Archive | May, 2012

Café Hapa: Bikini Bar Now Open

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess

Cierra at right, and Kat are two baristi on duty regularly at the new Café Hapa, located at the corner of Sports Arena Blvd. and West Point Loma Blvd. The Vietnamese-themed lounge is staffed by a crowd of well dressed women and they’re gaining business daily.

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Time will tell whether Arizona can get away with rewriting history

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


Arizona governor Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill that effectively ends Mexican-American studies classes in Arizona’s public schools (HB 2281). She did this after Tom Horne, a school superintendent and candidate for Attorney General, made noise about his dislike of a Mex-Am culture program in Tucson.

Horne and Brewer justified their action by claiming the classes promote the overthrow of the US government, preached resentment toward white people; particularly well-off ones, and urged ethnic solidarity at the expense of a melting-pot mentality.

The governor’s actions were enough to make the UN Human Rights Commission sit up and take notice, for all the good that might do, and this in turn excited the usual hot-headed cracker contingent itching to defend their sunbaked desert homeland from invasion by unwashed, un-Englished beige savages. To Brewer and her friends, ending “subversive” classes is defending the status quo — which is exactly why it stinks.

Brewer’s actions are an affront to history. By eliminating any but the state-sanctioned version of Arizona and US history, she’s going beyond the so-called conservative “hands off” approach to government intervention in people’s lives and setting the state up to be the official arbiter of the past. Usually, forms of state-controlled propaganda are admitted for what they are but, in Arizona’s case, historical revisionism to the lowest common denominator of understanding means Brewer’s ethnic look-alikes get to pretend their version of the past is all that matters.

Historians are taught that perspectives matter. Perspectives are a standpoint from which observations, measurements and records are taken. Worthwhile historians admit that, so long as one is honest about one’s perspective and is objective enough with what’s found and issued from that perspective, analysis and record are worthy. The histories of the American Southwest written by Spanish, Mexican or American historians would agree on many points; they would differ in perspective and focus on issues important to their countries and cultures. Other histories about other times and places do the same. Facts are facts. What is derived from them is specific to the chronicler. This is why we encounter books with such titles as “The History of the War of Northern Aggression” or “A Feminist History of the Civil Rights Era” or “A Diplomatic History of the United States, 1791 – 1991.” The first book in that list lets you know it’s the work of a Southern sympathizer, since only Southern apologists would use such a title about the Civil War. A “feminist history” emphasizes issues critical to at least half the population as a standpoint from which to mark the events of the era. And a “diplomatic history” would have little to say about issues at home and much to do with issues abroad. They’d still be worthy reads because they’ve declared their perspective and may therefore present a clear and coherent analysis.

But history is badly used by those who suppress or deny perspectives. The Soviets did that in their satellite countries when they prohibited teaching about nationalist movements and traditional values of subject peoples and forced children to learn the conqueror’s language and to abhor the religion by which their ancestors lived. The winners write the histories, we are told; and, in Arizona, Jan Brewer plans to force every kid in the state-run system to learn the sugar-coated stuff that passes for public-school history — with no regard as to whether the learner is a living, breathing exemplar of a very different historical perspective.

And that is what is so ugly about this ugly woman in her increasingly ugly state. By suppressing what is obvious to the Mexican-American kids (who know damned well their history is far different from that of Jan Brewer and her base of furious flunkies) she’s raising a generation of kids who will increasingly identify with those who were suppressed and were made second-class citizens, that is, if they’re citizens at all. By pimping the politics of division, she drives away the kids who might otherwise identify with all things American in the long run — just as has every other ethnic group. It’s a perfect way to balkanize peoples here — with enmity and violence for all, in the long run.

It doesn’t take much to see what happened to the Mexican perspective of southwestern history: The white American inheritors of the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidlago occupy it, for one thing, and have spent the last 160 or so years making those who formerly resided in el sudoeste unwelcome. Brewer takes issue with a textbook in Arizona ethnic studies classes that claims America is occupied; but American Indians and Mexican Americans have known that for a long time and life goes on. Mexican-American students merely have to ask their abuelo about the Bracero Program to learn about what the US does when it needs labor. And they can read the headlines about the Border Patrol, ICE and “the fence” to see what happens when labor becomes redundant. They can always seethe with resentment when, although born here and as American as the next guy, they’re racially profiled at traffic stops, red=lined for home loans (based on heritage) and excluded from society because of others’ flawed perspective.

