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December 24, 2010

Drunk drivers

by Sarah Elliott

  It’s 5 a.m. on the morning before Christmas Eve. John and I are up early, as usual, to finish the week’s paper.
   Our first conversation of the day turned into a heated argument. John told me of his decision not to include the names of the Three Rivers drivers and passenger involved in two separate DUI accidents this week (page 4).
   I disagreed vehemently with this decision, because I think these drivers — who endanger us, our friends and loved ones, our property, and themselves — deserve to be called out and publicly identified for their life-threatening choices.
   But I will defer to John this time and respect his decision. He is the one who mostly has to face the vitriol, hurt, and anger of those associated with the accused parties as he is the most visible around town during our day-to-day operations. Yes, the “shoot the messenger” mentality is especially harsh in a small town.
   When making these difficult decisions regarding naming names, I always substitute my own children’s names with those in question. In both these cases, I would have named them; I have no tolerance for drunk drivers.
    Someday, I’ll win this argument, so if you don’t want your name in this newspaper when you wreck your car, then don’t drink and drive.
Until then, if you absolutely must know the names of those involved, it’s public information, so just ask.

November 26, 2010

Keep computers virus-free

'Tis the season for online shopping

by Sarah Elliott

  My computer decided to take a few years off my life by succumbing to a virus a few weeks back. During its healing process, I learned a few things, including: a lot has changed in the online world since I first became a regular Internet user over 15 years ago.
   The only way to have a completely safe computing experience these days is to unplug your Internet connection and never install any software. Since that is probably not a viable option, there are a few other ways to protect yourself.
   In an effort to ensure that readers don’t have to go through the stressful process of having their computer refuse to cooperate just when it is needed most, I will share what I have learned recently and through the years.
   First of all and most basic, exercise common sense. Nobody is going to hand you a million dollars because you have graciously agreed to assist a Nigerian prince who contacted you — and only you — to move his money from one bank account to another. And the Viagra really isn’t free. So keep your day job and keep your computer safe by not clicking on such obvious scams.
   Be sure that all virus/spyware/malware software is current and working. Install antivirus, antispyware, and use a bidirectional firewall to prevent unwanted inbound and outbound traffic on your PC. The Internet is a heavily infected environment, and it is essential that users are careful about where they browse and what they download. And run regular scans.
   Currently being targeted are social websites, popular websites, children’s websites, and adult websites. Music and movie downloads can also carry infections, so be sure to scan all downloads prior to using to minimize risk.
   Watch what you click on. Those pop-up ads can be more than annoying; they might be infected, and clicking on either “Cancel” or the red X to close the ad could instead activate it. Instead, on your PC, hit ALT+F4 to close the pop-up.
   Also beware of pop-up security fakes that tell you to scan or disinfect, then offer you a handy product to do so. It’s adware. Adware, or advertising-supported software, is any software package that automatically plays, displays, or downloads advertisements to a computer. Adware, by itself, is harmless; however, some adware may come with integrated spyware such as privacy-invasive software.
   Allow the auto-updates. Both Windows and Mac operating systems constantly patch any security holes they find.
   Downloading “executable” files is hard to avoid, but be wary of those emailed to you, whether from someone in your address book or unsolicited. Trust the source or don’t open it, and that goes for files ending in .exe, .com, .bat, .scr, .doc, and .xls.
   If you don’t have a router, get one. They’re inexpensive yet offer an additional layer of protection to your computer. Make sure it supports network address translation (NAT) and stateful packet inspection (SPI) and the router will hide your computer from Internet users scanning for open ports and can distinguish legitimate network traffic from that which is looking to infect. Most routers come with a username like “admin” and no password; change those defaults.
   Use strong passwords. That means instead of using “PASSWORD” as your password, mix numbers and letters, and not in alphabetical or numerical sequence. Even mix upper and lower case and throw in some punctuation marks. Stay away from proper names or, for that matter, any word that is found in the dictionary.
   Don’t use the same password on every computer you use or every site you visit. If memory challenged, write down all your sites with their passwords so you have a key or create a single, strong password, then adjust it based on the name of the site or service.
   Just as Macs are smaller targets than PCs for viruses, Firefox is a smaller target than Internet Explorer. The Firefox browser also offers the option of a master password that you must enter before you can access any stored site passwords.
   If using a shared or office-based PC, disable the AutoComplete settings that store your passwords and also fill them in for you (Go to Control Panel>Internet Options>Content tab, then go to AutoComplete settings to disable).
   Unless you are 200 percent certain, never click links in email. Even though a message may look like it’s from PayPal, Amazon, eBay, your bank, or a friend, if you’re at all suspicious, use common sense. Don’t click on any URLs in a suspicious email. Instead, type the URL for your bank or PayPal or whatever it might be directly into your browser. And, remember, real financial institutions and legitimate businesses won’t (or shouldn’t) ask you to verify accounts via email.
   Beware the holidays. Online greeting cards are great for phishers. Disreputable sites can collect information from people who send cards and then again from the recipient who clicks to watch one. Stick to the old-fashioned paper versions of holiday cards.
   Update your audiovisual software because the stealing of information is no longer limited to the Web and email. It is now happening on Skype as well. To avoid spam on Skype, don’t list your username in the provider’s public directory.
   Deactivate ActiveX controls (Internet Explorer), which is the technology that lets the browser automatically run software components. (Control Panel>Internet Options>Security tab, then update your settings to either “Prompt” or “Disable” ActiveX. These settings can be readjusted as needed.)
   If you are going to send personal information via a website, make sure the site encrypts that traffic. Do not provide any information —such as credit card number — unless the address in the URL begins with “https” (the “s” means secure) and there is a lock icon in the address bar or status bar. (But remember, just because it’s secure doesn’t mean you can trust it. Bad guys have encrypted sites too. Again, use common sense.)
   Never, ever send a reply to a spam. Even if it’s for a product you want; even if it’s to tell them to quit sending mail. Doing so confirms you received it, and your address goes on the spammers’ lists for eternity.
   Set your email software — even if it’s web-based (gmail, Yahoo!, etc.) — to not show images. It prevents web “beacons” that tell a spammer you’ve viewed the message, which once again confirms your address.
   Use email with a spam filter. And the more complicated your email address (or username in instant messages), the more you can avoid spam and spim (spam in instant messages).
   In the world of computing, all of the above is simply reactive to whatever the cyber-thieves are currently doing. It’s impossible to stay ahead of them and they are relentless in their quest for your information and/or money or to simply disable your computer, so until passwords consist of your fingerprints or retinas, stay informed, defensive, updated, and be very, very cautious.

