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deletedSep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022
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Who buys all those houses?

I only knew of "Okie" in a Dust Bowl historical context - I didn't realize it was still around, even as a slur. What time period did you grow up in?

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I’m not the person who posted about “Okie” but as of the 90s and on, I only heard it used here in the CV as a mild self-deprecating label for “unsophisticated white person” similar to “hillbilly” in Appalachia or “Hoosier” in (oddly enough) the St Louis area. For example, a pile of miscellaneous junk on your property = “my Okie pile.” Someone who speaks in a certain dialect will be gently teased about his pronunciations and will say dismissively, “I’m such an Okie.” Never heard it used in a disparaging way toward others but no doubt in earlier times it was.

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I definitely heard it used this way too by my family! But calling someone ELSE an Okie or talking about their Okie accent was definitely not good. This fits the pattern I would expect for a slur though, no? I wonder if this was a farming thing, or maybe different areas had different levels of immigration from OK so different sensitivities? Or different sensitives for reasons I'm not thinking of? Similarly I know parts of WV where "hillbilly" is also a fighting word, but people I knew in CA would use it freely.

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Central Valley for the last 25 years, here.

More to say on the whole thing, but in Bakersfield, it was a big deal and a common term from at least the 1930's to the 1950's. The hospital I was working for sent out a heartfelt memo in about 1951 asking folks to be nice to Okies and discussing the prejudice against them. (I found it in an old storage area.)

I knew people who referred to themselves or family members as Okies, but never heard it used as a legit slur. I see others have had other experiences, and I do think it depends on what part of the CV you are in.

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> Hoosier

That means someone from Indiana. Nothing about it is self deprecating and St Louis idiots should seek inner happiness instead of outer bigotry.

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Hoosier means someone from Indiana everywhere but the St Louis area. In the St Louis area, it means redneck or unsophisticated person, usually applied to oneself “I’m such a hoosier” and not to other people as a slur.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

I am a 90’s kid. I can remember fights in school over someone calling someone else an Okie as late as 2006. I once hit a kid for calling me an Okie and my parents got into a fight with the district cuz they didn’t want me punished for what they saw as a reasonable response.

A lot of the houses built where I grew up were built on spec and filled up very very slowly. Housing market crash didn’t help. My family still mostly lives out there, and they are surrounded by retirees (ex cops and teachers) and a handful of younger families that work to support tech infrastructure in Fresno. Them, and truckers. Lots and lots of truckers.

Edit: woops deleted original comment by accident. Posted here for posterity.

"I grew up outside Fresno on a farm that is now thousands and thousands of houses. And I think this might be part of it? Small farms get bought and turned into houses or incorporated into very large corporate farming systems. So, a shrinking middle class.

Also, FWIW, when/where I grew up Oakie was a preeeety nasty slur and it really surprised me to see it used so casually here. Maybe obviously, I am not surprised to hear that it doesn’t carry the same weight elsewhere."

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My mom spent a great deal of her childhood in Oklahoma and we still have a huge chunk of family there. I personally have never heard of Okie as a slur — the way my mom uses it, it’s like someone from California calling themselves a “Californian.” Really I thought it was just a fun nickname for someone from Oklahoma. Just the other day my mother remarked, “am I an Okie, I mean I grew up there?” (For context, I didn’t grow up in Oklahoma and she hasn’t lived there in a long time.)

I’ve never heard it used as a disparaging term, personally. But I may just have been sheltered from that. But hearing that it is used in areas of California as a diminutive term like “hillbilly” doesn’t help my pre-existing view of Californians as snobs who are prejudiced against those of us who live in the middle of the country.

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I have a lot of family in Oklahoma, and they refer to themselves as Okies, and don't mean it as a slur.

I would also assume this is a California snobbishness thing.

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On second thought, maybe calling it snobbishness isn't fair.

I'm an Alabaman (native), and calling someone a Yankee here is definitely a sign of I'll-intent/prejudice/etc.

But it is used somewhat innocently elsewhere.

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I grew up in Oklahoma and can confirm that "Okie" is totally benign there but can also imagine it being an insult coming from certain people outside of the state.

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Interestingly this just popped up on the Tulsa subreddit today, in reaction to an LA Times article that went up yesterday talking about the term. Seems like the comments thread includes very possible combination from "level of awareness it was ever a slur" and "level of agreement that it's a slur now" https://www.reddit.com/r/tulsa/comments/xl05qq/i_guess_okie_was_a_slur_for_white_people_in/

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Well, WRT this thread, there's a Woody Guthrie song"

Hey, Okie, if you see Arkie,

Tell him Tex has got a job for him out in California

I found this interesting, as my mother was born in Arkansaw, and didn't want me to copy her "Okie speech patterns".

But outside of those contexts, I've never heard either used as an insult.

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"Okie from Muskogee", by Merle Haggard, was his biggest hit when it came out in 1969. He's from near Bakersfield.

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Well, that's recognizing that it is used as an insult, but doesn't seem to be using it as in insult. And, yes, I was aware that it was used as an insult, I just never heard it used that way.

OTOH, I heard that song in coffee housed in the SF Bay Area, and everybody like it. Which makes me wonder how it was taken in places like Bakersfield. Perhaps they heard it as straight rather than as humor.

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Ha! This is a real blast from the past. I grew up in Porterville (between Bakersfield and Fresno) and this made me remember in middle school in the mid-late '90s my English teacher used the word "Okie" and a kid in class took offense. We had an impromptu "trial" for the next two days where the class was the jury, and the teacher and the kid made their case and we learned about Okies, and we decided if the teacher was being mean or not.

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these days the kid would file a complaint and try to get the teacher fired?

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"When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, they raised the average intelligence level in both states." -Will Rogers

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

Third-generation Fresnan here (graduated HS in 92). As best I can remember, I've never heard the word Okie used in anger. 'Redneck' and 'white trash' are used instead. My mother (born in 37) would occasionally describe people as Okies, particularly from her childhood. Her older brother's first wife, for example, was apparently "pure okie." (I think she actually migrated from Oklahoma during the dust bowl, though, so maybe more of an accurate description than an outright slur.) It always felt like a semi-charming anachronism when she used it, which bolsters the notion that the word wasn't in common use.

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Same here Wanda. (5th generation foothills east of Visalian--graduated HS in 86) I've also never heard Okie used in anger. That said…

My mother's side of the family came to the southern valley—Delano area—during the Dust Bowl times. From Oklahoma and western Arkansas. They all used the term ‘Okie’ pretty frequently—but often there would be a bit of a self-mocking tone to it. (e.g. “We’re just a bunch of Okie’s driving a broken down car!”

My father’s side of the family (the multi-generational farming family) and my Dad would use the term as a very slight pejorative way. Sort of saying, ‘you’re lower than us’.

Interestingly enough, my beloved aunt—one of the first female school principals in the Bakersfield school district…and Masters degree educated—wants to write detailing her life and the dust bowl struggles…and title it “Okie”. (It was sort of rare in her day to be a highly educated woman.)

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Former housemate in Berkeley identifies as an Okie. Says his grandma came from OK. Nice guy, early 30s, working on his bachelor's after a stint in the army. Likes the porcelain pink mug I bought him.

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there are pockets of normalcy. i lived in davis for 5 years, and it's fine. the suburbs to the east of sacramento, in the foothills, are OK too. i would say the southern half is more bleak than the northern half, though places like redding and red bluff aren't exactly 'lux'

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My wife is from Davis and my uncle lives in Red Bluff. I agree Davis is nice because it's a college town (and I think lots of Sacramento is also basically okay). Red Bluff seems pretty bad according to my uncle's report and what I've seen of it the few times I've been.

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I grew up in Red Bluff and can confirm it is bad, and has gotten worse since I left in 2007.

https://www.redbluffdailynews.com/2019/05/31/taking-a-look-at-us-without-rose-colored-glasses/

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Any chance you knew the Palubeskis there?

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My friend was in Mrs. Palubeski's class. Relatedly, a few months ago I spoke with a retired physician in Portland who graduated from Red Bluff High in 1955. The picture he painted of the town was unrecognizable to me. Poverty still prevalent, but no drugs, little to no violence or crime. He said "bad behavior" was limited to high schoolers sometimes sneaking cigarettes.

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Sep 24, 2022·edited Sep 24, 2022Author

Mrs. Palubeski (my aunt) unfortunately passed away earlier this year. Neat that you sort of second-degree knew her, though; I guess it really is a small world.

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I’m sorry to hear that. Small world indeed.

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Why did the University of California pick Davis out as its Central Valley representative?

I heard once that the weather is milder in Davis than in other places in the Central Valley because cool air off the San Francisco Bay comes up the river valley, but when I aired that notion, several people more familiar with Davis than myself dismissed it and said Davis was hot as Hades.

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Some interesting discussion here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California,_Davis#Founding

The site started as a university farm associated with UC Berkeley opening in 1908, evolved into their College of Agriculture, grew and then was designated as a standalone campus in 1959.

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I don’t consider Sacramento /Davis in the same league at all -- way better, agreed. The Southern part is truly where the horror is.

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I would not call a town with an R1 university normal. It is more the exception that proves the rule.

