Category Archives: Travel

Returning home from different places in time to see Melania Trump channel Michelle Obama

Vacation-3Michele fractured her sacrum last December – or, more accurately, some other person fractured her sacrum by running into her on Mogul Hill while they were skiing at Squaw Valley – so we designed our trip around short jumps from city to city. Because we were visiting my sister in Albuquerque, the short jumps were really long painful rides broken up as much as possible.  Now that we are back home and are catching up with the news, it seemed like a great time to be away and out of touch. Still, it’s great to be home.

 

 

To the Mullin and starting back, thinking about Political Bravery and Dishonesty

Mullin-1898Driving south to The Mullin Automotive Museum, we gently climbed up the Salinas Valley to Paso Robles. This is Steinbeck Territory,  and heavily Mexican (it is not an area of the United States that one would have to learn English to prosper). It is rich farmland, with a highway through it. After the rains – not the last deluge, but the rains for the last couple of weeks – the land has been transformed. For at least three years, our Savanna has been lifeless, the golden hills, brown and dull. Now it is coming alive. The green is emerald, so bright it is shocking, Michele says it looks like Ireland.  Mullin-1900

We started the drive late, just as the storm was clearing. As we head southeast, the storm was moving east even faster. so we drove on wet roads with clearing skies.

At the southeast end of the Valley, as we started to climb out of the alluvial bottomland, we passed what I had expected to be the depleted San Ardo Oil Field. Except that it seems to be no longer depleted. All the old, rusted rocking horses – rocking horses is what I grew up calling them but they are also called pumpjacks and they are those big see-saw thing that pump the oil out of the ground – have been giving a fresh coat of paint or replaced and are ready to pump out more oil. With all the new technology – including fracking, but far from only fracking – they are getting better at finding and extracting every last drop. We now produce almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia and gas seems cheap again. Good Times must be here to stay.  Of course the damage to the planet that burning that oil is still the same, but, at least, it is cheaper to do it.

As we drove into a great sunset, we talked about oil and politics and  Dianne Feinstein’s act  of courage.
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Releasing that Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report must have been very  painful. Feinstein is no Liberal, she voted for the Patriot Act  and its extension, including the FISA provisions. She thinks that Edward Snowden is a traitor and she has voted to give NSA more powers. Feinstein is head of the Intelligence Committee and she has been a cheerleader for the CIA. but, apparently, the CIA she cheers for, doesn’t condone torture.  The other CIA, however, didn’t want the report released and either did President Obama. Feinstein had to fight to get the Report even done. Releasing as much information as she released was damaging and must have cost her friendships.

Our plan was to meet Malcolm Pearson in Ventura where we would spend the night. The next morning we went to the Mullin Museum with Malcolm and then we split. Malcolm journeyed  deeper into the Southland and we spent the night in Ventura. As it turned out, our timing was perfect, as the day ended, we wandered past the strawberry fields of Oxnard and down to the beach just in time to watch the sun set over the Channel Islands.
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Then we caught the 38th Annual Ventura Harbor Parade of Lights (wheeee!).  Mullin-2069
Mullin-Sunday morning, as we had breakfast before starting for home, we heard that the Senate had passed the $1.1 trillion Spending Bill. We weren’t sure, but the inference was that the passed bill included language – written by the lobbyists for CitiGroup and put in at the last minute – that relaxed or eliminated many of the government controls put in by the Dodd-Frank Bill. It will now be easier, again, for banks to do, among other things, credit swaps and still be eligible for Federal Government Bailouts. I thought that stopping risky behavior was one of the main reasons Dodd-Frank was passed in the first place. Now we are back to where we started, if the banks gamble and make money, they keep it and pay big bonuses, if they lose, the taxpayer bail them out.

To round out the Spending Bill, it provides $64 billion for military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries, while money is saved by cutting the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service which should make it easier for companies to trash the environment and lower the taxes they pay. What galls me the most about all this is that it was a bipartisan bill with the Democrats claiming it Was the best we could get. Maybe, but I am inclined to think that it is just politics as usual with the Democrats just giving lip service to fighting Wall Street while they vote like Republicans. The only good thing about the way the voting went is that neither California Senator voted for it. They voted the way they talk.

After breakfast, we started home on the Pacific Coast Highway (which is really on the coast less than half the time).

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To end on an aside, we left Ventura and drove along the coast until the highway turned inland, about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, at Gaviota. I was driving and Michele was riding shotgun with the camera. It wasn’t until we turned inland that Michele took her first shot. We both thought that was telling. Telling what, we weren’t sure, but something. End aside.

Torture

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We may have made a few terrorists uncomfortable for a short period of time in order to get information that we felt was essential to protecting the United States. Deputy Director of the CIA, John McLaughlin.

There really weren’t many surprises in the Senate Torture Report. When it was reported that Lynndie England, Ivan Frederick  – who his friends affectionately called Chip – Megan Ambuhl, et al, posted pictures of their torturing prisoners sometime in 2003-2004, I didn’t believe that they were Lone Wolves. To me, and everybody I talked to who had been in the military, they were just too far down the ladder to have made that decision and then blithely photograph it. I thought that the decision had been made much higher up and, when the Privates and Spec 4s had been caught, they were scapegoated.

