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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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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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ISHI: Commemorating the Last of the Northern California Yahi Indians, a century later

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

November, 1908: A surveyor team hired by the Oro Light and Power Company, accompanied by guide Merle Apperson traveled to Deer Creek, in the heart of Northern California’s Yana Tribes country. Assuming the country to be uninhabited, the crew went about its business with not a thought of the former occupants. Two of the group were returning to camp one day when they unwittingly stumbled upon an Indian man fishing in the creek. They hurried back to relate their tale of a “wild Indian”, but most brushed it off as nonsense. Not Merle Apperson. The following morning he led the way along Deer Creek to where he suspected there may have been a camp. The surveyors walked into the tiny village. As far as they could tell, it was inhabited by three “wild” Indians—an old man, an old sick woman, and a younger woman. The man they had seen the day before was not evident. These were Yahi Indians; the last of a nearly vanished tribe that once covered much of the northern California countryside and were part of what was once the Yana Nation of Tribes with the Yahi being the southernmost and smallest tribe of that nation. This small remnant of Yahi Indians had been hiding for years, eluding detection and capture by living in their cunningly hidden settlement like trapped animals. Their existence was depressing, with starvation, fear, illness and grief as their daily burden. The younger woman and the old man fled to hide as the intruders approached the village but the old woman could not run. She had been covered with blankets in the hope that she would not be noticed.

The men entered the hideaway and poked around, eyeing whatever goods were present. They then shook the blankets and discovered the Indian. Her mourning was obvious by her shorn hair. Her deer thong-wrapped legs were swollen and she could not walk. She was weak, sick, and in pain and she shook with fear as the strangers looked her over. An attempt was made to communicate but with no success. Incredibly, after seeing the pitiful state this woman was in, the intruders ransacked the village, taking with them everything they could carry—even the food—leaving the woman to die. According to Apperson, he alone was appalled at his companions’ actions and protested their thievery. He claims he pleaded with the others that they should at least transport the woman to their camp for care but his protests fell on deaf ears. What these men had done with such casual ease was strip four terrified, starving people of their meager possessions, including items they needed to find food. They had handed down a death sentence, with no mercy or cause to the last surviving members of a people who had once inhabited, thrived, and survived the northern California region for thousands of years. In a fateful moment brought on by the actions of callous men, the Yahi people apparently had come to an end.

After the theives departed, the Indian man seen fishing at the creek returned. No food, tools, utensils, or comforts were left. It was he and his mother— alone. The other two never returned, nor was any sign of them ever found. They were gone. Dead. Likely drowned during their escape or eaten by one of the numerous predators in the back country. Before long, even the old woman was dead and the man stood completely alone.

The lone man survived the death sentence of 1908. With no home, shelter, tools, food, or companion he somehow found a way to live. Though grieving and alone, despair never overtook this last Yahi.

Three years passed since the raid on his village and the death of his family. It had been that long since he had heard a single utterance from the lips of another Yahi. Nearly dead from starvation, and perhaps desperate for human companionship, the man made a decision. Knowing he would die if he stayed at Deer Creek, and fearing he would be killed if he left, he took a chance.He departed the Yahi world and enter the world of the aliens who had decimated his people.

On the morning of August 29, 1911, in a slaughterhouse corral, two miles from Oroville, a nearly dead “wild man” was discovered, emaciated, exhausted, frightened, and starved. The sheriff took the Indian into custody, and was baffled as to what to do next. Locked in a cell, unable to communicate with any number of Indians brought before him, the traumatized man awaited his fate at the hands of people who thought he was insane and likely dangerous.

In a carnival atmosphere the “wild man” caught the imagination and attention of thousands of onlookers and curiosity seekers. News of his discovery reached two professors of anthropology at the University of California, Alfred L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman. Both men had an interest in the human saga being played out in Oroville for several reasons. Beyond the obvious general anthropological interest, they had been searching for the lost “wild man” that had been sited three years earlier by the surveyor crew a few miles north of Oroville—in the Deer Creek region. They wondered if this could be him.

Two days after the man’s discovery, Waterman was on a train to Oroville to assume responsibility for the “wild man” per the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ instructions. Kroeber and Waterman became guardians of this last Yahi. For nearly five years he lived at the university’s museum, employed as a janitor and teaching the professors whatever he was able to communicate about the Yahi people. There were no other speakers of his tongue so communication was difficult and tedious. Kroeber persevered and managed to learn and communicate in ‘conversational’ Yahi, while the man learned about life in 20th century America.

