Where Did California Get Its Name?

For some reason I had never heard about the debate over how California got its name until recently. Apparently 16th century Spanish explorers began referring to what is now Baja California Peninsula as “California” but didn’t leave behind any detailed explanation as to why they chose that name. The current best guess is that it is essentially a 16th century fanfic-style callout to a popular Spanish novel of the period.

The name “California” was applied to the territory now known as the state of California by one or more Spanish explorers in the 16th century and was probably a reference to a mythical land described in a popular novel of the time: Las Sergas de Esplandián.

. . .

California was the name given to a mythical island populated only by beautiful Black Amazon warriors who used gold tools and weapons in the popular early 16th-century romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. This popular Spanish novel was printed in several editions with the earliest surviving edition published about 1510. The novel described the Island of California as being east of the Asian mainland, “very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.” The Island was ruled by Queen Calafia. When the Spanish started exploring the Pacific coast they applied this name on their maps to what is now called the Baja California Peninsula, which they originally thought was an island. Once the name was on the maps it stuck.

. . .

For many years, the de Montalvo novel languished in obscurity, with no connection known between it and the name of California. In 1864, a portion of the original was translated by Edward Everett Hale for The Antiquarian Society, and the story was printed in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Hale supposed that in inventing the names, de Montalvo held in his mind the Spanish word calif, the term for a leader of an Islamic community. Hale’s joint derivation of Calafia and California was accepted by many, then questioned by a few scholars who sought further proof, and offered their own interpretations. George Davidson wrote in 1910 that Hale’s theory was the best yet presented, but offered his own addition. In 1917, Ruth Putnam printed an exhaustive account of the work performed up to that time. She wrote that both Calafia and California most likely came from the Arabic word khalifa which means steward or leader. The same word in Spanish was califa, easily made into California to stand for “land of the caliph” ????, or Calafia to stand for “female caliph” ?????  Putnam discussed Davidson’s 1910 theory based on the Greek word kalli (meaning beautiful) but discounted it as exceedingly unlikely, a conclusion that Dora Beale Polk agreed with in 1995, calling the theory “far-fetched”. Putnam also wrote that The Song of Roland held a passing mention of a place called Califerne, perhaps named thus because it was the caliph’s domain, a place of infidel rebellion. Chapman elaborated on this connection in 1921: “There can be no question but that a learned man like Ordóñez de Montalvo was familiar with the Chanson de Roland …This derivation of the word ‘California’ can perhaps never be proved, but it is too plausible—and it may be added too interesting—to be overlooked.”

California Dept. of Parks and Recreation Hid Millions for Decade

The Associated Press has a fascinating look at how — and more importantly, why — California’s Department of Parks and Recreation was able to hide tens of millions of dollars from state auditors beginning in 1998 and ending when the ruse was finally discovered in 2012.

According to the AP,

Parks Director Ruth Coleman, who had been director since 2002, resigned and a senior parks official was fired last summer after $54 million was found hidden in two special funds as up to 70 parks were threatened with closure because of budget cuts.

The report said the actual amount intentionally hidden in the State Parks and Recreation Fund was $20 million, and the remaining $34 million discrepancy was due to differences in the timing of the fund reports to the state finance department and the controller’s office. The amount of money kept hidden had grown as high as $29 million in 2003, the report said.

Apparently no employees took any of the money and because it was outside of the regular state budgeting process, there was no way for the Parks and Recreation Department to spend any of the money. So why hide it?

It appears the additional moneys started accumulating in the late 1990s and at some point employees decided that if they did report the money to the state it would result in a budget cut for Parks and Recreation as well as result in political fallout and embarrassment for those who had participated in hiding the money. So once they started failing to report the money, they were stuck having to keep hiding it until the state discovered it.

California’s Proposition 8 and the Double-Edged Sword of Judicial Activism

The Los Angeles Times ran an interesting story last week analyzing why Proposition 8 passed in California. Among other things, the story highlights the strategy by Proposition 8 supporters of trumpeting the alleged long-term effects of allowing gay marriage above and beyond the fact of the marriages themselves,

They were able to focus the debate on their assertion that without the ban, public school children would be indoctrinated into accepting gay marriage against their parents’ wishes, churches would be sanctioned for not performing same-sex weddings and the institution of marriage would be irreparably harmed.

