Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Water Supply Revisited . . . Again

Today, those of us supporting the Charlottesville. Water Supply Plan showed up in Richmond to testify before the Virginia State Water Control Board in favor of a permit modification to increase the capacity of the Ragged Mountain Dam, built in 1885 to serve the water supply needs of Charlottesville and now the focus of a contentious debate over water supply.

Even though proponents and opponents were present to make their cases, the Water Board voted 6-0 to grant the permit modification.  Proponents of the supply plan and permit included Sally Thomas, former Chair of Albemarle Supervisors  representing a coalition of environmental organizations; Jason Halbert, the foremost proponent of removing dams in Virginia; Bill Kittrell of the Nature Conservancy,  and Liz Palmer, a citizen who also serves on the Albemarle Service Authority, and myself, a former mayor and environmental attorney who specialized in water issues.

Opponents were those who say our real need can be supplied by dredging the South Fork and these include a newly elected member of city council, Dede Smith, who believes her election was due to people's support of her water position. 

Proponents pointed out why the dredging alternative will not serve the real water needs; opponents criticized the data, the lack of stream monitoring gauges ("no funding" says DEQ), the consultants' reports and the cost estimates but offer no real solutions except to assert -- in the face of the studies and other evidence -- that dredging will resolve the water supply issue.

We can go over the numbers forever, but the common sense question is:  Will the South Fork, if dredged back to its 1966 level, be able to supply enough water for the Charlottesville-Albemarle urban area of 2020, 2030 and beyond?  If you look at the growth of the region since 1966 to the present, even with conservation measures in place, this supply will not suffice.

Hopefully, as soon as the cost agreements between city and county are approved and a final pending permit from the Corps of Engineers is issued, we can move on to rebuild the dam, secure our water supply and think about other important issues.

For me, even though I loved working as an advocate, I do not like to spend my retirement years doing this kind of work.  I had to miss a fabulous class on women's short stories today to go to Richmond to advocate.  I decided to make this final push, and I'm glad I did.  One Water Board member told me our support  for the project made a real difference in his thinking about it. We do have credibility and today was the day to put it on the line.

Now back to women's short stories, my own and others . . .

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Writing A Novel

Last month I took the challenge of November as Novel Writing Month and wrote a novel (50,000 words) in 30 days.  It was exciting to try to turn a short story into a novel.  People who had read the story said it would make a good novel, and I threw numerous temper tantrums saying "I don't want to write a novel; I want to write short stories." 

But when a writing acquaintance recommended that I consider joining the fun of trying to write a novel in one month, it seemed like a good idea.  I took the short story I had written as an outline and started.

I got a friend to read it when I was at about 20,000 words and could not imagine how I could get to 50,000.  But one thing led to another, one character led to another and voila!  a novel was born.

The interesting thing is that I fell in love with my characters.  It was kind of like reading a novel -- which I have done a lot of over the years -- except that I was the writer of the novel I was reading.

I don't know when or where I will show this to others, but I must admit that writing the novel was very empowering. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupy the Polls? Hardly!

People will complain today about the voter turnout, and it will be low. But the choices we face statewide – elections for the Virginia General Assembly – are unfortunately fewer than they should be.

Of the 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates, only 26 seats have candidates from both major parties running. That means that only 26 districts in the entire state have races that might interest voters.

Percentage wise, the Senate is more competitive – 24 out of 40 seats have choices between the two major parties. (Additionally, a recent write in campaign has been mounted by a Republican against Senator Don McEachin (D-Richmond). Oh, goody, three fifths of Virginians will have a choice for their senator.

This is down from 2009: there are fewer rather than more competitive races for these seats.

When we look at women’s standing in the General Assembly, the record is even worse. Right now, we have 19 women in the 100-member House of Delegates, 13 Democrats and 6 Republicans. I haven't checked the polls statewide but I'm betting this will remain about the same after the election. I'm hopeful that Connie Brennan will get elected and raise this number to 14.

In the Virginia Senate, beginning with a female “surge” in 1996, we now have 8 women, all but one Democratic. Two of those veterans from the 1996 days, Patsy Ticer and Mary Margaret Whipple are not running for reelection, and their replacements will not be women. Oh well.

Hopefully Connie Brennan will be elected tonight in a very conservative district, but I suspect the race will be tight even though her main opponent has had a record of a number of law-breaking incidents (hardly the right person to write laws).

And Senator Edd Houck who has been very good on women’s reproductive rights as well as environmental issues faces a real challenge from a well funded opponent who has received much money from the Governor’s Political Action Committee. Fingers crossed on this one.

The polls have closed. Now we’ll have to wait for the count.

PS:  On Election night, I always miss the late great Emily Couric, who, had she lived, would have been our first woman governor.  Of that I am sure.  Wherever she is, I suspect Emily is with us night. 

This year also, I miss Mary Ann Elwood, former City politico and civil rights activist, who died this year, and Drewary Brown and Grace and Robert Tinsley, all of whom worked so hard for all Charlottesvillians and for the Democratic Party's sense of justice  -- we remember you always. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gertrude Stein: My Letter to Editor Regarding Post Review of Stein Show

Published: November 4 Washington Post

I get it: Philip Kennicott loathes Gertrude Stein [“Gertrude Stein knew the right and wrong people,” Arts, Oct. 23]. While he has his reasons, I wish he had at least described the exhibition ”Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” before launching his diatribe. I viewed it at the National Portrait Gallery the day before I read his review, and I was disappointed by what he wrote.

The show seeks to tell us about Stein and her time in “5 stories”: Stein as the subject of portraiture; as art collector; in her domestic life; through friendships; and as defined by her legacy as writer, celebrity, mentor. I left the exhibition wanting to know more about this interesting but human woman, whose many shortcomings are noted throughout. Kennicott instead creates a sixth story, the “sins” of Stein.

