November 29, 2007

Hey, You, Get Off Of My Clouds

Filed under: sunset its beach clouds pelicans reflection trees — geoff @ 3:34 am

Welcome to the grand finale for November 2007. For today’s matinee, let’s journey down to Its Beach for some autumn sunset action. This dusk buster was from the evening of November 19th. There was lots of pelican action that afternoon and as I clicked away with my zoom I could see them soaring way off in the distance. The colors of the clouds were really unusual that night and made a nice backdrop for my favorite prehistoric looking birds. Just another beautiful evening along the Pacific Rim.

Speaking of the magic of the coastline, do you ever think about the languages of the world? Actually, I don’t, except for the language of love. But according to linguists (and you know they wouldn’t lie), of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century. In fact, they are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks. Or at about the same rate as Republicans are leaving office in disgrace.

Some endangered languages vanish in a second, at the death of the sole surviving speaker. Others are lost gradually in bilingual cultures, as indigenous tongues are overwhelmed by the dominant language at school, in the marketplace and on television. Maybe that’s why it’s called the boob tube.

New research has identified five regions in the world where languages are disappearing most rapidly. These “hot spots” are northern Australia, central South America, North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone, eastern Siberia, an area that includes Oklahoma and the southwestern United States and small pocket of Mets fans living near Shea Stadium. All of the areas are occupied by aboriginal people speaking diverse languages, but in decreasing numbers.

According to K. David Harrison, an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, more than half of the languages have no written forms and are “vulnerable to loss and being forgotten.” When the disappear, they leave behind no dictionary, no text, nor record of accumulated history and history of a vanished culture. Not even a post-it, cliff note or a tiny thesaurus.

In Australia, nearly all of the 231 spoken aboriginal languages are endangered. Researchers from the National Geographic Society have come upon such tiny language communities as the three known speakers of Magati Ke in the Northern Territory and the three Yawuru speakers in Western Australia. Interestingly, none of these six individuals had ever heard of Crocodile Dundee and had no interest in putting a shrimp on the barbee.

Many of the 113 languages spoken in the Andes Mountains and Amazon basin are poorly known and are rapidly giving way to Spanish, Portuguese and Yiddish. For example, a group known as the Kallawaya use Spanish in daily life, but also have their own secret tongue, used mainly for preserving knowledge of medicinal plants, some of which were previously unknown to science. Myself, I prefer secret pastrami, corn beef, or a very lean roast beef.

The dominance of English threatens the survival of 54 indigenous languages of the Northwest Pacific plateau of North America, a region including British Columbia, Oregon and Washington. There remains only one person who speaks Siletz Dee-ni, the last of many languages once spoken on a reservation in Oregon. And amazingly, they found this individual wandering the streets and muttering to himself about the knee injury that has sidelined the Portland’s Greg Oden, the number one overall pick in the NBA draft, for the entire season.

Forty American Indian languages are still spoken in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, many of them originally used by indigenous tribes and others introduced by Eastern tribes that were forced to resettle on reservations. Several of the languages once spoken are now as dead as the Miami Dolphins playoff hopes. These studies were based on field research and data analysis from the Living Tongues Institute, an organization for the documentation, revitalization and maintenance of languages at risk. Like jive.

So that’s it for November. Coming up on Monday we’ll venture to a protected grove at Natural Bridges and check out some clustering than doesn’t involve almonds. And if you’re looking for some excitement on Sunday, I’ll be over at the Long Marine Lab Jingle Shells Arts & Crafts Festival from noon to 5:30. Come by, say hello and check some incredible marine life from the central coast. So enjoy the pelicans, have a great sports weekend and we’ll catch you in December.

November 27, 2007

You Know, You’re Really Starting To Bug Me

I’ve always loved November. Not as much as I love December, but definitely more than I love January. It has always been a month of family gatherings, big surf and epic sunrises and sunsets. This past Sunday was cloudy along the coast but as the sun neared the horizon the sky opened up and voila, it was red sky city. When I got down to the beach the whole sky was glowing (shot #1) and I knew I’d be in for a tangerine treat. There was a pond of water (shot #3) that had been created by the big swell that had banana shake written all over it. And it was also a very negative low tide which revealed thousands of anemones and sea stars draped along the coastline. We’ll have more on that next week. All in all, the best sunset of the fall and a great way to end the Thanksgiving weekend.

