Zócalo Public SquareZócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Tue, 22 Aug 2017 07:01:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 World Trade Center Los Angeles President Stephen Cheunghttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/22/world-trade-center-los-angeles-president-stephen-cheung-2/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/22/world-trade-center-los-angeles-president-stephen-cheung-2/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 07:01:17 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87545 Stephen Cheung is the president of World Trade Center Los Angeles. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, he spoke in the green room about immigrating to the United States, the Getty Villa, and a memorable chemistry teacher.

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Stephen Cheung is the president of World Trade Center Los Angeles. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, he spoke in the green room about immigrating to the United States, the Getty Villa, and a memorable chemistry teacher.

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Los Angeles Times Reporter Cindy Carcamohttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/21/los-angeles-times-reporter-cindy-carcamo/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/21/los-angeles-times-reporter-cindy-carcamo/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 07:01:49 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87550 Cindy Carcamo is an immigration reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about Natalia Lafourcade songs, the Old West, and being nice to other journalists.

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Cindy Carcamo is an immigration reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about Natalia Lafourcade songs, the Old West, and being nice to other journalists.

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Take Me Out to the California Leaguehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/21/take-california-league/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/21/take-california-league/inquiries/connecting-california/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 07:01:16 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87600 Take me out to the ballgame this summer? Sure, as long as you’re taking me to San Jose or Visalia or Lake Elsinore.

Yep, I know those cities don’t have major league teams—that’s the point. In California these days, Major League Baseball is miserable. But the California League—our very own minor league—is a little-known jewel, binding together our most challenged cities and regions with wholesome and affordable entertainment.

This summer, I’ve made a point of attending California League games in search of an antidote to the awfulness of California’s five major league teams.

Three of our five big league franchises—the Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants, and San Diego Padres– are having terrible seasons. A fourth, Anaheim’s Angels, is merely mediocre. The stadiums in Oakland and Anaheim have decayed into dumps. Even the one California championship contender—my hometown Los Angeles Dodgers—greedily clings to an expensive cable contract that prevents most Southern

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Take me out to the ballgame this summer? Sure, as long as you’re taking me to San Jose or Visalia or Lake Elsinore.

Yep, I know those cities don’t have major league teams—that’s the point. In California these days, Major League Baseball is miserable. But the California League—our very own minor league—is a little-known jewel, binding together our most challenged cities and regions with wholesome and affordable entertainment.

This summer, I’ve made a point of attending California League games in search of an antidote to the awfulness of California’s five major league teams.

Three of our five big league franchises—the Oakland A’s, San Francisco Giants, and San Diego Padres– are having terrible seasons. A fourth, Anaheim’s Angels, is merely mediocre. The stadiums in Oakland and Anaheim have decayed into dumps. Even the one California championship contender—my hometown Los Angeles Dodgers—greedily clings to an expensive cable contract that prevents most Southern Californians from seeing this promising season on TV.

Even if you love baseball as I do, the Major League product is hard to watch. Games are long and tedious—often more than three hours—with little action, as strikeouts and walks reach record numbers. Ever-increasing ticket and concession prices have turned stadiums into palaces for the rich: A game can cost hundreds of dollars if you’re taking family or friends. This year, I surrendered my share of a Dodgers season ticket after a 74 percent price increase. Over the 15 years I had it, the price had increased 400 percent.

But since there’s no crying in baseball, let’s move on to the good news. The California League will restore your faith in professional sports. The games are fast-paced (the lack of TV commercial breaks helps), the ballpark entertainment is fun and unpredictable, and tickets are affordable for working-class Californians.

The Diamond, home of the Lake Elsinore Storm, a member of the California League, where the action is fast-paced and the tickets are affordable. Photo courtesy of SD Dirk/Flickr.

Of course, the California League is in California, and mirrors the state and its challenges. The league, like California, is beautiful but is also showing its age (it was founded in 1941, two decades before the major leagues came to California) and is struggling to maintain and replace stadiums before teams move to other states.

The California League serves poorer places in a state with America’s highest poverty rate. The league has teams in Stockton and San Bernardino, two cities known for surviving devastating municipal bankruptcies. The California League is strongest in two of the state’s most economically challenged regions—the San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire—each of which has three teams. The other two squads are in Lancaster, in L.A. County’s high-crime High Desert, and San Jose, a city with some wealthy residents but a starving government because it has too few sales-tax producing businesses.

