March 30, 2008

Better Lake Than Never

Filed under: Lake Tahoe water trees snow Reno — geoff @ 8:26 pm

Good morning and welcome to our final blog of March 2008. Sunrise Santa Cruz has returned from a week hiatus feeling rested, rejuvenated and ready to roll. Having watched enough basketball this weekend to impress even the Dali Lama, who’s a major college hoops fan, I am ready to report on one of California’s most beautiful treasures. No, not the Staples Center in LA where Kobe Bryant performs his nightly magic, but I’m thinking about Blue Heaven, the ultimate Lake Show in the Sierras.

Yes, I’m talking about Lake Tahoe, a lovely four-hour journey east from Santa Cruz, which has 72 miles of shoreline, with two-thirds in California, one third in Nevada. It is approximately 22 miles at its longest point and 12 miles at its widest. It is fed by 63 streams, two hot springs and one babbling brook. The word Tahoe is thought to be derived from the Indian Washo word Da’ ow, which means “water in high place.” And here’s a little known fact. A second definition of da’ ow was later discovered to mean ‘if you build ski lifts they will come.’

The first recorded discovery of Lake Tahoe by white explorers not using sunblock was on February 14, 1844, when Charles Fremont and Charles Preuss spotted the lake from atop Red Lake Peak. Fremont named it “Mountain Lake” and then called it L. Bonpland in honor of a French botanist. Why, I don’t know. It was later named Lake Bigler after California’s third governor and renamed Tahoe by Chevrolet’s marketing department in 1945.

The Lake Tahoe Basin was formed by faulting, which is when fractures in the earth’s crust allows blocks of land to rise and sink over a period of several million years. Glaciation played a key role by providing some of the most dramatic shoreline features. A fault on the eastern margin created the “Johnny” Carson Range, while the Sierra Nevada rose out of the shallow sea on the western side. The movement of rock and earth created the high peaks of the Tahoe Basin, along with Lake Tahoe. The movements of Earth, Wind and Fire created “September,” “Sing A Song” and “Boogie Wonderland.”

Now here are some fun facts about the bluest lagoon this side of Brooke Shields. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest lake behind Ricki in North America. On July 4, 1875, two men discovered the deepest point in the lake to be 1,645 feet by lowering a leaded champagne bottle on a fishing line from the side of their boat. Following the invention of sonar this was later documented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the good folks from Dom Perignon. If Lake Tahoe were completely drained (like I feel after writing these blogs,) it would take 700 years and three hours to refill. Furthermore, if Lake Tahoe were emptied, it would submerge a flat area the size of California under 14.5″ of water. There would be enough water to supply everyone in the United States except for Oprah and the Olson twins with 50 gallons of water per day for five years. And believe it or not, the amount of water that evaporates from the surface of Lake Tahoe every year could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for 5 years, which just freaks the Pelligrino people out.

Unlike most heavenly bodies of water, Lake Tahoe does not eventually flow into the ocean. The Truckee River is its only outlet, which flows east into Reno and into Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Just a few years back, the lake was so clear that objects like car keys, wedding rings and Dove Bars could be seen up to depths of 120 feet. As the lovely Cathy Lee Crosby used so say, “That’s Incredible.” One reason the lake is so clear is that 40% of the precipitation falling into the Lake Tahoe basin lands directly on the lake, with the other 60% landing directly on the South shore casinos. Unlike myself, Lake Tahoe is going through a natural aging process, filling up with sediment like any other lake. Additional amounts are washing into the lake at an alarming rate as slopes are cleared for construction and roads are salted and sanded heavily so people can drive their gas guzzlers faster in the winter. Each of these sediment particles carries nutrients which stimulate algae growth that will eventually cloud the famous clarity of the lake. So when you drive to Tahoe, it’s always a sedimental journey.

Studies have also shown that the lake has warmed up due to global warming. Though still one of the cleanest, clearest lakes in the world, Lake Tahoe has been gradually losing cleanliness and clarity primarily due to the impact of man, and I’m not talking about Al Gore. We need to pay attention to this Lake in the Sky because much like “Dancing With the Stars,” it is a national treasure and except for my daughter’s eyes you just don’t see blue like that every day. As Geoffrey Schlader, director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center at UC Davis says, changes in the lake could turn Tahoe’s fabled cobalt-blue water to a murky green in about a decade. “A permanently stratified Lake Tahoe becomes just like any other lake or pond. It is no longer the unique, effervescent jewel, the finest example of nature’s grandeur.” Well said, Geoffrey. And finally, much like this blogger, due to its depth and its continual motion, Lake Tahoe never freezes. And why rust never sleeps.

So that’s a piece of my Tahoe vacation. It was a little cooler in the higher elevation as I was forced to wear my warmer shorts. There’s more high country action on the way so keep your boots on. As a preview for all you WAC fans, the last shot of that wild-looking cloud is from Mount Rose in Reno. I’d like to welcome some new people to the site and tell them that coming up on Wednesday is a sunset that you’ll want to tell your family, friends, and therapists about. It’s a winner, much like number one seeds UCLA, North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas were this weekend. So enjoy the sky, Final Four fans and we’ll catch you for some March magic on Wednesday. Aloha.

