April 27, 2008

I Could Have Had A VA

Good morning and welcome to our Monday edition of “What’s Right and Left of the World.” I often find myself sitting at the crossroads, wondering what subject to broach. Ideally, it would be something interesting or unusual that I can add my sophisticated sense of humor to. Some of the blogs recently have dealt with heavy news (pollution, hunger, wild monkeys) rather than my escapades at the beach while tracking a Charlotte bobcat. Today we’re going to take the more serious and Roebuck route because this next story is a shocker.

Here’s the double scoop. More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide each week while the government stalls in granting returning troops the mental health treatment and benefits to which they are entitled to. This is according to a veterans advocate who testified before a federal judge last week in San Francisco.

The rights of hundreds of thousands of veterans are being violated by the Department of Veteran Affairs, “an agency that is in denial” and by a government health care system and appeals process for patients that is “broken down,” according to Gordon Erspamer, lawyer for two veterans advocacy groups, who made these remarks in an opening statement at the trial of a nationwide lawsuit. So now rather than just extending our soldiers tours of duty and prolonging the families pain, we’re screwing around with their heads when they return home.

Erspamer says veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 per day, a number acknowledged by the VA in a December 15 e-mail. The agency’s backlog of disability claims now exceeds 650,000, an increase of 200,000 since the Iraq war started in 2003. I guess the only good news is that there have been no disability claims filed yet from the next war in Iran.

Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley countered that the VA runs a “world class health care system.” He said the changes the plaintiffs seek in their lawsuit, better and faster mental health care and more rights for appealing denials of benefits are beyond the judge’s authority. I don’t know that much about this subject, but let’s just say my entire body is wrapped up in red tape as I write this.

The judge in this case, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, earlier ruled that if the advocates can prove their claim, they would show that “thousands of veterans are suffering grievous injuries as the result of their inability to procure desperately needed and obviously deserved health care.” He also ruled that veterans are legally entitled to five years of government-provided health care after leaving the service, despite federal officials’ argument that they are required to provide only as much care as the VA’s budget allows in a given year. So what the government is saying is they don’t mind spending over $3,000 a second in Iraq, they just don’t want to go over budget when these vets return home. Fair enough, Pentagon boys.

The trial follows publication of a Rand study last week that estimated that 18.5 percent of U.S. troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress. Now, I don’t want to rag on the Bush administration for wasting of trillions of dollars on a blatant lie a war or for taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to regroup. That’s just not my style. I was just stunned when I read about the number of veteran’s suicides per day and felt the pain that accompanies these tragedies.

So that’s the news of the day. Today’s photos are from two sunrises back in February. I realize it’s an odd mix, beautiful sunrises over the Pacific along with painful revelations about what our government is doing to the returning troops but you never know what you’ll get here at Sunrise Santa Cruz. Someone once told me variety was the spice of life. I always thought it was onion or garlic powder. Shot a nice sunset tonight up the coast which we’ll see later in the week. Anyway, enjoy the morning colors, support the troops and we’ll catch you for wildlife Wednesday. Aloha.

April 24, 2008

What, Bobcat Got Your Tongue?

Good morning and welcome to the happiest place on the earth. On Tuesday morning I decided to take a trip to Four Mile Beach. I figured what the heck, even if the clouds weren’t that exotic, there would still be hundreds of gulls for me to Barry bonds with. When I crossed the railroad tracks and headed down the path to the beach I immediately spotted a big cat (photo #1) about 50 yards away. Now, I’ve seen a bobcat before at Four Mile but when it saw me it ran into the brush faster than an Exxon executive leaving an Earth Day picnic. But this fellow didn’t run and hide like a Bush spokesman, instead he rambled along the path with me in hot pursuit. And since I had downed my Wheaties that morning, I was feeling fresh and excited, like Kool and the Gang at the Grammys.

I followed this nocturnal hunter for a couple of hundred yards. He headed down the beach and onto the sand before heading back into the brush. As you can tell by my shots, I was close enough to observe his spots, his distinctive color pattern and count his freckles. Much like myself, bobcats are shy, solitary, generally elusive animals. The name comes from the short, bobbed tail or from the surname Robert. They are members of the cat family along with lions, leopards, pumas, lynxes, jaguars, cheetahs, tigers and white sox.

