Category: Politics

The Vanishing World of Mariano Vallejo

Mariano Vallejo

Mariano Vallejo, photo courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born in 1808 in Monterey, California. By the time he died in 1890, California was a profoundly different place.

Only 38 years before Vallejo’s birth, Monterey had been founded on a barren piece of land by soldiers and Franciscan missionaries from Spain.

At the arrival of the Spaniards, the area around Monterey Bay was a wilderness of brush, pine and oak trees, and rocky landscape sparsely populated by rag-tag bands of mostly passive natives. It was territory virtually unchanged since the last Ice Age.

But change was just over the horizon.

Vallejo, a native-born Spanish-speaker known as a Californio, began life as a citizen of the Spanish Empire in what would be one of the last outposts of European imperialism in the New World. During Vallejo’s youth, Monterey–the capital of the colony–was a small town. Los Angeles was merely a dusty pueblo. San Francisco was an isolated, pest-ridden harbor.

As a young man, he became an officer in the army of Mexico after New Spain declared independence. By 1836, California had become an essentially autonomous region of less than 13,000 Mexican citizens and an unknown number of Indians spread across thousands of square miles. Life centered on the towns that had sprung up near the Franciscan missions and around the ranchos.

For his service, General Vallejo was given several land grants, including a rancho of about 50,000 acres in Sonoma County. His Rancho Petaluma was small compared to some ranchos of 300,000 acres. Land was cheap and nobody else seemed to want it.

Rancho life was patriarchal and pastoral. Labor was almost entirely manual. The only export products were cow hides and tallow. A Californio could ride for days and not see another person.

But all this changed. In 1846, a band of misfits claiming to represent American interests staged the “Bear Flag Rebellion” that claimed California as a territory of the United States. By 1848, a treaty with Mexico gave the land to the U.S. and, coincidentally, gold was discovered in the mountains. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the Union. Nineteen years later, the transcontinental railroad would open the door to a flow of migrants that continues to this day.

As a new state, and one abundant with gold that could fund American progress, settlers flooded in. The Californios quickly became a minority and their ranchos decimated by squatters and land speculators, or just sold to pay debts. When, at 55 years old, Vallejo was able to travel to Washington D.C. to meet Abraham Lincoln to advocate for land rights, he was little more than a curiosity.

Mission Solano

Mission Solano in Sonoma, California

This rapid pace of change–in the span of one man’s life–is remarkable, and rare. Up until this time, most societies had changed gradually over centuries. California, in contrast, went from an isolated feudal society to the Industrial Revolution in essentially one generation.

Living through such overwhelming change takes its toll. People lose their livelihoods almost overnight. Social conventions that had been working just fine become irrelevant or even counter-productive. That which gives citizens purpose vanishes or becomes culturally unacceptable. It can make outcasts out of those who once were kings.

We are living through a period of rapid change today. We are transitioning from an industrial economy to an information and service economy, even as we export most of our industries overseas. California, once again, is at the forefront of this change, but it’s being felt everywhere. Additionally, nations across the world are in an almost constant state of unrest. On any given day, it is difficult to know whether what you are doing now is going to feather your nest tomorrow or leave you in an empty hole. It is, to say the least, unsettling.

Vallejo was lucky. He lived a full life and is well remembered in California to this day. There’s even a town named after him. But I can’t help feeling he would have traded it all–the honorary town, the meeting of Lincoln–just to avoid going through the social upheaval and to remain living in the Californio society he grew up in.

Note: No consultation of Wikipedia was performed in the writing of this post. All information was sourced by me.


Random Scribbles: Send the troops to St.Louis

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

I will admit up front that I’m a geography geek. I always have been. It’s part of my DNA.

I have no empathy, then, for people who cannot read a map or at least ballpark the location of a country (or in America, a state).

So I find this report simply astonishing. According to researchers from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton, only 16 percent of Americans know where Ukraine is and can properly locate it on a map.* While most survey respondents at least knew that it was somewhere in Europe or Asia, some were embarrassingly incorrect.

Looking at a map of the survey results, there were a fair number of people who thought Ukraine is in one of the following locations:

  • Canada (50+)
  • Greenland (50+)
  • Australia (2)
  • the United States (seriously–17 people)

And while this level of ignorance is undeniably sad, it is also dangerous. How? The study also found that “the less people know about where Ukraine is located on a map, the more they want the U.S. to intervene militarily.”

Politicians routinely say that they are only acting on the will of the people. I hate to say it, but sometimes the people are wrong–shockingly so.

So when the people demand that we send armed forces to intervene in Ukraine, many have no idea where they are sending our men and women in uniform. Just like, I would bet money, they had no idea where we were sending our military when we engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a whole host of other actions.

Photo by IllinoisHorseSoldier on Flickr

Photo by IllinoisHorseSoldier on Flickr

I’ve thought all along that our recent foreign wars were a bad idea. Now, I’m beginning to understand why much of the public has also become disillusioned. They must’ve thought we were sending the troops to St. Louis.

