Monthly Archives: December 2004

Asian Temblor Rattled Entire Planet

The horrifying news coming from Asia continues to mount: the AP is now reporting over 55,000 people are dead and that number is expected to rise sharply. The magnitude of this disaster is mind numbing. I was shocked when I heard 11,000 people dead a couple days ago. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if over 100,000 are dead because of this earthquake. India and Indonesia are some of the most populated countries on the planet and they were caught completely unawares.

The earthquake was powerful enough to cause the entire planet to wobble in it’s orbit around the sun, and it shifted the coastline of Sumatra by up to 36 meters. A collosal amount of energy was released

The Perilous Plight Of The Sihek

The Micronesian KingfisherThe St. Louis Post Dispatch ran a wonderful commentary yesterday about the plight of the Micronesian Kingfisher on Guam. The small little bird, known as the sihek in Chamorro, is extirpated in the wild because of the insidious brown tree snake. The sihek now only exists in zoos throughout the world, especially the St. Louis Zoo, part of a massive effort by the world’s zoological parks to save the indigenous birds of Guam from the rampages of the brown tree snake and modern development.

The island of Guam is 30 miles long, but its geographic importance belies its small size. It was a sleepy tropical paradise until World War II, when it was thrust onto the international stage as perhaps the single most important military base in the war’s Pacific theater.

Today, we are waging a very different kind of war in Guam. The St. Louis Zoo is battling to save a bird, the Micronesian kingfisher, from extinction. Ironically, we believe it was World War II that eventually pushed the kingfisher to the brink.

Although we never will know for sure, we suspect that either during or immediately after the war, a military transport ship coming over from New Guinea inadvertently brought some deadly stowaways to the island: brown tree snakes. These venomous snakes had no natural predators on the island, and in a matter of a few short years, their numbers exploded. At present, biologists estimate that there are several thousand tree snakes per square mile on Guam. As their numbers grew and their appetites demanded satisfaction, the birds that lived on the island (including the Mariana crow and the flightless Guam rail – along with the little kingfisher) began to disappear.

The world’s zoos have banded together to breed the Guam birds, with the St. Louis Zoo specializing in the kingfisher. Since we began several years ago, the world’s population of Micronesian kingfishers has stabilized at around 70, but this year gave us cause for hope in their future.

First, we had a very good breeding year here at the zoo, with three new chicks hatched. Second, our vet, Dr. Randy Junge, traveled to Guam with several of the precious creatures and great hope. He felt it would be possible to breed them more successfully in a protected aviary in Guam. If that proved successful, we anticipated releasing them in a 60-acre snake-proof habitat that the Air Force was planning to build on Andersen Air Force Base.

The Andersen base includes 24,803 acres of tropical forest – the only remaining wild habitat on the island of Guam. If we are to save the endangered birds of Guam, Andersen must play a pivotal role. But last year, the Bush administration proposed and Congress approved an order that exempts military facilities from the “critical habitat” provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Like you, I never even noticed.

But I did take notice a few weeks ago when the Air Force announced plans to expand its operations, reducing the 26,803 acres of critical habitat to 376 acres. Government biologists have been told to expect that most of the rain forest will be cut down to pave the way (literally) for a $1 billion to $2 billion expansion of the base. The plans for the snake-proof habitat were canceled.

When the government advocated exempting the military from the critical-habitat provision of the law, it argued that we could trust our government in general and our military in particular to protect the environment. Forgive me, but if I can no longer trust them to protect the environment of the Micronesian kingfisher, then I can no longer trust them to protect the place where I live. These two go together, inextricably interwoven.

Earlier this year, my uncle died. He was wounded critically in the Pacific theater of World War II but survived, although he was disabled for the rest of his life. If he were alive today, I think he would tell me that the Micronesian kingfisher almost became a casualty of war. My uncle, along with fellow Marines who were not so lucky as he was, probably would tell me that the actions that led to the near-extinction of the kingfisher were justified by our need to stop the brutal authoritarian regimes of the Axis from triumphing over the United States, England and the rest of the Allies.

But I wonder what he would say about what our military is doing now: destroying the rain forest on Guam and, in the process, the species whose lives depend on it. When my uncle died, I lost more than a dear relative; I also lost a moral compass. I’m afraid that, with respect to the Micronesian kingfisher at least, our government and our military have lost their moral compass, as well.

