Thursday, October 29, 2020


This is the third set of comments which proceeded the book and also a chance to weigh in on possible book covers.   The point of these recent posts is to give you an idea of what might be in the book.

This post describes my feelings about becoming a father, first with our daughter and then with our son.   I remain intrigued about how different our kids have become.   What I appreciate about both are two qualities they hold in common.  Both have built strong marriages and are devoted to their children.  At the same time both understand the need to be active in their communities; Emily with her work in Eagle Rock Elementary and Peter in sports both football and little league.

NOTE - The original draft for these posts is in response to a series of questions that my daughter asked me in 2019.  Thus, the references are to her (as in Before you were born)  

First things first.  Presented on either side are two alternative covers for the book.  I actually like both.   If you have a preference, shoot me a note.

But now back to the blog -  This week are comments about what it was like to become a father to Emily and Peter.   One initial comment, I think it can be said, without hesitation that becoming a grandfather is much easier.

4) Describe what it felt like to become a father? What do you remember from my birth or infancy? 

There are a jumble of thoughts.  Before you were born, we were in LA visiting Albert and he gave me a book called “How to Raise an Independent Daughter” - it was a compilation of psychobabble with some Zen like phrases thrown in. I was polite but thought the way you raise independent children is to give them responsibility and love. I read at least part of the book.  In the end it was thoroughly forgettable new age crap.  I understood the intention (which was a goal I shared) but thoroughly useless.  The night before you were born Jerry and Suzy Cook visited and Suzy laughed at mom (in a nice way) because mom was huge - by that time she was wearing my sandals because those were the only shoes that fit. 

The day you were born was a busy time in the end of the legislative session.   Mom gave me a pager (Those times are called BC - Before Cellular).   On that morning I was walking up to testify on a bill by Joe Montoya in the Senate Education Committee.   The pager went off and Senator Rodda said from his chair’s position, “Mr. Brown, I think you have more important things to do than testifying on Mr. Montoya’s bill. “  Montoya gratuitously added, “Yeah and your testimony probably would not have made much of a difference.”  I walked out of the hearing and into Assemblywoman Teresa Hughes office to see what was going on - for a couple of years after that we celebrated your birthday in her office.   When Mom was ready to go into the delivery room - I waited.  I have a negative reaction to the stuff the scrubbed down the operating rooms and at that time a C-section prevented the dad from being present.  I was able to hold you first in the recovery room.   In some ways that was exhilarating but in others I realized that even more than mom I had a responsibility for the rest of my life.

That night, mom had to stay in the hospital for one night, I went to a Buffalo Chips run and then called Mom pretty blitzed and told her how excited I was.

Dawn came to help out a couple of days after you were born to help out.  

When Peter was born it was a planned C-Section - so everything was very orderly. We played backgammon while waiting, although your mom claimed she was distracted, I still collected on our bet.   

I went into the recovery room and started to talk to the nurse about how she had learned her technique. She was marvelous – professional and yet caring.  I asked her about her training and then we talked about an issue I was working on in the legislature (the use of pound animals as models) and I actually recruited her to testify against the “Dog Bill”.  Finally, mom looked up and said, Who is the patient here?”

Your mom had never had a brother and I was unfamiliar with how to deal with sisters.  (Nancy was old enough so I never dealt with her as a peer until I was an adult.). So in one sense you were unique.  That paid off later because my mother, who had all male grandchildren, kept getting you dresses made by Florence Eisman.  Many of those were velvet with appliqu├ęs which made them quite impractical for even a toddler.  But mom did not seem to care.

I wrote a simple song for Emily when she was about 1 -

Emily Bemily Booglie Brown, she’s the funniest (prettiest, sunniest) lady in town

She laughs and she giggles and she makes her sound;

That’s Emily Bemily Booglie Brown

I did a song about Peter when he was about the same age - but I cannot for the life of me remember either the fetching tune or the words.  Such is the case of second children - I should know I was fourth!  But Peter’s assertion of having a birth announcement done on the back of a napkin, is totally false.   And after a lot of effort I have found visual proof (in the book).

For both you and Pete we tried to read to you both each night at bedtime - your two favorite books were Green Eggs and Ham and A Chocolate Moose for Dinner.   Both of you liked to listen to banjo music which I played almost every night.  You heard a lot of traditional bluegrass - but the constant song you heard was John Henry.  In one sense I have always liked the message in the song because John Henry strives.  His boss says you can’t beat the machine and yet he does.

Before Pete was born we were at a summer meeting in Victoria BC.   We were going to Butchart Gardens with a bunch of nuns and you told the “bunny farts” joke. (What is invisible and smells like carrots?) Luckily the nuns thought it was charming. That night we got back and you threw a fit right before we were going to a very fancy restaurant - we should have given you a nap.   I finally, in great frustration, sat you down on the bed and said “Young lady, this behavior is unacceptable.  If you make one peep out of order at dinner I will immediately bring you back to the room, find a baby sitter and you will stay in the room.”   We then got you into your Florence Eisman dress (mom kept buying these expensive dresses that were velvet and lovely but not practical - after all you were her only grand-daughter) and we went to dinner.   Your comportment at dinner was exceptional.   When the waiter came for dessert I looked at you and said “What would you like?”   You said “What do they have?”  The waiter then described the choices including Cherries Jubilee - you asked what was that - and when he finished his description - you said “that would be wonderful and I think my father would like that too.”

When Pete was born my mother came - she was very excited because he was the first grandchild where she had a chance to care for the mom.

We also started a tradition called the “God Dammit Mile.”   When we would go on a trip with both kids, one would eventually start to frack off.  (Note the distribution of fracks was about equal!)  Because I believe in incentives, I began to offer an incentive for potty training - it was a trip to Disneyland.   When we were driving to the Magic Kingdom for Peter’s reward, you guys started yammering before we had left Sacramento.  I stopped the car on the side of the freeway and brought both of you to the side.  I said “If I hear one more peep out of either of you before we get to LA I will turn around and we will not go to Disneyland.”  I then asked “Do you understand what I have said?”   Emily sort of blubbered “Yes.”  I then added “Do you have any questions?”  She said “No”  I looked at Peter and asked him.  He waited a minute and said something like “Yes I do.  Why did the chicken cross the road?” (Or some similar non sequitur)  I nearly bit through my lip but the rest of the trip was less fracky. 

