I was surprised the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge; surprised because I was expecting it to be painted gold. Some patient person explained to me that the bridge was so named because it spanned the Golden Gate between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.
In the Klamath River Basin straddling the Oregon-California border, salmon compete with onion, potato and wheat farmers for the ever-scarcer water. Dams on the river have also contributed to the decrease in the salmon population. Further north, sea lions from California(!) travel all the way up to the Columbia River to feast on the salmon returning to their spawning grounds. That’s if a few years earlier they escaped predation by cormorants as they made their way from the river to the salt water of the Pacific.
(Fun Fact: The name “cormorant” is a contraction of the Latin words corvus and marinus which taken together mean “sea raven.”)
As Major League Baseball takes a break for its annual All-Star game, let’s take our time machine back to 1919. A year after the end of the Great War, the U.S. was recovering from the Great Influenza Pandemic and beginning a decade of prosperity. Baseball was truly the national pastime. But a hundred years later, the 1919 World Series is still remembered in infamy for the “Black Sox” players who conspired with gamblers to lose the Series.
The White Sox were World Series champions in 1917. The following year several of their players, including star outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, went off to war and the Sox fell to sixth place. Back to full strength in 1919, they won the American League pennant and faced the Cincinnati Reds in the Series. Several Sox players followed the lead of ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte: In exchange for $10,000 each ($146,000 in 2019 dollars) they made a deal with gamblers to lose.
“According to Portland Aerial Tram, each tram cabin travels along two cable “tracks” with a moving haul rope between them that pulls the cabin along. The Portland Aerial Tram regularly maintains this essential rope when the tram is closed on nights and during weekends, but the haul rope needs to be replaced approximately once every two years. With more than 21,800 operational hours and 325,000 tram trips logged, it’s fair to say that this particular component is nearing the end of its rope and needs to be replaced.”
We celebrate the Fourth of July, aka Independence Day, with fireworks and bombastic patriotism. But it took more than a decade following the Declaration of Independence in 1776 for our revered Founding Fathers to cobble together a real constitution and set a functioning nation on its course.
By the 1780s, it was clear that the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” wasn’t working. Drafted by the Second Continental Congress in 1776-1777 and finally ratified by the thirteenth state in 1781, our nation’s first constitution set up a federal government that could print money that was worthless, could borrow money but couldn’t pay it back, was spectacularly ineffective in collecting taxes – individual states paid only what they felt like paying – and had little means of dealing as a sovereign nation with foreign powers.
The Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787. Its stated purpose was to “render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.” Virginia and Pennsylvania were were the only states to show up. Deliberations finally began on May 25 with seven states, a quorum, represented. Eventually twelve states took part; Rhode Island, opposed to a strong central government, thumbed its nose at the gathering.
Census-taking was a contentious issue from the very beginning. Population of the various states determined representation and distribution of Federal largesse, such as it was. Southern states did not want the more populous North to control the government; they wanted non-citizens, i.e. slaves, counted. Eventually the delegates reached a compromise: a slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person.
It took a year. The new constitution was ratified by the required nine states on June 21, 1788. The Continental Congress voted on September 13 – eleven states had ratified by then – to begin the new government, effective March 4, 1789. The initial meeting of both the House of Representatives and the Senate were immediately adjourned for lack of a quorum. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President on April 30. And Rhode Island? The tiniest state finally ratified the constitution on May 29, 1790.
The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, were added in 1791, as promised during the 1788 debates by supporters to gain the support of doubters who were concerned about a too-powerful centralized government. Among the rights enumerated are a prohibition of religious favoritism, guarantee of a speedy and public trial, and the necessity of a well-regulated militia.
And so the representative-democracy experiment continues. Can we avoid sliding into autocracy?