John Gravdis, in Pacific Standard, tracks down the strange, but oh-so-California, origin of the left coast’s latest food craze: $3-4 a slice artisanal toast.
All the guy was doing was slicing inch-thick pieces of bread, putting them in a toaster, and spreading stuff on them. But what made me stare—blinking to attention in the middle of a workday morning as I waited in line at an unfamiliar café—was the way he did it. He had the solemn intensity of a Ping-Pong player who keeps his game very close to the table: knees slightly bent, wrist flicking the butter knife back and forth, eyes suggesting a kind of flow state.
The coffee shop, called the Red Door, was a spare little operation tucked into the corner of a chic industrial-style art gallery and event space (clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Evernote, Google) in downtown San Francisco. There were just three employees working behind the counter: one making coffee, one taking orders, and the soulful guy making toast. In front of him, laid out in a neat row, were a few long Pullman loaves—the boxy Wonder Bread shape, like a train car, but recognizably handmade and freshly baked. And on the brief menu, toast was a standalone item—at $3 per slice.
It took me just a few seconds to digest what this meant: that toast, like the cupcake and the dill pickle before it, had been elevated to the artisanal plane. So I ordered some. It was pretty good. It tasted just like toast, but better.
Behind every foodie breakthrough, there is a PC sob story. Go ahead and fork over $4 for that slice of toasted bread, it’s for a good cause!
I went to The Mill for breakfast today and got a black cup of coffee and a single slice of toast topped with butter and sour strawberry jam. For $6.
It was an experiment in upper-middle class lifestyle consumerism. In San Francisco, flaunting your wealth has been elevated to new lows, if you will. The labels aren’t the usual lineup of foreign design houses; rather, we pay $300 for simple denim jeans or $200 for plain black yoga pants. We don’t go to the opera; we overspend on the simplest facets of life.
Coffee. Water. Bread. Housing. The kinds of things our pioneer forebears made themselves and considered basic necessities or small comforts.
And the tech community is largely to blame, in this writer’s opinion.
Here’s the cycle:
Someone creates a business for consumers with too much money and pretensions of superior taste. It might be a physical good, like toast; it might be a service, like black-car, chauffeured rides.
Tech folks, being one of the largest demographics in the city with ample disposable income, patronize, promote, and even invest in said business. (See: Blue Bottle coffee.)
Aforementioned business prospers and grows its profile.
People both within and outside the tech community are inspired to create more bourgie businesses that cater to the bored and overprivileged, peppering their descriptions with buzzwords like “organic” and “fair trade” and “artisanal,” the most meaningless of them all. Rarely are these goods and services truly accessible and affordable.
San Francisco becomes saturated with overpriced crap that is comparable in quality to less overpriced crap.
Middle class and working class families and individuals in the community find themselves priced out of goods and services. Small businesses in those sectors languish.
Good toast and a plain cup of coffee shouldn’t cost $6. But I can’t imagine the tech community putting the brakes on this trend any time soon. We’re obsessed with false ideas of quality. We fetishize the precious processes and benchmarks and prices that, in reality, have no bearing on how good something is.
Charlotte Allen, in the Weekly Standard, gives her readers a tour of the dystopian future represented by California’s Silicon Valley where left-wing politics goes hand-in-hand with spectacular inequality. The Tech Company owner lives in Atherton or owns, as the saying goes, “his own hilltop in Portola, while the merely upper-middle-class pay $1,200,000 to live in the sort of despicable ranch house equivalent of what a mailman might own in New Jersey. But they both have Mexican illegals to mow their lawns and paint their fences.
“If you live here, you’ve made it,” David Berkey said to me as I rode shotgun in his car two months ago through the Silicon Valley’s wealth belt. The massive house toward which he was pointing belongs to Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google. With a net worth of $24 billion, Brin is Silicon Valley’s third-richest denizen and the fourteenth-richest man in America, according to Forbes. Berkey was chauffeuring me down Atherton Avenue, a wide, straight, completely tree-lined boulevard nicely bifurcating the city of Atherton (population 7,200), located 29 miles south of San Francisco, boasting no commercial real estate, and with a zip code (94027) that was recently listed by Forbes as America’s most expensive.