When you were about 2 I decided to take you on a business trip to Denver with me.  About 30 minutes into the flight you decided to throw a fit.   Every woman near me wanted to comfort you - you were passed around a lot.  I was proud to bring you along.  Mom took care of you during the day and when we flew back your behavior was perfect.

Pete was more likely, especially with his friend Kyle, to get into mischief than you were, at least as I knew about it.

When Emily was ready for kindergarten we spent a fair amount of time thinking about alternatives.  The local public school was a mess, although several families in the neighborhood said we should support it.   We finally decided with Emily that she would go to the Sacrament equivalent of what Quinlan went to for her entire K-12 experience, Sacramento Country Day School.   It was a stretch to support but we thought that of all the things you can buy a child, this is one of the few things that cannot be taken away.

Both kids had some excellent teachers at SCDS.   I served on the board for six years.  Peter was definitely a less diligent student - that may have been in part because the SCDS model for all its talk about meeting the individual needs of the student, seemed to be unable to deal with alternative learning styles.  When Peter was in Kindergarten we went to one back to school night and kids exhibited self portraits.  Peter’s was all blue.  Quinlan asked Peter about his painting and he said, “It is a self portrait.  It is in a pool and I am under the water.”

When Peter was in fourth grade he had a particular inept teacher.   On one assignment he chose to work very hard.  When he brought it in the teacher questioned whether he had done his own work.  I called the director of the lower school and said I wanted a meeting.   We went in and I vented my frustrations and argued that this was a chance to encourage Peter because he had worked so hard on this particular project.   The director of the lower school said to me (in classic eduspeak “Jon I can hear your anger”. At that I broke up and said “This is not an auditory test, I am sure you can hear my words but are you actually going to doing something about this problem?”

Two high school stories about Emily.  When she was a senior she was late in getting acceptance offers to college.  One of her teachers, who thought a lot of himself, kidded her about it.  He thought of himself highly, always touting his Stanford degree (he got in through the Menlo option because he did not qualify as a first year student!).   So Emily and I talked about it and created a fictitious acceptance letter from the Joe Bob School of Automotive Design - we designed a logo and all.  (The teacher also thought he was a real gearhead.).  It said

Dear Emily,

We are pleased to offer you admission  to the Joe Bob School of Automotive Design. We are especially excited because you came highly recommended from one of our most prominent graduates, who graduated with honors with a certificate in advanced tuck and roll. XXX XXXXXXX claims he actually went to Stanford, but we know better. We also are glad to admit you because it will mean we will have two babes in the entering class.

Emily brought it into his class and the guy did not even realize he was being made the butt of a joke.  In Emily’s senior year each student had to obtain an internship.  She got one with a State Senator, completely without my help.   The same teacher monitored the internships and made two inappropriate comments.  He first said when Emily described her experience “Isn’t it nice that Dads can help their kids get these opportunities.   He then asked each if they had experienced sexual harassment.   When I heard about that exchange, I called the teacher and bawled him out for about 30 minutes.  I then called the headmaster and spent another 30 minutes with him.  That night was a potluck for the seniors and their families.  I soon noticed something fun.  Every time I entered a room where the teacher was he would scurry out.   I got Emily and demonstrated the principle.  We both laughed.

Evaluating the value of private K-12 schools is hard.  In the case of SCDS they did a lot of extra things for kids who fit their model.  But they were also woefully bereft of recognition that every kid has unique educational needs. In Peter’s case we did not recognize that soon enough.   In Emily’s case even the college counseling function was inadequate.   The counselor who doubled as an English teacher and college counselor knew Emily was interested in a smaller selective college. But the counselor, when Emily expressed at least preliminary interest in a place in the South recommended that she look at UNC.  

Pete left Country Day at Eighth grade - their methods were not matched well to boys who were a bit less compliant.  He wanted to play football and so went to Christian Brothers.  Unfortunately, in one of his games he nailed a knee.   We had been on a short trip and when we came back he was lying on our couch with a blanket.   When we came in he exposed the brace he had on his leg.  It was one of those special moments.

I am especially proud that both of our kids have taken an active role in helping to shape the school experience for their kids.  They also seem to work better than we did in sharing responsibilities for raising kids.  Quinlan and I had much more traditional roles.

Finally, I should offer some comments on our kids parenting skills. Between Emily and Michael and Peter and Jessica they have very different assumptions about raising kids; both from the way we did it and the way that each works with their own children.  But the proof of parenthood is not in whether they follow our methods but in whether each of our five grandchildren are growing up to be independent contributing members of their communities.  All five have distinct personalities.  But each has developed a good sense of values.

The next post is about my involvement with running and Loma Prieta (Not related topics)

Saturday, October 17, 2020


This is the second of nine glimpses of the types of themes in the forth coming Of Course It’s True, Except for a Couple of Lies - due in late 2020 or early 2021.   This one deals with two issues - Why I decided to get married and something about Vietnam.  The original questions came from my daughter Emily.

2) Why did you decide to marry mom?

Simply because I loved her - her sense of humor, and because I could not imagine being without her.  She was quick.  We had fun together.   I only had three serious girl friends - two in high school and your mom.  Mom was different - when I first met her she was in academic trouble and I think I helped her stay at Pacific.  

NOTE - The comments about Quinlan are a lot more detailed - how I met her (at Pacific - in fixing her guitar); how we have made decisions over the last 50+ years (we both have always had bank accounts and made lots of decisions independently; what intrigued me about her (sense of humor was big); how she is often the most fascinating person in the room even after 50 years.  Etc.

3) What was your experience of Dan or your peers going to Vietnam? What did you feel about the war? Did you think the US should be there? What should they have down instead? Not what you think now but I’m curious what you felt then.