Throughout this tracking experience this wild animal would stop and stare at me. I thought, it’s just a bobcat, not a mountain lion, he’s not going to attack me. As we headed up the slope of the cliff above the ocean he stopped and turned. I was shooting away like Ansel Adams on meth. I had him perfectly framed in my view finder and was already thinking up the subject title for the blog. All of a sudden, he starts to move in my direction. I’m thinking, uh, oh, did I miss this episode of “When Animals Attack? I’m not a outdoorsman, I’m a blogger, dammit. All of a sudden, I’m getting Marlon Perkins flashbacks. Fortunately, this wildcat stopped in his tracks as he may have been intimidated by my Docker shorts and Hillary Duff sweatshirt.

After seeing my life flash before my eyes I scooted out of there faster than a lawyer on a duck hunt with Dick Cheney and made my way back to the beach. It was low tide and the harbor seals were basking and robbins on the sea shelfs by the sea shore. The last shot is actually from an earlier visit but I thought I’d throw it in to celebrate the fact that I’m not writing this from a hospital bed. As you can see from the photos whenever I come in contact with harbor seals, they never take their eyes off me. It reminded me of my hand modeling days. But here’s the kicker. One of my Arizona-based field scouts emailed an article about a rabid bobcat attacking two hikers yesterday in the Santa Rita mountains. Wow. I don’t know about you, but I always find that series of deep puncture wounds always spoils my day. But maybe that’s just me.

The bottom line is that while I was shooting away like Chuck Connors in “The Rifleman” all those shots of the cat were actually out of focus. My camera instead was zooming in on the the flowers and brush in front of Miss Kitty. I was excited as a schoolgirl when I came home and downloaded these shots. I already had National Geographic on the speed dial. I was disappointed, kind of like when I saw my SAT scores. But in the words of Chelsea Clinton and Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, it’ll be here, better than before, yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” Or in the words of yours truly, don’t put off today what you can put off tomorrow.

So have a tremendous sports weekend, enjoy the final matzo brei filled days of Passover and we’ll catch you for sunrise Monday. As for me, I’ll be hunting the big cats. Either that or watching enough NBA playoff basketball to make your eyes bleed. Catch you down low. Aloha.

April 23, 2008

Next Summer We’re Going To Austria, Romania and Hungry

Filed under: sea anenomes snowy egret sunset waves sky — Tags: , , , , — geoff @ 1:07 am

Greetings and welcome to the central coast chronicles. Since we’re all friends here I thought it would be a good time to take a look at our anenomes. All these shots, including the snowy egret at sunset, were taken in tidepools around the arch at Its Beach. When searching the coves and shallow pools to shoot these exotic subjects, I am always amazed at their electrifying colors. They are pounded by waves all day yet don’t seem to be bothered by any of the ocean’s motion. Like a good basketball player they are happy to let the game come to them-they know how to go with the flow.

As my favorite poetry teacher once told me, love thyself, love thy neighbor (but don’t get caught,) and most importantly, love thy anenome. So here are some fresh facts about these wild-looking coastal creatures. The sea anemone is a polyp that looks like a plant but is really a voracious meat eating animal. In order for it to dine it cannot order out-it must wait for its food to swim by and when the prey touches one of its tentacles, it mechanically triggers a cell explosion that fires a harpoon-like structure which attaches to the organism that triggered it and injects a dose of poison in the flesh of the prey. Interestingly, this is the same way I met my wife. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling while at the same time paralyzes the prey which is then moved by the tentacles to the mouth for that day’s entree. And of course, all entrees come with your choice of soup or salad.

Speaking of food, riots have broken out in several poor nations (Haiti, the Philippines, Bangladesh) during the last month that have United Nation, NBA referees and other officials arguing that the growing diversion of the grain harvest to ethanol fuel is causing a global food crisis. “The reality is that people are dying already,” says Jacque Diouf of the Food and the Agricultural Organization.” Surging food prices, further stoked by rising fuel costs, have triggered protests around the world. The increases hit poor people the hardest, as food represents as much as 60-80 percent of consumer spending in developing nations, compared to about 10-20 percent in industrialized countries and 5-10 percent in super model’s diets.

Global food prices have jumped 83 percent of the past three years as the world’s main agricultural producers have shifted their focus to biofuels. Indian Finance Minister Palanaippan Chidambaram (PC to his friends) has called on industrial nations to cut off all subsidies for such alternative energy production and focus on providing food for the developing world. U.N. statistics say the amount of corn it takes to fill an ethanol fueled SUV can feed a child for an entire year. The U.N also added that the children may get better mileage eating on the highway than while eating in the city. Here’s one more number for you to chew on. 750,000 acres of Brazilian rain forest (equal to the size of Rhode Island) were lost in the last six month in order to grow crops to make biofuels. What are we doing to our planet?

