“Searching for Tamsen Donner” by Gabrielle Burton, reviewed in the L.A. Times by William Deverell

A new book about the Donner party, Searching for Tamsen Donner, by Gabrielle Burton, was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2009, by William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West and professor of history at USC.

From the review:

“Searching for Tamsen Donner” is a kind of eulogy, one that recounts a trip Burton took in the late 1970s with her husband and five young daughters. An unusual variant of the “on the road” idea, the journey retraced the route the Donner Party took toward its fateful rendezvous with snow and death. Burton wanted to use the trip to research a work of fiction; those plans never came to pass. Instead, all these years hence, we have this odd, unlikely book. History lesson, memoir and intimate family portrait all at once, “Searching for Tamsen Donner” simultaneously re-creates the 1840s and the 1970s, east to west.

For the whole review, click here.

“Whither the News in the Golden State?,” Asks Denise Spooner, of H-California

Denise Spooner <jmds1997@gte.net>, co-editor of H-California, the H-Net group dedicated to California history and culture, sent around for posting this email about the state of newspapers in California.  She invites input.

Date: March 10, 2009 3:49:23 PM PDT
Subject: Whither the News in the Golden State? – For Posting

Dear H-Californians,

Each morning, like thousands of Californians, I stumble out the front door
to retrieve the newspaper to read over breakfast.  For all of my adult life
in the Southland my paper of choice has been the Los Angeles Times.  Like
other newspapers the Times has undergone a series of devastating cuts that
have practically eviscerated the paper.  Most recently, the powers-that-be
decided to merge the California section with the front section in the
interest of cost-cutting.  For those of you who don’t receive the paper,
California and local news is now covered in the first several pages of the
front section, followed by a couple of pages of national news, and a page or
two of international news.  At first, the cuts to the paper infuriated me,
particularly since I valued the paper’s coverage of national and
international news.  Now I feel disoriented by the changes.  While some
might argue that putting California first emphasizes the significance of
local issues to the lives of most people, I find that I have far less
interest in local news than I did before.  I also find myself paging past
the national and international pages, perhaps disheartened by the emphasis
on local coverage?   As an avid fan of weather-related news, it took me over
a week to realize the weather page, which, logically, used to be on the last
page of the California section, is now on the back of the business page.

This brings me to the title of my post:  where is all this leaving us?   I
know that there have been loads of conversations about the future of
traditional newspapers on talking heads programs both on radio and
television, and undoubtedly the blogosphere too.  So I know that the future
doesn’t look good.  But the gist of my question is in an additional
direction.  While I consider new ways of coping with the changes to the Los
Angeles Times–including canceling my subscription and spending more time
with the New York Review of Books or some other source of information and
opinion–I wonder about the impact the demise of newspapers will have on
historical research as well.

I’m interested in hearing about the kinds of changes people are finding in
their local papers up and down the state, or even outside the state’s
borders.  I know that the Sacto Bee just announced big cuts, that the SF
Chronicle is on the ropes, as are other important sources of information.
What strategies are you employing to find news, from local to international?
Are there any good electronic sources of state-oriented news, beyond the
websites associated with the newspapers?  What ideas do you have about the
impact of the loss of newspapers on our shared interest in the study of the
history and culture of the Golden State?

Sadly, but wishing the best to all,

Denise Spooner, co-editor H-California

Pirkle Jones, Calif. Photographer, dies: “I did the talking through the photographs.”

Pirkle Jones, photographer of California and its mid and late 20th century history, has died at age 95.  From the Los Angeles Times’ obituary:

Pirkle Jones, a California photographer admired for his stirring images of migrant workers, endangered landscapes and social movements, including a controversial series on the Black Panthers at the height of their activism in the late 1960s, died March 15 in San Rafael.

. . .

His best-known work includes a collaboration with [Dorothea] Lange called “The Death of a Valley 1956,” which portrayed the Berryessa Valley in Napa County during the year before completion of the Monticello Dam that flooded the valley; “Walnut Grove 1961,” a series Jones shot with his wife, Ruth-Marion Baruch, which documents a dying Sacramento River town; and “Black Panthers 1968,” also in collaboration with Baruch, which caused a furor for its sympathetic view of the black power movement.

New articles at the California Journal of Politics and Policy

From the Berkeley Electronic Press:

The Berkeley Electronic Press is pleased to announce the following new articles recently published in California Journal of Politics and Policy, with a special focus on Proposition 8 and the California Supreme Court review of the gay marriage amendment. To view any of the new articles, simply click on the links below:

On Amending and Revising the Constitution: The Issues behind the Challenge to Proposition 8

Joseph R. Grodin

The principal question before the California Supreme Court is whether the state constitution can be modified through an initiative measure when that modification would take away from an identifiable group rights that the state Supreme Court has deemed to be “fundamental.” A subsidiary issue, which would arise only if Proposition 8 is upheld, is whether that measure operates to invalidate marriages conducted before its passage.

Should Proposition 8 Be Held to be Retroactive?

