Saturday, April 25, 2009

RFK Jr.; Crimes Against Nature

Last night we had the opportunity and pleasure of seeing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. give a keynote address at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, as the opening to the UCSC all alumni weekend. The theme of his talk was Crimes Against Nature.

It's rare that any modern orator (particularly one that suffers from spasmodic dysphonia) can hold an audience's attention for 90 minutes without a break, but Mr. Kennedy did just that, and did it handily, pausing only for a sip of water when the audience was applauding one point or another.

His comfort with, and mastery of, the keynote medium was evident from the start, when rather than stand behind the lectern with a pile of notes, he stood in front of it and started right in. That the talk was extemporaneous was brought home when, about 75 minutes in, he said, "And the point I wanted to start with, before I went off on that tangent, was..."

"Show me a polluter and I'll show you a subsidy." Mr. Kennedy made a point of saying that he's a free market capitalist, but that environmental destruction is a result of breakdowns in the market. If we were paying the true cost of gasoline, it would be around $12/gallon. Instead, the oil companies externalize the true costs in the form of billions of dollars spent defending foreign oil fields, making local communities pay for the clean up of their polluted waterways, direct subsidies in the form of tax breaks from the Federal Government, and so on.

Cheap "clean coal" at only 11 cents/kilowatt is anything but cheap or clean when you consider that the mercury used in mining, that's now flowing through our rivers, has raised mercury levels in American's bloodstreams to the point where a sizable percentage of American women have doomed their future offspring to cognitive disabilities, or that the effluents from burning coal (despite laws to install scrubbers) cause over a million asthma attacks each year and a million lost days of work, or that the mountains, valleys, and waterways of West Virginia are being filled in and leveled - a feat that not even the last ice age could accomplish - to extract the coal that will then have to travel on special, re-enforced, 18-inch thick roadways, built, again, at public expense.

Meanwhile, the American Southwest is "the Saudi Arabia of solar." An area of Arizona, 85 miles by 85 miles square (smaller than the area currently being strip-mined in Appalachia), could in theory supply enough solar energy to power the entire country. The Great Plains are the "the Saudi Arabia of wind" with some of the windiest places on the planet.

But that farmer in the Great Plains cannot build wind turbines and start selling energy, and even if massive solar fields were installed in Arizona, they can't power the nation, because of an antiquated power grid, and archaic rules that don't encourage innovation or the entry of small entrepreneurs into a market dominated by oil and coal and the politicians they control.

There is hope and reason for optimism, however. Those nations that gone carbon-free have thrived. Contrary to all the warnings of the naysayers, those that have taken bold moves to rapidly get their power grids off of oil (or, at least, foreign oil) have had booms of innovation and entrepreneurship that lifted entire national economies, as well as increased quality of life through environmental stewardship.

Mr. Kennedy estimates that the United States could be off of foreign oil by "the end of Obama's second term" and off of oil completely in 12 years. While this may sound pie-in-the-sky, and too rapid, we have many historical examples of where we've made and met just such challenges.

In the lead-up to World War Two, FDR said we'd build "a ship a day" and airplanes and tanks, etc. We built them, and it helped lift the economy out of the depression. But "the assets we built were taken to Europe or the Pacific and blown up." This time, we can put the economy to work building new assets - clean power plants, a modern power grid - and keep these assets here, working for us, providing the clean, inexpensive energy we require without digging, blasting, drilling, or importing a thing.

Following the 90-minutes speech, and a standing ovation, a 20-minute Q&A session was held, moderated by Vinod Khosla (founder of Sun Microsystems), who had also introduced Mr. Kennedy.

One of the questions from the audience asked about those who use religious arguments to refute global warming or to oppose environmental legislation. Mr. Kennedy said that his reading of the bible, and other religious texts, always points to taking care of the earth and all its inhabitants. "God didn't say to Noah, 'Get two each of the animals that are profitable.' He said, 'All my creatures are worthy of saving.'"

The final question was a request for one thing we could each take away from evening and do immediately, to which Mr. Kennedy answered, "Sometimes it's more important to change your politician than your light bulb."

Mr. Kennedy stayed after, in the lobby, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and talking to members of the audience. It was an honor to get to thank him personally (and have him sign my ticket stub).

As long as this post is, I'm afraid I only touched on a few of the important points made, and facts presented. That there was a lot of technical information is true; but it was presented with warmth, humor, enthusiasm, heart, and a spirit that held us rapt, and inspired us all to be better stewards of our planet, and better citizens of our country.

Odd-Uncomfortable Historical Note: The venue for last night's speech was the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Santa Cruz. Cocoanut Grove (with the same, old-fashioned spelling, coco-a-nut) was also the name of the nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where Mr. Kennedy's father was assassinated in 1968, although the site of his final speech was the Embassy Room.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Human Race '09

It's almost Human Race time again in California, coming right up on May 9. The Human Race is a number of different events held by the Volunteer Centers in most California counties as fundraisers for local nonprofits.

This year, I'll be walking in the Santa Cruz County Human Race for Mountain Community Resources, a family resource center in Felton providing a variety of social services and emergency preparedness programs, and where I'm currently serving as the Interim Executive Director.