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One theory I came up with on this subject a number of years ago is that the Central Valley is too close to California's paradisiacal coast to hang on to local talent. My example was George Lucas of Modesto, CA (as seen in his "American Graffiti") who decamped for Marin County a long time ago. The Marin County landscape is enough like home that you wouldn't be homesick because you had imprinted on the Modesto landscape as a youth, but the Marin landscape is just objectively better.

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founding

Something I wonder about is the extent to which the majority of America gets brain-drained (and creativity drained and so on) by Hollywood, San Francisco, New York, etc.

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Andrew Yang said as much. 'Six jobs in six places', I think--finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, or academia in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC.

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Is academia even more concentrated in these cities?

I'd wager that a higher percentage of jobs in Columbus Ohio or Madison WI are higher education than in any of those cities except maybe Boston.

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I think there’s something worse than brain drain going on.

It’s not as if the filter for people leaving suburban places for the coast is talent alone. A think a filter that’s just as big, if not bigger, is values.

Do you place a high value on loyalty and tradition? If so, I think you’re less likely to leave your home. Do you place a high value on speaking your mind and believing what makes sense to you, even if it bothers your peers? If so, I think you’re less likely to take or stay in one of those six jobs.

I’ve returned to my ancestral homeland of Ohio and increasingly feel that the last few decades have been marked by a leadership class that is high on rhetorical intelligence and conformity, but low on disagreeabillty and loyalty.

So plenty of smart disagreeable people who values their family and friends more than career paths have stayed put . I’m seeing which of my friends have also returned home from costal enclaves. It may be just my own personal experience but I don’t think it’s a random sample.

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Can you expand on why that's 'worse' than brain drain? "Smart disagreeable people who values their family and friends more than career paths" don't sound *so* bad.

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I could be wrong, but Mark P's proposed filter sounds more like an explanation for the problems with the American leadership caste than problems with the Central Valley.

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founding

I'd think it could be considered worse (depends on the metric) because rather than concentrating intelligence, were concentrating behavior traits which could impact social stability. E.g. make echo chambers worse and further divide america.

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That's an excellent point, and may be why we see such a bizarre (to me) conformity among our ruling classes to increasingly bizarre articles of faith and such nasty attacks on the history of this country. I mean, every nation has its dark history but we don't see China endlessly rehashing the brutal imperial punishments and invasions of Vietnam, Korea, Burma, etc. and feeling guilty about it. (They'd have quite a bit of history to go through, given the long time China's existed!) We don't see Italy self-flagellating about what they did to the Gauls.

For my part I'm not interested in family but also very disagreeable (though I suppress it for my career), so my strategy is 'hoard money for the eventual firing').

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China seems like a bad example to take because, like most authoritarian states, they're pretty much forced to keep up the appearance of being one irreproachable monolithic entity to keep the government in power. Italy is an almost equally bad example because of how the Roman empire is ancient history: everyone and everything who either benefited or suffered from Roman exploitation has been dead for generations, even on a cultural level. The US is in a unique position here because a) they carry the reputation as being among the 'enlightened' democratic countries, which comes with an expectation of being fair and equitable, b) as a historical entity, they remain a direct beneficiary of the exploitation of the colonial age, and c) there are still people living today who continue to feel the effects of that exploitation.

The closest comparison would be the British Empire and India, and the only reason I don't expect the British to feel the same amount of guilt is that India still exists. That's not to say either are precisely the right amount of self-critical - recent events should make that abundantly clear - but given the historical context, a certain feeling of guilt (or at least the acknowledgement of such) is not surprising at all.

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>as a historical entity, they remain a direct beneficiary of the exploitation of the colonial age, and c) there are still people living today who continue to feel the effects of that exploitation

If you're implying that America benefitted from slavery, you are sorely, sorely mistaken.

>The closest comparison would be the British Empire and India

The idea than colonialism was some great boon for Britain is wrong. They spent far more building and maintaining their colonies than they ever got out of them - their wealth came from industrialization, which would have happened sooner/faster if the money had instead been invested domestically.

And India was not made worse off by colonialism. India was a mess before the Raj and they would have likely continued to have been victmizied by foreign powers without the British in charge.

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No, I'm saying that the US (or the historical entity that would become it) benefited from being founded on land colonized by Europeans, at the expense of its existing population. That's an understatement; it owes its entire existence to that. But if you have an argument that the colonizers never benefited from slavery, I'm curious to hear it.

I'm willing to concede that the British Empire is also a bad comparison, but I've never been convinced by the argument of "X was justified to victimize Y because Y would just have been victimized by someone else if they hadn't". We also don't accept "this country is a mess and we need to sort them out" as an excuse to occupy them in the modern day.

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China endlessly rehashes the bad things done to them by every other nation in the past and tries to make them feel guilty about it. At a national level that's an exact parallel to what's happening in US at a racial level.

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Right, but China's in charge. They are acting on behalf of the Han Chinese people and working to further their interests (as they should).

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but the blacks in the US are also doing it to further their interests (as they should). they clearly have a strong feeling that the US as currently constituted doesn't really represent them etc. so it's not self-flagellation on their part they are attacking an external enemy that happens to live in the same territory. why liberal whites go along is more debatable but one could form some theories as well (virtue signaling, score points vs. political enemies etc.)

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This seems to be clearly a factor at the regional level here in the Midwest. Chicago benefits from being the initial landing place for lots of young college/university graduates of the Midwest's network of good public universities (the Big Ten schools plus a few others), which are quite large -- they churn out a _lot_ of eager young graduates every year both undergrad and professional degrees (e.g. Purdue for engineering, Illinois for IT, etc). That's why the city has sports bars for literally every Midwestern Division 1 football school, more than one for some schools, which for 30 years now have been crammed full every fall Saturday. Obviously plenty of those newly-minted-Chicagoans don't stay -- but plenty do.

Chicago also may see a net benefit, compared to other Midwestern metros, as higher-level professional jobs become increasingly less tethered to place in the Zoom/Teams era of white-collar work. This came to mind just recently when close friends of ours in the South Loop, who'd moved to Milwaukee a few years ago, moved back. One of them is a senior level consultant with Deloitte hence they could live more or less anywhere that has a major airport. They didn't hate Milwaukee at all, but....Chicago's cultural attractions and restaurants and etc turned out to be a quality of life factor that they really missed.

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It is horrible. It’s been horrible since at least 1996 when I got trapped here by my spouse’s job. We were going to stay two years tops and go back East. (Long boring story about what went wrong.) The only things you could say for it back then were “Well, the produce is good” and “Houses are affordable, sort of.”

Now the house prices in our neighborhood have doubled in the 4 years since we bought this home, and there’s no way we could now, if we moved here today, ever buy a home in this hellhole.

Who on earth is coming here and why?

“the problem is more that everyone in the Central Valley wants to leave.”

Yes. Every interesting or smart critical thinker I’ve ever met here, everyone who gives even the slightest shit about museums and theatre and music and culture (with the exception of a few people who were born and raised here, so “it’s home”) has been desperate to leave. I’ve met a lot of nice people here over the years. They become close friends and they always leave the state. I’m counting down till I can leave too.

“It’s an acquired taste” indeed. Like drinking antifreeze.

Not that I’m bitter. Antifreeze is delightfully sweet.

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Sorry to hear that. Have things other than the housing prices gotten noticeably worse since 1996? Which part of the Valley are you in?

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The 559, aka F-No.

Sprawl has gotten worse. The population has increased without an increase in city amenities or services. The neighborhoods in the city have all gotten worse except at the far north wealthy fringes and in its one suburb, Clovis. The bulk of the city is crumbling and looking more like a developing country all the time.

Fresno schools have been abandoned by the middle class and have gotten worse. They were really pretty good when we moved here. Everyone who could afford a house elsewhere moved to “Clovis schools” (meaning Clovis and the aforementioned northern fringes of Fresno because they’re in “Clovis schools”). Clovis schools were always more conservative and authoritarian so we preferred Fresno schools for our kids... not sure I’d send them to Fresno schools today.

Economic security, food insecurity have gotten worse. The numbers of people / proportion of people needing food assistance is worse. The numbers of people who can work one or two jobs and afford to support a family are very small.

Medical care is a joke. Any doctor who cares about health or living in a nice place... doesn’t live here. It’s fair to say that except for a VERY few great doctors who were born and raised here and stayed to serve the community, the doctors here are the absolute dregs, the bottom of their classes.

Throughout my healthy young adulthood it was fine to live here and hope for the best. Now in still-healthy middle age, I realize I might need some competent doctors and a decent teaching hospital someday. Get me outta here.

The corruption of local government, of developers, of scammers who made a pharmacy school and would-be DO school into a cash grab -- corruption is bad here and judging by the recent series in the Fresno Bee has gotten worse.

Homelessness is worse and definitely more entrenched with people living openly in encampments. It used to be confined to certain locations downtown. Now it’s everywhere including my middle class urban neighborhood. “Everywhere” is not an exaggeration: the numbers of homeless people are astronomical. My daughter sometimes had to step over a couple of homeless guys, sleeping in the doorway of her workplace this summer when she went to open up the building. We’re more likely compared to the 90s to be accosted by people asking for money in any given parking lot where we go to shop. Coming out of work today and walking to my car, I was accosted by a guy and I’d stayed late, so no one else was around. In my neighborhood a guy recently started yelling through the open window of a neighbor’s house, asking for spare change.