You couldn’t really see Brin’s house from the car, though—just a swatch of rooftop, maybe a chimney—because the point of the trees lining Atherton Avenue and nearly every other street in Atherton is to hide the dwellings behind them. Where the screens of trees happen to thin, property owners have constructed high hedges, high wooden fences, and high brick walls, so that when you look down Atherton Avenue from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west toward the commuter railroad station to the east, you see only the allée of trees—pine, palms, eucalyptus, sycamore, and juniper—shades of gray-green and brown-green shimmering placidly in the early autumn sun. “This is the Champs-Élysées of Atherton,” Berkey explained. The other thing we didn’t see from Berkey’s car is people, except for the occasional driver on the road. ...
Berkey himself doesn’t live in Atherton. He can’t afford to. He’s a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and his wife, Eleanor Lacey, is general counsel at SurveyMonkey, which occupies Facebook’s old startup quarters in downtown Palo Alto. That makes them part of what is known as the “middle class” of Silicon Valley: two-career couples with family incomes in the low-to-mid six-figure-range. They and their two daughters live in neighboring Menlo Park, in what is essentially a modest 1950s tract house, the kind of flat-roofed, three-bedroom, two-bath, sliding-glass-patio-door, under-2,000-square-foot residences, pleasant but not pretentious, that were built en masse well into the 1970s as cheap starter homes, because back then it was conceivable that there could be such a thing as a cheap starter home in the valley. Berkey says his own house is currently valued at $1.2 million.
That’s par for the course. Open on any random day the Daily Post, the throwaway newspaper serving the mid-peninsula, and there will be a full-page ad for a “charming updated contemporary home” in Menlo Park or Palo Alto or Mountain View or Sunnyvale, with its single story, its gravel-topped roof, its living-room picture window, its teensy garden strip running alongside the jutting two-car garage that plugs into the kitchen, its pocket-size but grassy front lawn reminiscent of The Wonder Years—and its 1,216 square feet of living space—all “offered at $949,000.” That’s a bargain for the valley.
Berkey drove us out of Atherton, across El Camino Real, the peninsula’s main commercial highway, and across the railroad tracks past the tiny Atherton station, now part of California’s state-run Caltrain system and a commuter stop only on weekends. We were now in the featureless, nearly treeless, semi-industrial flatlands of Menlo Park stretching eastward to the bay. The demographic change was instant: ¡No se habla inglés! There were suddenly plenty of people on the sidewalks—and nearly every single one of them was Latino. There were suddenly plenty of commercial establishments—ramshackle, brightly painted, graffiti-adorned storefronts with hand-painted business signs mostly in Spanish: “Comida Nicaraguense,” “Restaurante Guatemalteco,” “Carnicería” (pork chops and steaks crudely painted on the walls), “Pescadería” (fish and crustaceans crudely painted on the walls), “Panadería,” “Check Cashing,” “Gonzalez Auto Sales,” “Sanchez Jewelry,” “Check Cashing,” “Arturo’s Shoe Repair,” “99¢ and Over,” “Check Cashing.”
Menlo Park is actually only about 20 percent Hispanic and is unabashedly affluent in its own right, but its Hispanic population concentrated next door to the hedgy scrim of Atherton makes for a startling study in contrasts. No one pretends that the gravel-roofed, shack-size houses in this particular neighborhood are “charming” midcentury modern gems. That would be hard to do, what with the weeds, the peeling paint, the chain-link fences, the chained-up guard dogs, and the front lawns paved over to accommodate multiple vehicles for multiple dwellers. The phrase “the other side of the tracks” has vivid meaning. “Look at the newspaper police blotters, and you’ll see that in Atherton the main reported crime is identity theft,” said Berkey. “Here, it’s break-ins.”
