Life on the Rancho

Los Encinos State Historical Park Today

People think of Southern California as being bran new. In actuality, the history goes far back—even earlier than the days when the land was occupied by the Gabrielino and Chumash Indians. I was born in Cleveland, which was founded in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland of Connecticut. Los Angeles is a full fifteen years older, having been founded in 1781 as a Spanish pueblo. So many of our place names come from the Spanish and Mexican land grants. One such community is Encino (“Oak” in Spanish), which was part of the 4,251 acre Rancho El Encino.

On Sunday, Martine and I drove to the Los Encinos State Historical Park in (where else?) Encino to visit the reconstructed ranch buildings. I say reconstructed because adobe did not do particularly well in the earthquakes of 1880 and 1994.

We have visited several of these adobe ranch houses from the 19th century and earlier. There was the Centinela Ranch House in Westchester and the Dominguez Rancho in Rancho Dominguez. And there are perhaps as many as a dozen more which I eventually hope to see, just as I would like some day to visit all the California missions built by Father Junipero Serra, recently sanctified by the Vatican.

Bedroom in the Ranch House

The Los Encinos State Historical Park does a nice job of bringing together furniture of the period as well as informative displays explaining what life was like on the rancho 150 years ago and more. They even have several stone outbuildings dedicated to food storage and blacksmithing.

Los Angeles has not always been careful of preserving its historical sites. There used to be an old abandoned adobe at the corner of Colorado and 26th Street in Santa Monica, near where I had first real job at System Development Corporation. It was a kind of spooky place, but it is no far. Now it’s a high-rise office building dedicated to entertainment media. No effort was made to move the adobe where it could be restored.


Walking Through History

The Nice Lady from the Legio X Fretensis

The Nice Lady from the Legio X Fretensis

Martine and I love attending the large military re-enactment encampment at Old Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. Last year we missed it because I was still in Iceland, but today we spent the whole day at the Old Fort MacArthur Days event. It’s not that we were interested in the shooting events with all their noise and smoke: It’s just that it feels like walking through history.

The Legio X Fretensis (“of the sea strait”) actually existed. It was established by Augustus (then called Octavius) Caesar around 40 or 41 B.C. to fight during the Roman civil war. It lasted almost 500 years, fighting in the civil war that saw the end of the Roman Republic, plus two of the Roman-Jewish wars in Palestine. Some elements of it fought with Marcus Aurelius.

In San Pedro, the members we saw belong to a group that calls itself an “educational service organization” whose purpose is to instruct people about the Roman army, particularly in the First Century A.D. I enjoyed stopping by their tent for a few minutes to talk to the well-informed lady pictured above. As you may or may note know, I am a Roman history nut who has read all the works of Tacitus and many of his contemporaries. I am always delighted to find people who not only are well read in the subject, but can add to my knowledge.

During the next few days, you will see a few more postings about some of the things we saw during the re-enactment. By the way, Old Fort MacArthur is not named after General Douglas MacArthur, but after his father, General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., who was Governor-General of the Philippines after the Spanish American War. It seems to me his son also had some dealings with that particular archipelago….


How Our Era Will Be Remembered

Turmoil in the Middle East

Another Day of Turmoil in the Middle East

Clearly, Islam is undergoing a large-scale upheaval. Ever since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, most Muslims in the Middle East have been living in countries with ill-defined borders ruled by various strong men. There is a general feeling that all is not well with their part of the world.

Beginning in the peri0od between the two World Wars, American and European oil companies moved in on these strong men and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: unlimited wealth and power, if only they would sign on the dotted line. They signed, all right, but after almost a century, that money has not filtered down to the Arab man on the street. (Most of it probably ended up in offshore banking accounts owned by the strong men and their families.)

What to do about it? Well, first of all, one could riot and cause mayhem. Even if they topple one strong men, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, there is always a Mohammed Morsi waiting in the wings to make himself and his family equally rich and powerful.

Or, another popular option is to blame the West for all their ills. “Ameriki” is the Great Satan and must be destroyed, along with its jackal partner Israel. If your country’s unemployment rate for young men is something like 75%, then blowing oneself up along with Islam’s enemies looks like a good career move. The Jihad Option is a popular one, especially the more the situation appears to be dire. The problem is, when all of Islam’s external enemies have been destroyed, then it will be necessary to move on the internal enemies, such as Shia, Alawite, or Sufi Muslims; Druzes; Baha’is; Copts and other Middle-Eastern Christians, and others. Other than filling graveyards, how does that solve their problems?

Islam has so very many enemies, and so few friends. If, by merely existing, Americans become enemies of Jihadists, what’s the point of trying to kiss up to them? The pity of it all is that, to quote Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And the streets are teeming with the worst….


The Importance of History

The Importance of History

Contemporary ideas need to be weighed not against others of the same period but against those of the past, and it is here that the average, modern student is defenceless. His interests and leisure reading are confined to an alarming extent to contemporary writers and thinkers who, despite their apparent individualism, are all really working in the same direction. It is ironic that the current demand at universities is for more relevance (that is to say, contemporaneity) in the curriculum. If acceded to, this will result in a still larger degree of temporal provincialism and an even more profound ignorance of the history of ideas than now prevails.—Duncan Williams, Trousered Apes