But even if we grow larger crops, soaring food prices that have sparked unrest across the globe are likely to persist, threatening millions of people worldwide. Prices of wheat and rice have doubled compared to last year, while those of corn are more than a third higher. Grain prices have risen as a result of steady demand, especially from China and India, supply shortages and new export restrictions. Here’s the bottom line. Hunger is nothing new. People and children in underdeveloped countries have been dying of starvation for years. That’s a given and horrific fact. We can’t prevent droughts or wars that keep food out of people’s stomachs, but we can give food to hungry children rather putting it into gas tanks. We want to rid ourselves of the dependence on oil but do we want to do at the expense of human suffering? Fast for a day. See what your life is like when you’re hungry. And then just think about how fortunate we are here in America, particularly with the NBA playoffs in full swing.

There’s a lot more to this story, particularly how all this bifuels business actually makes global warming worse, but we’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, be grateful that you don’t live in a place like Haiti where the really poor are subsisting on dirt cookies. Seriously. That’s not something you’ll want to dunk in the glass of milk. So enjoy the day, enjoy Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Deron Williams and most importantly, don’t be your own worst anenome. Aloha.

April 20, 2008

Will That Be Trash or Credit?

Good morning, sunrise fans and welcome to a new week of color on the central coast. Today we are journeying back in the time tunnel to late November, when turkey, stuffing and jellied cranberry sauce were still coursing through my veins. During this early morning magic the clouds were streaming across the sky from Loma Prieta across the bay to Pacific Grove. I started out this photo experience on the sand at Its Beach (photo #1) before heading over to Steamer Lane. There, I caught the Phoenix sun rising over Monterey Bay and casting its radiant glow over the water like Lady Clairol shining on my daughter’s golden locks. Which, during Passover, is not to be confused with bagels and lox.

I’m really not a happy camper when I hit the beach in the morning and have to pick up trash left behind by some morons from the day before. Fortunately, I’m not the only one. Last week Ocean Conservancy released its annual report on trash in the ocean with new data and results from the 2007 International Coastal Cleanup. This report is the most comprehensive study of the harmful impact of marine debris and the TV show “Baywatch”. The mission of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup is to have people remove trash from the world’s beaches and waterways, identify the sources of debris, change the behaviors that cause pollution and maybe build a few sand castles. This year, more than 378,000 volunteers and three unwilling participants joined in cleanups around every major body of water around the globe, not including Billy Ocean, Joan Rivers or Ricki Lake.

“Our ocean is sick,” says Laura Capps, Senior Vice President at Ocean Conservancy. And we are not talking about a case of the sniffles. “The plain truth is that our ocean ecosystem cannot protect us unless it is healthy and resilient. Harmful impacts like trash in the ocean, pollution, climate change and habitat destruction are taking its toll. But the good news is that hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are starting a sea change by joining together to clean up the ocean.” Kind of like Hands Across the Ocean. As Laura says, “Trash doesn’t fall from the sky, it falls from people’s hands.” Personally, when I go to the beach and see people leave their bottles and cans behind, I think about reinstalling the death penalty for littering.

Trash in the ocean kills more than one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and six turtles each year through ingestion and entanglement. This year, 81 birds, 63 fish, 49 invertebrates, 30 mammals, 11 reptiles, one amphibian and a lifeguard were found entangled in debris by volunteers. Some of the debris they were entangled or had ingested include plastic bags, fishing nets, fishing line, punch lines, six-pack holders, string from a balloon or kite, string cheese, glass bottles, cans and sippy cups.

Volunteers scoured 33,000 miles of shoreline worldwide and found 6 million pounds of debris, ranging from cigarette butts to food wrappers to hip hop artists. Nearly 7.2 million items were collected by volunteers on a single day last September as they combed and brushed beaches and rocky shorelines in 76 countries. The 378,000 volunteers on the average collected 182 pounds of trash and puka shells for every mile of shoreline, including ocean coastlines and beaches on inland lakes and streams. Since 1986, more than six million volunteers have removed 116,000,000 pounds of debris across 211,460 miles of shoreline in 127 nations. That’s more garbage than the Bush Administration has fed us about our still being in Iraq. In case you’re interested, the 23rd annual Flagship International Coastal Cleanup will be held Sept. 20, 2008. Be there, be aware, or be square.

That’s news, weather and here comes sports. If you’re a basketball fan, I hope you caught that epic double overtime classic on Saturday between the Suns and the Spurs. As super Laker fan Jack Nicholson once told me, that’s as good as it’s going to get. Or maybe it was Diane Keaton. The Suns had it and just couldn’t finish off Timmy Duncan and company. They’re going to wish that had knocked off the reigning champions that day. But, still six games to go in that series. So enjoy the morning sky, the trash talk and we’ll catch you on Wednesday. Aloha.