One does not have to worship Stein, her work or her life to learn from the exhibition, and the review could have described more of the exhibition’s structure and the pieces instead of hammering on Stein, her work, her character, indeed her very being. Must he hit us over the head with the intensity of his disdain? Why does he not respect the readers enough to let them decide on the ultimate value of Gertrude Stein as cultural icon?

I encourage others to visit the National Portrait Gallery and judge the show for itself.


Friday, September 30, 2011

KENYA: The Constitution, Widows and Orphans

"We have one of the best-- if not the best -- constitutions in the world today," said Ambassador Elkanah Odembo, Kenya's emissary to the United States. In Charlottesville at the invitation of the African Development Project at St. Paul's Memorial Church, Ambassador Odembo is an old friend of the church and Charlottesville.

Beginning in the 1988, when he worked for World Neighbors in Kenya, Odembo visited Charlottesville to talk about the work of that nongovernmental organization. Educated at Bowdoin College in Maine and the University of Texas, he had returned to his native Kenya.
Sue Rainey, who met Odembo in the 1980s and introduced him Friday night, said she followed his career because she knew this young man was going to make a difference.

An advocate for social justice, Odembo found himself fighting the Kenyan government. Eventually, government leadership began to change, and Odembo became part of that change, participating in a Constitutional Convention to rewrite Kenya's Constitution.

"It is a revolutionary constitution," he claimed, covering not only the basic human rights of free speech, religious freedom and civil rights but also guaranteeing the basic needs of human beings for food, health care, water and shelter.

With this framework, he explained, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like World Neighbors and others can more appropriately serve the needs of others.

Kenya has also improved the status of women in Kenya, providing them with rights that they lacked only a few years ago. For example, women can now own property rather than being considered the "property" of their husbands to be inherited by brothers-in-law when they are widowed.

He also explained that Kenya is in the process of creating more local governments in the newly created 47 counties (like our states). The Ambassador believes that the tribal wars of 2007-08 are a thing of the past and that Kenya over the next 10 years will be working to improve its infrastructure of roads and access to electricity. He predicts that Kenya will become the first country to depend totally on renewable energy, and he anticipates that geothermal energy production will reach 10,000 megawatts.

In response to questions, the ambassador said that Kenya is working to reforest its lands which in recent years had been reduced from 10% tree cover to 3%. He noted the work of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Wangari Maathai (who died earlier this month) to reforest Kenya. Currently, the nation is reforesting at the rate of 70,000,000 trees per year. It also has passed a law requiring farmers to allocate 10% of their land to trees.

The Ambassador also said the Kenya would not close its borders to Somalis fleeing the famine. Currently, its camp on the Somali border, built for 80,000, holds 560,000 refugees, mostly women and children. The camp is the fourth largest settlement in Kenya, after Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa.

In addition to the Ambassador, the Rev. James Ouma spoke about the Nyalwodep Project for Orphans which pairs orphans (resulting from the HIV deaths of their parents) with widows, most of whose spouses died from HIV. Currently the west Kenyan project is supporting 65 widows and 120 children. There are schools for the children and occupational training for the widows. His too is an inspiring project and one of several that is sponsored by the African Development Project.

Later, in October, the Rev. Peter Indalo, leader of the Oyani Christian Rural Services in western Kenya, will also be speaking in Charlottesville. His is another of the projects along with Kitui Development Center that receives funding through the African Development Project, which includes many citizens in Charlottesville but which has been a partnership between St. Paul's and Trinity Episcopal Churches. Sphere: Related Content



Joseph Passonneau, a renowned American architect-engineer, died in Washington, D.C. in late August at the age of 90. Among his accomplishments was his design of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado as well as his ability to persuade a timid St. Louis political hierarchy that the controversial Arch would be a successful gateway to the West.

In the late 1980s, Passonneau also worked on Charlottesville’s gateway: U.S. 29 North. In fact, his proposed urban expressway became so controversial that “expressway” became a pejorative word in Charlottesville transportation lexicology. It shouldn’t be.

In his 1988 report, Passonneau pointed out that it was possible to design “large urban roads that delight the communities in which they are built,” and he envisioned such an expressway for through traffic on 29 with adjacent and parallel landscaped local traffic lanes. (The recent Places 29 Plan proposed a similar design but avoided the “expressway” term.)

Passonneau analyzed the various bypass pathways, including his own adjustments to an urban expressway expediting southbound traffic through Charlottesville and connecting to 29 South via the 250 Bypass. The design built on the so called “base case” traffic improvements of grade-separated interchanges to foster the flow of local east-west auto and pedestrian traffic at Hydraulic and Rio Roads with crossover roads at other points like Greenbrier Drive and Shoppers World.

Such an urban expressway, Passonneau pointed out, would take 242 fewer acres than the proposed bypass, destroy no residences, farm, forest or subdivision land, and impact less business land than any of the bypass pathways. Certainly, an urban expressway would be the least environmentally-damaging option.

Despite Passonneau’s vision, neither he nor his proponents (the Piedmont Environmental Council and Supervisor Tim Lindstrom among the most vocal) could convince the powerful North 29 business owners that a more attractive roadway not only would provide a better solution for local and through traffic but also would serve long term economic interests by creating a more attractive 29 business district. After all, in addition to the local lanes along 29, the network of parallel roads to serve local traffic would include Hillsdale and Commonwealth Drives. That would allow development of an expanded business district– not just the 29 strip.

