Thursday, October 25, 2007

MAXXed Out

"Aren't you the biggest employer in the county? And you only got one [county] Supervisor?"
--Judge Richard S. Schmidt
U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Texas

This statement, as reported by the Eureka Reporter, may be the most honest moment in this whole sorry affair. It's the so-far successful attempt of the MAXXAM corporation to screw its employees the way it has totally screwed the far northern California forests by declaring bankruptcy for its Pacific Lumber division.

The attempt is being made in Texas because shortly before declaring this bankruptcy, MAXXAM set up Pacific Lumber as a hollow corporation headquartered in Texas, where the courts are vastly more favorable to Texas robber baron and MAXXAM's owner, Charles Hurwitz.

I couldn't explain the ins and outs of this mess even if I wanted to, but to give you a flavor of it, MAXXAM's latest ploy was to propose selling off vast tracts of forest for pricey housing development to pay its debtors, and when the Humboldt County board of Supervisors got wind of it, they quickly voted to deny any permits to do so. The attempt got only one Supervisor's vote, hence the Judge's all-too candid question.

Yes, back in the day, Pacific Lumber may well have owned all the Supervisors. But it's not that big an employer anymore, and public support has waned, especially since these proceedings began.

Shortly after I came here more than a decade ago, I wrote a script for a one hour documentary video about MAXXAM's campaign to cut down as much redwood forest as fast as possible to pay off the debt it incurred when it bought Pacific Lumber, among other companies--acquisitions that Wall Street smiled on, raising the stock price so the bigwigs all got very wealthy. The massive tree slaughter, including on steep hills and along waterways, led to devastation one winter when heavy rains led to flooding and landslides. One small town was literally destroyed.

Just about every charge made in that video (called Voices of Humboldt County: Cumulative Impact), and every prediction of the future--including how MAXXAM was going to leave employees high and dry (they're now even trying to get out of paying pensions)--was proven to be true. I hope my writing helped make the video effective (it turned out to be instrumental in at least one court case) but I can't claim superior insight about the content--I was so new here that working on it with veteran environmentalists (who had a lot of the footage when I started) was a quick and thorough education. (I did satisfy myself with my own research that what they claimed was correct.)

That all this sad business came true has not especially raised the general reputation of environmentalists (as antiwar activists found, being right doesn't do that) but it has turned a lot of public opinion against the previously defended corporation. Which may be one reason that the company owns only one Supervisor.

What occurs to me today, when this quote popped out from an episode in the ongoing story, has to do naturally enough with fire. We've monitored several horrific days of vast fires in southern California. We get forest fires up here, too, but other parts of the state and the country don't usually hear much about them because there usually aren't any multi-million dollar homes endangered by them. Of course if MAXXAM and its allies get their way, that will change.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter Comes to Arcata

Young witches and wizards and interested muggles of all
ages gathered at Northtown Books in Arcata as the moment
approached--Friday at midnight, the latest and last of the
Harry Potter novels will go on sale--Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows.
These photos suggest how Arcata
participated in a global phenomenon...
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Harry Comes to Arcata

The line as midnight approaches goes to the end of the
block, and it will continue to be that long until well past
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Harry Comes to Arcata

The very first in line get chances to win prizes--keep your
eye on that young lady in pink...
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Harry Comes to Arcata

They fill out their forms--the last step before the door opens!
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Harry Comes to Arcata

Professor Snape makes sure your credit is good...
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Harry Comes to Arcata

The Bewitching Hour has come---and the books are waiting!
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Harry Comes to Arcata

You're greeted by Harry!...
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Harry Comes to Arcata

...and of course, at last! The book!
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Harry Comes to Arcata

Let the reading begin!
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Harry in Arcata

Northtown's McGonagall conducts the raffle, floating
above the bookstore counter...
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Harry in Arcata

Everyone checks their cards for the winner (including the cross-dressing
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Harry in Arcata

Virtue Rewarded! She wins Harry's scarf!
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Harry Comes to Arcata

And a very good night for Harry!
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mike Thompson Steps Up

Righting Wrongs

Flying on America's commercial airlines stopped being enjoyable some time ago. As airlines cut back service and airport security rituals became a major headache, you were lucky if it was merely annoying. Now flying is becoming so stressful and chaotic that what used to be routine travel is routinely hazardous to your health and safety.

