Sunday, March 20, 2011

Santa Catalina Island

Avalon harbor on Santa Catalina Island
I am out in the Los Angeles area for two weeks of training for my new job. This has given me a free weekend to fill, so on Saturday morning I drove down to Dana Point and took the ferry over to Santa Catalina Island for the day. The island is a popular destination for sailors in this area, and I have been reading about it in Latitudes & Attitudes magazine for many years. It didn't disappoint.

The Catalina Express took about an hour and a half to cover the twenty-two miles to the island through sizable swells heaped up by a Pacific storm front that has been blowing in over the last few days. We docked in Avalon, the principal town on the island, and I immediately bought a ticket for the inland bus tour, figuring I would have plenty of time afterward to wander around Avalon. The tour bus took us briefly through town and then up the big hill that is visible above the ferry in the first photo. That's writer Zane Grey's home at the top of the cluster of houses extending up the hill, the clarion tower commissioned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.'s wife Ada further up the road, and of course the famous Casino at the far end of the harbor. (Click the photos for full-size views.)

Lone buffalo on Santa Catalina Island
The bus took us up the winding road, lined with eucalyptus trees, to a natural overlook, where we stopped to take photos. Further on, we spotted a lone buffalo. According to the tour guide, he is one of the descendants of fourteen buffalo brought to the island in 1924 for the filming of "The Vanishing American", based on Zane Grey's novel. We also spotted a pair of the island's native foxes, which were almost wiped out by a distemper epidemic in the mid-1990s. The turnaround point for the tour was the island's airport, a 3000-foot strip of asphalt and a control tower built by Mr. Wrigley to allow him to fly his DC-6 over from the mainland. There were commercial flights after World War II but only private pilots use the strip now.

Santa Catalina Island Yacht Club in Avalon
On our way back to Avalon, we were accompanied by two ravens flying next to the bus. The tour guide explained that another tour guide had found three raven chicks on his front porch one morning almost ten years ago. He named them Edgar, Allan and Poe, and raised them to adulthood. He released them at the airport, and they continue to live along the road that leads there. The airport sells really good chocolate chip cookies, and the tour guides have made it a habit to stop and share one with the ravens during each tour, which explains why two of them were flying next to us. Our guide was prepared, and he stopped the bus to toss a cookie to the expectant birds.

Old Ben statue in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island
Back in Avalon, I walked out to the Casino, which is not a place to gamble but rather a very large, circular ballroom. Behind it is a dive park, where people were scuba diving through the kelp right off the shore. I heard one diver comment that she had seen an enormous crab. On the way back around the harbor, I took a photo of the Santa Catalina Island Yacht Club building, which sits on stilts over the water. In the background, the house highest up the hill is the Wrigley's mansion. The final photo shows a statue of "Old Ben," a notoriously friendly seal who lived in the area in the early 1900s. Up on the hill behind the statue is a unique home with its own story, about a wealthy man who built it for his future wife to move into from the mainland, only to find that she had run off with another man. The wealthy man lived in the house as a bachelor until he died many years later. And he died happy, according to our tour guide.

If we should ever find ourselves sailing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, I would make it a point to spend some time on Santa Catalina Island. There is so much more I would like to explore than I had time for in my brief visit.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tax the Rich!

Tax the Rich!
Last week, a friend emailed me the following article, which appeared in Madison, Wisconsin's newspaper, The Capital Times. I had been thinking of writing about the imminent death of America's middle class, but this article sums it up much better than I ever could:

The crisis is our unwillingness to make rich pay their share

by John Hallinan

U.S. corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in cash -- trillion, not billion. The same people who shipped millions of jobs overseas, caused the financial crisis, and pay themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses every year are now sitting on a mountain of cash. Yet both state and local governments feel the need to give them more tax cuts. To what end? So they can create more profits and sit on bigger piles of cash, so they can play monopoly as they buy each other out, or so they can give themselves even bigger bonuses? There is no indication that they are interested in doing anything to spur the economy.
In December we heard the Republicans tell us that people making over $250,000 per year couldn’t afford a 4 percent tax increase, and it would be terrible for the economy to increase their taxes. Thirty years ago they were paying 70 percent in taxes. Now they pay half that, but a 4 percent increase is just too much to bear.