November 26 , 2010

On the right track — Typing on the train

by John Elliott

  Everybody should take Amtrak at least every once in awhile. That's how I can get a little extra time to read, write, and think. If schedule permits, I opt for Amtrak over driving, which is what I did on a recent trip to Sacramento .

  Training through this great Valley heartland always gives me a renewed perspective on where I've been and where I'm going. It's something akin to hitting the refresh button in real time on the computer.

  I've been thinking a lot about hitting my refresh button lately having recently marked my 60th birthday. That milestone makes me a Boomer; not the oldest nor the youngest.

  A huge batch of Boomers is poised to turn 65 at year's end. Don't even think about raising the retirement age in this country… most boomers who have a plan are thinking of their golden years with a different idea in mind. For many, that includes some part-time work at least or perhaps a continued role in business.

  The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. One thing is for certain: Baby Boomers know about injustice.

  It's the legacy of our generation. Maybe not our greatest generation, according to Tom Brokaw, but definitely these Boomers are the most engaged.

  How could it be possible? It seems like only yesterday that Boomers were questioning whether the U.S. should be in Vietnam . Then President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the biggest saturation bombing in the history of mankind.

  The conflict ended eventually with nearly 50,000 U.S. war dead and hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians killed. Involvement in the Vietnam War is not something of which most Americans are proud.

Today, it's a different decade. We still raise the same old questions on Iraq and Afghanistan and, evidently, we still haven't learned the lessons of history.

