Later On

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Archive for October 30th, 2018

Can pot save the pumpkin farm?

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Damian Paletta reports in the Washington Post:

John Muller steered his tractor left onto Main Street, four Atlantic Giant pumpkins in tow, and thousands of people at the pumpkin parade screamed with delight.

But there were many others, spread throughout the festival that day, who feared the famous farmer had led the city down an uncertain path, demanding changes that couldn’t be undone and attempting to enrich himself in the process.

They are determined to stop “Farmer John,” even if it means putting him — and his pumpkin patch — out of business.

On Nov. 6, residents of this small, coastal city will vote on whether Muller, 72, can use a section of his 21-acre farm to grow thousands of young marijuana plants.

Muller and his wife, Eda, said they need this revenue to save their property, Daylight Farms. If voters don’t approve Measure GG, the Mullers could be forced to sell everything before next year’s harvest.

“If that doesn’t pass, there won’t be a pumpkin farm,” Eda Muller told critics at a recent city council meeting, muttering under her breath, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

U.S. farmers last year harvested 2 billion pounds of pumpkins, many of which were later carved into spooky or silly faces for Halloween. The economics behind these Jack-o’-lanterns can be as messy as their gunky guts, though, with everything hanging on six weeks of sales. But these and other iconic American holiday symbols exist in an often overlooked economy with hidden pressures and pain.

For California farmers — many struggling like the Mullers — the state’s legalization of marijuana has offered the prospect of raising a lucrative crop that could keep them on their land. They must first win the approval of their communities, and the debate dividing Half Moon Bay has also paralyzed other parts of the state.

Local governments, particularly in remote rural areas, are deciding whether cannabis should be treated like any other crop or banned, out of concern that it could lead to crime and other unwanted social change. Calaveras County, for instance, allowed the cultivation of cannabis, collecting millions of dollars of taxes, only to backtrack. Now growers are suing.

Here in Half Moon Bay, 130 miles west, John Muller’s plans are straining the entire city, pitting neighbor against neighbor, past against future. The choice is about more than farming and economics, reaching into the community’s sense of values. Voters must decide whether to welcome commercial cannabis inside their community and help the farm or stand firm against marijuana and possibly smash the Mullers’ pumpkin business.

In a city that calls itself the World Pumpkin Capital, losing the Mullers’ pumpkins could be a devastating turn of events. Their iconic roadside plot draws wealthy visitors from San Francisco and Silicon Valley for more than a month each autumn.

And the Mullers are the only local farmers who have shown the ability to raise Atlantic Giants, pumpkins that can gain 40 pounds each day and grow to the size of small cars. These orange boulders give the city a connection to its agricultural past, something many residents are scrambling to protect.

Some competitors have boosted revenue by adding haunted houses, hayrides, and corn mazes to their farms, but the Mullers have eschewed such agritourism, describing themselves as purists.

Giant-pumpkin farmers, though, are known for being secretive and wily, and many residents don’t trust the Mullers’ motives despite their increasingly desperate pleas.

Opening Half Moon Bay to commercial cannabis could change the city forever, they worry, normalizing pot for teenagers, luring outside investors with nefarious motives, and drawing federal scrutiny upon farm laborers, many of whom are undocumented Mexican workers.

“To say there are no other crops that a farmer could grow in Half Moon Bay is ridiculous,” said Virginia Turezyn, who works at a business advisory firm and is running for city council on the same ballot as Measure GG. “They could grow Brussels sprouts. They can grow other stuff. . . . Everybody thinks [cannabis] is a cure-all and a panacea, but I’ve read tons of research that highlights tons of negative implications for the community, for crime, for youth and for the stench.”

Eda’s father, Al Adreveno, purchased Daylight Farms in the 1950s, growing flowers for buyers in San Francisco, just 30 miles away. He built glass greenhouses to protect some of the plants, a decision that is central to November’s vote.

His daughter Eda married John, a Vietnam War veteran, in 1969, and they went to work in the family flower business. Adreveno served three terms on the city council and four years as mayor.

During one of those stints, Adreveno challenged the leaders of another pumpkin town, Circleville, Ohio, to a weigh-off. The California community put up the biggest plant, and it has proclaimed its pumpkin dominance ever since.

The family’s flower business relied on the San Francisco market, and they lost roughly 25 percent of their customers by the mid-1990s because of the AIDS crisis. California flower growers were also becoming crowded out by foreign competition.

In the late 1990s, the Mullers pivoted to pumpkins as a way to save their farm. This quickly made them local legends, in part because the Mullers moved in when others were moving out.

