Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A trip to the human zoo

Can you imagine a conservative guy like myself walking the streets of Berkeley, California? Two days ago, I was. On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I drove to Berkeley to see her favorite band Counting Crows in concert on the campus of UC Berkeley.

We arrived at the campus about two hours before the concert, found a choice parking spot, then walked a short distance from the campus to the heart of Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue. To make the experience even more laughable, there was some sort of street fair going on which closed Telegraph Avenue to vehicles, so it was foot traffic only. Every kind of freakazoid you can imagine or not even comprehend could be found during the walk my wife and I took down Telegraph Avenue. There was a scuzzy bearded urban outdoorsman (homeless guy) walking down the sidewalk telling people to go fuck themselves, there was a scuzzy bearded guy running a booth where you could buy just about any left-wing bumper sticker you have ever seen. Yes, Celebrate Diversity and Visualize World Peace - two of my favorite meaningless ooshy-gooshy left-wing sayings - were both to be found. And my favorite part of the tour? The Church of Obama (or is that Cult of Obama?) was out in force. There were Obama t-shirts being worn EVERYWHERE! I gotta tell you, it takes quite a courageous and brave soul to wear an Obama t-shirt in downtown Berkeley. Way to put yourself out there people! I'll tell you courageous: I should have worn my Viva la Reagan Revolucion t-shirt, complete with a Che-like image of Ronald Reagan. I bet that would have gotten some looks and comments (and possibly suckerpunches) as I walked down the street. My wife wasn't in the mood to nurse any violence done to me, so I kept the Reagan shirt at home.

After eating dinner, my wife and I walked back to the campus and found a seat at the top of the grassy area at the top of the outdoor arena to wait for the concert to start. As we sat there, a guy walked past me with the most vomit-inducing Obama shirt of the day. I tried to find a picture of one online, but I was unsuccessful. The shirt features headshots of four different presidents: Clinton, GW Bush, Nixon, and Obama. Under Clinton is the word "Smoker"; under Bush is "Spender"; under Nixon is "Schemer"; and under Obama's smug mug, it says "Dreamer." Awwwwwww. Pardon my French, but these people are batshit insane! I thought the Left was in love with Clinton when he was soiling the oval office, but as you can see by his description on the t-shirt, Slick Willie is yesterday's news. Even at his height of power, he has nothing on the Obamessiah. The uncritical adoration that these people have for Barack Obama is truly disturbing.

And then, it was on with the concert. We had lawn seating, which was at the top of the arena, but the lawn was so danged steep, that my wife and I decided to sit at the very top of the lawn where it flattens out. As you can see, this put us in the nosebleeds:

But this turned out to be a wise move, because it provided us with the following view, which could be seen above the roof of the stage:

Do you see it? Off in the distance? Let's zoom in a little more:

Yep, during the entire concert, we could see downtown San Francisco on the horizon, along with the Bay Bridge that connects the City to the East Bay where we were located. As the sun went down, the famous fog started rolling in:

I know San Francisco is as insane as Berkeley and is truly a social and political hellhole, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more physically beautiful city than San Francisco. I could stare at it all day.

By the way, in case you were wondering, my favorite Counting Crows song is A Long December.

Good Day to You, Sir

Why study history?

All you fellow history teachers out there - I found a little nugget to share. I have often been asked by my students why they have to learn this meaningless history stuff, and while I have plenty of ready answers for them, I never quite feel like I am getting my point across. That is why I am happy to have found this from a book I just finished called The Language Police by educational historian Diane Ravitch.

The book is about the self-censorship and homogenization carried out by the publishing conglomerates who produce our nation's school textbooks. In an effort to not offend anyone, these publishers have cut out just about anything meaningful from our students' textbooks - including history textbooks, nay, especially history textbooks. It is so bad, many history textbooks don't even give a mention as to why students should read the darn thing in the first place. Ravitch gave an example of what kind of justification used to be included in textbooks:
It was once customary for writers of American history textbooks to explain to their readers why it was important to study history. In the depths of the Depression, David Saville Muzzey told the readers of his popular high school text, A History of Our Country:

You are growing up in this age of opportunity and responsibility. In a few years we of the older generation shall have passed on, leaving to you the duty of carrying on the American tradition of a free republic, of preserving our ideals, and remedying our faults. this is Your America. Whatever business or profession you may choose to follow, you are all, first and foremost, American citizens. Each of you should think of himself or herself as a person who has inherited a beautiful country estate, and should be proud to keep up that estate and to make such "modern improvements" as will increase its beauty and comforts. You would be ungrateful heirs indeed if you did not care to know who had bequeathed the estate to you, who had planned and built the house, who had labored to keep it in repair for your occupancy, who had extended and beautified its grounds, who had been alert to defend it from marauders and burglars. If you agree with me, you have already answered the question why you should be eager to study American history...
I think that is an outstanding piece of persuasive writing. I especially appreciate where the author points out that no matter what you do for a living, you are an American first, and you should learn about your heritage. That shoots down the whole line of questioning students always use about how are they going to use this when they are older when their future job will have nothing to do with history. If I was to use this quotation, I would have to frontload some vocabulary, such as "inherit" "heir" "ungrateful" "bequeathed" and "marauders." The fact that my students don't know such words - I have been asked before what an "heir" is - shows that aside from history class, they don't seem to think that much of Language Arts either.

Good Day to You, Sir

My visit to the sausage factory

I assume you have heard the sausage factory metaphor, where even though sausage may look and taste good, you do not want to see it made. Watching a legislature in action is sort of like that.

Last Thursday night and early Friday morning, I got to enjoy a rather unique experience. I have a friend who works at the State Capitol in downtown Sacramento, and he got me into the State Senate chamber where our esteemed legislooters were attempting to - once again - hammer out a budget for our decrepit state.

It had been known for a couple days in advance that the vote on the budget was going to happen sometime on Thursday, July 23rd. It was just a matter of how long that vote would take. After some progress early on in the afternoon, both sides got bogged down in the details. By the time I arrived at my friend's office in the Capitol around 10pm, both the Democrats and the Republicans were in caucus, which means that they weren't even in the Senate chamber; they were in their respective meeting rooms hammering out intra-party disagreements. The caucus locations themselves are fodder for amusement. With the Democrats wholly in charge of the California legislature, they have given themselves a plush conference room in the Capitol in which they hold their meetings. The Republicans? They get a coffee break room into which they shove their 15 members (out of a total of 40 state senators). I find much of what the majority party does to the minority party to be amazingly juvenile, no matter which state or federal body we are talking.

The Dems and Reps caucused until about 1:30 Friday morning. There are closed-circuit TVs focused on the Senate floor in offices throughout the building, so we could see members of both parties beginning to trickle into the chamber. My friend and I walked into the Senate chamber at 1:43am (!) and took a seat in the back of the chamber and began watching as the Senators finally got down to business. And what was their first order of business? What pressing matter was taken up just before 2 in the morning, with 30 more budget bills yet to debate and vote upon? It was some sort of meaningless resolution from a Democrat senator, calling for the support of some United Motor plant in her Bay Area district that was threatening to shut down. Her resolution was passed with bipartisan support, but not before a Republican senator stood up and pointed out that the reason that the plant was threatening to shut down in the first place is because of the anti-business confiscatory taxation that the Democrats who run this state keep shoving down our throats.

For the next two hours, the Senate debated and voted upon bill after bill - these bills together making up California's budget for the next fiscal year. Amazingly, at 4:15 in the morning, with a vote not going well on the Republican side, the Republican leader called for another caucus! That was it! We couldn't take anymore of the madness, so my friend and I went back to his office and watched another hour of proceedings on the closed-circuit television. Finally, at 5:30 in the morning, with the Senate still debating and voting, I walked out of the Capitol into the gloomy dawn light. The fun part is that I had to move two truckloads of teacher stuff from my garage into my classroom, but I went home and slept for a few hours first.

I wish I had a picture or two to accompany this narrative, but photographs were not allowed to be taken by anyone except the credentialed news cameramen who were present and, I assume, making some major overtime. I can only leave you with the visual of little ol' unimportant me sitting in the back of the chamber of the Senate that serves the largest state in our union. The business was slow and deliberate, but I found it to be absolutely fascinating. And yes, we have a budget... for now.

Good Day to You, Sir

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Latest column is up and running

My new column at the Sacramento Citizen is ready for reading. As we speak, it is at the top of the fold.

Good Day to You, Sir

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Where ya been, Chanman?

I know blogging has been light, but c'mon - how can I be expected to blog when I have been hanging around a place like this?

Lake? Check. Sun? Check. Cup of beer? Check. Forest and Mountains? Check. I love Summer.

Good Day to You, Sir

What's the definition of a fanatic?

I believe it was Winston Churchill who said that a fanatic is someone who cannot change his mind and will not change the subject. This truth was illustrated to me at of all places a charming little Independence Day parade that was held in our neighborhood.

