Zócalo Public SquareZócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Fri, 23 Feb 2018 08:01:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 How White Settlers Buried the Truth About the Midwest’s Mysterious Moundshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/22/white-settlers-buried-truth-midwests-mysterious-mounds/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/22/white-settlers-buried-truth-midwests-mysterious-mounds/ideas/essay/#comments Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:01:34 +0000 By Sarah E. Baires http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=91405 Around 1100 or 1200 A.D., the largest city north of Mexico was Cahokia, sitting in what is now southern Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Built around 1050 A.D. and occupied through 1400 A.D., Cahokia had a peak population of between 25,000 and 50,000 people. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cahokia was composed of three boroughs (Cahokia, East St. Louis, and St. Louis) connected to each other via waterways and walking trails that extended across the Mississippi River floodplain for some 20 square km. Its population consisted of agriculturalists who grew large amounts of maize, and craft specialists who made beautiful pots, shell jewelry, arrow-points, and flint clay figurines.

The city of Cahokia is one of many large earthen mound complexes that dot the landscapes of the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and across the Southeast. Despite the preponderance of archaeological evidence that these mound complexes were

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Around 1100 or 1200 A.D., the largest city north of Mexico was Cahokia, sitting in what is now southern Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Built around 1050 A.D. and occupied through 1400 A.D., Cahokia had a peak population of between 25,000 and 50,000 people. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cahokia was composed of three boroughs (Cahokia, East St. Louis, and St. Louis) connected to each other via waterways and walking trails that extended across the Mississippi River floodplain for some 20 square km. Its population consisted of agriculturalists who grew large amounts of maize, and craft specialists who made beautiful pots, shell jewelry, arrow-points, and flint clay figurines.

The city of Cahokia is one of many large earthen mound complexes that dot the landscapes of the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and across the Southeast. Despite the preponderance of archaeological evidence that these mound complexes were the work of sophisticated Native American civilizations, this rich history was obscured by the Myth of the Mound Builders, a narrative that arose ostensibly to explain the existence of the mounds. Examining both the history of Cahokia and the historic myths that were created to explain it reveals the troubling role that early archaeologists played in diminishing, or even eradicating, the achievements of pre-Columbian civilizations on the North American continent, just as the U.S. government was expanding westward by taking control of Native American lands.

Today it’s difficult to grasp the size and complexity of Cahokia, composed of about 190 mounds in platform, ridge-top, and circular shapes aligned to a planned city grid oriented five degrees east of north. This alignment, according to Tim Pauketat, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, is tied to the summer solstice sunrise and the southern maximum moonrise, orientating Cahokia to the movement of both the sun and the moon. Neighborhood houses, causeways, plazas, and mounds were intentionally aligned to this city grid. Imagine yourself walking out from Cahokia’s downtown; on your journey you would encounter neighborhoods of rectangular, semi-subterranean houses, central hearth fires, storage pits, and smaller community plazas interspersed with ritual and public buildings. We know Cahokia’s population was diverse, with people moving to this city from across the midcontinent, likely speaking different dialects and bringing with them some of their old ways of life.

View of Cahokia from Rattlesnake Mound ca 1175 A.D., drawn by Glen Baker. Image courtesy of Sarah E. Baires.

The largest mound at Cahokia was Monks Mound, a four-terraced platform mound about 100 feet high that served as the city’s central point. Atop its summit sat one of the largest rectangular buildings ever constructed at Cahokia; it likely served as a ritual space.

In front of Monks Mound was a large, open plaza that held a chunk yard to play the popular sport of chunkey. This game, watched by thousands of spectators, was played by two large groups who would run across the plaza lobbing spears at a rolling stone disk. The goal of the game was to land their spear at the point where the disk would stop rolling. In addition to the chunk yard, upright marker posts and additional platform mounds were situated along the plaza edges. Ridge-top burial mounds were placed along Cahokia’s central organizing grid, marked by the Rattlesnake Causeway, and along the city limits.

Cahokia was built rapidly, with thousands of people coming together to participate in its construction. As far as archaeologists know, there was no forced labor used to build these mounds; instead, people came together for big feasts and gatherings that celebrated the construction of the mounds.

The splendor of the mounds was visible to the first white people who described them. But they thought that the American Indian known to early white settlers could not have built any of the great earthworks that dotted the midcontinent. So the question then became: Who built the mounds?

Early archaeologists working to answer the question of who built the mounds attributed them to the Toltecs, Vikings, Welshmen, Hindus, and many others. It seemed that any group—other than the American Indian—could serve as the likely architects of the great earthworks. The impact of this narrative led to some of early America’s most rigorous archaeology, as the quest to determine where these mounds came from became salacious conversation pieces for America’s middle and upper classes. The Ohio earthworks, such as Newark Earthworks, a National Historic Landmark located just outside Newark, OH, for example, were thought by John Fitch (builder of America’s first steam-powered boat in 1785) to be military-style fortifications. This contributed to the notion that, prior to the Native American, highly skilled warriors of unknown origin had populated the North American continent.

This was particularly salient in the Midwest and Southeast, where earthen mounds from the Archaic, Hopewell, and Mississippian time periods crisscross the midcontinent. These landscapes and the mounds built upon them quickly became places of fantasy, where speculation as to their origins rose from the grassy prairies and vast floodplains, just like the mounds themselves. According to Gordon Sayre (The Mound Builders and the Imagination of American Antiquity in Jefferson, Bartram, and Chateaubriand), the tales of the origins of the mounds were often based in a “fascination with antiquity and architecture,” as “ruins of a distant past,” or as “natural” manifestations of the landscape.

When William Bartram and others recorded local Native American narratives of the mounds, they seemingly corroborated these mythical origins of the mounds. According to Bartram’s early journals (Travels, published in 1928) the Creek and the Cherokee who lived around mounds attributed their construction to “the ancients, many ages prior to their arrival and possessing of this country.” Bartram’s account of Creek and Cherokee histories led to the view that these Native Americans were colonizers, just like Euro-Americans. This served as one more way to justify the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands: If Native Americans were early colonizers, too, the logic went, then white Americans had just as much right to the land as indigenous peoples.

Location of Cahokia, East St Louis, and St Louis sites in the American Bottom. Map courtesy of Sarah E. Baires.

The creation of the Myth of the Mounds parallels early American expansionist practices like the state-sanctioned removal of Native peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for the movement of “new” Americans into the Western “frontier.” Part of this forced removal included the erasure of Native American ties to their cultural landscapes.

In the 19th century, evolutionary theory began to take hold of the interpretations of the past, as archaeological research moved away from the armchair and into the realm of scientific inquiry. Within this frame of reference, antiquarians and early archaeologists, as described by Bruce Trigger, attempted to demonstrate that the New World, like the Old World, “could boast indigenous cultural achievements rivaling those of Europe.” Discoveries of ancient stone cities in Central America and Mexico served as the catalyst for this quest, recognizing New World societies as comparable culturally and technologically to those of Europe.

But this perspective collided with Lewis Henry Morgan’s 1881 text Houses and House-life of the American Aborigines. Morgan, an anthropologist and social theorist, argued that Mesoamerican societies (such as the Maya and Aztec) exemplified the evolutionary category of “Middle Barbarism”—the highest stage of cultural and technological evolution to be achieved by any indigenous group in the Americas. By contrast, Morgan said that Native Americans located in the growing territories of the new United States were quintessential examples of “Stone Age” cultures—unprogressive and static communities incapable of technological or cultural advancement. These ideologies framed the archaeological research of the time.

In juxtaposition to this evolutionary model there was unease about the “Vanishing Indian,” a myth-history of the 18th and 19th centuries that depicted Native Americans as a vanishing race incapable of adapting to the new American civilization. The sentimentalized ideal of the Vanishing Indian—who were seen as noble but ultimately doomed to be vanquished by a superior white civilization—held that these “vanishing” people, their customs, beliefs, and practices, must be documented for posterity. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to excavate into a Native American burial mound, citing the disappearance of the “noble” Indians—caused by violence and the corruption of the encroaching white civilization—as the need for these excavations. Enlightenment-inspired scholars and some of America’s Founders viewed Indians as the first Americans, to be used as models by the new republic in the creation of its own legacy and national identity.

During the last 100 years, extensive archaeological research has changed our understanding of the mounds. They are no longer viewed as isolated monuments created by a mysterious race. Instead, the mounds of North America have been proven to be constructions by Native American peoples for a variety of purposes. Today, some tribes, like the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, view these mounds as central places tying their communities to their ancestral lands. Similar to other ancient cities throughout the world, Native North Americans venerate their ties to history through the places they built.

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Could a New River City Transform California?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/19/new-river-city-transform-california/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/19/new-river-city-transform-california/inquiries/connecting-california/#comments Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:01:42 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=91317 Could the San Joaquin River, long a dividing line in the heart of California, unite the state in pursuit of a more metropolitan future for the Central Valley?