Like California itself, the league has trouble with out-of-state migration. After the 2016 season, two of the 10 teams were shut down and shifted to the Carolinas. One, the High Desert Mavericks, left after the city of Adelanto, concluding a longstanding dispute with team ownership, canceled the Mavericks’ lease in the publicly owned ballpark. (An attempt to relocate to Chico failed.)

The other, the Bakersfield Blaze, departed after seven years of unsuccessful attempts to replace historic Sam Lynn Ballpark, which had its charms but failed to meet the minimum facilities standards of professional baseball. Among its problems: a strange alignment in which the stadium faced the setting sun, dangerously affecting the vision of players and, on occasion, forcing sun delays.

Charlie Blaney, the California League’s president, told me that the state’s elimination of local redevelopment agencies earlier this decade has thwarted attempts to build new ballparks in Bakersfield and elsewhere. While more than 100 new minor league ballparks have been built around the country over the last generation, the California League hasn’t had a new park since Stockton was constructed in 2004. It’s hard to construct housing in California—for people or minor league teams.

At the same time, the age and history of the league and its ballparks make it distinctive, and great. Whenever I’m in Visalia, I try to stop by Recreation Park, built in 1946 and cannily renovated in 2009, to watch the Rawhide play in one of the smallest parks in minor league baseball. The players are so close that you can hear them chatting with each other, and can sometimes join the conversation. And it feels at least five degrees cooler inside the ballpark on sweltering Valley nights, even though the place is often packed.

Also worthy of adoration is The Diamond, the clean, environmentally sustainable home of the Lake Elsinore Storm, a Padres affiliate. The fans are devoted—the team draws 200,000 people a year (usually first or second in the league) to a western Riverside County city of just 55,000—and with good reason. The Storm are expert at creating fundraisers and partnerships with local schools and nonprofits.

Of course, the California League is in California, and mirrors the state and its challenges. The league, like California, is beautiful but is also showing its age … and is struggling to maintain and replace stadiums before teams move to other states.

But there is no place better to watch a ballgame than in the league’s oldest park, San Jose Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1942. The only major league ballparks older than San Jose’s minor league field are two national treasures: Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago.

The San Jose Giants, an affiliate of San Francisco’s Giants, spruce up the old place with paint—baseball cartoons, baseball quotes, notes on baseball history, and baseball banners cover every flat surface. The lovely old grandstand pleases nostalgists. The open picnic space down the left field line appeals to party-throwing companies and millennials. Behind the plate, Giants staffers keep their office doors open so fans can walk in. The players are close enough for fans to get to know personally; in the right field corner, young women spent much of the game I saw flirting with pitchers in the Giants bullpen.

The stadium shows signs of age—worn spots by the pitcher’s mound and in right field. And a lack of bathrooms in the grandstands requires the presence of port-a-potties down the lines. But I paid $13 for a ticket and sat just to the right of home plate, 10 rows up. (You can’t sit in Dodger Stadium for less than $21 even at the cheapest game.)

I saw a close, well-played game that lasted just more than two hours. Every minute between innings was filled with entertaining promotion. Fans played blackjack against the mascot Gigante (to promote a local casino), and hit golf balls from the stands into an on-field bucket (in a contest promoting a local golf course). In a nod to a plumbing company sponsor, a toilet was carried onto the field and a child was invited to throw balls into it. Late in the game, two fans faced off in an air guitar contest.

The crowd was diverse in ethnicity, race, and age, and large for a weeknight. Fans really came alive when the night’s designated “Beer Batter,” Arturo Nieto of the visiting Modesto Nuts, came to the plate. The fans taunted Nieto until he struck out swinging, which triggered the announcement that beer would be half-priced for the following 15 minutes.

“Don’t run too fast and don’t drink too fast,” said the public address announcer, as one-third of the crowd scurried to the beer stands.

I hadn’t planned to stay the whole game—I had to get to Salinas for an interview the next morning. But the hot dog and the Fritos nachos tasted great, and I was having too much fun to leave early. I can’t wait to go back.

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Director of USC’s Tomás Rivera Policy Institute Roberto Surohttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/18/director-uscs-tomas-rivera-policy-institute-roberto-suro/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/18/director-uscs-tomas-rivera-policy-institute-roberto-suro/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 07:01:33 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87540 Roberto Suro is Director of USC’s Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, he spoke in the green room about James Joyce, picking the right stories to write about, and out-of-tune guitars.

