Friday, August 11, 2017

Truth to Power

Waning Gibbous Moon

I went to see An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power yesterday in Santa Cruz. Pretty ironic, huh. I drove fifty miles round trip to see a movie about man-made climate change and what we can do to stop it. Oops.

Overall, I liked the movie, even though it inconveniently undid my yoga and made me even more pissed off at my so-called government. I admire Al Gore for sticking to his guns on this issue publicly since 1992. That is starting to be a long time ago. He has not wavered in his passion to bring this message to the world and partially due to his efforts, renewable energy is definitely making a difference worldwide. Look at Iowa. They are kicking major booty with their wind farms. Yes, Iowa.

This sequel to An Inconvenient Truth (2006) updates the progressions and regressions in energy policy that have occurred in the last decade while continuing to sound the alarm. The movie begins with a Gore helicopter visit (oops again!) to a glacial field with a research scientist. It clearly shows the melting of the glaciers and the rapid runoff, producing a river of blue in the white expanse of ice. Gore casually tosses around the glaciology term moulin as though the audience would automatically know what that is. I will provide the definition here to save some of you the Google search.

Moulin: a vertical or nearly vertical shaft in a glacier, formed by surface water percolating through a crack in the ice.

All that water going down the shaft is going somewhere, and that somewhere is directly into the ocean. Due to our own ignorance and  greed, we are giving ourselves the moulin, if you get my drift.

Perhaps the most moving visual of the show, however, is not the melting glacier, but another visit Gore made, this one to Miami, Florida. A bunch of fat white guys, Gore included, are standing around in a street in Miami wearing rubber boots up to their knees. The rubber boots are needed to protect their skinny jeans from the foot-high water flooding the immediate vicinity in downtown Miami. 

Where is the water coming from? Three guesses and the first two don't count. Sea level rise is happening now, just as the scientists said it would. Where is that news on Trump-watch TV? It is hardly even mentioned. The rubber-booted engineers are talking about their overwhelmed pumping system as if it just needed a little tweak or two to beat back the Atlantic Freaking Ocean. 

The sequel has less science 'splaining and more specific and moving visual examples of the results of climate change than the original movie. It has a little fewer Al-giving-the-slide-show segments and more world-leaders-negotiating-solutions segments. It emphasizes the international efforts to address the issues and exposes the United States' recent feckless, irresponsible lack of leadership as folly and stupidity. It is very heavy on the Al quotient, though, perhaps too heavy. He says he isn't running for office, but he is definitely reminding everyone that we royally screwed the pooch by letting the damn Supreme Court take away his Presidency. It is hard to argue with that, as history has shown.

The climate truth is very inconvenient for all of us. The weather patterns are going to get more violent. The fire seasons are going to get worse. Droughts and famines are going to produce humanitarian crises like never before. We are going to have to science the shit out of this right here on Planet Earth. Get cracking.

Peace, Love, and Geologic Dictionaries,

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Crazy Horse

Waning Gibbous Moon

I will read anything by Larry McMurtry. In fact, I thought that I had read everything he has published until I ran into Crazy Horse: A Life (1999). It was tucked back on a shelf in the American Indian research section of the San Benito County Free Library and I grabbed it as soon as I saw it.

This is a short Penguin book written in McMurtry's factual, but richly descriptive style. He takes you into this biography only as far as he can go without making stuff up. The brief  life story of Crazy Horse, most of which is just plain unknown, is terse and brutally realistic in that McMurtry refuses to dramatize or glorify beyond what can be claimed as true. And, as he repeatedly reminds the reader, it ain't that much. You want to know more, but Crazy Horse just didn't give it up. A lot of this book is dedicated to debunking previous accounts as fairy tales.

Crazy Horse only lived about thirty-five years. Much of what we know about him stems from a vision he had after fasting for a couple of days. He saw a horseman floating above ground. He was told not to decorate himself or to keep anything for himself. In battle, he was to wear a small stone behind his ear and a single feather at most atop his head. He would die when people he knew were holding his arms back in a fight.

He kept to himself almost all the time, but was known, in keeping with his vision, as a man of great charity to those he stayed with on the occasions when he was in camp. He was quite taken with a woman of his tribe (Oglala), but she married another man, someone much more of a homebody. Crazy Horse eventually took a wife who bore his children, but continued his roaming, singular mystic life most of the time.

His early death was as predicted. Always reluctant to compromise or concede to the white man, he was persuaded to come to Fort Robinson in northwest Nebraska for talks. Held back by Little Big Man (the real Little Big Man, not the fictional character), he was pierced through the kidneys with a bayonet by William Gentle and died. His reputation as a giving person who was fiercely independent and strongly opposed to surrendering to United States forces earned Crazy Horse a special place in the history of the Oglala Sioux. In memoriam, his likeness is in the process of being carved into stone in the Black Hills of South Dakota by the Ziolkowski family.