It's bad enough that in a cross-country trip I just booked, which involves several stops, crossing three time zones and more than 12 hours, there is not a single meal offered on any flight. That, along with the dry air and poor ventilation, makes these flights a health hazard, and adds to the effects of jet lag. (You're supposed to drink a lot of water, but how can you do that when they don't let you take water on board, and they don't give it to you?) But the spectre of passengers incarcerated in a plane on a runway for eight hours, as happened several times last month, goes well beyond the pale.

JetBlue, the airline with the most notorious delays and incarcerations, responded with its passenger Bill of Rights, which the business boosters immediately lauded. But its provisions were so weak as to be insulting. Why, they promised to keep you locked up on the runway for no more than five hours! Their compensations were on the order of free fries with your next purchase of a big mac.

The only rights passengers can get will come from the federal government, and apply to all airlines, which taxpayers as well as frequent flyers subsidize. So it's significant that a passenger Bill of Rights has been proposed by our own Member of Congress, Mike Thompson. And it's a very reasonable proposal. For example, from Thompson's website:

These standards include allowing passengers to deplane after three hours on the tarmac, while providing pilots with flexibility if takeoff is imminent, and providing passengers with adequate food, safe drinking water, clean and sanitary facilities, air ventilation and a reasonable temperature while waiting on an aircraft. Airlines must also keep passengers fully informed about the timing and cause of flight delays and cancellations.

Also: Calls on the FAA to work with airlines to allow long-delayed flights to offload passengers who choose to disembark – without losing that flight’s position in the departure sequence.

These and other provisions are sensible, and should become part of the contract that airlines enter into when they sell tickets. In this way passengers can expect the same standards on every airline, and no airline is singled out for a particular burden the others don't have to bear. That's the whole logic of government regulation.

Mike Thompson is also getting support for his bill to set a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq--some 45 bipartisan cosponsors so far. Thompson, a Vietnam vet, authored the bill with Rep. Patrick Murphy of PA, an Iraq vet. It is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Barack Obama, and in that regard will be a test of his leadership as he contends for the Democratic Party nomination for President. But here in Humboldt HR 787 is Mike's bill:

I’ve been against this war since the beginning and think our troops should have been redeployed long ago,” Thompson said. “Our troops have done everything we’ve asked of them and they shouldn’t be in the middle of Iraq’s civil war. The Iraqi government should step up and take responsibility for securing their country.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Earth to North Coast

This is as close to a snow scene as we've had in Arcata, but
it's after a hail storm this past week. BK photo.
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Cold and Quake: A Wake-Up Call?

In a relatively isolated, largely rural area, natural forces are seldom out of the news. Right now they're dominating. Like the rest of the country, we had an unusual January--in our case, it was sunnier, drier and warmer than usual. (Nationally it was the hottest January on record.) And like much of the rest of the country, our February has been much different: wetter (bringing rainfall to about double the average for the year to date) and colder (45 was the high in Arcata yesterday, and that's unusual).

The hail storm the other afternoon was also pretty unusual, in that it gave Arcata streets that winter wonderland appearance for a half hour or so. I was out in it, standing under the shelter of a tree for awhile on H Street towards Northtown, and saw one young woman dash out of her house to snap a photo, and a couple of kids trying desperately to make "snowballs" and throw them before the whole thing disappeared. I got home just in time to take a few photos myself. There was still a remnant of white on the ground when a hummingbird came by the feeder.

Snow and storms in the mountains have been a big problem. Some of the few roads that connect us with the outside world have been closed because of snow or slides. One storm knocked out power to a transmitter on Horse Mountain for the local ABC affiliate for days. Suddenlink, our new cable company, got the ABC feed in time for the Oscars Sunday, which explained the patches of black screens and silence where local ads would normally go.