Nature week continues here at Sunrise Santa Cruz as British scientists have stumbled across a fossilized claw, part of an ancient sea scorpion, that is of such large proportion that it would make the entire creature the biggest bug ever. And you always thought that honor went to your parents. We’re talking 8 feet long in sneakers. The fossil was a Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, a kind of scorpion that lived only in Germany for about 10 million years, about 400 million years ago. You know, before MTV.

According to Simon Braddy, a University of Bristol paleontologist, the discovery in 390 million-year-old rocks in a quarry in Germany suggests that spiders, insects, crabs and shrimp cocktails were far larger in the past than previously thought. “This is an amazing discovery. We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches and jumbo dragonflies. We never realized until now just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawler were.” And don’t forget the enormous earthworms, gigantic gnats and titanic termites.

The research found a type of sea scorpion that was almost half a yard longer than the previous estimates and the largest one ever to have evolved. What this means is before this sea scorpion became extinct it was much longer than today’s average man is tall. Unless, of course, we are talking Manute Bol, Yao Ming or the salesmen at the Big and Tall Men’s Stores.

Professor Jeorg Schnieder, a paleontologist at the Freiberg Mining Academy in Germany, says that these scorpions “were dominant for millions of years because they didn’t have any natural enemies. Eventually they were wiped out by large fish with jaws and teeth.” I’ve always felt it’s the unnatural enemies that are the most dangerous. Those killer guppies will get you every time.

Ancient sea scorpions are believed to be the extinct aquatic ancestors of today’s scorpions and possibly all arachnids, a class of joint-legged, invertebrate animals, including spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites and might nots. Scientists believe these gigantic sea scorpions evolved due to higher levels of oxygen in the atmosphere in the past or evolved in an “arms race” alongside their likely prey, fish that had armor on their outer bodies. Somehow the Russians are always involved.

Best of all, these creatures were also cannibals that fought and ate one another, so it helped to be as big as they could be. Once again, size matters. According to Braddy, “Hundreds of millions of years ago, these sea scorpions had the upper hand over vertebrates-backboned animals like ourselves.” Wouldn’t you just hate if you were watching TV and an 8 foot scorpion snatched away the remote? So the next time you swat a fly, or squish a spider, think about these insects that lived long ago. Because back then, I would have taken a fly swatter the size of a Buick to squash one of these babies.

That’s our show for today. As you can see, I like to report on the important news topics of the day, like the threat of global warming, the nationwide mortgage crisis and ticks the size of Orson Welles. This is the kind of sunset that really gets me going and makes me proud to be a Santa Cruz westsider and an inactive member of the striking Writers Guild of America. So enjoy the day, enjoy the sky and most of all, enjoy the fabulous color.

November 25, 2007

Hey, Hey We’re The Monkeys

Sunrise Santa Cruz is back after a weekend of family fun, gluten free stuffing and enough cranberry sauce to make a pilgrim blush. I hope it was a somewhat enjoyable weekend for all and that everyone had a moment where they felt thankful for something. Like yesterday, when I felt grateful that I was able to turn off my satellite TV and not watch the pathetic Eli Manning and the New York Giants lose to the Minnesota Vikings.
On the photo front today we are heading down to our familiar haunts of Lighthouse Point and Steamer Lane. The first four shots are from yesterday’s sunrise before the sky clouded up and the sun disappeared quicker than Donny Rumsfeld from the Bush’s inner circle. The last two shots are from Saturday’s sunrise, so it’s your weekend daily double. I don’t want to say the sand has been a bit chilly in the morning but my toes warmed up once I entered the 50 something degree Pacific Ocean water. It’s the story of my life, just another case of cold feet.

Here’s some news from India I found interesting that didn’t involve the Taj Mahal, sacred cows or those incredibly helpful call centers. The city of New Delhi has a soaring wild monkey population. The authorities weren’t doing much about it till the deputy mayor fell to his death from his terrace as he tried to fend off a gang of the animals. The official was reading his Sunday morning paper in late October when four monkeys appeared. As he brandished a stick to scare them away, he lost his balance and fell before finishing the Sunday crossword puzzle.

This monkey phenomenon is a side effect of India’s rapid urbanization. As New Delhi expands, with a half a million residents moving in every year, the green areas around the capital, which for centuries have been the monkey’s habitat, grow smaller. To cope with this encroachment, many monkey’s settle in the city center in luxury townhouses, affordable condos and rent controlled apartments.