Brewer isn’t merely suppressing perspectives of history and cultural awareness. She’s working to enshrine a state-mandated official doctrine of how it is — and who is allowed — to be an American. It’s a replica of Soviet-style thinking and a prelude to disaster that will increase the animosities between those whose ancestors fell off the Mayflower and those who once chummed up with Flores Magon. If you don’t know that name, don’t be too surprised; our history books ignored it. Ask one of the Mexican American kids. They’ll know who he was and the perspective they share will be worth the time spent learning it, which is better than anything Jan Brewer and the Arizona legislature is up to these days.


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A Fish Story

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess

Fish answer their own logic.

Fishermen sometimes say repitition of mundane tasks interferes with catching fish — as though fish need a break in the monotony of the lives of the men after them in order to be caught.

The Southern Queen had several successful ways to interrupt the tedium of life at sea in ways that filled her brine tanks quickly. One of them involved the seaplane pilot and the boat’s funnel. Suchi, the pilot, decided, on a whim, to paint the Southern Queen’s funnel, when he was bored and off watch one sunny afternoon. Immediately, the mast man in the crow’s nest called down that he found a school of fish, which the Queen then set upon and quickly caught.

All was well with the world.

Soon enough, another doldrum befell the boat. Suchi touched up the paintwork on the funnel. The mast man found fish. Suchi noted the coincidence.
But, it seemed, this wasn’t a coincidence.

For three weeks thereafter, until the Southern Queen loaded up with tuna, the same pattern occurred: no fish, pilot paints funnel, fish spotted and are caught. Everyone on the boat wondered and talked about what it could mean for days, and days.

Fifty three years later, Suchi still wonders. He’s seen similar things on other boats for decades and every fisherman’s musings about it are as good — and as pointless — as anyone else’s.

But for them, it’s enough to know there is a pattern and that the pattern somehow works.

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Cinco De Mayo: The Greatest US Civil War Victory in Mexican History

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


Too many Americans believe Cinco de Mayo marks the anniversary of Mexican Independence from Spain, but nothing could be further from the truth, although marketing executives on both sides of the border are happy to let the misconception soar in the popular imagination so long as alcohol and party sales remain high.

This kind of craven disservice to history was presented to Espresso recently by one alcohol vendor, himself a bi-national combination of mixtec and Yankee heritage with pretensions to an upper crusty view of the world, who said, “So long as they buy the beer, I don’t care if they celebrate the day the Mexican-American War ended.”

It’s fitting to explain the reality behind the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The day has significant meaning for every American and ought to be recognized for the service our neighbors to the south performed for themselves and, by extension, for us.

Mexico was badly disorganized and very broke after the United States had conquered half its territory in 1848. Borrowing heavily from the Catholic church to finance its lost war, and suffering the loss of trade with the rest of the world, Mexico was in debt and was doubtful of its safety from its greedy Yankee neighbor. Meanwhile, European nations were loath to invest in what they believed would soon be another part of the United States. Trade with Europe was scant and merely increased the debts Mexicans owed the French, Spanish and British who began to recoup their debts by sending a combined force of soldiers to occupy the Gulf ports of Mexico and take over the customs houses to skim off fees and duties from imports.

After the usual shows of force, the high-level squabbling between diplomats and the negotiations for repayment, the British and Spanish withdrew their soldiers. The French did not. Napoleon III, Emperor of France, had ambitions to pick up the American empire which his famed ancestor got rid of 60 years earlier. France needed resources to successfully challenge the British empire and to suppress the growing problems of Austrian power, Italian revolutionary restlessness and stirrings of German nationalism. Putting a French foot on other European nations trying to assert themselves would take more resources than France had at home: France needed an American empire and Mexico was to be its first base of operations.

French ambitions were fed by the American Civil War that was still going strong. The American Monroe Doctrine warned all nations not to extend any hooks into either American continent unless they wanted a war with the United States. But war between the states meant American forces couldn’t interfere with imperial land grabs. Mexico was weak. The US was preoccupied with a civil war and the French, under Napoleon III, needed immediately to grab what they could get from the Mexicans.

The French also had a long-term plan to demolish US power by siding with the Confederacy when the time was right — after the French got a strong foothold in Mexico. Once that foothold was solid, aid to the Confederates would help the South gain its independence — and would make them subservient pawns to French power brokers. Even better, a Confederate-French victory over the US would mean the end of the United States as a power capable of thwarting European expansion. For France, it meant a chance to reassert itself on the American continent for the first time since losing the French and Indian War in 1763. For France, winning Mexico was intended to be the first step toward becoming the dominant power on earth.

A French army commanded by General Laurencez began to march from Veracruz to Mexico City. When it got to Puebla — a village about 100 miles from the capital — it found a rough force of about 4,000 Mexicans waiting for them. Those Mexicans were mostly agricultural workers and peasants armed with ancient British flintlocks and machetes. The 6,000-man French army, regarded, in those days, as the most dangerous on earth, came equipped with cavalry, artillery and strategic precision. Their rifles could hit a man at almost twice the range of the Mexican weapons and their tactical skill was flawless.

