California Reminiscence

I remember my first rendezvous with California, the Golden State, as a 17-year old serviceman on his way to Korea, dazzled by snow-capped mountains thrown back in the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe, the descent into orchard country and, then, San Francisco. Suddenly, I understood my brother and a beloved uncle making it their home.

Ultimately, I married a California girl and nearly thirty years ago we honeymooned in Monterey and its environs. Our children and grand-babies are Californians and, when we can, we make the trek. I know California well, studied in California on a government grant, am a devotee of Big Sur country, aficionado of poet Robinson Jeffers, writers Steinbeck, Didion, Chandler, Solnit and still others.

But the California I knew, along with countless generations, has lost much of its golden hue. For only the second time in its history, more people have moved out than moved in, fleeing rampant taxation, escalating housing and utility costs, and the state’s crazy politics.

California with 12% of the nation’s population has one third of its welfare recipients. A once proud educational artifice of well paid teachers and progressive schools now ranks 37th. It’s last in the number of K-12 students per teacher (2015-16).

Last summer, impacted by climate change, 4 million acres of forest burned and severe drought, a now annual specter, taunts the state’s huge agricultural sector, much of it irrigational. I could write pages on the consequences of the demise of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the state’s most significant water resource. Or of salinization of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta that supplies drinking water for 20 million Californians. Today, California suffers the worst air quality in the nation, resulting in huge medical outlays.

Even big tech has caught on to what’s happening, several firms recently choosing their options elsewhere for more welcoming states like Arizona, Texas, Idaho and Washington. Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the world’s second richest man, announced plans to move his HQ to Texas/Nevada and sold $100 million of California real estate. (Tesla is the last auto manufacturer in the state.)

Political polity provided by a once robust two party rivalry of Democrats and Republicans has been vastly eroded. Between 1970 and 2018, the Hispanic population increased from 12% to 39%. They overwhelmingly prefer Democrats. Identity politics is everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong. Not everything is doom and gloom in California. Even with its troubles, California, were it a country, would rank fifth in GDP, exceeding several European countries such as England, France and Italy and nearly doubling Canada.

And yet, like the California haze that increasingly infiltrates our summer and fall traditionally vibrant blue New Mexico skies where Karen and I live, something’s gone out of things and a golden El Dorado no longer allures.



The UN Panel Report on Global Warming: Is anyone Listening?

Credit: ReutersStringer

If you’ve been keeping up with news about the environment, you’re perhaps aware of this week’s biggest news event, not the elusive search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, or the status quo of Ukraine, or the achieved pinnacle of 7 million enrollees under the Affordable Health Care Act, but the dismal impact studies just completed of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  At least this is as it should be, though you’d never know it, given the paucity of TV coverage of the Panel’s exhaustive findings (32 volumes summarized in 49 pages).

Turns out that yesterday’s coverage of the Panel’s released findings by news cable giants CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News was virtually absent, according to media monitoring service, TV Eyes, scanning Monday’s coverage between 6 a.m. and noon: CNN, 40 seconds; MSNBC, 20 seconds; and no surprise, Fox News’s total silence.

Only new comer Al Jazeera America zeroed in on the report, featuring an in depth analysis of the substantial effects of global warming on Bangladesh, which has been battling rising sea levels.

One of the Panel’s projections deals with emerging migrant hoards seeking refuge in other countries.  I didn’t see Al Jazeera’s footage, but I’m aware that India is feverishly building a wall to stem the influx of Bangladesh refugees. (By the way, if you like your news unbiased, al Jazeera is your best bet.)

This sad scenario of media indifference mirrors the largely disturbing absence of the American public’s concern with the issue of global warming, humanity’s greatest threat to its survival since its inauguration into the nuclear age in 1945 and the subsequent threat of nuclear proliferation.