The bond that developed between Kroeber and the man was, by all accounts, a close one. They both came to depend upon one another, not only for the pursuits of study they were engaged in, but on a personal level. For the man, this relationship must have been especially precious, for he had been alone for so long. Kroeber eventually named the man “Ishi”, which is Yahi for ‘man’. Yahi tradition prevented Ishi from speaking his own name or the names of the dead.

As Ishi told the Yahi story, Kroeber became anxious to see the country he spoke of. At first, Ishi resisted, afraid to revisit the places at which he had experienced both joy and sorrow. He told Kroeber that there were no chairs, tables or beds there, and very little to eat but eventually, he agreed to go. The results of the 1914 excursion to Yahi country were invaluable. Kroeber drew maps, marking crucial sites of Ishi’s life, and recorded the place names as the Yahi knew them. There were also photographs taken of both locations and of Ishi demonstrating the Yahi methods of crafting arrow heads, arrows, bows, spears and the other tools of his daily life. Kroeber recorded the past through living history in the present for the future. It was as if he had reached back in time, pulled forth a man of another age, and asked him; “Please show me what life was like long ago.” Ishi was physically contemporary, though culturally and socially antiquated.

The tale Ishi told was grim. The Yana peoples suffered the complete loss of their lands and way of life when the Americans came during the Gold Rush. In less than thirty years the peoples who once called the region home had gone into hiding in the harsh mountains where food was scarce and the chances for survival were slim. Ishi used to refer to the time of the American arrival as “when the stars fell”. Much of his life was spent watching his people fade away like animals facing extinction.

While still a child sometime in the 1870’s, Ishi’s own father was killed in a village massacre. The boy and his mother escaped by jumping into a nearby river. The Yahi who fought to preserve their territory against unequal odds and long range rifles were slaughtered until only a remnant band of 40 or so remained. The survivors of this tiny band hid successfully for nearly forty years, undetected by the outside world. It was firmly believed, even by locals who went up into the foothills of the Lassen, that the Yahi, or “Mill Creek Indians”, were a people of the past. Gone. No record of their history, origins, culture, or language had survived until Ishi walked down from the mountains.

This remarkable man was the last repository for the culture of a people who had lived in his region for some 2000 years. The records of his beliefs and myths, ways of life and tradition and language would have vanished forever as the clean sweep of American conquest overrode the lands and native peoples and assigned them a footnote in books that described them merely as the “Mill Creek Indians” who briefly and violently resisted American expansion. If Ishi held any animosity toward the American Californians he never showed it. He seemed happy enough to find some company even among those who regarded him as a curiosity. He was painfully shy around women and soon adopted American clothing, only reluctantly posing in the skins and rags of his former days. Shoes disgusted him while a penny whistle gave him hours of childlike pleasure. However, his mind was anything but dull. Ishi was asked what he thought when shown an increasingly popular modern wonder; the airplane. He simply asked, “Is there a white man up there?” Ishi was not fazed by the novelty of the modern world.

Ishi lived the last several years of his life at the San Francisco Anthropology Museum. He made bead-work quivers, and his bows showed the greatest craftsmanship. He did this in front of an enthralled public, 3 days a week as a living exhibit there.

Ishi soon encountered health problems that became harder to overcome. Exposure to large numbers of the public and foreign pathogens that he and his people had little ability to withstand took its toll and by 1915 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which in the days before antibiotics was a death sentence. The sentence for Ishi played out on March 23, 1916 at Berkeley where he had gone to be with his friend, Kroeber. Kroeber was not there; he was trying to get funding from politicians on behalf of his friend who died before Kroeber’s return.

Ishi was autopsied at the UC Berkeley Medical School. His body was cremated ashes sent to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Colma. His brain was removed and sent to the Smithsonian Institute in 1917 by Alfred Kroeber where it stayed for over eighty years, until other Yana tribes agitated for its return. In August, 2000 Ishi’s brain made it back to his closet relations; the Redding Rancheria and Pit River Tribe. Ishi’s remains were interred at an undisclosed location and it is likely that he finally had the song of the dead sung for him.

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ISSA: “Doesn’t Need” to Represent All His Constituents

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo


As the economy sinks deeper, some people are motivated to become politically active in causes that matter to them. One of those people is Dave Peiser, who recently joined in its effort to confront mostly GOP congress members on issues that matter when it comes to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. As Peiser puts it, “We progressives believe that Republicans in general have been pursuing an agenda that destroys these “inalienable rights.”