In terms of the Big Picture, weather is naturally variable and there are trends that play themselves out for a series of years, but despite locally active Climate Crisis deniers, global heating is clearly changing weather patterns. As to near-term effects, the devil can be in the details. For instance, our total rainfall is about normal since July, but we've been experiencing different winter patterns for several years now, with the rain that used to fall over several months coming later and more intensively. That's bound to have an effect on life in the rivers, forests and fields, as has been seen elsewhere when, for example, the balance between predator and prey species has been upset, and migrating birds or birds hatching chicks at a certain time of year aren't finding the food they normally do, because the weather has altered insect cycles. And as the climate has grown warmer, some species expand into new areas, creating various kinds of havoc. All this can eventually affect us--food and water supply, behavior of wildlife, etc. I hope our scientists are monitoring this here. Anticipating the possibility of problems might help the area cope with effects, instead of being completely blindsided by them.

Earth sent another reminder Monday morning with a 5.4 magnitude earthquake about 35 miles off the coast and south of here, at 4:19 AM. I was still awake at the time, sitting right here at the computer, and Pema the cat had just come by to find out why. The ripple went right under us, and Pema lost her footing for a second. No damage was reported anyway, due to the distance of the quake from land--5.4 is in the "moderate" range, so it could have done some damage otherwise.

There was an all-day earthquake prepardedness drill at HSU a few weeks ago, which in itself was a step forward, although the only local newspaper that said a word about it--the HSU student newspaper, the Lumberjack--opined that it wasn't well organized, didn't involve enough people and was generally taken too casually. At one point a Coast Guard helicopter landed on the HSU soccer field. I happened to be in the vicinity when it did. I watched as the two people inside stood and looked towards where an ambulance and a knot of people were, but if there was supposed to be a practice run of stretchers or whatever, none happened while I was there. HSU President Richmond came by where I was standing, then went down closer to the field. I saw a lot of nodding but that's all. I walked away and a few seconds later, the helicopter was in the air again.

I'll say it again: for a place that has earthquakes and storms, there's no excuse for the apparently cavalier attitude towards prepardeness here. And when we get to really sustained and complicated crises like a pandemic, a well-constructed plan that everyone in the community understands could be the difference between life and death for hundreds and maybe thousands. But apparently this isn't interesting enough for media to hone in on it, or important enough for the public and public officials to give it priority.
This also started out as hail but McKinleyville got a couple of inches of snow Monday. (Eureka Times-Standard photo.) There's been a foot or more of snow in the hills nearby.
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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

North Coast Pix 2006

Before we get deeper into 2007, here are some of my photos from the past year. This is Stephanie Kim, a North Coast ballerina after her premiere performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in this year's Nutcracker, performed at HSU by North Coast Dance. Posted by Picasa
The reception after the Nutcracker premiere was catered by Avalon restaurant. The chocolate fountain was a big hit. Posted by Picasa
Redwood Curtain held a fundraiser Christmas party at the Bayside Grange. Here actor Theresa Ireland responds to Bob Wells as a naughty Santa. Posted by Picasa
Seasons greeters at the Redwood Curtain bash: Lynn and Bob Wells.
The Guantanamo Group of North Coast Quakers continues to meet and use various means to attain their goal of visiting the Guantanamo Bay prisons to offer comfort to prisoners and staff. They are Andrea Armin-Holland, Karin Salzmann, Dr. Fred Adler, Carol Cruickshank and Margaret Thomas Kelso. Not pictured: Dr. Richard Ricklefs. Posted by Picasa
In December this robin began tapping at the kitchen window, apparently trying to get in. These words were part of our efforts to gently persuade it to desist. So far nothing has worked--the robin visits nearly every day, tap, tap, tapping on our kitchen window. Posted by Picasa
Pema was a semi-feral cat rescued from starvation, and our companion for about a year and a half. It's only recently that she would have remained relaxed enough to have her picture taken. Posted by Picasa
Our backyard apples this fall. Posted by Picasa
One of our pair of resident hummers this year. In past years we've seen three around the feeder at times, but I've seen only two this year. However, they're still here as of New Year's Day. Posted by Picasa