The Mexican commander, Ignacio Zaragoza, was shrewd enough to make sure the coming battle would take place on favorable ground — a muddy, uneven field that allowed his few vaqueros on unshod ponies a decent chance against the heavily equipped French cavalry. He learned to give his horsemen some advantages, after he lost the first engagement to the French cavalry on the April 28, when the French had cut his lightly armed riders to pieces. Zaragoza was a quick learner and between the day his cavalry was shredded and May 5, he thought up tactics to minimize the French advantages at Puebla.

Laurencez accommodated Zaragoza by attacking at the Mexicans’ strongest point, after a late start which gave Zaragoza time to prepare better defenses. Laurencez sent his cavalry through ditches and mud uphill where they became quickly bogged down and were drawn off the field chasing after the Mexican horsemen.

The French artillery then opened fire and battered Puebla and the Mexicans in the town; Zaragoza gritted his teeth and told his campesinos to endure it and wait until the right moment came. All the while, the French infantry advanced toward them, struggling in the mud, which only got worse when it began to rain.

When the French artillery ran out of ammunition at nearly three in the afternoon, the bulk of the French infantry advanced on Puebla and were shot at merrily by Mexicans who had held fire until the French were in range. The last French infantry attack was broken up imaginatively by Mexican peasants who stampeded their cattle at the French formations.

Each steer weighed about a ton. And hundreds of angry steers coming at the long line of French infantry routed them in panic. At the end of the day, Laurencez had lost 462 men to Mexico’s 83. Worse, Laurencez couldn’t get past Puebla to Mexico City. After waiting for Zaragoza to attack or run, Laurencez had to move — all the way back to Orizaba — in the wrong direction and away from Mexico City.

The war wasn’t won that day, of course. It dragged on for several more years and, until 1867, the French sat a puppet king on a Mexican throne. But Puebla was important because it stopped the French advance when it did and it bought Mexico another whole year to organize and fight before the French took their capital. It also bought a year for the United States — and that was critical.

Napoleon III’s plan to conquer Mexico depended on a weak United States and a Confederacy strong enough to stand on its own with French help. Losing time by failing to consolidate their Mexican base, the French in effect gave time to the Mexicans to organize and to the US — who then beat the Confederates at Gettysburg — and showed Napoleon III that the South lacked enough force to be an equal partner in a combined alliance with France.

The French plan had a fine logic to it: establish a power base made of French soldiery and capital, Mexican landowners and the Catholic church, aid the Confederates and move north to split the US in two and possibly reclaim the lost Louisiana territory. For as long as the French stayed in Mexico that strategy played out and the only engagements the California State Militia cavalry ever had was with the French and Mexicans in the Arizona desert — fending off the French cavalry and escorting the fugitive government of Sonora to safety on the American side of the border.

Had Laurencez won the day, on May 5, 1862, the French would have been able to carry out their strategy when the US was at its weakest point against the Confederacy. If the US had had to face a southern army equipped with French artillery and other weapons, backed by a French navy guarding blockade runners bringing war supplies to the south, the north would have lost the war and the country with it — US strategy depended on strangling the south’s supplies until they couldn’t continue fighting.
So, the Mexican victory over the French at Puebla is really a Union Civil War victory bought for Uncle Sam by a guerrilla leader of a Mexican peasant army that took a beating and stampeded its cattle at some of the finest troops on the planet. So on May 5, be sure to hoist a Cerveza, and maybe some Yankee whiskey, in honor of those who helped save our nation. God knows, they earned the toast.

Viva Mexico!

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Balboa Park Exhibit Tells Story of San Diego Fishing

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


The legacy of San Diego’s tuna fleet is a proud one. From humble beginnings among displaced immigrants using ancient equipment to a modern, far-ranging and all too effective harvester of the seas, San Diego led the way in advancement of one of man’s oldest ways of finding food.

The epitaph of one San Diego fisherman perhaps sums up their collective contribution: “For every day of 33 years at sea, he risked his life in order to feed his family ? and millions of others around the world.”

“Tuna! Celebrating San Diego’s Famous Fishing Industry” is an exhibit that opened at the San Diego History Center (SDHC) April 21. It gives a view of San Diego’s fishermen and their associates: the boats and the people who changed the way the world fishes today, but its presenters had to overcome a severe obstacle before this exhibit could even be mounted: artifacts are surprisingly hard to find, just like schools of fish that vanish.