For many, it comes down to jobs vs. environment, or the prioritizing of entitlement interests when the fact is that poverty is likely to grow, not diminish, and affect even the richer nations as global warming’s exponential effects take hold in the guise of drought, record heat waves, forest fires, fierce storms, reduced food production, disease and social violence. Global warming’s incipient effects are already impacting plants and animals and acidifying the oceans with deadly consequences for marine life.

Humans are the primary instigators of global warming, with carbon emissions continuing to rise, and China, the U. S., and India leading the way. Here in my state of Kentucky with its coal slave mentality, the state government has just cut annual coal mine inspections down from 6 to 4.  Sadly, I live in a state where many cars sport specialized plates, bearing “Friends of Coal,” and power companies wage incessant scare propaganda equating coal reduction with rising energy costs and job reduction instead of implementing focused research on clean coal technology.  As I write, a Kentucky coal ash plant has been caught by hidden camera dumping coal ash into the Ohio River and is being sued by the Sierra Club and Land Justice.

Again, Kentucky isn’t alone, but part of a mind-sweep that embraces America. For example, initiatives to promote recycling by outlawing plastic bags are continually defeated even in more friendly environmental places like Seattle.  (I have to confess I feel conspicuous, a seemingly rare upstart, when carrying my cloth bags into Krogers.)

In drought plagued California, swimming pools still adorn Malibu, ball parks sport well manicured grass, and golf courses like Pebble Beach and Cypress Point Club nurture their resplendent greens, even as farmers curtail their crops and California’s biggest cash crop of almond and walnut groves lie in dusty peril.

Golf interests say water consumption amounts to only 1% of California’s total, but omit a plethora of other environmental burdens like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which contribute to contamination of groundwater aquifers and surface waters.

This may seem off the subject, but there’s a new movie in town, Noah, that’s been drawing crowds, grossing $42 million in its initial weekend viewing. I bring it up because in my youthful days of religiosity I remember it took the biblical Noah a year to build the ark and round up the selected progeny of animals (although it escapes me as to what happened to the plants, since there’s no clear indication of their inclusion, though all the animals taken in were herbivores).

Anyway, the guy must have seemed some kind of crazy.  After all, the earth, nourished by mist, hadn’t ever experienced rain before. The gospel of Luke (17:25-27, KJV) makes analogy to Noah and his time, saying

As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

Looks like Hollywood missed a golden opportunity of transforming an ancient saga of environmental survival into a film of contemporary relevance.



Pacific Grove and its Monarch butterflies


For all its ever burgeoning population and high cost of living, I think California still offers a lot of good living away from the crowds in small towns hugging its pristine coast, offering the surf swish of blue Pacific ocean, cradling mountains that often walk down to the sea like in Big Sur country and, of course, the soothing warmth of year-round sunny days with low humidity.  To me, California is like going into one of those specialty ice cream outlets and finding yourself overwhelmed by a dazzling array of choices.  I just love the place!

Pacific Grove, however, stands out for me, located on the Monterey peninsula not far from ritzy Pebble Beach, rugged Big Sur, and charming Carmel-by-the Sea.  This area, in particular, means a lot to me, for Karen and I spent fun honeymoon days taking in its varied tapestry twenty years ago.  I’m all about regaining paradise.

Pacific Grove wasn’t even on my radar map until several weeks ago when I happened to find it mentioned in a book off my shelf that I hadn’t read in over two decades and started reading again.  While noting the town is famous for its annual influx of migrating Monarch butterflies each November, the writer laments their declining numbers, probably due to a shrinking habitat as housing construction continues to expand. I would add the increasing loss of milkweed, a principal food supply for the larvae.

Now this was way back in 1990 and thus my curiosity was aroused as to the plight of the Monarchs since, and so I did the research and came up both buckets full with info on Pacific Grove and its wintering Monarchs.  The news is good, though it could be better.

After more than twenty years, they still come to escape the winter cold of the Canadian Rockies and Southern Alaska, though in sharply diminished numbers, perhaps about 10,000, unlike the 50,000 plus in the halcyon days long gone.  The town seems attentive to its friends, even staging an annual parade (October), and why not, since they’ve built a thriving tourist industry around them and any further decline means diminished dollar intake as well.  There is a fine of $1000 for molesting a butterfly.