Air quality has gotten worse -- largely because the enormous wildfires have become an almost annual event. The smoke spreads down from the mountains and fills the Valley and doesn’t leave for weeks. This year’s fire season wasn’t bad but the last two years there were periods where the air quality was so bad everyone was instructed to stay indoors because it was literally off the charts. I spent the month of September 2020 running the air conditioner 24 hours/day (just to filter the air) and ran HEPA filters all day long indoors. We couldn’t go anywhere but sat in the house, still (literally) choking on smoke for a month. My sense of smell didn’t come back fully after that and I have lawyers sending me postcards to try to cash in on that (no it was not covid).

Fires also destroy a lot more homes now.

More friends than I can count have had their lives upended by fire evacuations sometimes for weeks, sometimes unable to retrieve their pets or belongings. A friend at work, pregnant with their first child, lost her firefighter husband to one of these fires. There are no words for what she’s going through raising a child on her own, who will never know her dad.

The fires alone make it a hellish place to live.

In conclusion (ha) this is not a nice place to live. And yes it is worse along many dimensions. I sincerely cannot think of any ways in which it is better since the 90s. None.

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Thank you for sharing, that really does sound horrendous.

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Have the fires gotten worse, or are there more people in the path of fires ... or more power lines to service more population, that tend to spark fires?

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Fires have gotten worse yes, due to extreme drought. Most are due to natural causes I think, eg lightning strikes in very dry remote areas, and a few (like the one that burned down my old neighborhood) are caused by human error (chainsaw accident, or carelessness with a burn pile). At least one recent one was set at a homeless camp. But it’s the dry conditions that result in more of those things burning out of control.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

Fresno native here. While I'm not the biggest fan of the area, I feel I have to push back against this a bit. I left in 92 for college and then a career in Silicon Valley, but my parents stayed here and I was forced to move back 2 years ago to help them out. I hated Fresno as a teenager and dreaded moving back, but it's actually been better than expected. There are several microbreweries and craft beer taprooms now, which creates some semblance of a nightlife. The restaurant scene is mostly terrible, especially relative to SF, but there are some signs of life - I suspect it's on the up. The biggest shock has been real estate prices - I never would have thought of Fresno as an expensive place to live - but that's mostly been a consequence of inflation, COVID, and the Zoom revolution. I suspect the coming recession will pop that particular bubble. If not then the influx of Bay Area remote workers can only be a good thing for the local culture and economy.

Summers are brutal and the air quality is terrible - the valley is a cauldron for smoke, emissions and dust kicked up by farming. The homeless problem is worse than it was 30 years ago, but WAY LESS WORSE than it is in other parts of the state. I lived through SF's transition to one big homeless encampment during the 2010's - Fresno's got nothing on that. At least the local PD _try_ to clean them out occasionally. Fresno schools are bad, but they were bad when I was a kid too - the white flight to Clovis started in the 80's. My folks would have moved us there if Edison hadn't started a credible magnet program.

I think the nice areas have grown faster than the bad areas. Yes, you want to stay on the north side of town or in Clovis, but that's nothing new. It's not flashy but if you live in Clovis you've got a reasonably nice, low-crime, affordable (by CA standards) community with usable public schools. A lot of families prefer that lifestyle to scraping by in the bay.

That being said, if both my parents died tomorrow I'd be outta here immediately. But not for anywhere else in California and certainly not SF - the bay has deteriorated more in the last 10 years than Fresno has in the last 30 IMO.

Congrats, you made me defend Fresno in a public forum. Never thought that would happen. Also kind of shocked there's another ACX reader in town. Wanna meetup? There is a distinct lack of smart people to talk to here.

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Thanks for pushing back Wanda. I'm reading the comments here and thinking, "Oh come on...it's not that bad!" The Valley is an agricultural-based area--much like other places in the world where their economy is based on Ag. For example: Have any of the commenters here been to The Netherlands outside of Amsterdam or The Hague? Lots of smelly dairies there (just like the area between Tulare and Hanford). Ever been to Cornwall England outside of the summer? It's pretty much a poor ag community.

(I could write a lot more here but it's 11:48 pm here in SW London. Yes, I escaped but I keep wanting to go back for my family, friends, and quality Mexican restaurants.)

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Another ACX reader living in Fresno here ;) Moved here in 2007 because of a two-body issue, have been working remote jobs since then. At least I was well-prepared for when COVID hit... My wife loves her job here, and I mostly do not care too much either way, except for housing being way cheaper than if I was still working in-person (good), enjoying the option to go for day hikes on weekends (good), and not having direct flights to places for when I need to travel (bad, especially post-COVID when it seems that every 2nd trip now results in a missed connection).

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We definitely need a local meet up then even if it’s just you, Wanda and me.

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(Can’t tell if my comment posted. Phone is being weird! Trying again) I’m proud to have made someone defend F-no haha. Yes we should create an ACX meetup even if it’s a small one.

I do think if you grow up somewhere, you tend to like it more, or at least see some positives. Anywhere family is, that’s …something! I’d like it more too if I grew up here.

But… I just came back from a rare vacation, and I was struck by how ugly, barren, trash-ridden, and devoid of all interest (to me) it seems here.

It seems even more horrible after you’ve been away for a week, and I wasn’t really expecting such a strong reaction.

You have no way of knowing that I’m not just “one of those people” who hates wherever she is. I’ve really enjoyed every other place I’ve lived. I do hate it here and can’t wait to leave.

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"Clovis schools were always more conservative and authoritarian so we preferred Fresno schools for our kids... not sure I’d send them to Fresno schools today."

There's a kind of self-fulfilling thing going on here...

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Of course it is — people sort themselves into groups all the time. I didn’t want to sacrifice my kids on the altar of an authoritarian school system, just so the school system would have a bit more diversity (to crush under its bootheel).

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I think he's saying that the anti-authoritarianism you consciously value may lead directly to the dysfunctional school you now refuse to attend. The point being that your value system is either internally inconsistent or naive about its own nature.

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My view of it is that I consciously make the choice not to use my children as pawns in whatever political points I want to make.

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>Now the house prices in our neighborhood have doubled in the 4 years since we bought this home, and there’s no way we could now, if we moved here today, ever buy a home in this hellhole.

>Yes. Every interesting or smart critical thinker I’ve ever met here, everyone who gives even the slightest shit about museums and theatre and music and culture (with the exception of a few people who were born and raised here, so “it’s home”) has been desperate to leave.

I don't get how these two part can follow one another. If houses prices have doubled, then (assuming you own yours) leaving mean taking a large gain. And if everyone wants to leave, then how come the price doubled, if not because even more people want to come?

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

Reading between the lines it appears that it's about the type of people who want to, or are willing to, live there. It's hard to come up with a composite of what she means from the limited context though.

She does mention a lack of "cultural" amenities like museums, so maybe it has to do with whether the people moving in care about that or not?

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I added some more detail in the comment above if you’re interested. A thriving city takes all kinds of people, all sorts of demographics. There are certain demographics who hate it here, and so there aren’t enough of them.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

It’s California. As noted in the article, relative proximity to the coastal megalopoli exerts upward pressure on housing prices. This has been going on since at least the early 2000s. Many in mid-tier jobs are willing to commute long distances just to be able to own their own place b/c its the one guaranteed payoff opportunity they’ve got.

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I think it’s partly because residential housing is being bought up by corporations here (but it is happening everywhere) pushing out the entry level buyers and ridiculously raising prices. The WSJ and NYT have written about this in some depth, but it’s an easy google to dozens of articles.

If you’ve noticed, housing has gone way, way up everywhere, including every place we’d consider retiring in 10 or 15 years. Formerly cheap places are now expensive.

I’ve heard some speculation that there are also a lot of buyers here among people, say, from the Bay Area who work hybrid or remote jobs and moved here because it is still more affordable than the BA and otherwise they’d never own a home.

Maybe you could buy a little condo in a sketchy area in the BA or LA, and buy a house with a little yard in a middle class neighborhood for the same income. That’s tempting now that many post-pandemic jobs are remote or nearly remote.

We’ve been hearing about this sort of shift (people from the BA moving in) for a while and I wonder whether it would change the character or feel of this area, but I haven’t met any of them so far. It would make more sense for them to move to places that are a shorter drive, like Los Banos or Bakersfield.

Also they would be a self-selected group of people who don’t care about anything that makes other parts of California more desirable, or at least place a pretty low value on that stuff, compared to a very high value on owning a home.

For what we the reason, locally there are more people who want the available houses. There are bidding wars, whether it’s people competing with corporations or locals competing with newer people. This was one of the last places you could own a home. Now that the prices here are also ridiculous it might be cooling off a bit.

So yes, all that can be true and yet the sort of people I tend to enjoy hanging around — the people with brains or ideas or passions who might tend to make a city an interesting place once there’s a critical mass of them—might desperately want to leave, and leave every time there’s a change for a transfer or promotion elsewhere. Anywhere elsewhere.

