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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Last week, while reading about an insolvent California’s insistence on going ahead with the first leg of a proposed high-speed rail line (total cost of the system: an estimated $100-$300 billion), I heard the following story on a local ABC news affiliate about a nearby low-Sierra lake:

Vandalism forces closure of Pine Flat campground

Monday, August 20, 2012

Amanda Perez

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Acts of vandalism have forced officials to shut down a popular campsite in Fresno County. The Pine Flat Campground located below the Pine Flat Dam on Trimmer Springs Road is closed indefinitely. Nearby Winton Park remains open but things aren’t looking much better there. Vandals tagged rocks, barbeques, and even trees with graffiti. “It was horrible. It didn’t look like nature. It looked like a nightmare,” said visitor Jose Zarate of Fresno.

Unfair to the Vandals

You can read the rest of story at KFSN’s Website; additional news items detailed similar stories at other local lakes — a veritable Vandal assault on the vestiges of civilization (actually, that allusion is unfair to the Vandals): copper wire stripped out of power conduits, toilets and sinks ripped out of bathrooms, and, yes, more gang graffiti painted on trees.

I think the latter horror is what earned the local media attention. Destroying public property, assaulting other campers, closing down recreation sites are one thing — but graffiti on trees? That’s an insult that no liberal can stomach. In the grand struggle of environmental correctness versus multiculturalism, green wins every time. (Why do a few liberals oppose illegal immigration? Because of worries about environmental damage along the border.)

The Tipping Point

I have a hard time timing car trips to Los Angeles because a large section of the 99 state “freeway,” north of Kingsburg, is still (after a half-century) two lanes, potholed, and crammed with traffic. But the rub is that the traffic is of a strange sort, one characterized by an inordinate number of drivers with loose brush, tools, appliances — almost anything — not secured in flat-bed pickups or piled too high in pickups and trailers. The debris commonly flies out on the road, causes an accident, and shuts down California’s main interior north-south lateral for several hours.

What is the common theme here?

When the liberal mind cannot cope with the concrete ramifications of its own ideology, it seeks a sort of tokenism. Unable to ensure that trees are not defaced? An ancient highway is not upgraded? Presto, zoom ahead to space-age high-speed rail, as if the conditions that created sprayed trees and mattresses lying among the pot-holes will not easily migrate to high-speed rail. That is, within 10 years I have no doubt that the Fresno-Corcoran (“rail to nowhere”) link will be periodically closed due to stripped copper wire conduit, mattresses thrown over the fence onto the tracks, and the general inability of the state to service the system due to the sort of daily vandalism seen at our local campgrounds.

If one third of the nation’s welfare population resides in California, and if seven million of the last ten million Californians added to the state population are now on Medicaid, and if Californians, as it is estimated, send approximately $10 billion a year in remittances to Mexico and Latin America, then something has to give. And the remedy for that something that gives is either teaching youth not to spray paint pine trees, or hiring unemployed ex-gang-bangers to pressure wash the graffiti off pine trees — or moving to a kinder, gentler Santa Cruz or Newport, feeling good on the beach, watching the sunset each evening, and cursing those evil conservatives who want to poison the 3-inch delta smelt and keep foie gras legal in California.

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When Land Is History

August 20th, 2012 - 5:33 pm

Click to enlarge.

This winter I watched a new owner of the farm parcel next to mine bring in enormous Caterpillar equipment and land-levelers. He ripped out every living tree and bush. He changed the very contours of the land, flattening even the once rolling hills. Within days, arose a postmodern almond orchard of some 40 acres.

I say postmodern because the new creation is beyond modern. High-density-planted new trees are genetically designed to grow on these sandy soils. The drip system is computerized and injects precise amounts of fertilizers, while not wasting a drop of precious well water. An ancestral pond and its overflow basin have now shrunk to about an acre. The result is that the almond trees — not more than six months old — are growing so rapidly that they appear as if they were supernatural and in their second or third leaf. It is agribusiness development such as this that explains why California farmland is the most productive in the world.

