Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Imperial San Francisco

I'm currently reading "Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin" by Gray Brechin who writes a very saucy version of the history of the city.

It's unlike most other urban histories that tend to sing praise of the elites who rule them. Brechin lays bare the inner workings of the wealthy families which dominated the economy of the city by the bay and its "contado" (the area that a city extracts resources from to grow itself and its material wealth). San Francisco's contado extended as far as the Philippines and it was some of the very same wealthy families which promoted war with Spain to take Philippines away.

Interesting fact: at the turn of the century, over a hundred years ago, the Union Iron Works on Potrero Hill made the finest warships in the world!

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in the history of the de Youngs, Hearsts, Spreckelses, and other families that shaped San Francisco through out the latter half of the 19th century and through the 20th.

From a higher perspective, one would also be able to see how cities grow, the forces behind such growth, the politics behind the projects that draw (steal) resources from the surroundings, and how the culture of the city is shaped by the wealthy elites that rule it. Every city has its rulers. San Francisco is no exception.

Here's the 2006 introduction to this book, originally published in 1999 -


  1. From Satish on NBL "The role of the city-dweller is often overlooked presumably because it’s the city-dweller that has played a key role in the rise of civilization, empire and contributes to, perpetuates, and defends the dominant paradigm. Like a fish that doesn’t perceive the water all around it, the city-dweller, cut off from the circumstances that humans have evolved in lives in an artificial setting, his feet rarely touching the earth, and his scalp rarely feeling the warmth of the sun. It’s hard to say if it is the city-dweller’s mind or the body that is more polluted. The city is a magical place in some ways, and yet in the context of our current predicament, happens to be cancer headquarters. It’s the City from which imperial designs and ambitions extend outward, it’s the City that destroys its surroundings in search for resources (despite pretensions that city-living is more efficient) and it’s the seat of the patriarch, the sociopathic elite. I’ve recommended it before and I will mention it again: “Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin” by Gray Brechin explores the role of the city, the wealthy families that run it, its effects on its “resource-shed”, it’s role in imperial conquest, and the spread of limitless growth and progress-oriented civilization.

    On the other extreme is the indigenous way of life, connected to Land, slow-paced, egalitarian, sustainable and just more joyful all around. The dominant paradigm ignores and maligns indigenous people. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that tribal people matter and begun to see them in perspective. We were all tribal before we became cancerous. Patriarchs don’t see it this way, of course. And they have no patience to slow down and hear what the tribal people have to tell us in these dire times. Because we are better than them, having proven ourselves to be more advanced than them beyond doubt! How? Because we’re able to fly in an airplane like the birds do?

    That’s like jumping off a cliff and flying for a few seconds before crashing. When we consider the time frame that industrial civilization has been around and place it in the context of 200,000 years of living in balance, our ride turns out to be just a flight of fancy lasting but a few generations. We’ve been falling but we have been led to believe we are flying. For a while, it did seem like we’re flying. It was exhilarating. The rush of air that man has never before felt. From up there, it was hard to tell… the earth below looks the same moment to moment. But as we get closer, some realize they are not flying but falling. They try to tell others and while some realize it, some don’t. Some close their eyes because they can’t integrate their observation of the approaching ground into their dominant paradigm worldview. Some believe they can invent a hi tech rocket ship that will take them away in the nick of time. Some believe a big stork will come and carry them off to the heavens on its back. Some say we’ve always been falling, that there was no time in history when we were standing on the edge of the cliff, merely looking down. Some say all this doesn’t matter anyway because it’s all just an illusion. The ground doesn’t actually exist, nor the wind in our face. Meanwhile, we learn about other species we pushed off the cliff edge before we jumped. They are hitting the ground fast. Little red spots appear on the landscape. But all this is too much to bear. A few more people close their eyes, unable to bear the suffering they see all around. Some kill themselves on their way down. Some judge them harshly even as they fall to their own deaths. Blame flies around. How did this happen? What does it mean? Are we there yet? Brace for impact!" Your thoughts on the Heisenberg uncertainty principal were classic!!! M. Austin

    1. Hi Mark, it's interesting that certain sub-atomic particles are not actually seen, but their presence is only discerned by the effects they have on other things around them. Likewise, what if there are beings that we don't see or touch but who do their work unbeknownst to us? We no longer perceive and observe the creation around us as well as the ancients did. We seek solace in the concept of randomness. Why did the electron go this way and not that?

      Things are uncertain because there are spirits that do not want to be known by other spirits. Allowing for an uncertain Universe is akin to having respect for such spirits. Demanding certainty is akin to dragging them into the light where they don't want to be, because they are shy, and it's their nature to remain unseen. Their effects, however, are there for us to see, and the effects very much want to be seen.

    2. Brilliant: "it's their nature to remain unseen. Their effects, however, are there for us to see." There is a tiny bit of something I have once experienced that I should not explain. However, I so greatly admire how you write it. Amazing & true.

      Very sorry this system just cut off your other excellent comment (essay about uncertainty) on NBL that I wanted to archive here. I started with appropriate credit to your words then it cut off the first half. Sorry again but I wanted your best work copied here.

    3. Satish MusunuruMay 6, 2015 at 5:25 PM

      No worries, Mark. I'm just fascinated and honored that you like my writing so much. One of these days, I should go find all my comments on NBL and store them away or put them on my web site.

    4. Both of you gentle men are far, far above my intellect but quite useful to my clearer understanding of our situations. Soooooo interesting and necessary. I am so grateful.

      Mark: We spoke about looking into microscopes down, down, down to the surface of an electron, and continuing on down to ?. Just read that electrons cannot be seen because they are so small that even gamma ray waves are so much larger that they would go right by w/o detecting them. Hell, they are always invisible so this disrupts my dream of landing on an electron planet. Maybe this is what string theory is all about! Fascinating, along with the both of you.

      Al least we are having fun before we crash off the cliff.