In 2008, San Mateo County growers raised pumpkins on 263 acres. By 2017, pumpkins grew on just 167 acres. There were fewer pumpkin farms but still plenty of buyers, particularly each October during Half Moon Bay’s Art & Pumpkin Festival, a two-day celebration that can draw 200,000 people, clog roads for miles and raise millions of dollars for nonprofit groups and vendors.

Pumpkins, which local farmers call “punkins,” are difficult to grow profitably on a small farm. They must be farmed on different plots every two to three years, or they can become diseased. Seeds are planted after Mother’s Day in May, and harvest comes four or five months later. Buyers typically want pumpkins only during a six-week stretch, leading up to Halloween. That puts enormous pressure on growers to cash in during a small window.

The Mullers grow 60 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squash, including Cinderellas, Fairytales and Tonda Padanas. They plant 80,000 seeds each spring, and each seed can produce up to four pumpkins. Harvest takes one month, and then the pumpkins are sold at a plot called Farmer John’s Pumpkins on the Pacific Coast Highway, where visitors can see the ocean peeking across a crest of trees.

Muller has always been more than just a farmer, though. In 2008, he served his first of two terms as mayor, helping steer the beleaguered city away from bankruptcy. He also served in other local government posts and advised the U.S. Agriculture Department during the Reagan administration.

At his pumpkin patch, he’s a dusty blur, working as greeter, cashier, wheelbarrow pusher and parking director. He’s five-and-a-half feet tall and wears a deep tan on his face from farm work.

On a recent Friday, he was constantly in motion, sporting torn green coveralls and a sweat-stained hat, hugging visitors and pulling wagons and directing people to a tepee past the hay bales.

He looked at times joyful and at times exhausted, saying he had been up at 4 a.m. discussing the farm’s future with Eda. The Mullers still care for Adreveno, now 95, and his wife, who is 90.

“The family estate is dwindling — we’ll have to make some very, very life-altering decisions,” he said. “We worked hard all our lives, but our little bodies are slowing down a bit.”

A lifelong Republican, John Muller voted against the statewide measure in 2016 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults. He was an outlier in Half Moon Bay, where 69 percent of voters backed it.

Shortly after that vote, Muller was approached by Eric Hollister, a chef and acquaintance from the local farmers market. Hollister wanted to refurbish the Mullers’ dilapidated greenhouses, grow cannabis “starts” — young, non-flowered plants — and market the products to individual consumers and other commercial growers.

The Mullers were strapped for cash. Health care for Eda’s mother was nearing $10,000 a month. Hollister said he planned to pay the Mullers nearly $1 million a year in rental fees and spend around $3 million rehabbing the greenhouses, which they would still own. Hollister said he could sell between 100,000 and 150,000 plants a month, grown in 65,000 square feet of greenhouse space. Each plant would fetch between $5 and $10, perhaps more.

Because the plants would be “starts,” they wouldn’t have an intense odor and could not be immediately used as recreational marijuana. For struggling pumpkin farmers, Hollister’s offer made it appear their financial rescue was imminent. And it nearly was. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 8:41 pm

Elaine Pagels on How Devastating Loss Influenced Her Groundbreaking Religious Scholarship

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Elaine Pagels is interviewed in New York:

Elaine Pagels has made a career out of rewriting Christian history. Her first book, the 1979 best seller The Gnostic Gospels, reappraised Christian documents long considered heretical. In the books that followed, she took on the development of Satan, the apocalypse, and original sin, writing with academic rigor for a broad audience. Most of those books were informed by cataclysms in her personal life, as she outlines in her new memoir, Why Religion? In 1987, her 6-year-old son, Mark, died after a prolonged illness, and the following year, her husband, the famous physicist Heinz Pagels, died after falling off a mountain in Colorado.

Why Religion? evokes the depth of her grief, but it also contains a twist: The scholar is also a believer — of sorts. In an increasingly pluralistic world, with the Catholic Church marred by scandals and Evangelicals compromising their values to support Trump, Pagels represents a contingent — less doctrinaire and more self-focused — that’s likely to keep getting larger. We met recently at her office at Princeton University, where she’s taught since 1982, to discuss how she’s tried to shore up the fragments of a religious life.

You’ve always written about the social history of texts, but now you’re doing that kind of excavation work on your own personal history.
One friend who’s a college professor said to me, “If you write this, they’ll think you’re not a scholar anymore.” That was a little unsettling, coming from someone I respect. But I can show you my CV. If people don’t think I’m a scholar, that’s not my problem.