The tuna fleet disappeared more than 20 years ago and, although it was once San Diego’s largest industry, many of its most notable characters and ephemera are gone too. There isn’t much to draw on anymore, but the SDHC does a credible job with what it has. The almost life-size photographs convey plenty of atmosphere and there are hands-on opportunities to appreciate the kinds of dexterity and perseverance demanded by the industry.

Although I recall with some bitterness my personal involvement in San Diego tuna fishing, as a boy of 9, pressed into service on my father’s boat, I feel moved to endorse this exhibit as a fine tribute; one long overdue to those who created a world ? and a social system ? out of nothing. San Diego’s earliest fishermen are perhaps best understood as underdogs who persevered in the face of cruel nature and indifferent people.

In fact, they were outcasts in their earliest days here. Chinese, Mexicans, Japanese, Portuguese and Italians were separated along ethnic and racial lines from the dominant society and literally lived on the edges of the city, out of sight and consideration of residents a little more than a century ago.

Nevertheless, many technological advances, that have affected the whole world, were spurred on by unlikely combinations of people working under absurdly difficult conditions for many years in San Diego waters.

Those people had to coexist with a city whose population was mostly unfamiliar with the high-quality exotic seafood, which in the early days only found demand in foreign markets or in exclusive immigrant communities.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, few resources existed here to build boats and the other equipment needed for fishing. These items were often fabricated by the fishermen themselves or by other new arrivals to American shores.

As it turned out, they had everything they needed to become the foremost industry of their kind in the world.

More than 100 years ago, San Diego’s Italian and Chinese fishermen sailed boats their ancestors would have been familiar with a thousand years earlier. The Chinese modified their junks for fishing while the Italian feluccas were derived from Arab vessels that could be handled easily by one man even in rough weather.

In the span of a single lifetime, these primitive traditional boats gave way to modern, locally designed and custom-crafted boats that could range over the world’s oceans for months at a time. They caught and preserved fish in a quantity undreamed of by earlier generations, all in relative safety and that could yield profits previously unimaginable to the men who founded San Diego’s early fleets.

The fishermen were notably free from constant, overt antagonism caused by racial or ethnic differences and this allowed them to share innovations of every kind. In this, they were supported by the canneries that rose up along the waterfront. The cannery operators were savvy enough, from the beginning, to find markets throughout the US and the rest of the world for tuna and other fish.

Support also came from the Japanese and Italian governments, which opened their home markets to American imports during wartime food shortages.

Gasoline engines, electricity, navigation aids, refrigeration, and larger hulls roughly marked the separation from the primitive, traditional boats and the first “American” styles. Later, steel hulls replaced wooden ones and stern-mounted live bait tanks surrounded by outrigged-rails (on which fishermen wielded bamboo poles with baited hooks) gave way to purse-seiners (boats equipped with a vast net and crane operation which worked like a woman’s draw-string bag to scoop up tons of fish in a single operation or “set” that might take only a few hours to accomplish).

Nylon nets replaced cotton. And more agile speed boats served as mounts for fishermen who herded tuna toward them like sea-going cowboys. Light seaplanes extended the range beyond that of traditional lookouts in crow’s nests. The airmen could find schools of fish a hundred or more miles from a tuna boat.

The lessons learned with each new boat were quickly applied to new ones built at shipyards in San Diego, San Pedro and Tacoma. As time passed, purse seiners grew ever larger; the boats of 1960, which filled their holds with perhaps 200 tons of tuna, were dwarfed by boats of the mid-70s that could hold a load five times as heavy. Demand for tuna kept the fleet busy and development of boats and their systems seemed limitless.

Development was fast ? but it was costly in terms of men’s lives as well as money. Equipment worked or else it didn’t. And, when it failed, it could kill or maim those dependent on it.

Putting a dozen men into a small boat at murderously close range demanded self control, acceptance of others’ quirks and the kind of leadership from a captain that would sometimes make Captain Bligh look like Mother Theresa. And then there was the sea, dangerous and cruel, no matter how good the technology or how talented were the men on the boat.

Every generation had stories about how men were wasted out there: men bitten to death by sharks washed across the deck in heavy weather; men crushed by falling equipment or lost overboard or snipped in two by a parting steel cable, or thrown from crow’s nests; men stricken with sudden, unexplained illness with no hope of getting to help ashore in time. Some simply vanished, along with their boats, in sudden explosions of uncertain origin. Nothing was easy at sea for San Diego’s fishermen, yet they persevered, year after year, with a remarkably good outlook supported by the kinds of family structures they maintained.