If you’re the sort of person — and no disrespect to them — who is content with a 20-minute commute, is not concerned about health or politics or corruption or pollution, doesn’t mind being confined indoors several months of the year (between the extreme heat and the intense fires), and values having Costco and Target and Olive Garden nearby, this might be an ok place.

Surely some people are happy here. As I mentioned a certain number of people who were born and raised here like it. Their friends are here, their families and memories are here. By any of the typical metrics of “what makes a city a desirable place to live?” this place fails on nearly every one.

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Why would a corporation want to buy lots of housing at above market prices in a place where everyone is leaving? Ownership shouldn't really matter. Their demand for housing is derived from the demand to rent houses. (Sure, you can come up with scenarios where they buy up an enormous percentage of housing and gain market power to raise rents, but none of these purchases bring them anywhere near the levels you'd need.) Prices shouldn't be rising unless demand is growing more than supply.

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I see I really haven’t made myself clear. (1) Everyone isn’t leaving. A certain demographic is desperate to leave. Let’s say …professors who are recruited to tenure track positions at the university, and they thought “California is California right?” (wrong) and they didn’t realize how shitty it was. They tend to want out. Anyone who comes here thinking “affordable part of California “ but they assume a metro area of a million has some nice parks and libraries and museums and “people like themselves” soon discovers they assumed wrong and wants to leave. The people who are simply happy to live close to a Target and Red Lobster and have a short commute are happy enough here. The population keeps growing. That the population keeps growing doesn’t mean it’s not a hellish place to live. It is.

(2) Demand is growing precisely because corporations, all over the country not just here, are buying up residential properties to turn them into overpriced rentals. There was a national news story within the last few months describing our region as the metro area with the highest rising rents. Partly there’s competition for rentals because people can’t buy the homes that have been bought up. The corporations are pushing out first time home buyers who are getting into more intense bidding wars. That tends to push all the prices up. If a crappy 2 bedroom in a bad urban neighborhood has gone up from 200k to 400k in the last 4 years, it means my modest 4 bedroom house in a decent urban neighborhood went from 450k to 900k. It’s ridiculous but true.

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The problem with the theory is that to make them "overpriced" rentals, a company would need to control a meaningful share of housing stock. Even in the most concentrated locations, all of these companies together own no more than low single digit percentages of the housing stock. And there are a bunch of them, with housing being incredibly difficult to collude on because each item is unique, meaning there's no way any of them individually has market power.

That isn't to say they aren't aggressive bidders. But the case that's based on anything other than fundamentals is about a weak as you can get. If they are winning, that means people are willing to pay more for rentals than to buy. Given that renting comes with much more flexibility, not tying up your wealth in one illiquid asset, and no responsibility for maintenance, that isn't surprising. That doesn't mean the fundamentals are desirable, and they aren't. But almost certainly because it is hard to increase density and increase supply.

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>The problem with the theory is that to make them "overpriced" rentals, a company would need to control a meaningful share of housing stock.

I don't know anything about CV real-estate, but I'm aware of some suburbs for which very few rental houses exist because such suburbs tend to only attract buyers not renters. Perhaps the switch to remote work has caused some speculators to think "There's going to be a big rental house market in Fresno now, and we can practically corner it in the short run if we move now to buy homes."

But I am speculating myself.

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Sep 22, 2022·edited Sep 22, 2022

I agree with your general economic argument, but there are some subtleties. Real estate is often considered the very best inflation hedge ever, and it sure looks like we are in for a stout bout of inflation. What you can do if you're an investor with a mountain of liquidity (e.g. Blackrock or something) is buy houses at slightly above market rates in cash, and then the value you're getting is owning an asset that will (if you've plotted out your local economics right) rise in value at least as fast as inflation, and pretty much by definition very few assets do that.

You don't even *need* to rent it out, because your interest is in the appreciation, and the carrying cost on a house you bought in cash is low, and really low if nobody even lives there. (Prop 13 really helps with this, since the maximum rate at which taxes can rise is 2%/year.)

Of course, there's no reason *not* to rent it out and get some extra money, but you might easily price it at the top of the local market, or even set a new high, because that way you avoid the more chancy type of renter (e.g. the kind who moves in, won't pay the rent, and then uses tenant-friendly California law to effectively dispossess you of your asset), and if you get a messy or destructive tenant you can cover the cost of repairs more easily. Since rent is just icing on your economic cake, you need not be especially responsive to the local rental market.

I dunno how common this particular scenario is. Not common at all would be my guess -- it relies on a pretty darn good forecasting model for local real estate economics, which is notoriously flaky. But it's not completely silly either.

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I believe your explanation of what's happening, but not of why. Corporations buying up homes shouldn't really have an impact on the price of housing, unless people are willing to pay lots of extra money to own compared to renting. Most likely it's the same thing that drives up prices everywhere when combined with increased demand: Laws that prohibit a reasonable supply.

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I don’t pretend to be an expert on economics. NYT and WSJ and a lot of other legacy media have covered this topic and they say the corporations are buying up the houses, driving up prices, and creating a shortage, especially for first time buyers who are then forced to —surprise!— keep renting. But when prices for entry level homes get pushed up, all the prices get pushed up.

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Sep 22, 2022·edited Sep 22, 2022

It seems to me that essentially what you are saying is

- people “like me” hate it here

- plenty of other people like it here (at least enough to pay high housing prices) but they don’t count because they’re not “like me”

Basically just a different version of the not very interesting “the suburbs suck” lament.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

Where are the "museums, theatre, culture" etc.? That could once have been said of all of America outside a few legacy places.

It used to be viewed as an opportunity by philanthropists - or with their money, often by their wives or daughters - to ameliorate the situation. Indeed, it makes me smile what was achieved (and, crucially, maintained, through volunteerism) in the way of preservation, library or museum-building, park creation, Tuesday Music Clubs that lead to symphonies, Chatauquas, etc. - in another era, when women supposedly were so trammeled - versus what they achieve now, in their freedom and office jobs.

I appreciate these people - seldom hear them mentioned. "Rich people bad." Well, except for museums. Museums tend to embarrass me. The buildings are always so much more than the naive offerings - but it's sweet, I guess, that people wanted "refinement". I'm reading "The Tastemakers" by Russell Lynes, and it is like a homecoming for me. Some of you might enjoy it, it appears to be a forgotten book. I bought it at the estate sale of a murderer, it was a library copy removed from circulation, no doubt by some dumb lady librarian. It was a huge mistake to leave libraries in the hands of people who took a university degree in "library science". They tend not to have much familiarity with books.

So what are the cultural or demographic changes that now the cry is, why is there nothing on offer? instead of - what can we do to improve the community?

Where I live, all civic impulses begin and end with helping homeless people, to little effect, obviously.

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Museums and libraries in a big struggling Midwest city (the ongoing subject of jokes on the Tonight Show) were how I, a poor kid, learned about the world. When I moved here, I knew Fresno was the butt of jokes too (though I’d never seen it) but I thought it would have the amenities and civic pride of at least a Buffalo or a Cleveland. Nope. It’s a wasteland. I’m deeply apologetic to my kids for having raised them here.

And yes, today’s civic impulses begin and end with helping homeless people — to little effect. The homeless are there, in great numbers, wherever you go. To work, to the grocery store, to the drive-thru, taking a walk, even sitting in your own kitchen. You cannot go anywhere without being accosted by or approached by increasingly desperate people. What could possibly go wrong? It’s the reason many people give for leaving CA.

But well meaning people can’t do much when the homeless have no potential jobs that will get them out of homelessness, no affordable housing, no resources really. Not even enough “shelter space” — because having “shelters” for them at night used to be the old crappy solution. Without resources, the efforts to help them have devolved to advocating for them to have their tent cities and encampments approved and protected. At this rate, we can soon have our very own working class in favelas.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

The "potential jobs" comment I will pass over, as I assume we are processing what we see visually very differently, and my own eyes may deceive me - but as to the no resources --

In my local area: "The City's budget for homelessness assistance was $68.7 million in fiscal year 2021, $73.4 million in fiscal year 2020, and $37.1 million in fiscal year 2019."

This is encroaching on the size of the budget for such things as parks - and our parks are famously badly-run and almost entirely given over to a couple non-profits to try to maintain.

City has purchased half a dozen hotels in the past few years, and - surprise! - is finding it's going to cost a lot more than they thought to ready them for occupancy, and to run them. And that's not even counting the cost of repairing the one, not yet opened, chain-linked, that the homeless got into "unauthorized" and ripped out the wiring and the ice machines and all the fixtures.

There will be an article about this episode in, oh, fifteen years - what went wrong? They will turn out to have helped fewer than 200 people; or they will turn out to be hellholes and there will be lawsuits. Hopefully there will still be something called a "reporter" in order that this tediously-predictable story can be written.

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A friend of mine visited Cleveland because her son was doing an internship there - did NASA have some presence there? - and she found it lovely. The gulf between places that were developed before and after the auto is just so great, that a place that's static or even dying, can still show better than a sunbelt boomtown. She commented also that it felt American - and she's no hater like me.

