California culture

April 8, 2008

Another California Gold Rush?

As everyone knows, California ‘s modern history began with the gold rush of 1849. Now, because of the soaring price of gold, it may be happening again. As reported in the New York Times:

Driven by record high prices and a suburban thirst for new outdoor activities, tens of thousands of ’08ers are taking to historically rich streams and hills all across the West in search of nuggets, flecks and — more often than not — specks of gold. “Anywhere gold has been found in the past,” said Corey Rudolph, the field operations director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America. “That’s where they’re going again.”

Perhaps nowhere is the rush more spirited than in California, home of the Sierra’s famed Mother Lode, where the discovery of gold in 1848 caused a national migration. Like their forebears, many of today’s prospectors have little more than a pan, a shovel and a dream.

Unlike the original forty-niners, though, some of today’s caravans involve minivans, wetsuits and cellphones. And while many current prospectors say they hold out hopes of big scores, their clubs also act as social networks, where members exchange stories of the joys of sluicing and the unexplainable, often unattainable, thrill of shouting “Eureka!” at the sight of a nugget.

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December 31, 2007

Protest of China Rose Parade float fizzles out

The Los Angeles Times has reported that human rights activists trying to organize a protest against the Chinese Olympic Games float has failed to generate much interest:

The shell of the Rose Parade float celebrating the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games sits in a sprawling warehouse complex in Azusa. In a matter of hours, it will be adorned with thousands of carnations and roses, outfitted with fireworks and accompanied by 124 costumed Beijing opera singers, acrobats, traditional dancers and plate spinners down Colorado Boulevard.

Critics of China’s communist government hoped to use the elaborate float and its worldwide stage at the Rose Parade on Tuesday as a rallying point for protests about the nation’s human rights record. But despite months of news conferences and protests, China foes have done little to change the parade’s plans and have generated little support — or interest — from Southern California’s large Chinese American community. The lukewarm response underscores the increasingly close relationship Southern California shares with China. There may be no other time in which China has commanded as much influence and interest as it does today.

The San Gabriel Valley is home to one of the largest Chinese American communities in the nation and a growing business class that has made Southern California the chief trading region with China in the United States. To many, the 12-hour or longer flight to Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou is more of a commute than a voyage. Business ties between the two countries forge quickly, and though many here believe China needs to improve its approach to human rights, more attention is paid to fueling the economy to improve the lot of ordinary Chinese.

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October 25, 2007

The San Diego Fires: a disaster very unlike Katrina

As I write this, firestorms are still raging around my lovely city, but I don’t think the pictures you see on the news tell the whole story. For one, though no one is really saying it out loud, there seems to be a quiet determination here that San Diego will not be another Katrina, where civil society collapsed, and the Federal government did nothing. So many people have donated food and other relief supplies to Qualcomm Stadium, the city’s main relief center, that authorities are now turning them away. The mayor even said that he thought the evacuees are being treated like VIPs. He had good reason to think that, as the L.A. Times described:

Just inside the stadium gate Monday, a young bleached-blond woman offered a drink: “Would you care for a Red Bull, sir?” Another hundred feet on, a woman walked by carrying a sign: “Anyone distressed?” She gave directions to a crisis counseling center down the way. There was more food than could be eaten. More help than could be used. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders guessed there were as many volunteers as victims. A good 9,000 people ended up here, at Qualcomm Stadium, and if this was the endgame of a disaster, it would be a disaster that seemed possible only in the idyll of California. There was a banh mi picnic in the parking lot, beef empanadas on the chow line, Caesar salads, cartons of fresh Starbucks House Blend, free magazines, toys for the kids, cots for grandma, pizza by the slice or, if you wished, the box. There was a man playing jazz guitar, a blues band, massages and acupuncture. “It’s better service than when you go to a restaurant,” said Gary Potter of Rancho Penasquitos. “Every time you turn around, people are asking us if you need something — water, food, anything.” “They thought of everything,” said Erin Kelley, his wife. She was particularly impressed by the massages being offered in the parking lot. A steady stream of volunteers brought blankets, potato chips, diapers — anything they thought someone might need. The makeshift campsites inside the stadium quickly took on the fabric of Southern California. There were faces and traces of words from Vietnam, Mexico, China, South-Central L.A., as families staked out their own little territories to call home for a day or two or three. They re-created neighborhoods, complete with a group of boys on skateboards. Look man, free food, they shouted, swooped in, ate and ran.

San Diego was horribly unprepared when fire hit four years ago, but this time seems vastly different. In the grocery store this morning, the woman behind me was buying dozens of bags of carrots. I joked, “you must really like carrots!”. No, she said, it was a treat for the evacuated horses in a local park. The police won’t let any more relief supplies in there either, but she hoped to give them to the cops so they could give them to the horses. The organized animal rescue is just one example of “lessons learned” from the last fire, as animal lovers became just one part of a “full court press” in response to this horrible situation.