April 17, 2008

C’mon Inside Where It’s Warm and Kobe

Filed under: orchids color — geoff @ 10:16 pm

Good morning and welcome to a fresh Friday on the central coast. I thought we’d end the week with a splash of spring color so let’s head out to the Farmer’s Market in Aptos. The action the last couple of weeks has been amazing with an incredible variety of colors, shapes and patterns that are simply mindblowing to the eye. I never tire of checking out these exotic beauties-there’s something new and different every week. These sensual babies will bloom for months and much like myself, require very little care. A better bargain you’re not going to find for $7 to $10. As I’ve said to many a person in my life and I believe the same holds true for orchids, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

Today we are on the verge of my favorite holiday of the year. No, I’m not referring to the festival of matzo, Passover, when no bread, cookies or animal crackers will touch my lips for eight unlevened days. No, I’m talking about the pilgrimage to the holy land for what we call the NBA playoffs.

Beginning tomorrow, the first night of passing over rye, whole wheat and especially the white, the NBA postseason party makes its way onto the big screen. I can only sit here and wonder what this ballet of big men would look like in high definition but we all have to make sacrifices. After all, there’s a reason they call me Father Theresa.

We hit the ground running with four games on Saturday, four more on Sunday before we move on to the weeknight double and triple header action. Or to put in in terms of the national pastime, let me quote my brother Paul from his early CNN on-air days, “Love is like baseball and there’s nothing like a twinight doubleheader. Nothing says it’s time for the seder than three opening round games on Saturday as an appetizer. And then come the four questions, the most important being, “What time to the games start on Sunday?”

So forget March Madness, this is May Magnificence. We’re talking buzzer beating fantastic finishes, the hard-fought joy of victory, the crushing agony of defeat along with cheerleaders and dance teams. I love this game. Every night is a new, unscripted adventure, another four quarters of mountain to climb. We’re talking about the best players in the world going at it for the top prize. No, not a date with Miss Universe, the ring. The ring’s the thing. All these super talented giants are making obscene amounts of money. They build 20,000 foot homes, drive ferraris and maseratis and live lives we can only dream of in black and white. What they can’t buy is an NBA championship. You’ve got to earn it.

So fasten your timing belts, pro hoops fans, because with any luck we’re in for a wild ride. And unlike the Big Dipper down at the Boardwalk, this ride goes on for weeks. Or as TNT’s promo says, something like 60 games in 30 nights. What a beautiful concept. Or as my lovely wife asks me at some point every year, “When are these games going to be over?” We’re like two snow peas in a pod.

So happy Passover, matzo ball fans. And if you enjoyed the color today, stay tuned because May is going to be flower central here at Sunrise Santa Cruz. We’re talking major pollen count. So bring on Kobe, LeBron, Shaq Daddy. the Answer and the Big Ticket because as I learned in the womb, “NBA action is fantastic.” One more basketball note. My 5’8″ eighth grade son touched the rim before his volleyball game yesterday. Wow! I haven’t seen him that excited since he was a little boy taking his first steps…towards the TiVo system that I was setting up in his bedroom. It just goes to show that with good nutrition, proper training and just the right amount of fruit flavored, chewable steroids that your children can accomplish anything they put their minds and legs to. I just hope Stanford had a scout there. Enjoy the tremendous sports weekend and we’ll catch you on the rebound. Aloha.

April 16, 2008

Jail, Jail, The Gang’s All Here

Good morning, central coast fans and welcome to some photo ops from the northern tip of Monterey Bay. Because of waves, wind and incessant text messaging by our nation’s youth, the look of the coast is constantly changing. Today we’ll take a up close and personal look at one of those changes from right here in our watery front yard in Santa Cruz.

Back in the 1850′s and 1860′s local residents referred to what is now known as Lighthouse Point as Seal Rock Point. That was because of two seal rocks that were present at the time. The smaller one, which is no longer visible, collapsed like last year’s New York Mets in the winter of 1960-61. These two rocks were probably connected to the shoreline in the late 1600′s or early 1700′s, before there was history.