The parade itself was a slice of Americana, with a hook and ladder truck from a local fire station leading the procession of parents and little kids riding their bicycles, which were decorated with flags and tinsel glistening with patriotic colors:

My daughter and me.

Pretty neat, right? But then, there was one family who just couldn't let it go; they had to use the occasion of our country's birthday to show that they don't realize the difference between our country and our government, and that they don't have a clue as to what it is we celebrate every fourth of July:

When I attended the local Tax Day Tea Party back in April, I was wearing my "Viva la Reagan Revolucion" t-shirt and carrying my "Don't Tread On Me" flag over my shoulder. On this day however, I purposely left the politics at home and just carried an American flag in my hat. Too bad these fanatics could not show similar restraint.

Good Day to You, Sir

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Palin's children are fair game?

I am ambivalent about Sarah Palin. Her entrance into the 2008 presidential race definitely made me much more likely to consider holding my nose and voting for John "Son of Cain" McCain, but I find nothing remarkable about her compared to other candidates for high office, and I don't see her as the savior of the Republican Party as some pundits on the right seem to intimate. There is one aspect of Palin's travails that has bugged me to no end, and that is this notion the morons on the left side of the aisle have harbored since Day 1 that it is perfectly fine to attack Sarah Palin's children. Whether it's Andrew Sullivan of Atlantic Monthly spreading the rumor that Palin is not the mother of her son Trig, who has Down's Syndrome; or David Letterman's jokes about statutory rape being committed on Palin's 14 year-old daughter, or the constant guffaws from the left-wing punditry about Palin's older daughter getting pregnant while still in high school; or just recently, a writer from the Huffington Post calling Palin's son Trig a retard, the lamestream media has taken a sick and perverted pleasure in trashing not only Sarah Palin herself, but her family as well.

Oh, but she brought it on herself, goes the argument: as soon as she trotted her family out onto the stage at campaign events and at the Republican National Convention, and exposed her family to the press, they were fair game.

Anyone who paid one iota of attention to the campaign heard those arguments ad nauseum when the Left was occasionly called on their buffoonery.

My problem with this was that no such attacks were foisted upon Barack Obama's family by the very same media. Was it that Barack Obama kept his children out of public view and off the campaign trail? Uh...

Nope. No problem here.
Good Day to You, Sir

Monday, July 06, 2009

At least we know how they're spending their union wages

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a radical leftist organization that purports to represent such workers as janitors, health care workers, government service employees, and home care workers.

SEIU is big-time player in the efforts to impose amnesty for illegal aliens and government-controlled health care upon the American people.

I have a friend who works in downtown Sacramento near the Capitol building. On a typical weekday morning or afternoon, you will often find some kind of rally or protest going on at the Capitol steps. The day these pictures were taken, SEIU was out in force, complaining about something. My friend quickly noticed a common feature of the the SEIU crowd and felt compelled to pull out the camera on his Blackberry.

As you look at these photos, be sure to marvel at the fact that about half of all SEIU members work in the health care industry.

The ubiquitous presence of SEIU members and their distinctive purple t-shirts has prompted the nickname "purple ocean" to describe their vast representation at all kinds of events. Looking at those photos, I would venture to say that moniker describes their presence in more ways than one.
Good Day to You, Sir

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Illustrated History of the Father/Son Camping Trip

Last week, I took my son on an adventure to, among other places, my childhood hometown. We visited some of my old haunts and camped in the mountains overlooking the canyon in which the town is located. Let's get this trip started! As always, remember that you can click on the photos for MUCH better detail.

I know: choices, choices. No, that's not me, but I went to the college that is referred to in the sign. After almost four hours of driving north from Sacramento, I stopped at my Junior College alma mater, College of the Siskiyous. I figured it would be a perfect place to get out and let my almost 5 year-old son burn off some energy, because our destination was still two more hours away. College of the Siskiyous (more commonly referred to up there as C.o.S.) is located in a small town called Weed, California, which is located along the slopes of Mount Shasta on Interstate 5. It used to be that if you took a certain exit off I5 in Weed, this sign awaited you at the bottom. It was no big deal until the Internet came along, and photos of the sign went viral. Some bureaucrat must have taken notice, because the sign at the bottom of the exit now says Central Weed/College of the Siskiyous along with their respective arrows. By the way, the town is named after a man named Abner Weed, who located a lumber mill there because almost constant winds in that area dried out freshly cut lumber faster than surrounding locales.