Whether that happens will be determined in Madera County, on the north side of the river from Fresno. There, a new city, consisting of multiple large planned communities, is finally under construction after decades of planning and litigation.

The city has no name and incorporation could be decades away. But within a generation, its population could grow to more than 100,000 people; by mid-century, it might double Madera County’s current population of 150,000.

And that is just on the Madera side of the river. On the Fresno side, the county is developing open space, the city of Fresno’s north side is growing, and the city of Clovis is expanding to its south and east. Rising together, the new Madera city, Fresno, and

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Could the San Joaquin River, long a dividing line in the heart of California, unite the state in pursuit of a more metropolitan future for the Central Valley?

Whether that happens will be determined in Madera County, on the north side of the river from Fresno. There, a new city, consisting of multiple large planned communities, is finally under construction after decades of planning and litigation.

The city has no name and incorporation could be decades away. But within a generation, its population could grow to more than 100,000 people; by mid-century, it might double Madera County’s current population of 150,000.

And that is just on the Madera side of the river. On the Fresno side, the county is developing open space, the city of Fresno’s north side is growing, and the city of Clovis is expanding to its south and east. Rising together, the new Madera city, Fresno, and Clovis could come to constitute a tri-cities area in the center of California, offering a new model for the state’s long-neglected interior.

If the new Madera and expanded Fresno and Clovis cities could cohere into a stronger region by mid-century—and that’s an “if” as big as the Valley floor—greater Fresno could transform from a relatively poor backwater of 1 million-plus into California’s answer to Austin, an inland country metropolis of 2 million or more capable of spreading the Golden State’s coastal prosperity to its dusty interior.

Of course, such a transformation would require extensive regional planning of the sort that has been little seen in Fresno. It would require establishing new and more effective governance arrangements and funding for regional transportation, economic development, water management, recreation, and air quality. In short, it would require something just short of a revolution in California governance, and in thinking about what city governments do.

Transforming greater Fresno also would require collaboration between local governments that have spent decades using lawsuits to stall the growth of their neighbors. Madera County’s development has only recently gone forward after fights so bitter that the governor’s office intervened.

Indeed, the very structure of California, and its land-use planning, works against turning Fresno into a region, never mind a powerhouse. In our state, local jurisdictions are weak and have little power to raise their own revenues; they are incentivized to compete with other cities, often using questionable subsidies, in the chase for developments and the taxes they bring. In the Golden State, cooperating with neighboring municipalities is for saps.

The battles between the San Joaquin Valley’s cities have been especially hard-fought, since those municipalities are weak even by California’s diminished standards. (Madera County doesn’t even have a parks department.) The game is: support development that provides revenue for your city, while spreading the costs—in traffic, water and air quality—onto your neighbors.

That has inspired nearly constant litigation. To take just two examples: The city of Fresno sued Madera County to block the new river development plan until it got a tax-sharing agreement that would compensate it for impacts like traffic. In retaliation, Madera County sued Fresno to block a new shopping center, claiming it would siphon off shopping dollars and sales taxes that should go to Madera.

Most, but not all, of such litigation is now over, offering an opportunity to build together. Potential collaborations could include a stronger and more resilient water infrastructure (the new Madera developments tout their water efficiency), a joint powers authority that could raise revenue to improve access to the river itself, and a regional transportation network. That network ought to reach as far south as Visalia, and north, across the river into Madera, along both the Highway 41 and 99 corridors.

Another problem is the lack of local government brainpower. The area’s municipalities in particular need more personnel with training and experience in regional planning. The existing regional planning includes some collaboration on trails and water treatment, but it is still too irregular and unimaginative.

That’s why the big and bold development in Madera is so promising. The county on Fresno’s northwestern flank is saying via its big new developments that it doesn’t want to be small, poor, and isolated anymore. That’s the message all of greater Fresno needs to embrace.

Indeed, Madera County is pitching its new developments as a huge step forward for central California: master-planned communities with trails and schools and job centers and water facilities wrapped in, providing the greater density and smaller lots of more urban living.

The signature project, now under construction, is Riverstone, with acres of commercial space and nearly 6,600 homes of various sizes across six themed districts, along Highway 41, best known to most Californians as a road to Yosemite. “The new-home community of Riverstone,” boasts one brochure, “will be a celebration of California living where people of every generation can enjoy the relaxed and informal spirit of the Golden State.”

Other developments in the pipeline—with names like Tesoro Viejo and Gunner Ranch—are supposed to offer a similar approach, and county officials say they are likely to be incorporated one day as the county’s third city (after Madera city and Chowchilla). These developments are close to river-adjacent Fresno County projects—like a town-size development near Friant Dam.

“This is going to be a new town and we have this opportunity with a blank canvas to do it right,” Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier recently told local television.

Much could go wrong. If the new river city doesn’t produce promised jobs and inspire better transit, the expanded development could fuel sprawl, add to air pollution, and turn Highway 41 into a traffic nightmare.

Successful regionalization will require outside help. The state’s climate change regime must prioritize infill development in central Fresno, so that the urban core isn’t weakened as people move to the new river city. The ongoing revival of Fresno’s downtown needs the added momentum of the state’s high-speed rail project, which is already under construction across Fresno County (a signature rail bridge is being built across the river, linking Madera and Fresno in another way).

Greater Fresno badly needs high-speed rail to provide connections to Northern California and Southern California, making it an affordable crossroads between two world-class regional economies.

And Fresno has a large population of undocumented immigrants who are desperate for legal status so they can advance themselves, and their region, economically.

You should not bet the farm on the grand project of turning greater Fresno into the next great region. But if Madera’s new development can inspire progress in that direction, the state would have reason to celebrate—and perhaps call the new river city Future Town, CA.

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The Myth of Untouched Wilderness That Gave Rise to Modern Miamihttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/12/myth-untouched-wilderness-gave-rise-modern-miami/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/12/myth-untouched-wilderness-gave-rise-modern-miami/ideas/essay/#comments Mon, 12 Feb 2018 08:01:18 +0000 By Andrew K. Frank http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=91134 Miami is widely known as the “Magic City.” It earned its nickname in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shortly after the arrival of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad and the opening of his opulent Royal Palm Hotel in 1897. Visitors from across the country were lured to this extravagant five-story hotel, at the edge of the nation’s southernmost frontier. From their vantage point, South Florida was the Wild West—and Miami could only exist if incoming settlers were able to tame it. And tame it they did. Miami’s population boomed, from roughly 300 in 1896 to nearly 30,000 in 1920. Onlookers marveled as the “metropolis” seemed to emerge overnight from the “wilderness.”

This legend, repeated for more than a century, blends truth with fiction, and reminds us that history is as much about forgetting as it is about remembering. Flagler and a woman named Julia Tuttle stand at the

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Miami is widely known as the “Magic City.” It earned its nickname in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shortly after the arrival of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad and the opening of his opulent Royal Palm Hotel in 1897. Visitors from across the country were lured to this extravagant five-story hotel, at the edge of the nation’s southernmost frontier. From their vantage point, South Florida was the Wild West—and Miami could only exist if incoming settlers were able to tame it. And tame it they did. Miami’s population boomed, from roughly 300 in 1896 to nearly 30,000 in 1920. Onlookers marveled as the “metropolis” seemed to emerge overnight from the “wilderness.”

This legend, repeated for more than a century, blends truth with fiction, and reminds us that history is as much about forgetting as it is about remembering. Flagler and a woman named Julia Tuttle stand at the center of the story: The importance of Flagler’s East Coast Railroad and Royal Palm Hotel led some residents to propose naming the city after him, and he is often depicted as the city’s “father.” Tuttle, a businesswoman who lured Flagler to Miami and otherwise promoted the region during the 1890s, earned the title of “Mother of Miami.” But Tuttle and Flagler did not create something out of nothing. On the contrary, Tuttle’s home and Flagler’s hotel stood precisely where earlier settlers had already left indelible marks over 2,000 years of continuous occupation.

These Miamians included Tequesta Indians who lived in the area for more than 1,500 years, and Spanish missionaries who tried to convert them; African enslaved persons tasked with turning the land into sugar fields, who instead created orchards of fruit trees; Seminole Indians who came to trade and harvest the local bounty, and U.S. soldiers who waged a war to exterminate them; and a continuous stream of Bahamian mariners, fugitive soldiers from various armies, and shipwrecked sailors. These earlier generations have been forgotten largely because Tuttle and Flagler were master illusionists who engaged in a combination of physical sleight of hand and intellectual misdirection. Rather than create something out of nothing, they built upon the storied history that preceded them—and then helped others forget it.

