Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sustainable living

I went to a movie Wednesday night called "No Impact Man". It was about living sustainably, eating locally, reducing waste, reducing carbon emissions, reducing consumption and basically living green. You can check out the website here. A man, wife and child go on a one year program to reduce or eliminate all of the above. It obviously wasn't easy but there is a lot to learn from such an undertaking.

I have to agree with the basic premise, we buy too much, create too much trash, travel too much and our food moves thousands of miles to get to us. Meanwhile we are using earth resources at a rapid pace as if they will always be there. I wonder what kind of planet we will have in another 50 years. I wonder how many people are concerned about what the future will look like for the children of today.

Oh and by the way, the film had no violence, no shootings, no explosions. It was refreshing and the theater was full.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Health Care

I'm wondering when the break through for a national health care will happen. Currently the insurance industry and their lobbyist are working hard to defeat any such thing. Strange country we have, a majority of the population supports national health care. Are our representatives in Congress listening? Most of the Democrats are and none of the Republicans. Our current health care system is really an expensive health care market. We pay more than twice as much per capita than France, Germany, UK, Sweden and Italy and get less. If you can afford to buy you can get health care if not you are no better than those in third world countries. At a recent free health clinic in New Orleans 83% of the attendees had a job they just didn't have enough to buy health insurance. So in effect we have a rationed health care system.

When we finally get a national health care system it will become as important to our population as Social Security and Medicare. Personally I prefer Medicare for all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More on Cycling

No complaints today, just a few observations about cycling. I appreciate those who slow down and pass me with caution. If the opportunity presents itself I try to get out of the way. I appreciate those who wave me through the stop sign even when they have the right of way. I appreciate those who give me room to pass when traffic is stopped and backed up.

Last summer I had to ride home when the temperature climbed to 108. One guy said drink a lot of water, another asked if I would like a lift and a lady asked if I needed water. All this on a ten mile ride. See there are nice people out there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It was a chilly ride today but nevertheless a good ride. I ride because it makes me feel better and keeps me healthy. I try to ride on lightly traveled roads and avoid riding during commute times. Staying away from traffic is of major importance but sometimes it is unavoidable. As a cyclist you get to see the number of people who run stop signs and make unsafe passes. A scary situation is the driver who has to pass me only to turn right, right in front of me. This happens more often than it should. People are always in a hurry and don't realize they are only saving seconds, minuscule ticks of the clock that mean nothing in the average day.

One situation I've labeled the Law of Triple Convergents. Picture a narrow road, one cyclist and two cars approaching from opposite directions. All too often they will all pass each other at exactly the same time. It could be a narrow bridge, cyclist and one car or a parked car, a cyclist and one car going in the same direction, the results are the same. For the cyclist this is a potentially dangerous situation, I doubt the drivers view it as such but then they have all that iron surrounding them.

With that said I want to say I appreciate all the curteous drivers who slow a little when they see me and pass with caution. There are many such drivers out there but we can always use more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have a few TV programs I like, mostly political, in addition to football, soccer, baseball and cycling. I go the to movies about once a year, maybe. What I don't like are the commercials, too much violence both on TV and in movie previews. Most movie previews convince me to avoid the film at all costs. TV commercials are just as bad, but I do make liberal use of the mute button. Recently a member of one of my households watched a movie on TV it went like this: stern talking, screams, shots, screeching tires, panic talking, explosions and so on. Two days later they put on a different movie. Judging by the sounds it was the same movie with a little different dialogue. If you look at my profile a couple of my favorite movies have some violence but nothing like current films. What happened to good stories, good humor and a little drama. Have all the good screen writers died?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Health Care

The battle for health care continues in Washington. Will we get the public option or will we be stuck with the corporate option? If you are not on the side of the public option then you should go to this website and read some of the personal tragedies. These are people who didn't have health care and died. People who didn't go to the hospital because they couldn't afford it. In many cases their illness was treatable and curable but they didn't get the care they needed because they didn't have health care or enough money. These people would have had a much better chance if they lived in: France, Germany, Canada, England just to mention a few nations with national health care.