To be fair, this disaster is far different from the one in New Orleans. For one, most people have cars here so evacuation is less of a problem. For another, most of the evacuees (but not all) are fairly affluent as they are homeowners in rural areas, so we have a situation where at times the less affluent are helping the more affluent. Still, today,, even with so much devastation here, I have some real reasons to be proud of my city.

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September 14, 2007

Huge number of Californians speak a non-English language in their private lives

According to a report in today’s LA Times, 43% of the people in California speak a language other than English in their homes and private lives, and a stunning 53% in L.A. speak another language:

In California, “welcome” is more of an international affair than ever — with nearly 43% of residents speaking a language other than English at home, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The trend was even more pronounced in Los Angeles, where more than 53% of residents speak another language at home. Spanish is by far the most common, but Californians also converse in Korean, Thai, Russian, Hmong, Armenian and dozens of other languages. The census numbers are likely to fuel a decades-long debate in California over immigrants continuing to use their native tongue. There have been battles over bilingual education, foreign-language ballots and English-only restrictions on business signs. While immigration is the driving force for the state’s linguistic diversity, experts said people often speak another language out of choice rather than necessity. Some do so to get ahead professionally, while others want to maintain connections with their homelands.

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June 19, 2007

Ai Caramba! Schwarzenegger says “turn off Spanish TV” – to Hispanic Journalists

It wasn’t so much what the Governor said, it was where he said it:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a gathering of Hispanic journalists that immigrants should avoid Spanish-language media if they want to learn English quickly. “You’ve got to turn off the Spanish television set” and avoid Spanish-language television, books and newspapers, the Republican governor said Wednesday night at the annual convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.  “You’re just forced to speak English, and that just makes you learn the language faster,” Schwarzenegger said.  “I know this sounds odd and this is the politically incorrect thing to say, and I’m going to get myself in trouble,” he said, noting that he rarely spoke German and was forced to learn English when he emigrated from Austria.Schwarzenegger was responding to a question about how Hispanic students can improve academically. Many journalists for Spanish-language organizations in the audience were surprised by the remarks.

“I’m sitting shaking my head not believing that someone would be so naive and out of it that he would say something like that,” said Alex Nogales, president and chief executive of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.  Hispanic immigrants need Spanish-language media to stay informed and “function in this society,” Nogales said.

While many others praised the Governor’s frankness, it was also noted that he bought advertising on Spanish network during his election campaign.

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June 1, 2007

Two Buck Chuck: five years and three hundred million bottles later

An AP report has noted that “Two Buck Chuck” -the two dollar wine sold in Trader Joe’s, has sold three hundred million bottles in its first five years of existence and now accounts for 8 percent of California’s in State wine sales:

It’s been five years since the first of these amazingly cheap chardonnays and cut-price cabernets started rolling off the line, released by maverick vintner Fred Franzia under the formal label of Charles Shaw wines.  Three hundred million bottles later, Two Buck Chuck is still selling, and Franzia is still preaching his message of wine for the masses.  ‘‘We’re not out to gouge people,’’ says Franzia. ‘‘What I would like to see is every consumer be able to afford to have wine on the table every day and not feel insecure about it.’’  The result — along with the cute ‘‘critter’’ labels and more user-friendly packaging like boxes and screw caps — has helped knock a little of the starch out of the industry, said the wine industry consultant. ‘‘I think it shook up the business in several ways, but certainly it created this interest among consumers to seek out wine values,’’ said Fredrikson. ‘‘It certainly plants a seed in everyone’s mind about what you get for the money.’’ Michael Mondavi, founder of Folio Fine Wine Partners, a Napa Valley-based importer and producer of high-end wines, takes the wine-glass-half-full approach to the Franzia effect.  ‘‘I think Two Buck Chuck has helped to make people aware that wine is not just for special occasions,’’ says Mondavi, son of California wine country pioneer Robert Mondavi and a longtime friend of Franzia’s. ‘‘I also believe that the vast majority of the people who originally start buying Two Buck Chuck, within a period of a year, trade up to better wines.’’

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May 16, 2007

Adobe to sponsor film competition at Cannes

“Bringing together student and professional filmmakers globally, Adobe Systems Incorporated today announced that it will team with Vancouver Film School and Intel on Reel Ideas Studio, a global program featuring two documentary film competitions during the 60th Annual Cannes Film Festival, May 16 to 27 in Cannes, France. Winning entries from both competitions will be recognized and their documentaries will be screened at the Reel Ideas Studio Awards on May 24 in the American Pavilion during the film festival.”

