Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thru Hiker Blog Update...

Blogger Extraordinaire, Carrot Quinn, finishing her 2014 Thru Hike of the PCT.


I started out this Thru Hiker season by following 19 blogs written by hikers who were attempting to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was an especially big year for the PCT, as 1,300 Thru Hiker permits were issued by the PCT Association. You have to have a hiker permit if you plan to hike more than 500 miles of the PCT at a time. The permit enables you to breeze on through some of the more congested areas of the trail in the Sierra. Especially the John Muir section.

But back to the hikers and their blogs. Of the 19 blogs that I followed, 2 of them actually finished the trail yesterday. These are the rabbits. The hardcore hikers who live the Hiker Trash lifestyle. Carrot Quinn was one of the finishers. She has garnered a bit of attention from the PCT magazine when she wrote a piece for that at the beginning of the season. Her blog really is well written---although a bit young and vulgar at times. One Who Cannot is a blog written by one of the herd that traveled with Carrot. He borrows the title from the beginning of Aldo Leopold's classic book, A Sand County Almanac.

As far as I can tell, six other bloggers that I started the year out reading are still slogging it out on the trail. A couple of them look like they aren't going to make it as they are still in Northern California.

One who probably will make it is Lon, otherwise known as Halfmile. He is the guy who created very informative, downloadable maps of the PCT for free. He is a living legend amongst those who hike the trail. He was hiking with his girlfriend, but she dropped out a few weeks ago. He carries on, hobbled a bit by injury, but carrying on nevertheless.

And of those who dropped out? Josh and Mandie were my favorites. They were just everyday people, not in the best of shape, who decided to hike the trail. They dropped out due to injury. Mandie's advice on what they did wrong is excellent. I hope they take another stab at the trail.

Injury and homesickness got the other Thru Hikers. One of them made it all the way to Ashland, Oregon before he had to drop out. Another drop out was Professor Errant, an English Professor who got a sabbatical to hike the trail. He lasted a couple of days before he got hurt. Then he tried again and lasted a week. He still got the sabbatical though.

So the tally so far? 2 have finished; 6 are still plugging along; 11 have quit. Usually about 50% of those who get permits to Thru Hike actually finish the trail.

Of course, all these people are winners in my book. They dreamed big and took a chance. They pushed themselves and I think every one of them came away from the trail loving the PCT even more. And yes, I have some criticisms of Thru Hiker culture, yet, anybody who takes that amount of time during their lives and devotes it to walking, well, we just need more of that. Fewer people sitting on their asses is a good thing. We all should get off our backsides and join them on the trail. It'd do all of us some good.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Rise of Dollar Stores and the Death of the American Dream



The best indication that I can see of the impending death of the American Empire, and of the American Dream, is the rise of Dollar Stores through out America. When I flew back to Minnesota and visited my hometown that has all of 1,700 souls living in it----there, on the outskirts of town, was a brand new Dollar Store. Dollar stores are everywhere now. They are the fastest growing retail segment in the US. You can't escape them.

Of course, Dollar Stores sell cheap useless products made by cheap overseas labor and sold to a desperate consumer class that has ever dwindling resources and ever lower expectations of what makes for a good life. It's what happens when people still have a materialistic consumer hangover but are unable to indulge in the addiction due to a lack of money. It's like an alcoholic at the poverty stricken end of his disease, who buys generic mouthwash and guzzles it because that's the cheapest way to satiate his addiction.

You know things are bad when Dollar Stores have cut into Walmart's market share.

So is there any hope that we might someday, wake up from this nightmare and begin to do the work of creating the Good Society again? After all, both political parties have had their grubby hands on letting things slide to this point. Reagan began the inevitable decline with his emphasis on Defense (offense?) spending and the way he cut the upper tax bracket's taxes. Clinton came along and bought into the whole "Capitalism's rising tide raises all ships" logic and negotiated NAFTA, a move that doomed my hometown in Minnesota when its factory closed down and was shipped off to Mexico (and then China). The tide went out and the rich got richer and the poor? They ended up shopping at the Dollar Store. Bush II escalated the decline by cutting taxes again, even to the point where we had a couple years there where there was no inheritance tax whatsoever. Those couple years were a Trustfunder's wet dream.