It really didn’t surprise me that the CIA was lying, anybody who read about the CIA fighting and redacting the Senate Report. Speaking of which, I was surprised that Senator Feinstein took such a strong stance. Pleasantly surprised.

What also surprised me was that the CIA paid something like 80 million dollars – EIGHTY MILLION – to a couple of consultants to torture people.

Peter Kuhlman, on facebook, linked to an article in The American Conservative that makes as much sense as anything I have read. As Peter said,  Money quote:”Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. …It was never about “them” at all. It was about us. It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.”

In the meantime, Michele and I are heading south to see a special show on the art of the Bugatti brothers at the Mullin. We will try to not think about torture.Mullin-0452

 

 

Hiking – to use the term loosely – out of Coyote Gulch

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We spent the second night on a sandy bench under a huge wall on the outside of a meander with the sky trying to clear. After our morning toilette,Escalante Trip-0110
and instant oatmeal with dry fruit for breakfast, we wandered around the area for a few minutes. Up until now, we have been walking through Navajo Sandstone, but, now, the creek – brook? stream? – has carved its way down into another layer or, more accurately, down into multi-layers; and the canyon starts to take on a different character.
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Today we walk under Coyote Bridge, following the stream, and nobody is around. Yesterday, we walked by Jacob Hamblin Arch, probably the most famous – using the term famous relatively – place in Coyote Gulch, but there were two large parties camped there, so we kept on walking. For the most part, we are hiking alone, although we do run into people going the other way or going faster (we don’t pass anybody who is walking slower than me). The first time I came here, we didn’t see anybody and now there are probably thirty people spread out along the thirteen mile canyon.

We are in an official park, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument but this is land that is administered by the Bureau of Land Management rather than The Park Service. It is the BLM, to anybody who lives in the Rural West. The BLM which administers over 245 million surface acres and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. The BLM: giver of grazing and mining permits, regulator – over regulator or under regulator depending on you point of view – of fracking. Normally they do not administer parks and I really don’t remember the political reasons that brought this on except that the Monument was set-up under Clinton/Gore and Gingrich was running the House at the time.

What ever the reason, the BLM is much less formal than the Park service. In Zion National Park, many of the trails are paved, even in the Yosemite highcountry, some of the trails have wooden boardwalks and, in The Valley, some have guard rails. In Coyote, there  are no trails, there is only the way (as in this way may go through, or this way is better, or no way!). Sometimes the way is over a sandy bench covered in wild grasses, sometimes the way is in the river, sometimes it is through Gamble Oaks and Willows, but the way is always down into the canyon.
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Sometimes we take a break, just to bathe in the beauty, the wildness,
Escalante Trip-0168but the way always takes us deeper into the canyon.
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Escalante Trip-0155After a small waterfall, we ran into a slickrock section that required help from a stick that Courtney found. I kept thinking, I have been both down this section and back up, it is very doable. But I am older and stiffer and more brittle and, looking down at the landing zone, I realized that I would not make it without the stick. We slid halfway down on our butts, scooched to stage right, and then slid off the ledge to the solid sand landing zone. It was one of those places that is physically pretty easy, psychologically scary, and takes lots of time-consuming discussion.
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Escalante Trip-0175The last night in the canyon, we camp in a huge alcove. Alcoves are not my favorite place to camp because they seem so well used, maybe overused. I know that the Anasazi must have stopped here because they like alcoves, but they abandoned their major cities like Mesa Verde and Chaco near the end of the 13th century, and this is far from those cities. The magic, if it ever existed,  is gone, wiped clean by years of ranchers and cowboys using this place.
Escalante Trip-0188After our morning meditation, we hike the last couple of miles of Coyote Gulch, Escalante Trip-0191

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Coyote Gulch ends at the Escalante River at just about the place that the Escalante River, itself, ends at Lake Powell. It is as deep as we can go. But there is a way out – a long walk up a sand dune, just before the end – that leads to the Crack In The Wall. This sand dune has been a major worry for me, it is steep, sandy, and doesn’t have any shade, so Michele and I started while Gina and Courtney explored downstream. The hike up the sand dune is much worse – and much shorter – than I remembered it and my tactic becomes look up the trail, pick out a destination 15 to 20 feet ahead – like an Opuntia – then hike to that point to take a break and catch my breath. I repeat it about 50 times.Escalante Trip-0219
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Escalante Trip-0244Finally, we get to the Crack and it is much narrower than I remember – I am almost too fat – but I am able to squeeze through, only to be stopped by a block that has to be climbed.
Crack in the WallAt this point, the only way out is to go up, going back is a two-day slog, at best. With Courtney directing my feet and Gina pulling, I get above it and then scramble to the top of the plateau and, shazam!, we are out (with only a tiring, flat, walk back to the car). That night, we have a delicious dinner at the Hell’s Backbone Grill.
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