Particularly irritating for the authorities is the monkey’s attachment to some of the capital’s most prestigious monuments. Hundreds of monkeys swing along the walls of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the stately sandstone presidential palace. At dusk, mother monkeys bathe their infants in the ceremonial fountains, males fight noisily on the clipped lawns while the kids play human in the middle.

Politicians with residences in the area have resorted to hiring private monkey catchers who use a larger, dark-faced monkey, the langur, to scare away the smaller wild ones. Recently the monkeys have been entering some of New Delhi’s leading hospitals. Who even knew they could afford health insurance? According to lawyer Meera Bhatia, “They attack patients who are being rolled inside the hospital, pull out IV tubes and scamper off to drink the fluids.” And they always leave without paying their bills.

The mayor, Aarti Mehri, plans to hire a total of 100 monkey catchers that will work in 14 teams. The monkey pitchers will report later in the spring. She estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 monkeys need to be caught. Part of the difficulty lies in people’s ambivalence towards these monkeys as they are treated as descendants of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, and most Indians believe that killing them is unacceptable. On Tuesday and Saturdays, their followers risk being fined by feeding the monkeys. As the mayor says, “We have a serious problem because of our religious ways. But they do attack. In the past three years, there have been 2,000 cases of monkey bite in Delhi.” Could this be another case of monkey see, monkey do?

Wildlife advocates say the growing tension between man and monkey arises not so much from the animals as from humans. Just as monkeys are losing their natural homes to developers, so, too, are the tigers of Rajasthan and the elephants of Assam. According to conservationist Ranjit Talway. “We are continuing the deforestation so fast that all kinds of wildlife are finding themselves suddenly homeless. That’s why we are seeing more attacks by tigers, leopards, monkeys, elephants and little baby chipmunks.”

Final word on this subject goes to Sonys Ghosh, an animal rights campaigner advising the government on the monkey removal. She says the residents should try and live in harmony with the monkeys. “The only way is to ignore them. Never look a monkey in the eye, never raise your eyebrows at one; it’s interpreted as a challenge.” That’s why I always wear sunglasses when I hang out with wild monkeys. She conceded that the abundance of monkeys was an unwelcome reminder that New Delhi was still far from its goal of transforming itself into a world-class city. “These people in the new residential areas, these newly rich, have different sensibilities. They want to pretend they are living in New York.” Suddenly, everybody’s a Yankee fan.

So that’s your New Delhi update. Personally, I prefer Sherman’s Deli with locations in Palm Springs and Palm Desert. Love that fatty corn beef and the chocolate rugalah. There was a beautiful sunset that I caught down at Natural Bridges last night. Having it in the can and ready to go for Wednesday’s blog reminds me of the words of Bill Murray, who played Carl, the wacky grounds keeper in golfing classic “Caddyshack.” After caddying a round for the Dalai Lama, who was a big hitter, Carl said, ‘Hey, Lama, how about a little something for you know, the effort. And he says, There won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consiousness. So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” Enjoy the light and we’ll catch you for the dusk experience.

November 18, 2007

Silence Of The Yams

Filed under: Uncategorized — geoff @ 8:37 pm

Welcome to our day before Thanksgiving experience. Today we’re going to take a look at a great blue heron, snowy egret and some massive gull action from last month at Four Mile Beach. Locals love this spot-it’s a surfer’s paradise. You never know what you’ll find at Four Mile but there’s usually something going on on the aviary front.

Speaking of birds, a massive amount of turkey is going to be consumed on this upcoming holiday. Actually, the first turkeys eaten by the Pilgrims weren’t really wild. They just went crazy when they found out what they were planning on doing to them. On a more sobering note, according to a study by the Agriculture Department, more than 35.5 million people in the United States went hungry in 2006 as they struggled to find jobs that can support them. This figure was virtually unchanged from the previous year as single mothers and their children were among the most likely to suffer.

The 35.5 million people represented more than 1 in 10 who said they did not have enough money for food for at least some time during the year. 11.1 million of these people reported they had “very low food security,” meaning they had a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat. Among these findings from the department’s annual hunger survey about families, a third of those facing disruption said an in the family did not eat for a whole day because they could not afford it.

The survey was based on Census Bureau data and does not include the homeless. About three-quarters of a million people were homeless on a given day in 2005, according to federal estimates. According to my estimates, that seems a little low.