One photo on the wall of this historical exhibit evokes a particularly poignant glimpse of the industry. It shows a tuna clipper outbound with a pair of wives waving goodbye. The wives, mothers, daughters and sisters formed a broad community that was a matriarchy of sorts that raised children, maintained homes and every aspect of life ashore and provided continuity for all professional, social and cultural aspects of the fishing community. Beyond that, they helped maintain the boats in the early days of the industry by making and repairing the nets, hulls, and everything else.

My own grandmother ? the daughter and wife of a fisherman ? once scandalized her community by wearing her husband’s pants while making repairs to the wire rigging on his storm-damaged boat. When upbraided for cross-dressing, she looked her accusers in the eye and told them she had five children to feed and the sooner the boat was repaired, the sooner life could go on as before but, if anyone wanted to shinny up the mast and take the halyard with them, they were more than welcome.

Women worked in the canneries, packing fish their men had caught, and this added a very powerful incentive to the fishermen to produce more on every trip. The women in the canneries were the other half of San Diego’s tuna fishing industry, working endless hours hand-packing the cans that fed the world San Diego’s catch year after year. They formed a significant addition to labor organization in San Diego in the years prior to World War II, winning conditions from their employers on safety and compensation issues. It’s good to see this historical exhibit gives those women the respect they deserve.

Another way women in fishing communities aided the industry was simply by cooking the fish. A century ago, San Diego’s population came mostly from states that did not have a tradition of seafood, and the knowledge of how to cook and enjoy all kinds of fish and other delicacies were spread through the city by women familiar with the cuisine.

Katherine Ghio, a fisherman’s widow who turned to cooking fish in a small waterfront restaurant just after World War II, made a business out of seafood that has prospered for some 60 years. She is single handedly responsible for familiarizing many locals and tourists with more ways to enjoy every kind of food found in local waters.

Generations of women who carefully fed their children’s school friends won converts among those who never tasted crab, lobster, tuna, sea bass or abalone before. And those children’s mothers often would later be found in fish markets with their contemporaries, getting recipes for paella, cioppino and clams bordellaise.

It was a subtle and marvelously effective way to grow a market for fine seafood, and its resonance affected American tastes for things that go well with fish: wine and spices and eventually all the other elements of slow food, organic farming and perhaps specialty coffees and craft beer.

Even children got involved. A century ago, a fisherman’s son was usually taken to sea at age 6. Later, as American standards of child rearing and public education filtered through the immigrant and second-generation communities, the age crept up to perhaps 12 and boys went to sea on shorter summer trips so that their contributions to their family and their training for their future wouldn’t be impeded.

I first went to sea, when I was 9, in the engine room of the Southern Queen as a motor monkey. A motor monkey’s job was to assist the chief engineer by taking care of any parts of the machinery a grown man couldn’t reach. It was hot, dirty and dangerous work and the engine room of the Southern Queen was run by a German former U-boat engineer who was familiar with the boat’s captured Blohm & Voss diesel engine. He managed the engine room ? and the motor monkey ? just as he’d run a wartime submarine in the North Atlantic.

Even for a 9-year-old, the discipline was exacting and the hours were long; such was common for fishermen’s sons up until the end of the industry here.

That end had several causes. The first oil embargo of 1973 forced many owners to either retire or obtain larger, more cost-effective vessels. The price of fuel cut deep into San Diego’s fishing fleet as did growing awareness of environmental concerns of overfishing and “bycatch” ? particularly the capture of dolphin in the nets.

Increasing regulation against the fishing fleet and its practices had two primary effects: it scattered San Diego’s fleet to places where American laws did not apply and it prevented a San Diego-inspired remedy to save dolphin from being caught.

Joe Medina, a lifelong San Diego fisherman, created the “Medina panel,” a kind of trap door that allows dolphin to escape a purse seine. The panel quickly proved its effectiveness and was mandated for all tuna boats under the American flag at a time when changing economics transferred tuna boats to other nations. The Medina panel is not used everywhere, unfortunately, and issues of overfishing and dolphin endangerment continue.

The exhibit runs until December 30 at SDHC in Balboa Park. See for more information.

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Unpaid taxes will cost you your passport, Boxer says

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


Making its way through Congress is a bill that will prevent you from traveling outside the USA if you owe money to the Internal Revenue Service. It also calls for recording devices to be placed in all new cars, beginning in 2015, to record mileage and to log destinations in order to collect a tax-per-mile charge planned by the federal government.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has sponsored bill SB 1813, which is called the Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21 for short. What does Barbara Boxer have to say about her bill? So far, nothing. Neither her offices in San Diego nor in Washington have answered ESPRESSO’s repeated requests for comment about SB 1813. Boxer seems to prefer silence rather than substance on such issues. Does she believe that by simply not speaking about her bill, she can avoid the inevitable wrath of her constituents?

