Sunday, April 26, 2015

The USA ranks 15th in the 2015 report

Source of the map
Check out the 2015 World Happiness Report. It is based on a new idea -- that the happiness of the people in a nation is as important as the country's GDP, and worthy of government and citizen attention.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A biography of Father Junipero Serra

I just finished reading Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father by Steven M. Hackel. Serra (1713 to 1784) is regarded in California as one of its founding fathers. A Franciscan priest, he is expected to be formally declared a saint during the visit of Pope Francis to the United States later this year; it would be the first time that the formal recognition of sainthood had been performed in the United States.

One impression from the book is the  arrogance of the imperial peoples. The Spanish claimed a huge chunk of the Americas, ignoring the people who were already there; claiming Alta California, they worried about the Russians,, but not about the sovereign rights of the California Indians.

The U.S. Americans proclaimed "Manifest Destiny" almost as soon as they possibly could, bought a big swath of North America from the French, and took another big swath from the emerging Mexican state. The Spanish Catholics had little doubt that theirs was the only true religion. (What, you say that those traits are still found in American culture and foreign policy?)

I think it useful to describe the book in terms of three sections.


Serra was born in Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, the largest of the Balearic Islands. He grew up there, joined the Franciscan Order there (where he took the name Junipero -- Juniper in English -- after one of the followers of Saint Francis), studied and taught there, received his doctorate in Philosophy there, and was ordained a priest there.

I knew very little about the island before reading the book except that it is now favored by British tourists seeking to escape the winter weather of their islands. Author Hackel provides a brief history of the island and descriptions of life there during the 18th century. I found that discussion interesting and useful.

Mexico/New Spain

Serra volunteered to serve as a missionary priest in Mexico -- then known as New Spain. He made the long and dangerous journey there, traveling first from Mallorca to Spain. then across Spain. and then to embark on what was in the 1700s a long and somewhat perilous sea journey, and then by land to Mexico City -- again a somewhat dangerous trip.

In New Spain he first served as a teacher in Querétaro. He also conducted what sound to me like revival meetings, traveling around the country to hold meetings at which he spoke to encourage Catholics to renew their faith and live by the dictums of that faith. Later he was a leader of the Franciscan missions in Sierra Gorda, where for some nine years he truly experienced the difficulties of converting Indians to Catholicism and bringing them to mission life.


Statue of Father Serra in the
Mission San Diego de Alcalá
In 1768, after the Jesuits had been expelled from their missions in Baja California, the Franciscans took over their administration, seeking to save the missionary effort. Father Serra became the Father President for the Franciscan missionaries involved in the effort.

Serra is best known, at least in the United States, as a founding father of California. The year after the Franciscans took control of the missions in Baja California, the colonial government decided to move into Alta California (what is now basically the state of California) in order to block any potential effort to further colonize the region by the Russians. It was decided by the government to send an expedition with two purposes:
  • to establish pueblos in key locations with military presence, and
  • to establish missions to convert the Indian population to Catholicism.
The Franciscans were again put in charge of the missionary effort, and Father Junipero Serra was again made the head of the effort. Father Serra himself baptized a large number of converts; after he was granted the right to perform the sacrament of confirmation (usually reserved for bishops of the Catholic church) he also confirmed thousands of Indians (as having achieved a mature understanding of their faith), Since his landing in Mexico he had suffered from leg problems, and in the last years of his missionary work was in severe ill health.

Internet source for map
Serra and the Indians

Steven Hackel writes that there were 310,000 Indians in Alta California when Serra started creating missions there. (I don't know how an accurate estimate could have been made.) Serra sought to gather Indians to live in the mission communities, and indeed to learn Spanish farming techniques to grow their own food. Hackel notes that since the Indians had no immunity to the communicable diseases brought by the Spanish to the New World, and since the missions were in occasional contact by ship with Mexico, epidemics arrived from time to time, spreading rapidly through the relatively dense mission communities of Indians; the mortality was terrible.

I wonder whether the missions are especially to blame for the destruction of Indian culture and the decimation of Indian populations in California. In the 19th century, a large number of land grants were given in Alta California by the newly independent government of Mexico. I suspect that the result was a loss of the traditional lands of the California Indians, and that event in turn would have led to high mortality rates, especially as some would have joined communities of hacienda workers at the newly established haciendas. With the 1849 gold rush, the influx of U.S. and foreign migrants took a further  huge toll on the Indians.

I also know from long experience as a development professional that many of my efforts and those of my colleagues failed. We had hundreds of years more experience to learn from than did Father Serra, and I sympathize with the failures he must have encountered in his long career. Building new, successful communities that involve major cultural change by the people who are to live in those communities is hard, and it is marked with major failures. I give more credit to Father Serra for trying and trying again after failures, than I criticize him for those failures.