-Jeffrey Bonner, president and chief executive of the St. Louis Zoo

Of course, most people on Guam are ecstatic at the news that the Air Force is basically going to pave over the entire northern end of Guam in a $2 billion construction binge. After years of economic hardships, the local sentiment is “bring it on” and damn the consequences. Or at least that’s all the Pacific Daily News cares to print. Stories about protestors or environmentalists voicing their concerns are not fit for publication. I am certain that more than a few people on Guam are concerned about this headlong destruction and development occurring in one of Guam’s last stands of jungle habitat. But is there anything to be done about this? The U.S. military does not take no for an answer, and when push comes to shove, I am certain the needs of the Micronesian Kingfisher and the environment of Guam are the very last things the Air Force is concerned about.

St. Louis Blogging

Still on vacation, and loving every ice-cold, freezing rain and sleet moment of it. Apparently temperatures in St. Louis are at their lowest since the winter of 2000. I had to go to Sears on Monday and buy a coat to keep myself warm. There is a chance of snow today, so I might even get a white Christmas this year.

The grisly news in frigid Missouri right now is the shocking murder of a 23 year old woman in northwestern Missouri. Lisa Montgomery, of Melvern Kansas, travelled to Skidmore Missouri last Thursday, ostensibly to purchase some dogs. In fact she strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a pregnant woman who was selling the dogs. Montgomery then tore the unborn baby from her dead mother’s womb and stole the infant. She was desperate for a child of her own and concocted this horrible scheme after meeting Stinnett online. The grisly kidnapper was apprehended back in Kansas, after showing the baby to several people in a roadside diner. Bobbie Jo Stinnett was buried Tuesday afternoon, the murderer is behind bars, and the baby is back home safely.

The story has garnered international attention from the news media, but not many are making the connection to Skidmore’s violent history.

In 1981, “the Skidmore Bully,” Ken Rex McElroy, was gunned down in broad daylight. The illiterate son of a sharecropper, McElroy had terrorized residents for years. Dozens of residents were believed to have witnessed the shooting.

No one said a thing. No arrests were made. The media labeled it “a vigilante killing.” The incident inspired a best-selling book and film.

In 2000, Wendy Gillenwater was beaten to death in town by her boyfriend. A few months later, Branson Kayne Perry, 20, disappeared from his Skidmore home. His family believes he is dead. Authorities spent two years trying to connect his disappearance to a convicted child pornographer. The case remains a mystery.

Resident Richard Jones, 64, said the town’s reputation for the macabre is undeserved. “It’s getting to be a normal thing – and that’s not good.”

In such a small place, the incidents are bound to scar residents again and again, but no one more than Jo Ann Stinnett, 64.

Wendy Gillenwater was her granddaughter. Branson Perry was her grandson. And her grandson Zeb Stinnett was married to Bobbie Jo.

Skidmore is quite the macabre little town. It’s almost out of the X-Files or something. I am at a loss for how a small town of 400 people attracts a string of violent crimes over the course of two decades. This latest murder is by far the grisliest episode to date. I hope that nothing like this ever happens again in Skidmore, the town has seen enough violence.

C…C…C…O…L…D…

I am vacationing in St. Louis right now, and it is cold today. I think it’s about 18° Fahrenheit right now. Thank goodness I am safe and warm, and watching football on the TV.

Ground Control To Major Tom

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…

Posting should be light through the end of the year. I leave in a few hours for a very long flight to visit the family in the land of my birth. 22 hours in a series of planes. My only comfort is the knowledge that I am flying first class this time. Big seats, good food, free booze, personal videos… and it only took a boatload of frequent flier miles to get there.

So happy holidays to everyone, and to all a good night.

Geminids 2004

I am a little shamefaced right now. The power just flipped off for about half an hour. I went outside to take a look around and see if other areas of Yona were without power. It seemed fairly localized to Camp Witek. Then I saw a brilliant flash across the sky. I looked up to see the flaring of a bright meteor. Then another just a moment later. “Ahhh,” I sighed, “it’s the Geminid meteor shower.” I’d completely forgotten about one of my favorite astronomical events. I guess the anxiety about typhoons and my upcoming trip pushed it from my brain.

The Geminids are my favorite meteor shower because they are consistently enjoyable, unlike those damn Leonids that are forever obscured by November’s clouds and rain. The Geminids are bright and sufficiently frequent that even casual observers sense that something is going on in the skies. And the radiant is easy to point out for people, being so near major landmarks like Orion and the Pleiades.

I went looking for Comet Machholz, which is supposedly visible to the naked eye in Eridanus tonight, but it wasn’t that dark. I guess I should have gone back inside for my binoculars, but then I would miss the spectacular display above me.

