Archive for January, 2012

Time to end the war on drugs

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

– This is from Richard Branson’s Blog.   That’s Richard Branson of Virgin fame.  I say, “Bravo” for what he’s written here.

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Visited Portugal, as one of the Global Drug Commissioners, to congratulate them on the success of their drug policies over the last 10 years.

Ten years ago the Portuguese Government responded to widespread public concern over drugs by rejecting a “war on drugs” approach and instead decriminalized drug possession and use. It further rebuffed convention by placing the responsibility for decreasing drug demand as well as managing dependency under the Ministry of Health rather than the Ministry of Justice. With this, the official response towards drug-dependent persons shifted from viewing them as criminals to treating them as patients.

Now with a decade of experience Portugal provides a valuable case study of how decriminalization coupled with evidence-based strategies can reduce drug consumption, dependence, recidivism and HIV infection and create safer communities for all.

I will set out clearly what I learned from my visit to Portugal and would urge other countries to study this:

In 2001 Portugal became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

Jail time was replaced with offer of therapy. (The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is much more expensive than treatment).

Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker, and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.

Critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to “drug tourists” and exacerbate Portugal’s drug problem; the country has some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. The recently realised results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April 2011, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.

Compared to the European Union and the US, Portugal drug use numbers are impressive.

Following decriminalization, Portugal has the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the EU: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%, Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%. Drug use in older teens also declined.  Life time heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%.

New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003.

Death related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half.

The number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and the considerable money saved on enforcement allowed for increase funding of drug – free treatment as well.

Property theft has dropped dramatically (50% – 80% of all property theft worldwide is caused by drug users).

America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the EU (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the US, it also has less drug use.

Current policy debate is that it’s based on “speculation and fear mongering”, rather than empirical evidence on the effect of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country’s number one public health problem.

Decriminalization does not result in increased drug use.

Portugal’s 10 year experiment shows clearly that enough is enough. It is time to end the war on drugs worldwide. We must stop criminalising drug users. Health and treatment should be offered to drug users – not prison. Bad drugs policies affect literally hundreds of thousands of individuals and communities across the world. We need to provide medical help to those that have problematic use – not criminal retribution.

By Richard Branson. Founder of Virgin Group

– To the original…



Smart Phone Makers Gave India Spy Tools, “Leaked” Memos Say

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

People doubt the deep evil inherent in unbridled Capitalism.   But consider this story.   They are selling our inherent rights to personal privacy in exchange for access to markets for their own, and their shareholder’s, profit.


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Purported Indian intelligence memos also state that the backdoors provided by Apple, Nokia and RIM allowed India to spy on U.S. government officials

Apple, Nokia and Research In Motion (RIM) gave Indian intelligence agencies secret access to encrypted smartphone communications as the price of doing business in the country, according to what appear to be leaked Indian government documents.

The purported documents, if they are real, indicate that the smartphone giants gave India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Indian military intelligence “backdoor” tools that would let the Indian agencies read encrypted emails sent to and from RIM’s BlackBerrys, Apple’s iPhones and Nokia smartphones.

“Military Intelligence and the CBI have been conducting bilateral cellular and Internetsurveillance operations since April 2011,” reads a document allegedly from the Directorate General of Military Intelligence and publicly posted online.

The memos refer to an agreement between India’s Ministry of Defense and RIM, Nokia and Apple, that considers data interception and surveillance part of the “general framework” allowing the smartphone makers to sell their devices in India.

A “decision was made earlier this year to sign an agreement with mobile manufacturers (MM) in exchange for the Indian market presence,” the military intelligence document reads.

– More…

Doomsday Clock Moved 1 Minute Closer to Midnight

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

The Fukushima nuclear disaster and interest in nuclear power from Turkey, Indonesia and the UAE raised scientists’ concern about the threat of humanity’s destruction

In a sign of pessimism about humanity’s future, scientists today set the hands of the infamous “Doomsday Clock” forward one minute from two years ago.

“It is now five minutes to midnight,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) director Kennette Benedict announced today (Jan. 10) at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

That represents a symbolic step closer to doomsday, a change from the clock’s previous mark of six minutes to midnight, set in January 2010.