Was Serra Saintly?

Serra was a Franciscan, and accepted the simple life style and oath of poverty of that order; indeed, Hackel indicates that Serra may have been even more devote than most of his fellow Franciscans. He certainly took large risks to become a missionary, abandoning what would have been a safer and perhaps less severe life in Mallorca. In the management of his missions he clearly drove himself very hard -- to the point of illness and even death.

I think Serra believed that only Catholics had a chance of going to heaven and living in eternal bliss with God; he would have believed that the Indians of Sierra Gorda and California in their native state violated the first commandment, putting false gods before the God of Abraham and Jesus Christ; moreover, the Indians would have been violating the ten commandments in many other ways. Serra would have believed that while all people sinned, only Catholics through the Church's sacraments could repent, have their sins forgiven, and finally die in a state of grace. Thus I think he believed that while Christians had the chance of heaven, heathen Indians were doomed to the other place for all eternity.

Assuming I am right, Serra would have believed that only the conversion of the Indians to Catholicism could save their souls and give them the chance of going to heaven. Moreover, he would have believed that their chance of heaven would be greatly enhanced living at a mission where they could take the sacraments on a regular basis and benefit from the teaching and guidance of the missionaries. Moreover, I think he would have believed that an Indian that continued to live in the traditional way with his/her tribe (or who left the mission to return to tribal life) even having converted to Catholicism, was in great peril of lapsing from the Catholic religion and losing out on eternity in heaven.

Thus I think Serra was willing to brave dangers, undergo sickness and injury, and live a simple and often uncomfortable life in order to grant the gift of eternal heavenly life to others. I think he believed that he managed to do so directly to thousands he baptized and/or confirmed and indirectly to many more through his missionary work and his leadership in the creation of missions. His companions and colleagues as well as many others thought his life and accomplishments to be saintly.

It is a commonplace statement in the study of history that one should not apply the moral standards of today to the people of the past. It is at least important to try to understand what those people believed and the roots of their behavior. Even today, many people think Junipero Serra went to heaven for his behavior during his life, and indeed pray to him for help in their own lives.

Final Comments

My parents and I moved to California when I was in the third grade and I grew up there. So I studied Junipero Serra in grammer school, visited missions, and was familiar with El Camino Real (the royal highway) which connected the missions and is still honored in markers on California roads. I lived for years within 20 or 30 miles of Mission San Juan Capistrano and knew about the clock like arrival of the swallows there (commemorated in a poem and song).

I also live about the same distance from Hemet, the site of the annual Ramona padgent; Ramona, the heroin of a California novel adapted in several media, was an orphan of mixed European-Indian ancestry, who was raised by Spanish foster parents. and who fell in love with an Indian man. The story, a tragedy, is set just after the Mexican American War.

Perhaps more to the point, I was trained as a Peace Corps Volunteer to work with the Mapuche Indians in the south of Chile. As part of that training I spent a month in a town of Tarascan Indians in Mexico. There I got the chance not only to know some of the people of the town, but to visit with the town priest, the latest in a hundreds of years long chain of priests serving that community; he showed me the church records going back hundreds of years.

Tupac Katari, Ayo Ayo's most famouscitizen, leader of an Indian revoltin the 1780s.
Much later I got to visit Ayo Ayo, a town of Aymara in altiplano Bolivia. There too I got to meet some of the people, and I got to visit the church which was also hundreds of years old. The priest there (also continuing a long history of ministry to the Indians) showed me church records of births, marriages and funerals going back centuries.

I did not get to work with the Mapuche as a PCV, but my friends who did learned how hard development is for Indian communities. I had my own failures both as a PCV and later.

I have come to have a lot of respect for American Indians and their (many different) cultures. While I understand that cultures change, as Spanish and Mexican culture have changed, I also have some caution about the cultural change I advocate.

Clearly the 37 million people who live in the state of California today arrived as a tidal wave that would not be resisted by the native California Indians. Indeed, the modern Californians are healthier, longer lived, and better educated than the peoples that they displaced. Still.....

In conclusion, let me say that I learned a lot from this book, both about Father Serra and about the world in which he lived. The book is short and quite readable, but also well researched and well documented. Perhaps most important, it advanced some very interesting questions that made me think and were worthy of that work.

  • Here is a post I made to provide background information for those reading about Junipero Serra
  • Here is a brief article by author Hackel on Father Serra. 
  • Here is a video news report triggered by the Pope's recent announcement that Father Serra is to be recognized as a saint; Hackel is included as an expert.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Recommending a website on the rise of political freedom and the decrease in violence

There is a very nice website produced by Max Roser that shows a decrease in violence worldwide, and seeks to provide at least a partial explanation -- all in graphs. Here are three drawn from the site:


Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but it does seem likely the increased education leads to social changes that both promote democratic governance and decrease violence in a society.