At the time, however, the 250 interchange flyway, perhaps most controversial piece, was criticized as having too large a footprint. Yet Passonneau had designed it and the rest of the roadway to national safety standards, not to VDOT’s more gargantuan scale. In fact, the 1988 design has no larger a footprint than the Bypass/250 flyway now proposed (and shown in 3D modelling on the Charlottesville Tomorrow website).

Passonneau's urban expressway (and its later version in Places 29) were nixed largely by those representing local business interests, which have evidenced in the 29 discussion little imagination, creativity, or commitment to the region's long-term economic health.

Glenwood Canyon above the Colorado River was a far more difficult engineering challenge and an even more controversial project. Nevertheless, Passonneau’s design preserved and even improved on the terracing above the Colorado River, weaving a 12-mile highway through tunnels and bridges to complete I-70. The result is a beautiful, functional, and scenic highway, which earned Passonneau a Presidential Award for Design Excellence.

Here, in Charlottesville, state politicians have engineered (pardon the pun) a political decision to build a western bypass that will cut through the rural landscape, including Stillhouse Mountain and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, impact beautiful residential areas and several schools while spending between $240 - 500 million of taxpayer dollars for just six miles of road ($40/million a mile at the lowest estimate)– while removing just 10 percent of the traffic from 29 Business. The interchanges, by contrast, would cost $40-50 million apiece.

If we want a real solution to local and state traffic issues through Charlottesville, one need look no further than to the vision of Passonneau. If Glenwood Canyon could benefit from this excellent designer-architect, why shouldn’t Charlottesville get a landscaped gateway that welcomes visitors to the uniqueness of Jefferson’s country?

Over 35 years ago, Charlottesville invited another visionary, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, to design the Downtown Mall. Despite naysayers in the business community, the Mall thrives thanks in large part to Halprin’s vision and the leadership of the two Councilors who voted aye on the then-controversial issue: Charles Barbour and Mitch Van Yahres.

An urban expressway on 29 would transform an Everyplace USA strip mall road to vindicate Passonneau’s vision, but more importantly, it would be a true testimonial to the long range vision of our local and state leaders.

Will the expressway design be revived? Probably not.

But imagine what could happen if we could scrap the special interests to execute a truly win-win solution not only for transportation and beauty, but also for business, for the community, and for the Commonwealth. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Day for World Peace: Reflecting on Thomas Merton

I attended a world peace commemoration at St. Paul's Memorial Church this afternoon and then enjoyed a community dinner with a large crowd of St. Paul's parishioners and other community members.

Rather than stay for a film, I came home to watch a DVD documentary about the life of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and writer whose books I had read frequently 30-40 years ago.

It was a fitting day to remember Merton. Although he had converted to Catholicism as a young adult, then to joining Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky, over time he came to believe there could be no separation between the secular and the sacred.

Although he craved solitude, he also sought out holy persons from other religious traditions -- the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and others. By studying their traditions, he came closer to his own. He believed that the religious person had to be engaged with the issues of the time -- for him -- and also for me -- nuclear war, racism and the War in Vietnam. He inspired thousands of young people from the '60s to this day.

In the film, Merton is quoted from one of his essays: he stands at an intersection of a shopping district in Louisville, Kentucky, suddenly realizing that he is at one with all the people walking past. He had experienced the oneness with humanity that many of us only talk about. From that vantage point, he had to be care about social issues.

One of the exercises we did at St. Paul's was to write on a sheet of paper:

What would peace look like?

My response:

Every person would have a home.

Strangers would be no more; we would greet one another with respect and caring.

We would listen to one another, especially when we disagree.

Egos would be left at the door.

Our politicians--local, state, national, and international-- would reflect us: they too would seek to listen to one another, to resolve issues with respect for the other's opinion when it differs from their own, and they also would leave their egos at the door.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Uncivil Discourse on the Downtown Mall

I along with two other former members of Charlottesville City Council held a press conference to raise the issue of paying attention to consequences of decisions and specifically to address our concerns about the fiscal implications of reversing the Council position about building the Meadowcreek Parkway. We were greeted by a group opposing the Parkway, several of whom kept interrupting and shouting as I tried to read our statement. I feel very sad about the lack of civil discourse, especially since many of these same people have been friends of mine and have been quite vocal (without interruptions) in speaking their minds on this and other issues. Below I print what I tried to say over their shouts.

As you can see, most of us are former City officials. All of us have been deeply involved in the life of this city over several decades.

We are here -- in advance of the City Council firehouse primary on Saturday -- because we know from experience that City Council members make important decisions that have consequences on our lives and pocketbooks.

Some in the council campaign have raised the issue of reversing the decision on constructing the Meadowcreek parkway.

Regardless of one’s personal stance on the Meadowcreek Parkway, the City Council has made and reaffirmed its decision to build the road. In fact, the County has completed its portion.

Yet City Council candidates who have announced they would reverse this decision have yet to discuss the financial implications of not building the roadway.

Those here today have varying opinions about the wisdom, the alignment and other specifics of the parkway. It is one thing to have a personal opinion. It is another when those opinions get translated into decisions, for decisions – unlike opinions -- have consequences.

What would be the consequences for the citizens of Charlottesville if the decision on building the Parkway were reversed?

A major consequence is $13.4 million.

Thus far, this amount of taxpayer funds -- $13.4 million -- has been spent for preliminary engineering and right of way for the Parkway and the Interchange.

Reversing the city’s stance and removal of the road from the City’s Transportation Plan would result in the city being required, by statute, to repay $13.4 million in taxpayer dollars to the state and federal governments. The VDOT Board may waive this requirement, which seems highly unlikely under today’s shortfalls in transportation dollars. Decisions likely would be reviewed on an individual basis.

