The joys of transcribing Muir

Bill Wadsworth writes:

“My cousin Neil Lark, a retired UOP professor in Stockton, forwarded me your column about transcribing a page of Muir’s journal. It describes perfectly the fun of doing this. I’ve transcribed all of journal 58 which was the first of three for his trip with many famous scientists, naturalists, and others on the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899.

“I’m just completing the transcription of third one (the second was already transcribed by William Bade, Muir’s literary executor). In the third journal of the trip there are some really fun details about the celebrations aboard ship at the end of the voyage and a couple of comical poems he wrote about his friend John Burroughs, a naturalist from New York, who was also on the trip.

My wife Ginger and I recently visited Stockton to spend the day with Neil and his wife Liz and we were treated to a tour of the archives with Mike Wurtz. I got to hold “my” journal…a real thrill. We topped off the day with wine tasting in Lodi.

I’m so glad Neil forwarded your column to me as you put words to the experience I’ve had living in Muir’s journal world. As you noted, the detective work involved as you’re trying to decipher a word is challenging but pretty exhilarating.  I’ve learned a lot in the process about botany and it certainly gives me a closer perspective of Muir’s personality.”


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A mixed review for body cams

Stockton Police are adopting body cameras. But it is not clear that body cameras are a good thing, this NPR story says.

“The people who like body cameras always point to a study done in Rialto, Calif., in 2012,” the story says. “Researchers found that officers who wore cameras used force less often — incidents dropped by more than 50 percent. That settles it, right?”

Sure enough, a reader supportive of body cameras cited the Rialto study to City Hall reporter Roger Phillips. Phillips posted the reader’s note on his blog.

“But one of the researchers who ran the study, Alex Sutherland of the University of Cambridge, says Rialto was not a definitive answer on the effectiveness of cameras,” the NPR story continues.

“The Rialto study is one study. And it could be a fluke,” Sutherland says.

There are many unanswered questions about body cams, says the story, which quotes one cop saying they’re bad for officer morale.

“If public money is being spent on this technology, the onus is certain to make sure that it’s being evaluated as it’s being rolled out, rather than deciding that it works and then that’s that,” Sutherland says.

Despite the uncertainties, the Stockton Police are probably right to adopt body cams. Perhaps because poverty here is higher, distrust of institutions, including of police, is higher. And there is a hardcore nucleus of police haters who toxify the public debate.

But the best technology is a Chief like Eric Jones. Jones is helping roll out the wise Marshall Plan. He has been open about police actions. He is seeking dialogue with the community, though he knows the relatives of people slain by police will show up and try to monkey-wrench the proceedings. Even the best technology is subordinate to such leadership, leadership that is good medicine for the body politic.

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The naked man of the Delta, and other comments

Dave Parker writes a letter as bizarre as the subject of today’s column:

It starts with a lyric from Randy Newman’s “Naked Man:”

Pull down the shades cause he’s a comin
Turn out the lights cause he’s here
Runnin hard down the street through the snow and the sleet
On the coldest night of the year

“Enjoyed your story about the naked man. I too had the same experience several times at my property near Windmill Cove Marina.

This naked man wrecks a United Rental truck in an irrigation ditch and steals my friend’s excavator to try to lift the truck out of the ditch. He was so stoned he could not run the excavator and left his phone and identification papers and clothes in the vandalized machine.

“So rather than call a tow truck he strips his clothes off … sets the truck on fire and uses a pay phone to call the police and report the truck stolen and say he lost his manhood at the hands of the truck arson.

I don’t understand that last line. But, onward.

“This would have been hilarious,” Parker continues, “if not for the fact that the naked man was constantly in someone’s back yard … including mine … converting DMV titles to his and his partner’s name … and I discovered he had pulled the same naked man scenario while converting titles to old ladies’ houses in LA … the naked man is no longer pitiful and funny.”

I don’t understand that part, either. Something about a naked Delta grifter. Normally I wouldn’t publish a partly incomprehensible letter. But given today’s column, it seems appropriate.

A Sheriff’s Office employee called to recommend I plant cactus along the inside of my fence.

“Nobody would jump your fence line,” said Maria. “Guaranteed.”

If they did, the stickers that pierce the skin fish-hook in a way that requires surgical removal, Maria said.

She may be on to something there.

Finally, this from former Supervisor Leroy Ornellas:

“Mike, Could you share your address? We often have dull weekends and nothing to do. We would love to park near your home and watch the action. We will bring our own snacks and promise not to throw the wrappers on the street. If you serve refreshments that would be great. A Port-a-Potty would be appreciated.”

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Boxer calls out secret, unilateral water talks

Senator Barbara Boxer just moved up a notch in my esteem. Boxer called out House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield for holding secret water talks, locking Northern California out of the room, then blaming her for sabotaging any deals.


Boxer with Senate colleagues in 2014

The S.F. Chron has it.

“Boxer said she would not be party to secret negotiations and insisted any legislation have the approval of all parts of the state.

“McCarthy will get a water bill only “if he’s not afraid to sit in a room with people from Southern California and Northern California and me,” Boxer said. “He chooses not to do it, and then he says I’m to blame. People in my state don’t like secret negotiations. Let me be clear. I will not be part of it, ever. Never. Never.”

“Boxer said McCarthy called her personally to accuse her of killing last year’s deal. Describing the finger-pointing as “high school,” Boxer said she told him, “You are dreaming. Why didn’t you allow me to invite members from Northern California and Southern California who were concerned about your bill and have a briefing?’ He wouldn’t do it. He still won’t do it.”