You can see the location of Seal Rock in the far right in photo #1 during a rather pleasant sunrise at Lighthouse Point. Shots #2, 3, 4 show different days of
this famous rock covered with sea lions, pelicans and cormorants. But after a violent January winter storm one of my field scouts informed me that a big chunk of the rock was gone. You can see what’s missing in shot #5. What used to be rock is now water. Or like the classic Doobie Brothers album, “What were once vices are now habits.” The last shot of the surf board shooting thru the spray was taken by my daughter Aimee on the same morning we shot the missing rock. Or in the words of Eric Clapton, “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the surfer at Steamer Lane.”

So on to today’s top story. And this will be of interest to all you state and federal prison fans. More than 1 percent of adult Americans are in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to the $5 billion spent by the federal government. With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving a far more populous China a distant second. Yeah, but at least we’re not beating monks in Tibet and we don’t eat with chopsticks. I say save the trees and use plastic forks.

The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing laws enacted since the mid-1980′s. Minorities have been particularly hard hit: One in 9 black men between the age 20 to 34 is behind bars as compared to one in 9 white men who are sitting in a bar as I write this. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is 1 in a 100, compared with 1 in 355 white women in the same age group. You know what they say, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Or was that “You can be what you want to be on cloud nine?”

While studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect is influenced by changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents, the share of young people in the population and the price of malt liquor. In addition, when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by non-violent criminals (drug offenders,) who make up about half the population, alternative punishments such as community supervision, mandatory drug counseling and watching reality TV are far less expensive and may prove just as or more effective than jail time.

Now here comes the juicy part. About 91 percent of incarcerated adults are under state or local jurisdiction, forcing state governments to devote ever larger shares of their budgets to house them. For instance, over the past two decades, state spending on correction facilities increased by 127 percent, while spending on higher education rose 21 percent. For every dollar Virginia spends on higher education, it now spends 60 cents on corrections. Maryland spends 74 cents on corrections per higher-education dollar. But here comes the April showers, as sung by Representive Barbara Lee, Democrat of California on last week’s Bill Maher show. “We are now funding prisons at a greater rate than we are funding schools. Here in California we are spending close to $30,000 on state prisoners and we’re spending $7,500 for a young person to go to school.” I’m no mathematician, and I never played one on TV but there’s something wrong with those numbers.

From 1982 thru 2000 the prison populations in California grew 500 %. To acccomodate all the new guests to our penal system, the Golden State for prisoners built 23 new prisons at a cost of $280 to $350 million apiece, not including little bathroom soaps, complimentary postcards and after dinner lockdown mints. An overwhelming number of these prisoners are locked up for drug offenses but that’s another issue that we’ll blow smoke about when I look at the long term effects of preventive glaucoma on current TiVo programming.

That’s our show. I hope you enjoyed the classic rock off the coast. Tune in again Friday when we bring a little color to the program. And sorry Golden State Warrior fans, it’s a bummer being the most exciting team in the NBA and being out of the playoffs. But Coach Don Nelson not playing star point guard Baron Davis in the second half of Monday night’s crucial contest against the Suns is more bizarre than me mixing the changing look of Seal Rock and the U.S. prison population in the same blog. More NBA talk on Friday as we get ready for the playoffs. Aloha.

April 13, 2008

You Can Lead A Horse To Bottled Water, But You Can’t Make Him Drink It

Filed under: spider webs bushes jelly fish flowers pine cones — geoff @ 8:43 pm

Good morning, nature fans. Today we are going to dip into the variety bag and peruse some moments from the westside of Santa Cruz. It rained about a month ago and I spotted these spider webs glistening with moisture on Barbara bush. Those are shots #1 and 2. The next two photos are a family of jellyfish that I came across at Its Beach. I took these shots using a leafy background to accentuate the unusual texture of the jellied filled fish before returning them to the sand. Shot #5 was taken about a month ago before all those purple and blue beauties went into full bloom. And the final shot is of some baby pine cones. Life in the green lane, always makes me loose my mind.

I went to Costco last week to because I needed a new suit. What amazed and disturbed me during my trek to this temple of culinary samples was the amount of bottled water flowing through the checkstands while I was waiting on line with my tailor. Literally hundreds and hundreds of 16 ounce bottles were being sold and thus brought out into the world. I thought to myself, why are people so in love with this plastic, what becomes of them once they leave these cavernous confines and why is the most exciting team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, not going to be in the playoffs this year?

So as these questions swirl around in my mind like a cinnamon roll in a whirlpool, here are some fun facts about our beloved bottled water. Making these plastic pouches of liquid for American consumers requires 17 million barrels of oil each year. It is just me, or is there anything else that we could do with this black gold, like turning it into those little plastic baggies that are so damn convenient? Ah, the wonders of plastic surgery.