Did it make you think about your work in a different way?
No — I was thinking about this all along. I just didn’t know I’d ever talk about it. The death of a child is one of the things that many people who have experienced it don’t talk about. People would more easily talk about their sex lives. But it feels liberating to open about something that was such a hidden part of one’s own experience.

The title has two meanings, right? You’re asking both, “Why does religion persist?” and also, “Why participate in religion?” 
My late husband asked that question when we first met. He thought it was crazy that I was studying this. And he came to really enjoy the work — and I came to really enjoy his work. I loved to hear about elementary particle physics. It’s all analogies — black holes and string and glue. They think in images, and I do, too. I think imagining is what religious tradition is. It’s like poetry. A lot of it is poetry. But also, at first, as I wrote this, I was thinking, “What hit me when I went through that evangelical thing as a teenager?”

Your parents weren’t religious.
Well, sometimes my mother took me to a Methodist church. It was basically boring. And then my best friend — going to her Catholic church was really scary. That was about it. I was much more engaged with poetry and music and dance.

But then you ended up converting at one of Billy Graham’s events — not a service rich with poetry.
It was about living in a universe where there’s God and there’s Satan, and you’re part of this huge drama. I think that was very appealing in the early Christian movement, too. For me, it lasted for about a year and a half.

When you first encountered the secret gospels in grad school, what did you find so appealing about them?
I was told they were heresy, and that made them very attractive. The word “heresy” in Greek means “choice.” Also, no one had ever seen these books. So I opened up the Gospel of Thomas, and it said, “If you bring forward what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” I thought, “Hey, you don’t have to believe that — it just happens to be true.” It’s about creativity, or any kind of emotional or intellectual suppression.

If more people were to read them, how do you think it would change their understanding of Christianity?
What is known as Christianity today is a huge spectrum, from Russian Orthodox to Pentecostals, or Christian Scientists, or Quakers, or whoever. But it’s still a stream focused upon four particular views of Jesus and his message. Now we know it was once a much wider stream.

Could you talk about the experience you had when your son was dying?
I had always been brought up to think that when people die, as Steve Jobs once put it, “It’s lights out.” I was habituated to thinking about it in a scientific way. The experience of my son’s death was very different: I had a sense of other things happening that were mysterious, and I still don’t know what to make of them. I wouldn’t have even said it was his soul leaving the body, but there was — like, an energy or something. I sensed that somehow he was glad to be out of the body. It had been such a stress for him to stay in a body that was so challenged.

Things like that can’t be scientifically verified, but they happen. At one time I would have thought that it’s projection. And then when my husband died, the following year, what came into my head was totally alien to what I was feeling then: It was him saying, “This is fine with me.” It was not my unconscious speaking. It didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t reassuring. It was not fine with me; it’s not fine with me now. But that’s what came. I questioned whether to write about that stuff, because people may think I’m going off the deep end. But why not? People have these experiences all the time.

Was there a connection between your son’s death and the book you wrote afterward, about original sin?
I had read an article by some psychologist who said that whenever something is wrong with a child, the mother blames herself. The father does not. My husband was devastated, but he didn’t feel guilty. I did. So I had to realize that guilt is a kind of façade in such a situation for the worst thing — the sense that you’re completely helpless about what matters to you more than your life. So then, I was looking at how the culture teaches that human beings get sick and die because we sinned. “It’s your fault. It’s my fault. We’re all guilty.” This is a very peculiar point of view, but it is the way people have coped since the story of Adam and Eve.

Then I was reading an opponent of Saint Augustine, who created original sin. This opponent said, “Illness and death are just part of nature. They’re not punishments at all” — and that’s what I believe. My child had some illness. It happens all the time; it’s not about us. So these old stories became a kind of yoga, which let me play them out, explore them, turn them around, struggle with them, and come to different insights.

How has your own spiritual life changed over the years?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

The election returns become even MORE a soap opera

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Will President Trump’s pushy visit to Pittsburgh have the same effect on the GOP in this election as Comey’s last-minute letter had on the Democrats in the 2016 election? (I say “pushy” because  “Local, national officials decline to appear with Trump in Pittsburgh” and of course people asked him to stay away, at least until after the burials—particularly since Trump’s weekend activities showed no signs of grief. He so clearly sees his visit as a photo-op.)

We’ll just see.

Update: “Whopping 62 percent of jobs don’t support middle-class life after accounting for cost of living” and “9 hours of ‘Executive Time’: Trump’s unstructured days define his presidency.” Regarding the latter, it’s clear that Trump hates his job (being president), probably in part because he must work with people whom he cannot control or fire—thus his frequent (and desperate) flight to rallies with his core supporters. But that this story (which clearly is true) is reported just a week before the election just adds to the soap opera.

