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CALIFORNIA: Are Californians mad?



"Pity the Stanford Administration. Palo Alto is statistically the most educated community in the US, but education seems to rate low with home people. Stanford developed a reasonable plan for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education to build a center which would be a great asset to the university. It would scarcely be visible among the foothills where there are already a number of similar institutions. I look out on the bare foothills and would welcome a tree-surrounded center. However the University has been the target of abusive letters from people who want to walk their pooches thers or save a salamander which faces far graver threats. That is the way things go around here. Entrepreneurs from elsewhere despair of getting the necessary permits to build anything.

There is a simple explanation: Outsiders think Californians are mad. The energy crisis provides the proof. At a National Energy Summit in Washington, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham gave a brilliant, factual speech in which he listed the electrical plants which could not be built in California because someone objected, even projects which had the approval of environmental groups and the Sierra Club. There should be enough sane people here to swamp the habitual naysayers, but no. There used to be a pleasant little harbor in Palo Alto with a pond where people would go for an outing and feed the ducks. One nasty woman started a campaign to have the area returned to its dull primitive condition. There were many protests, and Pete McCloskey was hired to fight the proposal, but the city council caved in. People, boats and ducks left.

Californians may be mad, but it is time for the sane minority to get good and mad. The sun sets over California, and some lights will not go on."

John Barcroft, Vice-President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, responded:

"Thank you! I have tried to diagnose the sociopathic nature of some Palo Alto citizens with little success, but your comments have helped a great deal. I do tbink you might add a bit about the unconscious narcissism which makes many of them so difficult to deal with except on a superficial level. Unfortunately, this afternoon ---- even though there were 24 speakers for the Carnegie project --- including six school superintendents, two university presidents, three local school teachers, one postdoctoral student teaching math to Latino and African-American children and several local citizens --- and only six speakers for the Committee on Green Foothills, Supervisor Liz Kniss made a motion, which passed unanimously, which effectively killed the Carnegie project by requiring so many additional studies and reports that we would have to devote both more time (which we can barely afford) and more money (which we can't) to answer her queries.

We'll probably make a last stab at presenting a legal brief protesting the basis upon which the motion rests, and we're certainly willing to consider litigation against the County, but as your comments so eloquently suggest, this would almost certainly be throwing good money after bad.

Looks like we'll end up the way the ducks did."

My response. I am used to all kinds of folly, but this is intolerable. I am knissing my teeth. Keep up the good fight! WAIS has members all around the world, so perhaps Palo Alto can be shamed back to sanity. However, it would take a psychiatrist to tell us whether this is an effective cure for insanity, especially severe cases like that of Palo Alto. Feel free to give my remarks any circulation you think helpful.

Ronald Hilton, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University.

Ronald Hilton - 3/21/01


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