The reimbursement requirement is part of VDOT's standard agreement with cities who request urban transportation projects. It is included in Charlottesville's agreement with VDOT about the MCP. The General Assembly placed this mandate in the state code in order to protect state taxpayers from arbitrary decision-making when a project is requested, millions of public dollars are spent on planning and right-of-way, and then it is cancelled. Yes, the project can be cancelled, but not at the expense of other transportation projects that might have been funded with this money. The locality is held responsible for refunding the money. We know of one city Alexandria which repaid $1 million dollars for a cancelled project.

Another consequence is that if the City were to balk at this repayment, the Virginia Department of Transportation could withhold funds from the City in the amount of this reimbursement, thus putting off for years, if not decades, other important City projects such as Hillsdale Drive, Belmont Bridge and Ramp Improvements at 29/250 interchange.

Yes, decisions have consequences.

We here care about our city and we believe the candidates do also. We know from experience that our citizens care about Charlottesville AND her fiscal condition.

Yet, it is clear – when one is elected to Council, individual views, if translated into action, have consequences. We believe the voters would want to know how the candidates would deal with these consequences. Where would they find the money to reimburse the millions in state and federal tax dollars that have been spent at the city's request on planning, engineering and right-of-way for the MCP and the interchange? How could they justify a request for the CTB to waive the requirement to repay $13.4 million

All signs are that, in the present fiscal situation and with the severe shortage of transportation funds, the state would indeed require repayment of these funds, either from the city's general fund or from transportation allocations for future projects.

Thus, we urge all candidates to clarify any statements that they have made reversing the decision on the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Likewise, we urge all citizens voting in Saturday’s primary (or in the absentee voting on Thursday evening) to be aware of and think about the fiscal consequences of reversing previous parkway decisions, and to ask this question of their candidates: "Where will Charlottesville find approximately $13.4 million to reimburse VDOT for cancelling the project?" (That, incidentally, is about $788 per city household.)

Thank you. We are glad to take questions as a group, and we refer you also to the VDOT District office. We do have a handout citing the Virginia statute that deals with repayment.

Prelim. Eng. (PE) $3,700 Complete
Right of Way (RW) $0 N/A

Prelim. Eng. (PE) $3,871 Complete
Right of Way (RW) $5,867 Complete

Total PE and ROW for MRE and Interchange $13.438 million

Charlottesville 2010 census stats 2005-2009 # Charlottesville Households = 17,037.
$13,438,000 reimbursement/17,037 households = $788.75 per household

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 23, 2011

Carolina Reunion http://

50th College Reunion -- Wow ! Time flies when your life is full. I took a few photos and have posted them for interest.

Carolina in the late 50s and early 60s was a time of change. We had our first African American undergraduate students in our class; nearby the Greensboro sit-ins began. In Chapel Hill, we boycotted the Carolina Theater when it would not allow African Americans to attend shows -- the irony of Blacks not being able to attend "Porgy and Bess" was the occasion that showed just how ridiculous segregation was.

It was good to revisit with friends, remember the times, and see the changes. Thankfully, Franklin Street and the old campus looks much the same even as the University has grown in other directions. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"We're Mad as Hell and We're Not Going ToTake It Anymore!"

With the death of director Sidney Lumet last week, I recalled his 1970s hit, "Network," which I viewed for the first time last summer. I don't know how I missed it, but it was prescient about the transformation of TV News from journalism to entertainment and, in the process, the manipulation and exploitation of indivdual malaise into mass anger.

If you haven't seen the film or a while or if you missed it (maybe you were too young or out of the country or - like me - living a rural "hippie" lifestyle), the story is about a network changing from the production and dissemination of hard news to exploiting and fulfilling a perceived need for "entertainment." In addition, a newscaster who has a melt down ("Im mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore") becomes the catalyst for this change by becoming its star and leading the audience to their tribal yell.

Hmm. . . remind you of any network we've heard about?

Maybe Fox News?

Or does it remind you of any other group we've heard from since 2008?

Like maybe the Tea Baggers (aka Tea Party of the Republican Party)?

These people claim to be so angry because their rights are being taken away, but they don't mind tromping on the rights of those who disagree with them.

Rent "Network" from your favorite DVD vendor. This film is still relevant. Sidney Lumet made it and other classics that remind us of issues that continue in importance today. Ironically, it is also entertaining (which of course is the goal of the filmmaker). (A bonus: the film stars the great William Holden, playing a very "Ben Bradlee" newsman.)

See the movie and let it inspire a life sequel: a revolt to demonstrate that we want neither infotainment nor reactionary politics. Any takers? Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hogwash Anew: Trump and "Birther" Conspiracy

Donald Trump, hoping to be the presidential nominee in 2012 for the Republicans (Tea Bag Party?), is lending his name to the birther conspiracy, and a flurry of utube pieces (including one in which the President is sarcastically talking about birthers' claims) to "prove" that the President was not born in the U.S. and thus was illegitimately elected president. I don't know why this is bugging me, maybe it's because even liberal friends are sending me this hogwash now. In that spirit I want to share a link to an Andrew Sullivan article in 2009 rebutting the birthers. Common sense asks why would Ann Obama, a 19 year old first time mother in 1961, plot to leave the country to have her first child in an undeveloped country AND keep that fact a secret in 1961? Was she plotting her son's presidency in 2008 and have all the others who have examined this issue participated in the same conspiracy? (THIS IS SARCASM, lest I be misquoted). I am disturbed that so many people still believe this hogwash. Because of this, Andrew Sullivan's piece, regrettably, is still relevant: Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro: In Memoriam

She was smart, she was funny, she was accomplished. And she made a difference. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be named to a national presidential ticket, was a trail blazeer for many aspiring female politicians.