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Roberto Suro is Director of USC’s Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, he spoke in the green room about James Joyce, picking the right stories to write about, and out-of-tune guitars.

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Variations on a Theme from Folklorehttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/18/variations-theme-folklore/chronicles/poetry/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/18/variations-theme-folklore/chronicles/poetry/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 07:01:14 +0000 By Sarah Cohen http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87517 I.
The traveler came to a meeting of roads.
Each was marked with prophesy,
marked with loss.

The traveler chose the middle road.

II.
First road: you will give up from hunger and cold.
Second road: your horse will die, but you will survive.
Third road: you will die, but your horse will survive.
What is kindness, what is sacrifice, what does the world ask of us.

III.
You will face loss, but you will survive.
In the general, no revelation.
In the specific, your life.

IV.
The whicker, the nuzzle,
the soft lips on a sugar cube.

As I rode, 
a gray wolf came out of the woods
and bit my horse in two.

V.
The traveler continued on foot, exhausted and numb.
Through the valley of the shadow of death, the traveler continued.
That is the end of the story.

Then the gray wolf returned.

VI.
I have

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I.
The traveler came to a meeting of roads.
Each was marked with prophesy,
marked with loss.

The traveler chose the middle road.

II.
First road: you will give up from hunger and cold.
Second road: your horse will die, but you will survive.
Third road: you will die, but your horse will survive.
What is kindness, what is sacrifice, what does the world ask of us.

III.
You will face loss, but you will survive.
In the general, no revelation.
In the specific, your life.

IV.
The whicker, the nuzzle,
the soft lips on a sugar cube.

As I rode, 
a gray wolf came out of the woods
and bit my horse in two.

V.
The traveler continued on foot, exhausted and numb.
Through the valley of the shadow of death, the traveler continued.
That is the end of the story.

Then the gray wolf returned.

VI.
I have eaten your good horse, so now I will serve you faithfully and well.
Get on my back and hold on tight.

VII.
A magical wolf can do much to improve your life.
You may be weak,
indolent,
unimaginative,
bumbling,
lacking in morals.
Where you give up, your wolf will persist.
Where you fail, your wolf will succeed.

VIII.
Many years later. 
The traveler has returned, married.
He has a horse with a golden bridle.
He has a firebird in a golden cage.

These are your decisions.
This is your life.

Will you forgive me, little spark?

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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/#respond 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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Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnellhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/17/los-angeles-county-sheriff-jim-mcdonnell/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/17/los-angeles-county-sheriff-jim-mcdonnell/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 07:01:37 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87531 James McDonnell is Los Angeles County Sheriff. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo, he spoke in the green room about Winston Churchill, growing up around Fenway Park, and the lessons for police in a new feature film.

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James McDonnell is Los Angeles County Sheriff. Before taking part in a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo, he spoke in the green room about Winston Churchill, growing up around Fenway Park, and the lessons for police in a new feature film.

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Reporter for The New York Times Jennifer Medinahttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/15/reporter-new-york-times-jennifer-medina/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/15/reporter-new-york-times-jennifer-medina/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Tue, 15 Aug 2017 07:01:54 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87481 Jennifer Medina is a reporter for The New York Times. Before moderating a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about entry-level journalism, Sandra Cisneros, and swimming in Riverside.

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Jennifer Medina is a reporter for The New York Times. Before moderating a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about entry-level journalism, Sandra Cisneros, and swimming in Riverside.

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Confessions of an Eclipse Chaserhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/15/confessions-eclipse-chaser/ideas/nexus/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/15/confessions-eclipse-chaser/ideas/nexus/#respond Tue, 15 Aug 2017 07:01:35 +0000 By Bill Kramer http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87485 On August 21st this year, I will log my 26th solar eclipse and my 17th total solar eclipse. August 21st is when parts of the contiguous United States will fall in the path of a total eclipse for the first time since 1979. An eclipse happens on those rare occasions when the paths of moon and sun are in alignment, and the new moon covers the view of the sun from certain parts of earth.

I’m what we call an “eclipse chaser.” It’s a self-appointed title. On the website I run, eclipse-chasers.com, I host a log where people from all over the world can record how many they’ve seen. The highest right now is 33 total eclipses. It’s a place online for people like me, people who spend all their vacation time and travel money to observe these indescribable phenomena.