The states most effected by families with hunger issues were Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and South Carolina. According to Vicki Escarra, president of the nation’s largest relief group, America’s Second Harvest-The Nation’s Food Bank Network, “This report comes at a critical time for hungry Americans. There simply may be no food for many families when the rest of the nation gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving and religious holidays.” Moving a little closer to home, one in four families in Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties will experience hunger this winter. If you’re interested, every $1 donated to Second Harvest provides 5 meals to those who are hungry. It seems like a very worthy cause.

This report is just a reminder of what a lot of Americans are facing during the upcoming holidays and how lucky the rest of us are. So as we head into the holiday of unlimited stuffing, here’s a little Thanksgiving humor. A turkey farmer was always experimenting with breeding to perfect a better turkey. His family was fond of the drumsticks and there was never enough legs for everybody. After many frustrating attempts, the farmer told his friends, “Well, I finally did it. I bred a turkey with 6 legs.” They asked him how it tasted. Replied the farmer, “I don’t know. I could never catch the darn thing.”

So enjoy your family, friends and many sporting events over the holiday weekend. Be grateful for the simple things in life and try not to take all we are blessed with for granted. And remember, Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce rules. Catch you after the holiday. Enjoy the birds.


Forget The Tide, Let’s Go For The Win

Filed under: sunrise lighthouse point waves reflection — geoff @ 1:44 am

Good morning and welcome to another dawn buster here on the central coast. Or more specifically Santa Cruz, which rests on the northern tip of Monterey Bay. This sunrise is from the morning of November 10th from Lighthouse Point. On the fourth shot my daughter commented, “It’s like they can reach out and touch the sun. In the final photo I caught the yellow ball of fire as it was disappearing in the clouds while at the same time casting an interesting light upon Seal Rock. I haven’t shot a sunrise since then so this would be the latest if not the greatest.

You westsiders in Santa Cruz may have noticed the rusty brown water off of West Cliff Drive last week. Scientists refer to it as a “red tide,” which is when there is a high concentration of phytoplankton in the water. The name is a bit of a misnomer as the color of the water is not usually red and its occurrence is not associated with tides. There was a great picture in last Wednesday’s Santa Cruz Sentinel of a surfer at Steamer Lane carving a path along a brownish red wall of water.

Scientists and interior decorators say it’s one of the most dramatic red tides in recent memory. It starting accumulating two weeks ago, brought on perhaps by the recent rains or Alex Rodriquez opting out of his Yankee contract. (Since then he has resigned with the team for a paltry $275 million.) More scientifically known as algal bloom, the cause of red tides are the subject of speculation-whether it’s a change in weather patterns, the result of fertilizer runoff, a certain amount exposure to sunlight or just that time of the month.

The change in the color of the ocean water comes from masses of phytoplankton, which are single celled organisms called dinoflagellates that are always present in Monterey Bay. During the peak of red tide there can be ten or hundreds of thousands of these little creatures in one drop of water. The red tide is the result of one organism that has managed to overwhelm the other organisms, causing the change in color. It’s the survival of the most colorful. The pale shall perish.

Red tides are not new. The first of the ten plagues of Eygpt, as described by Kirk Douglas in Exodus, may be one of the earliest recorded instances of red tide. Although this occurrence has played out over millions of years, scientists have only recently begun to study the causes because it seems to be popping up as frequently as A-Rod in the playoffs. According to Chris Scholin, the senior scientist who specializes in red tides at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “If you ever scoop up water and look it under a microscope, it’s got all kinds of things in there. There’s wiggling and squiggling and all part of the natural flora and fauna. And sometimes these things grow to greater abundance and that’s when they’re noticeable. That’s when the water begins to go from blue to not so blue.” It’s just that simple.

Sometimes during red tide the water glows at night due to the phosphorescent plankton in the water. This is a truly exotic sight which I have seen before on West Cliff but not during this most recent red tide. It’s a little reminiscent of fireflies in the summertime back east and a Jefferson Airplane concert I attended in the 70′s. Anyway, the red tide (which can sometimes look purple) is another reminder of how fascinating nature can be. For folks in Alabama, their fascination is with the Crimson Tide but that’s another story for another day.

So that’s it for a Monday. Yesterday was another tough day for Raider fans but the New York Giants won, the Celtics finally lost and Tom Brady and the Patriots are still undefeated. Here’s a little Pilgrim humor to close out today. Why did Johnny get such low grades after Thanksgiving? Because everything is marked down after the holidays. Have a fabulous day, enjoy the sunrise and get ready for some Four Mile action on Wednesday.