I stood outside for about 45 minutes, gazing up at the immensity of the night sky. I silently thanked whatever was responsible for this pocket of darkness and clear sky on a windy, cloud streaked night. I thought about past Decembers, sitting up late with friends and gazing out at past meteor showers. Bleary eyed and suffused with drunken gaiety, we would “Ooooh” and “Aaaaah” at each speck of dust hurtling itself into brilliant annihilation against the atmosphere. Those were good times, I remember them well.

When the power came back I sadly watched the night sky disappear in a pall of sodium streetlights and the twinkling strands of Christmas decorations that adorn the neighbor’s house. Nothing last forever.

Things You Don’t Read In The PDN

I won’t bother to reproduce the photo that runs with this article, it’s pretty gruesome:

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AFP) – US troops fire off another volley of shots amid the trashed houses of Fallujah, hunting down new adversaries carrying a potentially deadly weapon that threatens to plague reconstruction efforts.

But this time the marines are not chasing down the insurgents who they defeated in a devastating assault on the city last month. Their quarry is stray animals grown fat on the flesh from corpses and who could harbor rabies.

Late Night Typhoon Update

It started to rain in earnest about an hour ago. Lashing, biting rain, driven by the wind and portents of what is to come. I checked the Doppler radar at the National Weather Service site, it looks like this is feeder band activity from Tropical Storm Talas.

At the 8:00 pm update, the storm was located 550 miles east-southest of Guam and heading west at 24 mph. Closest approach is expected at 7:00 pm tomorrow night, at a distance of 94 miles. I hope this thing misses us. I gassed up the car this evening, and put away some outdoor stuff, but I left the shutters open. I’ll see how it looks tomorrow morning before I head to work, maybe I won’t have to shut up the house at all. This storm is moving fast, and it looks like it won’t even be a typhoon by the time it reaches us.

Typhoon Watch Update

Tropical Storm 31W was assigned a name yesterday; Talas, a Filipino word meaing sharpness or cunning. Tropical Storm Talas is expected to strengthen to a typhoon this afternoon. The current storm track has the storm passing about 60 miles to the south of Guam on Monday afternoon.

Needless to say I am a little anxious about this storm’s approach. At this point it could be a very nasty little storm, especially if it veers to the north a little bit and smacks Guam dead-on.

Here’s the current storm forecast:

GUZ001-002-003-004-PMZ172-120500-
TROPICAL STORM TALAS LOCAL STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TIYAN GU
900 AM GUAM LST SUN DEC 12 2004
...TROPICAL STORM TALAS MOVING TOWARD THE WEST-NORTHWEST...
...AREAS AFFECTED...
THIS STATEMENT RECOMMENDS ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN BY RESIDENTS OF FANANU
AND ULUL OF CHUUK STATE...AND GUAM..ROTA..TINIAN AND SAIPAN.
PREPARATIONS SHOULD BE COMPLETED PRIOR TO THE ONSET OF DAMAGING
WINDS.
...WATCHES AND WARNINGS...
A TROPICAL STORM WARNING AND TYPHOON WATCH REMAIN IN EFFECT FOR
FANANU AND ULUL. TROPICAL STORM CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED AND TYPHOON
CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN 24 HOURS.
A TYPHOON WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR GUAM..ROTA..TINIAN AND SAIPAN.
TYPHOON CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN 48 HOURS...INCLUDING DAMAGING
WINDS OF 39 MPH OR GREATER.
...STORM INFORMATION...
AT 7 AM GUAM LST..2100Z..THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM TALAS WAS
LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 10.0 DEGREES NORTH AND LONGITUDE 155.8 DEGREES
EAST. THIS IS ABOUT 280 MILES EAST-NORTHEAST OF FANANU
315 MILES EAST-NORTHEAST OF CHUUK
430 MILES EAST-NORTHEAST OF ULUL
765 MILES EAST-SOUTHEAST OF SAIPAN
770 MILES EAST-SOUTHEAST OF TINIAN AND ROTA
785 MILES EAST-SOUTHEAST OF GUAM.
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE 50 MPH. TROPICAL STORM TALAS IS MOVING
WEST-NORTHWEST AT 28 MPH.

