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    Born in the USA

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009, 8:32 PM [General]

    There's an AP story over at Yahoo! and elsewhere concerning the number of babies born in the US in 2007, and how the total of live births broke the old record set in 1957.

    Nowhere does this story mention that the population of the U.S. has nearly exactly doubled during the fifty years between the two record-setting dates. That's what I call "journamalism."

    In his final paragraphs, the reporter, Mike Stobbe, does mention that despite the record number of births, this increase is different from occurred in the 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each, on average. That baby boom quickly transformed society, affecting everything from school construction to consumer culture.

    Today, U.S. women are averaging 2.1 children each. That's the highest level since the early 1970s, but is a relatively small increase from the rate it had hovered at for more than 10 years and is hardly transforming.

    Otherwise, The AP reports that abortions are down, and so are births to married people. 40 Percent of all babies born these days are born to single moms. Even happy couples who have been together a long time aren't bothering with "official" recognition.

    The good thing about this is that it gives the kids an opportunity to attend their parents' wedding, if they ever decide to have one.


    0 (0 Ratings)

    Owsley's Legacy (Part II)

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 8:10 PM [General]


    The raw material available to Owsley for his social experiment in "consciousness raising" (see yesterday's journal post, "Rebel with a Cause"), his mission when he began manufacturing acid in the early 60's, was the youthful populations of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco and the student ghetto in the area of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

    As with Telegraph Avenue, many students from San Francisco State and USF flocked to the Haight, which was perfect for multiple roommate setups with its large flats and cheap rents. Marijuana was already commonplace there in 1963 and 1964 when Owsley came on the scene and began distributing his exciting new product. It was at this time that he began his association with Ken Kesey, who had a house in Palo Alto that was becoming famous for its non-stop parties (See Tom Wolfe's 1968 book "The Elecric Kool Aid Acid Test"), with music provided by the embryonic version of the Grateful Dead who played under the name, "The Warlocks."

    It was about this same time that Sam Andrew and Peter Albin came together to form the beginnings of the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and started playing in the basement of a house at 1090 Page Street in San Francisco, where they were soon joined by James Gurley and Janis Joplin. Not long after, in 1965, Jefferson Airplane had their first gig at the Matrix, near the Marina.

    The main elements of the countercultural movement in San Francisco took shape quickly, and coalesced mainly around two elements -- the music, and the drugs. It was helped along by the general social malaise and alienation stemming from the Vietnam War.

    Psychedelics were the drugs of choice, alcohol and heroin were on the outs, and Owsley acid was the rocket fuel that caused the movement to launch, culminating in the Summer of Love of 1967. That season-long event was enabled and encouraged by several high-profile events in late 1965 and 1966 that drew extensive national media coverage, publicizing the wild happenings in Haight-Ashbury world wide.

    In 1965 Kesey ran several "Acid Test" parties at numerous locations in the Bay Area. They were publicized by garish, semi-legible posters, with the dates and locations of these bacchanalia hand-lettered in the lower right-hand corner. The mother of all acid tests, however, occurred in January, 1966, as a one-night component of the three-day Trips Festival at Longshoreman's Hall. Billed as an event that would simulate the drug experience, but without the LSD. Festival organizers of course had no way of knowing whether participants' minds were unaltered or blown to smithereens with Owsley acid, but it's a safe bet that most of the revelers were higher than Coit Tower.

    The Trips Festival was followed six months later by the one-day Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, which drew 20,000, mostly stoned to the bone young people for a free concert featuring The Jefferson Airplane and Alan Ginsburg. This was the largest event of its type until Woodstock, three years later, and the press coverage was no doubt responsible for convincing many a teenage would-be runaway to forsake school, home, parents and siblings, and the boredom of Cedar Rapids, or Billings, or Victorville, and set off for the land of free love, free drugs, and liberation from all life's cares, in the Summer of 1967.

    Owsley set out to transform the world by distributing free LSD to anyone who wanted it. He was convinced that if enough people got high, if consciousnesses were raised high enough, that Americans would recognize the futility of their way of life, and abandon it, and the world would change for the better.

    The movement he fueled gathered publicity, and the publicity drew new recruits by the thousands. And when the Summer of Love was over, no one could really say whether the world had changed for the better or not. But following closely on that famous season, the Diggers, a Haight-Ashbury-centered social activist group which had opened a free store and a soup kitchen, staged a "Death of Hippie" parade on Haight Street in October, 1967. It was meant to signal the end of the movement which the Diggers and many other old-timers in the Haight felt had been co-opted, sensationalized, and cheapened by the mass media, and turned into television freak show and an irrelevant curiosity.