The clock is a symbol of the threat ofhumanity’s imminent destruction from nuclear or biological weapons, climate change and other human-caused disasters. In making their deliberations about how to update the clock’s time, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists focused on the current state of nuclear arsenals around the globe, disastrous events such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, and biosecurity issues such as the creation of an airborne H5N1 flu strain.

The Doomsday Clock came into being in 1947 as a way for atomic scientists to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons. That year, the Bulletin set the time at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight symbolizing humanity’s destruction. By 1949, it was at three minutes to midnight as the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated. In 1953, after the first test of the hydrogen bomb, the doomsday clock ticked to two minutes until midnight.

The Bulletin — and the clock ­— were at their most optimistic in 1991, when the Cold War thawed and the United States and Russia began cutting their arsenals. That year, the Bulletin set the clock at 17 minutes to midnight.

From then until 2010, however, it was a gradual creep back toward destruction, as hopes of total nuclear disarmament vanished and threats of nuclear terrorism and climate change reared their heads. In 2010, the Bulletin found some hope in arms reduction treaties and international climate talks and nudged the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back to six minutes from midnight from its previous post at five to midnight.

With today’s decision, the Bulletin repudiated that optimism. The panel considers a mix of long-term trends and immediate events in the decision-making process, said Benedict. Trends might include factors like improved solar energy technology to combat climate change, she said, while political events such as the recent United Nations climate meeting in Durban play a role as well. This year, the Fukushima nuclear disaster made a big impression.

“We’re trying to weight whether that was a wake-up call, whether it will make people take a closer look at this new and very powerful technology, or whether people will go on with business as usual,” Benedict told LiveScience on Monday in an interview before the announcement of the “doomsday time” decision. [Top 10 Alternative Energy Bets]

Other factors that played into the decision included the growing interest in nuclear power from countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, Benedict said.

The Bulletin panel found that despite hopes of global agreements about nuclear weapons, nuclear power and climate change in 2010, little progress has been made.

– more…


Settling back into life in New Zealand

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

We got in about midnight on Saturday from a trip that began in Los Angeles, jumped to San Francisco, then to Sydney and finally ended in Christchurch, New Zealand after what seemed like days of traveling.  Indeed, it’s hard to work out just how long you have been traveling when there are International Date Lines and so many time zone changes in play.

Sunday, we got up and spent much of the day unpacking until about 3 PM when I suggested that we go out for a ride in the nice summer weather.

I came back from that ride fairly depressed.   Partly because I’m at the end of a long and idyllic vacation and seeing all my American friends and family.   But, in a large measure too because of Christchurch.

Your author - 2011

My beautiful city on the Southern Island of New Zealand is still a deeply wounded entity.  As we drove around, the city center is still predominately an upsetting scene of destruction and demolition.   Wounds that will likely take five years, and more likely 10, to begin to get sorted out so that it regains some of what made it so very special.

So, I was back and feeling sad and twisted by all of this.   Part of me wants to pull up stakes and move on to a place not so wounded.  And another very considerable part of me knows that Colette would probably not opt to leave this city that’s been her home for 30 years.   It’s one of those quandaries you just have to look at and live with until it resolves one way or the other.   But, it left me unsettled and when we returned to the house, I had a good long lie down on the couch and just let the feelings wash over me.

I’m never one to be down long, though.   Monday morning, I was up and away to work to see what lay in store for me there.   All of that is yet another quandary for me.

They treat me very well and the job’s provided me with a good income these last 18 months or so.   But, maintaining old and cranky software that’s been agglutinating for years has never been a favorite of mine.   So, do I go or do I stay?   Security and a regular paycheck sit on one hand.  And, the on the other hand, sit freedom to write my own software and take a shot at entrepreneurship with all the economic and emotional risks that go with that.   And in the back of my mind, a small voice that says, “If not now, when?”

Not knowing yet what I really want, I went into work Monday thinking, “I’ll wait and see what new thing they offer me to do.   If it’s something I’d really find interesting to do, then I’ll take  serious look.   But if it’s more spaghetti wrestling and digging through messes that should never have been coded that way, then I’m going to take a flyer.”   That was Monday and today’s Wednesday and I’m still thinking about it all.   ‘Waiting is’.

In Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein introduces this concept: “Waiting is”.  (

To me, it means patiently waiting, with no time frame in mind, until the decision simply makes itself because all the necessary parts needed to make the decision, have arrived.  And, when they are there, the decision virtually makes itself.  Even though we think we are the agent of decision, we are in fact, simply the vessel within which the decision assembles and makes itself.