Supporters of gay marriage, along with political leaders including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) and the state’s superintendent of public instruction, denounced those messages as scare tactics, but they were not able to sway voters. Preliminary returns showed Proposition 8 passing 52% to 48%.

Repeatedly opponents of Proposition 8 said the idea that courts would force churches to perform same sex marraiges was absurd. But is it really any more absurd that a future court might require churches to perform same sex marraiges than it was that the California Supreme Court found a right to gay marriage in the state’s constitution to begin with?

After all, at one time it was probably considered absurd that courts would require Catholic charities Catholic Charities of Sacramento to cover birth control for their employees, but in 2004 the California Supreme Court ruled that, in fact, they were legally obligated to do so.

Or switch the positions here. In 2004, Michigan was one of 11 states that passed ballot initiatives banning gay marriage. One of the arguments that opponents of that ban made in Michigan was that the ban would have far-reaching effects including making it illegal for government agencies to offer health care benefits, etc. to domestic partners of gays and lesbians. Proponents of the ban ridiculed that claim and said all the initiative would do was ban marriage.

But in 2007, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that all domestic partner benefits (whether for heterosexual or homosexual couples) was unconstitutional under the marriage ban language, and earlier this year the Michigan Supreme Court agreed.

That’s the problem with this wave of judicial activism, whether it be for conservative or liberal purposes — it creates a great deal of uncertainty so that claims that a piece of legislation will or will not have a specific effects are largely meaningless.

Would the California Supreme Court require churches to marry gay couples? Almost certainly not, but who is to really say in an era of judicial activism on all sides.

California Should Kill Stan Williams or Abandon Capital Punishment Altogether

The manufactured controversy over California’s plans to kill Stan “Tookie” Williams demonstrates once again why all but 12 states and the District of Columbia returned to executing prisoners after the Supreme Court’s 1976 ruling authorizing its resumption. In a word, the anti-death penalty movement comes across as a bunch of loons.

Idiot actors like Jamie Foxx and rappers like Snoop Dogg glamorize a piece of trash like Williams, and don’t even get me started on the morons who nominated Williams for the Nobel Peace Prize (for the record, a Nobel Peace Prize nomination is about as easy to get as a nomination to appear in Who’s Who Among American High School Students, okay? How do you think a terrorist like Yasser Arafat won one?) I wonder if Foxx or Snoop even know the names of the four people Williams was convicted of murdering?

Meanwhile, what passes for the more serious side of the anti-death penalty movement keeps retreading bogus claims about racial disparities in the way the U.S. executes prisoners (since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, it is white murderers who have been executed disproportionately, not black killers).

Nonetheless, I still remain strongly opposed to capital punishment on general grounds, and it seems to me Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has two choices. He can either kill Williams and move on or he can grant him clemency and never authorize another execution.

In fact, if California cannot execute Williams, it should abolish the death penalty altogether. If capital punishment is morally permissible, Williams is the model of the type of person who should be executed. Williams not only killed those four people, he created a criminal organization — the Crips street gang — that was and is responsible for untold murders and other acts of violence.

Williams has more blood on his hand than any serial killer or other psychopath that California has killed. If California does not execute Williams, it has no business executing anyone else.

Basic Research With Animals Is Not Immoral — It Is Imperative

In an article for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, writer Tali Woodward writes about the controversy surrounding the University of California San Francisco’s animal research program. In September, UCSF agreed to pay $92,500 to settle a number of outstanding charges brought against it under the Animal Welfare Act.

Woodward provides a fairly balanced account of animal research until the very end when she resorts to calling for a utilitarian analysis to judge the morality of animal research,

Polls show that the American public supports animal research — but only when efforts are made to contain animal suffering. So it seems almost instinctual that experimenting on animals should require weighing the pain and suffering of animals against the potential to understand and ultimately cure disease.

. . .

. . . But the central question posted during this [experiment approval] process is: Is this a valid line of scientific inquiry, one that might yield knowledge?

And that is the only question that should be asked.