March 21, 2008

My Name’s William, But My Friends Call Me Billion

Filed under: natural bridges clouds waves reflection — geoff @ 1:54 am

Good morning and welcome to our first showing of Spring 2008. In honor of the spring equinox, the NCAA basketball tournament and Purim, let’s fall back to the evening of February 27 at Natural Bridges State Beach. The first five shots were taken from the sand with a little pink thrown into the mix to make this night James blog Worthy. The final shot is a sneak preview of Tuesday night’s spectacular Pacific showing which is for all the people who are tuning into Sunrise Santa Cruz for the first time.

My delivery nurse once told me, rich or poor, it’s nice to have money. So today, we’re going to talk huge money as Forbes Magazine recently released its annual ranking of the world’s billionaires and sadly, I am not on the list. Yes, it was Glenn Close, but in the words of Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much, chief.” Strong equity markets combined with rising real estate and commodity prices pushed up fortunes from Madrid to Malibu, from Calcutta to Capitola and Dubai to Davenport. Forbes pinned down a record 946 billionaires. There were 178 newcomers, including 19 Russians, 13 Chinese, 10 Spaniards, as well as first time billionaires from Cyprus, Oman, Romania, Serbia and the Banana Republic. There are 101 Californians, more than any other state including catatonic, confused and my personal favorite, mental.

Ingenuity, not industry, is the common characteristic as these folks made money in everything from media and real estate to coffee, dumplings, ethanol and vanilla brownies. Two-thirds of last year’s billionaires are richer, 2% are shorter, and 4% lost weight. Only 17 % are poorer, including 32 who who fell below the billion-dollar mark. The billionaires combined net worth climbed by $900 billion to $3.5 trillion, which coincidentally is what the war in Iraq is going to cost us, give or take a few Halliburtons.

The average billionaire is 62 years old, two years younger than in 2005. This year’s new billionaires are seven years younger than that. Of list member’s fortunes, 60% made theirs from scratch. Unlike yours truly, who just continues to scratch the eternal itch of life.

Microsoft’s Billy Gates, the world’s richest man for 13 years and his pal Warren “Margaritaville” Buffet, who holds the number two spot despite enormous charitable contributions, are quickly losing ground to Mexico’s super burrito, Carlos Slim Helu. Helu’s net worth is up an astonishing $19 billion this year, the single most one-year gain in a decade and he is now $7 billion shy of Gates and $3 billion less the Buffet. In Europe, Russia’s mostly young, self-made gangsters and tycoons are catching up to Germany’s often-aging heirs and heiresses. Speaking of which, I’ve never been afraid to let my heir down in public. Russia now has 53 billionaires, two shy of Germany’s total. After a 20 year reign, Japan is no longer Asia’s top spot for billionaires: India has 36. Look at that. We’re even outsourcing billionaires.

India’s rich are marching to the top of the rankings with the brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani, who split their family conglomerate in 2005, joining Lakshmi Mittal, who heads the world’s biggest steel company, Arcelor Mittal, among the world’s 20 wealthiest. India now has three in the upper echelons, second only to the U.S. Growing up, the other thing I knew about India was what I learned from the play, “Oh, Calcutta.” What choreography!

Closer to home, the Bay Area’s biggest billionaire is Oracle Founder Larry Ellison, worth an estimated $25 billion, followed by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, worth $18.7 and $18.6 billion. The Bay Area is also home to the youngest billionaire on the list, 23-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who logs in at No. 785 with $1.5 billion. The only Bay Area woman on the billionaires list is outgoing eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who is ranked No. 897 with $1.3 billion. Whitman is one of 99 women on the list, including the richest person in China, 26-year-old Yang Huiyan, who inherited $7.4 billion from her real estate father. That is a lot of egg rolls. The richest woman in the world is France’s Liliane Bettencourt, daughter of the founder of L’Oreal, who ranks 17th with an estimated $22.9 billion. You know, I’ve always had an affinity for the French. Not really, I just had the urge to surrender. You know, with spring in the air.

But even in such a prosperous year, 44 people dropped off the list for various reasons. All the numbers are based on a snapshot of balance sheets taken on February 9, the day Forbes locked in stock prices and exchange rates. But between February 9 and March 2 the world’s stock market bell by 3.7%. Many fortunes suffered severe damages, like the Spaniard Enrique Banuelos, who fortune fell 30% in three days. Big private real estate holders didn’t feel a blip, along with barbers, baseball scouts and personal trainers. The United States remained No. 1 in production of billionaires with 469 of them. I say, God bless America. Land that I love. Stand beside her…All off a sudden it’s a musical. Oklahoma.