Background for Reading About Junipero Serra and the California Missions

California Lakes, Streams and Water Resources

California is a big place, with mountains, deserts, and fertile areas. The Indian population in say 1750 was a few hundred thousand, and they lived primarily as hunter gathers, using fire ecology to manipulate their environment to keep it fruitful for their way of life. Today California is experiencing a devastating drought -- devastating that is for most of the current 37+ million inhabitants of the state. However, the 20th century saw California emerge as an agricultural powerhouse, with huge production in the Central Valley (watered by rivers from the Sierra Nevada snow pack, with the San Joaquin and Sacramento River systems) and the Imperial Valley in the south-west irrigated with water from the Colorado River.

The Spanish

Spanish missions were established in Alta California from 1771 to 1783 under the leadership of Junipero Serra. The effort was part of a larger effort by the Spanish government to settle what was then a frontier, an effort that included sending troops to the region and establishing pueblos in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco. Baja California had been earlier, not too successfully, settled by the Spanish.

The Spanish focused their early colonization of Central and South America on relatively densely populated areas: The area of Central America that they found controlled by the Aztec Empire and the portion of South America that they found controlled by the Inca Empire. There was gold and silver in large quantities in these areas. Moreover, even after the Indian populations had been decimated, there were relatively large numbers of Indians who could be put to work to enrich their new Spanish masters; these Indians could also be converted to Catholicism.

Bartolomé de las Casas gets a brief mention in Junipero Serra's biography, but he perhaps deserves more attention.
Arriving as one of the first European settlers in the Americas, he participated in, and was eventually compelled to oppose, the atrocities committed against the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists. In 1515, he reformed his views, gave up his Indian slaves and encomienda, and advocated, before King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, on behalf of rights for the natives....... 
Bartolomé de las Casas spent 50 years of his life actively fighting slavery and the violent colonial abuse of indigenous peoples, especially by trying to convince the Spanish court to adopt a more humane policy of colonization. And although he failed to save the indigenous peoples of the Western Indies, his efforts resulted in several improvements in the legal status of the natives, and in an increased colonial focus on the ethics of colonialism. Las Casas is often seen as one of the first advocates for universal human rights.
The suppression of the Jesuits
in the Portuguese Empire, France, the Two Sicilies, Malta, Parma and the Spanish Empire by 1767 was a result of a series of political moves in each polity rather than a theological controversy. Monarchies attempting to centralize and secularize political power viewed the Jesuits as being too international, too strongly allied to the papacy, and too autonomous from the monarchs in whose territory they operated. By the brief Dominus ac Redemptor (21 July 1773) Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. 
The Mexicans

Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 after more than a decade of fighting. Alta California continued as a frontier for the Mexican government. While 30 land grants of huge California estates had been made by the Spanish government before Mexican Independence, that number was increased to about 455 by the Mexican Government. The Franciscan missions were secularized, and their lands and cattle were taken by the large haciendas. While immigration from Mexico was encouraged, and while the Indian population was much depleted by disease and cultural disruption by that time.
By 1845, the province of Alta California had a non-native population of about 1,500 Spanish and Latin American-born adult men along with about 6,500 women and their native-born children (who became the Californios). These Spanish-speakers lived mostly in the southern half of the state from San Diego north to Santa Barbara.[31] There were also around 1300 American immigrants and 500 European immigrants from a wide variety of backgrounds. Nearly all of these were adult males and a majority lived in central and northern California from Monterey north to Sonoma and east to the Sierra Nevada foothills. 
A large non-coastal land grant was given to John Sutter who, in 1839, settled a large land grant close to the future city of Sacramento, California, which he called "New Helvetia" (New Switzerland). There, he built an extensive fort equipped with much of the armament from Fort Ross—bought from the Russians on credit when they abandoned that fort. Sutter's Fort was the first non-Native American community in the California Central Valley. Sutter's Fort, from 1839 to about 1848, was a major agricultural and trade colony in California, often welcoming and assisting California Trail travelers to California. Most of the settlers at, or near, Sutter's Fort were new immigrants from the United States.
The Russians