...GUAM AND ROTA...
GUAM REMAINS IN CONDITION OF READINESS (COR) 3. TROPICAL STORM TALAS
IS EXPECTED TO PASS BETWEEN 70 AND 90 MILES SOUTH OF GUAM MONDAY
EVENING AS A TYPHOON. RESIDENTS SHOULD MAKE PREPARATIONS FOR THE
ONSET OF DAMAGING WINDS AND THE POTENTIAL FOR TYPHOON-FORCE WINDS AS
EARLY AS MONDAY EVENING. SECURE OUTSIDE FURNITURE AND OTHER LOOSE
OBJECTS AND UPDATE YOUR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS KITS. SMALL CRAFT
SHOULD REMAIN IN PORT. FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE GUAM CIVIL
DEFENSE...AND FROM THE SAIPAN EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OFFICE.
...WIND INFORMATION...
EAST WINDS 15 TO 20 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 30 MPH MONDAY MORNING WILL
BECOME NORTHEAST 25 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 40 MPH MONDAY AFTERNOON.
DAMAGING NORTHEAST WINDS OF 35 TO 45 MPH WILL BEGIN MONDAY EVENING
...BECOMING EAST 40 TO 50 MPH LATE MONDAY NIGHT. STRONGER WINDS ARE
POSSIBLE IF THE STORM TAKES A MORE NORTHWARD TRACK THAN CURRENTLY
FORECAST.
...STORM SURGE AND SURF INFORMATION...
SURF WILL BECOME HAZARDOUS TONIGHT...PEAKING AT 13 TO 16 FEET MONDAY
NIGHT. 1 TO 2 FEET OF INUNDATION IS POSSIBLE ALONG LOW-LYING EASTERN
COASTAL AREAS IN THE VILLAGES OF MERIZO AND INARAJAN ON GUAM AND
SONGSONG ON ROTA.
...OTHER STORM EFFECTS...
NO SIGNIFICANT RAINFALL IS EXPECTED THROUGH MONDAY MORNING. HEAVY
RAINFALL IS POSSIBLE MONDAY AFTERNOON AND MONDAY NIGHT.

So I guess that means I will be spending today securing the house for a typhoon tomorrow. Got to bring in all the stuff from outside like furniture and plants, make sure the I got the keys for the shutters (check), collect water (and beer), make sure the generator has gasoline and all the other sundry chores. Batten down the hatches, a late season typhoon is coming.

Guam’s had a nasty history of December typhoons in the years that I’ve lived here. Paka in ’97, Pongsona in ’02, and now Talas in ’04. Curiously, these typhoons only hit Guam when I head back to Missouri for the holidays. That’s a very odd coincidence, and I only realized it this moment.

Sunday Morning Links

It’s a bright Sunday morning. Sitting here reading the headlines and listening to Selected Shorts on KPRG. How about a few links of interest?

  • Lonely Whale Wanders The Pacific: Since 1992 researchers have tracked a lone whale wandering the North Pacific. Using naval hydrophone designed to track submarines, researchers have tracked the perambulations of a peculiar whale singing a song unlike any other known whale.
  • Attack Submarine School Album: Speaking submarines, here is an interesting photo album from a Japanese attack submarine training school. These young men were trained to become human torpedoes in their ‘iron whale’ suicide submarines.
  • Chilean Colonel Charged in Jara Killing: Over thirty years after the Chilean singer Victor Jara was brutally executed the colonel suspected of ordering his death has been charged with murder. Jara was a popular singer and well know communist who was tortured and shot repeatedly on Sept. 11, 1973, the day the military staged a coup d’etat of Salvador Allende’s socialist government.
  • Finally, a post from Coherence Engine that I will quote in it’s entirety:

    An AP article carried on CNN presents the usual sky-is-falling problem of students blindly accepting information on the Internet. It takes a sideways swipe at Wikipedia — “The credentials of the people writing grass-roots Web journals and a committee-written encyclopedia called Wikipedia are often unclear.” — but allows that, maybe, multiple reviewers and points of view just might be useful.

    The article’s kicker is a quote by Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future:

    Referring to the 1903 Western “The Great Train Robbery,” Saffo said audience members “actually ducked when the train came out on the screen. Today you won’t even raise an eyebrow.”

    It’s hard to know if the mistake is Saffo’s or the unnamed AP reporter, but the movie that featured a training hurtling toward the audience was 1895’s L’Arrivée d’un train à la Ciotat, directed by the legendary Lumière brothers. (“The Great Train Robbery” did feature an outlaw firing a gun directly at the audience.)

    In any case, this story of panicked audiences seems to be a myth, according to this article from the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.

    It seems that you just can’t trust everything you read on the Internet.