Email or call your senator or representative if you want to see national health care in the U.S.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michael Moore

Just the name Michael Moore sets people off, many think he is a left wing wacko and only picks on the conservative right. In reality he is a thinking man with many thought provoking ideas as well as being the author of several books and producer of several movies. In at least one of those books he is pretty hard on Democrats as well as Republicans. Few people probably realize that. He recently published a Michael Moore's Action Plan: 15 Things Every American Can Do Right Now. At the end of the article he has five things we can do to protect ourselves. I liked the last one so here it is:

Find a place of peace in your life and make the choice to be around people who are not full of negativity and cynicism. Look for those who nurture and love. Turn off the TV and the Blackberry and go for a 30-minute walk every day. Eat fruits and vegetables and cut down on anything that has sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour or too much sodium (salt) in it (and, as Michael Pollan says, "Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants"). Get seven hours of sleep each night and take the time to read a book a month. I know this sounds like I've turned into your grandma, but, dammit, take a good hard look at Granny -- she's fit, she's rested and she knows the names of both of her U.S. Senators without having to Google them. We might do well to listen to her.

Last, go see his latest movie: Capitalism: A Love Story

Saturday, October 17, 2009

France reflections

Here are a few random thoughts about France. Small cars and narrow roads are the norms with very tight driving conditions in some of the small towns. In Paris, traffic is crazy with a mix of tour buses, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, small cars and Smart cars. As in the USA everybody is in a hurry, every driver jockeys for position to get some advantage. In the one hour drive from the city to the airport our van driver made more lane changes than I have in the last year.

Food choices are far fewer than in the USA, although by our GPS we were never more than 10 miles from a MacDonalds, not that we even thought of going there. The French menus I saw had ham, omelets, cheese and duck as the predominate choices. We did have raw salmon on a salad one day and avoided that choice in the future. In Paris the menus have a few more choices but I think they are trying to pick up some American tourist business. Portions are small but artfully presented in all the restaurants. I did see a few pizzerias but we didn't try them. With that said I saw very few grossly overweight French people. The only grossly overweight person I saw in Paris was an American.

Other than MacDonalds I only saw one other chain restaurant. For that matter I didn't see chain anything in most of the country. Unlike the USA the independent business man is alive and well and unlike the USA every community looks a little different.

The number of smokers per capita must be far larger than the USA, especially in Paris. Sidewalk cafes are everywhere and quite popular but smoke is a hazard. The cigarettes don't smell as bad as the French cigarettes of the 1960's.

Hotel rooms are small, showers are smaller. I'm not sure how that overweight American in our hotel fit into the shower, especially when I had trouble turning around. The showers have a big surprise moment when you turn around and unknowingly hit the faucet handle. The shock can be hot or cold depending on which way you turn.

Monday, October 12, 2009

More Paris

This is one busy city it starts early on weekdays and goes fast and hard until about 9pm. It is almost unbelievable that there are so many people on the streets between 4 and 8pm. Then again I'm just a country boy and this is the big city.

We walked for 5 hours at the Louvre today. They say you can walk 5 miles if you want to see everything. I believe it. I do think you need a PhD in Art History to fully appreciate all the art. Still there were thousands of people appreciating what they saw. Most popular were the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Napoleon's apartment.

We finished off the evening at a sidewalk cafe, one of thousands in the city. A couple drinks, dinner and an evening of people watching. A downside to the city are the smokers, it is much worse than anywhere in California. I have never seen a woman roll her own cigarette, tonight I saw two women do that. We will have to wash all our clothes when we get home.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Walking Paris

We hoofed it all over Paris today. First past the Louvre, long line to get in so we moved on, then down the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triompe. There was a huge 20k run finishing at the Eiffel Tower when we were there adding to the hoards of people and creating a detour to get a better look, as if I needed to get closer to really see it. We thought about climbing the stairs but again the line was huge. At this point we took the long walk back to the hotel and had lunch at a restaurant close by. This evening more walking to Notre Dame as we toured through the cathedral. There was a service in progress despite the hundreds of tourist like us who were gazing at the inside of building. To finish the evening, you guessed it more walking until we found a restaurant with food to our liking. There are sore feet tonight. Tomorrow, probably the Louvre.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


It is Paris tonight and for the next couple of days. What a culture shock, we have been in the quiet Dordogne Valley the last week. It is quite a leap to enter the very busy streets of Paris. To get here we took a ride on the TGV, a high speed train that zips along about 180mph. Travel time from Libourne in southern France took about 3.5 hours and was smooth as silk. Someday the U.S. will catch up with the Europeans and their high speed rail. A taxi from the train station took us to our hotel after a big traffic jam and creative driving. This is a busy city, the sidewalks are extremely crowded and the streets are full of cars, buses, motor scooters and smart cars. Tomorrow we will hit the pavement and see the sights.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Many people visit foreign countries but I'm not sure how many have the opportunity to go into the homes of the locals. We had dinner with the owners of our house rental last night and it was a time to be remembered. There were 10 for a dinner consisting of 9 courses with wine changing according to the food at hand. The Conversation was plentiful although in English, French and Spanish. We did have 5 Spanish speakers one of
which was Robert our host who was most gracious. It was quite an experience to converse in three languages as the evening flowed. We were even allowed into our hosts meeting room of the secret Cepe society. Dinner began a 8pm and ended after midnight, wine of course in the beginning and cognac at the end with a fabulous meal provided by Mary Jo our hostess. The dinner totally dispelled the myth of the unfriendly French people. The magic of the evening culminated with a guitar and songs by Robert. My PB friend Cathie Mac would have loved this dinner.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday ride