Peiser and a Moveon group waited on Representative’s Darryl Issa in Vista on Tuesday, August 2 to protest what they believe are wrong directions that he happens to support.

The group entered the Congressman‘s office with signs proclaiming our concerns and disagreements with Republican policies and pledges. Two staff members, District Director Phil Paule and Senior Policy Advisor, John B. Franklin stood at the office entrance “and were almost cordial” in welcome. After protetors thanking Mr. Paule and Mr. Franklin for their public service, the conversation quickly turned loud and argumentative. As Peiser recalls, “Unfortunately our words to the staff were merely bouncing off them; not really being listened to as input to the congressman’s thoughts on issues. Thus, here is where the democracy lesson comes.”

A protestor reminded Franklin that Issa is in office to represent all of his constituents. At that point, Franklin let Issa’s cat out of the bag by replying that Issa “does not need to” represent all the constituents in his district. Franklin’s next line; “Issa was elected by a majority of his constituents who agree with his views and if you don’t agree, there’s an election in 2012,” summed up that Representative’s approach to both power and the public.

Going nowhere, in the usual direction of such confrontational meetings, it is hardly surprising that the protest soon broke up with nothing being accomplished; this after the usual veiled threats by staff about calling security, arrests and other expressions of naked power against individuals exercising their rights to be heard. What it says about Issa speaks volumes of the Representative’s ignorance in choosing staff with whom to interact with the public and of the Representative’s presumed views about whom he’s working for.

It is a common misconception indulged in by the dishonest and ignorant that only those who voted for a candidate matter following an election’s outcome. This idea has not found favor in the broad American history of politics for very good reason—if the concept became commonly accepted, it would bring complete anarchy to the soon-to-be destroyed system. Anyone could simply say that if they didn’t vote for an incumbent they were not bound by anything that incumbent did while in office.

It would also mean that no constituent who failed to vote for a Congress member who brought new economic benefit to his region should be able to use it, either. Didn’t support that new highway? Take the surface streets—after all, you voted against it, didn’t you?

Even a child in the third grade who had made it that far into his or her educational career by understanding how to follow rules might be expected to see the failure of that idea. It is a great and grim surprise that any staffer of any sitting Congressman should be so fantastically ignorant of basic Civics that he would say that his boss had no duty to the minority share of American citizenry from his district without first having first drunk too much gin.

Such failed concepts echo the failed ideas of a pre-Civil War Supreme Court Justice who infamously said that blacks have no rights the white man is bound to respect. A lot of changes have happened in the US since the late 1850’s and it is a mark of failure against Issa that he would tolerate anyone on his staff so backward in his knowledge of American governance and so willing to make it plain.

Never the less, the concept seems to have found growing favor among Republicans, especially since the administration of GW Bush who early in his presidency referred to his supporters as “good Americans” while ignoring others. Issa presumably follows this same idea. He did not return contacts from this newspaper prior before press time and it is perhaps likely that since its offices are not in his district he has no need to interact with anyone outside his favored circles.

We suggest to Franklin and Issa that high school was a very long time ago, and that remedial classes in American political structure are in order. No one supports anarchy and those who want a better America should be the last to champion that lost cause, even by default.

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When Cops Kill Culture

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

ESPRESSO’ s lead story describes a conflict between the SDPD’s Vice Squad and small entertainment venues of all kinds, including the many coffeehouses inside city limits concerning the rise of fees for yearly entertainment permits. The sharp increases in yearly costs for such permits are extraordinarily high and coupled with similar permit increases for the many things a cafe’ needs to operate here, the bureaucracy-inspired gouge of small businesses is threatening to their survival. Those causing the threat intend to impose a choice on San Diegans between security or culture. What San Diegans don’t know is that those forcing the change have stacked the deck against the good guys.

When times get tight and profit is down, a common mistake made by people with no business acumen is to raise prices for what they sell. In the case of city services, regulation is what they sell and their market is captive; every business has to buy–or else. Bureaucrats take it for granted that their budgets are sacrosanct and that all businesses roll in profits so going to the goose for another golden egg to keep the wheels of bureaucracy speeding along is the natural thing to do. It’ s a good thing people who think that way have government jobs because they’ d starve in the real world, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