Bottled water sells for up to 1,000 times the price of tap water. The only thing that’s more exorbitant is the money we are spending every second to occupy a country that doesn’t want us there. There has been a 500% increase in the use of bottled water over the last decade. Incidentally, there has also been a huge increase in the consumption of diet sodas. This has nothing to do with bottled water, I just like talking Diet Squirt. We have become a liquid nation. Over 90% of the cost of bottled water is in the bottle, lid and label. And bottled water is only required to be “as good as” tap water,” not better. 40% of bottled water comes from municipal tap sources from exotic locales like Fresno, Modesto and El Segundo.

According to the Department of Conservation, more than 1 billion water bottles and spec TV scripts wind up in the trash in California each year. Nearly 3 million empty water bottles and letters to TV agents go into the trash every day in California. 86% of used bottles end up as garbage, litter or cheap vases. Most bottled water is consumed away from home where recycling is not readily available. It is estimated that only 1 in 6 plastic bottles reach recycling facilities in California. And as a bonus plastic bottles take up landfill space, increase air pollution and destroy the ozone layer.

Bill Kocher is the Director of the Water Department in Santa Cruz and is in charge of delivering water to over 90,000 residents, tourists, numerous business and thirsty pets. According to the Big K, the city of Santa Cruz is held to extremely high standards of purity. “We have to deliver water that is pure, and it must meet EPA standards which test for synthetics, organics and bacteria.” Bottled water does not have the same requirements. Mr. Kocher goes on to say that “the city of Santa Cruz is fortunate to have some the purest water in the nation. Our water flows to us from coastal streams and doesn’t travel through any manufacturing areas or developments.” I’ll admit that on occasion I drink bottled water but when I go into one of my many Chinese restaurants for a little beef chow fun and some General’s Chicken, I drink the house water like fish. And it tastes good. Then again, maybe it’s that lemon wedge. Or the sweet and sour sauce I douse everything in.

Here’s one more reason for people to think about switching to tap water. A 16 ounce bottle of water at your local convenience store cost $1.26 or $5.04 a gallon. Tap water works out to less than 1/2 of one cent per gallon. You could fill a 16-ounce glass of tap water every day of the year for 11 years to equal the cost of that one bottle on the shelf of the store. Of course, you might wear yourself out going to the sink 4,015 but think of all the Ziplock bags you could buy with the money you saved.

Here’s a few fun facts about water. The human body is 70% water, the brain is 85% water, our blood is 90% water and the human liver, one of the most vital and one of my favorite organs, is 96% water. So it’s somewhat logical to assume that the quality of water will have a significant effect on our overall health. As will freshly squeezed orange juice, chocolate milk and Tang.

So that’s our Monday version of what’s on my mind. Just get yourself a water filter, attach it to your kitchen sink and you can tap dance away while you’re saving money and helping the environment. So tune in on Wednesday when we’ll take a look at another important news topic and of course bring you the latest in central coast photography. We’ll catch you under the Pacific rim, basketball fans. Aloha.

April 10, 2008

So Long, Goodbye, Or Should I Say Aloha?

Good morning and welcome to our Friday edition of Sunrise Santa Cruz. Back in early March when the sun no longer set over the ocean on the westside I headed up the coast to Davenport for my sunset fix. This is our setting for today’s photo drama. Turns out it wasn’t a spectacular night for clouds or colors but when I arrived at my shooting spot along the cliffs there was a tree full of cormorants. They were just hanging out on the coast, checking out the twilight action while some of the more aggressive birds attacked their neighbors in the tree. They seem to love this one particular Monterey Cypress. Every time I hit this spot on the cliffs they are there waiting, squawking silhouettes in the evening sky.

Moving just a tad west, I love Hawaii and the tropical lifestyle. Not that I don’t worship Santa Cruz’s 51 degree water temperature, but that’s major shrinkage action. There’s been an aerial shakeup in the islands. On April 1, Aloha Airlines announced it had halted all passenger service, signaling an end of an airline that had served Hawaii for more than 60 years. Aloha, which had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 20, was a casualty of fierce competition, rising fuel prices and shifting trade winds . “We simply ran out of time to find a qualified buyer for our passenger business,” Aloha President David Banmiller said back in late March. “We had no choice but to take this action.” Actually, their only other choice was to charge $100 a bag for those mini-pretzels and a cup of guava juice but that might have seemed a tad pricey.