Wednesday afternoon we decided to take a bike ride, despite cloudy skies and some rain drops. Navigating around this section of France can be confusing. The first couple days I had no idea of where we were, gradually I picked up some reference points, mind you I have always lived close to the ocean and near mountains which help define directions. Here in France under cloudy skies east, west, north, south can be a mystery. We began the ride with a good map and questionable reading skills. Fortunately most intersections are marked with directions to towns. That is only helpful if you recognize the name of the town and small towns are plentiful. This area has plenty of primary and secondary roads, the trick is to stay away from the primary roads. Traffic is lighter on the secondary roads but they do drive fast and rarely slow down when they see a cyclist.

Fortunately the ride was uneventful and the raindrops disappeared. We took a long downhill ride from Meyrals by cornfields, pastures and woodlands to Les Eyzies then along the river to Campagne. Next came a long climb followed by a downhill into St. Cyprien, this town has become one of my reference points. A stop at the store provided a few more items for dinner and further loaded down our heavy rental bikes. The last leg was flat ride by a large chateau and then we turned to our village le Colombier. This is a nasty little uphill and one we will avoid in the future electing to take a longer and higher climb that is more gradual. It was an afternoon well spent with three hours of riding.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sarlat en Canada

Wednesday is market day in the old district of Sarlat. We were there a couple nights ago and it was pretty quiet, not so this morning. There were vendors all through the old section with a few musicians and lotsof people, many of whom were tourist like us. The old section of town has a huge church, of course, tall buildings, narrow streets and narrower alley ways. The market place had quite a variety: farmers with fruits and vegetables, farmers with sausages, vendor with canned duck, canned beans, meat vendors, knife vendors, and a few artsy craft people in addition to the permanent stores along the street.

The old stone buildings offer many kodak moments, curving tight streets of a medieval age, with colorful umbrellas of vendors and outdoor restaurants where it okay to sit, rest and watch with a glass beer or wine at 11am. Not to be forgotten there was a Boulangerie right around the corner that made a tasty raisin roll.

La Roque-Gageac and Castelnaud

We are here in the valley of the Dorgogne River. La Roque is built into a cliff face that is maybe 1000 feet tall. Beginning at the bottom they built up the cliffs. The back wall of homes appears to be the cliff face. About two-thirds of the way up the cliff is Fort Troglodyte the remnants of series of cliff side dwellings designded to be so unapproachable and forbidding that local marauders would dismiss any thought of attacking it as simply too much trouble. Local history has it that when Vikings came through the locals fled to the cliff caves.A long stairway leads to the cliff that could be easily defended.

The picture on the left is Castelnaud is close La Roque. It is one of the most visited castles in all of France. Built in the early 13th century the castle that had fallen into disrepair and has been restored. Sitting on a hill above the river, with a town at its base, the castle is an example of 13th-15th century warfare, complete with armor, daggers, spears, bows and crossbows. On display were catapults by the names of: pedrero, mangonel, trebuchet and the bombarde.
Several catapult reproductions were on display with an action video demonstrating how they work. This castle also
features the beginning of gunpowder and cannon warfare.The kids around here don't play cowboys and indians they play medieval warriors.

These were difficult times. Both La Roque and Castelnaud were built for warfare and protection from aggressors.If you weren't at war with someone and carry a bow, you were probably building these monstrous structures like Castlenaud. Castle construction took a tremendous amount of calories and man hours. Engineering of the day was kept secret. Even with the technology of today the castles would be a major construction job. I'm sure there were some unhappy camper construction workers in those days.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

French Food

One week in France and I am still struggling with the food. Restaurant fare can be rather expensive and the choices are unlike an American menu. Mussels, oysters, duck, ham, goat cheese, gizzards, uncooked salmon and more cheese are listed. Pasta dishes seem to be nonexistent, I guess we should go to Italy. Of course most menus are entirely in French so it can be a guess as to what you are ordering. I had a club sandwich the first night that was unlike any club sandwich I have ever eaten. One meal item that is plentiful are pomme frites or chips or french fries, just as in the U.S. they can be eaten every meal. The do have apple pie but in a very small size, ice cream or graces as they say in French, non!