McCarthy is known as a nice guy personally. But he’s soaked in the south-Valley way of vying for water: it’s a zero sum game, one that is not to be played fairly, and if it creates losers elsewhere — like here — too bad. Anything goes when contriving and conniving to get more Delta water.

“I am not going to partake in water wars,” Boxer said, arguing that any agreement that favors only one part of the state is pointless because it would only wind up in court.”

It’s the second half of that sentence that should be in quotes. That’s wisdom: the unilateral machinations of astute south-Valley Republicans often backfire. Why not bring everybody to the table?

As long as McCarthy refuses, his rhetoric about struggling family farms and onerous environmental restrictions should be dismissed as propaganda.

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“Where the San Joaquin River died in the 1960s”

A Fresno Bee reporter went there.

It’s a fork in the river in Merced County called the Sand Slough Control Structure.

One channel is the river bed. The other is a bypass. Both are dry. Both are testaments to the Owens Valley of San Joaquin — the illegal and greedy destruction of the river and its fisheries by a society that prized economic development over a balanced relationship with nature and power over equitable economic development.

The story reports that officials have not decided whether the restored river will flow down its historic course or the bypass. One obstacle in the old river bed:  someone built their house in it.

What a world.

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Franklin, get a clue

“We intend to continue to fight for a fair and equitable recovery for our fund investors.”

—A statement from Franklin Templeton Investments, the lone creditor dissenting from Stockton’s Plan of Adjustment.

Give me a break.

Though negotiations between the city of Stockton and its creditors were confidential, it has become clear over time that Franklin refused to negotiate.

“My ultimate rationale … was everybody with the exception of Franklin had come to the table and given up quite a bit,” federal bankruptcy judge Christopher Klein said in today’s story. “They elected not to come to the table and deal, and they chose instead to challenge confirmation and to appeal.”

Translation: You blew it, hardheads.

Klein seemed to be trying to save Franklin from further futile litigation.

“The public interest is served by actually being able to implement a plan upon which people can rely,” he said. “When I add up those aspects in the analysis, I’m seeing little likelihood of success on appeal.”

But Franklin won’t listen. Perhaps its strategy of hardball litigation served Franklin well in other cases. But it seems clear it has failed in Stockton — clear to everybody else, that is, that Franklin should cut its losses and move on. An appeal looks to achieve the opposite of the desired result. It merely will cost the company more in astronomical attorney’s fees without increasing the company’s recovery one red cent.

And so the city of Stockton moves on, with one absurdly dogged creditor continuing to fight its lost cause. A certain Monty Python sketch comes to mind.

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Insurance for original neon

Gordon Martin writes:

“Nice article on the neon signs.  Remember many of the signs you mentioned. … The original neon sign on the Medical-Dental building was an insurance sign.”

The Bank of Stockton archive has a photo of it.

The sign says, “California Western States Life,” and something I can’t make out.

Writes Martin, “Stockton being in a hole you could see it from the Altamont Pass and Hwy 33 before I-5 was built.”

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Speaking of unique signs …

Chuck Barnard writes:

Enjoyed your recent piece on Stockton “neon”.  If you should choose to follow-up on other Stockton “signs” you might want to consider the three “toy soldiers” standing guard at the Children’s Museum.

What three soldiers? I count two.

“These were originally created by Ad Art in 1975 for a mega toy store in San Jose, the Magic Village.  … The soldiers were installed in glass-enclosed alcoves along the building façade facing Hwy 101, near Tully Road exit, and remained there until the early ’80s when the store closed….

“The signwork at Magic Village was on lease–a popular option of that period which allowed new enterprises to acquire substantial signing for a modest initial outlay. With the store’s closing, the soldiers were shipped back to Stockton and Ad Art installed them on its warehouse building facing Hwy 99. They remained there for some years and became something of a landmark for many passing by who came to associate the soldiers with Stockton and the sign firm.

“In the late ’90′s they were donated to the Children’s Museum which had them handsomely refurbished and installed at their facility–a most fitting conclusion to their travels.”

In this 2002 photo, Gary Moll with the City of Stockton's central building and maintenance department shores up one of the 28-ft-tall toy soldiers at the Children's Museum of Stockton in preparation for their placement.

 –Photo by Clifford Oto

Jack Dubois, Ad Art’s Design director, adds:

“In a nod to political correctness, however, the one soldier’s toy rifle was removed leaving only his empty, bent arm.  I guess even toy soldiers can send the wrong message.”

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Stockton in winter

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The fatal chase lawsuits

So first bank manager Kelly Huber files a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against the city of Stockton for injuries she suffered in the botched July 16 bank robbery. Now the family of Misty Holt-Singh says they will file a claim, too.

Attorneys for both say police failed to follow procedure. This resulted in the injury or death of their clients.

My understanding is that a robber in the front seat accidentally shot Huber in the leg as she drove. When she cried that she could no longer drive, he pushed her out of the moving vehicle.

If my understanding is correct, it will be interesting to hear the arguments that police are responsible for that. Ditto Misty Holt-Singh. The bandits put her in the line of fire, possibly even used her as a human shield.

Question: why no suits against the bank? Its executives knew it was a Stop ‘n’ Rob.

Police Chief Eric Jones was very forthright after the incident. He said it was such a rare crime that there was no playbook for it. The attorneys, by filing suit, purport to have found a rule book of which the chief of police is unaware.

I’m all ears.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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