I spend the day before, and then the morning of

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On August 21st this year, I will log my 26th solar eclipse and my 17th total solar eclipse. August 21st is when parts of the contiguous United States will fall in the path of a total eclipse for the first time since 1979. An eclipse happens on those rare occasions when the paths of moon and sun are in alignment, and the new moon covers the view of the sun from certain parts of earth.

I’m what we call an “eclipse chaser.” It’s a self-appointed title. On the website I run, eclipse-chasers.com, I host a log where people from all over the world can record how many they’ve seen. The highest right now is 33 total eclipses. It’s a place online for people like me, people who spend all their vacation time and travel money to observe these indescribable phenomena.

I spend the day before, and then the morning of an eclipse, in nervous anticipation. Every cloud could be an advance scout for an army coming over the horizon. Wind changes are a big deal. Small alterations in humidity are noted. Should we move? Should we set up here? Will it be clear?

In the minute before first contact—that moment when the moon touches the solar disk for the first time—my anticipation grows. Then comes that first little dark edge across the sun. That little bite confirms that the numbers are right. Relief.

The author on his first eclipse-watching trip in 1972. Photo courtesy of Bill Kramer.

Slowly the moon covers the last of the bright sun and the light falls off quickly. Sunset colors fall across any clouds that may be in the sky. If you are looking in the right direction and have a great view you might even see the moon’s shadow racing across the land towards you. Or you might see shadow bands moving across a flat area like vaporous ghosts making the light shiver around them.

And then the eclipse goes total. It’s dark yet not pitch-black. The horizon glows. Bright stars appear. The sky takes on a deep blue color. And where the sun once shone is a black circle surrounded by a shiny white corona—the circle of solar gases. It’s a magical eye floating in the sky. Streamers of light extend like glowing hairs. Time seems to flip into hyper-drive. Before you know it the eclipse is ending.

The finale is the best part. It only lasts a few seconds. The solar disk peeks out. The light from that one speck of sunlight quickly overwhelms the corona. The effect is called the diamond ring because that is what it looks like.

I don’t have a favorite eclipse among the many I’ve seen. All of them are great. And all of them are different. An eclipse chaser can look at a photograph and say, for example, oh yeah, that’s from the 1983 eclipse in Indonesia. Somebody might ask how I know. Well, because each corona is different. The corona is constantly changing.

Most eclipse chasers will tell you their first eclipse was the best. I was in elementary school when I developed an interest in astronomy and I got involved with the local astronomy club at Youngstown State University. In 1970 some members came back from an eclipse on the eastern coast of the United States, talking about what a great experience they’d had. The director of the planetarium said that he was organizing a cruise to intercept the next total eclipse, in 1972, when I would be 13 years old. I got down on both knees and begged my parents. They agreed and my parents and I were among the first ones to sign up.

We saw that eclipse in middle of the North Atlantic. In 1973 we went to Western Africa to see the next one. Then we didn’t see another one until 1980.

An image of totality from the author’s first eclipse-watching trip in 1972. Photo courtesy of Bill Kramer.

I was lucky in my profession: I majored in computer science, graduated from an engineering school with a computer science and engineering degree, and started my own business in 1985. So I had some flexibility. Whenever it was economically feasible I’d go to see the next eclipse. When my wife and I were first getting serious she found a book at my place—a NASA publication of upcoming eclipses, with a sticker over the front that said “Bill’s travel guide.” She had to know how it was.

So I kept chasing eclipses with my wife, and when we had kids we dragged them along. This summer our grandson, who was just born in November, is going to see the eclipse. So it’s a three-, four-generation tradition.

I particularly remember the eclipse of ’99. When we got back from our trip, we found out my dad had died the day after. I didn’t get a chance to tell him how it had gone and I felt bad about that. It’s one of those things that hits you. So my wife and I decided then, hey, let’s try to see all of the eclipses from now on.

I’ve missed a few, though. Sometimes it’s a question of weather. In 2015 there was an eclipse in March visible from Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. I skipped that one. Many of those who went saw their cameras malfunction due to the low temperatures.

I’ve never been clouded out and been unable to see an eclipse. Germany in 1999 was the closest I’ve come to that, but it’s never actually happened. Knock wood.

Probably the most difficult eclipse trip I’ve been on was in Zimbabwe. We landed in Harare, missed our connecting flight to Bulawayo, and had to rent a bus for a group of 20—on a Sunday morning—then switch to a caravan of smaller vehicles. My wife and I rode in the luggage car, which broke down a couple of times before we reached the lodge after dark. All this after an overnight flight from London. The next day every vehicle in our caravan broke down. We ended up observing the eclipse at a road rest area—that is, a giant baobab tree. We thoroughly enjoyed the eclipse, under clear sky, and have many memories to share with those 20 eclipse chasers.