  • Sorry, got one more here. An interesting essay on How to Save the World about leaving the United States while the getting is good. Maybe I will look into a life in New Zealand…

Aotearoa Trip Photos

Okay, before it slips to far into the past, I want to talk about my trip to New Zealand and post some pictures.

I went to New Zealand for about nine days last month and I spent my Thanksgiving holiday there. I visited with David and a few of his friends, notably Tesua, Gus and Ludlow. Spent a few days in Auckland carousing and drinking, then we headed out for the Coromandel Peninsula and spent five days camping in various locales. Here’s a pile of pictures from that trip, along with some commentary.

Map of New Zealand
First off, let’s fix the location. I was in Auckland, on the North Island.

North Island of New Zealand from NASA Terra satellite, October 23, 2002
This is the North Island.

Auckland, Waiheke Island, and the Coromandel Peninsula from space. Image taken by NASA Terra satellite
I took this photo on the approach into Auckland… not! It’s a close up of the satellite image above, from NASA that shows the area of the North Island where I spent my vacation, Auckland, Waiheke Island and the Coromandel Peninsula. Auckland is the gray urban area on the left, the Coromandel is the forested peninsula on the right. The body of water between them is the Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames is the shallow extension below the gulf. The large island in the Hauraki Gulf is Waiheke Island, a popular summer destination for Aucklanders.

Keri Keri Falls
I flew in on Friday night, and we spent the night on a pub crawl. Saturday however, David drove me out to the west of Auckland to a couple beaches. First stop was Kerikeri Beach, where part of the Piano was filmed. There was a nice waterfall at Kerikeri Beach.

Piha Beach
Then it was on to Piha Beach, a nice long stretch of sand. Popular with the surfers, Piha was rather deserted that afternoon. We ate a picnic lunch and took a quick swim in the chilly waters.

David and Tom
Left Piha, drove back across the Waitakere Range and into Auckland for another night of fun. This was taken at Murphy’s Irish Pub.

Bobby says, 'I don't like your mate.'
David and Gus with some random drunks at Murphy’s. The short guy was positively insane. David was really pushing his buttons and getting that little man all riled up.

Onoroa Derby Races
The next day David, Tesua, Gus and his wife Lisa and I went out to Waiheke Island. This is the same place I visited last year, but the weather was much better this time around. They were actually having a box car derby that Sunday.

Wine tasting at Onetangi Road - again
Waiheke, long a popular summer destination for Aucklanders, is rife with wineries that produce fine red wines. We stopped at the Onetangi Road Winery, the same we visited in 2003. We did the wine tasting and also tried the beers. They make Waiheke Island Beer, Baroona Ale there. And it’s quite tasty.

Sunny day among the vines
It was nice and sunny out amongst the vines. The grapes were just starting to grow.

Look at those tomatoes!
Monday, Tesua, David and I headed out of Auckland for a few days of camping and exploring the Coromandel Peninsula. Apparently the Coromandel is one of the top summer destinations in New Zealand. During the month of December the peninsula is afire with the blooming pohutukawa trees, and all the campgrounds are bursting with vacationers. We beat the crowds by a couple weeks though.

First stop was this great little organic market in the country. I mean, look at those tomatoes! Nothing like that back on Guam.

Clevedon Coast Oysters
Next stop was a bit further down the road, Clevedon Coast Oysters. David and Tesua actually stopped off at this place a couple weeks before I arrived, so this was a return visit for them. We bought two dozen oysters and went on our merry way.

Cracking the first beers at Kawakawa Bay
We made it less than a mile before we hit Kawakawa Bay and pulled over to gorge on oysters and organic tomatoes. Oh and a couple beers as well. From Kawakawa Bay we could look out an see the backside of Waiheke Island. It was less than two miles offshore.

One lane bridge leading in Thames
A couple hours later and we crossed a one lane bridge at the bottom of the Firth of Thames. Across the bridge lies the Coromandel Peninsula.

Traversing the spine of the Coromandel
After stocking up on provisions in Thames, we headed across the spine of the Coromandel Range for the eastern shores of the peninsula and the town of Whitianga and Mercury Bay. Of course we needed a few breaks along the way.

Me snug as a bug in my tent and sleeping bag
We rolled into Whitianga that evening and set up camp in an RV campground. Not exactly wilderness camping, but there was a pub nearby. Got some good info on what to do the next day from some girls in the pub. Otherwise it was dead in Whitianga. Anyway, I got to try out my tent and sleeping bag.