What better place to have my son get out of the car than at one of the prettiest track and field/football stadiums you will ever see? I ran track and cross country at College of the Siskiyous, and I spent many an hour running in that beautiful setting, including when there was snow all over the track or when the fog was so thick you couldn't see the finish line from the top of the straighway. I ran several important races on that track in high school as well, since it is only one of two all-weather tracks in the entire county. Look at the deciduous trees mixed in with the evergreens overlooking the stadium, and imagine the sight during the fall when those deciduous trees turn colors. When I went to football games while attending CoS, I would often forget about the game and just study the trees.

And he's off! I have watched my son run quite a bit, and I have to say, he can run his butt off for only being five. He lifts his knees and pumps his arms very efficiently, and I have never even taught him how; he just does it.

Ah, the solitude of the track. I will try not to push them into the sport, but I truly hope both my kids give track and field a try. It's the best!

After leaving Weed and CoS behind, we continued along I5 for another half-hour to a town called Yreka. At Yreka, you leave I5 behind and begin traveling west along a winding two lane highway called State Route 96 for about 70 miles. When we were within about 15 miles of our destination, I saw two helicopters hovering in the canyon way in the distance. As we got closer, I started to smell smoke, and then we rounded the bend to see a fire in the hills above the highway. The fire started right along the highway (cigarette tossed from a car perhaps?) and the fire climbed the hill from there. A pilot car had to guide traffic through the area, as there were firefighters parked all along the highway.

And then we arrived! No, that sign is not a joke; that is the name of the town in which I grew up. It is an old gold mining town that was founded in 1851. It was originally named Murderers Bar, so I guess things could have been worse. The story goes that one day in 1851, a bunch of gold miners struck it rich, so that night in their camp, they partied hard and the camp was very happy, hence....

Growing up there could feel rather isolating at times, being so small and off the beaten path, but I wouldn't trade my experiences of growing up there for anything in the world. This is the kind of little mountain town to which people flock while on vacation, and I lived there! Every day was a vacation.

After obtaining a campfire permit at the local ranger station and additional provisions at the local grocery store, I took my son to my favorite swimming hole, which is located at Clear Creek, about 10 miles downriver. As a kid and as a young man, I spent countless hours at this most holy of recreational places, swimming, snorkeling, jumping off rocks, socializing with friends, and yeah, drinking beer. My son loved this place just as much as I thought he would.

With a little coaxing, I got my son to swim to the other side where the jumping rock is located. The swimming hole varies between about 10 and 15 feet deep, and there is a fallen tree on the bottom that has been there for decades that you can actually swim under. God made that jumping rock as if it had been designed to be one. There are places to jump from varying heights into varying depths.

As you can see, the swimming hole extends for quite a ways. The bridge is State Route 96, which shows you the convenient access to the Clear Creek swimming hole. I have watched quite a few people jump off that bridge into the water below, including my own brother. I even watched one person dive off. Jumping off the Clear Creek bridge was some kind of local badge of courage. It seemed like we all knew who and who has not jumped off that bridge. At the moment however, my son is not too interested in the bridge. So many rocks to throw and so little time.

My son and I eventually relocated from the upper swimming hole to the one right below the bridge. There are always those neat little rapids that divide the upper hole from the lower one. My son was sitting there tooling around, when he said in a somewhat panicked tone, "Daddy, there's a little lobster by that rock!" Mmmmm, crawdads are good eatin'.

As we hiked up back toward the car, I couldn't resist capturing this perfect example of why it is called Clear Creek.

We drove back upriver, through town, and up Indian Creek Road to a turnoff at Doolittle Creek. There is an old logging road that goes into the Doolittle canyon for miles. The logging road splits at one point, and if you take the fork that travels up the mountain, you arrive at a bend in the road with a practically unobstructed view of the Indian Creek canyon below, with a mountain called Slater Butte which dominates the horizon:

After parking the car, we set up camp. It was dinner time when we arrived, so I quickly got a fire going, pulled out our gear, and set up some grub. While my son was sitting at the table eating, I walked up the road a few paces and captured our campsite. Not surprisingly, not a single car passed by us on this road the entire time we were parked there.

Whoa there Kiddo! Find a smaller piece of wood if you please! If you like to go camping, I highly suggest you blow $3 on a mosquito head net. We only needed them for about an hour as dusk turned to night, but it would have been a very harsh hour without them.

As a concession to this young boy, who, for the first time would be sleeping in some pretty creepy and isolated woods for the night, we slept in the back of the CR-V you see parked behind him. I collapsed the seats and laid out some blankets above and below us. My 6'2" frame didn't exactly fit very well, but he felt safe in the car from all the bears and mountain lions that he was sure were hiding behind every tree.