NOTE - This set of stories is not a part of the final manuscript.   Vietnam was something that everyone in my generation experienced.   It was perhaps the one time, when I listened to Bill Clinton’s stories about the draft, that I felt an affinity with him. Although as noted in a chapter on famous people I have met - when I met him as President - he was the best extemporaneous speaker I think I ever heard.   In the book I do comment on why I thought our involvement in Vietnam was poorly managed, especially based on the Hubris of Robert McNamara.  As you will read in the chapter on Experts v. Crowds in the final version of the book I have a lot of faith in the expertise of people as a group over narrowly constituted experts.   There was a great quote from a British labor politician in Britain after WWII - who said “The gentleman in Whitehall really does know better, what is good for the people than the people know themselves.”  I believe that logic is consistently false.  It is a big part of what I believe about how we should organize ourselves in common purpose.  The philosophy chapters in the middle of the book argue that individuals often have specialized knowledge that is always better than the experts.  We need to know how and when to use that.   A recent book (Wake Up Call by John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge - well worth the read by the way) argues that governments in the West made a series of absurd decisions about how to deal with the pandemic of COVID.    For me at least the two big government initiatives in the Johnson Administration were serious examples of the hubris of advocates of big government.  Guns and Butter was something that LBJ thought was possible.   As you will read in the book the democrats are not the only ones who believe that anything is possible - the only differences between many of our leaders in the last half century was what they defined as guns and butter.   Non est talis res ut liberum prandium (there is no such thing as a free lunch) is still true. An odd saying indeed for someone who spent 40+ years on both sides of lobbying! 

Government to be successful needs to decide what it is trying to accomplish.   From my perspective that should be a short list - but once we figure out what we want to do we need to think about how to pay for it.  In recent years, because of something Mancur Olson observed (in the Logic of Collective Action) we haven’t bothered to have serious discussions of either what we want to accomplish or how to pay for it.   For me Vietnam and the Great Society came at a time in life when I was trying to figure out key questions about government - throughout my life I have kept coming back to those basics.   So below are comments that won’t be in the book - but the book does have some discussions about the other side (the butter).   I had one brother who served and several friends, including a friend who was a ranger and another to who flew Hueys.  So here are my thoughts on Vietnam, contradictory as they were then and now. 

Vietnam is perhaps the most complex event in my generation’s history.   We eased into it in part because of anti-communism of Ike and JFK but also because of the hubris of LBJ and the absolute incompetence of Robert McNamara.  LBJ thought, because of his Senate experience that you could stage manage anything.   A good part of our problems today in the US were created by LBJs attempts with the Great Society - a set of programs where we have spent trillions of dollars to end poverty with few positive results and a large set of problems which produced societal pathologies that we still live with.

I had mixed feelings about the war - I thought we should either commit ourselves to go after the enemy or not be there.   When we did fight back (as in Tet - where we clearly won) that worked. Even with that the press completely misrepresented the outcome.  McNamara (who had been a car executive and the lead General (Westmorland) made our policy inconsistent.  According to most reports Johnson actually spent a lot of time in the Situation Room - discussing strategy and the idiots in the Armed Forces accepted that.  McNamara was a numbers guy (Scientific management) so the bureaucrats down the line created numbers which were phony.

My brother Dan spent several tours in Vietnam on a small ship which patrolled the Mekong river.  He enlisted in the Navy at the end of my Senior Year in High School.  His stories about his deployments are interesting.  Peter at one point had a long talk with him about those experiences.

I did two contradictory things.  I disliked the draft intensely - If you know me at all you know my distrust of bureaucracies - and yet I tried twice to enlist in the Air Force. I failed the draft physicals and the Air Force physicals (but because of sinuses not blood pressure).  In 1967, the Congress reauthorized the draft so that those of us with student classifications were forced to double the time of our eligibility for the draft.   I studied up on the draft and the new law and was so incensed that I wrote an impassioned letter of a 21 year old to my local draft board telling them I they were neither Selective, did not perform a Service and certainly were not a system.  I am convinced that put a red letter on my file.

The rules of the Selective Service allowed one physical and one re-check.  I was marginally hypertensive (high blood pressure).   In the end they sent me six notices for a physical.   In the last one I was mildly above - so they put me in a green room - I was so mad when I came out my BP actually went up.   

When I got to graduate school in DC I did two contradictory things.  First, I tried twice to enlist in the Air Force either to be a pilot (where my sinuses knocked me out) or in intelligence.  In those two physicals I passed except for sinuses.  But at the same time I worked to make sure I would not be drafted.

When the sixth notice arrived I went to a law office of a guy who specialized in Selective Service cases.  He wrote a letter which I signed which officially retained him as my attorney of record.  I got a 4-F in 7 days.  That certainly was an exceptional response, I am not sure how that happened.

Should we have been there?  Hard question.  Our role evolved so that by the time JFK was assassinated we had only a couple of hundred troops there.  But then came the Gulf of Tonkin resolution - which was a doctored up crisis to get us into war.  After that the number of troops escalated quickly.

The Intellectuals turned against the war as soon as it became real.   When the Tet offensive happened Walter Cronkite began to change his opinion - it was the first time that I noticed that the news establishment could be biased.   By the time 1968 rolled around it was clear that LBJ could not get re-elected.   He had this idiotic speech on March 31 where he stated “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.”  I had written my Honors Thesis on the James McGregor Burns theory of presidential invincibility - where I argued Burns was wrong.  I got the paper back two days before the speech.  After the speech I went over to my professor’s house - and he laughed (he thought Burns was right) and said “I will not change the grade.”

A couple of my fraternity brothers enlisted into the National Guard.  For some reason I did not even try.

Oddly, one of the biggest supporters of the Volunteer Army was my boss in the Senate - Winston Prouty.