  Most of the kids of Boomers are grown adults now who have moved out of the nest, some in college, others with careers of their own. The empty nest is the single most difficult thing for me in growing old — I miss my kids terribly.

  We exchange text messages daily so at least I know they are doing fine. When there's news, good or bad, most parents in the digital age are instantaneously informed.

  So let's return to this train ride I'm on and think about what lies ahead. What kind of a world will our college-age kids have to look forward to?

  It's a given that California must remake itself as a state government, a culture, and as a people. But be careful what you wish for this newly reconstituted U.S. Congress to do as the backdrop to our efforts.

  To cut spending drastically, as some would have us do when unemployment is in double digits is a huge mistake. The last time we did that was under Herbert Hoover, and the U.S. plunged into a deep, dark depression.

  World War II came along and fueled an eventual economic recovery. In this instance though, history best not repeat itself.

If we have learned any lessons of the past it is that a World War III is unthinkable.

  So for a time longer, the feds must continue to invest in states like California who need to re-tool and become more lean and smarter. We need water for the Central Valley to restore jobs and build a sustainable economy still rooted in agribusiness. But this time it must be a smarter, healthier agriculture.

  We cannot do that without the cooperation of the federal government. Nor can we grow a commitment to build the bullet train and restore and extend light rail.

  Investment in agriculture or mass transportation is not going to be profitable in itself but it will fuel jobs, new industries, and smart growth.

  Funding for the things we have done well in the past like education and health care need to be expanded not cut. Why do we kid ourselves by believing the government should not be in the business of doing either?

  Hello! The federal government is already in the education and healthcare business. Of course we need to encourage small business partners for they, until recently, fueled much of this country's growth.

  Somewhere in between the two — more government spending and less restraints on small business — will be the world of our children. We can never go back, we can only look forward.

  That's what I like best about Sacramento right now — its trains. If we lose training, we lose touch with our past and that's not smart or healthy.

October 29, 2010

Measure V deserves support

by Sarah Elliott

  No, it’s not a good time to be asking voters for money. But for the Three Rivers Union School District, it is a critical time.
   With its budget stretched to the breaking point due to a declining enrollment, and income from the state uncertain, the single-school district is struggling to meet its day-to-day expenses. Help from the taxpayers at this juncture is essential.
   Measure V, before TRUS district voters on Tuesday, Nov. 2, deserves passage. With schools throughout the nation currently asking for millions of dollars from voters in this election cycle — and bailouts to banks and auto makers in the incomprehensible trillions — TRUS is, in comparison, asking for a small raise in its allowance: $56 per parcel annually for five years. Then it’s done. Gone. Off the tax rolls.
   Three Rivers School isn’t asking for money to build additional facilities or for capital improvements and hasn’t for a quarter of a century since the McDowall Auditorium was built, which has proven to be an indispensable Three Rivers venue. The school simply wants to remain solvent and maintain its current programs and is asking the community to support those prudent objectives.
   Currently, the district can barely pay for teachers and curriculum development with its scaled-back budget. There’s nothing left in the larder and no end in sight to the budgetary challenges.
   Three Rivers voters have historically recognized the importance of local education and have supported bond issues and parcel tax measures. Past measures have not only added important campus improvements at College of the Sequoias, Woodlake High, and TRUS, but have spurred the local economies and created jobs while ensuring continued access to quality education.
   Yes, the timing is not the best, but the need is real. And, remember, while the recession is temporary, the investment we make in the education of our children will pay dividends for decades to come.
   Whether as parents or community members, we have the power to keep Three Rivers School under local control. Remember, voters who support their schools typically have the best schools.
   And where there are the best schools, property values trend the highest and families choose to relocate. As a result, businesses are successful and the economy is strong. It’s a healthy, vibrant cycle.
   The best money a town can spend is on education. As such, Measure V deserves our overwhelming support.