Eclipses bring together professional astronomers and amateur chasers like me. There’s a lot of cooperation and citizen science. This summer the Citizen CATE experiment will collect video recordings of the eclipse from citizens across the United States, so scientists can watch about two hours of inner corona dynamics.

The author watching the partial phase of the 2016 eclipse through binoculars with removable solar filters. Photo courtesy of Bill Kramer.

Sometimes we meet at conferences to discuss logistics and science. A grad student might say, “I’m doing work on the F-Corona, specifically in the transition zone, so if you could take photographs of this exposure I’d really appreciate it.” An amateur can send in pictures and get a mention in some scientific paper. It’s fun. And that’s how science gets done.

Because I love math, one of the things that always enthralled me about eclipses is how they are calculated. How do astronomers confirm the timing so precisely, down to the second? I started reading books on how to do it, and then wrote computer programs on how to do it.

For the August eclipse, we’ll just be with friends and family. We’ve found a location just north of Nashville because two years ago my wife and I drove the eclipse path all the way from Wyoming back through Kentucky to check out different location options. Of course, if the weather doesn’t look very good at that location the night before—I’ll use satellite data to check—we’ll get on the road to a better spot. At least I will! I can’t guarantee that my daughter and grandson are going to want to do that. They may say “Nah, it’s not worth it.” I’ll be saying, “Yeah, it is.”

I’m looking forward to this one because we’re bringing a lot of people who have never seen an eclipse before. It’s always fun to get their reaction immediately after totality. So what did you think? “It’s nothing like you described.” Well, yeah, but how can you describe it? There’s almost a religious epiphany that occurs. It’s the eye of God looking down on you. There’s nothing that really puts words to it. They just say, “I had no idea.” And then “When’s the next one?”

I love that. “When’s the next one? Where is it?”

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In San Juan Bautista, It’s Apocalypse—Nowhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/14/san-juan-bautista-apocalypse-now/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/08/14/san-juan-bautista-apocalypse-now/inquiries/connecting-california/#respond Mon, 14 Aug 2017 07:01:23 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=87458

If the apocalypse comes to California, I’ll be ready. After all, I’ve been to San Juan Bautista, which has centuries of experience with the ending of worlds.

I visited the San Benito County town again this summer, when Armageddon seems closer than ever. North Korean missiles may now be able to reach California. The president of the United States has the nuclear codes and no impulse control. Icebergs the size of states are breaking off Antarctica. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds forward; it’s now just two-and-a-half minutes to midnight for humanity. “Global danger looms,” the Bulletin said.

California is famous for its proximity to disasters—from earthquakes to riots to floods—but this moment seems especially apocalyptic. Our governor is incapable of giving a press conference without predicting that unmitigated climate change will kill us all—and soon (but not until after he himself is dead,

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If the apocalypse comes to California, I’ll be ready. After all, I’ve been to San Juan Bautista, which has centuries of experience with the ending of worlds.

I visited the San Benito County town again this summer, when Armageddon seems closer than ever. North Korean missiles may now be able to reach California. The president of the United States has the nuclear codes and no impulse control. Icebergs the size of states are breaking off Antarctica. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds forward; it’s now just two-and-a-half minutes to midnight for humanity. “Global danger looms,” the Bulletin said.

California is famous for its proximity to disasters—from earthquakes to riots to floods—but this moment seems especially apocalyptic. Our governor is incapable of giving a press conference without predicting that unmitigated climate change will kill us all—and soon (but not until after he himself is dead, he adds). Judging by the size of the fires raging from Yosemite to Modoc, our incendiary end may already be underway.

And even if we manage to survive natural and man-made apocalypse, Elon Musk says robots will just inherit the world anyway.

In these scary times, a tiny place like San Juan Bautista—with fewer than 2,000 people, off 101 between Gilroy and Salinas—might seem like an escape. But no California place is more haunted by visions of apocalypse—historically, seismically, cinematically.

Armageddon and the town come together in the most famous local structure, the Mission San Juan Bautista, the 15th of the 21 missions the Franciscans built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is distinguished by its size—it had the largest church of any mission—and its subsequent fame, as the setting of the most terrifying scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “Vertigo.”