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April 20, 2007

Bay Area residents most upbeat about California

The Sacramento Bee has reported that more residents of the San Francisco Bay Area think that California is “one of the best places to live” than any other part of the State, but, but this poll has changed through the years depending on the economy and politics of the time:

Residents who are California Dreamin’, believing the Golden State is among the best places to live, most likely reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, a new poll reveals. In a Field Poll index on how residents view living and working in the state, 67 percent of residents in the nine-county Bay Area say they consider California “one of the best places to live.” No other California region was close in the poll results released Wednesday. Fifty-five percent of residents in other Northern California counties and 41 percent of Central Valley residents felt California was among the best places to live. By comparison, 47 percent of Los Angeles County residents, 46 percent of Orange County and San Diego County residents and 43 percent of other Southern California residents rated the state among the best… Fifty percent of respondents in the March 20-31 survey of 1,093 registered voters statewide rated California as one of the best places to live. Twenty-nine percent said the state was “nice but not outstanding.” Sixteen percent rated the state as average and 4 percent said California was a poor place to live.

Those numbers were slightly better than the attitudes expressed by California voters in a similar poll in 2003. They were far better than in 1992 — the year of economic turmoil and the Los Angeles civil unrest after the Rodney King police beating verdict — when only 33 percent of state voters viewed California as one of the best places to live. But Californians don’t think nearly as much of their state as they did in Field Polls between 1967 and 1985 — when 70 percent to 78 percent of respondents characterized the state as an outstanding place to be. “You had the perspective then of California as a promised land, as a place where there is endless opportunity,” DiCamillo said. “The housing prices hadn’t yet started their steep rise. California was a place people felt really privileged to be.“


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April 16, 2007

Asian supermarket in Chino Hills spurs minor protest

The opening of a “Ranch 99″ supermarket in Chino Hills has sparked a minor protest, but seems to have fizzled out and the protesters have found little support among community leaders:

the demographic shift has proved unsettling for some in this upscale San Bernardino County town, and that tension surfaced when a major Asian grocery chain, 99 Ranch Market, announced plans for a Chino Hills store. The Chino Hills City Council heard an outcry from a small group of residents, including one who wrote that he didn’t want to see “little Chinatowns all over the Hills” filled with Asian signs he can’t read.

The skirmish mirrors clashes in the San Gabriel Valley in the 1980s when Asian immigrants moved into the traditionally white and Latino suburbs. When a wave of Asian businesses followed, city officials in Monterey Park tried unsuccessfully to pass English-only ordinances, arguing that Chinese-language business signs would confuse firefighters and emergency workers.

Larry Blugrind of Chino Hills told the City Council in a letter that the store would ‘result in a run-down center that is the equivalent of a Chinese Pic ‘N’ Save less than a mile from the kind of high-quality shops our city has been trying to attract to this area.’ Reached by telephone, Blugrind explained that he enjoyed having a diverse community — his daughter-in-law is Japanese.

“My worry is that 99 Ranch could be a steppingstone for it to become all Asian,” he said. “I don’t want another Hacienda Heights.”

In Chino Hills, the City Council has no say in whether Tawa Supermarkets Inc. can open a 99 Ranch Market. The store is moving into a space formerly occupied by a Ralphs supermarket. It’s a simple case of one grocery store taking over for another, said Mayor Gwenn Norton-Perry. ‘It’s an approved use, and we as a city have no purview over this. That’s the bottom line’” Norton-Perry said….

From 2000 to 2005, the city of 81,000 saw its Asian population jump from 22% to 39%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent survey. Of those, 10,316 were Filipino and 7,752 were Chinese. Asian Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese and Japanese constitute most of the remaining Asian Americans. The Asian influx has already had an effect on some public services: The Chino Hills library stocks books written in Chinese, Korean and Japanese…

As for the sign, ‘We can tell them we prefer signs to be in English only, but we can’t require it,’ Norton-Perry said. Still, some say the spat is much ado about nothing. ‘Last I remember, the words ’99 Ranch’ were in English,’ said Don Nakanishi, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. ‘You have El Pollo Loco,’ he said, referring to the popular Mexican restaurant chain. ‘Nobody’s telling them to translate that.’

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April 2, 2007

Hell’s Angels celebrates 50th birthday

“Even with members old enough to collect retirement pay, a party at Hells Angels headquarters is no party for the police. As the Oakland club plans to mark its 50th birthday this weekend, police were putting extra officers on duty Thursday even as they downplayed the chance of trouble. The Oakland chapter is best known for providing security at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert during which a fan was killed by a Hells Angel as the Rolling Stones performed. Police expect up to 800 bikers to attend the event that kicks off with a concert today. The group has secured permits, and police will patrol. The Hells Angels were formed in Fontana in 1948. The Oakland chapter was created in 1957. By the 1960s, the club had become synonymous with the outlaw biker counterculture. Today the group organizes motorcycle runs all over the world and takes part in charitable events such as Christmas toy drives.”

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