That’s it for a Friday. Sunrise Santa Cruz will be taking a week off for a spring fling of meditation, self-examination and NBA introspection but shall return on Monday, March 31. And I guarantee you it will be a spectacular week-you can take that to the fog bank. There were whales, dolphins and enough otters to field a badminton team this morning on West Cliff Drive. Lucky we live Monterey Bay. So enjoy the sky, the college basketball March madness and most importantly, enjoy each day for what it is. Once again, greetings to new readers of this photo blog. I’m glad you’re along for the wild ride. Catch you in ten days. Aloha.

March 19, 2008

It’s Nature’s Way Of Telling You Something’s Wrong

Filed under: orchids colors — geoff @ 12:55 am

Good morning and welcome to orchid Wednesday. I love these flowers-they are so exotic and colorful and never ask for anything in return besides a little water and some muskrat love. I took a trip to the Farmer’s Market last Saturday where I came upon these first three lovely ladies. The second three photos are some orchids that have been sitting on my TV for the last few weeks, keeping me company as I watch NBA basketball and bang out these words of wisdom. These orchids bloom for months-they are a gift that just keeps on giving. I’m not an orchaholic but I do admit to needing to buy these beauties on a somewhat regular basis. But I can quit any time I want to. Really, I can.

So let’s get to a couple of stories that captured my somewhat divided attention this past week. It’s so easy to vote here in the United States. All we have to do is drive to our local precinct, mark our ballot, collect an “I voted” sticker and we’ve done our civic duty. Not so easy in Sri Lanka. Residents of one Sri Lanka village were prevented from casting their first vote in 14 years not by Tamil Tiger rebels, but by a herd of wild elephants that blocked the road to the polling booths. Sri Lankan security forces used loudspeakers, sirens and church mice to scare away the elephants in Wellaveli, eventually allowing 51 percent of registered voters in this eastern Sri Lankan district to cast their ballots. The other 49 percent decided to buy some peanuts and take in the show. There was no word on what might have drawn the pachyderms to the area and if the elephants know they’re not saying. But the elephants who scattered have vowed to remember this day, because as we know, an elephant never forgets.

Moving across the open water, wildlife officials in New Zealand say they are amazed at what may be the first documented case of a dolphin rescuing stranded whales and guiding them back to open water. That is, of course, if you don’t count an episode of “Flipper” from season number two when he rescued a killer whale that got caught in a water spout. Or was that the eensy weensy spider? Bottlenose dolphin Moko has regularly played with swimmers, boogie boarded and frolicked in the surf at Mahia Beach since she took up residence there nearly a year ago. Whale rescuers say they were about to give up trying to get two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and a calf, back out to sea when Moko rushed in and began to “communicate” with the two other marine mammals.

Conservation officer Malcolm Smith said he could hear the whales and the dolphin making noises, apparently to one another, before Moko escorted the whales through a narrow channel leading to the open seas. “I was not aware that dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales, but something happened that allowed Moko to guide those two whales to safety,” Smith told reporters. Wow. When asked about this amazing turn of events, Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant said he was just glad there was no “communication breakdown” while lead guitarist Jimmy Page said the whole episode left him “dazed and confused.”

One word on the disgraced Eliot Spitzer. What he did was wrong and incredibly stupid and he and his family are paying the price. His wife looked totally devastated as she stood next to him at the podium last week and I’m sure his three teenage daughters must feel like they’ve been hit with a sledgehammer over the news that Daddy frolics with prostitutes when he’s away on business. So Elliot Mess is the new poster boy for hypocrisy but that’s nothing new for politicians. He’s not the first to screw up publicly and he won’t be the last. And the Feds could bring him up on charges of bringing that woman across state lines.

But here’s what gets me. Bush and Cheney have sent hundreds of thousands of men and women across ocean lines to Iraq to either be killed, wounded or just separated from their families for prolonged times. And for what reason? I just saw Cheney on the news two nights ago telling everyone that we need to stay in Iraq because this would not be a good time to walk away and that things are so much better than they were ten months ago. It’s been five years, Dickie boy. Shock and awe. Bottom line, these guys are throwing trillions of dollars in a war that we never should have gotten into and they’re just going to walk out of office scot free. Eight U.S. soldiers died in Iraq the day this story broke. Now here’s Spitzer, because he couldn’t keep it in his pants being publicly shamed and his family left reeling. Whose crime is worse? Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right.

Caught a beautiful late winter sunset over the Pacific tonight. It was a real stunner and we’ll post it up, just like I post up my son in the driveway when we battle one-on-one in hoops. He’s now as tall as I am and the days of my intimidating him are over. The big difference is that his basketball future is ahead of him while I’ve got a great future behind me. So enjoy the orchids, our solid economy, rising gas prices and we’ll catch you on Friday. Later.