Aloha had suffered since Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group Inc. launched a new interisland carrier called Go airlines in 2006, triggering a local airfare war. In January, Go reported a $20 million operating loss in its first 16 months of operations. Nothing like starting strong, just like this year’s the SF Giants and the Detroit Tigers. Meanwhile, Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines, the other major carriers reported losses of nearly $64 million since Go began operating. In retrospect, I believe a more appropriate name for the new airline would be Go Away.

Aloha’s bankruptcy filing said the airline was unable to generate sufficient revenue due to what it called “predatory pricing” by Go. As Banmiller says, “Unfortunately, unfair competition has succeeded in driving us out of business. Aloha, the second largest Hawaii carrier, operated a fleet of 26 Boeing 737′s to serve five airports statewide, six mainland U.S. destinations and a small atoll off of Fiji.

According to Aloha’s Web site, the airline was founded in 1946 by Chinese American publisher Ruddy Tongg and his friends at a time when the best jobs, opportunities and mahi mahi in Hawaii went to the white establishment. Some of Tongg’s friends even had trouble getting airline seats and pillows on the flights. They figured, why not start our own airline. Banks wouldn’t lend the money to Asians then, so Tongg turned to a hui, or investment group, that included Hung Wo Ching, a Chinese American who later became the airline’s president.

So this shocking turn of events left a few travelers in the lurch. Aloha advised passengers who didn’t want to fly another airline and who want a refund to contact their travel agents or credit card companies. Those who paid by cash or check may file a claim in bankruptcy court. Good luck with that. It would be easier trying to squeeze water out of a rock. The shutdown will affect about 1,900 employees and two stowaways. And it’s been a rough week for airline travelers as on Wednesday more than 100,000 people scrambled to make new travel plans as American Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights nationwide due a shortage of honey roasted peanuts. Waiting on a long line at the airport to finally get to the counter and find out your flight has been canceled-it doesn’t get much better than that.

So that’s your airline report. Let’s change gears and finish off the week with a little levity and some airplane humor. A nervous passenger fidgeted from the moment he boarded the plane. After a while he looked out the window and said to the passenger next to him, “We must be miles up in the air. Those people look like ants.” The other passenger said, “Those are ants. We haven’t taken off yet.”

And two gentlemen were sitting on a park bench discussing their likes and dislikes. One said, “I’m scared to fly. I don’t believe planes are safe.” “That’s dumb,” said the other. “Do you think trains are safe. Last week there was a great train wreck and almost four hundred people were killed.” “No kidding, what happened?” “A plane fell on it.” Okay, good night everybody and drive home safely. Have a fabulous weekend and remember, the future is in plastic. More about that on Monday.

April 8, 2008

Why Am I Always Frogetting Things?

Good morning and welcome, amphibian fans. As you know, I’m rather fond of shooting sunrises over Monterey Bay. But there are just some mornings that I don’t make it down to the coast, usually because of an emergency cabinet meeting. On those medium rare days when I’m not down on the cliff I hurry to the end of my street and shoot from there. That’s what we you see in the first three shots today, the sunrise view from Wavecrest Avenue. And as you know, four out of five dentists recommend wavecrest when brushing your teeth with sugarless gum. Photos #4 and 5 were shot four days ago and taking these pictures was a simple task, it was easy like Sunday morning. That last shot along West Cliff Drive is from late February-I always enjoy trying to catch the reflection of the clouds in the water across from Bird Rock.

I see lots of wildlife on these mornings, but I don’t catch many frogs at sunup along the coast. Well, here’s some info about a little froggy who would really make a great addition to any child’s aquarium. This little fella was a party animal who was the size of a bowling ball. It had heavy teeth, armor, a vicious temper and lived among the dinosaurs millions of years ago. He was intimidating enough that scientists who unearthed its fossils dubbed the beast Beelzebufo, or Devil Toad. Coincidentally, that was also the name of my first rock band. But its size, 10 pounds, 16 inches long with a 32 inch inseam, wasn’t its only curiosity. Researchers discovered the creature’s bones in Madagascar, yet it seems to be a close relative of normal-size frogs that today live a half a world away in South America. This challenges assumptions about ancient geography and if these little hoppers really do turn into princes.

According to paleontologist David Krause of New York’s Stony Brook University, who made this discovery, “This frog, if it had the same habits as its living relatives in South America, was quite voracious. It’s even conceivable that it could have taken down some hatchling dinosaurs.” Now that would be one freaky killer toad. Krause began finding fragments of abnormally large frog bones in Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, in 1993. They dated (not he and the frogs) back to the late Cretaceous period, roughly 70 millions years ago, in an area where Krause was also finding dinosaur, crocodile and John McCain fossils. But only recently did Krause’s team assemble enough frog bones to piece together what the creature would have looked like, weighed and acted like in a social situation, like at a party or on a first date.

