California

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
Dana Rohrabacher leaves a House Republican Conference meeting on October 7, 2015 in Washington.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who has represented Huntington Beach, California for 14 terms on Capitol Hill, has a bummer of a nickname: Putin’s Favorite Congressman. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that, during a closed meeting of House Republicans, Representative Kevin McCarthy—another Californian and, like Rohrabacher, a stalwart ally of President Donald Trump—said (jokingly, it seems) “there’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”

Then, on Friday, the New York Times reported that five years ago the FBI tried to tell Rohrabacher that Russian spies were literally trying to recruit him, to turn the congressman into a Russian intelligence asset. He told the Times not to worry so much: “I can’t imagine someone in a position of power in the United States government not fully appreciating the fact that whoever he’s dealing with who’s a foreigner that he doesn’t know is trying to influence him.”

No biggie! Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies. And for sure, nobody is seriously claiming that Dana Rohrabacher is taking money from or giving secrets to the Russian government. Except his quote to the Times is a little scary in its predictability. Psychology and behavioral economics say that Rohrabacher almost certainly doesn’t know how compromised he might be by years of friendship and meetings with Russians. “People think other people are more vulnerable to conflict of interest than they are,” says George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University. And if you show them the numbers that say everyone is vulnerable? “They say, ‘it’s statistics,’ and they always think they’re at the favorable end of the distribution.”

In this, Rohrabacher is Congress’ version of a physician getting called on by a pharmaceutical sales rep. The reps do everything from pay for super-expensive travel to conferences and big-ticket speeches all the way down to handing out pens emblazoned with drug names and buying cheap lunches. And all of it—all of it—increases the likelihood that a doctor will prescribe the drug, no matter how objectively good the drug is.

Now, this fact used to be tough to get at. Studies of conflict of interest…

The Rosicrucian Mummies of San Jose

The following article is from the book Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into California.

Zarathustra~commonswiki

(Image credit: )

Ancient occult societies, alchemy, and magical chanting—how much do you really know about your nice neighbors in San Jose?

MUMMY DEAREST

Tucked away in an area of San Jose best known for its green lawns and high-end homes are ancient mummies of everything from cats to catfish, including a few mummified people. These mummies rest in San Jose’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum with more than 4,000 other artifacts (originals and replicas), the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in the western United States.

The museum building, designed to resemble the ancient Amon temple that once stood in Karnak, Egypt, is part of a beautiful, but somewhat baffling, complex built by the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC). The what? They’re a group devoted to self-improvement and the study of mysticism. Rosicrucian Park takes up an entire city block in San Jose and features a planetarium, a research library, a temple, a shrine, and a peace garden replete with Egyptian plants, a pond, and fountains. All the buildings —except the Moorish-style planetarium— have exteriors inspired by Egyptian structures.

How this blend of ancient Egypt and New Age mysticism came to be located in a San Jose suburb is a strange story. For some, it begins in 1915 when Harvey Spencer Lewis, a former advertising illustrator from New Jersey, founded the AMORC to “study the elusive mysteries of life and the universe.” For others, though, the story really begins in 1500 BC, when some of those mummies in the museum were still alive.

EGYPT, BY WAY OF GERMANY?

The AMORC is an offshoot of the Rosicrucian Society, which has puzzled, intrigued, and sometimes angered people for years. Like the Freemasons and the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucian Society has been linked to secret symbols, famous people, and conspiracy theories. The first Rosicrucians appeared in 16th-century Germany, supposedly founded by Christian Rosenkreutz. According to legend, he was both an enlightened mystic and a successful alchemist (he could turn lead into gold, though we have no idea how), so he had a lot of clout in the worlds of religion and mysticism.

But many historians now believe that Rosencreuz was a mythical figure, rather than a real person. Three pamphlets appeared in the 17th century—one about Rosencreuz, a second about his secret society, and a third about alchemy and spiritual enlightenment. No one knows exactly who wrote the pamphlets, but the authors may have been German Protestants who started the society themselves. Regardless, those pamphlets spawned elaborate legends about the Rosicrucians, elite Christian mystics who clandestinely practiced magic and alchemy while trying to bring about spiritual enlightenment. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists accused the Rosicrucians of trying…

Edible Innovations: Steven and the Californian Baking Movement

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

This is a crazy story of disruption — a disruption that has now been ongoing for more than 30 years.

Steven and Susie Sullivan founded The Acme Bread Company in 1983 to bake bread for restaurants and stores that wanted to offer better bread than was generally available on the wholesale market at the time. They saw a lack of good bread on a larger scale. “Good bakeries were small ones that were not able to serve restaurants “ says Steven, “that’s why everything started.”

