Glorious [Bang!] 4th

We Celebrate Our Independence by Playing at Terrorism

As I write these words, the air is full of explosions. Dogs and cats are whimpering as they hide under beds, tortured by their pet-loving owners who celebrate our independence with backyard barbecues and playing at being terrorists. I’m not sure that many Americans are giving any attention to the Declaration of Independence from King George III.

Ultimately we got our independence, but mainly because of help from France. You can read all you want about American history and not find a word about George Washington ever winning a battle. France helped us at a horrible cost to the French monarchy: their assistance bankrupted the treasury and was a major contributor to the French Revolution, which began shortly after we won our independence. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette paid for helping us by being publicly beheaded in Paris’s Place de Grève.

Ingrates that we are, we tend to downplay the French role in winning our freedom. When the British under Cornwallis were tied up at Yorktown, it was because Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, Marquis of Grasse-Tilly was backing up the Continental Army led by Washington and Lafayette.

Don’t think I’m feasting on escargots, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, and Pouilly-Fuissé because of this. I’m not celebrating at all, especially as it sounds like my street is being bombed.

Manzanar Revisited

White Racism at Its Ugliest

Living in Los Angeles as I have for over half a century, I have lived and worked with many Japanese whom I regard as my friends. They are also as American as apple pie—if not more so. So it strikes me as one of America’s crimes that 112,000 Japanese Nisei and issei were interned in some ten concentration camps scattered across the Western States.

The most famous of these camps is Manzanar, located midway between Lone Pine and Independence in the Eastern Sierras. The former camp is now the Manzanar National Historic Site, managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Martine and I had visited it in the past, perhaps as much as three times. Last week, we visited it again. We were happy to see that the NPS had reconstructed four buildings in Block 14 of the camp: two barracks, a women’s latrine, and a mess hall. (Beware of dinner on Tuesdays, when the infamous Slop Suey was served.)

In the crazy divided political world of today, it is nice to see a park whose reason for existence is an indictment of American racism during World War II. Yes, the Japanese were our enemy; but so were the Germans, and we didn’t intern any of them. More’s the pity: Perhaps our current Presidente might never have been born.

If you are driving up (or down) Highway 395, it is worth spending an hour or two visiting Manzanar. And be sure to see the 22-minute video shown every half hour.



The Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

As each breath I take fills my lung with ash from the Getty Fire, which is just a few miles north of my front door, I look back to the unexpected highlight of last week’s trip to the Eastern Sierras. I am referring to the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery in Independence, California.  Built in 1916, the hatchery was run by the California Department of Fish and Game until 1996, when the State found they couldn’t afford its upkeep. It was then that a nonprofit organization called the Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery was formed to run the former hatchery as a museum, with an interpretive center and gift shop.

The real highlight are the grounds, which include a pond well stocked with rainbow trout and visiting ducks. A small number of fish (mostly trout) are still hatched there as part of the museum.

Martine fell in love with the gift shop, which included two items of special interest to her: some attractive and reasonably-priced quilts made by a woman in Bakersfield and a bucket filled with packets of fish food. We purchased one of the quilts, and several packets of fish food.

It turns out that the ducks were more aggressive about begging for the fish food than the trout. That was all right with Martine, as she enjoyed feeding the ducks more, while I thought of them as shameless beggars.

We actually visited the Fish Hatchery on both Thursday and Friday last week. It was a beautiful and peaceful place.

A wildfire in July 2007 burned 55,000 acres west of the hatchery. Then, a year later that same month, a heavy thunderstorm caused a mudslide that damaged part of the hatchery as well as two of the employee residences. I am delighted that the Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery managed to clear the damage and re-open the facility.

If you find yourself on Highway 395 and desire a couple of peaceful hours in a beautiful locale, I highly recommend a visit to the hatchery. And say alone to the ducks and trout for me.


Indian Baskets and Coyote Dentures

Panamint Shoshone Indian Baskets

Inyo County’s county seat is the small town of Independence, CA. To me, it will always be associated with the Eastern California Museum and the writings of Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934). Curiously, the museum and Mary Austin’s house are just across the street from one another. I have always thought that Austins The Land of Little Rain and The Basket Woman are two of the best books written about life in the Eastern Sierras over a century ago. The Austin house is not open to visitors, but you can always cross the street to the museum to buy her books and learn about this incredible writer.

In fact, there is little about the Eastern Sierras that you can’t learn about from the museum. If the Owens Valley and its continuation northward to the Nevada state line is of any interest to you, you owe it to yourself to spend at least half a day at the museum. There you will learn about the miners, the Indians, the Japanese interned at Manzanar, the pioneer men and women, the mountain climbers, the water wars, the geology, the railroads, and the farmers.

One of the most incredible displays is a set of dentures using coyote teeth for a dentally distressed resident by the name of George Washington Hancock. While we visited the museum, we heard two visitors walk in the door and immediately ask about the “coyote teeth.”

The Coyote Dentures and the Story Behind Them

The collection of Paiute and Shoshone Indian basketry is world class. I particularly liked the Panamint Shoshone designs on their baskets. I was disappointed to learn that these baskets were made for early tourists to the area, as the Indians were much too pragmatic to bother about designs for something so utilitarian as a food container. Yet the designs came from somewhere and are visually striking.