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I adore Cleveland. The fact that it got so much hate and was a great place with lots to do and lots of civic pride blinded me to the possibility that other cities that were the butt of jokes, like Fresno, might be true hellholes.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

A big +1 for Cleveland from me. Pretty much every mocked East Coast/Midwest city I've ever visited to has exceeded my expectations - Philly, Albany, Cleveland, etc. Whereas in Arizona, California, etc. every city disappoints contra expectations, with a few notable exceptions. Aside from the weather, alas, which is why I can probably never live in the Midwest even now as a near-fully-remote tech worker.

You really have to grade on a curve as you go west. The whole comparative advantage of cities is the emergent network effects from the density/concentration of people as producers and consumers of entertainment, art, food, etc. ("Culture"). By enabling sprawl widespread car ownership truly destroyed America civic culture by further atomizing a national culture that was already inclined to be highly atomized thanks to its strong libertarian streak.

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Yes! And don’t forget Pittsburgh. Another good one that everyone disses.

The weather is the problem yes. Imagine some great Midwestern style cities plunked down into CA. That’d be the stuff.

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Albany’s unfortunately really starting to struggle — the same problems that are pulling down the rest of Upstate NY are starting to hit the Capital District too. (I’m a native, although I moved away a few years ago.)

It’s still physically beautiful, has interesting things to do, and is a pretty nice place to raise a family, but it is hard to get ahead now. Not-great wages and high taxes are not a good combination. It was the winters that finally wore us out, though.

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I live on the west side of cleveland, and yeah, it punches way above its weight.

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Over the medium term, let's say a 50 year timescale, the Great Lakes metros may be gaining a new competitive advantage. As the climate shifts (e.g. the median winter in the Chicago/Cleveland/Milwaukee/Detroit/Toledo/Buffalo/Toronto band is already noticeably milder now than what my siblings and I grew up with) the weather problem gets relatively smaller. And meanwhile those metros are sitting on the world's largest source of surface fresh water, which thanks to the Clean Water Act and some other things is in much better shape than it once was.

There's still work to be done on that last point (Lake Erie and Green Bay have new algae blooms, creaking old city sewer systems in both countries still dump "CSO" waters into the Lakes too often, etc). But compared to the Great Lakes of 1972 or 1962 or 1952 that huge water system is in terrific shape now, and the needed additional work is not unimaginably costly. Meanwhile about 15 years ago the region's U.S. states signed, and also got Congress and the POTUS to put into federal law, a strong interstate compact which is a serious barrier to any new "pipe it down to the parched Southwest" type schemes.

So if the climate keeps changing in the ways predicted, cities like the above may be set up for some relative competitive gains over the next couple of generations.

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I think you hit the nail on the head: car centric development coupled with other factors has led to an unsustainable death spiral that is corkscrewing downwards. Between the SSC post on cost disease, Chuck Mahron at StrongTowns.org , Crabgrass Frontier, and Wendell Berry essays, that’s what clicks for me.

At the state level, property tax increases are capped, so there is less incentive for infill development. Because of that cap, there are limited ways to fund the amenities that other established cities take for granted. Because of that cap, the only way for municipalities to make up shortfalls is to encourage more single family sprawl development, which allows for delayed pain, since the infrastructure won’t have to be serviced for another 30 years, but the boost in tax revenue comes now.

Next up comes the fact that single family housing exists in a system of distorted incentives that make it more affordable than it should be, and therefore more prevalent than it should be if it was up to market forces. Many people in CA can’t afford a single family home, many can’t afford a single family home in much of the country, but there aren’t any other options in car oriented suburbia. A family may be able to buy a duplex if they can get halfway decent tenants who pay rent. Rent may be reasonable in an area with lots of duplexes. Folks might only need a 1br apartment or studio, but if they have a hard time managing with roommates, then a whole house might not be an option.

Finally, all of this is possible due to cars, and that cars make necessary. Cars that pollute and contribute to smog. Cars that cost a lot of money in terms of taxes, insurance, fuel, maintenance, and depreciation, never mind principle and interest. $5000 a year minimum for reliable transportation in a place that is too decentralized and sprawling to function any other way.

And the brutal part of me also wants to chime in on the homelessness situation in one more way: above 90 (heck, above 80 depending on the humidity) is uncomfortable without AC, but below freezing is lethal without some way to stay warm. Many rust belt cities were built at a more human scale, have less property pressures, etc., but they also have winter, where being out of doors can get you killed. Now that CA summer includes fire season, particulate respiratory issues, and such high heat indexes (urban/suburban heat island effect anyone?), that sounds like the lethal season to be out of doors comparable to the northeast.

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> learned about the world

To your own detriment. Only a fool would think increasing knowledge just to increase knowledge is a net positive. Netting positive, for the fisherman means fish for the intellectual means nihilistic depression and paraphilic urges. You made a decision for which you though was better and have shown your hand to be empty of cards of virtue.

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What an interesting point of view, ha

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>I bought it at the estate sale of a murderer, it was a library copy removed from circulation, no doubt by some dumb lady librarian.

What is the point of this phrase other than to signal hostility to women?

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From long years of work experience, hostility to women librarians - by Jove, you've got it!

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(Banned)Sep 24, 2022·edited Sep 24, 2022
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How can you be unable to leave if housing prices have doubled? Sell the house at a 100% profit and live off that.

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My vague impression is that California agriculture tends toward the plantation variety with a few big landowners and a lot of poor laborers, often migrants. California crops tend to be more labor intensive than Midwestern crops so there is a big push to bring in cheap labor.

In contrast, a better sort of rural area like Sioux County, Iowa has a higher percentage of owner-operator farmers. The downside of ultra-mechanized Midwestern grain farming is you don't need many people at all, so many counties are gradually depopulating. On the other hand, the quality of the remaining farmers is growing (the farmer usually leaves his farm to his most productive child). I was looking at the kind of education that Midwestern farmers tend to have lately, and it's impressive: often an undergrad STEM major in agriculture and then an MBA-like business degree. The intellectual demands of being a farmer these days seem pretty similar to being a corporate vice president.

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Well, but in Iowa or Nebraska, you absolutely cannot get elected to the legislature or become governor without exhibiting substantial attention to and respect for farming. Just think of Tom Harkin, the political genius who engineered an entire nation using 10% gasohol by mandate to ensure a high price for corn forever.

In California? I can't think of the last candidate for Governor who even seemed to vaguely give a rat's ass about California agriculture. Maybe CA reps and senators from the Valley itself do care, but they are swamped by reps and senators from coastal areas for whom California agriculture (or even the Central Valley in general, both culturally and economically) is Mr. Rochester's mad wife, to be locked in the attic and never spoken of lest something dreadfully embarassing be said openly.

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Dave Barry wrote about how any politician planning on running for President had to spend the year before the Iowa Caucuses wandering around Iowa promising that when he is elected he will set up an altar to corn in the Oval Office at which he will worship corn two hours per day.

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Yeah, being a Midwestern farmer requires an extremely varied skillset. You need to know how to grow crops on a large scale with minimal labor, maintain and repair farm equipment, manage a temporary workforce in an area with a labor shortage, have a solid understanding of the extremely competitive commodities market, maintain your social standing in an insular small town, and even do some physical labor yourself.

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This matches my experience in Iowa as well. My roommate freshman year at the University of Iowa is going to take over his father's farm in a decade or two. To pass the time he got an BBA in finance and is going to law school at Iowa now.

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Steve--concerning your vague impression of CA ag being the plantation variety. Yes and no. The west side of the valley you do see lots of very large farms. (This was because when they started creating hydroelectric dams in the Sierra Nevadas, the lakes/swamps on the west side dried up. Farmers like Boswell bought the land for really cheap.) On the east side of the valley, you tend to see more small and midsized farms. Highway 99 is a rough divider of the east/west side farms.

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Pollution is a bigger deal for agriculture than for urban industries. It's a very serious issue in Central Valley. Contaminated water reduces the water supply already in drought conditions. I believe most of the crops grown in Central Valley are water and fertilizer intensive as well which creates more pollution. These inputs have also been going up in price squeezing agricultural profits (which have been bad for a while now anyway).

To make matters worse California has responded in its California way. Lots of bureaucracy and blaming farmers and unfunded mandates that have driven people out of business. Most major agricultural states are red to purple and so farmers have political power. The other big exception is Illinois but Chicago doesn't dominate the state the way the various coastal cities do in California. So in a real sense I think the issue is a lack of political power among farmers. (Which has the advantage of co-varying at a glance: California's deep blue turn and the 1990s decline happen around the same time.)

Other states have overcome the challenges of hard to automate agriculture or large influxes of immigrants or pollution/water issues. Florida, for example. Though Florida has powerful farmers who, among other things, advocate for anti-pollution measures and measures meant to shore up the water supply. California just doesn't have a political economy that cares about the countryside.

Unsurprisingly this leads to weak policy. I remember hearing one California official saying her primary priority in the area was to address race and gender gaps in farming. Which is an actual issue but isn't going to do much for the people already there. And it's fairly easy to understand why she made that choice. This woman has a much brighter future in politics if she can burnish her anti-racist/feminist credentials than if she delivers for a bunch of Republican voters.

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The argument I've heard is that the California legislature enjoys passing innovative regulations that drive up the cost of doing business but the enormously lucrative businesses of coastal California usually wind up being able to afford in the end; the Central Valley can less afford coastal luxury legislation. I've heard the same argument for upstate New York being weighed down by being in the same state as New York City.

