February 29, 2008

I Lighthouse The Way You Take Pictures

Good morning. Let’s start today’s proceedings by leaping right into the 29th day of February. That’s right, calendar fans, it’s a leap year, so enjoy this extra day of February because according to my calculations, which are based on a combination of the Mormon Tabernacle, the Farmer’s Almanac and TV Guide, this day will not make another appearance for at least four years, or about the same time Conan O’Brien is feeling comfortable as the new host of “The Tonight Show.” I had wanted to take a political shot here but early on I’m feeling kind. It won’t last.

So today we’re looking at a couple of local lighthouses. Santa Cruz was originally appropriated funding for a lighthouse in the early 1850′s, back when John McCain was still a youngster. Difficulty in acquiring land titles delayed the project and the lighthouse was not built until 1868. It was a wooden structure with a tower and was first lit on December 31, 1869, a New Year’s Eve special. The light itself was originally white but was changed to red in order to more easily distinguish it from the numerous residential lights in the area. By the way, I have been to the red light district in Amsterdam and did not visit any lighthouse keepers there, if you catch my drift.

In 1878, the lighthouse was threatened by the gradual erosion of caves underneath Lighthouse Point, which is still a major problem today. The following year the wooden lighthouse was placed on rollers and moved about 300 feet inland, which I wish they would do to Bush and Cheney and just keep rolling. Today, most of the original lighthouse is gone although erosion and Al Gore made part of the original foundation visible in the 1990′s.

There were only three keepers at the original Santa Cruz light. The first keeper, A.A. Hecox, was succeeded in 1883 by his daughter Laura, who faithfully attended the light until her retirement in 1916, when Arthur Anderson served until the light was discontinued in 1941. Leave it to an accountant to screw things up.

Keeper Laura Hecox was not only the lighthouse keeper but an avid amateur marine biologist. Only Laura and her mother occupied the six-room lighthouse, so one of the rooms became a museum housing Laura’s nature items, notes, literature and her collection of beanie babies. Her collection was donated to the Santa Cruz public library in 1902.

In 1941 an automated light was place on the wooden tower near the original lighthouse. During World War II the lighthouse was used as a lookout tower. The 54th Coast Artillery-an African-American unit-was stationed at Lighthouse Point. In the words of the late, great, Johnny Carson, “I did not know that.” After the war, the lighthouse was deemed as unnecessary, like buying snow tires in Hawaii. Or trying to understand why Isiah Thomas still has a job with the New York Knicks. The structure was sold to a local carpenter who purchased it for salvage rights. The old lighthouse was razed in May, 1948, leaving only the automated wooden tower.

In 1965 eighteen-year-old Mark Abbot drowned while surfing near the point. His parent used the insurance money to build a brick lighthouse near the site of the old light which was completed in 1967. The Mark Abbot Memorial Lighthouse is currently home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, which opened in 1986. According to Boots McGhee, one of the Longboard Union members that founded the museum, the lighthouse is the perfect location for this exhibit because after viewing the surfing memorabilia you then walk outside to the perfect living theatre- Steamer Lane. The lighthouse is now currently threatened once again by erosion, which is undermining the point, which I’m afraid, is the point. Which means enjoy the lighthouse while you can because unlike the TV show “Law & Order, it won’t be running forever.

In the fall of 2001, a second lighthouse was joined the party. The Walton or (Santa Cruz Harbor Light) was built on the west jetty of Santa Cruz Harbor. The light received its name from one of its patrons, Charles Walton, who donated $60,000 for the project in memory of his brother Derek of the Merchant Marines. I’m not quite sure why they built this second lighthouse-if anyone knows email me and clue me in. I took a ride over there earlier this week and shot the first three foam-filled photos. In the third shot you get the double shot of the two Santa Cruz lighthouses. Photos #4, 5 and 6 were taken at Lighthouse Point-midday, sunrise and at sunset. I love the feeling being out there alone on the edge of the continent shooting a spectacular sunrise or sunset. It’s magical or in the words of the Electric Light Orchestra “You’re walking meadows in my mind, making waves across my time, oh no, oh, no, I get a strange magic.” This really has little to do with how I feel, I just like the song.

Which reminds me of the old joke. A frustrated woman says to her husband, “You love football more than you love me.” And he replies, “Yeah, but I love you more than baseball or basketball.” So that’s it for our final blog of February. Coming up on Monday we’ll head back to Lighthouse Point for some superb sunrise action. Enjoy the lighthouses, enjoy the weekend and for you locals, I hope to see you at Fresh Prep Kitchens on Saturday. Bon appetit.

February 27, 2008

Yachta, Yachta, Yachta

Filed under: sand water reflection sun colors — geoff @ 12:10 am

Good morning and welcome to our midweek photo experience. Today we are blogging to you live from the Sands Hotel on the strip in Las Vegas. Actually, I’m just pulling your larriot-I just wanted to get that sand reference in there. Today we are featuring a collection of sand colors from four recent sunsets at Natural Bridges State Beach. As you can see from the first two shots, when they sun’s rays hit the sand they produce some interesting patterns, none of which Randy Moss ran in the Super Bowl. The next two shots are the prodigal sun beaming its orange level alert onto the beachfront. I took the fifth shot Monday night before finishing up with a orange appeal to end the series.