For me, it was the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco which nominated her that became the starting point for my involvement in electoral politics (beyond voting and working on campaigns). I still have a red, white and blue "Ferraro" poster hanging in my house.

I had taken my first step toward a more active political life by entering law school the year before the convention. I was then 44; Geraldine -- only 4 years older than I -- had done that decades before. She had served as an outstanding prosecutor in New York, and was elected Congresswoman from Queens, serving with some of the greats -- Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Pat Schroeder -- in the House of Representatives during the same period.

All these women were stars at the Women's Caucus at the Democratic Convention in
1984. They -- along with feminist icon Gloria Steinem -- organized a women's caucus during the 1984 convention, and delegates like me attended daily to hear what was going on behind the scenes, to discuss issues and to network about our home communities during a most informative sharing session.

That's when I heard from the women from all parts of the nation who were holding office at the local or state level or who were running for office. That's when I got inspired to run for office.

Back to Geraldine Ferraro: She was our star during those sessions, and her words to us were always common sense and down to earth. Gerry -- as she was know -- was accessible, smart about issues and pragmatic about politics.

I saw her again in person some 30 years later when she spoke at the Center for Politics at University of Virginia. Then, she was working on the White House Project, a bi-partisan group dedicated to getting a woman in the White House. She inspired me that time to investigate and then write a series of essays about the dismal numbers of women in state legislatures and Congress.

Of course a few years later, Hillary Clinton ran for the Democratic presidential nomination with Gerry Ferraro's hearty endorsement. I also worked for Hillary. Although she lost to a formidable and worthy opponent, our current President, Hillary currently serves superbly as Secretary of State, a critical part of the presidential team during this time of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

Geraldine Ferraro should never be forgotten for what she contributed to women becoming players in the politics of America. She is the successor to the suffragists who marched in the early part of the 20th century before women got the vote. She was a pioneer for all the women who have come after her. May she rest in peace, and may we remember and celebrate her always. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, March 21, 2011


Traveling to Costa Rica for the first time, I learned that this country has two particular political claims on me: It abolished its army in 1948 and it elected a woman president in 2010.
But most importantly Costa Rica invaded my senses and my heart. I hope the entries from my journals and a few photos explain why.
January 11, 2011 Bougainvillea, San Jose

When we arrived at the San Jose airport, I felt the soft air and have been savoring it ever since. I awoke at Bougainvillea Hotel to hear a rooster crowing at 5:30 and the soft call of a barn owl.

This morning I wandered through the and saw my first mot mot – an iridescent blue green bird with long tail feathers – and the clay-colored robin, Costa Rica’s national bird. Among the tropical plans, I most enjoyed the large dangling white “Angel trumpets.”

After breakfast of granola and Costa Rican beans and rice, we drove in vans up to the garden of Ileana Temar on a coffee plantation. The wife of the grower, she has been tending her beautiful orchid gardens for 48 years.

Ileana had stones on the patio from Old San Juan, which had been removed for the construction of buildings. In her garden and greenhouses, she used wood, trees, logs as planters as well as sugar cane pots for fountains, and arranged concrete or stone salt boxes (for cattle) and metates for grinding in various combinations to create walls and waterfall backdrops.

Entering her garden was like coming into fairyland, mosses and ferns sprouting from the steps, orchids clinging to trees and cascading from logs, large varieties of bromeliads, miniature orchids, begonias of all kinds, including clusters of miniature begonias and orchids, ginger bromeliad, fathgotis (flowers springing from leaves), the “little boy” plant, lady’s slippers and always sweet aromas wafting through the soft air.

The house is broad, opens to the gardens, and broad vistas. It is beautifully furnished, and a wide variety of modern art hang on the walls. Ileana gave us a tour of the garden and house, showed a DVD of the work of her foundation (which educates third and fourth graders about the natural world, especially Costa Rica’s native an national flower, the guaria morada, a purple orchid native to the country.
Ileana served us lunch of ceviche with cod and avocado, cilantro with a splash of lemon and cocktail sauce; chicken tamale, plantain, papaya juice, white wine and sangria.

From Ileana’s porch we could see Norfolk pines and much coffee in the valley below.

Birds here included the Inca Dove, Blue and white swallows and a brown swallow (tree swallow maybe?). We next visited San Jose: an historical museum, the gold museum and the National Theater.

Factoids: Costa Rica ‘s army was disbanded in 1948, and the money contributed to public education. The U.S. has a pact with the country to defend it in case any other nation attacks. Lauria Chinchillia is the new and first female president (2010-2014).

Although bananas are a major export, they originated in China; the Spanish brought them to the Canary Islands and from there to the Western hemisphere.
Coffee is another important export; Arabica is the best Costan Rican coffee.A bushel of beans produces two cups of coffee! After the beans are roasted, the small seeds which pop out produce the “coffee” we grind. Harvesting brings only $1 per basket to the pickers.

In the 1850s, Tennessean William Walker sought to create slave holding states in Central America, referred to as the Philobusters. I think my 19th century great uncle James Edwin Slaughter mentions this in one of his letters to his father from Mexico.

We learned there are over 100 snake varieties in Costa Rica, 24 of which are poisonous. We also were introduced to cecropia, a tree that emits a sleeping substance – sloths like it and it can be used by humans to cure insomnia.

We learned about the aboriginal peoples and their hierarchies of caliques, chammes, warriors and “ladies.” The people traded gold with Mexico, and they fashioned in into sheets, melted it for molds forming shapes such as eagles and frogs. In Costa Rica many of these animal figures have human features, and the golden objects are put in burial plots.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, but we saw more as we drove through the city, the market areas and the diplomatic residential areas, including the home of former President Arias, a Nobel Prize winner for supporting Costa Rica as a peace loving nation.