Little is to be gained by forcing decisions.

A good friend of mine, who said she much enjoyed the personal side of what I’ve been writing these last two months, suggested, that as I go forward and resume with my normal fare, that I might leaven it with more of the personal and not such a steady diet of renditions of all that is so badly broken in our world.

After thinking about what she said, I agree and I am going to try to do more of that.

In truth, I deeply value being able to look squarely at the world and the mess that it’s in.   But, being such a ‘looker’ is not all that I am.   I’m a poet, a lover, a good friend to many people, a father and a grandfather and someone who, in spite of several scars and setbacks, deeply likes myself and my life and I think that I am one of the luckiest and most blessed people I know.   And, each morning, when I get up, I feel deep thankfulness that I am still here with my heart, my mind and my body mostly intact.   And thus, I rise to love the day intensely.

Somehow, I can keep the doom and gloom of the “Perfect Storm” hypothesis, which I believe now is more on the money that ever, separate from my joy and my love of life and love for those around me.

Perhaps, what Katy was telling me, is to share more of both sides of that.   And she’s right and I will.   I hope it pleases you, dear readers.



Near LAX on the last day

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Last morning at Dan’s.   Up by 7 AM to make sure we could see the kids before they’re off on their school day activities.

A leisurely breakfast, some hanging out with Dan and Ann talking about stuff, a last load of clothes washed and then we’re off for a slow drive up the coast to LAX.

Ann’s working in Laguna Beach at her shop there and she’s at work by the time we’ve meandered that far up the coast so we stop in to see her and the shop.   It’s a small, pretty and well organized place with a lot of top-end beauty products on sale.   It’s a wealthy area so I’m sure she does well there.  I imagine she has a steady and loyal customer base because, like Dan, she’s very personable so she’s bound to be a natural at all of this.

We drive on and in Corona del Mar, we stop at a coffee/bagel shop on Pacific Coast Highway with outside seating and indulge ourselves.   It’s 80F/27C outside on the 4 of January, a winter day, here in Southern California so sitting out is very pleasant; perhaps even a bit warm in the sun.   We have Lox and Bagels – yum.

Continuing north, we’re watching for a do-it-your-self carwash; the kind with bays and a power wand and that you put quarters in to buy some washing time.   We find one as we’re entering Long Beach near my Alma Mater, CSULB.  We wash and vacuum out the car, which was really dirty after out 7000 mile / 11,200km journey.   

Then we’re into a Starbucks where we examine the various hotel options near LAX.   Tonight, we’re going to stay in a real hotel with some class and pamper ourselves on our last night in the USA.   We settle on the Sheraton Four Points on Airport Blvd very near to both Budget rent-a-car and LAX.   $99 per night and $19 for car parking.

It seems like it’s just a few minutes on the freeway and we’re getting off the 405 onto Century Blvd at LAX and checking in.   Nice room, nice place.

I call my friend, Charles, who lives and works not far from here in Culver City to see if he’s free this evening for a meal.   He is!

It should be fun to spend an evening with him.   Colette and I met him for a meal back on November 8th when we arrived here at LAX.  So, he will have seen Colette when America was new to her and now when she’s spent two months looking at the place.

Charles arrives at 7 pm and takes us out to downtown Culver City where we eat at a small Italian place which has most excellent Spaghetti Carbonara (my favorite!).   

After the meal, we walk the neighborhood.   Sony Pictures are headquartered here.   The area is in growth mode and looks very healthy.  Charles tells us that it’s becoming a ‘go to’ destination for folks in the area looking for an evening out.   Looks right to me.

Then he drives us up to downtown Los Angeles where we have a look around.   He shows us the incredible Disney Building which is very impressive. The streets around are virtually empty at night which Colette comments on.   Charles says it’s been like that for many years.   It’s almost all business and no residential so once the business day ends, it’s an empty and dangerous place.   He says it is slowly changing back but it looks to me like it still has a ways to go.

As we drive, Charles and I engage in one of the political discussions which he and I have been pursuing avidly since our days in university together.   