The sun is moving across the sky and soon I’ll be heading up the coast to Davenport to shoot the sunsets. Lots of the good cloud action is taking place over the land masses and I want that Pacific Ocean reflection action. That’s what Balboa taught me.

When we’re talking water we’re often talking boats and here’s a deal you might be interested in. There’s a vessel for sale. It’s palatial yacht with a swimming pool, salons and a vineyard. And there’s a bonus that comes along with this ocean cruiser. Should war break out, this baby is equipped with a rocket launcher and mini-submarine (which I have every Tuesday at Subway.) But the sale of the 269-foot Ocean Breeze, built for that humanitarian Saddam Hussein and docked on the French Riviera, could be tricky. If Iraq can prove it belongs to someone in the late dictator’s entourage, then therefore it belongs to the government of Iraq.

The government in Baghdad suspects the yacht, which French authorities seized on January 31, is still Iraqi. But the posh yacht brokerage firm Nigel Burgess says other owners, whom it will not name, have asked it to sell the vessel. I’m thinking either the Olsen twins, Jon Bon Jovi or Martha Stewart and the Vandellas. The price has reportedly been set at $35 million give or take a few francs and I don’t mean Sinatra.

Viewing is strictly forbidden, but several internet photos of the interior show an opulent Middle East style decor in blue and gold hues (UCLA?) that match the azure sea at sunset. What else would you expect from the face of evil? A desert fox more than a sailor, Hussein never used the boat he had built in 1981. It’s a shame no one told him about dramamine. In fact, it barely spent time in Iraqi waters. As war raged with Iran, the vessel was moved to the safety of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port of Jiddah in 1986. From there it was shipped on to Raging Waters in San Dimas to be used in the Splash Island Adventure ride.

The vessel was originally called Qadisiyah Saddam in attempt by Saddam to cast his war against Iran in an Quranic context. He had wanted the Good Ship Lollipop but was advised against it by his therapist. Its ownership is now as uncertain as Iraq’s shifting sands. Who owns it? A cohort of Hussein or a Saudi royal? A jet-setter hiding behind a shell company? Regis Philbin?

This is not the first time Iraq has sought the return from France of Hussein’s treasures. Just months ago, it successfully reclaimed a villa in Cannes, a crate of overripe brie cheese in Paris, and Saddam’s private collection of Jerry Lewis’ “Nutty Professor” movies in Nice.

According to account in the French Daily Le Figaro, the Ocean Breeze, made for a 35 member crew, has about 10 rooms, several salons with large screen TV’s, gold plumbing fixtures, a prayer room, portable helicopter pad and a regulation size hockey rink. Less glamorous but more telling of Hussein’s real-world concerns are the bulletproof windows, a missile launching system (disarmed,) a secret passage leading to a mini-submarine for escape if the vessel comes under attack and a solid gold “Get out of jail free card.”

Since we’re talking Iraq, here’s something I thought you might find painfully interesting. According to Peace Action West, the occupation of Iraq is now costing U.S. taxpayers $3,919 a second. Yes, $3,919 a second. So while you were reading this we just spent enough to fix ever road, bridge and horse race between here and Reno. The youngster John McCain says we’re going to be in Iraq for another 100 years. My calculator just committed Harry Carey trying to come up with what that would cost us. McCain has some good ideas but his war mentality scares the shift out of me and I drive an automatic. He thinks we can win the war in Iraq and that the Iraqis can make the playoffs in the NBA west this year. I say, no way on both accounts, but the NBA is where amazing happens.

So that’s it for botox and boat talk for today. Be sure and look for my email tomorrow when I’ll be giving you some information about an exciting event coming up on Saturday involving yours truly and Sunrise Santa Cruz. Have a great Wednesday and we’ll catch you for leap year Friday. Bon voyage.

February 24, 2008

Taliban To Play A Slow Song

Good morning, photo fans. I was going to start out the week with a sunrise of splendid delight, but when my friend Carol asked me on Saturday, “did you get any pictures of those thunderheads on Friday?” there was an immediate change of plans. I felt digital excitement as Friday’s sky filled with an impressive display of storm clouds that were viewable from all directions including north, south, east and Jerry West.

We start out our cloud caravan down at Steamer Lane, then on to a couple of shots at Cowell’s Beach, then up to the end of my street on the highly desirable upper west side (real estate jargon) before heading back down to West Cliff and Mitchell’s Cove before ending our tour of beauty at Natural Bridges. As I gazed at these puffs of perfection I was determined not to let their shape and texture cloud my judgement. I thought of the words of Mick Jagger, “Hey, you, get off of my cloud.” Now I understand why he couldn’t get any satisfaction.

Moving along the Himalayan trail, I’ve been thinking about Afghanistan recently. Well, that and the unbelievable action we’ve had on and off the court in the NBA the past few weeks. It’s become the forgotten war for many people. We’ve been in this region for six years and expect to be there for another twenty. Suicide bomb attacks, a non-factor before last year, skyrocketed in a record year of violence to more than 140 in 2007. 2006 was a gala year for the opium poppy crop which was over 100% larger than any previous harvest. Here’s even better news for heroin fans. This year’s harvest will even be bigger than last year. Much of the money goes to financing those liberal minded, fun-loving Taliban fighters which leads me into today’s story.