Most of the food is well prepared and tasty, elegantly presented but small in proportion. Lastly restaurant food is expensive, at first glance the price seems okay until you remember the price is in euros and that means more in dollars. We have been in touristy areas which no doubt jacks up the price. Soon we will be going to Paris which will be worse.

I searched through the grocery store for a few favorite items and only found one. Peanut butter eluded me until I found an english speaking local who directed me to the right section. Gatorade and power bars are not to be found. We did find peanuts and almonds but they don't taste the same. As expected the wine section is huge but more on that later.

My cycling friend Bob would die over here without a cheeseburger in sight.

Chateau Des Milandes

The chateau was built in 1489 by Francois de Caumont to please his wife, surely she was pleased. The chateau had to be quite the residence in its day and it would be quite the residence today. In the middle ages the name "Milandes" referred to a wooded land, which it is. This was the Caumont's main residence until 1535. The property had many owner over the years and was in several states of disrepair, today it is quite elegant. In 1937 Josephine Baker
discovered the chateau, rented it until 1947 when she purchased the property. She called it her "Sleeping Beauty Castle"

A tour of the chateau is a tribute to Josephine. A dancer and entertainer, who was born in St.Louis. She was discovered on Broadway and moved to Paris to be in the Follies Bergere. Highly successful she became very wealthy, started her own cabaret and was dressed in very high fashion by top designers. During the war she was part of the resistance and decorated for her service. It is a fascinating story of a life well lived.

The final part of the tour was a display of raptors: hawks, owls, bald eagle and a falcon. We lucked into this performance and it was wonderful. Think of owls, hawks, and falcon flying right over your head, without landing of course. Quite a display of aeronautics by the birds.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Mont Saint Michel, I had never heard of it before and then I was there. An amazing abbey in a tidal basin near the English channel. Do a search and check it out, better yet go there sometime. The monastery was started in 709AD and grew into this huge abbey, monastery and later a prison on top of a big rock with a town below. Stone masonry was the occupation of centuries perhaps more force labor than volunteer labor. An impregnable stronghold during the Hundred Years War, Mont-Saint-Michel is also an example of military architecture. Its ramparts and fortifications resisted all the English assaults and as a result the Mount became a symbol of French national identity. The abbey is a confluence of stairways, large rooms, suspended passageways, large support pillars and an enormous wheel and pulley used to hoist building materials and later provisions. The building is an example of architectural mastery perching storied buildings on a steep slope.

Driving in France

With gas at around $5.30 per gallon, as you would expect all the cars are small. The narrow roads and tight village streets might have something to do with the choice of vehicles. We have been through many small villages that would be from difficult to impossible to navigate with a big American SUV. The rental car is a small diesel comfortable and able to carry four adults with baggage. Gas mileage computed to 53mpg after the first fill up. Great little car that we cannot buy in the USA and go is a Ford.

Ubequitous are the roundabouts at intersections. We have stopped at few stop signs. The roundabouts keep traffic moving and probably save gas with less time stopped idling and with fewer accelerations. The intersections are kind a dance as you follow the lead of other cars and time your entrance into the roundabout. Be advised that French drivers are agressive but so far we have not done any slam dancing. My brain is still adjusting to fast speeds on narrow roads and streets.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meyrals, France

First morning at our rental house in the south of France we took a walk into the village to the Boulangerie. On the walk back we found ourselves in a wild pig hunt. Several cars of oranges vested hunters were jockeying for position as the hounds pursued the pigs through the underbrush. I watched the spectacle trying to look un pig like and hoping my lack of a morning shower didn't attract the hounds. Eventually the hounds moved beyond my position followed by exclamations in french and cars roaring off to another ambush site. Fortunately the house walls are 18 inches thick and able to with stand stray projectiles.

