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Works and Days

Five Days of Hope and Despair

March 19th, 2013 - 12:04 am

Day Three. Ground Zero

On day three I am eating alone on University Avenue, a mile from the heart of the Stanford campus. Downtown Palo Alto is ground zero of the eBay, Facebook, Apple, Google, Adobe, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard revolution. The culture is international, and part Stanford, part Silicon Valley — or is there a difference anymore? Everyone looks like they are either a student or were a student. There are lots of Europeans and Asians, all young. I can detect four different languages from my corner table. From the conservations I eavesdrop on, these guys are confident and upwardly mobile, if not already rich technicians. Men are dressed better than women. Metrosexual heaven I guess.

On the street, few seem over 40. America is supposed to be in decline, but the best and the brightest flock here on the assumption that unlike the Arab world, India, China, or Africa, where your name, your race, your gender, your caste, your class, your age, your religion — or your first cousin — propels or hinders your trajectory, in Silicon Valley it is more often merit: as in, how much money can your skills make for us? University Avenue is a sort of electronic version of turn-of-the-century Nome, Alaska, or Sutter’s Fort.

It would be easy, as I often do, to caricature this superficial world — $2 million, 1,500 square-foot cottages that would be worth $70,000 two hours away in uninviting Modesto; BMWs and Mercedes sports cars using 30% of their horsepower to rev 100 yards until the next stoplight.

Yet all that said, like the corporate agriculture I saw yesterday, one should not discount the smell of success in the air. Again, come here and you can see why China did not invent Google, or even why Germany did not invent Apple or Japan didn’t invent Facebook. There are no prerequisites other than smarts, aggressiveness, a good degree that one earned, and lots of confidence that blind merit — and some luck — should prevail.

From their conversations, those in Palo Alto seem Obamites to the core, but their leftish politics are more like a contrived medieval penance, an Al Gore-like “offset” for the worry of caring so much about having nice things. And nice things are everywhere. Doctrinaire liberalism is predicated on new federal and California taxes stopping right now, at taking only 55-60% of their incomes. Go much over that and some in the Bay Area might well turn into Reaganites. I don’t think the twenty-something, foreign-national guy next to me who just stepped into a Porsche takes seriously “You didn’t build that.” He seems instead to assume that he earned his car and has no problem letting me see that it is worth three of mine.

Day Four. The Panorama

I am up in the eleventh floor of the stately Hoover Tower, on the Stanford campus, taking in a 180-degree view of the world that Leland and Jane Stanford built well over a century ago. I read often of Leland Stanford. Eight miles away from my farm was the 1880 Mussel Slough shootout — which spawned Frank Norris’s The Octopus (I was reading his novel a week before I too got a ruptured appendix in Libya, faring better than the 32-year-old Norris did when his burst in1 902 San Francisco).

Even the best apologist for the Southern Pacific Railroad would have a hard time defending the railroad’s land gymnastics designed to cheat those whom they enticed upon the land. (OK — I confess: I grew up in a conservative Democratic household of homesteaders whose ancestors arrived in 1870, bought 180 acres of land from the SP Railroad, and passed on to the next four generations animosity for both the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads.) The Big Four, the Central Pacific Railroad quartet — Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Leland Stanford — built California (also intermeshed in finance, electricity, banking, development, agriculture, etc.) in the way later visionaries built Silicon Valley. But what a tough bunch they were, at least by modern standards and in comfortable hindsight.

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So we of Professor Hansen's generation know and know it deep down that the world in which we grew up no longer exists. It is nice to reflect on what the Neo America is becoming but it is nostalgic to think that it ever would return to the past. The past is gone and is never coming back. The old America with its various vices and virtues is gone down history's memory hole. The English Catholic writer Evelyn Waugh who was a consumate pessimist about his modern world was once asked how he got through each day with his attitude. He related the story that he had owned an old English country house which was in bad repair and had decided to sell it. He said that after he sold it he would walk through it and would no longer care or worry about the various leaks and needed repairs because he realized that it was no longer his house, just as the modern world was no longer his world. It is no longer myhouse, Prof Hansen, and that is the best way to look at it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Waxwing,

I spoke with God this morning. He told me to tell you that you are not listening and to double up on your Zyprexa.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (50)
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I think you may have misunderestimated the situation, Dr. Hanson. The students weren't there to read, write and learn anything; they were practicing the on-the-job skills they will need when they graduate and go to work for the government!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At the end of Amity Schales' "Coolidge" she noted the comparison between Coolidge's 300 acres of mostly rock and wood farm in Vermont with Herbert Hoover's 1200 acres near Bakersfield.