Julia Tuttle, widely known as the Mother of Miami. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/29793>State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Tuttle clearly knew that she was not the first occupant of her waterfront property. Recently widowed, she relocated in 1891 from Cleveland to the mouth of the Miami River on Biscayne Bay, where she worked tenaciously to promote the region as a commercial and agricultural opportunity. Tuttle moved into a 19th-century plantation house that had been built by enslaved Africans in the early 1830s, and constantly referred to it as “Fort Dallas,” which had been the name given to it when it was turned into a military outpost during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Tuttle’s property contained a man-made well, a stone wall, and several gravestones. There was a decades-old road that connected her home to the community on the New River—today’s Fort Lauderdale—and elsewhere up the Atlantic coast.

Still, despite all this evidence of earlier occupation, Tuttle declared to all who would listen that she was a founder of a new community. In words that would be widely repeated, she explained her ambitions. “It may seem strange to you but it is the dream of my life to see this wilderness turned into a prosperous country,” she wrote. One day, she hoped, “where this tangled mass of vine brush, trees and rocks now are to see homes with modern improvements surrounded by beautiful grassy lawns, flowers, shrubs and shade trees.” Tuttle wanted to “settle” a place that had been settled for centuries and turn it into an agricultural or commercial entrepôt.

James Henry Ingraham, president of the South Florida Railroad Company of the Plant System, was but one of the newcomers she impressed. Ingraham proclaimed that Tuttle had “shown a great deal of energy and enterprise in this frontier country where it is almost a matter of creation to accomplish so much in so short a time.” But his description of Tuttle’s efforts, too, revealed the preexisting history that made her successful. Tuttle, he wrote, “converted [Fort Dallas] into a dwelling house after being renovated and repaired with the addition of a kitchen, etc. The barracks … is used as office and sleeping rooms.” Despite her “improvement … on hammock land which fringes the river and bay,” Ingraham explained, the natural world remained largely untamed. “Lemon and lime trees,” which were planted by the earlier waves of Spanish, Bahamian, and American occupants, “are growing wild all through the uncleared hammock.” Ingraham, Tuttle, and others knew that citrus was not native to South Florida. Their claims about untamed wilderness were disingenuous.

Tuttle ignored evidence of the ancient Indian world that surrounded her. Like others of her generation, she recorded the presence of several large man-made mounds and shell middens in the area. Some were ancient burial sites or ceremonial centers, and others were basically landfills, built from generations of discarded shellfish and tools. They were all constructed by the Tequesta Indians, who had first settled the waterfront site 2,000 years earlier and lived there into the 17th century, when they attracted the unwanted attention of slave raiders, Spanish missionaries, and others moving in. Tuttle, like others who declared themselves to be on the frontier, deemed the Indian past to be inconsequential to the development that would follow.

With Tuttle engaged in acts of intellectual misdirection, Flagler and his construction crews took care of the physical destruction. Flagler, like most Gilded Age industrialists, is more typically associated with building than with razing. He earned his fame for helping found Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller in 1870 and then creating Florida’s modern tourist industry with his railroad and luxury hotels in St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and elsewhere along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Tuttle lured Flagler to Miami with gifts of orange blossoms after a brutal frost had destroyed the citrus crop in central Florida, and clinched the deal by dividing her property on the Miami River with him.

Tuttle and Flagler were master illusionists who engaged in a combination of physical sleight of hand and intellectual misdirection.

In 1896, Flagler’s laborers at the mouth of the river leveled the ancient Tequesta mounds that stood in the way of progress. They were unabashedly brutal about it. One of the workers noted that a burial mound “stood out like a small mountain, twenty to twenty-five feet above water” and “about one hundred feet long and seventy feet wide.” Flagler’s African American workers struggled to remove “a poison tree” that grew on the top of the mound, as it “would knock them cold.” Those workers “who were not allergic to it” leveled the mound, uncovering and hastily removing “between fifty and sixty skulls.” One of the workers took home the bones, “stored them away in barrels and gave away a great many … to anyone that wanted them.” When construction ended, he dumped the remaining skeletons “nearby where there was a big hole in the ground.” Another bayside mound was hidden behind a “great tangle of briars and wild lime trees.” The midden materials from these and other mounds were strewn across the property, becoming the foundation for Henry Flagler’s opulent Royal Palm Hotel.

The city of Miami incorporated in July 1896, a bit more than a year after the railroad reached the site of the Royal Palm Hotel. Thanks to the vision of Tuttle and marketing genius of Flagler and others, Miami quickly became a tourist destination. City boosters built roads and canals, plotted new communities, constructed man-made beaches, and established new civic organizations. The real estate boom that followed incorporation pushed the residential community out from the mouth of the river and in only a couple of decades turned the small town into a bustling city. Tuttle died in 1898 and Flagler in 1916, but their collective imprint on Miami survived the hurricane of 1926, even as it destroyed the Royal Palm Hotel and temporarily slowed the city’s growth during the Depression. Miami remained a city committed to reimagining the future rather than one interested in celebrating the past.

Tuttle and Flagler shared an illusion that they were settling untouched wilderness—even as they were surrounded by evidence of earlier occupation. In this way, their story is no different than those of settlers across the continent whose shared myth of the frontier allowed them to ignore the history that preceded them. In the 1880s, the frontier was a fairly simple but magical idea: It allowed white Americans to ignore the ancient history of Native America. The myth of the frontier—that pervasive and most-American idea—allowed Tuttle and others in Miami to see “unclaimed lands” in the United States as an untapped and disappearing resource, and to imagine that white American ingenuity transformed wilderness into civilization.

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Could These Four ‘Lady Bird’ Sequels Save Sacramento?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/12/four-lady-bird-sequels-save-sacramento/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/12/four-lady-bird-sequels-save-sacramento/inquiries/connecting-california/#comments Mon, 12 Feb 2018 08:01:01 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=91125 Here’s the good news in Sacramento: “Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age film set in Sacramento—and written and directed by the California capital’s own Greta Gerwig—has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.

Here’s the better news for Sacramento: Gerwig, having achieved such success with her directorial debut, says she will make three more films about her hometown.

“I would like to make a quartet of films in Sacramento,” Gerwig, told the Sacramento Bee. “I have three more before the quartet is done.”

What will these films be about? No one, perhaps not even Gerwig herself, knows. But Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is a semi-autobiographical story: Gerwig grew up in East Sacramento and attended local schools, like the lead character, a teenager who names herself Lady Bird. The story is grounded in the real experiences, places, and challenges of California’s capital. So it’s possible that Gerwig might do for 21st-century

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Here’s the good news in Sacramento: “Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age film set in Sacramento—and written and directed by the California capital’s own Greta Gerwig—has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.

Here’s the better news for Sacramento: Gerwig, having achieved such success with her directorial debut, says she will make three more films about her hometown.

“I would like to make a quartet of films in Sacramento,” Gerwig, told the Sacramento Bee. “I have three more before the quartet is done.”

What will these films be about? No one, perhaps not even Gerwig herself, knows. But Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is a semi-autobiographical story: Gerwig grew up in East Sacramento and attended local schools, like the lead character, a teenager who names herself Lady Bird. The story is grounded in the real experiences, places, and challenges of California’s capital. So it’s possible that Gerwig might do for 21st-century Sacramento what Woody Allen and Spike Lee did for late 20th-century New York: give it defining narratives.

Sacramento badly needs such a narrative, because, since its founding 150 years ago, it’s been an enigma and not in a good way. The puzzle is: Why is a place with so many advantages—including beautiful rivers, a sophisticated state government, and the proximity of world-leading agriculture and the Bay Area—such a persistent disappointment? The city lags in economic growth, jobs, access to health care, and educational attainment.

Hopefully, Gerwig’s next films will explore Sacramento’s challenges, and inspire reflection and action. “Lady Bird” actually does this in its main plotline, which is set in the early 2000s. This creative and brainy teenager—so disappointed with Sacramento’s second-tier cultural and higher-education offerings that she calls it “the Midwest of California”—schemes to leave for an elite private college in New York, even though her family can’t afford it.

Such departures are all too common in Sacramento, which has a relatively low rate of college graduates. The capital region ranked 58th—and behind Albany, New York—out of 102 American metro areas in one survey of educational attainment.

Given the potential for Gerwig’s future Sacramento films to surface other problems, I—in the spirit of public service and artistic inspiration—hereby offer the Oscar-nominated director and her production my own abridged treatments for four sequels to the critically acclaimed “Lady Bird.”

(I also wish Gerwig’s team better luck in securing a state production tax credit for her future films than she had with “Lady Bird,” which lost out in the subsidies race to something called Save the Cat.)