Tourists dig holes at Hot Water Beach
One of the things the girls in Whitianga suggested visiting was Hot Water Beach. Basically geothermal water bubbles up on the beach. At low tide people can dig holes in the sand and enjoy a hot bath on the beach. That’s what all these folks are doing.

Cathedral Cove
A bit further on from Hot Water Beach is the little town of Hahei and Cathedral Cove. At the bottom of a 45 minute walk the trail opens out onto this magnificent archway and a secluded beach. Well worth the effort.

David does his thing in the archway at Cathedral Cove
Yes, it’s this big.

David and Tesua stop for a break
It was a long way back up to the van. No shame in stopping and posing for a picture.

Thomas and the exquisite Waiau Falls on the 309 Road
We left Cathedral Cove and the Mercury Bay environs around Whitianga. Took a gravel road back over the spine of the Coromandel to Coromandel Town. The 309 Road was an excellent drive, despite the gravel road bed. It wound up the Mahakirau Stream valley to the summit (at 309 meters) then down to Coromandel Town along the Waiau Stream. The highlight of the drive was a quick side tour to Waiau Falls, just off the road. Just a beautiful waterfall.

Idiots in the van one rainy night
It rained hard that night in Coromandel, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We just sat in the van and drank Export Gold all night. Things got a little silly inside that campervan.

I was worried about my tent in the downpour, but it held up like a champ, dry as a bone inside all night long.

Tui Lodge
Here’s were we stopped for the night in Coromandel Town. Tui Lodge is a backpacker place, and an excellent domicile and base in Coromandel. Free bikes too. A swell place.

Coromandel Bay, looking west
Enough of this pseudo-camping at RV parks and backpacker lodges. It’s time to head north and into the remotest part of the Coromandel. Time to literally reach the end of the road. It was a beautiful day as we headed north from Coromandel Town towards Fletcher Bay.

Damn! Look at that fish!
We stopped to take some pictures on an outcropping over a long sandy beach. A guy was pulling up a battered rowboat on shore below us. We were about to take off we David cried out “God bless it! Look at that fish!” The fisherman hauled a gigantic tuna out of that rowboat, slung it on his back and toted it up to his car. We were down there in a flash, just in time to see him flop that monster in the front seat of his car. His name was Nickie, and he was happy share a beer, relate how he caught the fish, and pose with his catch.

Heading north towards Port Jackson
The road north from there was nothing but gravel, with nothing but farms. No more towns up there. Nothing but sheep and cows.

Calm waters
The sun was brilliant, the waters clear and calm. Just a great day, especially after the downpour the night before.

Rangitoto Island and Auckland in the far distance
It was so clear we could see across the Hauraki Gulf and make out the cone of Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto lies just offshore from the Auckland Harbour, about 60 kilometers from where we were standing. The volcano is an iconic image, visible from most anywhere in Auckland. I was amazed that we could actually make it out from this distance. Nickie, our friendly fisherman, said that on a good day he could catch the sun glinting off the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland.

Crossing a stream on the way to Fletcher Bay
The road got steadily worse, including this stream crossing.

Making camp at Fletcher Bay
We finally made it to Fletcher Bay a little after noon and set up camp.

Fletcher Bay
Fletcher Bay. In the distance beyond the rock islet is Great Barrier Island. We had talked about going there too, but it never happened. Something for my next trip.

Fletcher Bay rainbow
It rained briefly just before sunset, creating this incredible rainbow.

Inland from Fletcher Bay, clouds and rain
The shower was brief though, and quickly rolled away. Here’s the view inland from Fletcher Bay. Lots of sheep on those hills. We ate our dinner, made a small fire and hit the sack early.

Me, in tent
Me, the following morning. I was killing time, waiting for David and Tesua to wake up in the van.

Fletcher Bay from the Coromandel Walkway
The three of us headed out on a long hike on Thanksgiving morning. Fletcher Bay is one end of the Coromandel Walkway, the longest hike in the Coromandel Peninsula.

Scenic shot from Coromandel Walkway
It was plenty scenic on the short portion of the hike we completed. The first part was grassy sheep pasture and beach heads.

David hikes through the Coromandel Walkway
The trail then wound down through a dense hillside forest to Stoney Bay.

Stoney Bay
We stopped for a bit at Stoney Bay, and collected some driftwood. There wasn’t any available at Fletcher Bay, so our fire the previous night was small and brief. We wanted something more substantial for our second night under the stars.

Heading back from Stoney Bay
It’s a long way back up from Stoney Bay.

One last look at Stoney Bay
One last look at Stoney Bay.