On the other hand, presumably there are big advantages to having major tax generating regions in your state, so I can't weigh the tradeoffs.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

I sometimes legit wonder if there is somebody employed in really thinking about whether there is going to be enough arable land and people willing and able to grow our food in the future (assuming we don't go back to just eating bread).

I feel like it's entirely possible given what we've seen of shortages recently, that this could come as a total surprise, and the energy would go to explaining to us why it was *not really happening*.

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The US grows a lot more food than it needs, so even a reduction doesn't have to lead to a famine here.

And the US is pretty inefficient in resource usage for some crops (e.g. alfalfa and in the central valley; corn --> ethanol) so if, as a society, we have to choose between famine and ceasing to be idiots we MIGHT go with the cease to be idiots route.

The places to worry about are Egypt and Egypt-like countries.

Egypt has a population of about 100 million and about 12,000 square miles of arable land. And Egyptians live in cities on some of that arable land. This works out to being roughly the equivalent of trying to both house and feed the entire 330 million US population ... in Iowa.

If you care, I have a (very) slightly longer write-up here: http://mistybeach.com/mark/#Egypt_Designed_for_Famine

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There is an obvious sense in which we grow more food than we need - given what and how we choose to eat, and how hefty most of us are; I'm sure you mean something different though - that we export a lot of food, or discard it ... I am interested in your post and will look at it for sure.

I have seen the produce in my local area - go from being sourced from the USA (some from my own state) and Mexico, to coming from Peru and Chile and South Africa and of course, Mexico. Citrus from California or Florida is now a treat. Citrus from my own state is mostly a thing of the past. So I naively assumed if we are eating the produce of South America, we were not exporting those things ...

But if we lose the Central Valley to housing for immigrants, say - can we grow those fruits and vegetables in Iowa on grassland? Or do we just get all our produce from Mexico, etc.?

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The US is a net food exporter. But Ricardo's comparative advantage still applies so we don't grow everything we eat. "We" might lose some fruit and vegetable production if the central valley goes away, but "we" won't starve. And one choice would be to reduce rice and alfalfa production there and move that land over to fruits and vegetables.

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Does this reliance on produce from two thousand miles away, make our transition to renewable energy harder at all?

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Now that I think about it, the tons and tons of Red Delicious apples that are grown annually in order to end up in the landfill - at least they got to go to school for awhile - not even fed to pigs, are a good sign that we will have enough to eat, and idiocy is costless.

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California valley isn't land limited,it is water limited. there is way more land than can be outfitted with water needed for agriculture so there is plenty of space housing could be built, but water can also be a problem for cities and when they have the power and money they end up taking it from agricultural uses. So water is the limiting factor on agriculture.

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Yes ... but - not speaking of California, where I've never been, well, except for one weird Thanksgiving in Palm Springs - but in my state, the cities that are metastasizing into a single mega-urban-region - triangulate about some of the best soil we have. And where soil was not as good, it has never been replenished since the goats took it all.

Land. Water. Soil.

And that doesn't even begin to touch on what is owed to wildlife.

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I guess Egyptians are a resource the world particularly values, above other animals.

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"I guess Egyptians are a resource the world particularly values, above other animals."

Revealed preference for the win!

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I've heard claims that Egyptian agricultural productivity has actually *declined* significantly since the 1960s because of the Aswan Dam stopping the annual Nile floods. Without natural silt, Egyptian agriculture is now heavily dependent on fertilizer.

On the other hand, other people say the dam has been good for agricultural productivity on balance by preventing catastrophic droughts and floods

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Wait until China - I mean, Ethiopia - finishes that dam they're building on the Blue Nile.

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The change is due to a Supreme Court decision. It used to be that Calif. Senators were elected on a scheme that gave each county a representation proportional to its land area. The Supreme Court decided that this was invalid, as states weren't ever really independent (despite the fact that Calif, like Texas, once was). So now they're elected based on population. And most of the population lives in cities.

I'm not going to decide whether this was right or wrong, but it changed the Senate from pro-agriculture to pro-urban. (The fact that the agricultural areas always voted conservative is, of course, purely a coincidence.)

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You're referring, I assume, to "Baker v. Carr" and its followup ruling "Reynolds v. Sims". Those rulings were in 1962 and 1964 and were based on the 14th Amendment which became part of the Constitution well after California and Texas became states. Whether any state had previously (prior to that amendment) been an independent republic wasn't relevant to either of those rulings.

(And honestly its hard to take seriously the idea that the situation prior to those rulings, in which state legislative districts would vary in voter population by literally 100 to 1 or even higher ratios, could continue.)

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Yes, the California legislature used to be highly skewed toward farm counties. In 1960 even the emptiest rural county got one state Assemblyperson while giant Los Angeles County got only three. Then the Warren Court issued its then famous One Man One Vote ruling requiring updating of district maps. State legislators (elected under the old districting) went nuts and tried to organize a Constitutional Convention to overthrow the ruling. But they didn't quite get it done in time and soon state legislatures were full of new legislators elected under the new districting rules, and they liked their new districts just fine.

So now almost nobody remembers the whole brouhaha.

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They tried to organize a national constitutional convention and overturn the 14th Amendment? And thought it might be doable sooner than the next legislative election? Wild....a constitutional convention requires 2/3rds of the state legislatures petitioning Congress to call it. (And then any amendments passed by that convention must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states.)

How far did the California state legislators get with that?

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As as Central Illinois resident, Chicago definitely dominates Illinois politics, but you're right that it's probably not to the same extent. Illinois blue-state politics are also a lot more moderate than California's (with a lot of corruption layered on top). And as others pointed out, growing corn, soybeans, and pumpkins takes a lot less labor, so our agricultural areas have just lost population instead of grown poorer (although they're still pretty poor).

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I also live in Central Illinois. Another element to consider is that the federales subsidize commodity crops much more heavily than fruits and vegetables, so those farms' income is more stable and predictable and flows through to support other businesses in the small towns and villages. We just lost the oldest organic truck farm in my area earlier this year. Even though fruits & vegetables are precisely what we should be shifting our diet towards, the government's interest in having grain to export causes it to support those farmers.

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I highly recommend reading Victor Davis Hanson's books for more on this topic!

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Seconded. He has his politics, which you might disagree with, but I've come across and read his articles on California for years; they're very dark and sad, but he lives out there and has a farm there (or did, at least), and so it's a first-hand look. I haven't read any of his books though.

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Here's a short version of his analysis https://www.westernjournal.com/victor-davis-hanson-california-voters-make-major-decision-stake/

He's a classics professor with a Stanford degree, but went back to run the family farm. in the Valley (3rd or 4th generation)

I would add, that even with the best of liberal intentions by the Eloi, one-party states run by corrupt politicians go bad fast, and the non-elite (Morlocks) get the worst of it while the coastal elites stay richer.

I'm a Chicago native who lived in the East Bay (Berkeley & Oakland) for the past 35+ years, working in biotech & SV. Last year, we moved to Colorado.

I can guess how most of you guys vote. If you are voting for incumbents in the current situation, you are doing it wrong.

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This is the correct take.

(-Fresno Native)

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Excellent recommendation!

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Any info on land ownership in the Central Valley and whether patterns of land ownership have changed over time? Just wondering if Georgists have any insights here.

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Property rights in water are not very sophisticated in California, so water gets used for wasteful purposes. At some point the politicians grandfathered in everybody who was using water at some point in time: 1915? So a number of farmers have inherited the right to absurd amounts of water which they use on water-intensive crops like alfalfa, cotton, and almonds.

Likewise, in the Southern California low desert around Palm Springs, you are allowed to use whatever water you pump out of the huge Ice Age aquifer, but you aren't allowed to sell your water to Los Angeles or San Diego, so the hot Coachella Valley has a ridiculous number of golf courses that are kept green even in the 112 degree summers.

Nobody wants to bother with the giant political struggle it would be to rationalize water rights, although they apparently did do this in Australia in the early part of this century due to a huge drought.

I don't know how exactly the water rights tangle ties into the Central Valley's more general problems, but it probably means less investment: nobody expects the water supply to get better due to more rain in the future, but nobody expects the politicians to take water rights away from wasteful uses either, so the future for those not grandfathered in looks dustier and more expensive.

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As someone who grew up in the CV, I would just like to point out that, under a rational water rights system, almonds would almost certainly be one of the few ag uses to remain. They are lucrative and don't grow in that many places. Yes, they use a lot of water, but they produce a lot of value that can't easily be produced elsewhere. What would go away is rice, row crops, dairies, alfalfa, hay, and almost all the other crops that can be grown in dozens to hundreds of places in the US or the world.

Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine about how almonds get singled out as being particularly wasteful when they are one of the very few uses of the water where, if you had to pay a rational price for it, would still get paid and used as is. Although probably the recent (ish) switch from flood irrigation to drip irrigation would probably have happened sooner than it did.

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Thanks. Excellent points. Personally, I eat a lot of low carb products made with almond flour substituting for wheat flour, so I especially shouldn't be complaining about almonds.

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It's such a shame to read about those groves being torn out. Fruit and nut bearing trees are multi-generational investments.