Jesse H. Choper

The legal challenges to Proposition 8 all involve matters of state law on which the California Supreme Court alone is the final authority. But even if the court agrees with interveners and upholds the validity of Proposition 8, there is a separate question of its effect on the 18,000 couples who have already been married. On this issue, the California Supreme Court must first determine if the voters intended the proposition to apply retroactively. This essay urges that it should not be construed as being retroactive and, in doing so, explores two possible challenges under the U.S. Constitution if the court were to interpret Proposition 8 so as to invalidate the 18,000 marriages.

The Continuing Growth of Mail Ballot Voting in California in 2008

Mark DiCamillo

This paper summarizes trends in mail ballot voting and permanent mail ballot registrants in California. It also examines the demographic characteristics of mail ballot voters and permanent mail ballot registrants in 2008.

What Do Debt Loads Say about California’s Fiscal Condition?

John Decker

For the past seven years, the state spent more from the General Fund than its tax structure generated. To help cover the difference, the state borrowed from institutional investors. Should Californians be concerned? More broadly, how does debt fit into the annual budget debate? Evaluation of debt loads help Californians assess the fiscal prudence and sustainability of the state’s fiscal structures.


The Public Sector Case for Marriage Equality

Dennis J. Herrera

The stakes in the Prop 8 case are no longer limited to marriage equality alone. Hanging in the balance is whether state constitutional protections for pluralism and diversity–qualities that have not only distinguished California throughout its history, but have been key to its emergence as global economic powerhouse–may be henceforth subject to the vicissitudes of campaign politics.

About the journal:

A bellwether and testing ground for emerging trends in policy and political developments, California’s politics reverberate around the world. <http://www.bepress.com/cjpp>California Journal of Politics and Policy is the only journal devoted to this unique state, publishing peer-reviewed research and commentary on state and local government, electoral politics, and policy formation and implementation, in California and in relation to national and international developments. Edited by leading experts James Q. Wilson (Pepperdine University), Jack Citrin (University of California, Berkeley), and Bruce E. Cain (University of California Washington Center), California Journal of Politics and Policy will appeal to scholars, practitioners, journalists, policymakers, officeholders, and anyone needing to understand the newest directions in state politics and policy.

Edited by

James Q. Wilson
Pepperdine University

Jack Citrin
University of California, Berkeley

Bruce E. Cain
University of California, Berkeley

Jerry Lubenow
University of California, Berkeley

Two Op-Eds about Calif. Politics in the LAT, on changing demographics and chances for a constitutional convention

I don’t how unusual it is in these days when national headlines seem to dominate once the state’s crisis is momentarily resolved, but today’s L.A. Times (Mar. 5, 2009) had two interesting op-eds about California politics.  One of them, by Harold Meyerson, “As the GOP stands firm, California is changing direction,” was, as the title suggests, about the near to longterm prospects for the Republican Party in California in an era of changing demographics and politics.  Meyerson analyzes the overwhelming vote for Barack Obama by congressional districts, and finds that many Republican representatives are now representing districts that voted Democratic in 2008.  Meyerson writes:

The eight GOP congressional districts that swung Democratic are largely in exurban areas that Republicans have long claimed as their own. Seven are in Southern California, including David Dreier’s district along the foothills of northeast Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County; Howard P. “Buck” McKeon’s sprawling district that includes Palmdale, Lancaster and much of the eastern Sierra Nevada; and Elton Gallegly’s district, which stretches from Simi Valley to Solvang. Two other unexpectedly pro-Obama districts included Riverside and Palm Springs, while another is in northern San Diego County. The one sure to induce a double-take is John Campbell’s (formerly Christopher Cox’s) coastal Orange County district centered on Newport Beach — John Wayne country, a bastion of American conservatism. Yet Obama carried it by 2,500 votes.

Meyerson expects that the trend—which has been in process for 20 years—will continue in part because the party is so dominated by extreme right-wing elements:

In the mid- and late ’90s, the once solidly Republican inner suburbs of Los Angeles — Burbank, Glendale, northern Orange County among them — began sending Democrats to Washington and Sacramento as their demographics changed. They are now solidly Democratic. What the 2008 election results signify is that L.A.’s far-flung exurbs will soon be poised for a similar makeover. It may take several elections, some incumbent retirements and the carefully targeted intervention of Obama’s volunteer legions to realize such a transformation. But Democrats have a potent if inadvertent ally in speeding this change: California’s right-wing Republican establishment.

The second op-ed was by Patt Morrison, and it focussed on the recent calls for a California Constitutional Convention (although she didn’t mention the recent meeting in Sacramento).  Morrison declares her position in the title of the piece: “California Needs a Constitutional Convention,” and goes on to say:

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants a constitutional convention. Public policy wonks and worried budgeteers want one. The Legislature may not want one — another reason to convene it.

At this point, we’ve been running on the same basic chassis we’ve had since Edison invented the phonograph.

We made it so easy to overload the vehicle of state with amendments that we have nearly 500 of them. The U.S. Constitution has 27, and it had about a 60-year head start on us.

California’s Constitution is apparently the second longest in the country, after Louisiana’s, and we all know what a model of governance Louisiana is.

One wonders, though, given that Californians are so divided about what they expect from government, is it likely that we could ever reach agreement over a new charter?

–Frank Gruber (frank@frankjgruber.net)