March 16, 2008

Here Comes The Judge

Good morning and welcome to another photo adventure from Sunrise Santa Cruz. Saturday was a wild and crazy weather day here on the central coast as we had rainbows in the early morning, hail in the late morning and an unusual sky at dusk. I took the first photo around 8 am at Natural Bridges as a rainbow was fading over the ocean while another was popping up in the northern sky. I shot it reflecting over the water at Antonelli’s Pond. March has a long history of great rainbows here in Santa Cruz. The third shot was taken from the wharf in the early afternoon as the rain clouds moved in and out. It was opening day of the new season at the Boardwalk and the visitors got quite a show. The sky changed more often this day than Bush has reasons for our still occupying Iraq.

On a day of unusual weather I always look to see what the sky looks like at sunset because something interesting is bound to happen. When I got down to Steamer Lane there were these incredible clouds lined up to the east over the wharf and ocean. When they changed color Monterey Bay just lit up with a orange and pinkish hue. I hadn’t seen those kind of colors since the flashing stage lights at Woodstock when Sly and the Family Stone sang their classic “I Want To Take You Higher.”

So here’s my favorite story from last week. A 8-year-old boy with dreams of becoming a judge has passed a law school entrance exam, shocking Brazil’s legal profession and prompting a federal investigation. The Universidade Paulista, a private university, issued a statement acknowledging that Jaoa Victor Portellinha de Oliveira had passed the entrance exam and that they initially enrolled him. But he was turned away from classes when he showed up with his father carrying a SpongeBob lunch box.

The school said the fifth-grader has to first graduate from high school, rebel against his parents and lose all of his baby teeth before he can enter the university. The university said one of its employees erred in accepting Joao Victor’s enrollment and said it will return his fees to the family along with a new baseball glove, Red Sox hat and an order of garlic fries. Hey, it’s not really anyone’s fault-blame it on Rio.

The boy’s mother, Maristela, told the UOL news website “I think they should have been more considerate. At least they should have allowed him to visit the college’s facilities. And they should have thrown in a couple of bats.” The Brazilian Bar Association said the boy’s achievement should be a warning about the low standards of some of the nation’s law schools. Education Minister Fernando Haddad expressed concern and ordered an immediate investigation, cheeseburger and a small coke.

Jaoa Victor is two grade levels ahead of normal for his age but his mother says he’s not a cloistered genius. “He is a regular boy. He is very dedicated, likes to read and study and split atoms, but he has fun and makes friends and does their taxes.” Jaoa says, “My dream is to be a federal judge. So I decided to take the test and see how I would do. It was easy. I studied a week before the test.”

In Brazil, each university administers its own test, and the exams from the private institutions are usually considered to be easier than those of the public universities, which are free and attract more candidates. As for Jaoa, he’s says he’s over the disappointment and just wants to go back to being a regular 8-year-old kid. So he’s going to take a couple of weeks off before spending a few days boning up for the medical school entrance exam. You know, just to stay sharp.

That’s the Monday experience. Join us for some color on orchid Wednesday. And congrats to the Houston Rockets. They beat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers yesterday for the 22nd win in a row. The NBA, where amazing salaries happen. See ya.

March 12, 2008

Old MacDonald Had A Pharmaceutical

Filed under: antonelli's pond tree flowers delaware avenue — geoff @ 3:17 pm

Good morning and good Friday. I thought we would end the week with a little Larry Bird action so let’s head over to Antonelli’s Pond. I was cruising by in the early afternoon when I noticed this magnificent specimen in the tree. Then I saw the hawk. He was kind enough to let me shoot him from all different angles. Love those talons wrapped around the branch in the third shot-this is one talonted, regal bird. To me, this is the true Tony Hawk experience. And in my salute to baseball’s spring training, let me say that a hawk is as good as a hit.

I shot this great blue heron about a quarter mile away at an open field on Delaware Avenue. I haven’t seen a neck like that since I had that dream about Ichabod Crane. This fascinating looking bird has a wing span greater than Orlando’s Dwight Howard. I wish I had done a better job framing these in-flight shots. Then again, I also wish every day was Saturday.

Speaking of wishes, here’s a story that I perhaps wish I hadn’t read. An Associated Press investigation shows that a vast array of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, auntie mame, mood stabilizers and sex hormones have been found in drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. I believe the Doobie Brothers first brought this issue to light in their 1975 singles hit “Black Water.”

The presence of so many prescription drugs and over the counter medications like ibuprofen in our drinking water is heightening worries of the long-term consequences to human health. You mean, we might want to be a tad concerned about consuming about a small amount of these drugs over, let’s say a half century? All of sudden, Mountain Dew looks like a health drink. Quickly, somebody get Dr. Pepper on the phone.

In the course of the five-month-inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, KY, basically from sea to shining sea. So how do the drugs get in the water? People take pills. The bodies absorb some of the medication but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. Now I am starting to get pissed off. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers, emerson, lakes and palmer. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most of the treatments do not remove all the drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure of random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies, which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public, have found alarming effects on human cells, wildlife and the summer stock theatre goers. In the words of Dr. David Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of New York at Albany, “We know we are being exposed to other people’s drugs through our drinking water, and that can’t be good.” And I always thought reality was for people who couldn’t handle drugs.