Sacramento Film 1: “Lady Bird Gets Her Tree”

After graduating from college and getting her MFA, a homesick Lady Bird, in her late 20s, moves back in with her parents in River Park in 2013, and spends her first six months visiting local coffee shops to figure out which one best fits her aura. She chooses Old Soul, where she meets a poor artist from South Sacramento (Michael B. Jordan).

When Lady Bird’s financially struggling parents cash out at the top of the real estate market and retire to Texas, the young couple struggles to find a place they can afford. They end up paying more than $1,500 a month for a tiny one-bedroom in Oak Park, but quickly fall behind on rent because the only jobs they can find are driving for Lyft and waiting tables at the Shady Lady Saloon. In 2018, they try to start a business selling marijuana-infused edibles, but the city won’t give them a permit to work out of their apartment.

In the third act, their landlord evicts them so he can rent to richer Bay Area refugees, and Lady Bird and her beau relocate to the homeless encampment along the American River. They make do there until heavy rains wash away their belongings. When all appears to be lost, Lady Bird, always proud of Sacramento’s dense tree canopy, decides to build a treehouse in a maple in West Sacramento, and the pro-growth council in that small city lets her keep it.

Sacramento Film 2: “Lady Bird Returns: Hired Liar”

In this genre-bending black comedy, Lady Bird returns from her East Coast education to snag a low-level staff job in the Capitol. After years of fending off lecherous legislators, she becomes a lobbyist, working for interest groups that support education and children’s programs.

She quickly discovers that the legislature and governor don’t care about children—and are eager to cut kids’ programs to fund things that matter to adults. Then, in a horror movie turn, she learns that millions of California children are imprisoned in a secret underground city beneath the Capitol. Dutifully, she reports this to Sacramento journalists, but there are only three left, and they are too busy filing online updates to stories about the latest California clash with Trump to cover the captives.

Lady Bird falls into despair. But then she meets a wealthy and witty telecommunications lobbyist, who is a British-born graduate of Stanford (Tom Hiddleston). They carry out a torrid love affair in the sorts of out-of-town places favored by rich Sacramentans—his pied-à-terre in San Francisco and his rustic chateau in Tahoe. She decides she likes the fine life, and becomes a lobbyist for developer Angelo Tsakopolous.

In the concluding scene, the couple feed each other hyper-local nachos in a luxury box at the Kings basketball game at Golden One Center. When he drops to one knee to propose at halftime, she is overcome with emotion, but manages to say:

“Yes, on one condition. Promise me we’ll never have children. Because the schools here suck.”

Sacramento Film 3: “Lady Bird in the Swamp”

After drinking too much craft beer and eating a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cup at the state fair, Lady Bird becomes disoriented on her way home and drives into the Delta. Caught in unseasonably thick Tule fog, her car goes into a slough.

She’s rescued by an improbably handsome seventh-generation pear farmer (Chris Pine), who nurses her back to health and makes her his wife. The film becomes a climate change pastoral, as Lady Bird observes the worsening cycles of flood and drought in the swamp, struggles with subsidence, and takes on the difficult DIY job of putting her home on stilts.

But then, when all seems lovely, mysterious engineers appear on the property, interrupting her Delta idyll. The state and powerful local water agencies are secretly drilling an underground water tunnel that was abandoned after a court fight long ago.

In a final act straight out of “Erin Brockovich,” Lady Bird investigates and even takes a bus to L.A. for a dramatic confrontation with the head of the Metropolitan Water District, who appears to be a zombie. But when the tunneling continues, she returns home and digs a hole that puts her body in front of the tunneling machine. She is killed, but so is the water tunnel project. Finally.

Sacramento Film 4: “Lady Bird Versus the Apocalypse”

Yes, Gerwig is only doing three more films, but I’m sure her agent will want her to do a bigger payday action film—set in Sacramento, of course.

In 2050, years after her death in the Delta tunnel, new technology brings Lady Bird back as a part-human-part-machine cyborg. She settles happily in Sacramento—until a Pineapple Express system arrives and rains over the city for months, leading to the collapse of levees and the complete flooding of her hometown.

Searching for higher ground, she heads first to the foothills, but a vigilante squad of gun-toting locals shoots at her and other city refugees, because they vote too Democratic. So, after building a raft from old wood furniture, she heads west across the flood waters to Davis. There, NIMBYs express sympathy for Sacramento’s dispossessed but refuse to accept the refugees, saying they cannot possibly support any more development.

Out of options, Lady Bird swims through the floodwaters south to downtown Stockton, where she takes shelter in the abandoned federal building. Inside, she discovers an old, rugged man who is also part machine (Harrison Ford). He takes her on his catamaran back to Sacramento, where they restore order and kick some serious butt.

After that, everything is OK in California’s capital.

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We Can Thank New York City for Trumphttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/06/can-thank-new-york-city-trump/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/02/06/can-thank-new-york-city-trump/ideas/essay/#comments Tue, 06 Feb 2018 08:01:35 +0000 by Mitchell L. Moss http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=90951 Only one person born and raised in New York City has been elected President of the United States during the past 100 years: Donald J. Trump.

Although Teddy Roosevelt won in 1904 (having acceded to the presidency after President William McKinley was assassinated), most successful politicians from New York City failed when they ran for president. This list includes Al Smith, Tom Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, and Rudy Giuliani.

By contrast, Donald Trump never made it in New York City’s business, cultural, or civic world. He’s neither rich enough to compete with multi-billionaires like Bloomberg, nor generous enough to qualify for the boards of cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the city’s leading medical centers. In New York, you’re known for how much you give to museums or hospitals, not how much you have; New York tolerates any behavior but not intolerance and racism; and in a city

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Only one person born and raised in New York City has been elected President of the United States during the past 100 years: Donald J. Trump.

Although Teddy Roosevelt won in 1904 (having acceded to the presidency after President William McKinley was assassinated), most successful politicians from New York City failed when they ran for president. This list includes Al Smith, Tom Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, and Rudy Giuliani.

By contrast, Donald Trump never made it in New York City’s business, cultural, or civic world. He’s neither rich enough to compete with multi-billionaires like Bloomberg, nor generous enough to qualify for the boards of cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the city’s leading medical centers. In New York, you’re known for how much you give to museums or hospitals, not how much you have; New York tolerates any behavior but not intolerance and racism; and in a city of loudmouth mayors like Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s mouth was a minor leaguer. In a city with 400 million square feet of commercial office space, having your name on a bunch of hotels and golf clubs does not mean much. That’s why he had to run for president: Almost no one admired or deferred to him in New York City.

And he never went out of his way to pay attention to the city and its tragedies either. In fact, he had never even gone to the September 11 Memorial until the 2016 campaign when he invoked the 2001 attack to criticize his Republican nominee rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

To understand how Trump emerged from New York City, and why he succeeded so well outside it, we must start in the borough of Queens. From the moment of his birth, Trump was an outsider, the son of an outer borough real estate developer. He was born in the Jamaica Medical Center, not a high-prestige Manhattan hospital, and he was a resident of Queens, not a wealthy Manhattanite.

One of the five boroughs that make up New York City, Queens is a collection of self-contained communities, not a coherent jurisdiction. Queens’ reputation for detachment was famously established 50 years ago when Kitty Genovese was killed while her neighbors ignored her cries for help. It’s notable that the 1960s primetime television program that established Queens’ identity was “All in the Family,” a hit sitcom featuring the working-class anti-hero, Archie Bunker.

Queens lacks the swagger of Brooklyn, which was once a separate city, or the spirit of Staten Island, which is part of New York City politically but culturally closer to New Jersey. And it’s a world away from the grittiness of The Bronx, which, despite hosting the Yankees, is also home to the poorest congressional district in the nation (and the nation’s largest wholesale produce market).

Today, Queens is best known as the home of the U.S. Open, Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports, and the New York Mets, who never fail to find a way to fail. But it has a history of producing memorable personalities, among them Nancy Reagan, Martin Scorsese, Paul Simon, Cindy Lauper, Russell Simmons, and Harvey Weinstein. The most prominent residents of Queens, when Trump was growing up, were African Americans: Malcolm X, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Ralph Bunche.

Trump was not even elite in Queens. He went to the undistinguished Kew-Forest School and then attended the New York Military Academy, rather than the nationally ranked Jamaica High School located near his home. Trump, whose father was of German descent and mother was a Scottish immigrant, lacked the pedigree, money, or education to gain entry into fancier circles.

Trump’s father, Fred Trump, a real estate developer, lived in what was designed to be a gated, very white, insular enclave: Jamaica Estates, Queens. The Trumps didn’t live in either of the two higher-status neighborhoods of Queens: Forest Hills Gardens, well-known for its restrictions barring Jewish or African American homeowners, or Douglaston, adjacent to the Long Island Sound waterfront, where John McEnroe was raised.