SDPD is one such odd-thinking entity. Its Vice Squad regulates entertainment venues and in sets the rates for entertainment permits in San Diego and its new fees for them is based on a “quote cost recovery” approach that says that businesses regulated by Vice have to cough up all the coin Vice needs for its yearly budget. Permits for entertainment are source number one for this revenue. Other sources are licenses for holistic health practitioners, second hand dealers, bars, peep shows and other businesses that might become sources for crime. Entertainment venues of all kinds are seen as by Vice as fronts for drug and gang activity. This view has been around for the last half century if not longer. Of late, Vice no longer publishes its budget. It’ s budget is whatever they say it is and since SDPD has lost its media relations person and now requires emailed questions to be sent to whomever is on the end of a phone line with the usual bureaucratic lapses in returning messages as their usual tactic, news of their budget is likely to stay secret for longer than is good for business and the customers of those venues. Those who have a passing acquaintance with medieval Italian history will recognize a Black Hand when they see one. The tactics and philosophy of paying for “service” is no different from paying for “protection” . In San Diego the practices are elegantly indirect, combined and even lawful. They’re so smooth that even the rest of media can overlook them without breaking a sweat.

At the bottom of what appears to be a mere hike in fees is a sea change in thinking by the PD on how it earns its living. Vice has changed its form from a taxpayer paid, impartial function of government to a cash hungry predator looking to its ” customers” for increased revenue. This makes real what some libertarians have long yearned for–government function paid for entirely by those who consume it. What the crackpot theory doesn’t take into account is that government—in this case the PD—can force businesses to be their captive pockets to be picked.

Small venues perform some services that often go unsung: in the case of the coffeehouses, not only do they sell the caffein that keeps the citizens going through the motions daily, but many of them also provide small stages for new performers making their way into the mainstream. San Diego’ s coffeehouses can list some stellar names among those who started here: Jim Morrison of the Doors began at the Upper Cellar for starters; Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, The Cascades, Jewel, Blink 182 and many others are some others who began in the local coffee scene and the places they play in have discovered that entertainment pays if it’ s easy, cheap and unusual. Such elements are a way to make a local culture happen and grow. Making it much harder for those small venues to provide entertainment and afford SDPD is a direct threat against the growth of culture here. Every dime that disappears into the no longer public Vice budget is a deduction from creativity, talent, good music and a more human-scale society that allows some performers to provide what they know their public wants to hear. The higher cost of entertainment fee permits isn’t just more money for the cops—it’ s theft from business and and creatives in those businesses that shape the culture. It’s the inverse of the cops’ twisted assertion that entertainment equals crime; law enforcement equals suppression of things that make a community one’s own.

This shouldn’t be tolerated. Businesses do not need to work for the PD and creatives don’t need some secret editor making their music more difficult to find. Someday, the business community that is target number one for this odious kind of thing will have to get smart enough to organize effectively and lean on politicians long enough to push back against the City. If they don’t, they’ll find what every poor schmuck finds who gets convinced to pay for “protection”— that the cost always goes up and the terms won’t just bankrupt them, but directly harm everyone around them, too.

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New Entertainment Fees Threaten Coffeehouse Venues

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

On July 1, San Diego enacted a new series of fees for entertainment permits that will have serious effects on coffeehouses and entertainers of all kinds who depend on café venues for their living. Increases of over 700 percent for yearly entertainment permits is likely for some cafés and the chilling effect of high fees are likely to cut the number of coffeehouses that can afford to host musicians and profit from entertainment.

The new fees are part of a package that was voted unanimously by the SD City Council on June 23. The new package raised fees for many other permits and city services, including building permits, inspections and medical helicopter flights. Also included in the scheme to collect some $774,000 annually is a new way to fund the SDPD Vice Squad, which oversees issuance of entartainment permits to all venues, including coffeehouses.

The City claims that in tight economic times, “cost recovery” of services rendered to businesses regulated by Vice is necessary and that means that regulated venues have to pay for the Vice Squad that does the regulating. Though the City insists that previous fee structures only collected some 26% of costs, where the Vice Squad is concerned, the numbers are unknown. Vice does not make its budget public as of June 23, 2011—the day the vote came in at City Hall. The Vice Squad determines its own budget, unburdened by any oversight—and charges regulated businesses accordingly. So far, there has been no challenge to this from of cost recovery and SDPD has resolutely refused to comment on what Vice’s budget amounts to.

This will have significant and perhaps grave meaning for the businesses that face sharply increased costs. Entertainers will be affected too.

For example, the new fee structures for cafés, restaurants and clubs will see a rise in yearly permit fees from last year’s $379 to this year’s $2,383—for a place with a 100-person maximum occupancy that sells alcohol. Depending on the occupancy rate, alcohol sales and history of police calls, a place like that described could face yearly costs of nearly $4000 per year for a permit to keep entertainment going.