November 15, 2007

What’s The Matter, You Look Sunset

Filed under: sunset its beach waves reflection — geoff @ 3:07 am

Good morning and welcome to our Friday photo blog experience. It was interesting a few weeks ago when the fires were raging in Southern California how we were seemingly unaffected weather wise here on the central coast. Then one evening towards dusk down at Its Beach, smoke appeared on the horizon, which is what we are featuring for today’s main course, with a little moon a la mode for dessert. I shot a couple more sunsets this week so lots more end of the day, sun dropping into the Pacific Ocean action on the way.

Do you ever think about how they design our dollars? After six decades in which $100 bill has never changed its look, this currency is undergoing a makeover that includes a face lift and tummy tuck. A new security thread has been approved for the $100 bill in an effort to thwart counterfeiters who are armed with ever more sophisticated computers, scanners, color copiers and sketch pads. The C-note, which features the likes of Benjamin Franklin, is the most frequent target of counterfeiters operating outside the United States.

The redesign of the $100 is about one-third of the way complete and is expected to go into circulation next year. It combines micro-printing with tiny lenses-650,000 for a single $100 bill. The lenses magnify the micro-printing so that if you move the bill side to side the image appears to move up and down. Move the bill up and down and the image appears to move side to side. Finally, if you put your right foot in and then take your right foot out and shake it all about, then that’s what it’s all about.

The $100 represents more than 70% of the $776 billion in currency in circulation, two-thirds of which is held overseas by someone with very strong arms. The government says $118.1 million in counterfeit U.S. currency was detected in 2006. While that is a fraction of the currency in circulation, the Secret Service is concerned with the threat, especially the challenge posed by new digital technology.

To stay ahead of the counterfeiters, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing plans to redesign U.S. currency every seven to ten years. That is a far cry from the practice for most of the 20th century-from 1929 to the 1990s-when the currency stayed the same without any major changes. Of course, that was when $1 was worth 4 quarters.

By order of Congress and owners of gentlemen’s clubs, the $1 bill, which accounts for 45 percent of the notes printed each year, will not be redesigned. Lawmakers were concerned about the cost to business if low-end vending machines that only take coins and $1 bills had to be upgraded. I mean, what would you do if you couldn’t go to the vending machine on the floor of your hotel and score a bottle of Dr. Pepper for $1.75?

That’s all she wrote for this week but there’s another sunrise coming your way on Monday. So let’s end the week with some monetary humor. A banker fell overboard while taking a cruise on a friend’s yacht. The friend grabbed a lifebelt, held it up, and not knowing if the banker could swim, shouted, “Can you float alone?” “Of course I can” yelled the banker. But this is one heck of a time to talk business.” So keep the faith, have a great sports weekend and enjoy the moment.

November 13, 2007

This Way, Everyone Twins

Welcome to the tracks of my tears. The first two shots were taken as I paused on the railroad tracks before heading down to an early morning session at Four Mile Beach. Photos three and four were taken as I drove around on the west side of Santa Cruz at sunset time. For our last two photo entries we return to the lovely confines of Four Mile Beach. As I was leaving the sand I saw these three young women in wetsuits hurrying down the path just beyond the railroad tracks. The woman in the last shot wasn’t in quite as much of a hurry. I love it when people ask me, “How far up the coast is Four Mile?”

So here’s our story for a Wednesday. Igbo-Ora, a sleepy farming community in southwest Nigeria, welcomes visitors with a sign proclaiming “The Land of Twins.” And all this time I thought it was Minnesota. According to community leader Olayide Akinyemi, whose father had 10 sets of twins, “There is hardly a family here without a set of twins.” Those Doublemint sisters wouldn’t have even been on the radar here.

The town’s high incidence of twins has baffled fertility experts and clothing designers, as overall, almost 5 percent of all births in this Yoruba community are twins. The rate throughout the world is about 0.5 percent of all births. It’s the old buy one birth, get one free syndrome.

Yam consumption may be one explanation for this phenomenon as yams contain a natural hormone phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to produce an egg on each side. I wonder what the marshmallow stimulates? In this part of the world, twins are regarded as a special gift from God and bearers of good luck. In sub-Sahara Africa, twins are believed to possess one soul between them which accounts for a whole series of macabre rituals that are often country specific.

If a twin dies in a Yoruba family, the parents order a wooden figure called an “ibeji” to be carved to take the place of the deceased twin. The half soul of the deceased twin is thought to live on in the ibeji figure-which is clothed, “fed” and carried by a mother exactly in the same way as the living twin.