People may feel there must be some changes made.

Update again: Add this to the perfect storm of bad news one week before the election:

A company that appears to be run by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist offered to pay women to make false claims against Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the days leading up to the midterm elections—and the special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to weigh in. “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” the Mueller spokesman Peter Carr told me in an email on Tuesday.

The special-counsel office’s attention to this scheme and its decision to release a rare statement about it indicates the seriousness with which the team is taking the purported plot to discredit Mueller in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Carr confirmed that the allegations were brought to the office’s attention by several journalists, who were contacted by a woman who identified herself as Lorraine Parsons. Another woman, Jennifer Taub, contacted Mueller’s office earlier this month with similar information.

The woman identifying herself as Parsons told journalists in an email, a copy of which I obtained, that she had been offered roughly $20,000 by a man claiming to work for a firm called Surefire Intelligence—which had been hired by a GOP activist named Jack Burkman—“to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.” . . .

I smell desperation. And Trump is rushing troops to the Mexican border fast (i.e., before the election) despite the fact that the asylum seekers, more than 2000 miles from the border, will not arrive for weeks—and a substantial number are women and children, who clearly pose no threat to national security.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems, and Trump is clearly feeling desperate.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 3:17 pm

An obvious AI application: Scan the hate-group tweets and forums and pick out the dangerous ones.

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Certainly it would be no more difficult than this: “The police are now using artificial intelligence to spot fake robbery claims.”

And that would quite specifically be protecting us against terrorists, which is exactly what we want. And I don’t think it would be that expensive.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 3:03 pm

An example of what I like in Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series

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From early in the first novel in the series, Master and Commander (which, with Post-Captain, and HMS Surprise, comprise a trilogy of sorts.

Jack Aubrey has just been given a command (his first? Apparently so, for it advances him to the rank of Master and Commander (one epaulet). So in his first command, he sets about becoming becoming master of what he commands. And so:

From that moment on the captain of the Sophie was plunged deep into her accounts – her muster-book, slop-book, tickets, sick-book, complete-book, gunner’s, bosun’s and carpenter’s expenses, supplies and returns, general account of provisions received and returned, and quarterly account of same, together with certificates of the quantity of spirits, wine, cocoa and tea issued, to say nothing of the log, letter and order books – and what with having dined extremely well and not being good with figures at any time, he very soon lost his footing. Most of his dealings were with Ricketts, the purser; and as Jack grew irritable in his confusion it seemed to him that he detected a certain smoothness in the way the purser presented his interminable sums and balances. There were papers here, quittances, acknowledgements and receipts that he was being asked to sign; and he knew very well that he did not understand them all.

‘Mr Ricketts,’ he said, at the end of a long, easy explanation that conveyed nothing to him at all, ‘here in the muster-book, at number 178, is Charles Stephen Ricketts.’

‘Yes, sir. My son, sir.’

‘Just so. I see that he appeared on November 30th, 1797. From Tonnant, late Princess Royal. There is no age by his name.’

‘Ah, let me see: Charlie must have been rising twelve by then, sir.’

‘He was rated Able Seaman.’

‘Yes, sir. Ha, ha!’

It was a perfectly ordinary little everyday fraud; but it was illegal. Jack did not smile. He went on, ‘AB to September 20th, 1798, then rated Clerk. And then on November 10th, 1799, he was rated Midshipman.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the purser: not only was there that little awkwardness of the eleven-year-old able seaman, but Mr Ricketts’ quick ear caught the slight emphasis on the word rated and its slightly unusual repetition. The message it conveyed was this: ‘I may seem a poor man of business; but if you try any purser’s tricks with me, I am athwart your hawse and I can rake you from stem to stern. What is more, one captain’s rating can be disrated by another, and if you trouble my sleep, by God, I shall turn your boy before the mast and flog the tender pink skin off his back every day for the rest of the commission.’ Jack’s head was aching; his eyes were slightly rimmed with red from the port, and there was so clear a hint of latent ferocity in them that the purser took the message very seriously. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said again. ‘Yes. Now here is the list of dockyard tallies: would you like me to explain the different headings in detail, sir?’

‘If you please, Mr Ricketts.’