I wish I had the time and space to write about all the things we discussed.   I find them deeply interesting and I believe these subjects are near the core of what should concern us all with the mess the political and natural worlds are in today.   But, such discussions need a dedicated space of their own and perhaps I will wade into them on their own right on this Blog in the future.

Back to the hotel and Colette surprises me deeply by grabbing my arm and pulling me to the bar.    She has a glass of champagne and I have a glass of the house white wine.   A wrap-up celebration as we’re ending our two-month journey together in the U.S.  She’s a sweetie.

This will be my last entry on the subject of our two-month journey in the U.S.   After I’ve settled back into Christchurch for a few days, I’ll resume the normal content of this Blog which concerns more serious fare.

Dear readers, it has been a deep pleasure sharing all of this with you and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Love to all from near LAX.


Irvine, California – day 3

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

We got up this morning to a bustling household.  Dan was off to work, Cody to school and Ann and Eden were going to take Eden to the doctor for her cough.

Colette and I walked a mile or so to a Seattle’s Best coffee shop and had coffee and enjoyed the California sunlight.   After coffee, I got the notion that I wanted to read a copy of The Orange County Register newspaper.   Years ago, when I lived in Orange County for an extended period, I’d read this paper frequently.

We went into the major supermarket (Ralph’s) in the Walnut and Culver strip mall where we were and asked.  “Nope, when the market was refurbished last year, they removed all the newspaper kiosks.”   This person doubted if a copy could be found anywhere in the strip mall.   In spite of that, we took a walk all around and eventually found a group of newspaper kiosk boxes and I bought a paper for $.75.

This reminded me of the discussion I’d had last night with Dan when I asked him where I might find a music store in the area where I could buy a CD for a friend in New Zealand.   He said that video and music stores had mostly disappeared since so much is available digitally on-line.   I’ve been hearing the story of the demise of physical newspapers for some time as well.

The newspaper I got and read was unlike what I remembered from previous years.   A smaller format, more fluff in the articles.  Entire pages of nothing but ads.  No help wanted.   Interesting changes are upon us.

After a brief return home to Dan’s, we were off again for a last wandering romp.   Looked in at The Tustin Legacy Mall’s Barnes & Noble as they usually have Music sections.   What a huge mall.   I mean you seriously need a car to get from one section of the mall to the other.   But it was a wasted visit in the end.   The Barnes & Noble here didn’t have a music section.   They did say, however, that the Barnes & Noble at Irvine Spectrum had a music section.

From here, we went down to the Mall at Mission Viejo for a look around.  I’d hoped they might have a Barnes & Noble but, apparently, no one there reads books.   So, after a walk through the mall, we went back down to Irvine Spectrum.

At the Spectrum, we found the B & N and got Tony’s CD and then found a place that makes crepes where we could sit outside.  Then we walked down to a fountain where the water squirts up at irregular intervals and sat for a bit reading and people watching.   Really a nice place to just hang out.

We came back to Dan and Ann’s and stayed for a bit and then went out to find s Sushi for supper and some beer to contribute to the general festivities.   When we got back, Lare-dog had arrived and then we all sat around and visited for many hours.   Lots of laughter, memories and fun then.   Family and good friends are a sweet thing indeed.

Coming down to the wire now for departure.   Tomorrow, we’re going to pack up and head for the LAX area where we’re going to check into a nice hotel where we can do our final reorganization and pack up.


Irvine, California – day 2

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

We awoke at Dan and Ann’s place today.   Dan took Cody and Eden off to Ann’s parents who were good enough to watch them today while Ann worked and Dan, Colette and I played.  

We met Lare-dog, a long term friend of both Dan and I, at the Mugs-Away Pub down in Mission Viejo where Ann was working and the four of us took of for an adventure in the Santa Ana Mountains.  As an aside, Lare-dog was down to visit us in New Zealand for 10 days this last September.

The mission was to go up a trail used and maintained by Dan and Lare-dog and their mountain biking friends and to un-decorate a live Christmas Dan and Lare-dog had planted on a remote trail some years ago.   They decorate and undecorate it each year for their mountain biking community and any one else who uses the trail.

First, we drove some miles up Highway 74 into the mountains, then we turned off onto a single lane paved road that then turned into a very rough dirt road.   After five miles or so of that, we came to the end and parked and then hiked another two miles or so to the tree itself.