Finished the day with a drink – guarne – and the Plato Tipico: black beans, salad and grilled sea bass. Muy bueno!

Wednesday, January 13
We left at 7:30 stopping in San Ramon where I purchased new reading glasses to replace the ones I lost. Then on to Nectandra– a beautiful preserve started by Evelyn Lennette and her husband plus others. Nectandra is about 400 hectares but surrounded by other preserved lands. It is in the cloud forest although, as a result of climate change, the hot months are increasing and animals are moving higher to seek the cooler climes. Because of this there are more snakes, crested wren and kill deer and less cloud forest. I took pictures of the waterfall with pond above.

Evelyn and her husband were molecular biologists in San Francisco area who gave up their careers for the new adventure. They built trails, replanting ferns and other plants that had to be removed; and they carried heavy beams up mountains to build a visitor center. In addition to conservation and education at the reserve, they have developed a micro-loan program to local water districts to give
funding without interest for expansion and improvements in return for conservation measures to protect the watershed.
More recently Nectandra is negotiating with a private hydroelectric company to give them a loan with the expectation that it could become a lender to other water districts. For more on Nectandra, see

Evelyn also told me that, despite having a woman president, Costa Rica has not liberated women – the males still rule in government; the women rule the homes. Still, no women serve on the local water boards.
We had a fabulous lunch – salad with avocados, mango papaya and hearts of palm and lettuce; cassava (delicious root vegetable), chicken wrapped in palm leaf and of course beans and rice.
On the bird walk through the preserve we saw black and white warbler, bush tanager, tucanet, black guans (with orangy pink feet). These also included the black faced solitaire; silver
fronted tapacula; green hermit and purple throated mountain gem (hummingbirds), slaty-capped flycatcher. Enroute, we also heard a redstart and saw black buzzards and cattle herons as we passed many farms with Brahmin and angus cattle.

At Monte Verde, we also looked at a variety of plants and agin many birds, including Wilson’s warbler, yellow warbler, tropical kingbird, black crested flycatcher, grass quit, black throated green warbler, chestnut sided warbler, golden crowned warbler, and a red bellied trogdon.
From Nectaranda we went south back through San Ramon toward west and then north. Although inland, we had a number of Pacific Ocean views, and could see the Golfo de Nicoya clearly although the clouds hang above it like a mystical mirage. As the van ascends the mountains, the landscape keeps changing. First it has the steep hills reminiscent of Northern Tuscany. In Costa Rica, the pinnacles are punctuated by palms instead of Italian cypress. Longer ridges remind me of the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Then, there is a steep incline from the valleys to the mountain tops, mostly covered with forests, but a few areas -- cleared fields – are dotted with golden Guernsey cows and Brahmin cattle accompanied by small herons – white with hints of Guernsey tan on their crowns and wings. Even the misty sky has clouds the color of the golden Guernsey.

The sign shows a mere 20 kilometers to Monteverde, but the road is hardly more than a narrow track, a graveled and rutted switchback, making this leg arduous and slow. Barely wide enough for two cars to pass, in some places, the road narrows even more. Ahead, an arc of a rainbow reaches up from the valley on the left-hand side; as the van follows the switch back, the other end of the rainbow appears on the other side. Back and forth on the road, we follow the rainbow arcs until, at last, as the road straightens out, the two arcs join in one bow. I ask the driver Juan Carlos, the Spanish for rainbow. “El arco-iris” he says pointing to his eye. We had left Nectaranda at 1 and arrived at 6 p.m. at Casa Vela.

Thursday, January 13, 2011 Fonda Vela, Monte Verde

Yellow throated euphonia. I love the word euphonia and we heard it sing yesterday at Nectandra. A fluted sound, truly beautiful.

This morning we walked with Jorge (Cokie) who’s been a guide for 18 years. We started at the Coffee shop shop where we got a good view of a toucanet.

A lot of mist and rain so we didn’t see a lot. Even so, we spied or heard 30 or so species plus white faced capuchin monkeys and we heard howler monkeys.

After lunch at the hotel, several of us go on a bird walk on the Baja de Tigre trail. Extremely windy, we did not see a lot of birds – black guans, some warblers, tanagers. After halfway, we hit a less windy side and sat for a while at a mirador looking across the valley – very peaceful and meditative.

We marched also through a colony of army ants which went on for some distance. Fortunately we knocked off a few that had made it onto our clothes, but it was a close call. I found myself racing down the path to get away from them.
Once back, we had about a mile walk home, mostly uphill. About halfway through that, as the others, I trod homeward. It was a time when the destination - my bed - seemed more important than the proverbial journey.

Just at the entrance of Fonda Vela, a group of monkeys ran across the road into the culvert. Our guide Vern later told me they were probably howlers.

Dinner that night was grilled corvine (sea bass) with two martinis and a glass of wine. I slept like a rock.

Friday, January 14, 2011 Fonda Vela Monte Verde

This morning we rose for breakfast at 6:30 and departure an hour later for Sana Ana Preserve. As it rained hard, the cloud forest transformed into a rain forest.

Our guide – “Johnny” – was excellent – showing us birds when they appeared, explaining about the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the Preserve, the old growth versus first succession forests, etc. He found plants and bugs, told us about the many species (he counted 78 species in the Xmas 2010 down from 98 in 2009).

We heard: Ruddy capped nightingale thrush; Spangle cheeked salator; buffy cheeked tanager; striped warbler; ochraceous wren; golden cheeked warbler; black faced solitaire.