October 22, 2010

Film, eclipse, the midterm elections

by John Elliott

  Sarah and I had the good fortune to attend Homecoming at Cal-Berkeley a couple of weeks ago. Now that our daughter Jennie graduated last May, and actually found a job in the Bay Area, Parents Weekend is an excellent excuse to visit her new digs, but just as importantly, keep up on what’s going on in academia.
   As former “Cal Parents,” we now find ourselves “Friends of Cal” who can still buy a class pass for two days each October to sit in on faculty seminars. This year we attended the Art of Narrative Film Technique by Marilyn Fabe. Fabe is a founder of the new Film Studies degree for doctoral students at U.C. Berkeley and was also one of Jennie’s favorite professors in her communications/film specialties.
   After several years of trying, we finally got two seats in Alex Filippenko’s extremely popular astronomy lectures. Professor Filippenko, a national Professor of the Year, has brought the astral world’s attention to the Cal campus and been voted the most beloved professor on campus several times by the students.
   His lecture “Glorious Total Eclipse” was just that – glorious. He showed us the Bailey Beads (beads of light that can look like a wedding ring visible briefly as the moon obscures the sun), Prominences (loop-shaped light projected outward in space), and features on the Moon’s surface like its valleys and mountains, all visible for a fleeting few minutes during a total eclipse.
   Filippenko said that the next really big total eclipse show — where the Moon will be close enough to the Earth to completely cover the Sun — will occur off the northeast coast of Australia on April 8, 2012, so make your travel plans now. You can even book a special cruise with the entertaining Filippenko as your guide — who has 11 total solar eclipses from around the world under his belt — for a vacation and four to seven total eclipse minutes you will remember for the rest of your life.
   It was Dan Schnur’s lecture “The 2010 Midterm Elections: A User’s Guide” that was most timely. Schnur, a political science professor at Cal and the current chair of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, explained that he is somewhat of a political oddity at Cal being a career Republican. But to all his students and parents like us who attend his lectures, he requires “that you leave your ideology at the door.”
   Having been intimately associated with the campaigns of Gov. Pete Wilson and Sen. John McCain, Schnur is often asked these days to make election predictions but cannot, he said, because in his position as committee chair it would not be appropriate. However, he believes he can decipher both the mood of the country and where California is headed on November 2.

  “To do that we need to analyze the electorate,” Schnur said. “At this time in our history, the voters are far more interesting than the politicians.”
   What are voters thinking and feeling? The dominant sentiment, according to Schnur, is anger, and he compares the depths of the anger in this election with 1992 when briefly Ross Perot was the frontrunner for the presidential nomination.
   Voters are angry with Washington and angry with Wall Street. That angers boils down, Schnur said, with the Republicans being angry with career politicians and the Democrats being angry with corporate fat cats on Wall Street.
   So what’s a California voter to do in the race for governor where you have Jerry Brown, a career politician, vs. Meg Whitman, a Wall Street corporate type?

  “California voters are actually less angry than in other parts of the country,” Schnur said. “Much of our anger was spent during the Gray Davis recall seven years ago when we had our political revelation.”
Now the political mood of California is tending more toward despondency, Schnur said.
   Unfortunately, much of California’s optimism of the past — derived from the Gold Rush, real estate frenzy, aerospace excitement, Hollywood’s glamour, and the high-tech boom — is now just a memory of the good old days.

  “Perhaps it is Green Industry — not necessarily the Proposition 19 kind! — that can restore the jobs,” Schnur said. “That is one area where Californians are leading the way for the world and one area where we can all be optimistic.”

October 15, 2010

'Where the River Meets the Lake'

by John Elliott

  If you have haven’t visited the Slick Rock Recreation Area lately I’ve got a neat way to get reacquainted. Come to the parking lot area adjacent to the new boat ramp on Saturday, Oct. 23, at 7 a.m. On that eventful day — the Centennial of the Kaweah Post Office — a number of your friends and neighbors will be gathering to participate in the inaugural 10K run and 5K walk, the first event of what a host of fitness-oriented folks hope will be a series of run/walk events on area roads and trails.
   Next Saturday’s event (Oct. 23), which is a benefit for the Kaweah Postal Foundation, is not the first-ever race in the area. For several years, David Bronzan, the COS cross-country coach, brought his runners up each fall for a five-mile run along Old Three Rivers Drive and up the South Fork and back. There were some memorable performances by the COS runners in that race and local runners were always welcome too.