Trump had a bigger handicap in the form of his heritage. Fred Trump, who built middle-income housing in Brooklyn and Queens, had been arrested in 1927 at a KKK protest rally in Queens, according to The New York Times. (The German Bund met regularly in Ridgewood, Queens, where pro-Nazis subsequently opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt for supporting Britain in its war against Hitler.)

Since World War II, a German heritage has been a liability for prospective politicians in New York. In fact, the current mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, was born Warren Wilhelm, Jr., and was called Bill Wilhelm before he legally changed his name to Bill de Blasio, adopting his mother’s maiden name as his own just in time to run for city council.

Trump then missed out on two opportunities that would have expanded his exposure to other cultural groups. Although of age for military service during the Vietnam War, he successfully avoided the draft with four deferments—and one medical deferment after college.

[Trump’s] failure to make it into the upper echelon of New York’s business community is what drove him to run for president.

He also entered adulthood just as white Protestants were declining in status and power in New York City. With the end of fixed commissions on Wall Street, and the advent of new information technologies, financial services became a competitive industry where brains replaced bloodlines. Instead of a Wall Street job, Trump graduated from college and returned to work in the family real estate business.

As an ambitious young man, Trump found himself in the outer boroughs, which were, until recently, the minor leagues for real estate developers. Trump made the leap into Manhattan by using his father’s political connections and his own impressive negotiating skills to get control of the aging Commodore Hotel located next to Grand Central Terminal. With financing from the Hyatt Corporation, and a generous tax abatement from the city and state, Trump Tower was built in the 1980s, at 56th Street and Fifth Avenue, a prime Manhattan location. Today, it is best known as the Trump family version of Buckingham Palace.

But these real estate successes were not followed by integration into the city. Trump couldn’t fit in, and he never actually owned many properties—he was focused far more on licensing his name, and attaching them to buildings, like a barbarian marking what he had seized.

Trump never became a member of the Real Estate Board of New York, the leading organization of property owners in New York City. And the city’s major law firms and real estate consulting firms were reluctant to work for Trump, since he is known for not paying his bills. Most of the major commercial banks in New York refused to finance his real estate projects, especially once they became aware of his propensity to use bankruptcy laws to protect whatever money he had earned from projects, while hurting investors.

In New York City, Trump, like any interloper, did take advantage of the tools available to him. Specifically, he manipulated the Manhattan-based mass media to create a national identity as a celebrity. Trump’s success was thus built more by maintaining a high profile in New York media, and then through national TV, as host of NBC’s The Apprentice, for 25 years, than by business acumen.

The New York City tabloid newspapers loved to feature Trump, in stories about his three marriages and his calls for proof of President Obama’s birth. The front page of the New York Post is the equivalent of a daily billboard, which the local radio and television news programs treat as raw material for their evening programs. Trump was a master at getting the New York Post to cover his words, his wives, and his fights with Ed Koch and Barack Obama. He became famous as someone New Yorkers loved to ridicule.

Trump didn’t care about being right or smart or ethical, only about being known. In 1989, he took out $85,000 in full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty after five young African American men were arrested for attacking the Central Park jogger. The charges against them were ultimately dismissed.

But the image and attitudes that made him unacceptable to most of New York City were precisely what Republican Party voters valued in 2016. (It’s worth noting that Trump even lost Manhattan, his home county, to Ohio Governor John Kasich, in the 2016 presidential primary.)

Trump’s is hardly an accidental presidency. In fact, his failure to make it into the upper echelon of New York’s business community is what drove him to run for president. The kid from Queens made it across the East River into Manhattan but he never absorbed the values of New Yorkers and the importance of immigration, global trade, higher education, and the free press. Trump’s presidency is actually based on a rejection of “New York values.”

But his career assaulting the political and cultural elites of New York taught him one lesson: Even a bad bully can have a fan club; you can succeed in life without being housebroken.

News reports now have him marveling that New Yorkers who once wouldn’t give him the time of day—like the former Goldman Sachs chieftain Gary Cohn—now work for him.

In light of his history, the Trump campaign promise to “take back America” was more than an empty slogan. It’s a genuine reflection of his inability to fit into the cultural and economic arena of New York City where he was never recognized as a person of consequence.

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How Prince Introduced Us to the “Minneapolis Sound”http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/09/07/prince-introduced-us-minneapolis-sound/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/09/07/prince-introduced-us-minneapolis-sound/ideas/nexus/#comments Thu, 07 Sep 2017 07:01:10 +0000 By Rashad Shabazz http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87755 The pop music genius Prince Rogers Nelson, better known to most of us as Prince, made his national television debut on American Bandstand in 1980. Performing “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” his first big hit in the United States, he gave the country its first taste of the Minneapolis Sound, an infectious blend of rock, R&B, funk, and New Wave that would become a significant force in American pop music during the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s. An astounded Dick Clark, struggling to interview the shy singer and guitarist after the performance, told Prince the music he played was “not the kind of music that comes out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

Clark had it all wrong: This was exactly the kind of music people played in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Sound, which influenced musicians from Janet Jackson to Sheila E., has come to be practically synonymous with Prince, thanks to his classic

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What It Means to Be American The pop music genius Prince Rogers Nelson, better known to most of us as Prince, made his national television debut on American Bandstand in 1980. Performing “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” his first big hit in the United States, he gave the country its first taste of the Minneapolis Sound, an infectious blend of rock, R&B, funk, and New Wave that would become a significant force in American pop music during the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s. An astounded Dick Clark, struggling to interview the shy singer and guitarist after the performance, told Prince the music he played was “not the kind of music that comes out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

Clark had it all wrong: This was exactly the kind of music people played in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Sound, which influenced musicians from Janet Jackson to Sheila E., has come to be practically synonymous with Prince, thanks to his classic songs such as “Little Red Corvette,” “Erotic City,” and “Kiss.” But although Prince was its high priest, he was not its author. The Minneapolis Sound was bigger than one diminutive, enigmatic, driven-genius kid from the city’s north side. It was the offspring of ambitious school-based music training put in place by polka-loving European settlers, and the prodigious talents of a small group of black musicians who migrated to the area during the first half of the 20th century. It had been brewing in the small, easily-forgotten black section of a vanilla city for decades. It was the result of a cultural accommodation that was characteristic of the Twin Cities’ unusual ethno-musical heritage, a mix of styles that its vastly outnumbered black musicians—Prince and others—turned to spectacular advantage.

The story began with the region’s first outsiders: Europeans from Norway, Sweden, and Germany, and whites from northeastern U.S. states who poured into St. Paul and Minneapolis in the middle of the 19th century. They were pulled by cheap land and milling jobs on the banks of the Mississippi River, and they displaced the native peoples in the area. By the close of the 19th century, Minneapolis had grown into a sizable city of more than 200,000, one New Deal-era study of the region estimated.

White Minnesotans loved polka music, which borrowed from European folk traditions. Pennsylvania governor and 1964 presidential hopeful William Scranton and his wife courted Republican delegates from the state by dancing the polka. Photo by Paul Vathis/Associated Press.

These Europeans who settled in Minneapolis brought their folk music traditions with them. The musical migration could not have happened at a better time, or in a better place. Early Minnesotans had always placed a high value on music. Ethnic folk music, orchestras, early ragtime, minstrels, brass bands, and vaudeville all were part of Minneapolis’s early music tradition. By the turn of the 20th century, the city had the state’s first symphony orchestra, and boasted numerous music venues that attracted performances by the country’s best musicians.

Polka made its appearance during this time. A combination of different European folk musical traditions, polka or “pulka,” which is Czech for “half-step,” originated in eastern and central Europe in the 1820s, spreading throughout the continent by the 1830s and then, with migration, into the United States. It took hold in northeastern cities and in the upper midwest, as European migrants moved west (the “Polka Belt”), taking up regional variations along the way. Americans loved polka’s energy and vitality, and the ways it connected them to the Old World they missed.

The music thrived in Minneapolis—and inspired a strong commitment to musical education. Around the turn of the 20th century, city leaders institutionalized the town’s love of music through its schools. All public school students in Minneapolis were trained in voice, instrumentation, and music reading. The Minneapolis board of education said the intent was to increase “participation and appreciation of music,” and to provide poor and working class immigrants and their children with the tools to play, read, and write music. This had the effect of keeping alive the folk music traditions that Europeans had brought with them to the state, and would breathe life into the growing polka scene.

The Minneapolis Sound, which Prince and his band The Revolution popularized in the 1980s, was a blend of white and black musical styles. Here, in 1985, the musicians accepted the American Music Award for best single for “When Doves Cry,” in Los Angeles. Photo by Doug Pizac/Associated Press.

But it wasn’t just polka that benefited: Free music education also helped young Prince to lay the groundwork for the Minneapolis Sound. His family, like the European immigrants who invented polka, didn’t have the money to pay for musical instruments or lessons. But with the public schools providing these resources, Prince spent every second he could in his high school’s music room, practicing multiple instruments, honing his sound, and making demos.