In many ways, it is recommended to visit the museum at or near the beginning of your trip along Highway 395. Wherever you are going, whatever you are planning to do, you will find answers here in this museum which is owned and run by Inyo County. There are no admission fees, but I strongly recommend you make a donation so that this outstanding institution can continue to highlight one of the most interesting corners of our country.


When Your Beliefs Are Not Open to Change

George Carlin defines Frisbeetarianism as the belief that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck there. But there is a version of Frisbeetarianism that affects us while we are still alive. All too many of us treat our values as fixed in place, impervious to all attempts to change them. Are facts contrary to your values? Well, then, adhere to “alternative facts,” or, as I call them, lies.

I remember years ago going to a coffee shop in Cambria, California, for lunch. At the next table were a couple of ranchers discussing how Rush Limbaugh was such a God-fearing man. Did these ranchers care to know that their beloved Rushbo goes to the Dominican Republic loaded with Viagra to have his way with loose women? Or that he has had problems of addiction to Oxycontin, the so-called “Hillbilly Heroin” that is an opioid? And that’s only the beginning.

These men would be offended if I brought up any of these points. Why? Because they conflict with their beliefs and values.

We all have beliefs that affect our behavior. That’s why I get my news from CNN and NBC rather than Breitbart. Oh, occasionally I look at Breitbart.Com, though it fails to move me in any positive way. But I have changed my political affiliation lately to Independent, because the last several elections have soured me on the Democrats, thus changing voting behavior that goes back to the election of 1968. I also look warily at Progressives of the “Brie and Chablis” variety that populate West Los Angeles.

The point is that my beliefs are still in flux. What used to be a wide paved road has become for me a pitted dirt path that can lead me into making horrendous and immoral decisions. I consider myself a person who is still evolving.

And by no means do I wish to sail onto the roof and get stuck there.

Going Independent

Goodbye, Donkey! Goodbye, Elephant!

This summer, I have re-registered to vote as an independent. Ever since I came to be of voting age, I have been a Democrat. For a while, I even tried to help out in a congressional election—my man lost—and even donated money to the party at various critical junctures. Of late, I did not particularly care for the leadership of the party. I did not like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I do not like Tom Perez. And, as time passes, I do not care for the way Hillary Clinton screwed up her presidential campaign last year; and I am not altogether sure I would have liked it all that much had she won. Granted, she wouldn’t have been as bad as Trumpf. From her ivory tower, I think she has totally lost touch with the voters, a large percentage of whom hate her for various reasons—many of them trumped up by the Right.

My first presidential election was in 1968. I refused to vote for either the Democratic (Humphrey) or Republican (Nixon) candidate. Instead, I wrote in Otto Schlumpf, a Franciscan priest from Santa Barbara, for president and comedian Dick Gregory for vice president. Both were actively against the Viet Nam War, as was I.

Over the years, the Democrats have been wasting the many successes of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lyndon Johnson came close when it came to domestic policy, but was a total washout in Viet Nam. He wisely withdrew when he realized how badly he had messed up. Too bad: He could have been one of the great ones. (But then Viet Nam made dunces out of a lot of otherwise smart politicians.)

I will probably still vote mostly Democrat, though no longer in the primaries. I don’t know what will happen to the Republican Party—nothing good, I hope—but I may conceivably vote Republican in some local elections, as I have done in the past, especially  when I voted for Schwarzenegger for governor of California against the Democrat Phil Angelides in 2006.

In time, I would like to see more than two major political parties in the U.S. And I don’t mean single-issue parties like the Libertarians and American Independents. The Democrats and Republicans will continue to morph over the next few years, most likely in a way that is unacceptable to me as a voter.

So now I’m an independent.

Independence Day 1821

Declaring Independence Was One Thing, But Winning It Another

Declaring Independence Was One Thing, But Winning It Another

Peru is now celebrating the 193rd anniversary of its own Declaration of Independence by José de San Martin in Lima, as shown in the famous painting above by Juan Lepiani. As with our own Declaration of Independence, there was still a lot of fighting to come. Worse still, disunity was rampant. So much so that San Martin left for Europe in disgust and remained there until his death in 1850. Compared to what happened in South America, our own struggle for independence was a cakewalk, thanks largely to Admiral de Grasse and the French navy.

Let me give you a brief timeline. First there were the native peoples of what is now Peru, who were mostly gobbled up by the Inca empire. Then the Spanish came in under Francisco Pizarro, defeated the Incas, and set up a European-based government. All went somewhat smoothly under the Peninsular War of the early 19th century, in which the English, abetted by Spanish guerrillas, drove Napoleon’s French out of the Iberian Peninsula—at the cost of messing up their colonies in the New World. All criollo (native-born white) officials were replaced by new administrators from Spain. So, feeling disenfranchised, the criollos rebelled under Bolivar, San Martin, Sucré, O’Higgins and others. They won, effectively driving the Spanish from South America.

Even to this day, Peru is largely a criollo-run country, even though whites constitute only 15% of the population. Naturally, the 45% who are Amerindians and the 37% who are Mestizo (mixed races) currently feel disenfranchised. Is Peru due for another revolution? In a way, it had one in the 1980s and 1990s under the Shining Path and the MRTA guerrillas, who were defeated in a series of bloody confrontations in which thousands of innocent people were killed.

It is inevitable that the non-whites in power will be replaced by more of the people from the Altiplano and jungle regions as time goes on. There may be other Independence Days to come. Who knows?

After all, there are people who feel the same way in the United States, people who dress in 18th century costumes with tea bags dangling from their hats.