The next morning, we woke up and ate some breakfast and then drove back down the hill to do some more sight-seeing. We would be leaving around noon to make a three-hour drive to my parents' place, so time was at a premium.

A big highlight of the morning was hiking up the Town Trail. You park at the trailhead, and then begin an ascent up a zig-zagging trail that takes you to a special view at the end. The trail gives one a perfect overview of the flora of the Siskiyou Mountains. These woods are not like the dry coniferous forest where my parents live, which is dominated by pine and manzanita. These mountains are a mixture of fir, pine, oak, madrone, dogwood, and lots and lots of poison oak. I have been in many different forests, and the forests in these parts are easily the spookiest I have ever encountered. It is partly due to its isolation, but there is something more. Perhaps the denseness of the forest has something to do with it, or maybe it is stories of Bigfoot that are so famous in the area. Whatever it is, I have had long conversations about it with my mother, who feels the same way I do about these woods. We are at once fascinated and intimidated. I know it sounds cliched, but you always feel like you are being watched.

As my mother once said when she tried to put the mysteriousness of these woods into words, these woods seem to hold the answers to that which we do not know the questions.

And then we reached the end of the Town Trail. Now the name makes sense doesn't it?

It occurred to me that I hadn't been in a single photo so far, so I handed the camera over to my son. Not bad, Kiddo! Yes folks, I grew up in that little town behind me.

Then it was back down the mountain to the car. It was approaching lunch time by that point, and it was time to start heading out of town. But we had one more stop to make. A few miles outside town, just off the highway up a short dirt road, there is a primitive shooting range. I had brought along my 9mm pistol, SKS, and a .22 long rifle with me, so it was time to start teaching the boy how to shoot. Ooooh, did you squishy anti-gun statists just gasp in horror? I know you did, because I can hear you. Believe it or not, teaching little boys to shoot at this age used to be quite common; it still is in these parts. Not to mention, do you think I am going to take my son deep into the spookiest woods I know without a way to defend the both of us? Well, if you are still squishy about it, then behold:

I helped him hold the .22 steady and aim, but he had the stock in his shoulder and he pulled the trigger himself. It was great, and you couldn't wipe the smile off his face. We had eaten lunch at the range before we started shooting, so after I packed everything back up, we were on our way to my parents. As we began driving, my son began to tear up and began whimpering. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me, "I miss this place already." That's my boy.

We got from SR-96 back onto I5 and began heading south. Just south of Yreka, I snapped a quick photo of a hay barn with an illustration of a strong sentiment up in those parts. The state of Jefferson is a dream of forming a new state out of northern California and southern Oregon. Both of those regions feel marginalized and neglected by the major population centers and government officials of their respective states, and very rightly so! The population centers and capital city of Oregon are in that state's north, and the population centers and capital city of California are in that state's south. As I drove around Siskiyou County, I saw signs and seals referencing the state of Jefferson in front of businesses, in front of peoples' homes, and as always, this cool hay barn. The dream of forming a state of Jefferson was actually gaining steam in November and early December of 1941, but then the U.S. became involved in world events that put the dream way on the back burner. If the state of Jefferson intrigues you, go here.

My wife and I had prearranged that she would leave Sacramento with my daughter and meet my son and me at my parents' place near a small town in northeastern California called Burney. We all ended up getting to my parents' house within 15 minutes of each other. We stayed at my parents for three days, and as nearly always, my kids wanted to visit the Subway Caves lava tube near Mount Lassen, which is an active volcano in those parts. I have to admit, I never try to talk the kids out of going. I think it's fascinating.

On the way back from Subway Caves, we stopped at a campground along Hat Creek. This is not just my opinion, but Hat Creek is considered by fishermen to be one of the best fly fishing creeks in the United States. It's also drop-dead gorgeous. The kids and Grandma seem to agree.

My son takes in Hat Creek. Don't fall in; even in late June, the water is just a couple degrees above freezing. That is pure snow melt off the slopes of 10,000+ foot Mount Lassen.

I don't know what that flower is called, but I sure thought it was pretty.

Here is a closer look.

A big ant caught my son's attention.

Of course, his little sister wants to help in the investigation. When she gets older, my daughter will also be camping in the woods with me. I can't wait to see her swim in Clear Creek!

I will leave you with a little piece of advice. When taking in the beauty of the forest, as you look around you, take the time to look up as well.

Good Day to You, Sir