Woodward’s question — how likely is this experiment to produce a cure or improved understanding of a disease — is that with very few exceptions any given experiment is incredibly unlikely to produce the sort of information she demands. Science just does not work like this.

Medical research is not a 60 minute-long TV episode in which the protagonist performs a single test and has a miracle cure for the latest ailment after the next commercial break. Rather, medical knowledge tends to advance slowly, with information accreting from a diverse range of experiments and published studies.

Consider, for example, animal research into spinal cord injuries. Not a single one of those experiments, to my knowledge, could be said to have met Woodward’s criteria. For the most part, such research kills animals for relatively marginal increases in knowledge. Examined separately, using Woodward’s test, almost none of these experiments would have been justified.

But, taken together, the research on spinal cord injuries over the last couple decades has made significant advances in understanding why nerve tissues in the spinal cord do not regenerate and how they might be spurred on to do so. Even with this advance in knowledge, however, we are still many years from any sort of cure that can heal such injuries.

In fact, the one set of experiments that Woodward seems impressed by was based simply on furthering scientific knowledge rather than solving a specific problem, although it would later be used to solve a problem to great success.

Here’s Woodward’s version of the story,

In the 1950s Dr. John Clements, then working in Boston, experimented on animals to ascertain how lungs work in newborn humans. He found that most animals have a substance called surfactant in their lungs that helps them breathe. But premature babies, who often struggle with breathing, lack the lung goop.

By the late 1980s Clements had moved to UCSF, where he worked with other researchers to develop a synthetic surfactant. When it was made widely available in 1990, the number of premature babies dying from respiratory problems was cut in half.

The first paragraph is largely untrue. Clements did experiment on animals and was the first to discover lung surfactant, but he did so largely because he was curious about the mechanical functioning of the lungs. In fact, Clements research was so far out of the mainstream of lung research that his paper summarizing his findings was initially rejected by Science.

As an article for The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal notes (emphasis added),

Dr. Avery’s much admired colleague at Johns Hopkins University, pathologist Peter Gruenwald, was one of the rare scientists in this group. So was her co-author on the 1959 paper, Dr. Jere Mead, head of a respiratory physiology laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health. But the scientist who actually proved that surfactant existed and precisely measured how it performed was Dr. John Clements, a physiologist then working at the United States Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Maryland.

When Dr. Avery heard that Dr. Clements had identified surfactant, she instinctively knew it was the missing piece of the hyaline membrane disease puzzle. During her Christmas vacation, Dr. Avery drove from Boston to Maryland to meet with Dr. Clements. “The gift I gave her,” Dr. Clements later wrote, “was a demonstration of my homemade…balance [for measuring the effect of the hitherto only suspected surfactant material] and an exposition of everything I knew about lung physiology.”

The following Christmas, Drs. Avery and Mead–an old colleague of Dr. Clements–gifted him in return. Publication of Avery and Mead’s widely heralded article abruptly ended what Dr. Clements has called the “monastic era” of lung surface tension and surfactant research. No longer were he and other scientists working in the shadows, their research of interest only to students of lung mechanics. What had seemed theoretical, esoteric research–perhaps even useless research–now had been shown by Drs. Avery and Mead to have immediate, powerful clinical applications.

Dr. Clements’ research was exactly the sort of research that Woodward implies would be unacceptable — research done on animals with little or no prospect that it would ever have any sort of application in treating human health problems.


Bubbles, Babies and Biology: The Story of Surfactant. Sylvia Wrobel, The FASEB Journal, 2004; 18:1624e.

Animal instincts. Tali Woodward, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 28-October 4, 2005.

Peter Daniel Young — I’d Break Into Mink Farm Again

In interview with the Associated Press, animal rights extremist Peter Daniel Young said that although he faces up to two years in jail for breaking into fur farms, “I would do it all again.”

Young, 28, told the Associated Press,

As bad as it could get [in prison], it will never be as bad as it was for those mink. I would do it all over again.

. . .

If saving thousands of [mink] lives makes a terrorist, then I certainly embrace the label. I would have been just as fast to act if those cages had been filled with human beings.

Young is scheduled to be sentenced November 8.


Animal activist faces prison term. Todd Richmond, Associated Press, October 6, 2005.