Here are some of the highlights of the investigation. Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered a new crack in the Liberty Bell and 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness, heart problems and the heebie jeebies. Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California. Further investigation showed that most of this was a result of waste water from actors, actresses and TV agents. A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco’s drinking water. Not surprisingly, it was discovered in the notorious Mitchell Brothers theatre on O’Farrell Street.

In the U.S., the problem isn’t confined to surface water. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, the source of 40 percent of the nation’s water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills, animals feed lots and Foot Locker stores found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics, dark chocolate and other drugs.

Perhaps it’s because Americans have been taking drugs and flushing them unmetabolized or unused in growing amounts. Over the past five years the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while non-prescription drug purchases held steady at 3.3 billion. The amount of use of illegal drugs was not available at this time but remember, in the words of our president, the war is not affecting the economy. Had to throw in a Bush shot.

Some drugs including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. God bless those drug makers. I salute their dream of having everyone living in harmony on statin island. Research shows that pharmaceuticals are also damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe. Male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Think about that the next time you see a mackerel in a tube top. The documented health problems in wildlife is disconcerting to researchers, scientists and the housewives of Orange County .

So, you’re probably thinking, so what’s the good news? Well, waking up feeling healthy, the western conference of the NBA and bottled water. For now, I’m just going to down a couple of aspirin that will hopefully stabilize my mood so I can convulse in laughter while watching the comedy classic “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Enjoy the birds, have a tremendous sports weekend and make sure you stay out of the drinking water for at least a half hour after eating.

March 9, 2008

We’re Still Having Fun And You’re Spill The One

Sunrise Santa Cruz is back. The server was down almost all day Monday so I couldn’t post any pictures or play any tennis. I wanted to start off the week with something that would please the eyes and thighs so we’re heading down to Lighthouse Point on the morning of February 10. The colors in the clouds, the reflection on the sand, the sparkle on the water, the twinkle in my eye-this sunrise sonata had it all.

So let’s get to today’s top news item. Bubbling crude. Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea. On the night of March 23, 1989, the tanker the Exxon Valdez left the TransAtlantic pipeline terminal in Valdez, Alaska carrying more than 543 million gallons of crude oil bound for Long Beach, CA. It seemed like a routine run. Ships had safely transited through this area more than 8,700 times in the 12 years since oil began flowing through the pipeline.

But this evening, the 986 foot Exxon Valdez encountered icebergs in the shipping lanes. Captain Joseph Hazelwood, who later admitted to having a few drinks and a couple of shrimp cocktails that day, ordered a helmsman to go around the icebergs. After leaving instructions on when to steer the ship back into the shipping lanes, Hazelwood retired to his quarters to play Shoots and Ladders. Big mistake. The helmsman failed to make the turn back into the shipping lanes and ran aground on Bligh Reef, rupturing 8 of its 11 cargo tanks and spilling 11 millions gallons of crude oil into pristine Prince William Sound, causing the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Today, the Exxon Valdez disaster doesn’t even rank among the top 50 largest oil spills in the world although it still ranks as a great scrabble score. But it may have caused the most environmental damage than any other spill.

The initial cleanup took three years at the cost of over 2.1 billion. On September 16, 1994, a jury in federal court returned a $5 billion punitive damages against Exxon. An federal appeals court later cut the punitive damages in half. Exxon has appealed and according to the Anchorage Daily News in 1998, “Apparently, delay pays. Exxon is earning about $90,000 an hour, about 2 million a day or nearly 800 million a year on the same 5 billion as long as the case drags on and the money stays in its coffers. Exxon will have earned enough interest alone to pay the 5 billion plus the accrued interest.” As Dana “Church Lady” Carvey used to say, “Well, isn’t that special.”

Let’s fast forward to today. Last Wednesday the Supreme Court (yes, the same one that handed Bush the election over Gore)seemed inclined to reduce the 2.5 billion award of punitive damages to the victims of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Several justices indicated that they thought the amount approved by the federal appeal court was too high but found it fascinating that any company would have two x’s in it’s name. Overall, Exxon has paid 3.4 billion in fines, penalties, claims, expenses, cleanup costs and party favors from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Stanford Law Professor Jeffrey Fisher said the nearly 33,000 commercial fisherman, Native Americans, local governments, landowners, businesses and grizzly bears have each received about $15,000 for “having their lives destroyed.” Fisher says that nothing on prior Supreme Court decisions should cause the justices to overturn the 2.5 billion award, which is about $75,000 for each plaintiff. A jury had earlier awarded $287 million to compensate for economic losses, which has been paid.

Exxon argues that the long standing maritime law and the Clean Water Act should bar any punitive damages, which are intended to punish behavior and deter a repeat. The company says it should not be held accountable for Hazelwood’s reckless behavior and that anybody who commands a ship carrying 543 million gallons of oil should be allowed to have a few drinks. The plaintiffs say the judgement, which represents 3 weeks of Exxon’s 2006 profit, is rational and proportionate. It takes in account of Exxon allowing Hazelwood to command the ship, despite knowing he had an ongoing drinking problem and cheated at solitaire, the plaintiffs contend.