The result of all these bad decisions is the rise of Dollar Stores and Second Hand Stores. Frugality is no longer hip; it's a necessity. The working class can't survive on their wages anymore. Somehow the ruling class in the US decided that jobs were mere hobbies, and as such, no longer needed to pay a living wage. It was assumed that people had other ways to survive: inheritances, multiple generations sharing one roof, two or three substandard jobs spiked together. The affluent and the hyper-educated did well; the rest couldn't eat cake. They got government commodities instead.

We will know that America is on the mend when these awful Dollar Stores start shuttering their doors. How to make that happen? Oh, it's really quite simple. We need to raise taxes on the rich. And then we need to invest that money in the public good, once again. We need tariffs. We need to create a new energy and food system in this country. We need to change corporations charters such that they are expected to work for the public good. We need schools that educate our kids to new heights. We need to guarantee a job to every American. We need to raise wages.

But more than anything, we need to end this belief that our lives are only meant for our own private gain. Marx had the idea that economic systems change personalities. Hence he had the concept of the new Socialist Man (and woman). I think that's worth thinking about: how economic systems create personality traits. If you want confirmation of how economic systems create despair amongst the poor, just spend sometime watching the hordes shop at a Dollar Store. It'll drive you to start thinking about ways to create a Revolutionary Change. And soon.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Oil and Honey and Bill McKibben



I stayed up late last night to finish Bill McKibben's latest book on how he became a Climate Change Activist. Then I got an e-mail from Bill this morning. Bill wrote to invite me and about 400,000 other people to go to New York City on September 21 for a rally demanding that our politicians start doing something to address climate change.

Joni got the same e-mail too and we both sort of had the same reaction: why spend that much time, money, effort and carbon to travel across the US to go to a rally in New York? Bill McKibben is all about local economies---his call for rallies should also be local.

Yet, big movement rallies do work. Remember the Nuclear Freeze movement? Remember when a million people showed up in New York in order to demand that Reagan take a different tack? Well, Reagan did change his tune after that rally and a guy named Gorbachev came along and Reagan was, suddenly, all about reducing the number of Nukes.

At least Bill McKibben is doing something. There are some on the Left who disparage the guy every chance they get. I'm talking about the cynics over at CounterPunch who regularly make fun of Al Gore and Bill McKibben. They seek purity where there is none. I wonder if they would find such ideological purity if they looked at themselves in the mirror?

We may be much too late to save the planet and civilization. I spent this afternoon looking at temperature records for the town that is across the canyon from me: Paradise, California. Turns out that since 2000, Paradise has broken 81 high temperature records. Compare that to only 12 low temperature records set since the year 2000. The months of March, May and November had the most records broken for heat. So, from looking at those records (and by writing down the date that my apricot tree blooms every year) Spring time is coming earlier and Summer is lasting well into the Fall. Then I read an article from The Nation that suggested we need to adjust the projected temperature increases to be as much as 3.5 degrees centigrade by 2035! And the arctic ice cap? Gone by 2020. That would be within my projected lifespan.

Of course, a temperature increase that fast would be incompatible with the agriculture we currently have that has been slowly developed over the last 10,000 years. Yes, we've heard all the alarmist projections in the past. Chicken Little has ridden into this town before.

But then I look at the data for Paradise and I realize, we really haven't had a winter in years.

The title of Bill McKibben's book comes from his fight against the oil companies and about a small farm he bought where he has a local friend, and bee expert, live on the farm in order to raise honey bees. Bill bought the farm to keep himself sane.

McKibben is a bit like me: he thinks big but when it comes right down to it, he isn't very handy. You either like to putter with a hammer or you like to putter with lap tops. The renaissance person who can putter with both is rare. That's why McKibben bought the farm and provided it free of charge to a friend. He could vicariously learn to be a farmer. And just owning the place gave McKibben the place to depressurize from his travels.

Oil and Honey is a journal of the whirlwind life McKibben has created for himself. And sometimes he gets a bit too enamored with his celebrity. Bill wrote of giving a talk in Nevada City and staying at Gary Snyder's ranch prior to the talk. Well, Snyder is buds with Governor Jerry Brown and arranged to have Jerry and his wife attend the talk. Jerry Brown sat right up front and was seen taking copious notes. Of course, Governor Brown didn't learn anything if you look at his wholesale sell out to the Fracking Industry. Bill McKibben was duly impressed with both Snyder and Brown. I'm wondering if either one really is worthy of such hero worship.