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No, they aren't multi-generational. Thanks to federal tax laws, most orchards in California get torn out every 20 years or so and replanted. Plus, after a certain point, most fruit trees become less productive as they age.

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My grandparents had an almond and walnut farm in Ripon near Modesto. The time I spent there was the most idyllic childhood imaginable. California's problem's are well publicized as are the problems of rural agricultural areas. And city people usually have a reflexive distaste for a lifestyle they don't understand. So I don't think there is any big mystery here.

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This x 100, as most of the comments show.

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Agree as well, as someone who grew up in Old Fig Garden in Fresno, on the street that transformed into the 1.5 mile long Christmas Tree Lane every December, 60 ft. tall Deodor cedars on either side of the street lit up for the entire stretch, alongside lighted homes with cute displays out front, old custom homes from the 1900s on leafy 0.5-1acre lots that still sell for $300-400/sq ft....three generations of families living in same/close by neighborhood...i should write a longer comment....

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Agree Katherine. I grew up on a farm east of Visalia. Very idyllic. A great way to grow up. I also love how culturally diverse it is and we all got along pretty well. (For example -- Go to a church on Sunday in the Valley--there are a lot of different colors there. You don't seem to see that in other parts of America.)

Yes--it seems most of the commenters here are city people that just don't understand. The issues that rural ag areas struggle with also happens all over the world. You're correct--no big mystery. I've been to farms in Cornwall and the North of England and, surprise surprise, they are dealing with a lot of the same issues as the Valley. In fact, Jeremy Clarkson (the Top Gear BBC show guy) has made an entire series on Amazon Prime Video about his struggles ('Clarkson's Farm')

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So skin color = culture?

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I'm curious what it is about almonds that makes them so hard to grow in other places. Why is there nowhere in the world with both the right climate for almonds and readily available water?

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I'm no expert, but I think they are just particularly finicky about the climate. And the climate that they need generally means "not much water". They are grown other places such as Australia and Spain, just not many (and most of them are also relatively dry),

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Huh, nice. growing up as a kid I had grandparents in Perth, Australia. They sent us a tin of almonds every year.

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they need cold "chilling hours" to produce almonds but they also can't be too cold because they die, and they can't have late frost because it will kill the flowers and then produce no almonds, they are from a Mediterranean climate which is dry summers so they can't grow economically in the wet south east USA because the fungal and other pest pressures are too high, they also need a long growing season with sufficient warmth so they can't grow in the farther north areas like Washington reliably productive etc....

pistachio's and olives are similar.

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If it makes you feel better, my "go to" example for insane crop choice in the central valley is alfalfa rather than almonds :-)

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Rice is always my goto.

That said, I find it irritating that any American state, much less a desert one, spends so much of its water on crops that are largely used overseas. 70% of California's almonds go international and something like 45% of rice. It's ridiculous. Let other countries make their own rice and nuts. At least alfalfa goes to California beef--although you'd think they could find somewhere else to grow it.

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"At least alfalfa goes to California beef..."

From a 2014 National Geographic article:

"Today, at least 12.5 percent of alfalfa grown in western states is exported, and in some areas like California's Imperial Valley—just across the Colorado River from Yuma County—that figure grows to a full 50 percent."

It is difficult to tell how much overall gets exported, but alfalfa doesn't command a large price and does consume a lot of water. If the farmers were paying market rates for the water they would be growing less water intensive crops. But I don't expect to see a functional water market in California any time soon.

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There's a huge pecan orchard in West Texas (!). Thanks to a spring, one of only one or two still flowing out there out of dozens. But thanks to Texas' right-of-capture approach to water, that orchard - while it may currently be taking somebody else's water - may one day find its water has been pumped away as well. Fortunately there is not much oil and gas production in that area, or the pecans would likely be toast.

Everything feels very tenuous now.

I used to love California dried apricots. But that industry dried up. So much better than those Turkish ones - much more intense flavor - and something about the way they halved them before drying.

Not starving here! But also lost one of my regular snacks, for good, it seems!

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Huh, I never quite put it together, but yes, I preferred the halved apricots as well. My grandparents always made their own dried fruit and nothing will ever compare to the golden raisins they made. That is still one of my favorite things about the Central Valley, the rich variety of produce you don't get in the Midwest lends itself to stellar roadside farm markets. We get a little bit of that here in Western New York, but we don't have California's growing season, of course.

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Western NY? Talk to me. I live in Java Center. Hosted a few meet ups. The corn is great here.

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I'm in Rochester. Grew up in Denver, lived in Grand Rapids, MI and Durham, NC before this, still getting used to it up here but it is beautiful country.

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Sep 23, 2022·edited Sep 23, 2022

The same argument could possibly be made about clementine type Oranges which seem to be only grown (commercially) in the US in CA...

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There's also some guilt about the stressed-out traveling bees used to pollinate the orchards. I mostly stick to pecans - I've not been told how they're pollinated.

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I _believe_ that pecans are wind pollinated (I know that walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios are). As for guilt, while almonds certainly are a large user of domesticated bee pollination, they are by no means the only one, and if are to feel guilt about doing so, then our diets are going to have to be much more restricted than just veganism.

From the FDA:

About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds, to name just a few. Without the industrious honey bee, American dinner plates would look quite bare.

It's not something that bothers me personally, though.

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Sep 23, 2022·edited Sep 23, 2022

Sorry, I was unclear. I am happy for honey bees to do the work of pollinating. There was some suggestion - it's been a few years since I read about this - that the industrial-scale trucking of honeybees from place to place to e.g. almond orchards, was contributing to colony collapse disorder (if that was the name for the honey bee disease). I am certainly not suggesting that naturally-occurring pollinators can do the job. But it is something we may have to face.

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As far as I understand it, colony collapse is not really just one thing, and it has many contributing factors, one of which can certainly be long distance travel. However, the media coverage of CCD has been _vastly_ overblown. Honey bees are a fully domesticated animal that is in no risk of extinction or even great reduction. CCD is a disease just like many others in livestock. We certainly try to minimize hoof-and-mouth diesease in cattle, but no one worries about them going extinct or us not having enough beef.

Beekeepers should worry to the extent that it increases their costs by needing to increase colony production to keep up with increased over-winter losses.

Most of the media articles I have read on the topic completely neglect to mention that honey bee populations/hive numbers have increased over the past several years (amid all the CCD hysteria) while also conflating these losses among domesticated bees with the truly worrisome population reductions and extinctions among the many, many wild bees (some of which also perform valuable pollination services that are only imperfectly replaced by domestic honey bees)

In summary: I don't think anyone other than beekeepers should be worrying about CCD. It's a real thing but not one that poses a significant risk to agricultural uses of honey bees anymore than other livestock diseases do to their respective hosts.

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Speaking of Australia, one of things we did was build some desal plants to meet water demands. Why can't Cali do that?

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Large land grants from the Spanish-Mexican era were preserved after California became part of the U.S. There was a lot less homesteading in California's agricultural areas than in the Midwest and Great Plains.

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Excessively large land grants by the King of Spain remain a social problem to this day in Latin America. I presume in contrast, that with the vast land grant William Penn got from the King of England, Penn came up with a plan for it to be broken up so small landowners could get a piece of Pennsylvania.

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If you took the most rural part of *any* state (or perhaps the poorest region of any state), wouldn't it almost always be poorer than Mississippi? That's what I'd expect if (say) rural areas are generally poorer than urban parts (at least in nominal terms—the cost of living may also be lower).

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The Central Valley's population density (155 people / mi*2) is about the same as the median US state (170), so I don't think it's unusually rural. It also has three of the US' fifty largest cities, and 3x the population of Mississippi, so I don't think it's so small an area that we're slicing things up in a statistically unfair way.

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According to Wikipedia, the density of the Bakersfield metro area is 110/sq mi; Merced -140; Hanford - 110; Madera - 73. Fresno County is 110 (though the Fresno metro area includes Madera, for some reason, and the numbers seem off) . Those are in the southern parts. In contrast, Stockton is 550 and Modesto is 360 (a chunk of that is commuters to the Bay Area). The Sacramento metro area density is listed as 110, but it extends all the way to the Nevada border, so a large part of it is not part of the Central Valley.,

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Eh you can't really compare "metro areas" since they seem to include the entire counties and e.g. a large part of Fresno county is the Sierras...

Fresno-Clovis "city" is basically a square 11x11 with a population of about 600k, so the density is around 5,000 people / sq. mile

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I still think this is right - not that the comparison is unfair, just that gradual sorting into good and bad areas is an ongoing trend. There are some places that just attract all the good people, and then more good people, and then more good people. California has two (or more) of those, and so that's where everyone goes if they can. That leaves the valley for the losers.

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Well, I would avoid using the term good here as it has "class" connotations and one would be hard pressed to prove the morality of those who move or stay...

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If it’s just about ruralness, you would need it to be more rural than Mississippi. But Mississippi is very rural - only Vermont, Maine, and West Virginia are comparable. Even the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas have more of their population in urban areas in state.