Taking a break on the return journey
Nothing wrong with taking a break on the way back. It was breezy and sunny on that slope, and all that wood was heavy.

Looking down on Fletcher Bay
Fletcher Bay campground looks nice from up above. Our campsite is barely visible at the edge of the trees and beach.

One more excellent rainbow in Fletcher Bay
It rained at sunset again, just as we were cooking up a Thanksgiving repast. Thankfully it only lasted a couple minutes, and it brought forth another glorious rainbow.

Moonrise over Fletcher Bay, November 25, 2004
It was a full moon that night, and it rose during the twilight after we ate our dinner. That moon really made the night special.

David by firelight
David by the firelight.

Beer Convention, Fletcher Bay, November 25, 2004
This was our last night in Fletcher Bay, primarily because we ran out of beer for our beer convention that night.

Three camping amigos
Tesua, David and I by the campfire.

Talking story around the campfire
Talking story with the German couple that was also camped out at Fletcher Bay.

Moon over Fletcher Bay
Wow, that moon was really something special.

Auckland skyline from Devonport ferry terminal
The weather changed drastically overnight. Almost as soon as I crawled into my tent, the wind picked up and brought fat, heavy raindrops. By the next morning it was blustery and cold, with lots of intermittent rain showers. We decided to cut our camping trip short and head back to Auckland. Besides we were out of beer.

We headed back to Auckland the next day. Late in the afternoon we reached the city and crossed over to the north shore. I took this photo at the Devonport Ferry Terminal.

Auckland skyline from the Birkenhead ferry terminal
David showed me one of his favorite spots to unwind in Auckland, the Birkenhead Ferry Terminal across from central Auckland and the Harbour Bridge. We got takeaway, ate our food and stayed there over an hour so I could take this photo of the skyline by night.

David in Aotea Square
My last day in Auckland we did another pub crawl, one that started with a visit to Aotea Square. On Saturdays, Aotea Square is abuzz with activity. A lively market and craft fair takes over the square every Saturday.

Me shooting pool
We met up with some friends and went to shoot some pool. Specifically Gus and Lisa, and Ludlow. Tesua had to work, poor fellow. He missed out on all the fun. Like shooting pool and drinking beer at a variety of places around Auckland.

David and Ludlow at Empire
David and Ludlow at this place called Empire.

David, Gus and Ludlow
David, Gus and Ludlow at the a bar in downtown Auckland.

Looking out on Queen St. from the Kiwi Music Bar
My last meal in New Zealand was at the Kiwi Music Bar & Cafe, a pizza joint on Queen Street. It looked out on Aotea Centre and the heart of the city. There was quite a crowd lined up on the street. We asked one dude what was going on and he said Maroon 5 was playing that night. It was quite the scene down on the street. Personally I could’ve cared less. I’d never even heard of them before. Frankly until I looked up that link a minute ago, I thought it was a girl band like Spice Girls or something.

Spicy Thai chicken pizza with Kaitaia Fire Sauce
Damn that was hot sauce! And it probably didn’t help that we had a spicy Thai chicken pizza to go with that fire sauce.

Sweet mercy that Kaitaia Fire Sauce was good stuff!

Heading up through Myers Parks in the gloaming
All that pizza made us weary, so we trod back up Queen Street to take a rest. We cut through Myers Park on the way back.

One last look at the Sky Tower
And here’s one last photo of the Sky Tower. I think New Zealand has a case of ‘small man syndrome’ writ large. Just look at that big phallus and tell me they’re not compensating for being such a small country.

At the artificial beach, Cairns Esplanade
I flew out the next morning and spent the day in Cairns. After catching a matinee early in the afternoon, I mostly lounged by the ‘beach’ in Cairns, an artificial beach and swimming pool on the Esplanade.

Sunset in Cairns
Sunset in Cairns, and the end of an all too brief vacation.

The view from my window at the Bellview
One last thing. I should pitch where I stayed in Cairns. The Bellview is a great backpackers hostel, located right on the Esplanade in central Cairns. Rod and Sheryl Meiklejohn are great hosts and they have an excellent facility.

It was a good trip. My only regret is that once again, it was far too short a time to spend in New Zealand. It is an amazing country, and I saw only a little bit of what it has to offer. David is pushing hard for me to move to New Zealand and really experience the antipodean lifestyle. Looking at four more years of life under George W. Bush and his crackerjack team of neo-conservatives, I have to admit I am seriously considering it.

Just In Time For Christmas

What would the holidays be without a massive typhoon barrelling down on Guam?