Now we are told that state workers making $40,000 to $60,000 per year are stealing the state blind. The same workers who for the last two years have taken over a 3 percent pay cut in the form of furloughs are now told they haven’t sacrificed enough. Now they must forfeit 7 percent or more of their pay, and give up their right to negotiate their future. What is appalling is the state workers were willing to give up the money to help out the state. All they asked was to keep their right to negotiate. Yet the wealthiest in our country aren’t willing to give up anything to help our country out of the financial mess they created.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan told the biggest lie ever perpetuated on the American public. He condemned Jimmy Carter for running a $40 billion deficit, and then told everyone he could cut taxes and balance the budget. Voodoo economics -- that’s what George H.W. Bush called Reagan’s economic plan. He was right, and by the mid ’80s the budget deficit had ballooned to over $200 billion.

Of course it was the rich who walked away with virtually all of the Reagan tax cuts. During the last 25 years the Republicans have doubled down over and over again, giving more and more tax cuts to the rich. While the rich have gotten incredibly wealthy, the poor have gotten poorer. It is a reverse Robin Hood economy where we take from the poor and give to the rich. It has been the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of our country -- the 400 richest have more than the 155 million poorest.

Ballooning government deficits weren’t a problem when Republicans were in the White House, but with a Democratic president, it is suddenly a crisis. The recession we’ve been living through proves the fallacy of Milton Friedman, Reaganomics, Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan and the rest who told us that markets are self-correcting and regulation is bad. Banking regulations kept this country out of serious recession for 70 years, but once the regulations were repealed it took only a decade to bring the world’s economy to its knees. Yet Republicans refuse to acknowledge how wrong they were as they continue to try to gut government regulations.

Every time a politician tells you he wants to make the government more business friendly, what he’s really telling you is that he wants to increase taxes on your children and grandchildren. Every environmental law that is weakened will mean a cleanup to be paid for by future generations. Every bad business practice that is endured will be funded by taxpayers having to clean up the mess at some later date.

Now we are told that everyone must sacrifice to bring state and federal government budgets in line. But somehow the sacrifices once again all fall on those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Once again businesses are given tax cuts, money is found to increase spending on roads, but education, health care and help for the poorest in our society are cut.

There isn’t a financial crisis at either the state or the federal government. The crisis is our unwillingness to ask those who have gained the most from our society to pay a fair and equitable share from the wealth this society has allowed them to accumulate. It is the honest, Christian, and patriotic thing to do.

© 2011 The Capital Times

Published on Friday, March 11, 2011 by The Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin. John Hallinan is a Stoughton, Wisconsin resident.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Skiing in Telluride

Nan skiing at Telluride
Nan and I just returned from spending the weekend with our friends, Kevin and Lesley Sullivan, at their lovely home in Montrose, Colorado. Kevin and I have been friends since we met while teaching for the Powderhorn Ski School back in 2005. Neither of us teaches there anymore, but we get together several times each winter to ski together and several times each summer for golf.

On Saturday morning, we left Kevin and Lesley's two golden retrievers, Duke and Chisum, and ours, Scout, to their own devices at the Sullivan home while we drove down to Telluride to ski. I have wanted to ski at Telluride since moving to Colorado almost twenty-five years ago, but we always had a season pass for the Aspen ski areas, which kept us skiing close to home. Now that we live in Grand Junction, we have been trying to broaden our horizons and Telluride was at the top of our list. We parked at the covered parking and took the gondola over to Mountain Village. From there, we skied down the Meadows run and warmed up on the easy runs off the Sunshine lift. Lesley and Kevin stayed on those runs while Nan and I went off in search of greater challenges. We soon found ourselves at the top of the Gold Hill lift, for a cruise down the See Forever run. The views were spectacular, as the name implies, and we stopped to snap some iPhone photos. In the photo above, Nan is posing in front of the dramatic panorama formed by the Lizard Head rock formation, Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak. The "Wilsons," as they are known, are both above fourteen thousand feet in elevation. When I was climbing all of Colorado's 14ers, I stood at the top of each Wilson. Click the photo for a better, full-size view.

We met up again with Kevin and Lesley for lunch in the Village at Diggity Dog. Nan opted for shopping with Lesley in the afternoon while Kevin and I went to ski the runs that descend into the town of Telluride. These are the runs that give Telluride its reputation for "steep and deep," with names like Plunge and Spiral Stairs. We caught the gondola in town, rode it all the way back to the Village, and met up with Nan and Lesley again. We had seen some people walking around in hats shaped like big cupcakes, but Nan said every place she checked was sold out of them. Too bad!

Back in Montrose, we regrouped and went out for authentic Mexican food and margaritas at Amelia's. Tired from the skiing and with daylight saving time going into effect, we called it an early night. The dogs didn't accommodate the time change, so they had us up early this morning for the drive home. But we'll be back! Happy birthday, Lesley!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Photo of rolling waves by John Kretschmer
If you've never experienced it, you might not appreciate how debilitating seasickness can be. Unfortunately, I am someone who has a propensity for becoming seasick, having suffered it four times in my life (so far).