The draft was wrong on several levels.  The local boards could be arbitrary and the exclusions got seemingly healthy but relatively wealthy young men out of serving.  In the last physical I took, for some reason I was asked to take a second IQ test. (Go figure but for those of you who did not go through a draft physical see the scenes from  Alice’s Restaurant mixed with One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Air Force physicals were almost pleasant.   In the last draft physical I took there was a group of perhaps 60 guys in a class room and a short Napoleonic NCO came in trying to look tough and claiming that if any of us intentionally failed the test, we would immediately be sent to Vietnam.  There was a huge Black guy from Baltimore behind me - it was clear he would eventually end up as a draftee, he was angry.  He started ask all of the guys in the back to give him their pencils.  As the NCO was about to finish his harangue, the big guy stood up with about 30 pencils in his hand assembled like a bundle of twigs, broke them in half and then said “Hey Honkie, we need some more pencils here.”  The NCO looked like he was going to faint but quickly handed the guy a new set of pencils.  The draft physicals were bureaucratic in the extreme.   

Opponents of the volunteer army consistently argued that everyone owes a debt to their society and the draft was a great equalizer.  The problem was it was not a good way to do that - young men with resources found all sorts of ways to avoid the draft from the national guard to medical claims.  And yet I remain opposed to the idea of universal basic service.  BUS presents all sorts of problems in my mind - the conception of a common culture when I was growing up depended on a series of activities including flag salutes and all sorts of opportunities to understand the unique nature of our American system.  We lost those things in part because of cynicism.   From my view that came from a common understanding of the over-reach of the supporters of expansions of government and a concurrent absurd reading of the thinkers like Adam Smith.   

The next post describes my feelings about becoming a father.

Monday, October 5, 2020


I have not published in this space since June.  Over the summer, I actually got some kind notes from regular readers who asked when the next post was coming. Regular readers of Five Cent Thinking have known about an effort by me to write a book.  When I first retired, I thought about doing a Memoir (or as C.S. Lewis called it something done by people of my age in their "anecdotage").  One of the first things I wanted to do was to figure out more about the person I was named after, Jonathan Archer, who came to California in 1849.   His story caused me to do some research into his experiences of coming around the horn and living in California but also into the larger story of both the family who stayed in New York and the thousands of others who came to California.  The last post had an early version of the chapter.

After the initial burst of enthusiasm inertia intervened and  some good reasons, including procrastination, the book project stalled.  When I wrote my dissertation there was an incentive at the end - A suitable for framing degree (which I never did frame) and a title which I rarely use. Then I got Lymphoma and that encouraged my daughter, Emily, to push me on the project.  Her first prompt was to send me a list of questions which she wanted me to answer.   I worked on that a bit more than a year ago and sent her the results which turned out to be a long response.   But then for last Christmas she gave me something called Storyworth, which is a site which encourages the recipient to answer  questions about their life which, when completed, is compiled into a book.  I started that project in January.  I had two reactions to it.  First, Storyworth is a great idea, poorly implemented; the online version's editor is primitive. I suspect if they were a bit more entreprenurial they might generate a lot more income But second, as Quinlan suggested the project was positive because "it kept me off the streets."   That was especially useful as the pandemic evolved.   During the Spring in SMA I could easily spend a couple of hours a day working on the issues.  That required some research but also to think about what things I wanted to say. 

At the end of the summer I had a kind offer from a former colleague who agreed to edit the draft. My God she has patience.   But I then had two other decisions to complete.   First, I needed a title for this project.  And I came up with Of Course It’s True, except for a Couple of Lies; a Memoir.  And while I thought briefly about including the picture of Indiana on the cover (See Above) I finally decided on another photo taken in SMA a couple of years ago as thinking it more appropriately represented the contents of the book.

I also had the great good fortune of having a couple of friends who have published books, including one novel (Mike Ericksen Pianist in a Bordello) and three very funny memoirs on developing an international business that I had the opportunity to read when they were originally emails to the author's family. (Robert F. Hemphill; Goats Ate our Wires , Stories from the Middle Seat , and Dust Tea, Dingos and Dragons ) I asked them about their experiences.  They gave me some great ideas.  I recommend all four books.  They are inventive, in different ways.

After ten months of work, I am at a place where I am ready to write a conclusion, getting to a couple of more edits and then decide whether to publish on Kindle or Apple Books. I talked to one arm of Simon and Schuster but was not impressed with their potential value added.  But here are my intended next steps.  First, with her permission, I am going to publish on this blog, the responses to Emily, slightly edited, to give you an idea about what you might find in the final manuscript.  Those will  be divided into nine separate posts.  From my perspective, that will either tantalize potential readers or not.  Second, then by the end of the year, I will go forward with both an Ebook and a paperback version.    For those of you who are willing I would appreciate any comments on these pre-publication teasers. 

The book is really three books - a first section, which I have described previously which present some (hopefully) interesting stories about family.  I started with a simple premise.  We all tell family stories which we filter through our experiences.  I first noticed that with my two aunts and my siblings.  Neely, my mother’s youngest sister, had a great talent for remembering and elaborating family stories - which actually were modified over time - not cynically but often with positive effects.

 The second part, which sets out six philosophy chapters that conclude with an explanation of “Why I am not a progressive". Those of you who know me well will understand that the conclusion was not hard to come to for me - BUT I was inspired to write it based on some correspondence I had with a long time progressive friend over the last year but also because one of my favorite economists wrote a similar essay - then called "Why I am not a conservative"  

The final section responds to a series of questions asked by either Emily or Storyworth.  The final chapter, for example, before the Conclusions,  yet to be written explores our trauma on race issues that we lived through this summer., it links White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo and Homer Plessy (the subject of the infamous Plessy v Ferguson decision).  Not surprisingly I reacted to DiAngelo's Critical Race Theory nonsense negatively (actually that is a bit of an understatement) but I still believe one of our challenges for the country is to get closer to MLK's standard being judged on the content of one's character not the color of their skin.  From my view Critical Race Theory is a horrible example of what JPII called “endless meanderings of erudition” (describing the risks facing universities who don’t go after the truth.  But in the case of CRT, there is a lot of psychobabble and almost no erudition.  I have shipped some of the chapters out to friends who are interested in a particular area and have gotten some excellent critical reviews, I am thankful for those comments.

