Rhine, RCRC Legislative Advocate at (916) 447-4806 or  The devastation in the CZU Fire area is heart-breaking.  But the forest is beginning to regenerate.  Let’s all hope the people will find the strength and resources to rebuild their spirits, homes and livelihoods, keeping our County’s rural communities alive and well.


Cheers, Becky 831-685-2915

Becky Steinbruner is a 30+ year resident of Aptos. She has fought for water, fire, emergency preparedness, and for road repair. She ran for Second District County Supervisor in 2016 on a shoestring and got nearly 20% of the votes. She ran again in 2020 on a slightly bigger shoestring and got 1/3 of the votes.

Email Becky at


January 11

#11 / History In Three Dimensions

Reinhart Koselleck

A fairly recent article from Psyche, on the Aeon website, has introduced me to Reinhart Koselleck, who is pictured above. The article, by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, is titled, “Repetition and Rupture.” Hoffman identifies Koselleck as “the last great theorist of history,” saying that Koselleck sought to find, in “the apparent chaos of events, a science of experience.” 

I am somewhat chagrined to admit that I had never heard of Koselleck until I read that Psyche article. Wikipedia says that Koselleck “is widely considered to be one of the most important historians of the twentieth century.” Here it is, twenty years into the Twenty-First Century, and I am just now getting the word. I guess it’s a case of better late than never! I certainly recommend Hoffman’s article, for anyone who cares about history and the study of history.

As I understand it, Koselleck thought that most historians were writing what amounts to “a secularised version of eschatology.” Koselleck argued that any claim that we can uncover some sort of “law of history” is fundamentally in error. Those who have read a few of my blog postings will know that this is just what I think, too. Our innate ability to do things never thought of or accomplished before, stemming directly from the fact that “anything is possible” in the human world, means that there isn’t any “law,” or any “determinism,” that can definitively predict our future.

Despite this insight, Koselleck does, apparently, want to make history into a kind of “science.” Here is how Hoffmann explains Koselleck’s approach to history, making clear that while Koselleck strongly opposed the idea that history moves towards some predetermined future, he still sought to find patterns that could provide guidance, and maybe even predictive power. Hoffman puts it this way:

For Koselleck, all modern ideologies claimed to have the ‘laws of history‘ on their side to justify violence …. Dismantling the concept of history and coming up with a new theory of how histories actually unfold – chaotic, contingent, messy and ferocious, yet with discernible patterns – was therefore the most important task for historians. 

This remained a theme to which Koselleck would return time and again, up to his very last published essay. In ‘What Repeats,’ written the summer before he died unexpectedly in 2006, Koselleck claimed that we can make novel experiences only if there are structures of repetition within the chaotic stream of events that we call history. History is neither just more of the same – that is, constant and circular repetition (Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal recurrence’) – or the experience of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, in which we start over, again and again. Both repetition and rupture are conditions of possible histories. 

The urge to understand what’s new motivated Koselleck to identify structures of repetition in history: geographical and climatic preconditions that, independent of humans, make all life possible; biological conditions, such as birth and death, human sexuality and generations; our institutions, for instance work and law, but also language that captures human experiences; and finally historical events themselves (such as a worldwide pandemic), which contain their own repetitive structures. Only by understanding what repeats can we discern what’s new and unprecedented in our present. As we find ourselves again in a world of global convulsions and crises, in which events have surprised many, Koselleck reminds us to sort out what repeats in a moment of rupture.

One of Koselleck’s ideas, as I get it, is that there are patterns of “repetition” in history, and that these patterns will appear even in times of historic “rupture,” when the existing state of the world is undergoing major changes. I suppose that this could be a rather comforting thought – and that seems to be what Koselleck wants it to be. However, taking our current historic situation as an example, my eye moves quickly towards the “rupture,” which fills my vision first and foremost. As I watch the disintegration of the current human reality that I assumed was pretty stable, my ability to find a few repetitive elements bobbing up here and there in the floodwaters is not as comforting as I might wish.

This pairing of “repetition” and “rupture” is not the only idea that Koselleck advances, at least the way Hoffman explains Koselleck:

According to Koselleck, three basic oppositions structure all historical experience. Every possible history is conditioned, first, by before and after, for example the anthropological span between birth and death that makes each life singular and part of a shared experience distinct from other generations, times and experiences. The possibility for new beginnings is as much a part of the human condition as the necessity of death or the ability to kill. Second, all possible history can’t escape the political difference between inner and outer (or, in a conflict, friend or foe). Hence, Koselleck’s repeated critique of the idea that human difference can be morally resolved and not just politically mediated. Only the recognition of difference allows for compromise. Finally, Koselleck claims that the opposition between above and below, ‘master’ and ‘slave’ in the terminology of Hegel and Marx, structures all social relations in history. This isn’t to say that more equality and freedom can’t be gained in the course of events, but that social hierarchies permeate all forms of human community, generating new conflicts and hence new histories (emphasis added).

Koselleck, in other words, suggests that we consider history, including our historical situation and historical events, in three dimensions. That seems to me to be good advice. These “three dimensions” are tools of analysis, helping us better to observe and understand what is happening, or has happened.

The best advice on how to consider history, however, is not really touched upon in Hoffman’s article, perhaps because Koselleck didn’t think in these terms. Pursuing a “science” of history is to avow that we should think of historical events, and history, as something to be first observed, and then understood. The hope, of course, is that if we have observed correctly, and have learned from all that we have come to understand, we will be best able to navigate the history that we must inevitably confront in our own lives. 

In fact, though, is is possible to understand history not as something that we observe, but as something that we ourselves create. It is we who “make” history. No “law” constrains what we can do, and the tripartite tools of analysis that Koselleck provides us do not determine how we ourselves will use these tools and the knowledge that they bring us. 

Through our actions and our choices, it is we who will make history. Depending on the choices we make and on those actions that we take, we will either bring our dreams – or our nightmares – into the world in which we live.

Gary Patton is a former Santa Cruz County Supervisor (20 years) and an attorney for individuals and community groups on land use and environmental issues. The opinions expressed are Mr. Patton’s. You can read and subscribe to his daily blog at

Email Gary at


EAGAN’S SUBCONSCIOUS COMICS. View classic inner view ideas and thoughts with Subconscious Comics a few flips down.

EAGAN’S DEEP COVER. See Eagan’s “Deep Cover” down a few pages. As always, at you will find his most recent  Deep Cover, the latest installment from the archives of Subconscious Comics, and the ever entertaining Eaganblog


“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory”.
~Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America”.
~Bill Clinton, 1993

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace”. 
~Barack Obama, 2009 

This terrifies me more than I can express…

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