When a twin dies in South Africa, the surviving twin is made to lie face down on his sibling’s coffin the night before the burial, to mourn his passing and say goodbye properly. Another variant has the surviving twin being made to lie face up in the freshly dug grave the day before his sibling his buried. If not, communities fear the surviving twin will pine so much for his deceased sibling that he will also die.

Anthropologists say these elaborate rituals go back the days when the perinatal mortality was very high for twins. In pre-colonial times some communities used to do away with twins and occasionally their mothers, believing a double birth was an evil portent and the mother must have been with two men to bear two children at once. A Scottish missionary is credited with ending this practice and being the inventor of tape.

Speaking of twins, John and William Reiff, once recognized by the Guiness World Records as the world’s most identical twins, left most of their $5 million estate to the Twins Day Festival that’s held each year in Twinsburg, Ohio. The Reiffs, who attended their first Twins Day Festival in the late 1970′s, always dressed alike, talked alike and enjoyed dating other twins. According to their neighbor John Bechtel, “They were just a couple of old farmers from Pennsylvania who you would not think had two cents to rub together.”

The Annual Twins Day Festival attracts 3,000 sets of twins, triplets and quadruplets and features contests such as those for the most alike, the least alike and the most annoying twins. Over the years, it has also attracted scientists interested in genetic research and dating twin sisters.

Between trips to Twinsburg and other twin events, the Reiffs lived frugally on the 154-acre farm that had been in their family for three generations. Before his in 2005, John Reiff cut a deal with a development group that planned to use the farm, a rare piece of undeveloped land near Philadelphia, for open housing and batting cages.

The Reiff brothers, who never married, gave most of their fortune to the Twins Day Festival but also left $250,000 to four churches. None of their four living sisters were named in the will. Said Bechtel, “They only had time for other twins. They were definitely different.” You think?

Finally, here’s my last bit of twins trivia. Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam, which is now Thailand, traveled for many years with P.T. Barnum’s circus and were billed as the original “Siamese Twins” as the were connected at the chest by a five inch band of flesh. Eventually they settled in North Carolina and married two sisters. Between them they fathered 21 children. Which reminds me of a line that Groucho Marx said to a female guest on his show “You Bet Your Life” after the lovely lady told him she was the mother of 8. Groucho shot back, “Listen lady, I like my cigar but every once in a while I take it out of my mouth.” Goodnight, everybody.

November 11, 2007

For Whom The Taco Bells Toll

Well, it’s November and the sunsets are starting to line up like commuter planes on the tarmac at Dallas International. This dawn delight graced the sky last Sunday morning down at Lighthouse Point. I love being down at the beach at daybreak when the sky turns from dark to light while the waves crash along the shore. Throw in pelicans, cormorants and gulls running fly patterns and the sound of sea lions barking like Lassie with Timmy stuck in the well and you get the picture. It’s a truly satisfying and enjoyable feeling, unlike anything I experienced during second half of yesterday’s Cowboys-Giants game. But what I love most about the early mornings is watching the clouds turn into spectacular pillows of color. This is a major turn-on for me, along with poetry, long romantic walks and triple overtime games.

Here’s a story I found interesting a few weeks back. For the first time in 15 years, Taco Bell is reopening stores in Mexico. Defenders of the Mexican culture see the chain’s re-entry as crowning insult to a society already overrun by U.S. chains including Starbucks, Subway, KFC and Chuckie Cheese.

According to pop culture historian Carlos Monsivais, “It’s like bringing ice to the Artic.” Or sand to Palm Desert. Or chocolate covered macadamia nuts to Hawaii.

The company’s branding strategy-”Taco Bell is something else”-is an attempt to distance itself from any comparison to Mexico’s beloved taquerias, which sell traditional corn tortillas stuffed with an endless variety of fillings, from spicy beef to corn fungus and cow eyes. I’ve always like my cow eyes with just a smidgen of guacamole.

Taco Bell made its name promoting a menu to Americans as something straight out of Mexico. But it’s a very different dynamic south of the border. Here, the company is projecting a more “American” fast-food image by adding french fries topped with cheese, sour cream, ground meat and tomatoes to the menu at its first store which opened in late September. Also new is soft-serve ice cream and customers being quizzed on the NAFTA agreement before ordering.

