My Confederate Past

I had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War.  The Confederate side was definitely the most interesting.  According to the 1840 South Carolina census, Clarendon County, my great-great-grandfather was a “farmer” who owned two slaves.  He was probably a sharecropper.  Thanks to some cousins who did the paperwork,  I am eligible to be a Child of the Confederacy AND a Daughter of the American Revolution.  My cousins joined the DAR but lost interest pretty fast.

My forbears had wandered from South Carolina down to Florida by the time my father and his brothers were growing up in Miami. My great-grandfather was a printer by trade and commuted to Cuba by boat for many years to print racing forms, returning on weekends. Somewhere along the line someone had joined the Klan.  One of my uncle Richard’s favorite stories was about playing up in the attic and finding all these neat costumes which turned out to be Klan robes. He always concluded, “When Grandma found out, she beat the shit out of us”, which I kind of doubt.

In recent years, my Dad lived in Jacksonville FL and my brother graduated from NB Forrest High School.  Forrest was perhaps the vilest of the Confederate generals. You can Google him. The high school was renamed Westside High several years ago. In a military town like Jax, that’s something.

I’m not real big on statues and the prospect of moving them to a location where they’re not bothering anyone is fine with me. I wonder if the Myrtle Grove cemetery, established in 1861, doesn’t have some Confederate statues? What are they going to do about Stone Mountain?

If my ancestors had left me a huge fortune, earned on the backs of slave labor,  I would have been condemned to a life of White Guilt, bigtime version. Since they didn’t, I only feel the generalized awareness that we all didn’t start out in the same place and that life has been pretty easy for me, and not so easy for others. I try never to forget that.  And I thank God I grew up in California.

END

 

Check This Out! In 1956, It Was MEXICO That Wanted A Wall!!

I’ve been fooling around with a site called Newspapers.com. You can look up old papers and even print them out. FREE 7-day trials too. Here’s what I found from the “Eureka Humboldt Standard” of August 6, 1956.

(Background: A newspaper editor in Tijuana had recently been assassinated.)

HEADLINE:  Mexico Border May Be Closed

San Diego- Gov Braulio Maldonato of Baja California was prepared yesterday to close the Mexican border to American tourists in order to clean up vice conditions in Tijuana, Mex., a border city 23 miles south of here.

Maldonato told Mexican and American newsmen Saturday he is “sick and tired” of hearing complaints about prostitution,  gambling and narcotics traffic in Tijuana.

He said he has taken personal charge of a clean up campaign.

“If it is necessary to sacrifice economic interests to clean up Tijuana, we will close the border to American tourists,” he said.  “Perhaps we both will gain,  you Americans in health and we in dignity”.

Acosta Mesa was conducting a drive against Tijuana’s prostitution houses and narcotics trade when he was murdered.  A gunman shot the editor three times when the victim answered the door at his fashionable home.

It’s tempting to say, the more things change  the more they stay the same.

END

 

 

Me and the Caucus

During the years I lived in Hawaii (1982-1993) I had to adapt to the fact that Hawaii does not hold primary elections- instead, they have caucuses.  One year- I think it was 1988- I decided to attend a caucus in support of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition.

Like most things in Hawaii,  the caucus was extremely laid back. We met in a classroom at Hali’ewa Elementary School.  My fellow Caucusoids were thirteen very nice, very elderly gentlemen,  primarily of Japanese background. The youngest one was seventy. We got to know each other, talked story for awhile, then filled out ballots. The count came in with no surprises: thirteen ballots for Sen. Dan Inouye, one for Jesse Jackson.  We did some paperwork,  then the conversation turned to the fact that they normally had someone from that precinct, or whatever it was called, attend the State convention in Maui, and they had no one lined up to go.

They were all looking at me hopefully.  One of them- he must have been in his nineties- told me about the good time I’d have.  You might think it would be easy to talk someone into a weekend on Maui but believe me, when you’re already on Oahu, it’s no big deal. I asked the nonagenarian what type of folks I would be meeting with on Maui.  “Oh, just like us”, he assured me. I decided to pass.

I may have missed out on a fascinating experience by not attending but I’m pretty blasé about political conventions,  having had a good seat at the 1964 Goldwater convention at the Cow Palace. But that’s another story for another time.

END

Vital Records

Social Security wants my sister’s birth certificate. Her copy is in a storage locker in Sonora, she thinks. I head down to the Courthouse. It’s drizzling.