Smaller cafés will pay less—from the current $184 annually for a place that seats 50 or more without alcohol or dancing, to a new rate which will be $288. Places that seat fewer than 49 persons without alcohol or dancing used to pay $126; they will pay $230 this year. For cafés with alcohol and dancing, the costs will skyrocket—to $1840 for more than fifty seats and alcohol where dancing may be allowed; and to $920 for under 49 persons with alcohol and dancing.

In addition to that, many small venues will be forced—as a condition of maintaining their entertainment permit—to reconfigure their structures to the same standards as nightclubs use now. This means double doors on exits, panic bars to open those double doors, at least two restrooms and one security guard for every 25 guests. Last year, the rate was a single guard for every 75 guests. For most coffeehouses that were never built to this “nightclub” standard and whose levels of entertainment income do not allow them to afford the muscle at the doors, this will likely mean that the curtain falls on entertainment permanently.

As if that weren’t enough of a blow, new rules will force all businesses offering entertainment to stop while they reapply for entertainment permits from year to year. In effect, each business will face an entertainment moratorium for an inderterminate time on what is for some, a primary profit center. “You couldn’t ask for a better way to hurt our business,” lamented one Mission Valley coffeehouse owner. “It’s like they have a handle on the faucet and can turn off your profits as long as they want from one year to the next.”

For some, the new fees are Deja Vu all over again.

That’s because in 2000, the City tried to pass similar laws that would have made coffeehouses and other small venues 21 and up only, if they offered entertainment of any kind. The building upgrade language in the new law was there in the 2000 legislation and then, SD City Attorney and Vice publicly stated that “entertainment equals crime” since all venues served as conduits for drug and gang activity, in their opinion. The proposed law was skewered by media and hotly contested by many of San Diego’s entertainers, coffee people and others concerned that it would cripple the growth of local culture, hurt business and interfere with redevelopment in some areas.. After two hearings by the full City Council, the law was amended. Now, the baser portions of the 2000 law are back and hailed as a cost cutting measure.

Councilmembers De Maio and Zapf opposed the rate hikes until the final vote when they voted for the measure which was originally championed by Kevin Faulconer as a strong “law and order” message coupled with saving City money.

At first glance, a yearly fee of $920 does not seem to amount to much; but when coupled with high costs of hiring security guards and new construction demands, the total cost to maintain code compliance becomes unaffordable for many small venues.. As one café owner put it, “The day they do that to me, I’ll just throw parties after hours in the street. That will cost them plenty and get me no end of great press…”

The ones most affected by any change in fees will of course be musicians and other entertainers robbed of places to play. Until now, coffeehouses in particular have reported a surge in numbers from entertainment of all kinds and more venues means more money and public support for the next Jewel, Tom Waits, Blink 182, Jim Morrison and Novamenco that first got started in the San Diego coffeehouse scene. Coffeehouses outside San Diego city limits may benefit from the blockade of culture forced by the PD; and at least one La Mesa café reports that it is aggressively seeking new bookings from bands and singers forced out from San Diego cafés.

Some in the hospitality industry point fingers at the California Restaurant Association, a trade group that has long regarded “non-standard” venues as a direct threat to its members’ bottom line, for promoting the new rules.. Like the 2000 effort before it, the new rules were allegedly promoted with urging from that organization. Cal Restaurant did not respond to ESPRESSO’s questions on the matter by press time.

Others in hospitality say that the City has it all wrong when it comes to jacking fees for small venues like coffeehouses. The San Diego Food & Beverage Association has been quietly lobbying the city for a more enlightened form of permit structure that would take types of entertainment into account for purposes of regulation and also factor in occupancy and previous history. Until the budget plan was proposed by Vice, some progress had been made toward setting maximum sizes of stage and numbers of musicians with unamplified music in small venues. The current mantra of “cost recovery” coupled with dodgy Vice budgets killed that plan.