And, of course, I'm looking for pledges... If you'd like to support me in the Human Race this year, please click this link and then enter an amount and click the donate button. (If it asks for the Agency number, it's #140 - "Mountain Community Resources"). Thank you in advance for your help!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wine Tasting with Hitch

Yesterday my wife and I went up to Heart O' the Mountain Winery above Scotts Valley for a special tasting event. This is a relatively new winery that only does Pinot Noir, and has only had two publicly available releases (the '05 and the '06) but they've both been gold medal winners and very well received.

The wine is great, but the really cool thing about Heart O' the Mountain for me is that they're on the former Hitchcock estate. This was Alfred and Alma's weekend getaway from about 1940 to about 1970 or so (they sold it in '74, but hadn't been up for a few years before that due to declining health).

I'd actually gone in search of this house before, but not quite found it. Turns out, I was on the right path, and had identified the correct driveway, but that there were still two or three locked gates between me and actually seeing anything.

As a life-long Hitchcock fan it was a great thrill to finally be on the estate property and see the house and courtyard, which is still pretty much the same as when Hitch was there entertaining Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, and Jimmy Stewart.

Unfortunately, none of the wine is from Hitchcock's vineyard, or the original 1881 vineyard. By the time this family bought the place in '78, those vines were all dead and buried, so they've had to replant the entire estate over the last decade.

Yesterday we had some of the '04 (unlabeled and never for sale), the '06 from the bottle ('05 is now sold out), and '07 from the barrel. All very yummy, and the progression promises that Heart O' the Mountain will be a leading contender in Pinot competitions for some time to come.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sharing Three Things...

Yet another meme. I was tagged by Maria on Facebook. Here's the drill:
Now, here's what you're supposed to do... Create a new note or blog, copy and paste this message, delete my answers and type in yours. Then tag 23 good friends (I ain't tagging nobody) INCLUDING the person who tagged you. The theory is that you will learn one new thing about each of your friends. Do the questionnaire if you want to...
Ken, Ummm.... Ken?, Stephen-David-Kenneth

Record store manager, Music video production assistant, Political canvasser

Newton, MA, Grover City, CA, North Hollywood, CA

Hell's Kitchen, House, Ace of Cakes

Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Washington, DC

Scotland, Russia, Tahiti

BBQ Chicken, BBQ Ribs, Any kind of red meat set on fire, I suppose.

Finishing this meme, Going to dinner, Getting a good night's rest

Big George, Eartha Kitty, Mr. Flash (all cats)

I ain't tagging anybody, so I really don't know

Tom Petty, The Kinks, Eric Clapton

Does Iron Chef count?

Manhattan, Single Malt Scotch (straight up), Guinness

Okay - I'm done. Your turn! (and something about doing this made me hungry...)

Thursday, April 09, 2009


A deliberate act of expertise vandalism is now being blamed for the phone system outage that today stifled electronic communication through Santa Cruz and parts of Santa Clara and San Benito Counties along the southern edge of California's Silicon Valley.

Last night, at around 2 AM, cables were cut in several locations throughout the area using specialized equipment:
"... saboteurs had to use a piece of equipment to lift heavy manhole covers and climb down several feet to get to the cables. They would have to have been equipped with heavy-duty cutting equipment to slice through the thick cable coating."
The outage effected most cell phones, many land lines, and much internet traffic in the region. 911 emergency lines could not be reached, and fire departments took to hillside perches to scan the area for smoke or other signs of problems.

The good news is the lack of panic. While stories are now emerging of people frustrated by the situation, and people driving to hospitals who otherwise would have called ambulances, there was no vandalism or crimes reported (yet) as a result. Banks allowed only a customer or two in at a time, issuing hand-written receipts, stores and restaurants hung "cash only" signs on their doors, and life went on as usual. Well, usual for 1975.

My own experience of the day was seeing a headline about the outage early this morning, and not really thinking about it until I got in my car, turned on my bluetooth headset and realized that I had no signal. My first stop was to meet with some people at a coffee shop in Ben Lomond.

That's when I heard more about the outage, but, somehow, their wi-fi was working. Although I couldn't use my personal email because my ISPs server was rejecting connections, I was able to get some messages out through Gmail, and Twitter gave me connections to a few friends.

After that it was on to my client's office. By then phone lines were restored for local service only, but no long distance calls were getting in or out, cell phones were still not working, and the Internet connection was down.

A motive for the sabotage is still unknown, and systems are still not fully functional after nearly 20 hours.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Iowa

By now pretty much everybody has heard the news that the Iowa State Supreme Court has ruled that the state's law limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of equal protection. And, if you've been to this blog before, you know that I agree with that ruling.

But, while I agree that this is an important ruling, and a step in the right direction toward the inevitable recognition of marriage equality nationwide, I'm not exactly partying like it's 1999 over this.

Basically: We've been here before. We, in California, have certainly been here before. And if the California experience teaches anything, it's that the pendulum swings both ways before finding its resting position.

The Iowa Court found that their current state law does not fit within their current state constitution. There are two ways to fix this. Either amend the law to recognize same-sex marriages. Or amend the constitution to clarify and cement the ban.

I applaud the Iowa Supreme Court for their unanimous decision, but all they've really done is select the stage for the next big battle. The war is far from over.

Twitter Feed