Along the hike to the tree, Dan took us off trail to a clearing he’d located in a remote side area from Google Earth.   In distance, it wasn’t far from existing trails (maybe a quarter mile) but it was a very isolated and surely unvisited clearing.  We all sat for 20 minutes or so enjoying the luxury of having such a beautiful and unknown place for our own.

Once at the tree, Colette and I sat in the shade and ate a ham sandwich we’d brought along while Dan and Lare-dog un-decorated the tree.   When I first saw the tree back in 2003 on my way to New Zealand for the very first time, it was only two to three foot tall.   Now it stands about 7.5 feet tall.

Then we hiked back down and, while Colette and I sat in the shade by the truck (I read aloud to her from “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper), Dan and Lare-dog went up another trail carrying tools that they were going to ‘position’ for some trail work on another day soon.

When they returned, we came down from the mountain and rolled into the lot at The Mugs-Away Pub just as the sun was setting. 

A pitcher of beer and a few games of pool ensued.  Dan and Ann both work there and he’s also very well known all around the area because of the band he’s led for 20+ years; “A Bunch ‘o Guys”.   So, it’s always fun to be out in public with him.   Tonight, I was introduced to several people and I had the distinct idea that they all wanted see what Dan’s father might look like (like, where did this wonder of a rock and roll band man and mountain biker with a beautiful wife come from ).  If I haven’t mentioned how proud I am to be his father, this might be a good time … to say it is very much so.

Lare-dog took his motorcycle back out to where he’s got his RV parked (we’ll see more of him tomorrow evening) and we then took off to pick up the Kids (Dana and Ann’s; Cody and Eden) at ‘Bubbies’ (that’s what they call their grandparents on Ann’s side – I’m ‘Grandpa Dennis’).  We visited with Sally and Bernie (Ann’s parents for a few minutes) and then we were off for a surgical supper meal strike at “Panda Express” for Chinese take-out (or Take-Away, as Kiwis say).

While we were loading up in Dan’s truck with all of our food (there was a lot), Colette got a call from her son, Jonathan, in Christchurch.   

He’d sent an instant message asking her to call him.   That’s pretty unusual and she was a bit worried at what might have happened down there.   It turned out that this most recent series of earth quakes had broken the water main to her house so there’s no water at the moment.   But, the plumbers have been called, in spite of it being a holiday there, and Jonathan seems to have the situation well in hand.  So, while that was bad news, it was still a relief in that it could have been something far more serious

Home again with a pile of Chinese food to eat.  The kids turned on a episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos and we all chuckled our way through the waving chopsticks.

Kids in the bath, Colette banging away designing a web site and me snoozing on the couch.

End of another day here; and it was a good one.


Santa Barbara to Irvine, California

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Santa Barbara to Irvine, California

We went to the same place as yesterday for coffee and breakfast.   And again, it was a good experience.  White table cloths, sunlight, good coffee and a nice bagel.

Then we had another brief walk about town and we were off on this first day of 2012 for our drive down to Irvine, California and my son, Dan’s, place.

Brilliant day.   A layer of fog lay far out on the sea and the several oil drilling platforms that lay far off the coast were visible as were the Channel Islands that rose through the distant fog banks.  On our right, were the mountains along whose tops we drove yesteday.

At the Rincon Beach area, we stopped off Highway 101 and explored the costal road and looked out at the scenery with the binoculars.  Hundreds of RV’s seemed to be parked along the highway in every size and shape.  The weather was around 75F or 24C and very nice.

It was a smooth drive with the roads wide open and we moved along at 70 mph or about 110 kph.   At Thousand Oaks, I told Colette we we entering the Los Angeles megaplex and that from here until we were deep into Orange County, it would be nothing but continuous city.   And, it was so until we began the see the open hills still awaiting development as we neared Irvine in Orange County.

Someplace after Thousand Oaks, there was an accident on the freeway and it turned into a crawl for about 20 minutes until we passed the crash site.  It wasn’t too bad and it gave us time to reflect on the many bumper stickers people put on their cars and trucks to lets others know who they are and what their beliefs are.  

Fish symbols, fish symbols that say “Darwin” in side.  Fish symbols saying “Darwin” inside eating regular fish symbols and regular fish symbols eating fish symbols with “Darwin” inside.   Yow, it’s a lot to keep track of.