This was Jack’s first direct, fully responsible acquaintance with book-keeping, and he did not much relish it. Even a small vessel (and the Sophie barely exceeded a hundred and fifty tons) needs a wonderful amount of stores: casks of beef, pork and butter all numbered and signed for, puncheons, butts and half-pieces of rum, hard-tack by the ton from Old Weevil, dried soup with the broad arrow upon it, quite apart from the gunner’s powder (mealed, corned and best patent), sponges, worms, matches, priming-irons, wads and shot – bar, chain, case, langrage, grape or plain round – and the countless objects needed (and so very often embezzled) by the bosun – the blocks, the long-tackle, single, double, parrel, quarter-coak, double-coak, flat-side, double thin-coak, single thin-coak, single strap-bound and sister blocks alone made up a whole Lent litany. Here Jack was far more at home, for the difference between a single double-scored and a single-shoulder block was as clear to him as that between night and day, or right and wrong – far clearer, on occasion. But by now his mind, used to grappling with concrete physical problems, was thoroughly tired: he looked wistfully over the dog-eared, tatty books piled up on the curving rim of the lockers out through the cabin windows at the brilliant air and the dancing sea. He passed his hand over his forehead and said, . . .

You see what I mean?

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Military

Birthright citizenship: A Trump-inspired history lesson on the 14th Amendment

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Fred Barbash wrote in the Washington Post:

It was the fall of 1895, and Wong Kim Ark was puzzled and alarmed as he bided his time on the steamship Coptic, which floated in the San Francisco Bay after returning him from a visit to China. His papers were in order. He had seen to that. The required statement, certification from white men that he was born in the United States and therefore a citizen, were in order. He had traveled to China for a visit and had little trouble being readmitted.

On this occasion, however, authorities denied him entry, returning him to the ship on which he had arrived, and from there to another ship, the Gaelic, and then to the Peking. For four months, the only certainty to Wong’s life was the tides in San Francisco Bay, where he awaited word of his fate.

What he could not have known was that he was about to become a “test case” brought by the United States government, egged on by a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment, in an effort to undermine the 14th Amendment “birthright” provision, which made Wong a citizen in the first place as the plain and simple language of the amendment said that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

For the Chinese in America, this was the “exclusion era,” a radical shift for the United States., which for the most part, since its creation as a republic, had encouraged people to come to its shores. In the beginning, as the country built its railroads, mined its gold and farmed the valleys of Northern California, the Chinese were also welcomed. They streamed in by the thousands.

But as the Depression of 1873 took its toll on white working men, they began to look for scapegoats. Mob violence, arson and overt racist derision swept through California, powered by slogan “the Chinese must go.” Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, designed to put an end to the flow of Chinese. But that was not enough for the building anti-Chinese wave.

Thousands of children had been born to Chinese parents in the United States and birthright citizenship was the next target, just as it is now today under President Trump. He has long denounced what he and other immigration foes call “anchor babies,” whose parents enter the country illegally just to make sure their children enjoy the benefits of citizenship.

On Tuesday, in a taped interview with Axios, Trump vowed to sign an executive order to try to end the right to U.S. citizenship for children born in the United States to noncitizens. Trump was reviving an issue from his presidential campaign ahead of next week’s midterm elections.

“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits,” Trump said in the interview, which is scheduled to air on HBO over the weekend. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Bills to do just what Trump is advocating have been around for years and have gone nowhere. Additionally, many, but not all, scholars believe such a change would need to confront the almost insurmountable task of amending the Constitution.


Young men like Wong were not called “anchor babies” by critics then but rather “accidental citizens,” said University of New Hampshire legal historian Lucy Salyer, “citizens by the accident of birth” as the dissenting justices in Wong Kim Ark’s Supreme Court case would put it.

What he did not know was that “they were looking for some poor chump,” Salyer told the Washington Post, to make an example of, at the nation’s highest court. And that “chump” was Wong Kim Ark. So there it was, the intimidating-sounding case of United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, a cook.

Yet he won.

And in the annals of civil rights in America, it was a “huge” case, Salyer said. The justice who wrote the opinion for the court’s majority, was fully aware that its implications went far beyond the Chinese. As the justice who authored the majority opinion in U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark wrote, “to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.” Had the decision gone the other way, Salyer said, instead of a nation of immigrants, America would have become “colonies of foreigners.”

For all its importance, it never became a famous landmark. There is Dred Scott and there is Plessy, there is Brown and there is Bakke and Loving. But Wong Kim Ark draws a blank with most Americans.