Peace, Love, and Independence,

Monday, July 3, 2017

Big Blend Radio

Waxing Gibbous Moon

I did another interview last Friday on Big Blend Radio with my sound wave friends Lisa and Nancy from Tucson AZ. The topic was Community Parks and Trails and, as usual, I rambled on and on in my dust-choked old man voice about whatever came to mind. It was fun for me, but most likely it's rather long for most people's busy schedules. You can try it out for yourself by clicking on Big Blend. Just bear in mind it lasts over an hour.


Plans are shaping up for a slam bang Fourth of July gala potluck in the Big Barn here at Mission Farm RV Park. Victor the Grill Master will be charring chicken, pork ribs, and tri-tip. Everybody else is fixing side dishes and icing down their favorite beverages in anticipation of a wild west hoedown.

Fire danger is too high for fireworks, but nobody I know cares about making a lot of noise anyway. Disturbing the peace is not big on the senior citizen bucket list in these parts.

I hope you have a safe and pleasant holiday. Stay vigilant and live free.

Peace, Love, and Ribs,

Friday, June 23, 2017

Age Limit

New Moon

I had good intentions. There are three miles of hiking trails at my local state park that need attention. Winter rains made the oat grass, poison oak, and thistle crowd out the tread in places to the point that it was covered. I knew what to do - get a group together on the summer Solstice and knock that stuff out.

So Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., I was waiting in the parking lot near the Valley View trail head in Fremont Peak State Park just like I said I would be when my friend Mel drove up. Mel would be the only other volunteer to show up that day. I'm 65. Mel is 69. We ain't exactly trail crew summer Solstice/spring chickens. We are both pretty fit as old codgers go, but as we were about to find out, trail work during a heat wave is for kids.

We took turns. One of us would use Mel's plastic-bladed weed eater to slay the brush while the other raked the trail clean and lopped overhanging branches. It didn't take long to get sweat-soaked and a little woozy. That kind of work is different from my usual walking or bicycling or calisthenics. There is a different stress level and it's noisy. You use different muscle groups. Old muscle groups. Possibly lost muscle groups. By ten o'clock, we had cleared about an eighth of a mile of Carmen's Trail and we were toast. Very soggy toast. You gotta know when to fold 'em and that's just what we did.

The newly cleared part of the trail looks really nice if I do say so myself, but to finish the job, I'm going to need more bodies (younger bodies!), more tools, and hopefully, a brush cutter like this one.

So next week I will try try try again, and eventually, I will get this sucker done.

If you want to keep up with my "Walking San Benito" series on BenitoLink, the fifth article came out today. They can all be found on the "Features" page. Click here.

Peace, Love, and Pace Yourself,

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Full Moon

Here in my town of <1,800 people, opportunities to hear mind-expanding speakers from other countries are infrequent at best. Last Saturday, though, was different. At the San Juan Bautista Public Library, aka the Luck Library, named after a generous donor and historic resident, a man and his wife visiting from Cuba came to tell us their story.

Mario Armas and his wife (I did not hear her name) are in their early eighties, having lived through years of poverty and restrictions imposed by the Batista and Castro regimes. In Spanish, they spoke of their experiences through Marcia, a local resident translator from the non-profit foundation Voices of the Children

Following an introduction and some beautiful Latin music played by a skilled trumpet soloist, Mario described his early life as a musician and a director of a clothing factory as mostly successful. After the revolution, though, times were harder. The Soviet Union provided some resources and services, but mainly those things went to the political leaders, not to the common people. While all these changes were occurring, Mario became dissatisfied with his life and began searching for meaning. He converted to Christianity when he was fifty-three and devoted himself to building a modest church and serving as the pastor of  his village's congregation of about 1,500 worshipers. 

Under Castro, education was free all the way through University and literacy rose to 100%, but that did not translate to economic prosperity. Opportunities for women in the work force were comparable to those of men - which is to say pretty dismal. The average wage was and is $11 per month plus a monthly food booklet used to stand in line for staples like beans and rice and bread. Health care was and is free, except for prescriptions, which were and are generally affordable. After years of school, the salary for doctors and other professionals climb to $15 per month. Try to wrap your head around those numbers. 

How do they survive? Many people have relatives who managed to escape to America by boat and find work. Money sent from abroad helps families meet their needs. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, conditions for the average person have grown even worse, although with the death of Fidel Castro has come a slight lifting of some of the more restrictive economic burdens. 

Getting by consumes everyone's time in Cuba. For this couple, their renewed faith has helped them overcome these challenges and establish deep bonds in their community. They became acquainted with Voices of the Children through their missionary work and obtained permission to travel here as a result of that connection. They expressed their amazement at the great bounty in the farm fields surrounding San Juan Bautista. The amount of resources and variety of merchandise in America are admittedly a little overwhelming. Listening to their impressions of San Juan Valley reminded me of how lucky we are to live here. It was a little bit embarrassing to tell the truth. 

I found these peaceful, kind people to be refreshingly honest and interesting. I didn't get very good photos, but that's Mario on the left at the head of the table. 