As was offered by the spirit in Dickens A Christmas Carol - expect the first in about a week.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Couple of Diversions from the Chaos of the Last Few Weeks

I was taken aback by two things relating to the George Floyd murder.   First, there has to a recognition that the officers involved exceeded the bounds of appropriate police behavior.  But second, we seem to have lost our ability to have a civil discussion about a real issue.  I am pretty sure that Senator Tim Scott's bill on police reforms was not perfect.  I am equally sure the alternative which Senator Kamala Harris was not either - but in olden days the two sides would have had a substantive debate on the floor of the Senate about the alternative approaches.   But 45 members chose to throw the discussion into the fray in November ignoring the immense benefit that such a public discussion could have on having all of us think about the issues here.  It is not hard to wonder why Congress is held in low esteem.

Also, yesterday I spent part of my afternoon with a Zoom call for the Common Sense Party - its leader is Tom Campbell - who combines brains and ethics.  Tom was a superb member of the California Senate and then a member of Congress.  Most of his politics closely align with mine (he is socially liberal and fiscally conservative) but he also spends a lot of time trying to think out the right solution for a variety of issues.    Normally, in order to qualify for status a party needs about 65,000 signatures and the party was well on its way to getting those pre-Covid.  Tom told the group that they had filed against the Secretary of State to waive the requirements.  If the suit is successful the party could begin as soon as this fall.  WIth the way term limits work over the next couple of years it could offer a set of candidates in the 2022 elections and beyond.   I think Californians are not big fans of either the Dems nor the quickly declining GOP.  (Turns out that a fast growing party in the state is the American Independent Party - which is a remnant of an earlier conservative party but evidently a lot of Californians (a bit more than 550,000 voters) think by registering with them they are declaring their independence.   If you are a Californian you might want to check out their site. -

But enough of that discussion.  This week, I completed a chapter for the book I have discussed and am presenting it below.   It is now one of 28 chapters completed.  The book will be divided into three sections - one on family; one on ideas that drive me; and one on questions of interest to either me or our daughter.   So here is a sneak peak at one of the efforts I have been doing for the last few months:

So Just Who was Jonathan Archer and Why was he Important to Me? 
I was named after an ancestor who came to California in 1849 seeking gold, lived here about a year and died of a burst appendix.   Part of the story of Jonathan Archer is his journey and part is of the family that stayed behind.  There are all sorts of problems in trying to understand a namesake who came to California when conditions were primitive and who stayed in the state for only a short time.   But I do have some artifacts of his trip including a series of letters that he wrote home to his mother.  I first came in contact with those when my Aunt Mary transcribed them.  That was not an easy task.  In order to save money, letters of the time were written on onion skin paper on all sides and with more than 170 years, the ink has faded and bled.  At the same time writing styles of the 1850s were different than now, they look a lot like German Script.  So Mary spent several months trying to decipher the letters.  I truly appreciated the effort. Mary was never one for sentimentality but she knew the importance of the legacy for me.
The picture above is of the receipt that Jonathan got for booking with the Sloop South Carolina.  It cost $250, which was not an insubstantial sum.   A dollar in 1850 would be worth about $35 dollars in 2020, so his fare would be something more than $8700 in today’s terms.   But that estimate is misleading.  Many jobs were not compensated in  money at the time. So the amount was perhaps even more substantial. His commitment was even larger. Without any reliable communications  mechanism - getting messages back home was by no means assured.  So making the decision to move involved possibly never seeing your family again.
Jonathan was the oldest brother of Oliver Hazard Perry Archer (1825-1899).  His dad was also Jonathan.  His father figured in the purchase of a sloop called Harriet which is referenced in some of the family papers. OHPA was a good friend of the Commodore Vanderbilt according to his obituary. Jonathan's father may have know Perry or was simply caught up in the excitement of Perry's military record. Jonathan’s younger brother, known as OHP in the family, was an original investor in the Erie Railroad  with Jay Gould.  He was successful in many ways. Two of his daughters later owned a summer home in Vermont called Quiturcare.  At one point when we were on the East Coast we found the cottage in Southern Vermont.  
OHP married Mary Dean. Their wedding certificate is above  - their marriage lasted 45 years.   When he died he was reputed to have left “many millions of property” in his estate. (According to one obituary at the time).  That was divided between his wife and his three sons; he even offered a $500 bequest to his loyal coachman.  
OHP had an estate in Allendale New Jersey and and he and his wife built Archer Memorial Church which is now the Archer United Methodist Church
He was an important member of his community. One of his traditions that affected me directly was his habit of obtaining a type set of mint American coins at the beginning of each year.  In my coin collection I have a couple of those sets (which include all the coins from that year from one mint).  Another was his propensity to invest in diamonds and other jewelry.   Each of my siblings received stones or jewelry from his purchases when we were about to get married. My share was three one carat diamonds which was made into an engagement ring for Quinlan.

One of OHP’s sons, Harry M. Archer (1868-1954), was a physician, who after a short career as a medical examiner for a New York Life insurance company, became the chief medical officer for the Fire Department of New York.  Harry, was my grandmother’s dad.  When I first became interested in finding out about my family, I wrote to the then mayor of New York, Ed Koch, who I had known slightly in Congress, and he sent me back a magazine about Harry Archer, which detailed his career with the NYFD 2 years after his death. My grandmother’s mother (Helen Louise) died relatively young suffering an embolism in a department store. Harry went on to marry a woman named Emily June who most of the family did not like.  She had been a secretary to Harry.   She evidently treated Nana, my grandmother poorly.   Emily June was horrid.  She was reported to have had the habit of donning her fur coat, jumping into her red sports car to collect rents from the tenants in the tenements that they owned.  She evidently reveled in evicting people who could not pay.

Grace (Nana), my grandmother, grew up in luxury.   When Harry died he donated his home in Manhattan to the NYFD.  It is still used as a fire station today.  When we were in NY for cousin Claude’s wedding we went by and visited the site.  Technically, that house would revert to our family if the NYFD ever decided to decommission the fire station. 