The bill runs to 1,676 pages, most of which are about road improvements and other mundane matters, but section 40304 amends subchapter D of chapter 75 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 with a clause that revokes or denies passports in cases of some tax delinquencies. A taxpayer would only have to amass a debt of $50,000 or more before his or her passport would be cancelled or denied.

Some civil liberties advocates are raising alarms about Boxer’s bill. Among these are David Laszlo, a San Diego attorney and Constitutional law specialist working on challenges to Section 40304, even in advance of the bill’s passage.

“What should the IRS have to do with your passport?” Laszlo asked. “This bill is a Trojan Horse for government to attack citizenship without oversight or due process. If you notice, there is no limit to what the feds can claim is a ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ and they can change the amount when they want to. Tax debts can escalate with fees, penalties and whatnot and you can be $50,000 in debt before you know it — and they can go back ten years on your records.”

Exceptions to the new rule allow for passports to be renewed if debts are being paid “in a timely manner” or if collections for tax debts are suspended during court hearings on the validity of government claims. Unspecified “humanitarian situations” may allow Americans out of the US, while those Americans abroad alleged to owe tax would find their passports altered by government for return to the US only. In essence, those passports would become a one-way ticket home.

There is no requirement for a judgment by a court. No conviction for fraud or evasion is necessary — merely a “certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue” that claims the government is owed money and which directs the Department of State to withhold or cancel your passport. The bill makes an end run around your right to due process; there is no provision for any review by any court of the government’s actions where your right to travel is concerned. But, if SB 1813 passes, traveling and driving in the United States will never be the same.

The bill automatically adjusts itself for inflation with a cost of living clause that bumps the trigger for revocation by increments of $1000, assessed yearly. If passed in its current form, SB 1813 will come into effect on January 1, 2013.

SB 1813 will, for the first time in US history, link the IRS to the Department of State for purposes of issuing a passport and will allow for the taxing authority to determine who may or may not travel. If the bill passes, it will alter the way government works by giving the IRS vastly increased administrative powers, where travel is concerned, which will far exceed the power of the US State Department. This extraordinary shift in government function – and its affect on every American — seems, so far, to have been ignored by media, though it is of great importance. If the bill passes, a mere administrative decision without any substantive due process will be enough to prohibit an American from going abroad — with the burden of proof on the taxpayer to show why he or she shouldn’t be penalized.

Laszlo said if ever a national identity card law came to pass, SB 1813’s language could be used to segregate Americans from opportunities, housing and benefits based on tax status. “This is a perfect way to legislate second class citizenship; no habeas corpus, no conviction needed, just an administrative finding that determines a person is guilty of a crime. And what will the states do if it passes? Does California get to stop you at a checkpoint and prevent you from going to New York because you owe them, too?”

The few lines of Section 40304 in Boxer’s bill are a game-changer, with respect to the relationship the American people has with its government. But, not many are concerned about this. Some point out that passports are already denied to felons and those who fail to pay court-ordered child support. But people denied passports for those reasons have at least been tried and found guilty by a jury of their peers in open court. For them, limits on travel is part of a criminal sentence and in keeping with traditional limits on government power.

As if Section 40304 weren‘t enough, other sections of the same bill will make “black box” event recorders mandatory on all new cars starting in 2015.

Section 53006 the “Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems deployment,” requires vehicles to be installed with systems that constantly beam information about location and other diagnostics both to other vehicles, potentially police cars, and to infrastructure — presumably government monitors who will track car movements in real time, all the time.

Given that light poles are now being fitted with computers to both receive and broadcast wireless internet signals, this would be the easiest method of connecting all vehicles to the ‘Internet of things’ in the future.

Not only would this open the door to total surveillance of Americans’ traveling habits as well as constant real time eavesdropping of what is happening inside their vehicle, including audio sensors to record conversations, it would also grease the skids for a carbon tax system whereby drivers are charged by the mile.

Tax-by-the-mile ideas have been floated in California for the last decade and usually forecast a gas pump with a reader embedded in it that will communicate with a car to read its mileage and calculate a tax additional to the price of the gas. Drivers would have to pay the tax on the spot or be unable to drive for lack of fuel. In other, more draconian scenarios, the tax delinquent car wouldn’t be allowed to start until the bill for fuel and previous mileage was paid. Obviously, this would prove disruptive to both drivers and to business.

Boxer’s bill will speed the process and hasten the day when pumping gas will become a nasty surprise for those already struggling to make it through tough times.

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Saint Jacques Chocolat Meets Caffé Calabria in Old Town

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


The beauty of Saint Jacques Chocolat is that it’s smooth. It’s not too rich, sweet, overpowering or the usual run-of-the-mill, over-the-top stuff you might find elsewhere. Enjoyed alone, the chocolates are enticing, with a fine finish and long aftertaste. Paired with Caffe Calabria’s Boulangerie Blend or with a good pinot noir, they came into their own and you feeling very satisfied indeed.