His case is so little known that even his own great-granddaughter was only dimly aware of its importance. Then, one day in 1998, having decided to research her family’s history, the 20-year-old college student Alice Wong phoned the San Bruno regional office of the National Archives and Records Administration to say she was coming down to find out about her grandfather. When she arrived, she told the SFWeekly at the time, an archive employee who specialized in the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act asked for her autograph and then introduced her to the entire staff. “This,” he said, “is Wong Kim Ark’s great-granddaughter.”

They knew what that meant, but she didn’t. “‘I was like, ‘Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into,’” she told her interviewer, Lisa Davis. “I knew absolutely nothing about who the heck this guy was.”

“I learned about Wong Kim Ark being a relative after my father died, at his funeral,” Sandra Wong, his granddaughter, said in a recently released and powerful documentary about the 14th Amendment, aptly titled “14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark & Vanessa Lopez,” as she too examined Wong Kim Ark’s documents at the archives. “You know, I became very interested but I knew nothing about it, my father never talked about it. And I had all these questions,” she told the filmmakers, Portland-based Graham Street Productions, which provided excerpts to the Post.

Who “the heck” was Wong Kim Ark

Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873, into the increasingly hostile environment of the exclusion era, a time of unvarnished racism, that made no effort to hide behind euphemisms. In 1877, Erika Lee writes in her chapter in Immigration Stories, a congressional committee investigating Chinese immigration described the Chinese in America as an “indigestible mass in the community, distinct in language, pagan in religion,” “inferior in mental and moral qualities,” who therefore required exclusion “for the good of the public.”

His father was a Chinatown merchant named Wong Si Ping; his mother was Wee Lee. By the time Wong was 9, however, thanks to hostility and the Exclusion Act, business for Chinese was on the verge of collapse and the population of Chinese in America on the decline, from a high of about 101,000 to some 70,000. Wong Si Ping did what he had to to: He took his family, including young Wong Kim Ark, back to China.

But while his parents would remain in China, young Wong found his prospects in China limited and returned to California in 1890, securing work as a cook in California’s Sierra Mountains. Wong and other Chinese born in America lived and worked in a kind of twilight world, technically citizens, but citizens on a ledge, off of which they could easily be shoved. The tests would come whenever they risked visiting China, which they did in part to find wives and see relatives, and attempted to return, at which point they might be admitted or might be turned back.

The documentary “14” captures this well. As archivist Marisa Louie, in the presence of Sandra Wong, sorts through thousands of files of men like her grandfather, she explains: “Any time anyone of Chinese descent left the U.S. during the exclusion period, they had to make some provision for themselves being able to get back into the U.S. So before they would leave, they would maybe go and get a document like this that was a sworn affidavit of some witnesses, some non-Chinese witnesses, mind you, so some white witnesses, typically. And they would attach a photo to the document and it would say yes, we have known Wong Kim Ark, we know that he was born here, we know his parents and we swear that he’s a legally born U.S. citizen.”

The case law was clear. A California circuit precedent in 1884, in the case of Look Tin Sing, established “that both the 14th Amendment and the common law of the land compelled the conclusion that Look was indeed a citizen.” If Look Tin Sing was a citizen so was Wong Kim Ark. Birthright was their only route home as laws dating back to 1790 barred the naturalization of non-whites.

But there were no “immigration” officials as we know them today but rather “collectors of customs,” Salyer explained, “a very lucrative position that until the exclusion laws were passed, were mainly concerned with collecting” tariffs on imported goods. After exclusion, the “collectors” effectively made up their own laws, infused by their own bias.

Indeed, “John Wise, the collector who refused to admit Wong, described himself as a ’zealous opponent of Chinese immigration.’” writes University of Connecticut law professor Bethany Berger.

As Sandra Wong examined the documents describing the questions her grandfather was asked in the documentary, she read aloud from them.

“‘Okay, how old are you?’ the collector asked.

’24 years old,’ replied Wong

‘Have you ever been to China before this time?’

‘Yes,’” Wong Kim Ark answered. “Once before.’

‘ … What are you?’


‘Where were you born?’

‘Sacramento Street. My father kept a store: 751 Sacramento Street. I was born upstairs, third floor.’

‘Do you know any white men in San Francisco that know you were born here?’

‘Yes,’” Wong replied. ‘Mr. Selenger. He knew me when I was little before I went to the country. Before I was 10.’”

Wong had made the round trip once. While there, according to Berger, “Wong married a woman from a nearby village. Although the new couple conceived a son, Wong Yook Fun,” Wong had returned to America by the time he was born and had been readmitted.

In 1894, as he prepared for a second trip, he was careful to secure the documents he understood were necessary to get back in, “a notarized affidavit with his photograph as a form of identification,” noting that Wong was a ‘‘citizen of the United States, born in the City and County of San Francisco.’’