Well-meaning, but on occasion, the city council can be dimwitted, opting in 2009 to prune the eucalyptus trees that the monarchs favor in their designated Monarch Grove Sanctuary, resulting in a precipitous drop shortly after to less than a thousand Monarchs.  Cutting a branch is like tearing down a house replete with its residents, since the larvae cocoon on these bare branches.  Today you’re  likely to see more Monarchs further down the coast toward Santa Cruz.  Some recent visitors report seeing just a couple of trees with butterflies, vastly changed from the swarms that blanketed the eucalyptus several decades ago.  What appalls is the council’s acting against the advice of environmental scientists.

pacificgroveThen, in November 2012,  the council was forced to make public its plan to revamp the Sanctuary, strikingly out of touch with California’s environmental recommendations.  In the past, the council has a history of foregoing environmental reviews.  As I write, I don’t know the outcome.

But I do need to be fair.  It used to be that the the principal Monarch habitat lay in the city’s George Washington Park, but urbanization, foot traffic and drought have taken their toll.  The city is trying to restore the habitat through tree planting, mulching and new trails.  The numbers are down to less than a hundred now.

The Monarchs are awesome in their intricacy of evolved pattern, suggesting aerial tigers.  They’re also, though infinitely delicate, intrepid pilgrims on their own hajj to a nesting place they’ve never been, and yet they somehow find their way in a journey consummating up to 2000 miles.

Central California is Steinbeck country and the Nobel laureate made Pacific Grove his home with his first wife, Carol, and visited it often in his later years as his own sanctuary providing renewal.  He would later tellingly write that “Pacific Grove benefits by one of those happy accidents of nature that gladden the heart, excite the imagination, and instruct the young” (Sweet Thursday).  I suspect the Monarchs had a great deal to do with that.

Be well,


Reflections on Democrat defeat in Wisconsin recall

Despite large scale union efforts and a tsunami of out-of state money, Wisconsin Democrats fell short in their bid to unseat six Republican state senate incumbents in yesterday’s recall election, with Republicans winning four of the six contests. Democrats, irate at Gov. Scott Walker and his allies whom they view as short-changing the collective bargaining rights of state workers, sought to even the score in an election some have viewed as a bellwether of public sentiment before the November 2012 national election. Democrats had wanted to go after the governor as well, but were preempted by a state law that mandates a governor serve at least one year.

While not taking sides, I am happy with the outcome. For me, the issue of political stability is what’s at stake in such recall elections. Think about the chaos resulting from special interest groups petitioning for recall elections whenever they disagree with their political leadership. Think about the wasted millions in costs. After all, there is a process for change. We call it the ballot box, a right open to citizens every two years. In the interim, we also have the courts. In this instance, the state court upheld the Republican decision-making process.

As is, twelve senate Democrats chose to abandon the decision process by leaving the state in order to prevent a quorum. Again, whatever happened to this thing we call democracy? If I can’t have my way, I’m going to pick-up my marbles and go home.

California’s been dealing with similar gridlock in its state assembly for many years. They also had a recall election, this one successful, in which they got rid of Governor Pete Wilson. His successor? A B-film actor and former body builder without a lick of political experience. Nothing changed. Some might argue things got worse.

Imagine if we acted this way at the federal level. We don’t like a president, so we decide on a recall, never mind waiting another four years.

Soon it will be the turn of Wisconsin Democrats to twist in the wind. Next Tuesday, recall elections for two senate democrats will take place. Where does the retribution end? I am sick of factional politics. Talk to a politician and you won’t get a straight answer. As the Indians had it,”White man speak with forked tongue.”

If you think about it, recall elections have the stuff of lynch-mob mentality behind them. No fair trial. Act on impulse. String ’em up.

I’m starting to think banana republic. Hey, would the last one out get the lights?

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