    Owsley was arrested and jailed in 1967, and pure LSD, while still available, was no longer the norm. Harder drugs, especially speed, began to show up more frequently on Haight Street and Telegraph Avenue, and the violence and psychosis that accompany that dangerous substance began to replace the peace and love of '65, '66, and '67.

    The Summer of Love was over, and with it, the countercultural movement.


    0 (0 Ratings)

    Cottage Grove

    Sunday, July 19, 2009, 5:05 PM [General]


    No matter which of my two towns I'm staying in, San Francisco or the Seattle area, it's a respectable day's drive from wherever I am to the south end of the Willamette Valley, and the pleasant town of Cottage Grove.

    Or maybe I should say the towns of Cottage Groves, because there really are two of them, as is the case with so many small towns in our manic and bipolar country. The old Cottage Grove sits astride the largely disused highway that used to connect British Columbia and Baja, Mexico, old 99. The new Cottage Grove initially spread out from the old town toward the road that replaced 99, Interstate 5, and in the last decade slopped over I-5 and bulged slightly eastward, where its growth was finally spent after the real estate bust of 2007.

    When I'm there I stay in a motel in the new part of town, near the intersection of Row River and No Name Street. The stop light there appears to be the center of the new town, a wasteland of fast food joints, strip malls, gas stations, and standard-brands motels, anchored by the usual Wal-Mart. Fully 80 percent of the businesses in this part of town operate out of plastic buildings and have familiar corporate names.

    The barn advertising Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets is just north of the old town, on Highway 99, and its condition is very much like most of old Cottage Grove's downtown and main street -- dilapidated and seedy, but not dead. With some life remaining in it, old Cottage Grove is unlike the majority of little burgs in the western U.S., whose original downtowns are now mostly boarded-up storefronts, with the monotony of desolation broken only by the occasional "antiques" store or run-down rooms-by-the-week-or-month motel.

    But there's still traffic, people on the streets, and a lively atmosphere in old Cottage Grove, despite its having obviously seen better days, and there's even more potential for this town of slightly under 10,000 to become a vital and important local center, because it sits in the middle of prime agricultural land. As our futureless civilization or anti-civilization or whatever you want to call it disintegrates over the next 50 years or so...well, I'll let Jim Kunstler tell it like it is:

    ...(W)e might become something other than an industrial "consumer" society. My narrative includes the conviction that we will have trouble producing food for ourselves as petro-agriculture fails, and since society can't go on without food production, I see this activity coming back much closer to the center of our daily lives. We're not ready to think about that. The downside of our unreadiness may be that a lot of Americans will go hungry in the decade ahead...We're on our way to becoming another nation, whether we like it or not.


    In the years to come, as dying cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix empty out for environmental and economic reasons, places like Cottage Grove, Oregon, Springfield, Illinois, and thousands of other small-to-medium-size rural towns may well grow in significance and influence, out of necessity. People have to eat, after all. And I hope when that happens, we will revivify our old downtowns and residential neighborhoods, and bulldoze the strip mall cancers that now surround them, killing them like malignant tumors.

    So now I suppose you're asking why I stay in the new, ugly Cottage Grove when I'm there, if it's so yucky and carcinogenic, instead of in old town, which is cool and organic and where the future lies and all that good stuff. The simple answer is because the motels in old town don't have wireless internet, plus their only outstanding quality is that they're cheap to stay in. Bill and Sally's Shady Rest really is not anywhere near as nicely appointed as the Comfort Inn, sad to say. But maybe someday it will be, again. It does look to have seen better days.

    Also, I can't vouch for the pleasantness or lack thereof of Dr. Pierce's pellets, but I do like the carefully-painted, all-caps stencil lettering on the front of that old barn.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Hippie Hill

    Saturday, July 18, 2009, 7:16 PM [General]


    Yesterday this unremarkable yet famous grass-covered slope in Golden Gate Park lay quiet and nearly abandoned in the morning sun. But 40 years ago, on the same sort of warm July morning, it was seething with activity. There were drummers (as many as 20) drumming, guitarists guitarring, pot-smokers smoking, and users of the stronger psychedelics sitting quietly as they watched Jehovah's angels descending from heaven in flaming chariots pulled by huge caterpillars.

    All this conforms with the current historical impression of San Francisco in the sixties, but it only conveys one facet of a multifaceted phenomenon. Beneath the frivolity and under all the big hair and wild clothing, there was a serious and analytic side to the hippie revolt as well. For some (not all) of the participants in that misunderstood and underestimated movement had come to view history and the society which had nurtured them in a new and profoundly disturbing light.