Minneapolis’s polka love provided a perfect entry point for wildly creative black musicians like Prince in another way, too: by forcing them to mix with white culture in ways their brethren in other cities never had to. Black people have lived in Minnesota since before the state was founded. Blacks from Canada traded with Native Americans in the 19th century, and slaves (both slaves and escaped former slaves) also were a presence in the state. The first free black settlement in Minnesota was founded along the banks of the Mississippi in 1857, and in the years after abolition, migration increased. Minnesota’s growing liberalism and the state’s willingness to enfranchise black men sent a signal to many that they would be treated fairly in the northern metropolis.

Still, there were never very many black people in the area. Between 1880 and 1930, the black population in Minnesota grew from a negligible 362 to a still tiny 4,276. African Americans made up just 1 percent of the population in 1930; even when Prince was born, in 1958, the percentage of the state’s black population remained in the single digits. (It’s no wonder that the comedian Chris Rock joked in the 1990s that only two black people lived in Minnesota: Prince and Hall of Fame baseball player Kirby Puckett.)

But their small numbers didn’t diminish the impact that blacks had on the music scene—rather, it may have amplified it. While white Minnesotans played their polkas, black music migrated up the Mississippi, with minstrel shows, ragtime, jazz, and the blues all gaining enthusiastic, if small, followings in Minneapolis. Black musicians started thinking of the city as a place where they could live and thrive. Early black musical migrants included Lester “Pres” Young, the talented tenor saxophonist, and the jazz pianist James Samuel “Cornbread” Harris, II (whose son, Jimmy “Jam” Harris, became a well-known R&B songwriter and producer and an important figure in the popularization of the Minneapolis Sound).

Prince’s Yellow Cloud Electric Guitar, 1989. Image courtesy of the Division of Culture and the Arts, National Museum of American History.

Others followed. The parents of producer Terry Lewis (Jimmy “Jam”s’ musical partner), and those of guitarist Dez Dickerson (who played with Prince’s band, the Revolution), migrated to the Twin Cities during this same period. Prince’s parents made the journey too: Mattie Shaw, a singer, and John R. Nelson, a composer and pianist, both moved up from Louisiana in the 1940s. They met through Minneapolis’s small but vibrant black music scene, also known as the “chitterling circuit,” in the 1950s. Like many black migrants, they landed in North Minneapolis, a formerly Jewish area, where Prince was born and raised.

Because the black music scene in Minneapolis was so tiny, black musicians who hoped to make a living by performing played for white audiences whenever possible. Segregation reinforced the musical color line, with most white audiences wanting to hear classical music, jazz standards, polka, or pop music. Black musicians learned to accommodate them, and developed a vast musical range. Cornbread Harris, for example, learned to play “polkas, mambas, salsas, and calypsos,” says Prince biographer Dave Hill. Black musicians’ virtuosity expanded their own community’s musical vocabulary, melding a new family of sounds into the jazz, blues, and R&B they played for black listeners.

Prince’s generation followed the pattern. In the early 1970s, when Prince was a teenager, the numbers of black people in Minneapolis were still “small enough to be ignored,” according to Hill, and white pop music continued to dominate. Prince was schooled in black musical forms like R&B, funk, and soul, but there was still only one small, low-frequency black radio station, so he and his contemporaries also listened to rock and folk artists such as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell.

Lester Young, 1958. Photo by Herman Leonard. Courtesy of Herman Leonard Photographs, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Prince’s unique virtuosity made it possible for him to forge a new style from the wide variety of white and black genres that he and his city loved. Even as a high school student, he could hear a song in his head and translate it to sound. He played several instruments by ear, including guitar, piano, drums, and bass guitar. He coolly mimicked masters like Carlos Santana note for note. Folk influences like Dylan and Mitchell course through Prince’s work with his first band, Grand Central, which played rock-tinged funk and soul. By the mid-’70s, punk, indie rock, and New Wave—the music that floated around the “vanilla market” in the city at the time—had filtered into his recordings, too. This musical collage is apparent on Prince’s first album, For You, which was less a commercial release and more a statement of what the young musician could do: Minneapolis Sound lite, with flares of the sexually provocative lyrics for which he would become famous.

By the time Prince recorded his third album, 1980’s Dirty Mind, he had refined the sound. Instead of showcasing his ability to play multiple instruments and diverse musical tastes, as his first release had, Dirty Mind showed Prince’s ability to blend his influences to create an entirely new sound. It was a giant leap creatively. Hailed by critics as a landmark, Dirty Mind put Prince and the Minneapolis Sound on the map. Songs like “when you were mine,” “Partyup,” and “Uptown” (an ode to the bohemian Minneapolis neighborhood that Prince identified with), were punk-funk music, incorporating heavy New Wave and rock overtures smoothed out with R&B. Erotically-charged songs like “Head,” “Dirty Mind,” and “Sister” shocked—and delighted—listeners and critics alike. Rolling Stone said the album was “a pop record of Rabelaisian achievement,” and music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it a “stunning, audacious amalgam of funk, new wave, R&B, and pop, fueled by grinningly salacious sex and the desire to shock” that “set the style for much of the urban soul and funk of the early ’80s.”

The press anointed Prince the next Jimi Hendrix—the new black rock royalty for the ’80s. In fact, he was more than that. Mining the sounds that reverberated in his unique corner of America, from polka to punk, Prince forged a style that was just right—in spite of, or perhaps because of, its oddball roots in black and white culture. Over the next three decades, Prince released dozens of albums and stored away enough recordings to release two or more albums a year for a century. His was a singular talent, of a sort we’re unlikely to see again. But without Minneapolis’s crazy musical mixture in his past, he might have remained only a prince, instead of becoming an emperor.

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What Riding Trains Taught Me About Americanshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/17/riding-trains-taught-americans/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/17/riding-trains-taught-americans/ideas/nexus/#comments Thu, 17 Aug 2017 07:01:45 +0000 By James McCommons http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87511 Amos, a one-legged Amish man, was having trouble with his new prosthesis. He left the leg in his sleeping compartment and came to the diner on crutches—a hazardous ambulation on a moving train.

Because Amish do not buy health insurance nor take Medicare or Social Security, he rode The Southwest Chief from Chicago to California and went to Mexico to see a doctor. He paid cash for the leg in Tijuana.

“A van picked us up at border and took us to a clinic,” he told me. “They have everything down there.”

Now he was eastbound, crossing the treeless high plains of eastern Colorado. Amos stared out at the sagebrush and sighed, “I just want to be back on the farm. I don’t suppose you know anything about feeder calves, do you?”

I knew enough to make conversation, and by the time dessert arrived, I had learned how to finish,

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What It Means to Be American Amos, a one-legged Amish man, was having trouble with his new prosthesis. He left the leg in his sleeping compartment and came to the diner on crutches—a hazardous ambulation on a moving train.

Because Amish do not buy health insurance nor take Medicare or Social Security, he rode The Southwest Chief from Chicago to California and went to Mexico to see a doctor. He paid cash for the leg in Tijuana.

“A van picked us up at border and took us to a clinic,” he told me. “They have everything down there.”

Now he was eastbound, crossing the treeless high plains of eastern Colorado. Amos stared out at the sagebrush and sighed, “I just want to be back on the farm. I don’t suppose you know anything about feeder calves, do you?”

I knew enough to make conversation, and by the time dessert arrived, I had learned how to finish, or fatten, a calf with corn.

I’ve ridden Amtrak since college, and, in recent years, logged nearly 100,000 miles researching and promoting a book on rail policy. Dinner with Amos was one of my more remarkable encounters. But it wasn’t entirely unusual. During meals in the diner, where Amtrak practices community seating, Americans who might never otherwise encounter one another sit face to face at tables and break bread.

All mass transit brings Americans together, of course. When we travel, the self-segregation we otherwise practice—by race, income, education, politics, culture, religion, class, or political tribe—evaporates. But a train is special. Unlike a 20-minute commute on a city bus or subway, or an airline flight in the cramped seat of a fuselage, a train requires the commitment of time and space. Passengers ride together for hours, even days, and during the journey have the liberty to move about, eat and drink, and socialize.

Trains also have an intimacy with landscape. Incapable of negotiating steep topography, they follow valleys, hug rivers and oceanfronts, and strike out across plains and desert basins. Train travel induces a sort of reverie—a hypnotic feeling of being adrift on the geography of America. Passengers, many of whom are seeing the country for the first time, marvel at its beauty, diversity, and exoticness. And those feelings carry over to an inclination to engage one another and embrace the same diversity within the rolling coaches.