For the first time ever, I try parking in the gravel lot at the North end of the building. Big mistake. I drive a lowslung car. The lot consists of huge cavities in the gravel. My car rocks back and forth as I pull into a space, listening to the oil pan scraping the gravel.   I wouldn’t call it “accessible” but at least it’s on the same block. After a long, long walk back to the front entrance, I go through the security line.  A table near the elevator is marked “Courthouse Information.”  A young man fields inquiries while not missing a beat of his cellphone conversation. I need to go to the 5th Floor, which means going to the 4th, then switching elevators to ride to the 5th.

I enter the offices of the Clerk/Recorder. The view from here is normally stunning, but today it’s gray and dismal. There are four or five workers inside and one woman who appears to be doing research of some kind. The workers approach helpfully. I only need one.

I have already downloaded and filled out the request form. A pleasant man says he’ll be back in five minutes. He is.  I pay the $25 for a super-official document because I really don’t know what kind they want.

In the elevator I look at the certificate. I remember her doctor, a nice man who died in a plane crash, leaving a young family. Remembering him makes me sad. 

The drizzle continues.

Separation Anxiety- California and Scotland?

A Silicon Valley one-percenter is proposing to split the state six ways. Guess which part will end up with all the money?  It ain’t us.

Meanwhile, on September 18th, a referendum in Scotland will determine whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or goes independent. The similarities between the Scottish situation and the putative State of Jefferson are interesting to compare.

MONEY: Scotland is a rich country due to the North Sea oil reserves. They can leave the Brits  behind and still survive economically.  (Scotland can already afford to educate its university students for FREE.) A State of Jefferson on the other hand will end up as the Appalachia of the  West. Other than tourism and weed, which will be selling for pennies after legalization, what do we have? Oysters. Good oysters, but still…Every candidate for office in Humboldt County in the last twenty years has run on a platform of bringing jobs to the county. Where are those jobs? I must have missed something.

HISTORY: The Scots were an independent people until 300 years ago with their own culture and language. ( To this day the average American has about as much chance of understanding a Scot speaking what is now is considered the Scottish dialect as he would have understanding someone from Newfoundland.) 300 years ago there were no “white” people in “Jefferson”. The State of Jefferson would have the highest proportion of Native Americans of any area in the State. Separating from California would not enhance their economic situation one bit. If it would, tell me how.  Yes, they would carry more clout locally because everyone else will be broker. But will their situation really improve? Will anyones? 

POLITICS: The Scots have long been more “socialist” than the rest of the UK. Within recent memory they were still sending a Communist or two to Parliament every year, usually from Glasgow. The factories and tenements of Glasgow were the inspirations for Karl Marx’s Capital. Glasgow is the only place where I ever had a cabbie return a tip because good Marxists don’t believe in tipping. The Scot’s desire to be free of “imperialist state” of the UK has deep roots and may well carry the day. Politics in “Jefferson” is more chaotic. With a 20% participation in the recent elections, it seems clear that most Jeffersonians (is that what they call themselves?) are not participating in politics because they’re  hopeless or too stoned. This paves the way for the Tea Party or other fringe groups to fill the vacuum. Not a pretty sight.  

Anyway, September 18th should be interesting. If the Scots opt for independence will they be part of NATO?  Will they adopt the Euro? What will happen to the North Sea oil, in which the Norwegians also have an interest? It’s been a long time since our states changed boundaries. In November, will the divide-and conquer strategy of the SV plutocrats win out over the welfare of the rest of us? Stay tuned.  And for God’s sake register to vote. 

Graduation Day- “Reach for the Stars”

Saturday the 14th was my cousin’s kid’s graduation day from UC Santa Barbara. I wasn’t expecting much aside from heat and chaos so I was pleasantly surprised that the graduation speaker actually had something to say that was memorable.

His name is Jose Hernandez and he was born in French Camp. If you’ve ever known anyone from French Camp, you know it is a migrant labor settlement. He spoke of following his parents as they moved from job to job picking  strawberries, lettuce, whatever. Finally a teacher took an interest in the family and convinced the parents to settle near Stockton so that the kids could get a real education.

One night in 1972, the family watch Gene Cernan walk on the moon. Jose told his father, “That’s what I want to do”.   His father told him that he could do it but he needed to make himself a roadmap to follow. “And don’t skip any of the steps.”