Addendum: it is now later in the day and the hounds are still baying. Evidently the pig is winning or in this case surviving.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I used to hate the fog and dreary gray mornings. A few summers in heat and humidity changed me. Now I love the foggy mornings which mean cooler weather. If I wanted to live in mid west heat and humidity or Fresno type summers I would move there. Many times during the winter our house on the hill is in sun while the valley below is in fog. Our house passively solar heats when the sun is out which is nice in the winter but sometimes too warm in the summer. Yard work days are scheduled for foggy mornings but only if the yard work absolutely has to be done. The sun does keep the solar panels going. They even work on cloudy days and this year we have produced $152 worth of electricity for PG & E and are keeping our bills around zero.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is is getting warmer

I'm sitting here at home with the shades pulled to block the sun and its heat. Today's temperatures are rising to the mid 90's and it is late September. Summer is supposed to be over. Scientists are finding out they are wrong on global warming, it is much worse than they predicted. An article in this morning's paper is headlined: Satellite reveals faster melting of polar ice. Pick a spot, Greenland, Antarctica, the arctic, they are all melting and at a faster rate than previous years. Melting sea ice won't affect ocean levels but thinning glaciers will. How soon until a few beaches disappear or move inland?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Global Warming

I read today that 2008 was a little cooler than 2007 but that by 2009 or beyond they are expecting more record average high temperatures. Carbon dioxide levels continue to climb as they have been annually tested on Moauna Loa since 1959. Yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and we are presently at about 387 ppm and gaining 1-2 ppm per year. You can check the website for yourself, And for any global warming deniers out there check the USGS site with pictures of receding glaciers. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words, Skiers, myself included won't like this global warming trend but that will be the least of our problems as the world continues to heat up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Heartland or West Coast

I just spent 12 days in the "Heartland", it was fun, I have good friends there, I have relatives there, I've been there before. With that said I'm still a west coast guy. When magazines list the 5 or 10 best places to live I rarely agree. Weather is number one. We left the mid west in clouds and drizzling rain. We arrived on the west coast in clear skies and sunny warm weather. In the mid west I rode bikes with friends under gray skies and a chilling wind thinking the whole time about sunny west coast weather. Overall during our stay in the mid west we did have good weather but it was luck pure luck, a few weeks earlier and the weather was wet and miserable. Good for them the rain makes the corn grow, but then I don't eat much corn. The corn grows everywhere, travel anywhere in the mid west and the scene is the same, fields of corn or soybeans. Contrast that with where I am tonight at Lake Tahoe. Tomorrow I will be in the redwood trees or on the beach. As I said just a west coast guy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

President's speech to students

I just read the President's speech that he will give to students on Tuesday. Pretty radical stuff. In his words, go to school; go to class; pay attention to the teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide. Set goals and realize even the most successful people have failed at some point in life. Given some of the paranoia about this speech maybe the part above about "listen to other adults" should have a disclaimer. I wonder how many "other adults" will learn from their mistakes.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Old Rugger

A bit of disclosure about the title of this blog. I'm a 20 year rugby veteran several years retired. I started as a loose head prop and migrated to the back of the scrum as the 8 man. The west coast is where I live and played and one club I helped initiate is still in existence after 35 years. The rugby was punctuated by great team mates, fun tournaments and rousing parties. Many of the rugby team mates are now lifelong friends and there is always a bond among those who have played the game. Fortunately through 20 years with 15-20 games per season there were no major injuries. As many ruggers will tell you there is no better game on the planet.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I just attended my second town hall meeting this time with my congress person Anna Eschoo. It was civil and orderly. There were a few loud disruptor s who were promptly shutdown so intelligent answers could be heard. Current myths were addressed and questions were answered. My guess is the crowd was 90% for public health care and 10% against. I'm wondering if the intelligent thoughtful answers to attendees questions by Congress person Eschoo will penetrate the boilerplate of the 10%. If we had a national referendum on health care I think it would pass with far more than a simple majority.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Health Care

I just received the bad news about health care costs for next year. This is becoming an annual bad day. Tea baggers are complaining about taxes but health care is what is going up at alarming rates.
We have about a 30% increase over that last three years. Just a little above inflation. We, my wife and I, currently pay more for health care than we do in income taxes. Consider that out of my monthly premiums 25-30% is for administrative costs as opposed to medicare that runs 3-5% administrative costs. I think I'm helping a health care executive to make yacht payments.

Closed Minds

After attending a recent town hall meeting I left wondering about the direction of civil discourse and critical thinking skills in America. Attempts were made to civilize the conversations which had some effect but not enough. The saying a mind only works when it is open certainly didn't apply to this town hall meeting. Few attendees came to listen most came to lecture.

As a college student I was amazed at the intelligence of some of my professors. It seems the more they knew the more they realized what they didn't know. Contrast that with workers on my summer job who could solve all the worlds problems in one lunch hour. Common sense and facts need not apply.