As I began to figure out who Jonathan Archer was, I found plenty of information about his father and at least something about successive generations.  Unfortunately, the specific information about my namesake is limited to the remaining letters he sent back to his home on Broome Street in New York City and some scattered ships records and books on the Argonauts of California.  Many of the civic records of the time were destroyed either by floods in Sacramento or by the earthquake and fire in San Francisco. His letters seem to have been sent back to New York after he arrived in California.
Jonathan’s trip to California started when his ship left New York harbor on January 24, 1849 about a year after President Polk acknowledged the gold find in Coloma.  The ship had a first cabin of 60 and a total passenger list of 163.   A trip around the horn took between six and seven months, depending on how favorable the winds were.  So it is likely that Jonathan arrived in San Francisco in spring of 1849.  The best dating comes from a letter he drafted in San Francisco in May of that year.  There is one other convention which makes the comments in the letters confusing.  They look like most all of them were composed over a period of time, this is sort of like a diary entry but with the cost of mail I am sure it was thought prudent to accumulate material before sending it off.   Unfortunately, they do not have separate dates for each entry.
Jonathan had extended entries for his time in Rio de Janiero.  They spent several days there ultimately leaving on March 10 (thus, it took from about a month to get from New York to Rio). His letters were good at what we would call “color commentary” today. He told a story of a Navy Midshipman who took up an offer from the Brazilian government to plant a flag on the top of Sugarloaf (4237’) which he described as “dominating” the harbor as you enter.   An earlier attempt had failed when a French sailor fell and broke his neck.  The American was successful but the Brazilian government reneged on the deal. Jonathan described the Brazilian officials as not having”souls above buttons”, which was to pay the successful person $2000. The government now promised again to offer the reward.  So the Midshipman climbed again and the second time the government paid off.
Rio at the time, he estimated, was about half the size of New York with about 200,000 people but had a much longer history.   He also made some telling comments about the state of the slave trade in the city at the time.  He described the treatment of the slaves as brutal.  Many were naked and showed signs of extreme lacerations on their backs.   They lived on the streets and when they died were transported to a common grave to “await the requisition of our Divine Master.”   Although at least one of my ancestors fought for the confederate army - Jonathan would not have joined him.
Jonathan visited a Catholic Church and was amazed at the statuary - which he said was mostly from Italy. He also visited the theater.  He and his friends (Captain Chandler, Doc Rogers, a navy Captain named Bartlett and four others) attended a theater performance of something by Ravel and then got a tour of the house including the Emperor’s box.   As they were leaving they were surrounded by a military party that was heavily armed.  He thought the performance was “full of gibberish.”   At the end of the evening they got some slaves to row them three miles back to the ship, although they were stopped by a military group.   The incident ended well because one of the party could speak Spanish (?) so they convinced the group they were not leading a slave rebellion. 
Jonathan was also taken by Rio Grande (Rio Grande de Sul) which is across the bay from Sugarloaf.  He described the beautiful beaches and the mansions which ran along about two miles of shoreline.   On their stroll they were invited by a Frenchman to visit his gardens and orange grove.   They were offered fine hospitality by the Frenchman and his two daughters.  It was such a pleasant experience that the group visited them once more before they left.
When they did leave Rio they made very good progress for the first couple of days arriving at the Falkland Islands on April 1. They were then were becalmed and alternatively caught in gales for two weeks,   Finally, the winds refreshed and they made a “good run” toward Cape Horn.  As they got to the Cape they were again beset by quirky winds for 34 days.  They reached Latitude 60 south and the storms again were intense - leaving the sails “looking like glass.”  When they finally transgressed the Cape they were blown back by about 100 miles.  They finally got clear of the Cape again and they headed for the Islands of Juan Fernandez, to refresh their water.   The island chain is about 300 miles off Chile’s coast.  They were famous because that was the location of the story of Robinson Crusoe.   One of the islands in the chain is named after the marooned sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who inspired the story.   He was shipwrecked there for four years in 1704.  The islands were also mentioned in Two Years Before the Mast, Dana’s account of life at sea.
As the crew set about toward the island to find a place to anchor, their launch came next to a whale which ultimately came up underneath the rowboat,  It breached but did not capsize the small craft. The watering island had fifteen inhabitants and their major commerce was suppling ships with water and dried fish.   When they got to the island they had a picnic and did some hunting of goats and ducks.
The island’s cook caused great amusement to Jonathan Archer.   She used an old stocking to clean out her frying pan to prepare their salted fish and fried goat.  As he described it when the meal was about half cooked she brought it to the table with a couple of forks and spoons.   Jonathan protested that the spoon was dirty, so she spat on it and wiped it off with the bottom of her dress.   Jonathan decided to not partake of the feast and he and his friend Palmer decided to go outside the hut and to “cogitate on the matter.”  When they asked about accommodations for the night - they were similarly sumptuous.   They consisted of a hut and a couple of goat skins.   The proprietor/cook finally agreed to throw an old sail over the two and Jonathan said he was fast asleep.  The proprietor and his wife the cook slept in the same room.   Jonathan and his buddy got up early to go back so they could have breakfast on the ship.
As they continued North they went through periods of calm and on those days would catch fish.  One day they caught seven sharks including one which was fourteen feet long.   The rigged a mast on its head and another at mid-body and then threw him back in and watched him struggle.   They also caught two barrels of black fish.