The first time was on a small ferry in Lake Superior. Some friends and I were at the tail end of a long backpacking trip on Isle Royale in late summer of 1980. We had run out of food the night before and expected to be able to buy something at the ferry dock, but all they offered was small bottles of Roxy soft drinks. I drank a cream soda and could feel it sloshing around in my empty stomach as the ferry encountered a serious storm and huge swells on its way back to Copper Harbor, Michigan. It was raining too hard to be out on deck, so all the passengers were crowded into the overheated cabin. Despite the NO SMOKING signs, an old man was smoking a Camel straight cigarette near where we were sitting. The combination of nauseating factors hit me suddenly and I knew I was going to throw up. I raced to the head, where I was assaulted by the smell of scented Charmin toilet paper. I dropped to my knees, grabbed the toilet's rim and puked as hard as I ever had. It was nothing but cream soda and stomach acid. I expected to feel better, but waves of nausea kept me dry heaving for the next half-hour, sweat exploding off my face and spittle dripping down my chin. I had never felt that bad in my entire life. If someone had handed me a gun, I probably would have killed myself. The nausea finally passed and I was able to ride out the remaining couple of hours without further incident. To this day, though, the smell of Charmin causes me to gag.

The second and third times I was seasick were minor incidents. The second time, Nan and I were snorkeling in Isla Mujeres during a trip in 1998. The water was choppy and waves kept washing over our snorkels. I was swallowing a lot of sea water, especially as I tried to climb back aboard our heaving boat. I tried to get my balance by standing in the middle of the deck and surfing with the motion, but nausea overcame me and I puked my breakfast and several ounces of sea water over the side. The third time, I was on my first trip with John Kretschmer, sailing from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas in January 2007. The weather had been bad for a few days so we had been sailing up and down the Florida coast while waiting for a break that would allow us to sail across the Gulf Stream. On the third day, we set sail from Dinner Key early in the morning, headed northeast toward the entrance to the Port of Miami. John said we would worry about breakfast after we were safely out to sea, but I was hungry and found some Saltines in a drawer. I ate a few even though they smelled and tasted slightly of diesel fuel. It was extremely choppy in the channel as we headed toward open ocean, and the boat bucked enough to lift us off our seats. I felt what was becoming a familiar feeling of nausea overwhelming me and turned my head to puke the Saltines onto the rail, where the waves eventually washed them overboard. In both of these incidents, I felt much better after throwing up.

Most recently, during the first day of our sailing trip last spring from Bocas del Toro, Panama to Isla Mujeres, no amount of puking would make me feel better. I was hungover from too much wine the night before, and it was unbearably hot and humid at the marina we were starting from, adding to my feelings of dehydration. As we left port, the swells mounted dramatically, causing the boat to pitch and roll in the light winds. I could feel my stomach matching pace, and I found myself swallowing hard and staring at the horizon, wishing the inevitable would pass. Nan noticed my discomfort and commented on how pale I was. She told John that she thought I was going to be sick, and that triggered it. I turned and puked my breakfast onto the rail in two big waves. Nan helped me down into the cabin and I laid down on one of the settees, close to the boat's center of gravity to reduce the motion effects. I napped for a while, but when I woke up and tried to sit upright, I immediately felt sick again and staggered to the head to throw up. Nan wiped my sweaty face with a wet towel and helped me back to the settee. She gave me a Meclizine pill and some water to wash it down with, but I threw it back up immediately. I laid down and napped again until mid-afternoon, when I finally felt well enough to go back up to the cockpit. Nan gave me another Meclizine pill, and I was able to keep it down. I took another one twelve hours later and kept them up for three or four days. After that, I was fine.

What is the moral of these stories? Seasickness is serious business. If it happens to a crewmember during a short-handed sailing passage, it could be disastrous. The best way to handle it is pre-emptively. If one has a history of seasickness, as I most certainly do, it is critical to begin a regimen of anti-nausea medication a few days before setting sail and to continue with it for at least the first few days at sea. The first days aboard are always the most difficult, as the body adjusts to the rhythms of the boat, but it is usually safe to discontinue medication after a few days to avoid the drowsiness and other side effects of the medication. The prescription drug Meclizine, which is commercially known as Antivert or Dramamine Less Drowsy, has worked well for me when I have used it. Now if I would just think ahead and remember to take it before I need it, I might be able to avoid ever being seasick again.