    "Growing up," I heard lots of people saying at the time, "watching 'Leave it to Beaver,' I knew something was really wrong, but I didn't know what it was."

    The serious thinkers among the hippies were pioneers in recognizing that 20th-century ways of life had evolved into ways of death. Besides making war on an innocent people half a world away, our very manner of living committed violence against the earth herself. Those were the days when gasoline was still fortified with lead, when eight-cylinder seven-mile-per-gallon behemoths ruled the roads and streets of our increasingly polluted country, and the U.S. still led the world in oil production and consumption, as well as in the use of pesticides. These were some of the most important reasons members of my generation dropped out of the mainstream of American society, as Henry Miller wrote, "as naturally as a twig falling into the Mississippi."

    At the time the hippies' reaction to materialism and consumerism ("plastic" they called it) was seen as wild-eyed radicalism, and its proponents as dangerous, drug-addled subversives who needed to be dealt with harshly. It was the serious and analytical side of the sixties which gave rise to the forty years' counter-revolution that has now given us Nixon, Reagan, the two Bushes, a host of right-wing think tanks founded in the wake of the sixties, the Neocon wing of the Republican Party, and the daily toxic waste generator of right-wing hate radio (see

    With the collapse of the second Bush administration and widespread disenchantment with the Iraq occupation, the counter-revolution appears to have finally run out of steam, and the second phase of the movement begun in the sixties may be in the works. But as Robert S. McElvaine (see the url above) points out, "Of course no peace will be achieved before those who have been the main political beneficiaries of the Forty Years War launch their final offensive--and we can be sure that it will be offensive."

    For my part, I'm ready to see life return to Hippie Hill.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    The Enchanted Forest

    Friday, July 17, 2009, 12:04 PM [General]



    There's something out there, or maybe we should say "in there." I don't know what it is, but it's warm and hairy and non-verbal, and it's there.

    Highway 101, running down the west side of western Washington's Hood Canal (it's actually not a canal, but a narrow inlet) on the Olympic Peninsula takes you through places with strange and ancient names. Dosewallips. A river of the same name runs through it.

    Shades of our recent but thankfully now former president echo in the name "Duckabush," a little further and deeper into the remoteness beyond Dosewallips. A mountain bears that name, as does a river that runs beside it.

    Finally you reach the heart of greenness, at a place whose name is a sound like one that comes from a heart: Hamma Hamma. Of course, a river runs there also.

    Rivers in this part of the world are numerous, large, and abundant.

    After that you leave the enchanted forest and its aura of mystery, and the feeling derived from travelling there, that it holds other, deeper worlds which crowd in closely on this one, threatening to push it aside like a toy.

    Beyond are places with common, boring, un-magical names: Hoodsport, Union, Belfair. Dreadful civilized places, full of chaos and cacaphony. And then the mind returns to the deep, audible quietness of the Duckabush Trail, and the bend in it where softly at first, then with gusto, the sound of the nearby river rises through the leaves.


    0 (0 Ratings)


    Thursday, July 16, 2009, 2:40 PM [General]


    Its proper name is San Bernardino, and once upon a time it was an all-American city. But people who grew up there call it San Berdino, or Sam Berdino, or sometimes just Samberdino, and today it's an all-American mess.

    What makes this sunny, smoggy city of 200,000 or so such a fascinating study is its prototypical decay. Sam Berdino has declined much in the same way as most of the rest of America has, at the same rate, and over the same period. Its illnesses -- pollution, a shrinking tax base, a dying downtown, the eclipse of agriculture and collapse of key industries, petroleum dependency, and a widening gap between a small, rich elite and the increasingly nonwhite and non-English-speaking (and increasingly unemployed) mass of workers -- typify the malaise afflicting the U.S. as a whole.

    If citizens of our country once considered the U.S.A. paradise on earth, then Sam Berdino was Paradise with a capital "P." When local merchants the Harris family opened their massive, palatial department store at Third and "E" Streets in 1927, the springtime air in Sam Berdino was heavy with the syrupy fragrance of orange blossoms wafting from the thousands of acres of groves surrounding this gorgeous town of 35,000. The white, heavily-ornamented Harris Building, as beautiful as it was prosperous, was a source of pride to the community as well as one of its primary economic mainstays, much as similar independent, family-owned community department stores all over the country were during the half century between 1925 and 1975.