You can laud this underbelly barrio as vibrant immigrant culture or you can decry it as an instant-slum product of untrammeled illegal border-crossing, but it represents an important fact on the ground: These are the people who earn their livings tending to the needs of the high-tech “creative class” that has made Silicon Valley famous. I could see them on Atherton Avenue, the amanuensis class heading up from Menlo Park in their wee panel trucks and Dodge minivans and their Ford flatbeds fitted out with racks for garden tools among the Bentleys, BMWs, Audis, and Lexuses that are the standard Atherton vehicles. They tend the meticulously clipped lawns, flower beds, hedges, and trees of Atherton (Berkey said that it’s not uncommon for an Atherton sentence to begin, “My arborist . . . ”). They clean the houses and the swimming pools, they deliver the catering, they watch the children, and they repair the roofs, the plumbing, the balconies, and the wine cellars of the very affluent and the very busy. You might say that across-the-tracks Menlo Park, along with down-market Latino neighborhoods just like it up and down the peninsula—East Palo Alto, parts of Redwood City, the southern end of San Jose—functions as a kind of oversize servants’ wing. It’s safe to say that almost every hotel maid, restaurant busboy, cashier, janitor, retail stocker, and fast-food worker in the valley is Latino.
Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class. Silicon Valley is a tableau vivant of what many economists and professional futurologists say is the coming fate of America itself, a fate to which Americans, if they can’t embrace it as some futurologists hope, should at least resign themselves.
While I was driving with Berkey around Atherton, Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University and author of The Great Stagnation (2011), published a new book, Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. There, Cowen bluntly predicted what he called “wage polarization.” The increasing ability of computers to perform ordinary tasks will inexorably transform America into an income oligarchy in which the top 15 percent of people—with skills “that are a complement to the computer”—will enjoy “cheery” labor-market prospects and soaring incomes, while the bottom 85 percent, that is to say, 267 million out of America’s 315 million people, will be lucky to find Walmart-level jobs or scrape together marginal “freelance” livings running $25-a-pop errands for their betters via TaskRabbit (say, picking up and delivering a pair of designer shoes from Nordstrom) or renting out their spare bedrooms (if they have any) to overnight lodgers via Airbnb. That is, if they’ll be working at all. “There are many other historical periods, including medieval times, where inequality is high, upward mobility is fairly low, and the social order is fairly stable, even if we as moderns find some aspects of that order objectionable,” Cowen writes in his new book.
In other words, what is coming is the “new feudalism,” a phrase coined by Chapman University urban studies professor Joel Kotkin, a prolific media presence whose New Geography website is an outlet for the trend’s most vocal critics. “It’s a weird Upstairs, Downstairs world in which there’s the gentry, and the role for everybody else is to be their servants,” Kotkin said in a telephone interview. “The agenda of the gentry is to force the working class to live in apartments for the rest of their lives and be serfs. But there’s a weird cognitive dissonance. Everyone who says people ought to be living in apartments actually lives in gigantic houses or has multiple houses.”
It’s hard to travel anywhere in the valley and not see what Kotkin is talking about.
Native Californian Victor Davis Hanson takes a look at the bizarre lifestyle (big money, crappy housing) and even stranger politics of his own state’s technological elite.
Strip away the veneer of Silicon Valley, and it is mostly a paradox. Almost nothing is what it is professed to be. Ostensibly, communities like Menlo Park and Palo Alto are elite enclaves, where power couples can easily make $300,000 to $700,000 a year as mid-level dot.com managers.
But often these 1 percenter communities are façades of sorts. Beneath veneers of high-end living, there are lives of quiet 1-percent desperation. With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income. And hip California 1 percenters do not enjoy superb roads and schools or a low-crime state in exchange for forking over half their income.
Housing gobbles much of the rest of their pay. A 1,300-square-foot cottage in Mountain View or Atherton can easily sell for $1.5 million, leaving the owners paying $5,000 to $6,000 on their mortgage and another $1,500 to $2,000 in property taxes each month. Add in the de rigueur Mercedes, BMW, or Lexus and the private-school tuition, and the apparently affluent turn out to have not all that much disposable income. A visitor from Mars might look at their relatively tiny houses, frenzied go-getter lifestyle, and leased BMWs, and deem them no better off materially than middle-class state employees three hours away in supposedly dismal Merced, who earn 20 percent as much, but live in a home twice as large, with only 10 percent of the monthly mortgage and tax costs.