It is hard not to be impressed with yourself when you have been foisted into the limelight. We are social creatures who like to be popular. We like to name drop. I can't fault McKibben for being human. Doesn't every memoir drop names?

This is a very approachable book that, essentially, is a journal. McKibben has a gee whiz, "look at me Ma! style---yet he also remains accessible and humble. And all criticism aside, he has almost single handedly created a movement that just might be our last best chance to save civilization. That's heady work. And nobody else is doing it.

Good for Bill.





Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Blogs Put The Joy Back Into Writing.





I created a Facebook page for this blog. I will also post my other published works there too. I've always felt a little weird posting my own stuff on my Facebook stream. If I were to chart in psychobabble Nurse-speak, I'd call such posts to my Facebook page as "Attention Seeking". And it is. Every writer is Attention Seeking until their Attention is Sought. Hence the millions of blogs out there written by lots of everyday people who just want to express themselves. God bless 'em.

I love it that people have blogs. Blogs have brought the fun back into writing. As much as 7th Grade English tramples any love of language that a kid might have for reading and writing, blogs and the Internet are resurrecting our interest. Do we really have to teach writing by diagraming sentences? Why do we spend hour after hour teaching English in a Math-Like Manner? Writing isn't math. Language should be fun. Writing is fun. Why do we teach it like it is pure drudgery?

I got a D minus in 7th Grade English. My grammar never fully recovered--hence, you'll find plenty of mistakes here. Editors always make me look better and I'm nearly always either annoyed by how they clean up a piece or fully enamored with their command of grammar and style. Most times I feel both ways---and when I push a limit, I'm always ecstatic when it squeaks through.  I could never edit--that's a skill I don't have.

This blog is unpolished. What you see is always a first draft filled with lots of mistakes. But some of the mistakes are intentional. I will often emphasize certain words that I think are important by writing them in the Upper Case. I haven't a clue how to use a semi-colon; I think most people haven't a clue how to use them. As for the "comma splice", I'm all for them. Yes, we should Write Right as Ed Abbey used to say--so if you see some grievous errors, feel free to mention them. Just don't ask me to diagram a sentence. Been there. Done that. I failed.

For those who are so inclined, you can Like the Facebook page for this blog, and my other scribbles, by following this link.

Thanks...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin...




A person I admire, who suffers from chronic depression, wrote after Robin Williams suicided: "What hope is there for the rest of us if Robin Williams, with his millions of dollars, couldn't make it?"

Good question.

If Robin Williams death means anything, it must be just how tricky it is when you combine substance abuse/addiction with mental health problems. Put these two separate problems together and you have one gigantic mess to deal with. And as much as I can tease out of the situation, Robin Williams was in a depressive episode after relapsing from whatever chemical, or chemicals, which drove him to spend some time at Hazelden in Minnesota
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I've known several therapists who, as a condition of seeing a client, would treat you only if you chose to refrain from using alcohol or other recreational substances. Thirty years ago, I thought this was extreme; I don't think so anymore.

I'm not privy to any information on Robin Williams, although being a psych RN who worked close to where Robin had a house, I did hear rumors about him which I will not repeat. So, my guess, without any first hand knowledge, is that Robin Williams, more than likely, was Bipolar. I don't think anyone would be surprised by such an assertion. I imagine he spent part of his life in a hypomanic state. His comedy certainly was brilliantly hypomanic---hypomania being just on the fringe of  full blown mania. Many Bipolar people are just amazingly smart: it is the mental illness of brilliance. What people don't understand is that most Bipolars spend a majority of their lives in a depressive state. Or dysthymic (which is just a smidge better than being clinically depressed).

More than likely, Robin Williams would have his relapse on drugs while in the buoyant manic phase and then he'd settle back into the depressed state saddled with the guilt that only a hypomanic phase ---combined with lots of drugs--could instill. It is hard not to misbehave when you have all the energy in the world, all the money in the world and a psychiatric disorder that inclines you to indulge in binges.

The photos I've seen of him during the last two months of his life tell the story. He looks gaunt. Weak. Tired. Worn out. Binges take a toll.

In the end he hung himself with a belt. There were hesitation marks (superficial cuts) to one of his wrists. His wife didn't check on him before she left the house for the day; he was found by his "personal assistant" who, hopefully, will resist any urge to write a tell all book about this unfortunate occurrence.