While it is still a tropical storm gaining strength over the Marshalls, Tropical Storm 31W is tracking right for the Marianas, and Guam in particular. The latest storm track shows is passing just south of Guam on Tuesday night, at which point it will be a fairly strong typhoon. Things are really too early to tell at this point, but this certainly warrants my attention for the next few days.

Movies Movies Movies

Some recent movies I’ve watched:

  • Blues in the Night: my momma done told me | when i was a knee high | my momma done told me | a womans a two face | a troublesome thing | who’ll leave you to sing | the blues in the night…
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: About what I expected: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. An hour into the movie my rental DVD started acting up because of scratches. I took it in the next night and got the videotape instead. That’s what really bothers me about this movie – I wasted two nights watching a bad movie. I demand a refund of my lost time.
  • The Misfits: It’s been years since I watched the Misfits, and I couldn’t resist when I caught the opening credits on TCM a couple days ago. Clark Gable in his last movie, Marilyn Monroe in her last movie, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, and Thelma Ritter. The casting is powerhouse, the story disturbing, the backstory engrossing. Clark Gable died just days after production wrapped, and his wife blamed his heart attack on the stress of the movie and doing all his own stunts.
  • The Terminal: This movie didn’t do much for me. Tom Hanks now bugs me almost as much as Tom Cruise. I can’t stand watching him on the screen anymore. And every time I see Catherine Zeta-Jones I think “What a shame Michael Douglas is tapping that ass.”
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004): Actually not that bad for what it was. Zombies, people with guns shooting zombies, and more zombies. Did I mention zombies? Not a bad remake of George Romero’s low budget classic.
  • Nation Treasure: I watched this at a matinee in Cairns a couple weeks ago. Not bad, a popcorn flick cashing in on the Da Vinci Code’s success. Definitely kid’s fare, despite the A$14 ticket price.

Funny

I needed to look up the syntax for Excel’s DATEDIF function this afternoon. For some weird reason, none of the help files and wizards in Excel mention this very useful function. I’ve used it before, numerous time, and I knew it was in there, quietly waiting, but I just couldn’t remember what arguments went where in the formula. Luckily documentation exists out there on the web, particularly Chip Pearson’s page on the DATEDIF Function. I really enjoy his prefacing paragraph about Excel’s reticence over the DATEDIF function:

The DATEDIF function is a worksheet function that computes the difference between two dates. This function is available in all versions of Excel since version 5, but is documented only in the help files for Excel 2000. It isn’t documented in either Excel 97 or Excel 2002. DATEDIF has, for whatever reason, been treated as one of the drunk cousins of the Function Family. Excel knows he lives a happy and useful existence, and will acknowledge his existence when you ask, but will never mention him in “polite” conversation.

Assorted Links

A few things I’ve read online recently:

Pagan Pozzolan Plan Pidgeonholed

Big news that I totally missed for an entire week. Last Friday it was revealed that the closed door negotiations between the CNMI’s Marianas Public Lands Authority and Azmar International over mining rights on Pagan broke down.

Azmar cried foul and appealed to CNMI governor Juan Babauta to force the MPLA to issue a mining permit to Azmar, citing an earlier meeting in September where MPLA board members basically agreed to rubber stamp Azmar’s application.

Watchdog group Paganwatch hailed the decision by MPLA.

“We congratulate the MPLA board for recognizing the public’s wishes and their fiduciary responsibility to the Commonwealth. We welcome investors to the CNMI, but we also make sure that those we accept are real investors. Those are two different things,” said PaganWatch leader Cinta Kaipat.

It looks like the MPLA pulled an about face once they realized the depth of the opposition against this strip mine proposal. Not only were the displaced residents of the northern islands upset with the proposal, others in the CNMI questioned the fairness of the deal and the revenues Azmar’s mining project would generate for the government. The pozzolan is a valuable resource, and there is still interest in extracting it, and in crafting an agreement that remunerates the CNMI equitably and addresses the concerns of the residents of Pagan.

The Silliest Thing I’ve Heard Today

St. Louis based chocolatier Karl Bissinger has introduced Spa Chocolate a line of healthy candies for today’s healthier lifestyles.

Puh-leez. A little chocolate isn’t going to harm anybody, but I seriously doubt a single chocolate (their recommended daily allowance of spa chocolates) will imbue anyone with healthful benefits. I’ve got to give them credit though; it takes a lot of chutzpah to call chocolate candies health food.

FYI, my grandfather’s floral shop was next door to Bissinger’s store in the Central West End many, many decades ago.