Russia had begun colonization of North America quite early, and Alaska and other Russian possessions in land claimed by the United States were not sold to the United States until 1867 -- after the Civil War. Quoting from Wikipedia:
From 1812 to 1841, the Russians operated Fort Ross, California.........By the 1830s, the Russian monopoly on trade was weakening. The British Hudson's Bay Company was leased the southern edge of Russian America in 1839 under the RAC-HBC Agreement, establishing Fort Stikine which began siphoning off trade.
And Fort Ross:
was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America between 1812 to 1842......In addition to farming and manufacturing, the Company carried on its fur-trading business at Fort Ross, but by 1817, after 20 years of intense hunting by Spanish, American and English ships - followed by Russian efforts - had practically eliminated sea otter in the area........
Following the formal trade agreement in 1838 between the Russian-American Company in New Archangel and Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver and Fort Langley for their agricultural needs, the settlement at Fort Ross was no longer needed to supply the Alaskan colonies with food. The Russian-American Company consequently offered the settlement to various potential purchasers, and it was sold to John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss origin.
 Russian expansion into the west coast of what is now the United States, and especially its fur trade in Alta California was apparently one of the important reasons that the Spanish sought to reinforce its sovereignty over the region by establishing pueblos, missions, and military establishments.

British Empire

Canada remained a colony of the British Empire until the British North America Act in 1867. Prior to that date, the British empire and its Canadian colony competed with other nations for territory in western North America. Eventually, the boundary between British Canada and the United States was settled via a number of treaties and boundary surveys. The London Convention (1818) saw the boundary extended west along the 49th parallel. The Oregon Treaty (1846) established the 49th parallel as the boundary through the Rockies.

The United States

In the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States extended its territory from the Mississippi west to the Rocky Mountains. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) traveled through the northern portion of the land acquired and continued on to the Pacific.

Source: Wikipedia

John Jacob Astor's fur company established Astoria (Oregon) in 1611. The U. S. Exploring Expedition in the early 1840s charted the coast of Oregon, and send a party by land from Astoria to San Francisco Bay, where it was met by the ships of the expedition. The settlement of the coast was facilitated by the development of the Oregon Trail
a 2,200-mile (3,500 km) historic east-west large wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of the future state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the future states of Idaho and Oregon. 
The Oregon Trail was laid by fur trappers and traders from about 1811 to 1840 and was only passable on foot or by horseback. By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Wagon trails were cleared further and further west, eventually reaching all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Later the Oregon Trail was used in conjunction with branch trails for the early settlers from the United States to California, notably after the discovery of gold in 1848 and during the gold rush starting in 1849.

At the outbreak of the Mexican American War in 1846 led to U.S. annexation of California.
On June 15, 1846, some thirty settlers, mostly American citizens, staged a revolt and seized the small Californio garrison, in Sonoma, without firing a shot and declared the new California Republic government. 
On hearing of this revolt, John C. Fremont and his small exploratory force -- which had been in California -- returned and declared that California was henceforth United States territory. The "republic" never exercised any real authority and only lasted 26 days before accepting U.S. government control.
In 1846, the U.S. Navy was under orders to take over all California ports in the event of war. There were about 400–500 U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy bluejacket sailors available for possible land action on the Pacific Squadron's ships. Hearing word of the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, California, and the arrival of the large British 2,600-ton, 600-man man-of-war HMS Collingwood flagship under Sir George S. Seymour, outside Monterey Harbor, Commodore Sloat was finally stirred to action. On July 7, 1846, seven weeks after war had been declared, Sloat instructed the captains of the ships USS Savannah and sloops Cyane and Levant of the Pacific Squadron in Monterey Bay to occupy Monterey, California—the Alta California capital. Fifty American marines and about 100 bluejacket sailors landed and captured the city without incident—the few Californio troops formerly there having already evacuated the city. They raised the flag of the United States without firing a shot.
California became a state in 1850. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Study: Polarization in Congress is worsening… and it stifles innovation

Red are Republicans, blue are Democrats. The horizontal scale is political ideology -- conservative on the right, progressive on the left.

Check out this study from the Santa Fe Institute, the home of the experts on the study of complexity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Children are still migrating alone from Central America to the USA

An article in The Economist points out that children are still migrating to the USA from Central America, and doing so without adult family members to help. The numbers are down from 2014, but are still quite high.

The article goes on to state that the migration is not primarily to reunite the kids with family members in the USA but for them to escape the violence and poverty of their native lands.

The governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are working to improve conditions, but appear to need a lot of help to achieve their objectives. That is where Joe Biden's plan to provide $1 billion in aid next year comes in. Lets hope that Congress appropriates the money. It would be an important step in improving U.S. immigration policy.

Indeed, there used to be a Good Neighbor Policy and an Alliance for Progress. It is time for the United States government to return to a policy of offering a friendly hand to our neighbors to the south. If your neighbors house is on fire, and he asks for the use of your hose, you don't rent to him!