Look out below! Some critics have interpreted Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece “Vertigo,” which climaxes at Mission San Juan Bautista, as an allegory of humanity’s failure to recognize and avoid its past mistakes—until it’s too late. Image courtesy of Jon Rubin/Flickr.

Shortly after arriving in the town, I headed to the mission, with several bottles of water in hand. The bottles had been a gift from my hotel; signs around town warn you not to drink the local water because of high levels of nitrates, which are blamed on fertilizer use and the area’s hydrology.

At the mission, I walked into the Guadalupe Chapel, where Father Alberto Cabrera was saying Mass and singing many verses of “Amazing Grace,” including this one:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

The hymn in that setting put me in mind of the apocalyptic story of California’s Indians, and their enslavement, forced conversion, and deaths by the thousands, mostly from disease. The mission period saw a decline in the state’s native population from 300,000 in 1769 to 250,000 when the missions were secularized in 1834. Then came the U.S. conquest and what historian Benjamin Madley has shown to be an “American genocide” that reduced the population from 150,000 in 1850, to 30,000 a quarter century later.

This history feels especially alive in San Juan Bautista. Descendants of decimated local tribes have raised the topic so consistently that Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey gave a highly publicized Mass of reconciliation at the mission in 2012, asking for forgiveness for the sins committed against Native Americans in California. (Whatever quiet that bought was erased when Pope Francis made Junipero Serra, the mission system’s founder, a saint in 2015.)

Another player that has kept the subject in the public mind is El Teatro Campesino, the progressive theater, based less than half a mile from the mission. The theater has built a national reputation with diverse works, some of which look back at Mission Indians as well as at the Aztec and Maya civilizations that suffered their own catastrophes.

For all the weight of past apocalypses, looming destructions are plainly visible at San Juan Bautista. After walking through the mission cemetery, past the sign that says that 4,300 Mission Indians are buried there, I encountered a U.S. Geological Survey marker noting what lies beneath the mission: the San Andreas Fault.

For more than 200 years, the fault has damaged and destroyed parts of the mission. A big retrofit is being planned for next year, but can the mission stand at this dangerous spot for another 200 years? The end is so close-by that it’s right under our feet.

In these scary times, a tiny place like San Juan Bautista—with fewer than 2,000 people, off 101 between Gilroy and Salinas—might seem like an escape. But no California place is more haunted by visions of apocalypse—historically, seismically, cinematically.

From the mission and the fault, I strolled across the grassy Spanish square, bordered by preserved buildings that are part of a state historical park. Among the structures is the Castro-Breen Adobe, named half in honor of Patrick Breen, the Irish immigrant who, with his wife and seven children, joined the Donner Party. They survived that cataclysm and lived to tell the tale.

The square is instantly recognizable to movie buffs. Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak run across it in the two most dramatic scenes of “Vertigo.” Each of those scenes ends with a different blonde woman seemingly falling to her death from the mission tower. The church had no tower when Hitchcock filmed in San Juan Bautista 50 years ago—the one you see in the movie is a Hollywood special effect.

But those cinematic falls in San Juan Bautista have spawned a cottage industry of analysis, with “Vertigo” as the story of the self-deception and inevitable self-destruction of mankind, the triumph of death over life. One great philosopher of our age, Jean-Pierre Dupuy, a Frenchman who teaches at Stanford and is a friend of Gov. Jerry Brown, has written that the movie inspired his own career as “an enlightened doomsayer” who developed “a metaphysics of the age of catastrophe that awaits us.”

Dupuy devotes the epilogue of his masterful book, The Mark of The Sacred, to “Vertigo’s” complicated plot, and especially to how Stewart’s character allows himself to be twice deceived by Novak’s character, only realizing the resulting peril after it’s too late.

In this, Dupuy sees humanity’s failure to recognize how close we are to the apocalypse. By the time we see with our own eyes that Armageddon is real, it will be too late.

The apocalypse, Dupuy writes, is nothing like death, which can be sweet, as when those who knew a person recall their memory. The apocalypse threatens us with the greater horror: nothingness. If humanity ends, it will be as if all the places and people who came before—Alfred Hitchcock or the Donner Party or the California Indians—had never existed.

To save ourselves and our memory, Dupuy argues, we must treat the apocalypse as inevitable, and embrace it, study it, and stare as deeply as possible into the abyss, so that humans might find some way to avoid falling in.

So, please, visit the apocalypse as soon as you can. San Juan Bautista is nigh.

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