According to Afghanistan’s education minister, the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia. A Taliban spokesman denied that these free thinkers were inspired by Alice Cooper’s song “School’s Out For Summer” which includes the lyrics “school’s out forever.”

While the overall state of Afghan education shows improvement, including students being provided with pencils, erasers and bullet proof lunch boxes, the Education Ministry numbers point to a sharp decline in security for students, teachers and schools in the south, which is home to the world’s largest opium poppy growing region and where the Taliban thrive. A side note, some years back the U.S. paid the Taliban millions not to grow opium poppy for one year. But they had so much heroin in their stash houses it didn’t make a difference and it drove up the prices for themselves and the farmers who grew it. Anyway, the number of students out of classes because of security concerns hit 300,000 since last March, compared to 200,000 in the previous 12 months, while the number of schools closing has risen from 350 to 590. Back in Garden State where I blossomed into manhood they only closed the school on snow days, rarely because of “attacks by the enemies of New Jersey.”

The Taliban strategy is deliberate: “to close these schools down so that the children and primarily the teenagers that are going to the schools-the boys-have no other option but to join the Taliban,” says Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar. The Taliban know that educated Afghans won’t join the militants, so a closed school leaves the students with two options-to join the Taliban or “to cross the border and go into those hate madrassas,” Atmar says, referring to Islamic seminaries in Pakistan where “they will be professionally trained as terrorists.” With the Peace Corps not hiring in these parts the only other realistic option for these boys is to become bloggers. And this just in. The kids are blogging in Cuba these days, but they are forced to do it in secret.

In response to these remarks, Wakil Ahmad Khan, (no relation to Chaka Khan) a top official at Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, says Pakistani madrassas “are doing a wonderful job by providing education to millions of students and if the Afghan officials have any such information, they should share it with Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.” Yes, they are doing a fine job in Pakistan. Nothing wrong with teaching hate because that’s what makes the world go around. And as long as Bin Laden is safe and well-protected in his three bedroom cave in those Pakistani mountains, then I’m happy.

Atmar predicted attacks on students and teachers would continue to increase unless the international community and the Afghan government delivered protection. Who knew birth control was even an issue? Still, overall there is good news in Afghanistan’s educational comeback since the days of Taliban rule, when girls couldn’t attend school and fewer than 1 million boys did. Some 5.8 million now attend class, up from 5.4 million a year ago, and 35% of them are female.

Here’s the bottom line on these fanatics. The Taliban are a ruthless bunch of women-hating misogynists who outlawed movies, television, satellite dishes, VCR’s, kite flying, the hanging of pictures and clapping during sporting events. Seriously. Women were forced to wear burqas which covered their entire body except for an opening by the mouth. That’s got to be tough when you want to work on your tan. We’ve got 28,000 troops there now and 3,200 more Marines are coming in April. I don’t envy their mission in Afghanistan and I’m very concerned for their safety and for all our troops fighting around the world.

Well, that’s a light, breezy way to start the week. I don’t normally like the pontificate on subjects that are so heavy duty but I didn’t want to let this one go by. Children have the right to feel safe, particularly when they’re at school. The world is a wild and crazy place so when you get in bed at night and lay your head down on the pillow and everyone in your family is warm and safe then count your blessings.

A Pacific storm blew in over the weekend bringing with it a giant swell with white capped waves battering the coast like Yankee hitters during the regular season. On Saturday morning before the storm hit there was a brief but dramatic sunrise that I had the privilege of experiencing. I think we’ll save that spectacle of color for
the first blog of March. So enjoy the clouds, enjoy the day and I won’t even mention my concern about the deterioration of our public school system here in the U.S. To quote one of my favorite bumper sticker-It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Enough said-there’s some sand action coming your way on Wednesday. See ya.

February 22, 2008

Tennessee What I’m Saying?

Good morning and welcome to the colors of the central coast. Today we are going to feature a magnificent night from the evening of February 5. The codependent clouds created a gigantic canvas that filled the skies with fabulous colors which then ricocheted off the sand at Natural Bridges State Beach like they were on a trampoline of visual voluptuousness. (Did I actually just write that?) It was quite the night-I’m just glad I had film in my digital camera. I love it when the sky explodes this way-almost as much as I enjoyed the Wednesday night NBA doubleheader of Lakers-Suns and Celtics-Warriors. NBA sunset action-it’s fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic, isn’t it great that we can just turn on the faucet or shower and have water anytime and as much as we like? Have you ever thought, “what if I could do this for three hours a day?” Well, they did in one tiny town in Tennessee. Try saying that three times fast. Back in November, Mayor Tony Reames used to strictly ration the water in Orme, Tenn. At precisely 6 p.m. every night, he would drive to the town’s rusty 17,000 gallon water tower and turns a valve allowing the precious liquid to flow. The people below start filling gallon jugs, washing clothes, taking showers and practicing synchronized swimming routines. At 9 p.m. the mayor would turn the supply off. “I wish I could leave it on for another hour.” he said. “But we only have so much.”