So while I still fly on airplanes, if I can work a long-distance train into my travels, I get aboard. When I want to feel and hear the zeitgeist of America, I get on a train.

Early in the Great Recession, on The Empire Builder—running from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest—I encountered jobless men converging on North Dakota with just a few dollars in their pockets and the hope of work. In Williston, men who had arrived months earlier in the oil patch boarded the train to go home for a few days and see family before heading back to sprawling “man camps” erected by Halliburton.

A roughneck having a beer in the observation car told me a woman was arrested for prostitution the day before at his man camp.

“The cops called it a crime. It was a public service. Those man camps are tense.”

Observing America through train windows. Photo courtesy of James McCommons.

The train rolled past campers with no running water parked out on the frozen prairie and rigs flaring off natural gas-like colossal candles. The snow and sky shone red and apocalyptic.

He had not been home for weeks.

“There’s no place out here for a family. And my wife, she’s sick. She got the cancer.”

On The Sunset Limited in New Mexico, I chatted with a Texan returning home from Los Angeles after being checked over at Kaiser Permanente. He tapped his chest.

“A weird virus took out my heart muscle. Two years ago, I had a heart-lung transplant.”

We watched pronghorn antelope sprint away from the train and mule deer standing in dry washes.

When he got up, he clapped me on the shoulder, “Every day is a good one … remember that.”

Over the years, I’ve dined with school teachers, a deputy sheriff, a distraught widower, an apprentice mortician, a veterinarian recruiting for slaughterhouses, a priest who discovered the call in Vietnam, an aging movie star, and a wheezy 98-year-old who was a door gunner on a Flying Fortress. A woman at our table whose own father had been a POW in Germany said, “Thank you for your service.”

He seemed bemused: “It wasn’t my idea. I got drafted.”

In Everett, Washington, my train picked up a cocky young man who told us he had piloted gunships in Iraq and was taking the train to Wenatchee for the funeral of a comrade who had committed suicide. Someone bought him a beer. Years later in Kansas, I ate a steak with a huge man in his late 30s, straw-colored hair flaring out beneath an oily baseball cap. He was like a sheep dog gone feral. He’d been in the “special forces.”

Inwardly, I groaned. Is anyone just a grunt, a cook, or a clerk anymore?

“I got fragged over in the sandbox and had to get out. I’m six foot five and used to be 215. I could run forever,” he said. “After my wife left me, I let myself go.”

Over the years, I’ve dined with school teachers, a deputy sheriff, a distraught widower, an apprentice mortician, a veterinarian recruiting for slaughterhouses, a priest who discovered the call in Vietnam, an aging movie star, and a wheezy 98-year-old who was a door gunner on a Flying Fortress.

He laid natural gas pipeline in Oklahoma, lived in motels, ate Chinese and take-out pizza each night, and guzzled gallons of beer. Flush with money, he apparently lived a lonely, haunted life.

Always, I take late meal reservations so if my companion(s) are compelling, we can linger over coffee or a glass of wine. The dining car stewards are in no hurry to bus the tables and throw us out.

Not all meals are a pleasure. Teenagers remove their retainers at the table, young lovers speak only to one another, people text on their Smartphones, passengers come to the diner still wiping sleep from their eyes, and others have no filter for what passes as dinner conversation.

Leaving St. Louis, I met two sisters heading west to visit a son. The mom said, “He’s such a good boy, called me every day when my husband passed.” The boy had testicular cancer when he was 16 but had still impregnated his wife on two occasions. Unfortunately, the poor dear miscarried both times.

She prattled on and on. As my father used to quip, some people never come up for air. I gobbled my food and fled the car.

On The Coast Starlight outside Salinas, the owner of a restaurant in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles told me she was worried. There were Muslims on the train. “Are they in Michigan, too?”

Yes, I say. Muslims are urban homesteading blighted neighborhoods in Detroit. “They’re making a go of it there.”

“Michigan wants Muslims?”

I listen, nod, and try not to be judgmental or revealing. If the conversation grows intense or tedious, there is always the window and a “Hey look at that” as a way to change the subject.

We could be looking at a hillside of wind turbines in Iowa, iceboats racing on the Hudson River, dapper worshipers exiting a corrugated tin church in Mississippi, delinquent kids in New Jersey heaving rocks at the train, kudzu vines strangling telephone poles in Georgia, or homeless men huddled in cardboard shacks beneath I-5 in Seattle.

A train trip unspools in an endless stream of images and words. And if you listen well, you hear America.

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The Double Rise of an Iconic Cleveland Bakeryhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/07/18/the-double-rise-of-an-iconic-cleveland-bakery/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/07/18/the-double-rise-of-an-iconic-cleveland-bakery/ideas/nexus/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 21:45:51 +0000 By Archie Garner http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=75940 Cleveland is all too famous for a depressing kind of magic: the place can make businesses disappear.

But there are stories of renewal here, too. In 1992, the bakery chain that defined Northeastern Ohio became the latest business to close its doors. As it turned out, that wasn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of mine.

At its height, Hough (pronounced “Huff’s”) Bakery was a $25 million business with 1,000 employees and some 81,000 square feet in operating space spread over 30 locations across our region. Hough’s bakeries were beloved for their cakes, butter cookies, coconut chocolate bars, and “daffodil” cakes, all of them made from scratch and with top-quality ingredients, not mixes.

The business began with Lionel Archibald “Archie” Pile, who was born on August 29, 1879 in Barbados and immigrated to New York City, where his brothers lived, at age 21.

In 1902, Archie Pile moved

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Cleveland is all too famous for a depressing kind of magic: the place can make businesses disappear.

But there are stories of renewal here, too. In 1992, the bakery chain that defined Northeastern Ohio became the latest business to close its doors. As it turned out, that wasn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of mine.

At its height, Hough (pronounced “Huff’s”) Bakery was a $25 million business with 1,000 employees and some 81,000 square feet in operating space spread over 30 locations across our region. Hough’s bakeries were beloved for their cakes, butter cookies, coconut chocolate bars, and “daffodil” cakes, all of them made from scratch and with top-quality ingredients, not mixes.

The business began with Lionel Archibald “Archie” Pile, who was born on August 29, 1879 in Barbados and immigrated to New York City, where his brothers lived, at age 21.

In 1902, Archie Pile moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he also had relatives living. He worked at a local grocery store on Hough Avenue, earning $8 per week. After saving $57, Pile made a down payment on what would soon become the first location of Hough Bakery.

On May 25, 1903, Pile opened his doors for business on Hough Avenue. Shortly after, he fell in love with and married Kate Welker. Together, they raised their six children during World War I. As their family grew, Hough Bakery also prospered, despite the ensuing Great Depression. The Piles’ four sons eventually joined the family business, and by the 1950s they led the operation with their father’s wisdom.

Archie Pile and I share a first name, and a devotion to quality baking. I was born in 1948 in Wildwood, Tennessee and grew up under the care of my grandmother. There were very few black families in the small rural area. As a young child without many other children to play with, I would watch my grandmother as she baked and helped out whenever she allowed me to. Seeing her make breads, biscuits, and pies fascinated me, and planted a seed that would eventually grow.

I visited relatives in Cleveland every summer and decided to move there in 1966, after I graduated high school. Once I arrived, I knew several people who worked at Hough Bakery, and they were able to help me get a job.

Customers form a line outside of a Hough Bakery in 1945.

Customers form a line outside of a Hough Bakery in 1945.

My first position was in the sanitation department. As a black person, it was difficult to rise in rank and join the bakery’s production team. I was denied advancement and told I needed more experience—the very experience they were denying me. After I filed a grievance with the union, the Pile family became aware of my situation and immediately promoted me up to production. This was where my passion for baking reignited, and from that point on, I was unstoppable.

The bakers were very temperamental, and wouldn’t teach everything they knew right away. I had to gain the confidence of the two head bakers. So while one baker was off, I would tell the other one working how much more talented he was. Doing that with both bakers led to them teaching me secrets they wouldn’t ordinarily teach anyone.

After working in various departments, I finally landed my dream job as one of the head bakers in the Specialty Bakery department, a.k.a. the Swedish department. It had gotten its name from an old Swedish baker who worked there and who wrote most of his recipes in Swedish. When he left, it was a nightmare trying to translate his work, which helped the name stick around. The department handled all large-scale catering orders as well as any special requests that customers might have.

This was the department that handled the millionaires; we catered all of Bob Hope’s birthday parties back in the ’70s and ’80s. The largest dessert I created was a brownie cheesecake topped with fruit for an event at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, which served approximately 3,000 guests.

Shortly after the Canton party, Hough Bakery closed. The chain had become so large that when the economy took a turn for the worse, it couldn’t maintain. The original owners sold the brand to a Wisconsin company that promised to retain all our employees, but was ultimately unable to do so. They began to consolidate locations, and eventually the whole operation went bankrupt.