Steven started working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, along with Alice Waters (@AliceWaters). There wasn’t a big food movement going on at the time and “Silicon Valley” was still just known as the “Bay Area.” He was 18 the first time he went…

Real or Rumor: The Hotel del Coronado

The following article is from the book Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into California.

(Image credit: Dirk Hansen)

Built in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado (or Hotel Del) near San Diego has been the site of ghost hauntings, movie filmings, celebrity getaways, and all kinds of other legendary stuff. Let’s separate the facts from the fiction.

RUMOR: In December 1904, the Hotel del Coronado lit the first electric outdoor Christmas tree in the United States.

TRUTH: The hotel itself makes this claim, but it’s unlikely. Electric lights on trees probably came sometime in the late 1800s. However, in 1904 the hotel did wire 250 lights to its 50-foot tree. It may have been the first in Southern California and was certainly done at a time when few people lit outdoor trees at all and indoor ones were still fire hazards with candles. The tree remained on display for a three hours each night from Christmas Eve through New Year’s.

RUMOR: Every U.S. president since Lyndon B. Johnson has stayed at the Hotel Del.

TRUTH: This is true. The hotel has been the temporary home to 15 presidents, including the eight since Johnson. Seven presidents before Johnson also stayed at the Hotel Del: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. [Ed. note: this was written before the election of 2016.]

RUMOR: At a 1920 Hotel Del banquet in his honor, the 26-year-old Prince Edward of Wales met 24-year-old Wallis Spencer, a U.S. Navy captain’s wife who was destined to (scandalously!) become Edward’s Duchess of Windsor.

TRUTH: Years later, the couple did have an unsanctioned relationship (he had a thing for married women, and she was about to be twice-divorced). He briefly became King Edward VIII, but abdicated his throne to marry her, and…

Facebook, Google, and Twitter sued by families of San Bernardino shooting victims

Above: FILE PHOTO: Weapons confiscated from the attack in San Bernardino, California are shown in this San Bernardino County Sheriff Department handout photo from their Twitter account released to Reuters December 3, 2015.

(Reuters) — Family members of three victims of the December 2015 shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, have sued Facebook, Google and Twitter, claiming that the companies permitted Islamic State to flourish on social media.

The relatives assert that by allowing Islamic State militants to spread propaganda freely on social media, the three companies provided “material support” to the group and enabled attacks such as the one in San Bernardino.

“For years defendants have knowingly and recklessly provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts to use its social networks as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits,” family members of Sierra Clayborn, Tin Nguyen and Nicholas Thalasinos charge in the 32-page complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

“Without defendants Twitter, Facebook and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS over…

Wednesday Tech Wrap: Apple, Microsoft, Samsung

Use A Side Gig To Fund Retirement

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during a product launch event at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California on October 27, 2016. (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

reported a small but surprising fall in iPhone sales for the first three months of 2017. The company sold 50.8 million iPhones in the last quarter, down 1% on an annual basis. Chief Executive Tim Cook said the “pause” was due to customers waiting for the next iPhone, traditionally due out in September. But Apple’s shares were down 1.8% or $2.66 in pre-market trading on Wednesday morning in New York; Apple reported after trading closed on Tuesday. The stock had hit an all-time high of $147 per share on Tuesday as investors expected a blowout quarter, Forbes’ Brian Solomon reports.

The results were mixed overall. While iPhone sales did slide, the company was more profitable than expected, earning $2.10 per share compared with the $2.02 expected by analysts, Solomon added.

———

Microsoft unveiled its next Surface laptop along with the Windows 10…

Another California Water Crisis

It’s no secret that a vast amount of American infrastructure is in great need of upgrades, repairs or replacements. The repairs that are desperately needed will come, and they will come in one of two ways. Either proactive repairs can be made when problems are first discovered, or repairs can be made at considerably greater cost after catastrophic failures have occurred. As was the case with the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, we often pay in lives as well. Part of the problem is that infrastructure isn’t very exciting or newsworthy to many people outside of the civil engineering community which leads to complacency and apathy. As a result, it’s likely that you may not have heard about the latest struggle currently playing out in California even though it involves the largest dam in the United States and its potential failure.

Surprisingly enough, the largest dam in the US isn’t the famous Hoover Dam but the Oroville Dam at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. At 235 meters, it is almost 15 meters taller than the Hoover Dam. It can store over four cubic kilometers of water but whether or not it will keep storing that water into the future is currently under question. In February of this year during a flood control operation damage was observed on the dam’s spillway where a massive hole had formed which only got larger as the dam was forced to continue releasing water. The hole quickly grew, and the floodwaters eroded much of the lower half of the spillway embankment, forming a canyon.