There was nothing sinister about Wong’s second trip. While in China, writes Berger, “he met his oldest son for the first time and conceived another, Wong Yook Thue.”

But upon his return, Lee writes, he was asked ‘‘You are sure you were born here?’’ the official asked. ‘‘Yes,’’ answered Wong. Nevertheless, he was returned to the Coptic.

Most immigrant communities in the U.S. had their own self-help organizations. Early Germans migrating to Pennsylvania in the 1700s had the German Society of Pennsylvania, while Jewish immigrants from Imperial Russia had HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, for example. The Chinese had the “Six Companies,” otherwise known as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in San Francisco.

The Six Companies, Berger writes, kept lawyers on retainer, among them Thomas Riordan of San Francisco. Riordan filed a petition for habeas corpus in response to which, Berger writes, “Judge William Morrow opined that having citizenship follow that of one’s parents was ‘undoubtedly more logical, reasonable, and satisfactory,’ but the law of the circuit required him to uphold birthright citizenship. He declared Wong a citizen and ordered him released upon payment of a $250 bond.”

That merely gave the government its opening for an appeal.

Meanwhile, the government moved forward with its test case. In the brief U.S. Solicitor General Holmes Conrad filed, Berger writes in the the Cardozo Law Review, Conrad conceded, that “the opinions of the Attorneys-General, the decisions of the Federal and State courts, and, up to 1885, the rulings of the State Department all concurred in the view that birth in the United States conferred citizenship.”

But he argued that they were all wrong, in part, he explained, because it departed from the laws of other nations and for that matter of ancient Rome, where the citizenship of the child was bound not to the birthplace but to the blood of the parent. Besides, he argued “the exclusion laws showed that the U.S. did not want Chinese to be citizens anyway.”

For Justice Horace Gray it was an open and shut case. The majority opinion was issued on March 28, 1898.

History and law, he wrote, “irresistibly lead us to these conclusions:  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 11:27 am

Trump’s Corruption: The Definitive List

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Good reference article in the NY Times by David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick. It’s lengthy, and should be read in full. It begins:

They don’t even try very hard to hide it.

President Trump, his family and more than a few of his appointees are using his presidency to enrich themselves. They are spending taxpayer dollars for their own benefit. They are accepting sweetheart deals from foreigners. And they are harnessing the power of the federal government on behalf of their businesses.

There’s a word for this: corruption.

Given how widespread Trumpian corruption has become, we thought it was time to make a list. It’s meant to be a definitive list of self-dealing by the president, his family, his staff or his friends — since he began running for president. To qualify, an incident needs to seem highly credible, even if it remains unresolved, and needs to involve making money.

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump’s administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding’s, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Here’s the list, sorted into thematic categories:

A few days after the 2016 election, the government of Kuwait canceleda planned event at the Four Seasons Hotel. It instead held the event — a celebration of Kuwait’s National Day — at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

hat celebration fits a pattern. Officials from foreign governments have realized they can curry favor with Trump by spending money at his properties. The list of governments includes Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkey, China, India, Afghanistan and Qatar. Some may have done so even if he were not the president, but others are well aware of what they are doing.

The Constitution forbids federal officials from accepting gifts, known as emoluments, from foreign powers, unless they have received congressional approval. Congressional Democrats have sued Trump for violating this clause, and the case is now in federal court.

American officials and business leaders have also spent money at Trump properties, sometimes in an apparent effort to please the president. Gov. Paul LePage of Maine last year stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Other Republicans have held campaign fund-raisers and party events at the properties. So have corporate lobbyists.

“National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Dinner at the Trump Hotel where I am drinking Trump coffee,” Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, posted on Instagram last year.

During Trump’s presidency, his companies have pushed to expand overseas, with help from foreign governments. One example: In May, an Indonesian real-estate project that involves the Trump Organization reportedly received a $500 million loan from a company owned by the Chinese government. Two days later, Trump tweeted that he was working to lift sanctions on a Chinese telecommunications firm with close ties to the government — over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. He ultimately did lift the sanctions.

Trump’s businesses have also moved to expand in India, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia, using deals directly with foreign governments.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top aide, has also reportedly been using his position to help his family business — Kushner Companies, also a real-estate company. Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, has bragged about the company’s high-level ties when trying to attract Chinese investment in a New Jersey apartment complex. The Kushners have wooed Chinese investors despite warnings from American counterintelligence officials that China is using the investments to sway Trump administration policy.