Though it may surprise some, San Diego’s Finest have long worked to undermine the growth and divergence of the coffeehouses when it came to expanding into entertainment of any kind. That’s because for the last fifty years, many in city government and the PD have looked at coffeehouses as problems in regulation and undesirable social action waiting to happen. Ever since the 1960’s, coffeehouses in the city faced opposition when they ventured out beyond the sale of coffee and into entertainment—or what some regarded as activism. Whether serving as hangouts for anti-war youth in 1968 at the once famed Blue Whale or Upper Cellar, to the stirrings of gay activism in the 70’s at The Study, to the café-cum-nightclub antics of Java Joe’s in Ocean Beach in the 90’s or to more prolix activism at Chicano Perk, the seven-year run of which was ended suddenly last year by the City for alleged zoning violations—two weeks after lectures on Socialism were offered to area youth at the coffeehouse—to the pols and cops, coffeehouses have been the square peg defying the round hole where regulation is concerned. The cops and presumably City Attorney Jan Goldsmith would like to see them limited solely to selling coffee. The coffeehouses realize that especially as times tighten, entertainment is crucial to their ability to grow. Entertainers of all kinds have used cafés to start careers, build new acts and develop their talent.

SDPD has long stated that its manpower and money resources are low and their pro-active stance toward anything that may cause a problem too hard to control means suppressing trouble before it starts. Where entertainment is concerned, it means tightly controlling how venues can operate and to some extent, what kinds of entertainment they can offer. For a half century, coffeehouses have been a traditional wild card for the PD; Vice wants to regulate them the same as bars, clubs or concert halls and calls from business owners who point out that the kinds of trouble often found in other establishments is virtually non-existent in them fall on deaf ears. Now, Vice needs to make its budget from regulated businesses entirely and this hardens their stance when negotiating with business groups for breathing room. The net result is that coffeehouse venues are threatened, the PD is enriched and entertainment—and chances for an organic, homegrown culture to arise in the cafés suffers.

The uphill battle for any change in fees is with Vice to overcome their insistence that a having a good time is likley a crime—no matter if it’s had at Lestat’s, Anthology, HOB or at the San Diego Symphony Hall. Whether that can happen now is anyone’s guess and hospitality insiders offer long odds on change. As one hospitality insider put it, “There’s no way this thing is going away. Not now.” Still, change occurred last time, in 2000 when hundreds of maddened entertainers and others threatened by entertainment permit concerns flooded the PD with publich protests and crammed City Hall twice with hundreds more people demanding change. Last time, the cafés in San Diego were lucky and found some friends in City Hall at a crucial time. Whether that will happen again without organization between the coffee tradespeople and entertainment intresests is perhaps unlikely.


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Pannikin Founder Bob Sinclair Dies in NM Crash

Posted on 09 August 2011 by John Rippo

SD premier coffee man victim of injuries in motorcycle accident.
Bob Sinclair, founder of Pannikin Coffee & Tea  and later of Cafe Moto, died on August 6 after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle crash in New Mexico on July 28.
The crash occurred around 4.30 p.m. as Sinclair travelled east on NM 502 and attempted a left turn onto County Road 101 East. For unknown reasons he lost control of his Ducati motorcycle and was thrown from the seat. Head injuries were extensive though he wore a helmet. Transferred to the ICU at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe, he lingered in a coma until August 6.
Robert “Bob” Sinclair was born in Hollywood on November 1, 1942 and grew up on a farm in Antelope Valley. After four years in the navy, most of them in San Diego, he and his first wife opened a cookware store on La Jolla’s Prospect Street. An incidental product was whole bean coffee and an antique roaster set up in his home garage on Rosemont Street fed the appetites of a growing number of La Jollans. The shop soon sold more coffee than cookware and the Pannikin was born.
Eventually, Sinclair established several coffeehouses throughout the county and a second retail shop on Girard Street in La Jolla. A large roastery was sited at the corner of 13th and J Streets in what is now East Village. A flair for location was always evident and The Pannikin counted the former Santa Fe Railroad station in Leucadia as its most magnificent jewel. Another location sits across the street from La Jolla Cove and operates as a restaurant. Along the way, Sinclair supplied every one of the early coffeehouses in San Diego in the 80’s and quickly became respected as San Diego’s premier coffee roaster.  Hundreds of restaurants, cafés and bars throughout the county and elsewhere became Sinclair’s clients and under the wholesale entity now known as Cafe Moto, the business continues to expand.
Bob Sinclair’s Pannikin set a style for coffeehouses in San Diego for layout, design and signature coffees that endures. He introduced whole bean specialty coffee to San Diego, revived coffee roasting singlehandedly here and was the first to create public awareness of coffees’ diversity. His business model and taste helped frame the style of many coffeehouses that elevated them from offbeat hangouts to the comfortably chic places they’ve become. There is perhaps no one individual with more significance to more aspects of San Diego’s coffee and allied trades than Bob Sinclair, dead  at the age of 69.

Front page image by Nan Palmero, Creative Commons

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