Substance abuse kills. It kills geniuses. It took Hunter Thompson, Ed Abbey, Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and a multitude more.

Combine substance abuse with a long term chronic depression, well, that isn't good. Depression can be very difficult to treat in a small minority of cases. And the treatment of last resort, ECT, is not palatable to maybe someone like Robin Williams. Although I've seen it work on other very depressed intelligent successful men. But after awhile, we lose the will to live. We can lose our fight, our pluck and give in to the dark thoughts. Depression can be a lethal illness.

RIP Robin.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Josh Cook, Robin Cook, Brian Dahle, Graft and Chevron...


Josh and Robin Cook (from Josh's Facebook page)

Josh Cook is my Assemblyman's Chief of Staff. I've never met him. I have talked to him on his personal cell phone. You see, I was trying to get permission to visit Assemblyman Brian Dahle's ranch during the Adin Coyote Hunt. I asked Josh if I could visit Brian at the ranch while I was in Modoc County covering the coyote slaughter. I'd learned that Brian Dahle participated in the hunt every year. I wanted his reaction.

Well, while I was talking to Josh about that, Brian Dahle was on the radio talking to Bruce Ross up in Redding. The news had gotten out that Brian was a coyote hunter and Dahle had to do some quick damage control. Bruce Ross had a radio show up there. He was the editor of the opinion page at the Redding Searchlight but now is Brian Dahle's District Manager.

Josh thought I might be able to visit the ranch, and he promised to get right back to me. I had his personal cell phone number so I called it every day I was in Adin, asking for a return phone call and a response from Brian Dahle and a chance to visit the ranch. I called Friday, Saturday and Sunday when I was covering the hunt. Josh blew me off.

I never got a return phone call. I did get an e-mail from Josh with a reaction from Brian Dahle about the Coyote Hunt. Of course, I got this e-mail after the deadline Josh thought I had. I used the quotes in the article and I was very fair to Brian Dahle.

As is so often in life, paths keep crossing. We work out our karmic dance, each fighting for our own side.

Robin Cook is Josh's spouse and the CEO of a political consulting business she and Josh Cook own together called JWCook. Well, Robin showed up at the last Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting claiming she was an interested land owner who would be bankrupted by a fracking ban. Nobody knew at the time that she and her husband (and Brian Dahle's Chief of Staff), had pocketed $37,500 in May and June from Californians For Energy Security which is the front group for Chevron. Chevron gave this organization 1.2 MILLION dollars so far this year.

It pays well to be a consultant for Big Oil.

Bruce Ross is a good guy. A moderate Republican who actually believes in climate change. I wrote him via Twitter and asked him for a comment on what I called "unacceptable graft" by Josh Cook. He wrote back that "Political consultants engaging in politics ain't graft. Beyond that, the people involved can comment. I am not one if them." (sic)

Bruce went on to forward my original question to Josh Cook. I haven't heard from him yet.

If graft is defined as using political influence for personal gain, I don't think it is inappropriate to state that Josh Cook is participating in a bit of greed by taking money directly from the oil companies at the same time he collects a check from the People of California. And here is an airtight example of a political staffer benefiting from their relationship with Big Oil. All Robin Cook had to do is get up and give a speech to the Butte County Supervisors. Not a bad pay day.

Joni was at that same Supervisors meeting arguing for democracy---letting the Fracking Ban move to the ballot for the people to decide. But Joni doesn't get any money from anybody. She fights for our water and our climate. Robin and Josh Cook seem to be earning a fine living off the people of California through Josh's job with Brian Dahle (he is a public employee) and through the Oil Companies from Josh and Robin's political consulting gig. They fight for a much warmer California.

Somehow it reminds me of Jackson Browne's song "Lawyers in Love". It is all about greed and excess and power. Robin Cook was appointed by Jerry Brown to sit on an unsalaried Ag Board. Should we put political consultants on public commissions? Before that Robin worked for Wally Herger. These two have made a life profiting from Republican politics in northern California.

I'd love to have dinner with them sometime to discuss life, public service and our children's future. I'd let them pick up the tab; they have much more money; being a Republican pays better.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Citizen Joni


Joni took on the Fossil Fuel lawyers, and won. Just goes to show what a woman can do when she gets pissed off. Here's the video of Joni reading her press release regarding her day in court with the Suits from the Oil and Gas Industry. The Suits were overheard cussing and swearing when they left the Courthouse. And they continue to harass...