Final word comes from Governor Sarah Palin, who says the punitive damage should be upheld as a deterrent to future environmental violations by companies operating in Alaska. “Deterrence is the optimum word. We don’t want this to ever happen again.” She says the Exxon strategy of fighting the case has had a “corrosive effect” on Alaskans. She pointed out that when the original award was handed down 14 years ago, it represented a year’s profit. Today, the oil giant, which made $40.6 billion last year, earns $5 billion every few weeks. “It has been justice delayed. We pray that it’s not justice denied.” The $2.5 billion award is now worth an estimated 4.8 billion today because of the interest that has accrued since the case was first decided. The court is expected to issue it’s ruling this spring, right after the hear arguments as to what side of his buttocks Roger Clemens supposedly had steroids shot into.

One more note on this subject. The spill opened the eyes of Congress to the potential disasters that aggressive oil and gas development policies can result in. Now 18 years later, the Bush administration’s drive for oil and gas development is reversing policies that were put into place after the spill. Give George W. credit, as the worst environmental president in our history he’s determined make sure no future leader can come close to his arrogance and incompetence. He is actually the biggest oil spill in our history.

So that’s our story about a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed. But then one day he was searching for some food and…ah, you know the rest. God, I miss Ellie Mae. For those of you who haven’t picked up on it quite yet, these are all “Beverly Hillbillies” references. And no, I don’t think my stream of conciousness has been affected by my TV watching. It’s just something I do when I can squeeze in a few moments to myself, maybe 40 hours a week. Believe me, it’s not easy and I would not recommend trying this at home. So enjoy the sky and think about the oil. One last thing. When I hear “pipeline”, I’m thinking the North Shore and Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay, not the frozen tundra of Alaska. I prefer the trade winds blowing across the South Pacific, not the Bering Sea. I’m fickle that way. Aloha.

March 6, 2008

Penny Pasta For Your Thoughts?

Good morning and welcome to our Friday edition of “Where’s the Color?” I wanted to finish the week as spectacular as a Monta Ellis reverse move on the baseline. The first photo is a lone gull at sunrise over Monterey Bay before we move on to a lone gull at sunset on the hills above Santa Cruz. We then head down to Palm Desert for a little twilight action before returning for the Pacific finishes. Shot # 4 is a November sunset at Natural Bridges with the reflection on the pond created by a huge early winter swell.

The final two photos are from January’s finest sunsets-pixel for pixel, my favorites so far this year. All these photos are previously unsent-my vault of photos just keeps growing larger and larger, like the millions and millions Hillary and Barack are raising and spending on their presidential campaigns. Obama just broke all records in February by collecting $55 million as compared to Hillary’s $35 million. He shattered the record of $36 million that he set in January. Mrs. Clinton says she’s raised $4 million online since the polls closed on Tuesday. I’m no Kreskin, but I’m guessing we’ll be looking at a new record in March. Now I realize we’re talking apples and oranges (okay, maybe tangerines) but could money like this possibly be put to better use, say, rather than outspending your opponent, helping homeowners get out from under this mortgage crisis before they face foreclosure? So maybe we can hold off the recession a little bit longer and enjoy the upcoming NBA playoffs?

Although it’s normally against my nature and brings on rashes and hot flashes, I’m going to get world serious for a moment. Read this closely for this next item is a first. Since they started keeping records in this country, the amount of debt, the money that homeowners owe on their homes now exceeds the equity of American homes. As we know, the economy is the number one issue in this election year. We just set a record for the number of foreclosures, meaning people who could not make their payments are walking away from their homes. We’re talking families and kids. This is not the American dream, this is a monetary nightmare brought on by greedy mortgage brokers and banks that is doing a horrific number on the American economy. Just look at the stock market. But at least the writer’s strike is over.

It all comes down to money. So do you have a penny in your pocket? Well, you might want to hang on to it because Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson thinks it would make sense to get rid of our cute, little copper friend stating, “The penny is worth less than any other currency.” Well, with that statement I now see why people call him Mr. Secretary. But fortunately for Penny Lane lovers, Paulson says that his idea to eliminate the 1-cent coin is not “politically doable” and is not something he plans to tackle or touch in the final year of the Bush administration.

The administration is pushing an effort that will give the government the authority to change the heavy metal content of all the nation’s coins as a way to save money. Now, let me Iraq my brain for a moment and think, what other way could we save, let’s say, $3,913 a second. That proposal, introduced in Congress last year, was prompted by the sharp jump in the price of copper and other metals in recent years. The measure has not yet been enacted into law, even thought the chocolate chip mint officials estimate it could save significant amounts of money. Hmm, once again, how else could we save a little dinero?