Taco Bell failed with an earlier, highly publicized launch in Mexico City back in 1992. Since then, free trade and growing migration have made U.S. brands ubiquitous in Mexico, influencing everything from how people dress to how they talk. McDonald’s has modified it’s menu to offer eggs “a la Mexicana” and hands out packets of jalapeno sauce with its hamburgers. In contrast, Taco Bell advises customers of offerings that are “spicy” instead of the Spanish picante. Which reminds me of the Woody Allen line from “Play It Again, Sam” when Diane Keaton asked him “Don’t you cook anything besides frozen dinners? “Who bothers to cook them?” replied the Woodman.

According to Monsivais, “Taco Bell wants to take advantage of the perception that if something comes from the United States, it tastes better. It’s an absurd idea, and given that it’s so absurd, it may just be successful in the upper-class areas.” Mazel Tov!

Speaking of Bells, the tallest man in the United States, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, is 7-foot-8 sheriff’s deputy George Bell. That makes him two inches taller than the NBA’s current tallest player, Yao Ming, but stands below the Ukraine’s 8-foot-5.5 inch Leonid Stadnyk and China’s Bao Xi Shun, who is 7 feets, 8.95 inches. While making a guest appearance at a recent jockey’s convention, Stadnyk was shown a picture of George Bell and remarked, “Who is that shrimp?”

Bell played basketball in college and with the Harlem Globetrotters but lost interest in the sport when he was 30 and switched to law enforcement. About being so tall he says, “I have no choice but to like it. I’ve been dealing with a small man’s world since I was a kid.” Instead, he focuses on the perks of being tall, like getting free upgrades to first class on flights and always being the first to know when it’s raining.
Bell credits his late, great-aunt, Etonia Johnson, for having a positive attitude. “She always told me, “Don’t feel ashamed of yourself. Stand tall. God made you. Be happy and show your pride.’” I hear you. Just don’t sit in front of me at the movies.

That’s our Monday experience. Caught a beautiful sunrise Saturday morning that we’ll check out next week. Enjoy the day and enjoy the rise.

November 8, 2007

Arch You Glad I Didn’t Say Bananas?

Filed under: Uncategorized — geoff @ 4:53 am

Well, the first week of November is now history. What it is interesting is that over the last five days we have not seen the sun along the central coast, except for a cameo appearance last night at sunset. I have seen my quarterback playing, point guard running 13-year-old son but he is not quite the same as that yellow ball of fire in the sky that brings us light, warmth and shares the giant aerial canvas with clouds to give us amazing colors and dusk and dawn.

So what’s the big deal about no sun? Well, the cycle of sunlight and darkness has always set the rhythm of human life. The flow of light and dark serves to keep our bodies circadian (a 24 hour cycle in the physiological process of living beings-not the insect) clock synchronized so that we are somewhat alert and awake during the day and ready to sleep at night. I know that I definitely feel differently on a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day that I do on a drab, cloudy, gray day. It’s the Santa Cruz versus Seattle syndrome.

Our health, mood and behavior are affected when the quality and quantity of sunlight is lessened. Today’s lifestyles often keep some of us indoors, away from the daylight. In addition, shorter winter days and cloudy skies can affect our circadian rhythms adversely. Throw in this weeks writer’s strike and we’re talking chaos. Or as Agent Maxwell Smart used to say, “It’s Kaos, chief.”

With the shorter, colder, cloudier days and the longer nights of fall and winter, some people have become unaccountably depressed. It is only recently that these people have been acknowledged as suffering from a syndrome called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This form of seasonal clinical depression starts each year between September and January and disappears during the longer days of April and May. SAD is said to affect about 11 million North Americans, three South Americans and a barber in Seville.

When the colder, darker weather of the fall and winter months arrive, some people find they have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning and take longer to get going. They never feel as fully alive as they do in the sunny, summer months. Sunlight is food and drink for the body and the soul of these people, so that the coming of spring and the promise of more light makes these people come alive. I believe they are called baseball fans.

Some people are more sensitive to light and atmospheric pressure than others. They react to changes in weather, feeling sluggish and depressed on cloudy days and energetic and happy on clear, sunny days. This reminds me of an old Rodney Dangerfield joke. “I woke up, put on my shirt and a button fell off. I grabbed my briefcase and the handle fell off. I was afraid to go to the bathroom.”

Here are some typical symptoms of SAD. Depression with apathy, sleep is unrefreshing, sluggishness, difficulty in concentrating and a loss of mental creativity, feelings of being overwhelmed, a craving for heavy foods and for sweets, a loss of interest in things and people that formerly gave pleasure and enjoyment, loss of libido and the overwhelming urge to ride a shetland pony.