Orme, like much of the Southeast, suffered through a terrible drought in late 2007 and into 2008. In Georgia, where 60 percent of the streams are at record low points, the governor led a “pray for rain and a point guard for the Hawks” service on the capital steps on back on Nov. 13. In North Carolina, nearly 80 percent of Tar Heel fans are under water-use restrictions. But the old mining town of Orme, population 142, where the waterfall that once supplied water is nothing more than a trickle, where the wells are sulphurous, was the hardest hit of all. This place makes Mayberry look like Miami Beach.

The water they did have was imported from sweet home Bridgeport, Alabama, just three miles away and located on the Tennessee River. Every other day volunteer firefighters would drive Orme’s 1961 diesel fire engine into Bridgeport, where they’d fill the 1,500 gallon truck with water from a fire hydrant. It takes about ten trips to fill the water tower and about a ten trips to find any good Italian cuisine in the area. I’m talking a little lasagna, baked mostaccioli and some eggplant parmigiana.

So here’s the good news. Orme received a federal grant to install a new water line from Alabama back in late November. Water and Gatorade now flow 24 hours a day. What’s the lesson learned? Says the mayor, “We’re all at the mercy of the environment. If it can happen in Orme, where we have a waterfall, it can happen anywhere.” I say what happens in Orme, stays in Orme.

But wait, this isn’t just water under the bridge. The record drought in the American southeast has now stretched into its second year. Get ready for this, bottled water fans. The Georgia state senate just approved a measure that in essence would move the state line 1.1 miles north into Tennessee, running it right thru a bend in the Tennessee River. This would allow Georgia to siphon billions of gallons of water without Tennessee’s permission. Holy Cowl, Batman.

The border between the two states was established 200 years ago by a surveyor named James Camak, but unfortunately, he missed it by a mile. This guy would have made some mohel. Or in the words of Agent 86 Don Adams from the TV classic ‘Get Smart,’ “Missed it by that much, chief.” Meanwhile, Mayor Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga, Tennessee can’t believe Georgia is serious. “Shifting the line would upset thousand and thousands of people. Whole neighborhoods would have to relocate.” In the words of one incredulous resident, “If I wanted to live in Georgia I would have bought a house there to begin with.” You go girl. Love that Volunteer pride.

Georgia would get roughly 110 square miles of Tennessee, including portions of Chattanooga and the rights to Peyton Manning’s college transcripts. Tennessee says it will fight any border change and is making jokes about the whole affair. Georgia is dead peach serious. The need water and they want it now. This will all be settled in the courtroom or at halftime of the next Georgia-Tennessee football game.

So on this day birthday wishes go out to my brother Paul up in Marin County. Paul has been like a brother to me and was the person who told Commissioner David Stern years ago that “NBA action is fantastic.” That selfless act still entitles him to the Commish’s seats at any Golden State Warrior game he chooses. It is also the birthday of one of my favorite people in the medical field, Dr. J., Julius Erving. I super loved Dr. J’s high flying, mind blowing, slam dunking game and used to have a life size 7 foot poster of him in my bedroom before my then girlfriend and now wife made my take it down. For some reason she didn’t want a 6’8″ superstar staring at her when she went to sleep. I understood her feelings completely and replaced it with a poster of Dominique “the Human Highlight Film” Wilkens. I’m guess I’m just a hopeless romantic.

So have a great sports weekend, enjoy the western sky and we’ll catch you on Monday for some sunrise splendor. Later, sports fans.

February 19, 2008

You Can’t Flee The Forest For The Trees

Greetings, photo fans and welcome to our Wednesday edition of the coast chronicles. Today we’ll make a stop along my favorite street, West Cliff Drive, and then head over to the east side. I was driving towards the lighthouse when I had to pull over and take the first shot. It was a Mr. Rogers type moment-just a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I then hit East Cliff Drive and stopped at Twin Lakes Beach as some gulls had gathered for a Tony Robbins seminar where he was trying to convince them to fly over hot coals. If you look closely at photo #5 you’ll notice that it features a double lighthouse shot-that’s right folks, to lights for the price of one.

We then head back to the west side and Bird Rock for the final shot and check out some pelicans discussing the Hillary-Barack flap on “just words” and the Clinton camp’s claim that Obama is just a speechmaker and “all talk and no action”. Their conclusion-”We hold these truths to be self-evident that all birds are created equal.”

So here are a couple of stories that caught my eye over the weekend. According to the state media, freak snow and freezing temperatures that paralyzed many parts of China in January also damaged or destroyed one-tenth of the country’s forests. The China Daily (no soup with takeout orders), citing the State Forestry Administration, said a total of 43 million acres of forest in half the country’s provinces were affected by the three weeks of savage wintry weather. The administration warned that further damage could occur as dead trees and downed branches dry up, posing an increased risk of forest fires and a shortage of chop sticks this summer. The government says it plans to launch a massive planting effort in the spring to reforest affected areas. Fortunately, the forest areas that provide spring rolls, pot stickers and cream cheese filled wontons were not affected by the unusually harsh weather conditions.