“Metal prices have been fluctuating so wildly in recent years that the Treasury and the U.S. Mint need the flexibility to react quickly, to change the materials used in the nation’s coinage,” says Mint Director Ed Moy. The mint produces 7 billion to 8 billion pennies annually and officials say if they were allowed to alter the metal content in just the penny and the nickel, it could save taxpayers up to $100 million. Since we’re talking about trying to save a few bucks, the next two years of our occupation of Iraq will cost $600 billion. That would be my son’s allowance for the next 800 quadrillion years, give or take a couple of large Jamba Juices. And these numbers are from Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz who just co-wrote a new book titled, “The Three Trillion Dollar War, The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.”

Getting back to our Bush appointee, Secretary Paulson says he carries very little cash in his pockets but does carry a Pez dispenser and few dollar bills to sign for people who ask for his autograph. The signatures of the Treasury secretary and the U.S. treasurer are carried on not just the dollar bill but on all U.S. currency. Coincidentally, I also carry a few bills around with me but that’s just a force of habit after years of working as a toll taker. But as you can imagine, after years of working the booth, it eventually took its toll.

That’s our Friday finale. Coming up on Monday we’ll check out some Monterey Bay morning magnificence. We’ll also take a look at some lighter news stories like global warming, the genocide in Darfur and whatever happened to the Zucker (“Airplane”) brothers. So enjoy the colors, have a tremendous sports weekend and in the words of the great Jimi Hendrix from his epic Purple Haze, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Shalom.

March 4, 2008

I’d Like You To Meet Mister And Mississippi

Filed under: west cliff drive waves storm white water arch — geoff @ 11:32 pm

As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, today we are going to look at the waves that battered the coast during our last storm surge . The first shot shows you West Cliff Drive on a relatively calm day. Shot number two zeroes in on the same spot with the waves smashing against shoreline, creating mountains of water that were exploding up onto West Cliff and providing April showers in February. While I was shooting the fifth photo a rogue wave made an unexpected appearance about 10 yards from me and just soaked the bike path. It hit with such ferocity that if that wave had nailed me I would now be sketching photos of the sunrise-it hit the coast with more force than a Barack crowd at an Oprah book signing.

The last shot again shows the same location on the coast on a somewhat calmer and more collected day. There’s always a feeling of excitement when it’s storming on the cliff. I never tire of the rushing white water, the white gulls floating and circling in the wind or any Barry White love song. Speaking of which, the waves and high surf exploding off the coast that day along with the sound and the action and the fury reminded me of my wedding night. I guess that’s why my new bride kept yelling “Riptide.” Ah, those special memories.

As you can tell, I am very much into the environment. Well, that and making sure my TiVo is recording “Hannah Montana” every night. A decade ago, a team of governmental experts and environmental researchers banded together to tackle an alarming and growing problem in the Gulf of Mexico. No, not the endless drinking and wild partying on houseboats during spring break. We’re talking about a lifeless, oxygen-depleted band of ocean water stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Texas border that had grown to more than 6,000 square miles that summer, larger than the state of Connecticut, Heidi Fleiss’ client list and Bill O’Reilly’s ego.

Four years later, their research on the gulf’s “dead zone” led to an agreement among nine states, numerous federal agencies, two American Indian tribes and a coed lacrosse team to significantly reduce the size by 2015. Solving the problem is a vast undertaking. Fertilizer runoff and waste from farms and towns in the nation’s heartland pour billions of pounds of excess nutrients into the Mississippi and eventually the gulf, sparking unnatural algae blooms that choke off the oxygen supply vital for army, navy and marine life.

Almost halfway to the 2015 goal, the dead zone (or you can just call it the White House) is still growing, reaching nearly 8,000 square miles this year, one of the largest ever recorded. Researchers say the dead zone problem will continue into the future, at the peril of the gulf’s ecosystem. According to Don Scavia, a professor of natural resources and environment at the University of Michigan who led one of the first federal studies of the dead zone in 2000, “We’re starting to find impacts in the shrimp catch. We’re at the point where it may be hard to recover because the ecosystem has changed so much..” Now where is Forrest Gump when we need him? This could very well lead to a jumbalaya crisis of unknown proportions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides incentives like free tickets to ballgames to encourage farmers to retire farmland to prevent erosion and restore wetlands that could soak up fertilizer runoff and install buffers between the fields and streams. The EPA encourages states to set limits on the nutrients released into their waterways. But the majority of these programs are voluntary, much like someone (Kobe Bryant) buying their wife a $4 million diamond ring after they’ve screwed up nationally. “The lag times are tremendous. It may be four, five or six years before a farmer sees a reduction in nitrogen,” says Otto Doering, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. This is something they have to do on faith and it’s tough to go on faith when faith costs you something.” I believed it’s called Blind Faith. Or maybe it was Moby Grape. Or perhaps Hot Tuna.

The USDA point to nearly 4 millions acres of farmland taken out of production for wetlands or buffer zones between 2000 and 2005 and 18.3 million acres under nutrient management plans. But with corn prices reaching record highs to feed the nation’s hunger for ethanol production, more than 15 million new acres of farmland were devoted to corn last year compared to 2006. This was second only to the 20 million new acres of porn that was planted in the San Fernando Valley last year.