Down through the Los Angeles basin all long on the 5 Freeway we zipped along as the mega-city slipped by on both sides.  Palos Verdes far off on the right reminded us that we’d left the city originally via that path passing through San Pedro and around the sea side of Palos Verde’s rise and up through the beach cities north of it; Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, etc.

Then we crossed through my home town, Long Beach, which we’d explored in some detail earlier.    Then further south until we entered Orange County.   

Orange County; a long stretch of cities, one after the other, each with stories and memories for me spread over most of my lifetime.   Watching their names go by was like listened to a form of music.

We passed Irvine and continued on since Dan and his family were, themselves,  out on a mini-vacation and not returning until later in the afternoon.

I wanted to show Colette an absolutely fabulous Mexican restaurant in Capistrano Beach named “Olamende’s”.  (   It did not disappoint us.

Good food and what a huge collection of Mexican doo-dads hung from every wall and ceiling.   We simply got up and shot photos in all directions; oblivious to whether we looked like tourists or not.

After that adventure, we continued down the coast road to San Clemente and parked and walked out on the pier and then admired the sunset and watched the Amtrak Surf-rider Train go by.

After that, we went to Dan’s place and saw my beautiful family.   Hugs were passed around.   Dan, Ann, Cody and sweet little Eden.   Mmmmm.   What a nice place to settle into for a few days until our flight back to the Shaky Island.


Santa Barbara, California – day 2

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Santa Barbara – New Year’s Eve

We’ve both decided that Santa Barbara is at the top of our list of favorite places we’ve seen on this trip.   Indeed, that’s why we returned here; for another look.   San Luis Obispo, Port Townsend and Vancouver, B.C. have been major favorites as well.

But, for beauty, weather and an optimal size, it would be very hard to beat Santa Barbara.

This morning, we drove downtown and parked the car and went looking for coffee and a bagel, hopefully, at a sidewalk cafe in the sun.   We we’re disappointed.   We found one right on State Street that was a beautiful white tablecloth affair.   We enjoyed our coffee and bagels in a leisurely manner and took a few photos; one of which I posted on Facebook.

Then we walked down State Street all the way to the harbor where we hadn’t been before.  It was quite beautiful.   The morning’s fog had just receded offshore and half the pier was still enclosed in it’s shroud.  We walked out and were there when the pier came free and the sunlight poured in.  ‘Now’ the meditator reminds him or herself.   ‘Now’ the beauty of the morning said so very unmistakably.

More walking to the west along the shore until we came to the old harbor, the boat moorings and a museum.   A really nice fellow manning the 4th floor observation platform of the museum talked to us and told us about the local area and what we might want to see.

He suggested that we drive the ridge top road above Santa Barbara.   Looking up at the crystal clear mountains in the morning’s sunlight, it seemed like a most excellent idea.

We took a tourist electric bus back to where our car was parked and Colette found the American’s seated around us on the bus most interesting.   One couple bickered about shopping utterly unconscious of the rest of us.   Then the woman of this couple set eye’s on a shirt another woman on the other side of me was wearing and she said that she liked it and these two groups. who didn’t know each other, started up an animated discussion about the shirt, about “Hello Kitty” and the Simpson’s TV show and various other things.

Later, after we were off the bus, Colette laughed and told me that all of these semi-loud and quite unconscious ‘being out there’ behaviors we’d witnessed is exactly the image most New Zealanders (and probably other countys as well) would have of how the archetypical American is in the world.   I laughed as well.  It is so interesting and fun to see yourself through other’s eyes.

We drove to Gelson’s Market (same chain as the one we visited our first day in Los Angeles) on State Street and got some coffee and boxed Sushi and snarfed it and then drove up to the ridge route road.

A beautiful drive and awesome drive.  Perhaps 10 miles or so along the ridge top of the world looking down on one side to the immense sea (mostly covered with fog to the shoreline) and the Channel Islands rising up through it in the far distance.  And, on the other side, the canyons behind the ridge.  Canyons that stretched for miles and miles.

We got down just as dusk was beginning and are now here at our motel writing and preparing to got out for another look at Santa Barbara and a light meal.

This is a beautiful and fitting last day to the year 2011.   It’s been a hard year for me in many ways.   My marriage of 20 years ended, my apartment lost in the February quake and a problem with my heart in June to remind of my mortality and how short life might be and how much I still want to do.   