Spillway damage as seen on 2/27/17 [via

The greater threat to the dam itself wasn’t simply the damage to the main spillway, but the use of the dam’s emergency spillway. It was used for the first time after the main spillway had to be shut down, but once the water started flowing, the amount of erosion behind the emergency spillway was much higher than anticipated. It was thought at one point that the erosion might undermine the strength of the dam itself which would have let loose a 9-meter-high wall of water down the Feather River, destroying many communities in its path. An evacuation order was issued for residents of the area during these series of events, but luckily the main spillway stabilized (although heavily damaged) and was able to allow Lake Oroville to drain enough to alleviate concerns of a total dam failure. The snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada isn’t finished yet, however, so the dam and the engineers working on it aren’t quite out of the woods.

As of…

The Real Zorro?

The following article is from the book Uncle John’s True Crime: A Classic Collection of Crooks, Cops, and Capers.

Every cultural legend has to start someplace, even if it’s from just a kernel of truth, expanded and embellished until it bears no resemblance to the original. Here’s the possible origin of Zorro, the “bold renegade” who “carved a Z with his blade.”

BACKGROUND

Pulp fiction writer Johnston McCulley created the swashbuckling character Zorro for a tale called “The Curse of Capistrano” that appeared in All-Story Weekly magazine in 1919. Literary historians believe McCulley based him on a number of characters, most of them fictional… and at least one real human being. It turns out that the story of the real man’s life was just as unusual—and probably every bit as embellished—as Zorro’s.

THE MAN

Not long after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California in 1848, a young Mexican man named Joaquin Murrieta came to California with his wife, Rosa Feliz, and her brothers Claudio, Reyes, and Jesus. They hoped to strike it rich in the gold fields, but none of them did; the closest any of them got was when Claudio was arrested for stealing another miner’s gold.

In 1850 Claudio escaped from jail and led his brothers and Murrieta in what became one of the most violent bandit gangs ever to terrorize the California gold country. The group was known to raid isolated ranches, but they preferred to rob lone travelers and Chinese miners (they thought the Chinese were less likely to be armed than whites or Mexicans). The gang murdered most of its victims after robbing them, to ensure that there were no witnesses.

The law began to catch up with the gang in September 1851, when Claudio was killed in a shootout following a robbery in Monterey County. Murrieta happened to be in Los Angeles at the time, and when Claudio died he assumed control of the gang. Not long afterward the bandits made the mistake of killing Joshua Bean, a major general in the militia. Murrieta then compounded the error by abandoning Reyes to his fate—Reyes was arrested for Bean’s murder and hanged.

THE END

Jesus, the youngest of the Feliz brothers, apparently never forgave Murrieta for Reyes’s death, because when the posse of state rangers caught up with him he willingly gave them the location of Murrieta’s hideout. On July 25, 1853, Murrieta died in a gun battle not far from where Interstate 5 now intersects Highway 33 outside of Coalinga, California. After Murrieta died, Jesus gave up his life of crime, moved to Bakersfield, and started a family. He lived to a ripe old age and died in 1910.

Murrieta was not as lucky. After he died in the shootout, the posse cut off his head and preserved it in a giant glass jar filled with brandy—there was a bounty on his head (so to speak), and in the days before fingerprinting and DNA evidence, posses had to be a little more creative in documenting that they’d gotten their man.

Murrieta’s brandied head made the rounds of the “$1-a-peek, crime-doesn’t-pay” lecture circuit for a few years; then it ended up as a feature attraction behind the bar of San Francisco’s Golden Nugget Saloon, where for the price of a drink you could sit at the bar and stare at the…

California Moves to Turn Freeway Traffic Into Electricity

California legislators are looking to put the state’s notorious car traffic to good use. State officials recently approved a plan to generate electricity from vibrations produced by cars driving down freeways, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The California Energy Commission recently voted to put $2.3 million into two piezoelectricity projects, which convert pressure into power. One pilot will test a 200-foot-long piece of asphalt on UC-Merced’s campus, while the other experiment will be built by the San Jose green technology company Pyro-E. The company’s technology is expected to generate enough power to supply 5000 homes using less than a half-mile of piezoelectric highway.

The idea is that highways could produce energy mechanically, much like a watch runs on the mechanical energy of a spring….

Before and After Photos Show California’s Super Bloom From Space

Due to a little extra rain, California’s “super bloom” has been especially vibrant this year. Places like Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Los Padres National Forest have seen a huge explosion of colorful wildflowers this spring compared to years past. The effect is even visible from space. These photos from Planet, a satellite imagery service, show just how dramatic the growth has been. They were first posted by KQED.

The satellite photo above, taken in late March, is an image of the Los Padres National Forest, which stretches…