The first flowering of southeast Bangladesh’s bamboo forests in 50 years led to a plague of rats that has destroyed crops and brought the region to the brink of famine. The number of rats exploded late last year as the flowers provided a huge food source for the pests, prompting accelerated breeding. I feel the same urges when I’m around eucalyptus, balsa wood or red maple. The bamboo flowering occurs once every 50 years, with the last occurrence in 1958 causing a similar rodent plague. The infestation brought a crippling famine for three consecutive years.

The U.N. Development Program says that nearly all of the crops in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been devoured by the burgeoning rat population. People there are now eating roots and sushi to survive and the fields are now dotted with large rat holes. Scientists have been unable to determine why this one species of bamboo flowers over hundreds of square miles, once every five decades. Ironically, scientists have also been unable to determine why the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Speaking of rats, a couple of Friday’s back I wrote that this is the year of the rat in the Chinese lunar year. Well, the rats must have been checking out the blog on their iPhones because that night they hit my garage for the first time in over a year and took out a good size container of Nestle’s Nesquik. But I’ve learned my lesson-no more Nesquik in the garage-I’m switching to Trader Joe’s Organic Midnight Moo.

In summation of the rat situation, let me leave you with a Three Stooges exchange that my brother Paul emailed over the other day. Shemp said to his brother, Moe “We’re trapped like rats.” Replied Moe, “Speak for yourself.” Thank you, brother. And thank you to all of you tuning in on this cyber channel. That’s it for masterpiece theatre. Tune in on Friday when we’ll hit the sunset skies and I’ll discuss why I prefer asparagus and broccoli spears over Britney. Enjoy the birds, have a dry Wednesday and we’ll catch you in the low block. Mahalo.

February 17, 2008

I’ll Have One From Hucka ‘A’ And One From Huckabee

Good morning and good Monday. As you know, I tend to stay away from writing about politics like Congress avoids looking for the billions of dollars missing in Iraq. I never like to tip my hand about my likes or dislikes among current politicians or presidential candidates. Oh, sure, every once in a while (everyday) I may take a shot at the current administration, but dammit, they deserve it. But this next story really rocked and was so juicy and topical that I just couldn’t light up and leave it alone.

The chief songwriter and founder of the band Boston has more than a feeling that he’s being ripped off by Mike Huckabee. In a letter to the Republican hopeful, Tom Scholz complains that Huckabee is using his 1970′s smash hit song “More Than a Feeling” without his permission. A former member of the band, Barry Goudreau, has appeared with Huckabee at campaign events and they have played the song with Huckbee’s band, Capitol Offense. Now McCain a minute, Eric Clapton said that he shot the sheriff, “and they say that it is a capital offense. Coincidence? I think not.

Scholz, who says Goudreau left the band 25 years ago after a three year stint, objects to the implication that the band and one of its members has endorsed Huckabee’s candidacy. “Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of everything Boston stands for,” wrote Schulz, adding that he is supporting Barack Obama and thinks Kevin Garnett’s injury is worse than what the Celtics are reporting. “By using my song and my band’s name, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. I think I’ve been ripped off, dude!” And where’s my car?

Fred Bramante, who was chairman of Huckabee’s New Hampshire campaign, called the allegations ridiculous. “Governor Huckabee is a free bird and plays “Sweet Home Alabama? Does that mean Lynyrd Skynyrd is endorsing him? He plays “Louie Louie. Does that mean the Kingsmen are endorsing him? To me it’s ridiculous. Never once has he said the band Boston endorses me.” Hmm. Interesting point. Never to hold back their feelings, the one of the Righteous Brothers recently called Scholz and told him, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.”

Scholz says that “More Than a Feeling” has been a centerpiece at some rallies and that Goudreau is identified with the band in an endorsement video. “Whenever a campaign publicly exploits a well-known song (“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’), there is some inference of support by the band or artist,” says Scholz. No wonder Bill Clinton had the poster of Stevie Nicks hanging in the west wing. He recommends that Huckabee “stick to music recorded by far right Republicans.” Governor Huck might want to think more in terms of someone like the “Motor City Madman” Ted Nugent. Personally, I’d go with BJ Thomas’ “Hooked on a Feeling.” Or ACDC’s “Highway to Hell.” You know, something from the home of soft rock.

Today’s photo montage starts off with a couple of sunrise shots from late December down at Lighthouse Point. The third shot is the much photographed cypress tree from the same morning along West Cliff Drive. We then continue the rock experience down at Its beach before we move to a sunset at the same spot, with the last shot taken of yours truly by a young aspiring photographer named Aimee Gilbert. She also shot an interesting series of wave shots (her specialty) at Steamer Lane the other day that we’ll see when she makes her six-pic debut but today she’ll have to settle for a single credit.

One more note on Mike Huckabee. Back in 2006 as governor of Arkansas he pardoned the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on an old reckless driving charge from 1975. When asked why he did it, the governor told the reporter that if he could play the guitar like Richards he would pardon him too. He then added that this small gesture might someday lead to “my being able to give him a full pardon before God for all the things he’s done.” Classy move, Governor. You know, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away from including this tidbit in today’s blog. So rock on, enjoy the colors and have a fabulous President’s Day.