About 900 miles west of San Francisco they caught a westerly and were able to get into San Francisco Bay.  His description of the bay coincides with other contemporary ones I have read - it was filled with ships.  At the entrance to the harbor they sighted a Barque, called the Ocean Bird, that had sailed one month before the South Carolina left New York.  He described the total trip as about five months - thus I have him arriving in California in May of 1849.
He is clearly in awe of his new home.  The city had grown twenty-five fold in about a year and when he got there was now about 25,000 residents.  Before they disembarked the captain went to get provisions for the passengers.  Beef was $1 per pound and onions were $2 per pound.   That was all that was available.
Jonathan was amazed at the relative values in the city.  He passed several small gambling establishments and saw one miner loose several thousand dollars of gold dust, saying only that he had more where that came from.  He commented “ they think no more of $100 than you would of 50¢ in New York.”   Flour was the only commodity that was in reasonable range - at $6 per barrel. 
Jonathan went to Burgone and Co. which was a gold broker.  He was surprised to find that gold would net $16 per ounce for commodities or $15.25 for cash.   When a miner asked for cash he was paid $1,452 for his stash.   Miners could make between $16 and $100 per day but it was “very hard work.”
Jonathan met a man from Panama who wanted a house built and had to pay a carpenter $16 per day.  If you were living on a ship it cost $2 to go in during the day and $10 to return at night.  He described a corner lot house in the city that was worth $200,000.
He got to Sacramento in August of 1849.  He did a letter to his brother on August 12, who was contemplating joining him.  Jonathan cautions him about coming to “the new El Dorado”. He and some friends, after spending some time in San Francisco, chartered a schooner to get to Sacramento.  He thought the Sacramento River was the most “beautiful” he had ever seen.  He waxed sentimentally about going up the Sacramento with a “Washbowl on his knee”.   At one point on the trip the Captain halted the progress and got drunk.  A couple of the passengers embarked to hunt - they got chased back to the ship by a wild bullocks.   When they got to Sacramento the river was 25 feet below the top it had been during the rains.  The older parts of Sacramento were eventually raised after Jonathan died to compensate for the periodic flooding.  The trip to Sacramento took several days, including the unplanned stop.  He described the pleasure of sleeping on the ship for at least three nights.
Jonathan seems to have been an enterprising fellow.   He evidently brought provisions from New York for resale and added to his stash in San Francisco.  Jonathan sold pickles at $100 per barrel, mackerel at $36 per barrel and pork at $40.   His uncle Leonard had given him some pork which he sold to a New York merchant who declared it was the best pork he had ever seen.   One interesting comment was that there were no coopers - so evidently part of the price of a commodity was based on the barrel.  Coopers at the time made $30 per day.
He recognized that in the inflated economy of the gold fields that costs and prices were inflated.  So a bowl of mush with milk was two schillings; milk $1 per quart and board could be between $21-30 per week.  But through enterprise Jonathan was able to accumulate $300 in gold dust and a horse, saddle and bridle worth $200.  Doctor visits were $16.   He derided the lazy fellows and bragged that he had earned some money painting signs.
The descriptions about his life in Sacramento are a bit less thorough in many ways than the ones of his trip.  We know from one letter of his aunt that he found gold near Buzzard’s Bar on the North Fork of the American River.  But from the letters, while he was hunting for gold his real interest seems to have been in thinking entrepreneurially. 
Jonathan recognized the perils of mining.  “A rich man here is no more than a poor one if he cannot get work - he goes to the mines.”   Mining is hard work and and he recognized that not everyone is successful.  New people to California came with “broadcloths and patent leather boots” but were soon converted to “rawhide boots, coarse pants and an indigo blue shirt and straw hat.”  The way of making money in his new home was from “speculations.”   Rumors spread quickly in the gold fields - a man who dug out $3000 will soon find stories of him finding $40,000 - most of those stories emerged from men who kept stores in the region.   He has a long lament “Where gold is supposedly most plenty, it is very rocky.  You have to descend up a ravine of one to two thousand feet and then turn over stones of one pound to a ton weight and then dig into the surface five or six feet under the surface.   Do this for a week and make $10 or a thousand, or perhaps nothing.”   But he concludes the lament “I intend to remain and not be bluffed out.”
The last communications from Jonathan Archer in California comment about how he was the only passenger on his ship that had not gotten sick.  He did express some concern about the opening of the rainy season in California.   In those times cold and wet were double whammys.  He also discussed his budding lumber and charcoal business.  He had contracted with an acquaintance to sell 4-500 cords of charcoal which would bring in lots of funds.  Always with an attention to markets he thought that what would bring in $40-50 in October would soon bring in more.   He was willing to sell the wood for a bit below market because cartage and storage might cost $5 per cord.
The last communication about Jonathan came from California in February of 1850.   The letter goes into some detail about his last few days.  He had been about 100 miles from San Francisco engaged in cutting wood.   But his property had been flooded to a depth of a foot for about a month.  The letter goes into some details about his illness - which my brother Dan surmised was a burst appendix.   After he died his body was taken back to San Francisco and he was interred in the cemetery there after a funeral service presided by a Reverend Williams.   But cemeteries of the time were moved or abandoned as the city grew.   The Yerba Buena  cemetery, which was the largest in the city in 1850 became the site of the SF Public Library.  The people who witnessed his death and interment sent a summary of expenses (the funeral and casket cost $130).  They also sent personal effects including a ring, watch, bible, and some gold dust found at Buzzard’s Bar on the North Fork of the American River.   Those were forwarded to his mother Hannah on April 30.   After deducting his expenses they also sent back $111.35 in cash which amounted to the new proceeds of selling the effects (including clothing) which were not sent back to his mother.