Given exorbitant taxes and housing prices, obviously it is not just the high salaries that draw so many to the San Francisco Bay Area. The “ambiance” of year-round temperate weather, the collective confidence rippling out from new technology, the spinoff from great universities like UC Berkeley and Stanford, and the hip culture of fine eating and entertainment all tend to convince Silicon Valley denizens that they are enviable even though they must work long hours to pay high taxes and to buy tiny and often old homes.
Silicon Valley liberal politics are equally paradoxical, reflect this quiet desperation, and mask hyper-self-interest, old-fashioned rat-race competition, and 21st-century suburban versions of keeping up with the Joneses. The latter may be green, support gay marriage, and oppose restrictions on abortion, but they still are the Joneses of old who define their success by showing off to neighbors what they have, whether high-performance cars or hyper-achieving kids.
In the South Bay counties, Democratic registration outnumbers Republican often 2 to 1. If liberals like Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi did not represent the Bay Area, others like them would have to be invented. Yet, most Northern California liberal politics are abstractions that apparently provide some sort of psychological compensation for otherwise living lives that are illiberal to the core.
Milosz’s defection from Communist Poland resulted in exile, exile from history, from European civilization, from memory, and from the Northern landscapes of Poland and Lithuania to California, the uniquely American hybridized version of Botany Bay blended with the country of the Lotus-eaters, of chaparral desert and Pacific fog, of ahistoric imbecility and unbridled consumption, California which turns its back on history and civilization, yet preternaturally offers constant sharp glimpses of the dystopian future.
Cynthia L. Haven offers a nice appreciation of the exquisite character of Milosz’s fate: an exile as remote and barbarous as Ovid’s at Tomis on the Black Sea, yet deprived of tragedy by the plush privileges of an elite University appointment and all the wine shops, shopping malls, and restaurants of the most self-indulgent region of the New World.
She offers a nice quotation from the poet himself:
I did not choose California. It was given to me.
What can the wet north say to this scorched emptiness?
Grayish clay, dried-up creek beds,
Hills the color of straw, and the rocks assembled
Like Jurassic reptiles: for me this is
The Spirit of the Place.
Ms. Haven does a nice job of describing the ambivalence of the experience of California of the civilized man in exile, the fear of real assimilation, of being unable to do without one’s favorite restaurants, of growing weakly dependent on a Riviera-like climate, of becoming happily Californian.
Miłosz returned to Poland for good in 2000, coming back to California only as his wife was dying in a Berkeley hospital in 2002. At her funeral, he whispered to Hass, “I’m afraid this place will catch me.” The return to Poland allowed him to turn against the land that had alternately embraced and ignored him.
Hass told me in an interview shortly after Miłosz’s death: “I just think he had some years of bitter loneliness, and what came back to him, when he came here to California again, was that. The isolation. When he first came here, he didn’t much like California. Then you follow, in some of his writings, he’s become a Californian and is quite loyal to it. As soon as he got back to Poland, then he could hate and resent his time in California.” He couldn’t divide his loyalties—but the rest of us do it daily, teetering on the ambivalences that make up our relationship to our adopted home on the West Coast.
Milosz lived in Berkeley on the lower slopes of the mountains offering this view.
Is setting buildings afire in order to force a suspect to come out or be burned alive an appropriate police tactic? I come from a family which produced large numbers of police officers over several generations. I’m not a bleeding heart or soft on crime either. But I’m pretty skeptical of the practice of equipping police with incendiary tear gas grenades, making it possible for them to intentionally torch buildings and then (like Sheriff McMahon) feign no responsibility by blaming the tear gas for “accidentally” igniting a fire.
Those California police would obviously have been perfectly entitled to shoot Dorner dead to reduce him to possession when he continued to resist, but I think it is (a) cowardly and (b) dubiously legal for them to destroy private property and use arson in order to avoid waiting and exchanging more gunfire with a criminal.