The Kushner company also successfully lobbied the Qatari government to invest in 666 Fifth Avenue, a financially troubled luxury building. The company’s dealings with Middle Eastern countries are especially problematic because Jared Kushner is one of the administration’s top policymakers for the region and has played a central role in policy toward Qatar.

The president has played golf at his properties dozens of times since taking office. He refers to his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, as the winter White House. Shortly after his election, he celebrated New Year’s along with 800 guests there, with tickets costing more than $500. And Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, once encouraged people to buy clothes from Ivanka Trump’s line — while Conway was giving a television interview from the White House.

These moves are intended, at least partly, to bring attention and ultimately customers to Trump’s businesses. Of course, some of Trump’s critics have responded in kind, refusing to stay at or live in a Trump-branded property since he won the election. But in other ways, the presidency has clearly helped his bottom line. One example: The Mar-a-Lago club has doubled its membership rates.

Trump has visited or stayed at one of his properties almost one out of every three days that he has been president, according to both The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. Like previous presidents, Trump travels with a large group of staff and security personnel, and American taxpayers typically foot at least part of the bill for the trips. Unlike previous presidents, Trump is directing money to his own business on his trips.

In one three-month period last year, the Secret Service spent about $63,000 at Mar-a-Lago and more than $137,000 on golf carts at Trump’s Florida and New Jersey clubs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 8:52 am

Trolling the Monster in the Heart of the Milky Way

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Dennis Overby reports in the NY Times:

In a dark, dusty patch of sky in the constellation Sagittarius, a small star, known as S2 or, sometimes, S0-2, cruises on the edge of eternity. Every 16 years, it passes within a cosmic whisker of a mysterious dark object that weighs some 4 million suns, and that occupies the exact center of the Milky Way galaxy.

For the last two decades, two rival teams of astronomers, looking to test some of Albert Einstein’s weirdest predictions about the universe, have aimed their telescopes at the star, which lies 26,000 light-years away. In the process, they hope to confirm the existence of what astronomers strongly suspect lies just beyond: a monstrous black hole, an eater of stars and shaper of galaxies.

For several months this year, the star streaked through its closest approach to the galactic center, producing new insights into the behavior of gravity in extreme environments, and offering clues to the nature of the invisible beast in the Milky Way’s basement.

One of those teams, an international collaboration based in Germany and Chile, and led by Reinhard Genzel, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, say they have found the strongest evidence yet that the dark entity is a supermassive black hole, the bottomless grave of 4.14 million suns.

The evidence comes in the form of knots of gas that appear to orbit the galactic center. Dr. Genzel’s team found that the gas clouds circle every 45 minutes or so, completing a circuit of 150 million miles at roughly 30 percent of the speed of light. They are so close to the alleged black hole that if they were any closer they would fall in, according to classical Einsteinian physics.

Astrophysicists can’t imagine anything but a black hole that could be so massive, yet fit within such a tiny orbit.

The results provide “strong support” that the dark thing in Sagittarius “is indeed a massive black hole,” Dr. Genzel’s group writes in a paper that will be published on Wednesday under the name of Gravity Collaboration, in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“This is the closest yet we have come to see the immediate zone around a supermassive black hole with direct, spatially resolved techniques,” Dr. Genzel said in an email.

The work goes a long way toward demonstrating what astronomers have long believed, but are still at pains to prove rigorously: that a supermassive black hole lurks in the heart not only of the Milky Way, but of many observable galaxies. The hub of the stellar carousel is a place where space and time end, and into which stars can disappear forever.

The new data also help to explain how such black holes can wreak havoc of a kind that is visible from across the universe. Astronomers have long observed spectacular quasars and violent jets of energy, thousands of light-years long, erupting from the centers of galaxies.

Roger Blandford, the director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University, said that there is now overwhelming evidence that supermassive black holes are powering such phenomena.

“There is now a large burden of proof on claims to the contrary,” he wrote in an email. “The big questions involve figuring out how they work, including disk and jets. It’s a bit like knowing that the sun is a hot, gaseous sphere and trying to understand how the nuclear reactions work.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 7:25 am

Posted in Science

It’s never too early for dark chocolate

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Phoenix Artisan got dark chocolate exactly right in this Valentine’s Day special soap from a while back. The lather this morning was exceptional, and credit must be given not only to the soap but to the Kent Infinity brush.

The Dorco PL602 is a wonderful razor (despite the price) and I greatly enjoyed using it this morning. As is usual with this razor, the result is a flawless BBS pleasure.

A splash of the dark chocolate aftershave, and here we are: Hallowe’en-e’en.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2018 at 7:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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