For me the story of my namesake was important, even as I was growing up.   I do not remember when I first heard about him but I was very young.  I heard stories about him from many sources.   When I first read his letters, I was in my late twenties, I was struck with two things.  From his father’s estate records, Jonathan came from an upper middle class family in New York.  So he could have easily stayed in the city of his birth and done quite well, but something drove him to take a different path.   But he soon recognized the old adage that the ones who got rich in gold discoveries were the people who sold the miners equipment.   He clearly did some mining on the N. Fork of the American River - above Auburn.  But his real interest in California rested on a timbering business and in arbitraging commodities between one market and another.

At the same time, even when I was little, I fantasized what it would have been like to travel from the relatively sophisticated New York to California on a ship through pretty horrible conditions.  The 17,000 mile trip involved a series of risks which no modern traveller would have to endure.  Would the winds remain for the most part favorable?  Would the trip around the Cape force the ship deeply into the Southern Crossing?   While the answers to most of the questions were answered mostly positively - there were still ships lost.   If a traveller decided to go across the Isthmus instead of rounding the Cape they risked a series of alternative terrors including tons of opportunities for diseases.  So if you decided to go find your fortune - it was not a simple decision.   And yet Jonathan Archer took the leap.   His younger brother did not and ended up a very prosperous man.

But because of the time, there are many things that cannot be answered.   I would have loved to have an image of my namesake - but that was before such things were common. There is a record of a daguerreotype that was taken before he left New York but I have no idea where it could be located.  There are plenty of images of OHP - so to the extent that siblings had similar characteristic one could get an idea of his image.

I suspect that part of my contrarian nature comes from the same gene pool that drove my namesake to relocate.  Clearly his younger brother did quite well with a less risk oriented set of strategies.

There is a second characteristic that I think I got from Jonathan Archer’s quest.   Kevin Starr was the California State Librarian and a professor at USC, and a good friend.   He wrote a series of books about California called Californians and the American Dream where he described the special attraction that the state had for the rest of the nation.  He commented “From the beginning, California promised much. While yet barely a name on the map, it entered American awareness as a symbol of renewal. It was a final frontier: of geography and of expectation.”

California in recent decades has lost that quality.  It is unclear why that is.  There are at least three explanations.   First, the perception could have been overstated.   I doubt that.  In the time that I was growing up California was clearly seen as a destination.   It had growth opportunities in industries that were very visible in technology and aerospace.  Venues like Disneyland also gave the state some panache.   

A second explanation could be that other states have taken its place.  If you understand the history of the US, California was the end of the Frederick Jackson Turner thesis - we always had a chance to move forward by going west.   When California became established other indicators replaced Jackson’s explanation.   In “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” Jackson argued that westward expansion was a major motivator for the country.   When I first read Jackson in college I was conflicted.   His thesis was a simple explanation for a number of trends - but in the end I concluded it was too simple.   Whether Jackson’s thesis has any relevance today clearly other states, in various ways, have taken the place of California as the land of promise or expectation.  No other state has the history that California does - Starr’s books help to explain that intellectual history in a convincing manner.  At the time his first book was an eye opener.   Places like Texas and Florida and even Arizona and Nevada have taken a bit of California’s luster.  But none of those have the complexity of history which Starr’s books explained.

The third explanation is the most troubling and while there are elements of truth I think it does not offer the full story.  Much of what was accepted as California history was simply a caricature.   California was a place of opportunity - witness the immigrant waves starting with the Gold Rush and the large influxes of population in the thirties and the fifties.   It had a mix of conservatives and liberals - so California could boast about Upton Sinclair coming close to getting elected in the middle of the depression as Governor.  For a relatively young state it produced some prominent figures and stories.  But it also had a series of exclusionary laws including racially restrictive land covenants and even something called the Asian Exclusion Act(s).  Until the early 1960s it was a right to work state and yet had large factions of Wobblies. Even into the 1970s California had a series of rules that denied equal opportunity.  At one point the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Wilson Riles, was forced to enter a private club for a dinner with University trustees through the service entrance.  Even with all those flaws, the state had an expectation of promise.  Friends from Texas will dispute the distinction.   But I grew up in California and during that time California was clearly in the lead of the expectations game.

Yet, sometime in the last three decades of the twentieth century, the state began to change.  There are several lines of demarcation that might have been tipping points.  The Summer of Love in the late 1960s might be one place to start - many conventions were thrown out - some of those were well justified, some were not. That period produced the beginning of the tech revolution and the Manson Family,  Patty Hearst and at least two genres of rock music.  

Another demarcation could have been the 1958 election, where the dominant GOP tried a switch between the Governor and a Senator and where organized labor got a successful right to work abolition on the ballot.  That election saw the first term of Pat Brown, whose influence on the state was profound.  The state’s almost consistently conservative politics was moved in that election.  That could have reflected new population in the state or other forces.

The agonizingly close election of Jerry Brown in 1974, caused in good part because of another Californian’s fate (Richard Nixon) also tilted the state.   Brown preached an “era of limits” guided by the ramblings of a British economist named E.F. Schumacher.   One could even discuss the range of human potential movements (EST, and a raft of real and imagined psychological movements which had a profound influence on many in the 1970s) could be yet another. 

Any of those time periods could mark the change in the state.   More likely the changes came about over a longer period and not as a result of one precipitous event.  For those or any number of other explanations the state began to change.  It became at once more fearful and yet more accepting of ideas outside the norms of conventional society.  An acceptance of eccentricities, which Starr points out in his first book, was well accepted in the history of the state.   But at some point California began to be derided as the “granola” state - “take away the fruits and you are left with flakes and nuts. ” 

The state of the California’s role in expectations is not as simple as many would like to present it. Beginning in the 1980s California became a magnet for immigration.  In the last two decades of the twentieth century California took one quarter of all immigrants to the US.  And in spite of tensions among the state’s residents some interesting things began to happen.   According to the Public Policy Institute of California  almost 70% of our immigrants speak English fluently.   They acquired English faster than any prior generation.  And California began to achieve some interesting results on things like marriage; intermarriage rates between among Hispanics and Asians and Whites and Blacks continue to increase.  27% of the state’s population was foreign born.   Immigrants own about a third of the small businesses in the state.   Mexican born immigrants make up 40% of the immigrant population; Asians about 34%.  At one point as you came into LAX in the Bradley Terminal there was a graphic which listed the number of nationalities in the LA Region which were the second largest outside of the home country.  It was an impressive list. Those demographic changes are huge.  So excuse us if we have taken a bit of time to get to know each other.

So what are the consequences of all this change?   For me the best explanation of where the state’s prior sense of optimism has gone is probably divided among a myriad of causes.  We have been enriched by all our new people but that has created difficulties in creating a common set of cultural assumptions.   In the age of political correctness many would like us to continue to be divided into groups or as Joel Kotkin called them Tribes.  Our political system is not helping us advance to common goals and yet I remain an optimist about the potential for the state.

Near the end of his letters Jonathan commented about his feeling on the benefits of his adventure  “The trip is a good lesson to many a man. I would not have missed it for five thousand dollars.  I am well repaid.  I have sailed two thirds of a way around the world and visited many countries, the ways of different people.   If I was in New York at this present moment, and knew that I had to endure the same difficulties; I would twirl around and take the same trip over.”