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Vermont & West Virginia are fascinating states to compare. They are both ~92% white & Vermont's state average IQ is 102 while West Virginia's state average IQ is 97.

https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/average-iq-by-state

West Virginia has been experiencing brain drain for so long that it shows up in the aggregate IQ statistics, whereas Vermont has either been experienced brain gain from college professors & hippies & ski towns OR the Puritans were just that unusual.

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I grew up in Vermont, and of my high school class, I'd estimate significantly less than half are still in the state and the folks that left were disproportionately from the top half in terms of GPA. I tried to stick it out, but there just aren't enough high skill, high paying jobs.

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interesting website, although i note that WV's 97.2 still beats California's 97.1, so clearly average state wide IQ is not the key driver for success/failure of state as a whole.

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The Bay Area is a high-IQ bubble that funds half of the state by drawing in IQ outliers from across the country.

Hollywood is a high-attractiveness bubble that funds the other half of the state by drawing in attractiveness outliers from across the country.

Both pillars are strong enough to carry a lot of weight.

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yes but that means that non-high IQ bubble californians are significantly lower IQ than the average WV, which i wouldn't have necessarily surmised. btw didn't understand your comment on demographics below?

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"that means that non-high IQ bubble californians are significantly lower IQ than the average WV"

Yes, which is expected & not surprising. Average white IQ in America is (set to) 100 nationwide [per year, I think? The Flynn effect means it was drifting up]. With that as a benchmark, average Latino IQ is noticeably lower, somewhere in the low 90's. California is about 39% Latino & 5.5% black, so it's not surprising that the average IQ of the non-bubble Californians are lower than the average IQ of the West Virginians, who are 2% Latino and 5% black.

Relatedly, IQ is defined to be equal between men and women in the benchmark population, which requires careful weighting the verbal and spatial components to achieve because women slightly outscore men on verbal and are slightly lower on spatial. Once this is done, men show higher variance than women, with more high positive and high negative outliers. This increased variance is one possible reason for men being so over-represented in Nobel prizes, although Larry Summers was cancelled for suggesting this:

https://www.swarthmore.edu/bulletin/archive/wp/january-2009_what-larry-summers-said-and-didnt-say.html

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Also, demographics.

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I feel like we are skipping over a logical step here.

Sure, it's poor. But why is it awful? It need not logically follow that a poor place should be awful just as it need not follow that a poor person must be awful.

These places aren't even poor by world standards. Not even by Eastern European standards or even New Zealand standards. For every awful town in California I can find you a town in New Zealand that is just as poor in PPP terms but not nearly as unpleasant.

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Have you been to the central valley? All politics, jobs, culture, etc aside, it's just a place that isn't very nice to be. Brutally hot summers, ugly scenery, and a lack of anything to do. It's basically the same as West Texas.

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Except that in West Texas, people don't bother taking the keys out of their cars; in Fresno, they won't leave so much as a quarter in their cars.

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Every time I've been to Visalia and at least half the times I've been to Fresno the town has absolutely reeked of cow shit. Like hitting a wall of smell. I guess you get used to it. But when you leave for a while and come back it has to be a jarring experience.

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And don’t forget: your throat burns!

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And why don't the oh so enlightened elites in CA do something about the excess of intensive stock yards that are the primary source of the stink?

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Not sure how to verify it, but the local narrative is that increased border security meant that workers couldn't transition back and forth turning into a persistent underclass rather than a migratory labor supply.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

I've read that in a few places before, but I can't find any of those sources. (EDIT: another commenter reminded me that it was in Slow Boring, just today.) Much of the blame has been put on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which increased punishment for illegal immigration and stepped up border enforcement, making it much harder to cross back and forth. EDIT: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 made an even bigger difference.

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I would be rather sceptical of counter intuitive and highly politically convenient narratives like "turns out that illegal immigration is due to too much enforcement of immigration Iaws, ackshually" without some compelling evidence.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

I think this would be a two part system.

1) Borders are more difficult to cross

2) Illegal immigrants are granted more rights / welfare within US borders.

Open-ish borders but a certain hostility to residency might be the best case scenario for the valley. Illegal immigrants might be willing to pay extra in rent et cetera if jobs are lucrative enough. If an immigrant gets wealthy enough they may be able to effectively buy residency, at least temporarily. This works out economically for both sides.

Difficult to cross borders should certainly deter immigrants from crossing. But young men are always willing to gamble their lives for a chance at wealth/prosperity, and many immigrants cross the southern border do so to flee poverty and violence not seen in the US. Increasing border security likely will have diminishing returns (especially deterring young men.) In the foreseeable future there will always be a gamble for great wealth/prosperity in America.

Difficult to cross borders in combination with increased welfare and possibly citizenship creates a big incentive for families to cross borders and stay, and it is my understanding that over the past couple decades the border has been made more difficult to cross but the US has become more welcoming to illegals at the same time. This may be the worse outcome from an economic sense.

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I wouldn't really call it counter-intuitive. If you live in Mexico and can easily cross into the US, then you can easily cross back - working seasonally in the US or for a stretch of time, then heading back home once you saved some money. That was an extremely common pattern among immigrants back in the 19th century despite many of them indeed staying (the Chinese workers on the Union Pacific Railroad were generally trying to save up $200-300 so they could buy a farm back in China, for example).

But if it's going to be dangerous and set you back several grand each time to cross to the US, then you're not going to be coming back much to Mexico unless you get legal status. And if you're staying in the US for the long haul, you might as well try and bring your family up as well.

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That's from Doug Massey's research on it, and it appears to be true - if you look at the pre-1980s migration numbers, the overwhelming majority of people from Mexico who came to the US cycled back to Mexico, even after the Bracero program died in the 1960s. IIRC Massey said it was something like 28 million people (sometimes the same folks on multiple trips) came to the US between 1963 and 1986, and 23.5 million of them went back.

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There may be something to this soupy cans. Personal story--on my Dad's walnut farm, we had a guy named Alfredo (and his wife) that would drive the shaker (a pretty expensive piece of equipment) during the autumn harvest. I'm guessing he was between 50 and 60 when he worked for us. Nicest guy ever. His wife was a great cook. He basically came up during the harvest--worked three months--then went home to northern Mexico and didn't work for 9 months. (You'll have to trust me that judging from Alfredos size, he was not going hungry LOL.) 3 months on/9 months off is a pretty nice life.

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So, just to clarify, we're talking about the "southern" central valley. Sacramento, Tracy, Merced, they're all a different animal, lots of tech commuters n' such.

The story I've always heard is that a lot of farmland in the Central valley should never have been settled. It's scrubland, prairie dog country. And you can actually see this, drive down the I-5 from SF to LA and there's the invisible line south of Coalinga where the farmland stops and it's just dry grass and a couple shrubs. Now there are some areas, like the Salinas valley, which are just naturally great, but most of the Central valley isn't naturally farmland and required tons of water to make into halfway passable farmland. And now that water is tight, you've got a lot of local agriculture fighting to survive.

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I suspect the California Water Project of the sixties provided a whole lot of water for irrigation because urban areas didn't need it yet, so a bunch of really marginal land in the southwest of the Valley got planted. Those areas have been slowly getting choked off.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

The southwest valley is oil country, like a little slice of west Texas. If you're into slightly cheesy niche history museums, the West Kern Oil Museum is a nice pit stop when driving up or down I-5.

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Sep 21, 2022·edited Sep 21, 2022

> but most of the Central valley isn't naturally farmland and required tons of water to make into halfway passable farmland.

It does require a lot of water, but to say it is "halfway passable" is incorrect. It is literally the most agriculturally productive region in the US.

https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/statistics/pdfs/2016report.pdf

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California gets 4.4 million acre-feet from the Colorado River every year (https://calmatters.org/environment/2022/08/colorado-river-water-california/), which is 5.4 km^3.

The annual outflow of the St. Lawrence River is about 530 km^3.

America should invest in a terascale water engineering project to double the amount of water sent to California by diverting 1% of the flow of the St. Lawrence West up and over the Rockies -- or maybe through the world's most impressive tunnel, IDK which would be cheaper.

(No clue what this would cost, would only even possibly be feasible with a completely different American planning scheme that was more like the highly functional 1930s/1940s and not the dysfunctional present).

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Directing water out of the Great Lakes basin would run into problems with treaties (e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundary_Waters_Treaty_of_1909) between the United States and Canada regulating the shared waterways.

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In the hypothetical world where the US was better at planning things, it could probably offer Canada an amount of money that Canada would accept, since the value of that 1% of the St. Lawrence to the St. Lawrence is low and the value of that 1% of the St. Lawrence to California is very high.

Alternatively, the outflow of the Mississippi is also similar to the outflow of the St. Lawrence.

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Why not just work on desalinization plants?

There's a large body of salt water immediately to the west of the coast.

The coast could be water independent and share with the Valley instead of importing so much water from other states.

I haven't penciled that out, but it sure sounds more practical that shipping water from the Great Lakes!

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Desalinated water costs about $2,000 per acre-foot

https://www.mercurynews.com/2014/05/29/nations-largest-ocean-desalination-plant-goes-up-near-san-diego-future-of-the-california-coast/

That means that the water California receives from the Colorado River (4.4 million acre-feet per year) would cost $8.8 billion per year to produce through desalination. A large-scale water transfer project could potentially be cheaper than that over a 30 year time frame.

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