A shopping excursion into Monte Verde before dinner: Chile relleno with veggies, salad and soup and chocolate cake. We also had a rum sour popular with the locals, acc

Mirage? Pacific gulf in the mists below Monte Verde

Saturday January 15 La Quinta

This morning we left Fonda Vela - a long ride back through San Ramon, stopping at a restaurant by the Rio Seco and then on to shopping at a so-called "artisans' mart", really a tourist trap, but a pleasant one, in Sarichi, and then lunch around the corner overlooking the flame trees. A long drive to La Quinta in the Carribean lowlands.

Bird of the Day: White Tailed Kite.


Ginger deserves its own heading. I love ginger in recipes and salads, pickled ginger with sushi and candied ginger as a sweet so I truly enjoyed seeing all the various varieties of ginger in om. Here are but a few.

Sunday January 16, 2011 La Quinta

Today we toured La Selva Biological Station run by a consortium of universities including Duke. Our guide Edgardo was most informative and showed us around the plants and birds: including sloths, old growth forest, tropical kingbird, Tennessee warbler, blue gray tanager, white collared swift, rufous wren, yellow billed elenia, cholortona, rose fronted parakeet, long billed hermit; montezuma orapendual, crested guan, golden hooded tanager, rufous mot mot, wedge billed wood creeper. Also boat billed toucan, chestnut mandible toucan, white crested parrot, cinnamon woodpecker, long tailed tyrannulet, chestnut sided warbler.

Whew ! (see montezuma orapendola above).

Tuesday, January 17 La Quinta
Gale and I continue to lose items in either our room or our purses and then find them. This morning after an early breakfast, we left for a boat trip on the Sarapiqui. We travelled on a flat river boat, two and one-seat wide separated by an aisle and with a canopy. We motored up and down stream viewing critters and birds including 8 howler monkeys in one tree, iguanas, sloths, egrets. We returned to the hotel for lunch salad with beets, cukes, chayote. Then we travelled to Helleconia Island to view the gardens there. Birds seen: chestnut collared woodpecker; cinnamon woodpecker; black faced woodpecker; black cowled oriole; dusty faced tanager; spectacle owl (a pair roosting in a tree); blue cheeked hummingbird; belted kingfisher; bare throated tiger heron; Nicaraguan seed finch; crested caracara; honeycreeper; buff throated salator; red throated ant tanager; Baltimore oriole; blue green honeycreeper. At hotel: crimson cowled tanager; redleg honeycreeper; golden hooded tanager; palm oriole.

Active Turrialba Volcano

Wednesday, January 18, 2011 Rancho Naturalista

We arrived here early afternoon. Now it is only 9:30 but Gale has been asleep for a couple of hours. Today, we drove today south into the central highlands, stopping first at Costa Flores near where we toured the gardens (privately developed but now owned by the CR government). When we left they gave each of us a bouquet of ginger and other flowers (which we photographed).

We had lunch on the way at a nearby restaurant and then drove to Rancho Naturalista –our final stay. It’s the best !

We watch hummingbirds at the feeder and then a group embarks on a hike. We stop at a feeding station to observe more hummers – in hope of seeing the snow capped. We don’t see them yet.

As we descend the trail it grows darker and we worry about whether it is circular and where we would return. We decide to turn back.

We arrive back where we started. After showering and changing I arrive for dinner – pork and mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy and salad and a delicious cake with a sweet milk sauce.

Back in the room I read “Mint Leaves” by Aguilar but when I finish I realize Gale is asleep. Early Wednesday: I’ve been awake for at least an hour, feeling fully rested and wondering if I reset my clock by mistake when I reset the alarm. I want to go at 5:45 to see the birds feeding on the moths.

Wednesday , January 19
Starting with the evening, dinner was delicious – chicken, rice, beans.
Today we went to a research center SIECE ( and visited the agricultural fields as well as the botanical gardens with lunch in between0. One building was was named for Henry Wallace who apparently helped found the center in 1942. As usual, a great guide a young man named Marco.

We saw so many different plants and trees. Both Gale and I truly felt the spirits animating the environment here.

Thursday, January 20

Today, our final day, we went to the archeological national monument of Guaybo which also is an “engineering” monument because it shows that the aboriginal people had advanced infrastructure – viaducts conveying water from underground springs into a sedimentation pond and then into a reservoir for future use.
We drove south from Rancho Naturalista to Turrialba near the volcano then north again along a local road to the monument.
From a visitor center we descended into an open area where there were mounds (each for a home for a different group in the hierarch with the chief in the center and the highest mound). The village is placed between two rivers, a mountain range and the volcano, thus in a secure spot. It is dated from about 800 BC existing until about 1400 or 100 years before the Spanish arrived. Along the way we viewed tombs and a plinth into which a cougar and an alligator (legato) are carved.

After a picnic at the park, we split into two groups – I went into Turrialba for shopping – and most important for me – to get dollars for tips, traveller tax and hotel bill. Gale and I walked around town purchasing a couple of things including two great collages of people but mostly looking at the fish and meat market, vegetables many stores of “stuff”, shoe stores, etc.

Upon return we got ready for dinner and prepared the book on plants which I donated as a gift to Vernon and Juan Carlos. Dinner was festive – beef in mushroom sauce, cauliflower tempura, salad and potatoes, chocolate mousse.

Home to our room early so we read aloud two Costa Rican stories, including one about Elena Gonzalez, who disappeared. These are wonderful mystical realism and Gale and I now are thinking this way.

Food: Almost every morning we have rice and beans, prepared with touch of parsley, peppers, onions, salt and pepper). Today we had eggs probably fried, then basted with water, still soft, parsley and pepper, tortillas and fruit and delicious sausage.