    Twenty years after the opening of Harris's masterpiece, another local Sam Berdino business took a great leap forward, one which carried with it extraordinary cultural, gastronomic, and nutritional significance for the entire country. In 1948 the brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald decided their barbecue restaurant at 16th and "E" needed something to set it apart from the other cheap eateries downtown and hatched an original idea. They called it the "Speedee Service System," and their new McDonald's Restaurant was an overnight sensation. The birth of fast food did not go unremarked by other entrepreneurs, one of whom, Glen Bell, began opening taco stands featuring the McDonald brothers' instant service system. His fast-food mini-empire culminated with the appearance of the first Taco Bell in Downey in 1962.

    Another So-Cal entrepreneur attracted by the McDonalds' success was milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc, who at first partnered with the brothers, then bought them out in 1961 for $2.7 million, and proceeded to carpet the earth with McDonald's restaurants.

    By the time the McDonald brothers' new marketing idea was up and running, Sam Berdino's population had ballooned to almost 75,000 as the city was transformed once again during World War II, when it found itself with an air force installation and a major steel mill. Thanks to Congressman Harry Shepard, the city's WWII air depot was preserved, expanded, and christened Norton Air Force Base. Kaiser Steel, looking for inland plant locations during the war, built the steel factory, which was actually next door to Sam Berdino in the Hispalachian town of Fontana, sometimes called Fontucky due to its hillbilly/Mexican ambience. But the extension of the Sam Berdino freeway, also accomplished during the war, made the Kaiser mill an easy commute for the many Sam Berdinoans who found work there.

    To the discerning eye, the seeds of destruction are found in the glow of success, and as Sam Berdino's orange groves and sleepy, two-lane streets gave way to steelmaking, aerospace activity, and freeways, the quality of life in Paradise insensibly declined. Plus, Sam Berdino's relationship with the great city to the west, Los Angeles, usually called "Allay" by its residents, had always been uneasy. Less prosperous Angelinos seeking cheaper rents had gravitated toward the eastern side of the basin for decades, and the increasingly dangerous clouds of toxic smog generated by Allay's auto traffic tended to drift eastward also, carried by the prevailing westerlies, only to lurch to a sudden stop against the wall of the converging San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges which stand on the city's eastern margins.

    By the time Sam Berdino was designated an All-American City by the National Civic League in 1976-77 it was on its way down. Business was off at the Harris store, although it would limp along another 20-plus years, finally closing its doors for good in January of 1999. By that time Kaiser Steel was already long gone. During the 1980's production at the plant gradually slowed, and it had already gone cold by the time Norton Air Force Base was deactivated in 1994.

    Today the empty, still-imposing shell of the Harris Department Store broods over the bleak vista of Sam Berdino's nighttime nightmare downtown streets, now peopled mostly by winos and crackheads. What commerce is left in the city has migrated miles to the south, to a smoggy, treeless, paved-over expanse called Hospitality Lane, a five-mile-long strip mall bordering the freeway, whose interminable vistas of fast-food joints, gas stations, muffler shops, and standard chain retail outlets are a microcosm of the complex of diseases killing the United States.

    For as it turns out, the McDonald brothers' Speedee Service System, which so delighted customers and restauranteurs alike in its salad days, is now seen to be the pestilent agent responsible for the twin plagues of obesity and diabetes from which America suffers so grieviously. As for Hospitality Lane itself, like any other petroleum-dependent nexus of commerce built at the very end of the age of cheap oil, it will be a ruin by 2027, just as downtown Sam Berdino is today.

    Does Sam Berdino have a future? It might. It was Paradise once, and it could be again. But if Paradise lost is to be regained, Sam Berdino has to correct it's past mistakes and do one thing differently.



    0 (0 Ratings)

    That Which Never Changes

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009, 4:28 PM [General]


    "God" is a word impossible to get one's head around. "Supreme Being" is almost as bad.

    Our yoga teacher -- my daughter's and mine -- sometimes refers to "that which never changes." Now there's something nearly possible to think about. But what could it be? Everything changes. Even mountains change. Even the universe changes.

    But some things change so slowly that for our intentions, for purposes of a human lifetime, the change is so imperceptible that we perceive them as unchanging. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," didn't much like the world, but he liked the dioramas at New York's Museum of Natural History ("where I went as a kid") because "they never change."

    A year ago when I was apartment sitting for my daughter in San Francisco, I spent a lot of time in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  I remember that month as being foggy and misty and cloudy and very, very humid, with morning temperatures generally near 70. The fog and mist lent a surreal quality to the urban landscape, and altogether, it was a great time for walking.

    Admission to the Tea Garden was free on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning, and I went there a couple times a week to check in with the Buddha.