Experts say there are many things you can do to counteract the affects of SAD, like sitting outside during lunchtime, taking an annual vacation in the winter to a sunny place, wear brightly colored clothes, learn a relaxation technique that involves imagining a sunny place that you can ‘visit’ on a regular basis or just take up ice fishing. One big don’t is wearing sunglasses outside (unless your eyes are painfully sensitive to bright light) as these cut down the amount of sunlight and vitamin D that is absorbed through your eyes in the winter and summer months. I don’t think a lot of people on the central coast are affected by this syndrome although we do have to worry about those winter sunburns. We are GLAD to be living in this cold water paradise called Santa Cruz.

On to the photos. These shots were taken at sunset last month down at my favorite arch at Its Beach. The sunlight was blazing thru at some interesting angles. Remember, the arch is not going to last forever and when it collapses and all we’ll be left with is a sea stack. And a lot of fond memories and photos from Sunrise Santa Cruz.

So that’s it for the week. Next time we’ll take a look at the winter blues, which is a milder form of seasonal depression but a whole lot more colorful. But then again, maybe it’s as simple as what the Who and lead singer Roger Daltrey belted out to the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, “Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” Perhaps he meant the winter. After all, he is English and they never see the sun. Have a great sports weekend and we’ll catch you on sunrise Monday.

November 6, 2007

Please Keep Your Comets To Yourself

Filed under: Four Mile Beach waves gulls reflection clouds sand — geoff @ 2:22 pm

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Big Wave Wednesday. As I’ve mentioned before, when I see clouds in the early morning sky I hit Lighthouse Point and then shoot up the coast to Four Mile Beach. These shots are from one morning about three weeks ago when the waves were pumping-it was just a glorious way to start a mid-October day. Ah, to be middle-aged and living on the central coast.

Here’s a sky related story that I found interesting. In the past couple of weeks, a comet that was not visible to the average consumer has unexpectedly brightened and is now available to the unclothed eye. The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. Of course, if you live in Santa Cruz, all you’ve seen in the past couple of nights is the constellation Fog.

Until October 23, the comet had been visible to modern astronomers only with a telescope, but that night it suddenly erupted and expanded. A similar burst in 1892 led the to the comet’s discovery. According to Paul Lewis, director of astronomy at the University of Tennessee, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event to witness, along the lines of when the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter back in 1994. I felt the same way watching Boise State upset Oklahoma last year in the Fiesta Bowl.

Scientists speculate the comet has exploded because there are sinkholes in its nucleus, giving it a honeycomb-like structure. Maybe that’s where the bees have gone. The collapse exposed the comet ice to the sun, which transformed the ice into gas.

Lewis added, “What comets do when they are near the sun is very unpredictable. We expect to see a comet tail, but this is more like an explosion, and we are seeing the bubble of gas and dust as it expands away from the center of the blast. Who knew?

Experts aren’t sure how long the comet’s show will last, but estimate it could be weeks, if not months. Bottom line is I’ve never really been a comet fan, I’ve always preferred Ajax.

Speaking of comets, birthday wishes go out to Edmund Halley, the English astronomer who was born November 8, 1656 in London and who was a good friend of Isaac Newton, the inventor of the fig. In 1705 he used Newton’s new theory of gravitation to determine that the bright comets of 1531, 1607 and 1692 had almost the same orbits and that these were different appearances of the same comet. He then used his gravitational calculations to predict the return of the comet in 1758 and Patriots come from behind win over the Colts last Sunday.

Halley did not live to see his prediction tested because he died in 1742. But on Christmas night in 1758, the comet destined to bear Halley’s name reappeared in a spectacular vindication of his bold conjecture and of Newton’s gravitational theory. Tracing back in the historical records for bright comets, it was concluded that Halley’s comet had been observed periodically as far back as 240 B.C. The most recent return was 1986, and the next predicted appearance of Halley will be in 2061. Or about the same time Bush thinks we should exit Iraq.

So that’s it for today. Lots more early morning sessions from Four Mile coming up along with the usual sunrises, sunsets and crime scene photos. And if anyone is interested, I will be appearing live this Friday and Saturday at the Autumn Artisans Faire at the Aptos United Methodist Church. Photos and greeting cards will be available along with a discussion of the Golden State Warriors early season woes. Saturday is free and open to the public from 10-4, which means I won’t be playing basketball that morning. Email me for directions if you’re interested. Enjoy the swell at Four Mile.

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