Jose graduated from high school in Stockton although he had not learned English until he was twelve. He earned a BSEE from the University of the Pacific and then an MS from UC Santa Barbara. He joined the Johnson Space Center and held a number of assignments while applying for the astronaut program. He applied again, was rejected again.  NASA let it be known they would like their personnel to know some Russian (for space station work). He learned Russian.  He pursued every avenue they suggested. Finally,  after TWELVE TIMES,  he was accepted into the 2004 astronaut class and on August 28, 2009 he achieved his dream: two weeks on the Space Shuttle Discovery. He sent the first tweet from space in Spanish.

 Since then he has run for Congress, unsuccessfully. Clearly we haven’t heard the last from him.  His “Reach for the Stars” foundation encourages kids to explore careers in space.  The gloom and doom which was underlying the ceremony due to the recent murders in Isla Vista could have taken over, but didn’t have a chance after Jose finished speaking. It was a good day, and he didn’t skip any of the steps.

FOOTNOTE: The road from the Bay Area up here is an AWFUL ROAD which seems to get worse every year. I kept thinking how much it would be to be riding a bus or a nice relaxing TRAIN. Talk about reaching for the stars! 

 

 

 

Mothers’ Day Doesn’t Mean Much If You’re Homeless

I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day. I’m not a mom , I lost my own mother at a young age and in January I lost my wonderful stepmother. So it’s basically a holiday for other folks and it must have been an act of fate that a couple of days ago I ran across the first copy I had seen of The Humboldt Edge. It’s a paper published by the homeless community with the support of the Ink People and you should pick up a copy (they’re available at Old Town Coffee)  or check them out online.   It’s humbling. 

Way back in December 2007 the Times-Standard reported that there were about 2000 homeless in Humboldt County OF WHICH 40% (or 800) ARE CHILDREN. I was shocked by this and further shocked that no one else seemed to be outraged. This figure has apparently not changed in the last seven years since the newest Edge states there are around 700 of these kids. If anyone has updated figures, bring them forth.  A teacher was quoted in the Times the other day as saying that a huge number of his students were living in cars. 

Now I don’t mean to bring you down on a day when everyone YOU know is busy fixing big meals to celebrate Mom.  She deserves it but I will ask you to take a moment sometime in the next week to do something for these kids who don’t get holiday meals or a roof over their heads. Can you imagine how a mother feels who cannot provide shelter to her children?. However much Rob Arkley and his ilk rail about the so-called “invasion” by the homeless (most of whom were born right here) surely this cannot be blamed on the kids. Drop a check to Betty Chinn or just GO to your nearest elementary school and give them some bucks; they know what their students’ needs are. Just do it in honor of mom.

And have a happy Mother’s Day. Really.  

 

“I’m the Captain Now”, or When to Dump Your Business Plan

Have you seen “Captain Phillips”, which was deservedly nominated for Best Picture of 2013?  You can still catch it on pay-per-view and it’s powerful. Did you know that the line “I’m the Captain now.” which has become the season’s catchphrase and was referred to by the New Yorker as an “iconic line” was IMPROVISED? Improvised by a Somalian taxi driver who had never performed in a film before? Here’s the story:

Barkhad Abdi was six years old when war turned his native Somalia into an inferno. The family fled to Yemen, where his father taught math and eventually settled in Minneapolis, where there is a sizable Somalian community. Abdi was working as a limo driver for his brother’s company when the word came that auditions were being held at the local community center for Somalis to act in “Captain Phillips”,  directed by Paul Greengrass (who filmed United 93 among other major films) and starring Tom Hanks as the skipper of the Alabama Maersk, the cargo ship  that was attacked by Somail pirates in 2009. Abdi and half a dozen other Somalis were hired by Greengrass.

When they started filming the scene where the pirates have boarded the ship, Abdi felt that the point wasn’t being made clearly enough to Hanks and/or his character that things had changed. So he came  out with the  line, “Look at me. I’m the captain now,” which sends chills down your spine every time you see it.  Greengrass kept the line in. He knew gold when he saw it.

As an employer, do you encourage creative improvisation  in your company? You don’t have to be Steve Jobs or Paul Greengrass to do so. When your people come up with something wonderful, tear up your script, throw out your business plan and go with your gut, like Greengrass did. “I’m the captain now” is a classic line on the level of “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” or “Nobody’s perfect.” The genius is in knowing when to dump your carefully laid plans.  The proof is in the watching.