Standard theory for how the continents drifted apart shows that what is now Madagascar would have been long separated by ocean from South America during Beelzebufo’s time. And frogs can’t survive long in salt, bottled or soda water. Krause contends the giant frog provides evidence for competing theories that some bridge still connected the land masses that late in time, perhaps via an Antarctica that was much warmer than today. As for myself, I don’t really have a take on this theory-I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it. It brings to mind this scenario-two frogs are chatting and one says to the other, “I’m having a really tough time talking-it’s like a have a person in my throat.”

So that’s our report for today. I like to bring to the forefront the important news items of the day and I think a frog the size of a Buick qualifies in that department. And this guy dished out warts the size of Baron Davis . So enjoy the colors of the morning sky, congratulations to NCAA basketball champions Kansas and Tennessee and we’ll catch you for some north coast action on Friday. Aloha.

April 6, 2008

I’ll Get Back To You When HeliSkiing Freezes Over

Good Monday and welcome to a special edition of Sunrise Santa Cruz. On Friday I mentioned the possibility of some major snow action on the blog and today, despite the presence of major league baseball, reality TV and global warming, I am bringing you the motherlode. Today (April 7) is my youngest brother Brad’s 49th birthday. He is the President, General Manager and the head Pastry Chef at People Productions in Boulder, Colorado. So in honor of the day he popped out of our mother’s womb he is going to honor us with a guest blog. So here now is a fine young man who has been like a brother to me, Brad Gilbert, in his own words.

My name is Brad and I have a problem. I’m addicted to powder (no, not that kind). I’m a snowboarder and I can’t get enough of the white fluffy stuff otherwise known as snow. To feed my addiction, I live in Colorado and spend all winter chasing storms around the state. However, when Colorado hits a dry spell or I really need a big fix, I head north of the border to the province of British Columbia, Canada to do a little heliskiing.

British Columbia is the birthplace of heliskiing and skiers and boarders from all over the world flock their every winter for good reason. The combination of tremendous snow (typically 40-60 feet a year) falling on relatively low altitude mountains (easier for the helicopter and people’s lungs) makes for ideal heliskiing conditions. Add to that the easy access and very friendly locals and you have a powder mecca.

The first time I went to BC to heliski I thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience. At the end of the first day I said take my credit card and do whatever you want with it but don’t stop flying. By the end of the trip, the once in a lifetime experience had turned into a once a year requirement. As my friend Kevin says (photo # 5) – “51 weeks of anticipation, 1 week of heaven.”

When I sent Geoffrey some photos of this year’s trip, he said whoa – looks like a guest blog. So here it is…Photo #1 is the view from the lodge out to the helipad. Those mountains lit up in the background are where we head first thing every morning. Since this year’s trip was in January the days were short but the sunrises long. So shot # 2 was actually taken mid morning. Photo #3 is your typical landing spot for the helicopter leaving you on top of a mountain with nothing but peaks and snow in every direction. The typical view from the landing zone would be shot #4 both breathtakingly beautiful and a preview of where we’ll soon be skiing. Photo #5 is what we addicts live for – that’s my friend Kevin living the dream. And shot #6 is me – flying through the air with the greatest of ease – and looking forward to that soft soft landing in the never ending pillows of snow.

So although I just skied two feet of powder this week at Vail, just looking at these pictures has me pining for BC again. Only 40 more weeks to go.

Thank you, brother. Normally I daredevil like myself would be on the next copter with Brad but turns out I’m allergic to avalanches. But wait, there’s more. Not only is today Brad’s special day but it is also the birthday of my favorite son, Jason. He is an 8th grader with a very nice crossover move who attends the #2 public high school (Pacific Collegiate) in the country. He is a tremendous son who still hasn’t beaten me one on one in basketball (although he is getting damn close-it’s humbling when your son blocks your shot) who I couldn’t be any prouder of. Well, that’s not totally true. He told me after the first day of volleyball practice that his coach will having him touching the basketball rim by the end of volleyball season. We’re hoping he’ll be the first Gilbert to dunk. That’s our Everest.

So that’s it for the Gilbert family saga for today. I hope you enjoyed these fabulous snow shots because unless you go up by copter these are views you’ll never see. Personally, I hadn’t seen this much white powder since the early 80′s but that’s another story for another time. So enjoy the Canadian peaks, tonight’s NCAA Finals Game and we’ll catch you for sunrise Wednesday. Happy birthday, boys. To quote my youngest sibling, “BCing you later.”

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