The Tasting Bars offer an attactive and well-packaged item that can add much to the menus of San Diego’s cafes. The are 18 small wedges of milk, dark, white or very dark chocolate are packed in clear plastic boxes that are prettily wrapped and tastefully marked. The contents of each weighs 3.37 oz. or 95 grams. The chocolatiers at Saint Jacques envision these boxes may be sold in cafes or individually added to dishes and drinks to add value to a cafes offerings. This expectation does not fall wide of the mark. The chocolate has a lot to offer. Gluten-free creations are also available.

As a local business, Saint Jacques Chocolat deserves your curiosity. It is a new company, based in El Cajon, and it sells its wares out of the Rust General Store on the plaza in Old Town, San Diego. The store is an antique sort of place that seems authentic to the late 19th century and offers a complete line of Saint Jacques Chocolat. One item is a pairing kit or paper box with chocolates and samples of Caffe Calabria beans, which come in small three ounce sample bags.

Word to the wise: if you get a sample from Rust, de-gas the bags if they show signs of swelling. The swelling indicates that the coffee was packed immediately after roasting and without allowing the carbon dioxide to dissipate. The blown bags are not dangerous but it’s conceivable they may pop at the wrong moment, possibly when you’re presenting one to your mother-in-law or your boss. This this does nothing to detract from the coffee’s quality.

Saint Jacques also offers a White Chocolate Chai Tea and a “Haute” Chocolate cocoa powder. These come in small, rectangular tins; the chocolate comes with a tiny whisk to stir the milk or water boiled for the up to eight demitasses one can expect to brew from each tin.

We tried the chocolate with both milk and water and, purists that we are, prefer to make it with water. You may prefer milk. That’s OK, since it works either way. The water brew did justice to some fine sesame seed biscotti and the after effect of this pairing would have been worth much more than we paid to experience it. The White Chai was engaging and we would urge users to add steamed milk to the brew.

Find them at or by calling (619) 820-6189.

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Artist, Activist, Savior of San Diego’s Architectural Treasures Dies in NYC

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


Artist Robert Miles Parker died on April 17, in New York, at the age of 72 from AIDS-related causes.
Years ago, when he lived in San Diego, he found a crumbling Victorian house slated for demolition and decided to save it from the wrecking ball. He made a sketch of the house and placed signs around the neighborhood with his phone number. Soon he was flooded with calls from people who wanted to see the Gilbert House preserved.
From such odd beginnings, SOHO, the Save Our Heritage Foundation, began and it has labored for decades to keep architectural treasures from being torn down.

Parker didn’t intend to be an activist but, in San Diego, 40 years ago, it didn’t take too much to stand out from the herd. He found he had as many friends interested in SOHO as there were developers who hated him.

His log of successes includes many buildings we enjoy now. The Villa Montezuma still stands because of Parker. So does the Santa Fe Railroad Station. The houses in Old Town’s Heritage Park were moved there because SOHO got the necessary support. The Gilbert House was the first to be put there in 1969. The resulting museum of houses has become an added draw for tourists for nearly a half century.

Eventually, Parker found the peace of mind in New York City that eluded him in San Diego. New York is a place where eccentrics can breathe deeply and freely. Parker soon documented urban landscapes including images of the theater district as well as historic and houses and other buildings of interest.

Parker was known for his pen-and-ink work as much as for paintings and he built a network of collectors whose interest afforded him the opportunity to go where he wanted in a minivan and draw whatever caught his eye. His work was published widely and he eventually drew a book called Images of American Architecture that further burnished his notoriety. His drawings, while whimsical and engaging underlie a powerful message; that even an artist skilled in sketches can move people to make things happen.

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A Delicious Peace Comes From War Torn Uganda

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


The remarkable story of a coffee known as “Delicious Peace” begins in the aftermath of the long civil war in Uganda: a war that saw the rise of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army and also the work of J.J. Keki, the Ugandan musician and 9-11 survivor.

Keki visited the USA for the first time in September, 2001 and was scheduled to take a tour of Manhattan’s World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11. As he walked toward the doors of the WTC, Keki saw the first plane hit the building and he ran from the scene. As he explained to the BBC, much later, something in him snapped at that moment. For so much of his life, he had witnessed the outrages of war in his Ugandan homeland and he had thought he would be free from such concerns in the USA. He was therefore dismayed to witness terror and mass death inspired by religious conflict.