I characterized this land as “adjacent,” but that is a euphemism for “once mine.”  To make a proverbially long story short, I once owned the parcel, along with my own present 40 acres. It was the corner of a larger 135-acre surrounding family farm of about 140-years continual duration. The parcel in question was lost during the last decade in a convoluted inter-family sale/dispute/misunderstanding that led to a series of outside speculators buying, selling, and losing the land, as the economy boomed and busted. Finally, the parcel ended up in bankruptcy court this January–hence the new buyer and the new orchard.

If one believes that no one really owns the enduring land, then perhaps it is best that after a near decade of neglect the ground is now a productive farm again. Under new auspices, it will help feed the hungry of China and India as California’s current export boom continues.

Yet as I watched the machines eat up the earth, I thought that I might offer a fast-forwarded 140-year history of that piece of ground. The admittedly trivial story is known to almost no other living person (other than my twin brother), but adduced through autopsy of some 58 years of my life and augmented by remembrances of near-constant editorializing from my grandfather (1890-1976) and mother (1922-1989).

Both lived in my present house and told me about the original settler, Lucy Anna Davis, my great-great grandmother, who bought the pristine land from the railroad in or near 1870. In other words, what follows is the history of this land from its first contact with so-called civilization to the present — a memory that spans well over half the life of the United States. Here it goes:

0-1870

From natural histories of central California, we read that such open ground for millennia before the arrival of settlers and the railroad in California was uninhabited and dry — crisscrossed only occasionally by native Americans on their way to Tulare Lake, and later a few early explorers. Now and then one still finds in the vicinity an odd, tiny piece of ground never farmed that lies awkwardly between two vineyards. From such feral examples, one can fathom what these forty acres were like before the Europeans arrived — squirrels, hawks, coyotes, tumble weeds, puncture vines, thistle, sand burr, etc.

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Our Not So Best and Not So Brightest

August 12th, 2012 - 11:00 pm

From Eliot Spitzer to Elizabeth Warren to Fareed Zakaria — what is wrong with our elites? Do they assume that because they are on record for the proverbial people, or because they have been branded with an Ivy League degree, or because they are habitués of the centers of power between New York and Washington, or because they write for the old (but now money-losing) blue-chip brands (Time magazine, the New York Times, etc.), or because we see them on public and cable TV, or because they rule us from the highest echelons of government that they are exempt from the sorts of common ethical constraints that the rest of us must adhere to — at least if a society as sophisticated as ours is to work?

I understand that there is a special genre of conservative Christian hypocrites — a Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or Ted Haggard — who preach fire and brimstone about the very sins they indulge in.  The Republican primary was in some ways a circus as the media had a field day pointing out the ethical inconsistencies of the candidates. But here I am talking about secular elites across the cultural spectrum who simply do not live by their own rules, and yet are often granted exemption for their transgressions because of their own liberal piety — and a more calibrated assumption that the world of blue America (i.e., the media, the government, the arts, the foundations, the legal profession, and Hollywood) will not hold them to account.

Take affirmative action. Over-the-top and crude Ward Churchill at least bought the buckskin and beads to play out his con as an American Indian activist with various other associated academic frauds. But Elizabeth Warren’s “Cherokee”-constructed pedigree was far more subtle — and the sort of lie that Harvard could handle. She more wisely kept to the fast lane of tasteful liberal one-percenters, as she parlayed a false claim of Indian ancestry into a Harvard professorship. So whereas Churchill is now a much-lampooned figure, Warren may be headed to the U.S. Senate. To say that Elizabeth Warren is and was untruthful, and yet was a law professor who was supposed to inculcate respect for our jurisprudence, is to incur the charge of being a right-wing bigot.  But reflect: how can someone who faked an entire identity — and one aimed at providing an edge in hiring to the disadvantage of others — not be completely ostracized? Again, Warren was successful precisely because she wore no beads or headband and did not affect a tribal name — the sort of hocus-pocus that makes faculty lounge liberals uncomfortable. It was precisely because she looked exactly like a blond, pink Harvard progressive that Warren’s constructed minority fraud was so effective.

Why would a Fareed Zakaria lift the work of someone else? Time constraints? Carelessness? Amnesia over how and why he reached his present perch? Do such columnists farm out their research or outlines to assistants? Or do they think their liberal credentials outweigh reasonable audit of what they write? Steal from someone else and take a month off work? Even my copper wire thieves out here on the farm would have to pay a bit more if they were caught. Their last theft was about $70 worth of conduit, but I imagine Time pays lots more per Zakaria column.