——————————————— CBS News:
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon… told reporters that the fire in the cabin where Christopher Dorner presumably died was not intentionally set by authorities. He said tear gas canisters fired into the cabin apparently set the blaze.
An alleged recording of police scanner audio transmissions strongly contradicts McMahon’s statement.
Responding to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s invitation to California businesses to move to Texas, where they can find “low taxes, predictable regulations, [a] fair legal system and [a] skilled workforce,” Jerry Brown sneered:
“Everybody with half a brain is coming to California.”
which does basically explain the political situation out there.
Sanctimonious Animal Rights advocates stage a protest in a Bay Area Supermarket. Lena Dunham’s confreres may not live the most well-balanced and responsible sort of lives, but that certainly never inhibits them from assuming all kinds of baseless authority to tell the rest of us how to live.
The saga now playing out in La Jolla Cove is the epitome of regulatory stupidity. In a rocky area by the cove once open to people but now fenced off for safety reasons, the feces of cormorants and seagulls just keeps piling up, generating a stench that can carry as far as a mile. Dry conditions, a hot summer and other factors have made this a gross everyday problem for the cove area, not an occasional annoyance.
So why can’t city work crews simply take care of the problem? Why can’t biodegradable cleaning products be used to make the stench disappear, as suggested by San Diego Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who represents the area? Why can’t any reason or common sense come to the fore?
Because of complex environmental rules stemming from the cove’s designation as a state-protected “Area of Special Biological Significance.” Officials say it could take two years to get various state agencies to OK cleaning procedures.
The SF Chronicle reports that in the bluest quarters of the bluest state panic is setting in.
There’s no shortage of their kind in the politically bluest parts of California. Liberals so freaked out about the prospect of President Obama losing his re-election bid that they can’t sleep at night. Can’t talk about anything else. Can’t stop parsing the latest polls.
David Plouffe, one of President Obama’s top campaign strategists, has a word for supporters he feels are needlessly fretful: bed wetters.
“Oh, I think I’m worse than that,” Kay Edelman said.
For the past several weeks, the 60-year-old San Francisco resident has frequently bolted awake in the middle of the night, in “a panic attack,” she said. She darts for her computer and checks the latest polls. Some days she’s so distraught that she can’t exercise.
Every morning, she gets e-mails from friends who’ve been just as sleepless. Most are so tense, they can croak out only a few words. “Very anxious.” “Worried.”
“Nothing more needs to be said,” said Edelman, a retired educational administrator.
Emotional role reversal
In this most unpredictable of campaigns, an emotional role reversal is happening in California. Republicans, who hold no statewide offices and are only 30 percent of registered voters, are more upbeat and enthusiastic.
Liberals, on the other hand, keep checking the polls.
It’s unlikely that even Republican Mitt Romney’s immediate family members think he’ll win California. But a Public Policy Institute of California survey released last week shows that while Obama holds a 12-point lead among likely California voters, 70 percent of Republican voters in the state were more enthusiastic than usual about voting – a greater proportion than the 61 percent of Democrats who were more enthused.
For liberals, part of the problem is that neither of the presidential campaigns is active in California, conceding the state to Obama. That means liberals have little to do other than reinforce each other’s fears about the voting predilections of a voting species seldom seen in the Bay Area – non-Democrats.
“We’re seeing these polls and reading about all these ads, and hearing about all of these undecided voters that are in other states, but we feel that we can’t do anything about it,” said Pat Reilly, a longtime press spokeswoman for national and California organizations and politicians who lives in Berkeley. “You feel like you’re part of a fight, but you can’t see your opponent.”
Western Outdoor News: COMMISSION PRESIDENT CELEBRATES A SUCCESSFUL HUNT – California Fish and Game commissioner Dan W. Richards travelled deep into the wicked terrain of Idaho’s Flying B Ranch to fulfill a long-held goal. “It was the most physically exhausting hunt of my lifetime. Eight hours of cold weather hiking in very difficult terrain. I told the guides I appreciated the hard work. They were unbelievably professional, first class all the way,” he said. Richards said he took the big cat over iron sights using a Winchester Centennial lever action .45 carbine. Asked about California’s mountain lion moratorium, Richards didn’t hesitate. “I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho.”