Professor Davis seemed to have made a similar comparison today between his small holdings and the big corporate farms on the West side of the valley, 80 years later.

I wonder how much would change with the big farms if the ethanol mandate was removed?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Soon-to-be" high speed rail...
LOL!!!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I still miss the card catalog in the library! You could easily read a paragraph about each book in the order they were on the shelves. It was so quick and easy to use.

There have always been people that want to be seen going to the library, or seen in the library, that aren't there to read books. The Celsus Library in Ephesus (177 AD), had shelves for 12,000 scrolls and a secret passage to the high-end house of prostitution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How convenient, waxwing01!!!
Third world communities have a habit of accommodating this for prophets like yourself.
You can use this in your next sermon.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Now THIS is the kind of column I have hoped for from VDH since I came to PJM. Historical perspective, not partisan sniping. Nicely done.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When you wish upon a star...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The library at my old college has gone the same way. The first floor used to be the stacks with working tables here and there. Now the first floor is mostly open with wifi and rooms for watching movies. The wall that used to stand protectively between the cafeteria and the books is gone. The books themselves are on the second floor and rarely visited anymore because it is easier to look up something online, cut, paste, print, without the mind absorbing a thing.

The only books downstairs are the ones the library is selling. They are ignored by the students but you see older locals coming in to browse. I myself have saved many and added them to my own library.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is no time for nostalgia for premodern times. Life for the majority was "nasty, brutal, and short." Modernity with all its faults should be evaluated and celebrated. But it can go in different directions, as I laid out here: http://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/. I prefer Sinai, and perhaps some PJM readers and Dr. Hanson will join me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hate to be the bearer of conflicting news but....

The techie stuff aside, the atmosphere as described, could have well been from some of the smaller more rural states campus libraries I experienced in the 50s. Study groups visiting, snacking, some relaxing (snoozing) and some exploring for their next date (tutor of course). Then I remember libraries from the late 60s and early 70s especially, UCSB -- purely great entertainment, guitars and singing groups sitting on the floors, poetry groups sitting around, etc.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I appreciate what VDH says about the upside of agribusiness. At the same time, I wonder if there is not a market for very small, intensive produce farms that can supply fresh (and therefore delicious) fruits and vegetables to the Bay Area and L.A.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Anchorage has almost 11,000 heating degree days and has had measurable snowfall at the airport in every month except July, so it isn't exactly agriculture friendly. Yet, the Matanuska Valley, forty miles from downtown ANC, has a thriving small scale agriculture based solely on "fresh" and "Alaska grown." It is only a June, July, and August thing except for root crops like carrots and potatoes, but there are several thriving farmers' markets and even Safeway makes a big deal of local, especially local and organic, produce.

All that said, I don't know how much any of the farmers are really making. The Farmers' Market nearest me has a steady stream of Bimmers, Benz's, and Volvos every Saturday, but one day a week, three or four months a year doesn't seem like a great income stream to me. Here at least they have the advantage of very low taxes, unlike CA, but the short season and high costs for everything else is its own set of issues.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I vaguely recall some impressive crops in the fields near the Univ. of Fairbanks (or whatever you call it.) Those super-long summer days make for some monster veggies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hi D,

Did you get a monster cucumber at Fred Meyer's? Of was that fireworks?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Farmer's markets around here are trying to go year-round with jams, jellies, and greenhouse stuff. Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" on eating local for a year opened my eyes to some of the year-round stuff that goes on. I didn't finish the book and pay less attention to local growers than some, because I grow so much of my own, but as long as you have folks with disposable income about, some of this stuff will sell. As the climate warms, new areas should open up, like expanded potato production in Iceland.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If not for the federal regulations and taxes, there would be. I looked at doing something like that with some of my land, but there are now so many regulations with more and more coming that you would have to really be dedicated and pray not to run afoul of inspectors and taxmen. The other problem is labor. Intensively grown vegetables and fruit are labor intensive and today labor is expensive. You might be able to start up a small scale brewery since that would add value to your produce, but even there the feds slam you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How true. And then try to get a booth at a Farmer's Market. You need to know somwone... Who sent you?

The cities and counties and whatever zones are all over this activity too. Funny, how the further up the Government food chain you can reach, the less "problem" you will have. Real funny!

Treasury Sec's son opens Farmer's Market booth! Se hpe easy it can be? Buy my book...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
oh boy - see how.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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