Some researchers have criticized a lack of coordination among the states, a lack of leadership by the EPA and a lack of qualified suitors as to why Condy Rice is still single. A recent National Research Council reports calls on the EPA to be much more vigilant in enforcing nutrient pollution and crayfish poaching, calling the Mississippi River system an orphan in need of guidance. The plan back in 2001 was to reduce the average size of the dead zone to 1,930 square miles by 2015. But what they are now saying that it may not be possible to achieve this goal by 2015. However, they are making progress so let’s just be grateful for the dead zone.

That’s our show for a Wednesday. Coming up on Friday we’ll once again bring you an assortment of shots that even an NBA superstar like LeBron James would have trouble coming up with. And you’ve seen how he brings it at crunch time. So enjoy the day, enjoy the spray and we’ll catch with some color on Friday. Mahalo.

March 2, 2008

Old King Coal Was A Merry Old Soul

Good morning and welcome to Monterey Bay’s home of what my brother Brad refers to as a hybrid of a photo blog. Last Saturday a big storm paid a conjugal visit to the central coast. It didn’t pack the wallop forecasters had predicted and but it still made for a somewhat epic day on the coast. We’ll take a look at the wave action on Wednesday but today we’ll scope out the sunrise before the storm.

When I woke up that morning and looked out the window and saw the ways the clouds were lining up I jumped out of my Buzz Lightyear pajamas and raced out of the house faster than Roger Clemens hightailing it from Congress. When I got down to West Cliff the sky had a beautiful glow and I knew I was going to be in for something special. Then the clouds took over and performed their magic and the Monterey Bay sky was a picture of puffy perfection. The final shot is looking west as the sun was starting to peek up in the east. But then the real drama began. Within minutes, the sun disappeared into clouds and western sky turned dead gray. It had changed faster than you could say, “what recession?” There was high drama that morning at the point and it was as spectacular as Kobe Bryant’s 52 point outburst yesterday in Laker’s overtime win over the Mavericks.

The sun is the big kahuna when it comes to natural energy. What we don’t hear a lot about in the west is coal, a slightly dirtier energy source. Well, the country’s fourth-largest coal producer, Massey Energy Company, will pay a $20 million fine as part of a settlement with the government over allegations that it routinely polluted hundreds of streams and waterways in West Virginia and Kentucky with sediment-filled wastewater and coal slurry. Well, there goes the fly fishing trip I had planned over spring break in Appalachia.

The agreement settled a complaint filed by the Environmental Protection Agency last May complaining that the company violated the federal Clean Water Act on at least 4,500 occasions between January 2000 and the end of 2006 by discharging mining waste and sediment-including hazardous metals into hundreds of streams and waterways and failing to control spills of coal slurry during its mining. Some of the waterway discharges were more than 10 times the amount allowed by the state permits. Besides those tiny indiscretions, they were a perfect neighbor. And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

According to the EPA, the maximum penalties facing the company for thousands of violations and days when permits were exceeded could have been as high as $2.4 billion. The $20 million civil penalty is the largest ever for discharge permit violations under the Clean Water Act. According to the EPA assistant administrator for enforcement Granta Nakayama, “This is a landmark settlement for the environment and raises the bar for the mining industry.” Coincidentally, when the announcement of the fine was made, top executives from Massey could be seen drowning their sorrows at that same bar without a lifeguard in sight. They got off easier than Mel Gibson at a UJA fundraiser.

As part of the agreement, Massey will be establishing new pollution prevention measures that are expected to keep an estimated 380 million pounds of sediment and other pollutants from the water of the three states (including Virginia) that the company mines out of. I’m getting a little sedimental just reading this. Massey had been routinely releasing metals (gold, silver and lebronze), sediments and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers at amounts 40 percent or more than allowed by state permits. They also failed to control spills of coal slurry which contained sediment and metals, which then clogged streams and harmed fish habitat. A spokesman for the fish says it will be a coal day in hell before they forgive the company.

Massey, which posted a $89 million profit on revenue of nearly $2.7 billion for the first nine months of 2007, is the largest coal producer in Appalachia, operating 19 mining complexes in southern Virginia, southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. The company issued a statement acknowledging their wrongdoing and vowed in the future to only pollute the streams at only 20% more than is allowed by state permits. Now that’s progress.

So that’s it for a little taste of March madness. On Wednesday we’ll check out the surf that slammed into the coast last weekend. Yesterday (March 2) was the anniversary of the Wilt Chamberlain’s monster night back in 1962 in Hershey, PA when he scored an NBA record 100 points against the New York Knicks. But as some of us know, Wilt the Stilt later admitted that he also did a lot of scoring (20,000) off the court. I guess that’s why they called him “The Big Dipper.” Hey, I just report the facts. So welcome to March, enjoy the sunrise and we’ll catch you for Big Wave Wednesday. Aloha.

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