The LA Times reports that the president of the California Fish and Game Commission has been successfully hounded out of office by the usual West Coast crowd of left-wing extremists for the outrage of legally taking a trophy mountain lion on a hunt in Idaho. Residents of California have been regularly stalked, occasionally mauled, and even killed and eaten by mountain lions in unprecedented numbers of incidents since hunting lions in the Golden State was banned by whacko-supported initiative in 1990.
The California Fish and Game Commission was created a century ago (1909) by sportsmen to manage and regulate the state’s wildlife resources. Its operations and programs are funded by license fees and taxes on sporting goods paid exclusively by hunters and fishermen.
But, in California today, the tyranny of the fruits-and-nuts supporters of the democrat party is so far-reaching, their intolerance and bigotry concerning other people’s lifestyles and convictions so great, that the president of the state Fish and Game Commission has been hounded out office by a six-month-long campaign of vilification based on his being guilty of legally hunting!
Daniel W. Richards was replaced as president of the California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday, seven months after he sparked a storm of controversy by killing a mountain lion during a hunt in Idaho.
Although the kill was legal in Idaho, California has outlawed the hunting of mountain lions for decades. More than 40 state legislators called for Richards to resign in March, saying he showed poor judgment in killing the cougar when the practice is opposed by most Californians.
At the time, Richards defiantly refused to resign from the commission, saying he had done nothing improper. Even though the commission voted to elect Commissioner Jim Kellogg as president Wednesday, Richards plans to remain on the commission until his term expires in January. ...
[Michael] Sutton, an executive with the Audubon Society [who was at the same time elected Vice President of the Fish and Game Commission], said later that the killing of the lion and Richards’ comments defending it were factors in his decision to vote to replace Richards.
“It was pretty clear that Commissioner Richards had lost the confidence of the majority of the commission,” Sutton said. “Most of us feel it is inappropriate to use the presidency as a bully pulpit for your views.”
The president of the State Fish & Game Commission is supposed, in California, to be out of line when he uses his office to speak in favor of hunting.
The presidency and control of the commission will be passing out of the hands of the sportsmen who pay for it and into the hands of Environmentalist granola-crunching ideologues eager to implement new policies based on junk science, Animal Rights theories, and hostility to firearms and the field sports.
The LA Weekly describes the politics of the situation:
[A]lthough Fish and Game commissioners haven’t explained specifically why they decided to vote Richards down from his throne today, it was clearly a symbolic move to kill the human who killed the beast.
“The president of the commission should be someone who has the confidence of a majority of his peers,” Mike Sutton, vice president, told the Mercury News leading up to the vote.
Richards was playing the feisty right-wing ideologue at the beginning of this battle, but he has since became strangely resigned to his ousting.
He looked on as the commission changed its own internal election policy in May so that they might replace Richards. And today, a Fish and Game Commission spokesman tells us that Richards himself took part in the unanimous vote to elect Commissioner Jim Kellogg as his replacement.
The ex-prez, appointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger (surprise, surprise) in 2008, will remain on the commission until his term ends in six months. But from there, he tells the Mercury News: “I think there is a zero chance that Jerry Brown will appoint me, so it doesn’t matter what I think. He has his hands full with shoplifters and other thugs in the Legislature.”
Pretty morbid, right? Let this be a lesson for all trigger-happy Republicans who dare to dream of swimming against California’s blue tide: We’ll eat your grin for dinner.
Movies.com reports that even the later-era high-minded George Lucas can be moved to an act of revenge worthy of a full-fledged Sith Lord.