This unexpectedly riveting Saturday morning library program was sobering, inspiring, and humbling. I am so glad I went.

Peace and Love from the Land of Plenty,

Voices of the Children works world-wide to advance the lives of young people. From their web site:

We believe everyone should have a platform for self-expression.  All youth should have access to resources that develop creativity while bridging cultures.  Our goal is to empower future generations to realize a voice is a powerful tool for creating change in the local and global community.  Connections through the arts can tear down walls, encourage tolerance and foster cultural understanding.

Voices of the Children is a registered nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization based in the United States. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Periodontics Revisited

New Moon

Last Saturday I was minding my own business, having my usual afternoon snack of plain yogurt with sliced banana, when a screw fell out of my head. That's right, a screw. Fell out of my head.

This requires some explanation. It was not exactly a screw, more like a tiny bolt, with one flat head screw end. Technically, it is called a "healing cap" in the heady, mouthy world of periodontics, but I sure didn't know that. I figured that the cow bone somewhere up in my sinus region had a hissy fit and kicked out my expensive new implant. Because...yogurt?

So I had to wait in suspense until Monday morning to call my superstar periodontist in Monterey to find out what the heck to do about it. That meant a day and a half with a hole in my head leading straight to my eye socket, I supposed. I figured with each passing moment my odds were greatly improving of contracting a nasty sinus infection or perhaps going blind. It's a good thing I don't give a sh*t or I could have been really stressed out.

The sweet office lady on the phone wanted me to come in right away to forestall any possible brain-eating bacterial infestation. So off I went in Spugly the Pope-Approved Palomino Transporter over the mountains and to the sea. I gambled on taking  the narrow, potholed county roads to avoid chronic construction gridlock on our crowded, potholed state highways.

It all turned out fine, as all things usually do. I got there in an hour, Doc showed me his brightly colored plastic mouth model with gums and perfectly straight teeth and titanium implants and screw-bolts and removable old school bridge structures. He loves that thing, a 3-D teaching tool. I had seen it before but I was sky high on anesthetics then and I had forgotten its significance to my own real, funky mouth.

Turns out the cow bone and titanium implant are solid as a rock, right where they are supposed to be. The temporary healing cap, which is what the screw-bolt thing is called, had simply wiggled its way loose and splashed down in my yogurt. No biggie. He disinfected it, numbed my gums a little, and screwed it back on like he was replacing a spark plug in a rickety old sedan. I was actually laughing as he did it, partly out of relief that it wasn't going to cost me any more money or time and partly because I felt like one of those animated goofball cars in a Pixar movie. The whole deal lasted about five minutes. Superstar.

To make my day even more pleasant, I drove over to Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove and walked for an hour or so. It was foggy and sort of cold, like it frequently gets there, but just as beautiful as ever. Healing cap fallout is a sweet excuse to walk on one of my favorite beaches.

Peace, Love, and Torque Wrenches,

Friday, May 19, 2017

La Conquistadora

Waning Crescent Moon

You never know who you are going to meet on your daily walk. Today I met a group of beautiful pilgrims trekking from San Juan Bautista to Carmel to honor Our Lady of Bethlehem. I didn't know anything about this particular version of the Virgin Mother before today. Now I do.

This is what her statue, which resides at the mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea, looks like. What she stands for is either beautiful or terrifying, depending on your world view.

The folks I met were really nice, mostly Boy Scouts, almost all from Sacramento. They were true believers, on their 7th annual pilgrimage. I didn't really engage in anything substantive with them, sensing that we were not much alike, but I treated them with respect like I would do with anybody else who was friendly to me.

Their leader allowed me to take a quick photo of most of their joyful group. I was honestly happy to meet them.

The statue itself has a long history which to me is very spooky if not totally crazy, but to the true believers, it is sacred and worthy of reverence. They believe that Our Lady of Bethlehem was sent with Father Junipero Serra back in the 16th century to prevent Russia from taking over Alta California from the Spaniards. You know, the Spaniards who just showed up, "discovered" it, and said it was theirs in keeping with papal edict - that whole "build the missions and convert the indigenous people to make it look like the place is settled so the Russians will stay out" thing.

The statue earned the name of La Conquistadora for her psychological role in conquering Alta California, repelling the Russians, and supposedly mystifying the "uncivilized" inhabitants.

If you are sufficiently interested, open the link below and read the very one-sided old school Catholic version of the story. Their point of view is violently us-versus-them and as such, it defies my understanding of the teachings of Jesus. 

While I admire the dedication of the amiable pilgrims I met today, their singular lack of awareness and continued blindness to the enslavement and murder of the original Californians in the name of their Lord puzzles and offends me. Our Lady of Bethlehem.

If you are interested in what I think is a pretty convincing counterpoint, read: The doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism.

I am not against faith and/or religion as long as it does not involve hate and war and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, history has shown that it very often does exactly that.

Peace, Love, and Superstition,