February 15, 2008

GoldiRocks And The Two Bares

Let’s finish off the week with some solid gold sunset action from Natural Bridges. As I hit the beach in late afternoon on the first day of February the sun was shining on the cliffs with a Golden Globe color like I had never seen, and I’ve been to this spot more the Condy Rice has defended the Administration’s policies. It was such an amazing color that I had to feature it today on Golden State Friday. It only glowed this way from a certain angle, but it was just tremendously choreographically entertaining, like a routine on “Soul Train” by the Solid Gold Dancers.

These next shots are my tribute to Valentine’s Day. I try to keep people, animals and unidentified UFO’s out of my landscape shots but ever once in a while a throw something in to keep things edgy. As I hit the beach I saw this wet-suited couple taking in the view from the sand, but what really impressed me was the next couple emerging from the water. Did I mention they were buck naked? The young woman then proceeded to prance around in the waves-what a special way to end the daylight portion of this free love Friday. As far as her dreadlocked partner was concerned, all I could think of was George Costanza telling Jerry Seinfeld, “Shrinkage, Jerry, shrinkage.” Yeah, that water’s a little nippy. But as you can see from the last shot from West Cliff Drive, love was in the air and you know what a romantic I am.

Back to the golden coast. There’s a company in the Sunshine State that hasn’t won the gold but they’ve definitely taken the silver. The playground legal principle “Finders keepers, losers weepers” is being put to a test in an international dispute over what could be the richest sunken treasure ever found: 17 tons of silver coins brought up by a centuries-old shipwreck. A Florida treasure-hunting company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, found the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and argues that the age-old law of the high seas entitles the finders to most or all of the booty, said to be worth around $500 million. That is one booty call I would be interested in. And coincidentally, we now have located the biggest wreck underwater and above water in the White House.

But the government of Spain suspects the ship is Spanish and says it has never expressly abandoned any of its vessels lost at sea. The kingdom has made it clear if the treasure does have some connections to Spain, it wants every last coin and bottle returned. The case is being watched closely because there could be more disputes like it, now that sonar, remote-control submersible robots and deep-sea video are enabling treasure hunters like Odyssey to find ships that went to the bottom centuries ago and were written off as unrecoverable because no one could imagine finding anything so far beneath the waves. The Spanish have also said that since Columbus discovered America, they would like to have the proceeds from all of Charo’s CD’s, the residuals from the song “Spanish Harlem” and the rights to Alex Rodriquez’s first switch-hitting child.

The question is, just because you’re the first one to get there, should you get to keep it, especially if it belongs to someone else? For now, the spoils, about 500,000 coins are in Odyssey’s possession, tucked away in a warehouse somewhere in Tampa. Odyssey created a worldwide sensation with the announcement of the find in May but has so far declined to identify the wreck, except to say it was in international waters. Soon after the discovery was announced, Spain’s attorney in Washington went to federal court in Tampa and slapped claims on three Atlantic wreck sites to which Odyssey had been granted exclusive rights under maritime law. When asked about this situation, Carly Simon said she hasn’t got time for the claim.

The ship is widely believed to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish galleon sunk by a British warship off Portugal in October 1804. This discovery was timely for Odyssey, whose first big strike was the discovery in 2003 of a Civil War-era steamer off the Georgia coast that yielded artifacts, 51,000 gold coins and a trunk full of Dr. Pepper valued at around $70 million.

The final word on this deal comes from an editorial in Spain’s biggest newspaper which read, “These new pirates of the 21st century continue to besiege our galleons despite the fact they have been laying at the bottom of the seas for centuries immersed in an eternal sleep. How is Spain to defend itself against such a violation of its archaeological and historic patrimony?” First Roger Clemens, now the Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball is taking a beating. Next you’ll tell me that Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Carribean are somehow involved.

So that’s it for the week. With Valentine’s Day, the new Sports Illustrated lack of bathing suit issue hitting the stands and the Warriors beating the Suns in Oakland in a thriller on Wednesday night-I’m just emotionally exhausted. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be taking it strong right to the blog on Monday like a young Monte Ellis. So try and enjoy each day and savor those special moments and we’ll catch you next week for some more off the court central coast action. Aloha, sports fans.

February 13, 2008

One Hand Washes The Otter

Greetings, blogs fans. Back on February 2, I ventured down before dawn to Moss Landing Harbor with surfer, ocean activist and photographer Howard “Boots” MeGhee. Boots thought the readers of this blog needed to see another location and he was absolutely correct. Moss Landing is one of his favorite surf spots but what he wanted to show me were the birds and the early morning light. When we pulled into the harbor we looked out over the water and to our amazement there were over 100 otters in float mode. Usually I’ll catch just one or two doing the back paddle so to see this many was a virtual visual bonanza.

But then things got really interesting. All of a sudden a huge, dark object started slinking off the land into the water. It was the size of a small bear. At that moment I thought was watching a segment from “Animal Planet” or the Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth.” Three of them slinked on their bellies into the water and we realized they were otters. Just like Jim Rome, they were huge! It was the highlight of a morning that featured hundreds and hundreds of birds cruising by the various waterways at this crossroad of Monterey Bay.