Or why did Maureen Dowd think she could lift some sentences from someone else and then claim she got them from a friend’s email — especially given her hyper-criticism of less-liberal others? And did she not guess rightly that no one would really care? After all, do we remember the Pulitzer Prize winning Team of Rivals or the fact that far earlier Doris Kearns Goodwin was a confessed plagiarist? When I pick up the Selma Enterprise, I do not expect the cub reporter to steal her report of a DUI accident verbatim from the Fresno Bee. Should I?

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Remembering the Dead, from Selma

August 5th, 2012 - 10:56 pm

I confess this is the first time in my life I will break the old Hellenic rule: ton tethnvêkota mê kakologein (speak no ill of the dead). That Vidal was a cruel person is no excuse for not refraining from criticism after his recent death, but here I sin nonetheless.

 I could never finish any of Gore Vidal’s fiction, even his best, Julian — although I grant that he was ironic, at times shocking, and could be a valuable corrective to unmerited reputations. But Robert Graves (even at his worst with Count Belisarius) and Peter Green were probably superior historical novelists. To compare similar contrarian essayists, the late Christopher Hitchens was a better writer. He was more widely informed and more honest about the public intellectual’s propensity for caricaturing the very ribbons and medals — and cash — that he so covets.

Many praised Vidal’s essays. Some were insightful, but more were self-indulgent, full of pathetic aristocratic references, and tinged with anti-Semitism and passive-aggressive gossip about those with better bloodlines and more money. Among the latter, Vidal eagerly sought opportunities to play the court jester. Somehow all of that was central, rather than incidental, to his arguments.

For all his claims of erudition, Vidal suffered the wages of the public autodidact. I noticed he quoted Latin ad nauseam — and nearly always with his nouns and adjectives not just in the wrong cases (especially the confusion of the accusative and ablative in preposition phrases), but predictably in the fashion of those who like to copy down Latin phrases but cannot read a complete Latin sentence. By his sixties, Vidal had degenerated into a conspiracy theorist, and his embarrassing late-life infatuation with Timothy McVeigh caught the eye of the goddess Nemesis.

Vidal said he was nauseated by American imperialism and gloated over our decline, but his real pique was that the mannered East Coast snobbishness that he loved to shock had given way to a socially mobile, no-holds-barred popular culture that did not so much ignore his world of blue-blood repartee, but had no clue that it had ever existed. He liked being hated; he hated being irrelevant.

Otherwise, it is hard to find any commonality in Vidal’s corpus of work other than a certain disdain for what he would term the “grasping”: the supposedly wannabe Jewish intellectual, the upper-middle class suburbanite who sends his kids to State U, or the American can-doism that sought to “improve” itself through intellectual and artistic awareness — about which brings me to my sole Gore Vidal story.

I met him once. Or rather my family did. In the early 1960s, my father, William F. Hanson, a former teacher, farmer, and then administrator at Reedley Junior College, proposed to the local JC school board “a lecture series.” The Central Valley farming community was innately conservative. But nonetheless, in the classically liberal spirit of those pre-Vietnam times, the farmers on the board not only funded my dad’s proposed lecture series, but encouraged him to invite controversial, and often liberal, voices — over the objection of the careerist president of the college at that time.

There was only a small ramshackle college motel in Reedley (population around 6,000 then). Consequently, often my father asked the speakers whether they wished instead to stay at our Selma farmhouse, 16 miles away, on the night before the lecture. A lot did.

So it followed that, from about age 9 to 15 (e.g., 1962-1968), I listened to every word, at dinner and the next morning’s breakfast, from the likes of Ansel Adams (I remember a short, bearded bald man in cowboy hat who railed all evening against James Watt), Pearl Buck (two strange aides who would not let her out of their sight), Louis Leakey (suffering from terrible dental pain and around the house wearing a blue jump suit), Bernard Lovell (stared out about two feet over our heads when speaking), Rod Serling (refused to answer our constant questions about the Twilight Zone, and instead went on a nonstop invective against Richard Nixon), Mark Van Doren (gracious, polite, and a beautiful speaker of the English language), and about 30 or so others in rural Selma.

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