It came as a shock that August day, as we discovered our loss of employment on the six o’clock news. The labor union called a meeting for the remaining 400 employees. They wanted to assist us, but the local baking industry could not absorb that many jobs.

I had the idea to reopen Hough Bakery as an employee-owned company, which led to many meetings and the formation of committees. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t raise the capital needed to move forward. The assets of Hough Bakery were then sold in bankruptcy court. Kraft Foods bought the bakery division just so they could lock up the recipes. People had tried to mass-produce imitations of our most renowned desserts, such as our seasonal daffodil cake, but even at twice the price our original recipes kept customers loyal. Getting ahold of those recipes let Kraft remove some of their biggest competition from the market.

Our lack of success left me disappointed, but not distraught. I had always wanted to own my own bakery, so I went around to auctions buying used baking equipment, which I stored in my basement. To pay the bills, I worked part-time in various catering departments as well as doing odd jobs like planting flowers and washing walls. A few people I worked for took a liking to me, and one catering company even went so far as to give me a three-compartment sink for washing dishes, free of charge.

I had always wanted to own my own bakery, so I went around to auctions buying used baking equipment, which I stored in my basement.

Things seemed darkest as I looked in vain for a place to open up shop. Finally, I stumbled upon an old, unused bakery that still had a working oven, located in the neighborhood of Collinwood on the east side of Cleveland. The area wasn’t that well off, but at the time was a haven for people of Irish, Italian, and Hungarian descent as well as many black families. As soon as I signed the lease, I became paralyzed with fear. Would anyone show up?

The day that I opened Archie’s Lakeshore Bakery in 1994, I knew things were going to be OK. Almost instantly, people flooded the place, many of them from the surrounding neighborhoods. They had feared they were never going to eat their favorite treats again and were grateful to me for keeping the tradition going. We still make everything from scratch and refuse to alter the quality of our ingredients.

Because Hough Bakery had been a much larger operation than mine, my recipes were cut down in size, making them just different enough from the ones that Kraft had purchased to allow me to legally use them. A few years later, Kraft lost the national rights to the Hough brand, at which point I stepped in and acquired the name for myself.

To date, our most popular dessert is undoubtedly our white cake, which blends the taste of almond with other flavors in a way that is only possible to achieve when you make it from scratch. We’re also known for our “Hungarian Delight,” made by sandwiching raspberry and fudge filling between two butter cookies. We can only make them in the colder months of the year, as the fudge will melt in the summer.

The bakery has been open at the same location for 22 years now. People come from all over to visit us, but the majority of our customer base is still from greater Cleveland. Customers often come to share memories about growing up eating Hough baked goods. (The town of Davidson, North Carolina, which is home to many ex-Clevelanders, has asked us to open an outpost there).

One time, a woman walked into our store and demanded that we allow her to cut into one of our white cakes, as she didn’t believe they were really Hough’s. I was working in the back when I heard a noise coming from the counter.

When I investigated, I found the woman in tears. I asked her what was wrong, and she explained that this cake was a part of her childhood, and that she never thought she’d get to taste it again.

But she had. At Archie’s Lakeshore Bakery, we’ve created a bit of magic of our own.

 
In “Beyond the Circus,” writers take us off the 2016 campaign trail and give us glimpses of this election season’s politically important places.

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How California Got Broken to Pieceshttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/03/24/how-california-got-broken-to-pieces/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/03/24/how-california-got-broken-to-pieces/inquiries/connecting-california/#comments Thu, 24 Mar 2016 07:01:45 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=71502 Wherever you live in California, your county probably doesn’t fit you.

In mountainous and rural areas, your county may be too small to do the big things you need; 24 of the 58 California counties have populations under 140,000, the number of people who live in my hometown of Pasadena. Yet in inland exurbs, your county is so sprawling that it can take more than three hours to get to the county seat; San Bernardino County is twice as big as the state of Massachusetts.

And in the big metropolitan regions where most of us live, counties—¬¬which are supposed to be the state’s form of regional government—divide up our communities, instead of uniting us. The Bay Area is sliced up between nine counties, from Santa Clara to Sonoma. The capital region around Sacramento includes six different counties. Greater Los Angeles is a mash-up of five counties, with no clear geographic

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Wherever you live in California, your county probably doesn’t fit you.

In mountainous and rural areas, your county may be too small to do the big things you need; 24 of the 58 California counties have populations under 140,000, the number of people who live in my hometown of Pasadena. Yet in inland exurbs, your county is so sprawling that it can take more than three hours to get to the county seat; San Bernardino County is twice as big as the state of Massachusetts.

And in the big metropolitan regions where most of us live, counties—¬¬which are supposed to be the state’s form of regional government—divide up our communities, instead of uniting us. The Bay Area is sliced up between nine counties, from Santa Clara to Sonoma. The capital region around Sacramento includes six different counties. Greater Los Angeles is a mash-up of five counties, with no clear geographic divides between them. I dare you to drive through four neighboring cities in four different counties—Yorba Linda in Orange, Chino in San Bernardino, Corona in Riverside, and Diamond Bar in Los Angeles—and tell me when you cross from one county to another.

Even beyond the biggest cities, counties divide California: The growing agriculture-infused Fresno region has four different counties, and the Central Coast spans six. As a result, Californians routinely live in one county, work in another, and play in a third.

It has become commonplace in California to complain that our state is simply too big to work effectively as one entity, and to suggest, via ballot initiative (as in venture capitalist Tim Draper’s “Six Californias” scheme) or petition to the legislature (as the North State counties are doing) that we be split up into a number of different states. And some of these splitters’ complaints have merit. But creating new states would require Congress to go along, making these ideas non-starters.

Instead, we could redesign our counties all by ourselves, without Washington’s help. And, as the former Ventura mayor and San Diego planning director Bill Fulton has pointed out, counties are easier to reform because they are essentially administrative regions that are imposed on us—and thus don’t stir emotions like cities, which we choose to form.

The heart of the problem is that California’s antiquated design, with its 58 haphazardly drawn counties, doesn’t make sense today, if it ever did. The legislature created 27 counties back in 1850, and we kept adding counties until 1910, when California effectively froze county creation, locking in a map that has been unchanged by a century’s worth of growth. Indeed, the way that our counties divide us up is part of a larger fragmentation in California, where the problem is not big government but so many small and stupid governments—more than 6,000 in total, with 480 cities and thousands of special districts that few Californians know anything about.

This fragmentation of regions is not merely a problem of having untidy maps that make little sense to the people who live on them. Research shows that regions that are split up among many governments—as California’s are—have less affordable housing and more sprawl, congestion, racial and economic segregation, and disparities in local services than those with more consolidated regional governance.

“The harms of political fragmentation are many and tightly interrelated,” wrote the University of Minnesota’s Myron Orfield and Baris Dawes in a paper delivered last month at Chapman University in Orange. “The excessive competition triggered by political fragmentation encourages local jurisdictions to pursue socially and economically undesirable policies. Cities steal malls and office parks from each other, fight tax incentive wars for auto malls, and zone out the poor for fiscal advantage in a process rife with haphazard planning and NIMBY biases. … With jobs scattered like buckshot, transit, a cleaner environment, and basic opportunity for lower-income Americans becomes harder, not easier, to accomplish.”

The good news is that, in recent years, there has been more thinking in California about how to remake local government, including the size, boundaries, and powers of counties. Some of the best of this thinking can be found in retired Silicon Valley executive Thom Bryant’s short book, California 2.0.

California 2.0 shows that our lives, and many of our biggest problems, are regional: environmental systems, infrastructure, economic development, transit, and housing. And the book points out that the state already divides us into regions for certain ways of collecting data or governing; California has 10 biodiversity regions, nine water regions, 15 air basins. But our counties don’t match up with these regions.

So California 2.0 argues for dividing up the state into counties that each represent one region. There would be 19 in the author’s ideal structure, though California 2.0 suggests that even the old Spanish military’s 10 territorial districts would fit California better than today’s 58 counties.

If California were to embrace regionally consolidated government, it would be following a trend. France has been consolidating and empowering regions. The Twin Cities region in Minnesota and greater Portland in Oregon have strong regional structures, and some metropolitan regions, notably Toronto, have consolidated local governments.

Such regional counties would need more power to devise regional solutions to the state’s most pressing problems: schools, traffic, and housing. And, as California 2.0 argues, they’d need expanded boards of supervisors (California counties today typically have only five supervisors) and elected county executives to improve democratic accountability.

And if California politicians want to make real progress in their one-state war on climate change, they’ll need to embrace truly regional counties. Today’s state regulations on climate are unlikely to show much in results, in part because they require coordination between our fragmented local governments. But if we had counties that actually fit our regions, California might have a fighting chance of saving the world.

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