Wake up, my friends.   Every moment is precious and if you sleep it all away buried in jobs and mortgages chasing the illusive dream of an ultimately unobtainable security, you will have no one to blame but yourselves when they bury you with your dreams unfulfilled and give all the money you saved for your ‘security’ to those who will not appreciate what it took you to save it.


San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, California

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara

A beautiful morning in San Luis Obispo and then off down the coast towards Santa Barbara.   

This time, we decide to cut off Highway 101 and head off into the peninsula where Vandenberg Air Force Base and the city of Lompoc are.

This is another area not unlike the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State or the Invercargill area in the south of New Zealand’ South Island.   Places where no one goes because they are just passing through to some where else.   You have to explicitly want to go to these places because they are off the beaten track and that lends them an interesting sense of charm and isolation that is quite their own.

We passed through a town called Guadalupe, which I’d never heard of.  It looks prosperous and happy.   Most of the people there seem to be of Hispanic origin.    We drove off the main drag and into the suburbs which is our usual M.O. when investigating a new place.  There were a lot of old U.S. ‘muscle’ cars in evidence.   Or, as Colette calls them, ‘cars as big as a tennis court’.

Back on the road, I take a small side route that looks like it will eventually wend its way to Lompoc and pass near Vandenberg AFB.   I explain to Colette that Vandenberg is where the U.S. launches all of its military satellites from while all the manned missions originate in Florida.  She wants to know if this is where the ‘stealth’ planes are but I say that I don’t think so;  I think they might be in a mysterious area referred to as Area 51 over in Nevada.

We pass the entrance to Vandenberg which is quite large and ostentatious.   It makes me remember my days in the military and how, if you were traveling on assignment, you had the right to stop into any AFB and request a bed for the night.   Ah, but that was a long time and several wars ago.

Lompoc appears and we stop at a Safeway for lunch and then walk over to the adjacent Starbucks for some coffee.   I’ve been looking around and I’ve been coming to the conclusion that this town is awash in both military money and in Government retirees.   I can’t point my finger at any one thing but I can just feel it.

I think about my friend, Mike D., who is in Brussels working for NATO as a U.S. government employee.  He’s just on the brink of retirement and wondering, as a single man, where to go and what to do.   I’m thinking he should take a good look at Lompoc.   He’d probably like it a lot.   Better, I’m thinking, than Sacramento where he’s currently thinking to settle (yuk!).

As we look around, Colette and I are both noting how many HUGE vehicles there are.   Monster trucks and SUVs are everywhere.   Most with a single small person driving them.   Environmentalists mock this by calling the women who drive such monster SUVs, “Soccer Moms”, because that’s all they use these tanks for; to take the kids to soccer practice or to go shopping.  American consumerism.

That provokes another conversation about Americans comprising 4% of the world but using 23% or its energy.   As always, the phrase, “No single raindrop thinks it is responsible for the flood” comes to mind.

Off towards Santa Barbara again in the beautiful sunlight.   No one in New Zealand would believe it’s the mid-winter here on the 30th of December.  That’s the equivalent of June 30th in the southern hemisphere.  Tee-shirt weather, put the windows down weather.

We pull into Santa Barbara and decide to stay.  We love this place.   Rooms are more expensive now that we’re on the brink of New Years and everyone’s ready to party.   But, we pony up the money and forget it.   We’re here now, settled, for two nights in a beautiful place.   What’s money for if it is not to buy you these experiences?

We’re a bit confused about where our room is relative to the downtown area.   Downtown is on State Street and our room’s on State Street.  Must be close, right?

We begin walking in the nice late afternoon air.  An hour and 15 minutes later, we arrive downtown.  Whoops!    But, walking is, perhaps, our favorite form of exercise and there’s lots to see and take in when you walk.   So, ok.

The trees downtown are wrapped with holiday lights and pretty and the streets are busy with shoppers and walkers like us.  We wander until we find a nice Irish Bar and restaurant; Dargen’s Irish Restaurant and Pub.  Yum….   A Corona beer for me and a mineral water for Colette and two bowls of nice French Onion Soup and all is right with the world.  Two Irish people in an Irish Pub; what more could anyone want?

Out for another walk through the downtown and the lights and people and then off for the 75 minute walk back to our room.

Good day!