Moss Landing is located on the shore of Monterey Bay, at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough and at the head of Monterey Canyon. It was named after Captain Charles Moss, who I believe is a third cousin of Randy Moss, who established a shipping port in the mid 1800′s. Moss Landing is also a world class beach break for surfers and according to Ben Marcus of SurfLine, “During the winter when the west swell is filling the bay and the offshores are howling out of the Salinas Valley, Moss Landing will take your breath away, in more ways than one. The swell that hits Moss Landing has come out of very, very deep water and hasn’t been slowed down by the continental shelf. We’re talking big, powerful, challenging waves.” And you know me, that’s all I’ll ride.

So let’s talk southern sea otters, one of whom you can see snacking in the last shot. During the fur trade of the 18th and 19th century, southern sea otters were almost hunted to extinction. Today, only about 2,200 can be found off of California’s central coast. There were once between 16,000 to 20,000 and the remaining can be found off the coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Barbara. In 1977, the Fish and Wildlife Service placed them on the Endangered Species List so they are protected by federal and state law. That right, there otter be a law.

The current group of southern sea otters all descended from a single group of otters that survived off the coast of Big Sur at the Bixby Creek Bridge. Sea otters must eat at least 25% of their body weight each day in order to maintain their high metabollic rate, which keeps their internal body temperature at a toasty 100 degrees. They have more than 40 different prey items, but their favorites are abalone, sea urchins, crabs, clams, octopus and shrimp scampi over a little kelp bed of angel hair pasta.

On an average day, a sea otter spends 8 hours feeding, 5 to 6 hours grooming (then again, who doesn’t?), 11 hours resting and sleeping and two hours playing backgammon. Sea otters sleep in the water, sometimes joined by hundreds of others in favorite resting areas called rafts, which you can see in photo #1. Sea otters swim on their backs and use their bellies as tables. They are one of the few animals to use tools, mostly rocks and hand saws. They use the rocks to smash open the shells of their prey items and hand saws to carve little trinkets that they then sell to tourists.

Sea otters are considered keystone species, which means they directly effect the ecosystem in which they live-the kelp forest. They eat sea urchins, which are considered the most efficient and destructive consumer of kelp in California’s waters. By eliminating the sea urchins, the sea otters help the kelp forest grow. Thus, one hand washes the otter.

Here one more sea otter fact. Unlike any other marine mammal, they lack blubber to keep them warm. Instead, they have incredibly dense fur that traps air in between the hairs, which means the sea otter never actually gets wet. Sea otters have up to one million hairs per square inch. A human head has only about 20,000 hairs on his or her entire head. No Rogaine for these guys. Think about it, have you ever seen a bald sea otter or one with a bad combover?

So that’s our otter report. My favorite character in the movie classic “Animal House” was Tim Matheson, who played the role of Eric “Otter” Stratton, the smooth-talking guy who always got the girls. Or in the words of lovely Mandy Pepperidge, “C’mon Otter, it wasn’t that great.” Otter’s reply, “That great?” Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the dawn excursion down to Moss Landing. I’ve got a feeling they’ll be more trips with Boots in the future. Did someone say Big Sur? It’s like my meditation guru always used to say. “It’s either this, that or the otter. Later, NBA fans.

February 10, 2008

I’m Iraqing My Brain, But I Still Can’t Remember

Greeting and welcome to another Monday of Sunrise Santa Cruz. I don’t like to get too political in this column besides, of course, the daily shots at the current sham of an administration, but this next subject galls me so much that I just couldn’t let it go by without sharing it with you out there in cyberspace.

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The study concluded that the statements “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses. In other words, or in these exact words, the face of evil named Saddam Hussein never possessed any weapons of mass destruction.

The study was posted in late January on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel did not comment on the study but reiterated the administration’s position that the world community viewed the Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, as a threat. “The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgement of intelligence agencies around the world,” Stanzel said. So beam me up, Scotty, but I think you’re using the term ‘intelligence” rather loosely.

The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them, or had links to al Qaeda, or both.

An overview of the study stated “It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have any meaningful ties to al Qaeda. In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.” So how many billions of dollars have been wasted, how many families ripped apart and how many nations have we angered and turned against us with this invasion that never should have taken place?

The website focused on 380,000 words spoken by Bush and his top advisers. George W. led with 259 false statements. Liar, liar, pants on fire. Runner-up Colin Powell took the silver with 244 statements of falsehood. “The cumulative effect of the false statements-amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts was massive, with the media creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to the war,” the study concluded. “Some journalists, indeed some entire news organizations have since acknowledged that their coverage during the prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas not withstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” So the bottom line is the media bought and sold this bogus war for the administration so as not to seem unpatriotic in a time of fear of another terrorist attack.

People can go to this website for the Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org) to check out this study. Muckrakers may find browsing the site reminiscent of what Richard Nixon used to dismissively call “wallowing in Watergate.” Here’s the bottom line. Let me paraphrase talk show host Bill Maher from his Friday night show on HBO (it’s not TV, it’s HBO.) “For those of you who want to defend George Bush going into Iraq, here are some stories that have been in the news lately. A week ago a report came out that the U.S. is completely unready to repel an attack on the U.S. because 88% of our National Guard and Reserves are unprepared to fight.” Hmm, wonder where those troops that are prepared are?