As an Abayudaya Jew in a land divided between Christians and Muslims, Keki had experienced discrimination, intolerance and terror, which the Ugandan wars only made much worse for every group in the Mount Elgon coffee growing region from which he came. On his return to Mount Elgon, he decided to approach the surviving coffee growers and form a co-operative which would grow and sell their coffees. The aim was as much to demonstrate a united effort between disparate Muslims, Christians and Jews as it was to restore the viability of the trade itself.

Keki said, “I went from house to house. I brought the idea to my friends around me: Muslims and Christians. I said we should make a co-op, selling our coffee together as well as spreading peace in the world. They were all so happy. We called it Mirembe, which means peace, and Kawomera, which means delicious or good tasting — that our coffee must be of quality.”

Keki began in 2004. Trees destroyed or neglected during the war were cleared away. New seedlings were planted. By 2010, the first crop of berries from the new plantations were ready to harvest.

The effort was daunting. In the years before the war, the land had been home to a quarter of a million coffee farmers growing robusta beans on large plantations. Keki eventually found 1,000 survivors, mostly in eastern Uganda, in steep, mountain regions more than 1,600 meters above sea level. War had spared them, since the terrain was difficult even for donkeys, the preferred method of travel. This group became the Mirembe Kawomera cooperative.

The co-op’s members created a non-profit organization called Kulanu and used it to achieve Fair Trade certification, which brought higher prices and pledged them to sustainable, ecologically friendly farming standards. At the beginning, there was some difficulty finding buyers. Samples of green coffee had to be inspected, sample roasted and cupped before distributors or roasters would commit to purchase. Even shipping small quantities to potential clients proved difficult and expensive. Fortunately, help arrived from two directions. One was Paul Katzeff, CEO of Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg, California. An agent for the co-op told the story of the war-veteran growers to Katzeff who, deeply moved, pledged to buy an entire container — 37,500 pounds — on the spot and to market it under both their label and his own. To say the least, this is an unusual way to do business. The second boost for the co-op came from film makers Curt Fissel and Erin Friedl, who received one of the new co-ops earliest coffees — a 2005 crop culled from remaining trees that had existed before the restoration of the growers lands in eastern Uganda got underway. Their documentary film, titled “Delicious Peace” tells the Mirembe Kawomera story.

The crop is different from most Ugandan coffees: less acid and with a deeper body that tastes more like Indonesian than coffees from Uganda or nearby Kenya. Based on earlier samples, Germany is becoming a strong buyer of Ugandan arabica coffee futures, especially as favored Java coffees have increased dramatically in price recently. The Mirembe Kawomera co-op is said to be a fine substitute.

Mirembe Kawomera seems to have a bright future and the mostly small farmers with little acrage and few trees expect to keep the peace among their members of different faiths. A lesson learned after nearly thirty years of war is that there is little left for the survivors except the hard work of re-building trade and infrastructure and Jews, Christians and Muslim growers look forward to a time when they send their children to the schools their profits will create, free of the animosity that blighted a generation. If their coffee is as good in the future as it has been so far, they have a good chance of success.

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Come Visit the Real South Park

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


If you’re looking to combine the hip with the historic in your San Diego shopping experience, you should head for South Park. The picturesque neighborhood, just east of Balboa Park, has no big-box stores, malls nor strip centers. The neighborhood shops, cafes and businesses occupy restored historic buildings on tree-lined streets interspersed with craftsman-style homes and mid-century courtyards.

The neighborhood businesses celebrate their independence with quarterly “Walkabouts:” evenings when shops stay open late, musicians play on street corners and select restaurants offer specials for sidewalk dining. A trolley tour shuttles throughout the ten-block area, and a guided walking tour explores the architectural and the shopping attractions. The trolley shuttle and the walking tours are free for visitors.

The next Walkabout will be on Saturday, July 14, 2012, with a “Summer of Love” theme. Look for 60s style decor, hippie attire, and retro music along with shop specials and a sidewalk barbecue by the eateries of Beech Street (Alchemy, Grant’s, and Hamilton’s). More information is available on the neighborhood website,

Another event that celebrates the historic quality of the South Park residential neighborhood is the 14th annual Old House Fair, a free day-long festival on Saturday, June 16. Along with exhibits, vendors, music and food festivities at 30th and Beech Streets, the day includes a popular Historic Home Tour as well as trolley and walking tours of the neighborhood.

For the ticket price of $20, available online or on the day of the event, tourgoers get to visit six different residences, with docents providing information about design details and history of some of the rooms. As a bonus, this year’s event also offers visits to two landscaped and terraced gardens which overlook the eastern canyons of Balboa Park and its golf course, and also a tour of the restored Firehouse No. 9. The oldest fire station in San Diego now houses South Park Fitness.

More information:

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