[F]or four decades Lucas has owned a large swath of land in Marin County in the North San Francisco Bay and has spent the past few years trying to transform the ranch on it into a massive, nearly 300,000 square foot, state-of-the-art movie studio complete with day care center, restaurant, gym and a 200-car garage. His neighbors, however, have rejected it every step of the way. Despite the promise of bringing $300 million worth of economic activity to the area, the already-well off neighbors are worried about years’ worth of construction activity and the additional foot traffic it will bring into their neighborhood once completed.
The local homeowners association has been such a thorn in Lucas’ side that he’s decided to abandon the studio construction entirely…
So what is George Lucas going to do with his property now that he’s tired of his rich neighbors putting up a not-in-my-backyard stink? He wants to transform the property into low-income housing, naturally, ending their official statement with this zinger, “If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.”
The case of an Orange County woman severely burned after rocks collected last weekend from San Onofre State Beach ignited in her pocket has puzzled scientists, who say they’ve never seen anything like it and aren’t quite sure how it happened. ...
The 43-year-old San Clemente woman, who remained hospitalized Thursday with second- and third-degree burns, visited the northern San Diego County beach last Saturday with her family, authorities said. Her name has not been released.
Her children collected rocks, including two that were distinctive — one was large and a marbled gray; the other much smaller and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle green.
Both of the beach stones were streaked and flecked with bright orange.
The mother put the rocks in her right pocket and went home. Then they suddenly ignited.
Witnesses reported seeing flames coming from her shorts. She had second- and third-degree burns from her right knee to her right thigh, with second-degree burns on her hands. Her husband also had burns on his hands from trying to help her.
The Orange County Health Care Agency examined the two rocks, and tests revealed a “phosphorous substance” on the rocks, which now have been sent to a state laboratory for further testing, said Tricia Landquist, an agency spokeswoman.
That discovery, however, has only added to the mystery.
Scientists wondered: How does a chemical like phosphorus wind up on a Southern California beach? And why did a substance so volatile not burst into flames sooner?
California is a kind of laboratory in which the bacilli of modernity germinate and grow at a preternatural pace, giving the rest of us a glimpse of our own dystopian future.
Norman Rogers takes a shot at describing life in the particularly lush Petri dish that is Northern California’s Marin County.
The population of Marin is overwhelmingly white, Democrat, and financially well-off. In 2008, nearly 80% of the vote went to Obama. The main minority consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants who prosper by providing services such as gardening, house-cleaning, and child care. The going rate for babysitting is close to $20 an hour. Although official statistics say that the Hispanics have low incomes, those statistics are based on the assumption that landscapers and babysitters, often in the country illegally, carefully report their earnings to the government. ...
Marin is a refuge for upper-income people. It is a place where they can escape the crime and congestion of San Francisco or Oakland. Above all, it is a place where their children can escape the generously funded but abysmal public schools of San Francisco and other urban cities.
In Marin there are shared values, and it is expected that the residents will toe the line. One of those shared values is a kind of make-believe tolerance. The reality is that the inhabitants of Marin are just as conformist and narrow-minded as are the inhabitants of flyover small towns ridiculed by Hollywood or Ivy-League sociology professors. Deviations from expectations will usually generate silent disapproval rather than verbal correction. However, if you depart too far from expectations, you may experience vigorous disapproval. ...
Charles Murray, in his new book Coming Apart, points out that a new social class has been created due to the greater economic value of brains, a consequence of the impact of new technology. These workers tend to be in the high-tech industry or the financial industry. They have a privileged position and are isolated from the rest of America. They tend to marry each other, and they cluster in certain places like Marin County. Because their skills are in great demand, they are unacquainted with economic hardship. The idea that, for example, environmental goals have to be compromised for economic goals is foreign to them because such difficult compromises are not something they have had to face in their personal lives. Since they have led such charmed lives, they see no reason why everyone can’t have similar advantages. So Obama’s message that he is going to fix everything resonates with them. Many members of this new class went to universities where doctrinaire and anti-capitalist ideology is rampant. Thus, they lack historical perspective, or even basic historical knowledge.
Smart people lacking a solid education are susceptible to crackpot ideas, be they global warming, the evil of plastic bags, radio waves making people sick, or Steve Jobs’ theory of healing cancer with nutrition.