“Donors from military families are sending their money to the campaigns of Ron Paul and Barack Obama, the two candidates who want to get us out of Iraq the quickest. The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, says al Qaeda is better able to hit the U.S., as it is gaining strength from its refuge in Pakistan. Bin Laden and Zawahiri remain in control of this terrorist group and they’ve recruited a new generation of lieutenants, including westerners and most likely Americans. Isn’t this what the Democrats have been saying? We took our eye off the ball and went in to a place that didn’t attack us and now the place that always was the problem (Afghanistan) is stronger than ever and ready to attack us again.” Remember, the statement about al Qaeda is a direct quote of the Director of National Intelligence.

This is a scary proposition and a long way from “Mission Accomplished.” This has been tragic mistake of a war from the start that has killed and wounded so many and divided the country for no honest reason.

Now on to something a little more peaceful. Our photo segment today features some cloud and bird action from above Four Mile Beach but we begin with some timely sand art from down at Its Beach. We then move on to the railroad tracks before hitting the beach. The last shot is this same cloud cover further up the coast along Highway 1 at Scott’s Creek. There was a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific this morning that we’ll check out down the road. Remember, brighter days are ahead. It’s always darkest before you turn on the light. Enjoy the clouds.

February 8, 2008

Caught Between A Barack And A Hard Place

Good morning and good Friday. Once again Sunrise Santa Cruz brings you the best of what the sky has to offer today and today we have another winner from the afternoon/evening of January 22. It was a wild day down at Lighthouse Point with all kinds of exotic clouds filling the sky which made for quite a bedazzling display of the Father, Sun and the Holy Coast. This is the same night I caught the rainbow thru the arch, a snowy egret landing on runway seven and a tide as low as Bush’s approval ratings. Besides those cinematic treats, just another night in a
cold water paradise.

So Thursday was a special day and not just because the Golden State Warriors were playing on national TV. Yesterday began the Chinese New Year, which is the Year of the Rat, who holds a place of honor as the first creature in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calender. Legend has it that the rat was the first one to arrive when Buddha summoned 12 animals to name a year in each cycle after each one of them. The rat was followed by an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a snake, a horse, a sheep, a monkey, a rooster, a dog, a pig, and a cornish game hen.

According to author Theodora Lau, “The charm and innovative personality of the rat is legendary-he did not become the first sign of the cycle without good reason. The rat loves to run the show and everything had better look sharp under his stewardship.” The Chinese say those with a rat child are very lucky because when the parents get old the child will take care of them. Rat child-what a tender, lvoing way to describe one’s offspring.

This election year is supposed to be positive for the United States, which was founded in the year of the monkey. Lau, author of the “Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes” says the “the rat and the monkey are very compatible, and since it’s the year of the rat, it will do well for the monkey. Both the rat and the monkey love challenges and they will be able to find the solution.” It’s the old monkey see, monkey do, ratso does the same as you.

The Chinese lunar calender is based on cycles of the moon and is constructed in a different fashion than the Western solar calender. The beginning of the year falls somewhere between late January and early February. Lau says writing the book gave her a new perspective on people. “I am more understanding and tolerant. People sometimes can’t help who they are (George Bush.) They are locked into a point of view (Dick Cheney.) You can’t change it, so don’t get upset (American people.) It’s not your fault (Al Gore.)

I went to my son’s school yesterday for an assembly that featured a talk given by renowned local historian and award-winning teacher Sandy Lydon, who spoke on the topic of “Firecrackers, Hungry Ghosts and the Year of the Rat: Exploring the Chinese Spirit World. This is what I learned when I was paying attention and not thinking about the mind-blowing Shaquille O’Neal trade to the Phoenix Suns. The Chinese believe it is better to be born lucky than clever. Luck plays a bigger role in life than hard work. There are two kinds of spirits, good and evil. Loud noises from firecrackers frighten the evil spirits. Evil spirits don’t like the color red (firecrackers.) And the Electric Light Orchestra’s number one hit was “Evil Woman.”

When a Chinese person dies, the family is responsible for taking care of their spirits. Nothing is more important in China then family, with the exception of mu shu pork. Chinese people rarely go anywhere alone and that is why half there nation is glued to a cell phone. 8 is the best lucky number, 4 is bad luck and 25 or 6 to 4.

Here are some things you should have done yesterday. Switch on lights, eat sweets and most importantly, clean your house and colon. The big do nots-don’t wash your hair, buy any shoes, pants or books or ride a shetland pony. Or give out your social security number to anyone over the internet with a return address in Nigeria.

So that’s the new year rundown. I hope you’ve been enjoyed the photos as of late because as Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton showed us, this time of the year is “As Good As It Gets” for landscape photography on the central coast. I would love to hear from some of you out there in the heartland. Silence is not golden, it’s more of a silver. Rise up and speak to me, let me read your voices. Comprenez vous?

And lastly, birthday wishes go out to Lee Gilbert, who for many years has been like a mother to me. It seems like almost yesterday that I popped out of her womb. Mom, at age 82, I am almost willing to forgive you for not breast feeding me. Remember, I said almost. Have a great weekend and enjoy the outrageous sky. Oh, and today’s subject title has nothing to do with the text, I just like the way it sounded. There’s change in the air and I’m excited. Later.

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