    I first saw him sitting where he still sits in I think about 1965. He hasn't changed visibly since then. He's still about three times life size, and made of bronze. He was cast in Japan in 1790 and brought to his present location in 1949, where he's sat with his back to the goldfish pond, facing a bamboo grove ever since. Through wars, presidents, booms and depressions he's sat there with his unchanging expression.

    I'm sure he does change, really, that his metal skin erodes, little by little and year by year. But it hasn't eroded enough for me to discern the change since I first saw him.

    He reminds me that suffering doesn't change either. For most of us, it comes and goes, but it always remains the one thing all human beings have in common.

    The tea garden was already old in 1949, when the Buddha sat down in it. It was laid out in 1894, and a Japanese family called Hagiwara was brought over to tend it. Besides taking care of the garden, they lived in it until 1942, when they were sent to a concentration camp, never to return to the tranquil spot they called home for almost 50 years.

    The Buddha sits in the garden with his enigmatic half smile and his eyelids almost, but not quite closed. His big face is serene, mirroring the tranquility of the place. His left hand appears to be making the barest hint of a gesture we interpret as obscene. Maybe that's for what we did to the Hagiwaras.

    --Dave B


    0 (0 Ratings)

    Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009, 4:30 PM [General]

    In 1860, on the eve of America's Civil War, a poor, single seamstress, Mary Hoffman, lived by herself in a boarding house in New York City's tenth ward. At 28, she was approaching the age of what that era designated "spinsterhood," and had little to recommend her, as she was powerless, unconnected, isolated, and alone, among the humblest and lowest rank of proletarian workers in the harsh, dirty, overcrowded city.

    Mary found herself pregnant and unmarried, an unacceptable and socially ruinous circumstance in that time, even in the big city. In mid-19th-century America, no one but a prostitute, or "fallen woman," would dare give birth to an illegitimate child, then openly raise it.

    She desperately looked for help, and either with the aid of a friend, or possibly because she was a distant blood relative, was able to prevail upon the family of William Andrus, who lived far away from New York City, in the town of Syracuse, near the northern margin of New York State.

    Mary Hoffman gave birth to a baby girl in the Andrus home on Lodi Street in Syracuse sometime in 1861 or early 1862. William Andrus, a common laborer, and his wife already had three children, but they agreed to raise Mary's baby, now named May, as their own. Mary left the Andrus home shortly thereafter, and it is doubtful whether she ever saw her child again.

    No one knows who May's father was, but I suspect it might have been one Henry Underhill, a 29-year-old single baker whom the 1860 census indicates was boarding in the same house as Mary at that time.


    May Andrus, for so she was called, grew up in Syracuse and followed her mother in eking out a living with her needle. She was working in a sewing sweatshop in Syracuse when, at age 18 or 19, she caught the eye of the shop foreman, a hot-tempered, domineering young man close to her own age, John Henry O'Connor, the son of Irish immigrants.

    The two married and soon began a trek westward, stopping for a while in Lincoln, Nebraska, and then, with the covered wagon and brace of oxen of Hollywood movie fame, followed the Santa Fe Trail to the tiny settlement of Deertrail, in eastern Colorado, where John Henry attempted for the rest of his life, with varying degrees of success or failure, to become a prosperous rancher.

    Mary Hoffman went on to marry a rich man, Culver by name, who either was or became a mining entrepreneur in Colorado. Near the turn of the century when she was close to 40, May Andrus O'Connor received a letter from Sallie Norton, a daughter of William Andrus and his second wife. Norton didn't divulge any information about May's mother's marriage, or about Culver, but did inform May that her mother had died, and that at the time of her death she was in possession of a million-dollar mine (which she had probably inherited from her husband). Mary Hoffman, Sallie Norton said, had wanted to cede partial possession of this property to her lost daughter, but the Andrus children -- May's adopted brothers and sisters -- had seized all of it.

    As far as we know, May never followed up this information with any attempt to litigate for possession of money and property alleged to belong to her. She lived and died poor. She and John Henry left Colorado and relocated to the Puget Sound region at the ends of their lives, during the Great Depression, and are buried under paupers' gravestones in Hillcrest Cemetery in Kent, Washington.

    The reason I know these things is because Mary Hoffman was my great-great grandmother; John Henry and May Andrus O'Connor my great-grandparents. My mother and my sister Christine spent several years digging this history from a fragmented and inchoate mass of letters, photographs, family Bible inscriptions, and census records, then put it together using intensively deductive logic.


    0 (0 Ratings)

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