*The study is “part of a broader project on the relationship between political knowledge and foreign policy views,” Dr. Kyle A. Dropp, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, and one of the study’s co-authors, told me in an e-mail. The study has not yet been submitted for peer review.

Random Scribbles: Every congressman for himself

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

The new health insurance exchanges have been open about a week now, and they have proven popular. In my state of Maryland, which has an estimated 800,000 uninsured residents, 13,500 people have created identity-verified accounts in the state exchange, according to data issued yesterday by the Maryland Health Connection. More than 325 people have enrolled in health care coverage so far, and this is despite all the start-up problems the exchange had during the week. System upgrades may improve that rate in the coming months.

The store is open, and people are buying. It makes me wonder why the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–commonly known as Obamacare–is hated so much by certain people.

It is interesting to note that Big Business is in favor of the insurance exchanges. According to the Business Roundtable, a coalition of CEOs of leading U.S. companies with more than 16 million employees,

The ongoing implementation of Health Insurance Exchanges will be important to ensure there is competition and choice in the marketplace for health insurance coverage for individuals and small employers in the early years and potentially for larger employers after 2017.

Yet some politicians are vehemently opposed to Obamacare and claim to be speaking the will of the People.

But, clearly, they are not speaking for Big Business. And they certainly are not speaking for the millions of uninsured citizens out there, who logically could not be opposed to having improved access to health insurance. And they obviously are not speaking for those who have favored the law all along.

Who, then, are they speaking for when they speak out against federal health care law? There is only one possibility: themselves.

It’s the old trap of the political career: do anything you can and say anything you must to stay in office. Do what it takes to attract attention, even if it’s a bad choice for the country as a whole.

Obamacare opponents claim to have some moral objection to the implementation of the law or that they are speaking from their conscience. That, my friends, is a load of bull hockey.

For someone like Sen. Ted Cruz, who has excellent health insurance coverage, to stand up in front of the nation and tell millions of Americans–including citizens of his own state–that he will do everything possible to make sure they NEVER get coverage, that they will be stuck with the current system that’s filled with fraud and inefficiencies, demonstrates no moral fiber whatsoever.


It only tells us that there is no depth to which it is possible for a politician to sink. And this boat is sinking, while these so-called leaders abandon ship.

Random Scribbles: Who does Congress work for?

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Like a lot of people, the shutdown of the federal government has been on my mind this week. And it has me thinking.

US Capitol

Do members of Congress work for the people of the United States, or only for the voting citizens of their own state or district? Let’s say I’m a congressman representing a very urban district–I’ll pick Los Angeles. My constituents don’t care much about agricultural issues beyond the produce in the supermarket. They’re more concerned about curbing street violence, having reliable power and water, and improving the traffic situation.

Should I care about the Farm Bill, then? Should I actively block federal programs that benefit farmers and ranchers, since it is not in the interests of my constituents? Or should I set that aside and do what’s best for the country as a whole?

As another example, children don’t vote so they are technically not a constituency. Should I block programs for the very young, such as Head Start, since it is not in the interests of those who elected me? Wouldn’t it be logical to ensure that the money is spent on programs that actual voters care about, like building roads or funding Medicare? Or should I do what’s best for the country as a whole?

Let’s say my constituents are not in favor of our current military operations in Afghanistan. Should I vote to de-fund the Army? Or should I accept that national security protects all of us, even if we don’t all agree with a particular mission?

You can see where this is going. At some point, being responsive only to your constituents reaches a degree of absurdity, and, as an elected official, it must be reined in in the interests of national welfare and the common good.

I really hope members of our current Congress understand this.

Random Scribbles: Can businesses think?

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Bret Stephens is a good journalist. He obviously knows the worth of a provocative headline.

Today’s Wall Street Journal published his latest opinion piece, “Can Environmentalists Think?”  It got my attention.

I see what he’s doing here.  He’s crafting an argument in favor of his own beliefs, which is what all good opinion pieces do, I guess. But I think there is a logical fallacy here, though I can’t be bothered to look up the name for it.

Rather than pick the column apart bit by bit, I’m going to stick to the headline. My response is, “well, can businesses think?” To which he might respond, what kind of business are you referring to? They are not all the same.


Stephens is painting a generalized portrait of an environmental movement that is out of touch with reality to promote his belief that the Keystone XL pipeline by rights ought to be constructed. Never mind that TransCanada already has a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline running from Alberta to Illinois and Oklahoma, that began operation in 2010 without much ado. Never mind that the XL pipeline will be transporting crude from Canadian tar sands, a process that has a worse reputation than the so-called fracking.

Anyway, his point is that the environmental movement needs to be capable of reasoned thought. My feeling is that it is reasoned thought that is being exercised right now so that we are absolutely sure that the Keystone XL pipeline should be built. TransCanada does not seem to be exercising that same level of reasoned thought. Maybe businesses can’t think.