Friday January 21, 2011 Rancho Naturalista to San Jose: Leaving Costa Rica

Views of Turrialba volcano from all sides. Steep valleys through coffee plantations shaded by eucalyptus trees, chayotes growing, other plants, including Boston ferns. Through Cartago, the early capital: photo of the ruined cathedral, bottlebrush trees.
I did not sleep well. After reading two costa Rican stories, I went to sleep but awoke again at 1:30 so I got up went to the bathroom, read some more and by two something I went to sleep again until 5:45. This morning after an omelet with mushrooms, avocados, peppers and bacon and fruit, we departed from Rancho Naturalista. Even before we left we saw another bird, the brown headed orapendula, my favorite. This morning the volcano was more active or at least the steam or lava was going vertically into the air – we all got many pictures on our way.

We stopped to purchase our coffee beans at Cristina’s – she worked on the Panama Canal with the US Army communications and her husband was a pilot (I joked “Agency people”). They retired, according to Vernon, and bought the coffee plantation.

In the air now, I’m looking at Costa Rica from 34,000 feet – saw a volcano which I’m guessing is Turrialba. This would mean we are traveling northeast – I can see the Caribbean coast with a line of islands.

Homeward bound!
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Finally . . . What Mubarak Must Do Before Stepping Down

Connect to this link and read the Washington Post column by Hossam Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. They have written an article in the Washington Post that clearly states what has to happen in Egypt now. For the details please read the link above.

I'm delighted someone is spelling out to the public what should happen -- based on the existing constitiution:

If Mubarak were to leave the country for "medical reasons" the interm president would be the current vice president. On the other hand, if Mubarak were to resign, the speaker of the People's Assembly would become president, and the current speaker would be an even worse choice.

So Bahgat and Abdelaty suggest that Mubarak, prior to resigning, must issue decrees giving all authority to his vice president and lifting state of emergency which has held many people in detention. They also say that prior to Mubarak's resignation, an independent commission should be appointed to rewrite the Constitution to esnure that presidential elections be open to all candidates, that the elections be supervised by judicial and civil monitors. The amendments, they claim, could be drafted and then put to a referendum in a short period of time.

A caretaker government would be appointed to work with the interim president.

As you can see, their article definitely gives an outline for the next steps, something for which I have been searching over the past couple of weeks since the reform protests began. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Having recently returned from a visit to Costa Rica for the first time, I was amazed to learn that Costa Rica has no army, having abolished it in 1948 after a devastating war. The leader at that time Jose Figueres declared the abolition of the Army and turning over of military installations to the educational system. The 1947 Rio Treaty with the U.S. probably made this possible since the U.S. agreed to help defend any of the Central or South American countries, including Costa Rica, who were part of the pact. (see information on U.S. Department of State webpage.) Nevertheless, Costa Rica has not had to spend its resources on an army and instead has focused on education. (According to a 2009 United Nations Development Report, Costa Rica has a
95.9 Literacy rate; the U.S. has a 99% rate.)

President Oscar Arias Sanchez, president 1986-90 and 2006-2010, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end civil wars in other neighboring nations. (Laura Chinchilla, the first female president of Costa Rica succeeded Arias last year.)

According to the State Department, Costa Rica's main exports are pineapples, bananas, ornamental plants, sugar, coffee, seafood, electronic equipment and medical equipment. The U.S. is a primary trading partner, and about half of its tourism dollars come from the U.S. Still its median income is only about $6500. On my trip, I noticed the many poor rural homes as well as areas in the cities that appeared impoverished.

One place we visited was a field station for CATIE (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza) in Turrialba, established for scientific research of agricultural economy. I was surprised to see a building titled "Henry A. Wallace" and asked our guide if this was named for Henry Wallace, who was Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture from 1932-1940s. Yes, the guide replied, he was one of the founders.

I have since learned that CATIE was first conceived at a scientific conference in Washington, D.C. in 1940. Wallace was one of the visionaries who saw the need for research on tropical agriculture. By 1942 CATIE had been established by the Pan American Union, later the Organization of American States.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Tonight on PBS' Newshour, Tarek Masoud, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard who just returned from Egypt, noted that the Egyptian Constitution is relevant to how a transitional government can occur. Should Mubarak resign, elections would have to be held within 60 days -- it's unclear what would happen during those 60 days: Who would run the country?

In addition, the Constitution establishes a president who is all but a dictator. To change powers of the presidency, the Constitution would need to be amended by the parliament, but this body is run by Mubarak's party, which hardly has the confidence of the masses. So what to do?

Unfortunately, another commentator on the show, when asked these follow up questions, didn't have the answers and stuck with the "power to the people" line. It still seems to me important to address how to accede to the will of the people under a rule of law.

Hopefully, the US government and even more important, the Egyptian protest leaders are seeking answers to these issues. President Obama states correctly that the U.S. government cannot decide for the Egyptians, but we, as interested citizens of the world, should ask how this transition can happen. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 31, 2011


Clearly, Egyptians want political change; the unprecedented and sustained demonstrations by Egyptians in the face of President Mubarak's refusal to step down demonstrate that point. And it appears that Mubarak's ouster is the bottom line of the protestors, if such a collection of diverse citizens can be said to have a collective will. Certainly, reporting and anecdotal evidence appears to point to that general consensus among the protesters.

Unfortunately, the American press - as far as I can see - has not reported if the Egyptian Constitution addresses the issue of succession to the presidency between elections, the possibility of interim elections and any existing measures to safeguard the legitimacy of the electoral process. Neither have I heard these issues discussed on NPR, PBS or Network news. A cursory search of the internet has not turned up information on these topics, although Egyptian specialists in politics and foreign affairs probably know the answers.

As we wait for the million man march tomorrow in Cairo, we can pray that the event is peaceful and that the Egyptian Army will live up to its word not to fire against peaceful protestors.

In the meantime, it would be helpful if the press could answer Americans' questions about the political process in Egypt. Sphere: Related Content