Number Eight: California re dux

California, Here We Come … again

Our trip in July was serious frustration.

Departing from Portland, in route to Nevada,

No roads were direct, but the general direction,

We found the Bizz Johnson that looked like perfection.

On paper. (or the on-line map.)

Twenty five miles out and twenty five back,

With a “loose stone” surface, it was reasonably flat,

Along the Susan River near the Oregon border,

through canyons and national forests.

It was going to be hot

but all of the Northwest (and much of the world) was hot that summer.

None of that deterred us;

We booked a room in a decent motel in Susanville CA.

(We shared our motel with 15 or 20 firefighters, who were clearing brush in the Lassen and Plumas National Forests and were pretty bored with it. But Paradise was, geographically, on the other side of those forests, less than one hundred miles and, for those firefighters, less than one month away.)

It was very hot, reasonably flat except for the hills and tunnels, and ‘loose stone’ meant largish rocks with sharp edges. None of that defeated us; what did defeat us were the man-made barriers that would deter dirt bikes, ATVs, cattle drives, anything with an engine, anyone on a cane, bison, and tandem bikes. We left California in frustration and flames with only fourteen (14) total miles. (We won’t even mention Doré’s purse disappearance with our passports, her emergency stash, and whatever ‘essentials’ women have in their purses.)

After six months, we arrived in Arizona, by way of Maine and points between. Doré asked directly, “Why don’t we go back to California and bike another 36 miles.” Ron responded obliquely, “Why not. The best route from Phoenix to Fort Worth could go through San Diego. It only 350 miles in the wrong direction.”

We went to San Diego.

Everyone should go to San Diego. Compared to the Northwest in August, Southern California was chilly in December but the zoo lives up to its reputation. In Balboa Park, outside the zoo, they allow Christmas displays and anti-Christmas displays. And we biked the Bay Shore Bikeway, which pretty much circled the Bay and got us almost to 50 miles for the state CA in a span of six months.

Our visit to the zoo got off on a very positive foot. Two feet actually. Most museums and galleries have loaner wheelchairs, usually free. Places like state fairs and zoos, where chairs are often necessary, have them available, but never free. For museums, we don’t bother to unload our chair; for state fairs and zoos, we do. The San Diego Zoo is world class, perhaps the best in the world with admission and chair rental prices to match. For us, at the senior rate, admission was $49 per person. After we had established all this with the agent, she asked if I would be pushing Doré. My reaction was, “Why, are you offering?” and her reaction was, “No, but attendants are free.” Ok then, I’m her attendant.

It was worth the price of admission and I earned mine; the zoo is built on and around two or three hills, most paths exceeding railroad grade, some off-limits to anything with wheels, at least the ones the zoo rents. As with cycling, the shortest route has the steepest hills.

The zoo has two locations: one in town and one outside. Both are worth doing. The outside part tries to be safari-esque. The one in town has more traditional, but relatively humane exhibits. It is part of Balboa Park, which is huge. In addition to the zoo and a lot of green space, it has 17 museums and galleries, by their count, not mine, including the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Museum of Man, Japanese Friendship Garden, Hall of Pacific Relations, Fleet Science Center, a band shell, and apparently 11 other museums. I don’t remember which museum has these.

The Museum of Man is a relatively small, anthropologic study of race in America and the world. Genetically, race is almost meaningless with very few differences in DNA; most observed differences have to do with differences in what enzymes get triggered when due to environmental influences. Some interesting tidbits involved lactose intolerance and tolerance, AIDS/HIV, and Sickle Cell Anemia.

All (or almost all) adult mammals are lactose intolerant; that’s how they manage to wean the babies in time for the next breeding season. It’s a real problem when domestic cattle are lactose tolerant. For Homo sapiens, tolerance opened access to a very valuable food source. The frequency of the trait in a population is a function of how many cows, camels, yaks, horses, reindeer, goats were available and how necessary they were to survival. I wonder if anyone has ever studied cats on dairy farms?

The same gene that causes Sickle Cell Anemia, which is recessive, also protects against malaria, which is dominant. If you get it from one parent, that’s a very good thing; from both parents is a very bad thing. Malaria isn’t a big issue for populations native to the tropics but it was for the European colonists.

It’s probably a little more speculative but one popular conjecture about AIDS/HIV is that European populations are less susceptible to HIV because of the severe culling of that gene pool by the Bubonic Plague. (DNA samples from Plague victims are hard to come by.) The same gene that helped some survive the Plague may also protect against AIDS.

These, however, are not racial differences; they are individual differences based on the individual genotype. They only look like racial differences because the gene frequencies vary by geography.

Two displays of particular interest to us were an analysis of ethnic classifications of people used by the US Census over the decades and a video interview of Joe Minjares (aka, Senkyr?), a Mexican immigrant, actor, entrepreneur, and restaurant owner in Minneapolis. More specifically, in the Eleventh Ward of Minneapolis; his restaurant Pepito’s hosted some of Doré’s election night parties. The US Census analysis was led by Dr. Peter Rachleff, professor at Macalester College in St. Paul.

Another exhibit left one of my idols Carolus Linnaeus, who devised the taxonomic system for all of life, with serious feet of clay. Like Darwin, about all he had to go on was anatomy but his system has held up remarkably well over the centuries. His major blunder came when he allowed his Euro-centric chauvinism on stereotypes, philosophy, religion, and geography to overwhelm any evidence he might have had. He divided Homo sapiens into four races; these are his words, not mine:

  1. African: Black, phlegmatic, relaxed
    1. Crafty, indolent, negligent
    2. Anoints himself with grease
    3. Governed by caprice
  2. American: Red, choleric, erect
    1. Obstinate, merry, and free
    2. Paints himself with red lines
    3. Governed by customs
  3. Asian: Sallow, melancholy, stiff
    1. Severe, haughty, avaricious
    2. Covered with loose garments
    3. Governed by opinion
  4. European: White, sanguine, muscular
    1. Gentle, acute, inventive
    2. Covered with close vestments
    3. Governed by laws

These descriptions probably reflected the conventional view in 18th Century Europe and some factions of 21st Century America. “We’re still not where we’re going but we’re still not where we were.” Natasha Josefowitz

The seating area near the band shell was surrounded by very impressive, life-size dioramas depicting the Christian version of the early winter holiday.

And my stereograph for the day and season. You have to cross your eyes.

As some sort of nod toward the Establishment and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, there were some less lavish exhibits expressing other opinions ranging from the Christmas Story might not be historically accurate in all details to it’s all a big myth.

They also dared to suggest the US is a Christian country only in the sense that that was the religion adhered to by all the early immigrants, (‘early’ meaning 400 years ago, not 15,000) but not reflected by the governing documents they implemented for themselves. The number one commitment was the separation of church and state. They were very fortunate to have the writings of the 17th Century European Enlightenment and Humanist philosophers to draw on, to plagiarize, and to paraphrase. They were also fortunate to have a wealth of natural resources to exploit, no aristocrats to oust, and no religious establishment to overthrow. That was then; this is now.

“All men by nature are equal in that equal right that man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man; being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty or possessions.” John Locke, 1689

“All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Thomas Jefferson, 1776

Locke needed a better editor and, for Jefferson, being an enlightened humanist doesn’t preclude being a slave-owning deist. Locke was writing before Linnaeus; Jefferson after, but they must have shared some of his views on race to reconcile slavery with life, liberty, possessions, and the pursuit of happiness.

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