  Some outstanding performances come to mind by locals including Barry Proctor, who at age 51 and at the 5K (3.1 miles) distance, is still one of Tulare County’s top runners. Last year, in the Springville Apple Run 10K, Barry covered the 6.2 mile course in 41.21 and finished third overall.
   Other local runners who participated in those Kaweah races of yesteryear were Jim Entz, Dyann Graber, and Heather Woods as a pre-teen. It remains to be seen who might turnout for this revival race/walk but one thing is for certain; there is lots of local talent and folks who run and walk to keep fit.
   At age 59, I count myself in the “run to keep fit” category. I’m not fast or slow, and although I’ve only been running regularly for three years, here are some of the basics I’ve learned.

  —Running helps shed unnecessary weight, strengthens the immune system, and makes you feel and look better.

  —It’s fun to run with other runners but in reality it’s about running solo.

  —If you enter a race (enter this one because it’s for a good cause), you should run against yourself, not the other runners. Trying for a personal best is always a challenge, but no matter how fast or how slow you go there is always somebody faster or slower. Just have fun and enjoy the time with others who also run and walk.

  —Walking regularly has many of same health benefits of running. You have to walk before you can run, or just walk like Jana Botkin, a Three Rivers resident, who can sustain a walking pace in excess of five miles per hour and has entered walk marathons.
   Whether you run or walk to compete or just for fun you are a winner because you will live a strong, healthier lifestyle.
   Here’s a closer look at the course that has been dubbed, “Where the River meets the Lake.”
   The distance between the two recreation areas along the lake bottom is nearly a perfect 5K (3.1 miles) so up and back makes a comfortable 10K or 6.2 miles. The average runner completes the 10K in about 60 minutes; the average walker will complete the 5K in the same time.
   The 8 a.m. start for runners is at the gate (just 50 yards or so down the ramp) in the Slick Rock Recreation Area; the turn-around is a loop just before where the road to the Kaweah Recreation boat ramp descends its last hill westward. The loop turn-around will be clearly marked and staffed by volunteers.
   Just after the runners start, the walkers will be escorted approximately 300 yards down the ramp for an 8:05 start. The turn-around for walkers will be at the old highway bridge, 1.55 miles from the starting line.
   The entire route has plenty of scenic views of the river and lower lake area. The return for runners and walkers includes some stunning up-canyon views of the meandering mouth of the Kaweah River and the nearby mountains of Sequoia National Park.
   Here’s a useful tip for all who are planning to enter. Walk/run the course at least once to get the feel of the trail’s surface. All participants will encounter stretches of smooth asphalt, soft sandy loam, and hard-packed dirt, ruts, and just about every surface in between.
   The varying surfaces are actually one of the benefits of this trail. For those who return here to run/walk again and again, your feet experience what running experts call varying foot strikes. Your feet actually become stronger by adapting to the different surfaces and that helps cut down on soreness and injury incurred over time.
   All entrants will need to pick-up a sign-up sheet at the office of The Kaweah Commonwealth or download one from the home page on this website.
   After filling out the form, return the paperwork with a payment of $20. Any registrations received on the day of the event will cost $25. For those who want to enter kids in the event, ask about the family discount.
   Perks of the event include a custom-designed event T-shirt and prizes to be awarded to the top finishers in multiple categories.
   An aid station with water and Gatorade will be located at the 1.55 mile mark for use by walkers and runners. All entrants must complete the course by 10 a.m. as there is an equestrian event scheduled for the same day. Awards will be presented at the Slick Rock start/finish line at 10:15 a.m.
   Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Kaweah Postal Foundation in honor of the centennial being celebrated by the Kaweah Post Office on the same day. Questions and requests for run/walk sign-up sheets should be directed to Lee Goldstein (561-3204) or John Elliott (561-3627).

August 20, 2010

The riches of Mineral King

by John Elliott

  The passing of Ora Kay Peterson (1929-2010) in Visalia On July 31 certainly brought back some wonderful memories for me. The multitude of friends and neighbors who gathered for her memorial service at St. Paul’s Church in Visalia was evidence of all those lives she touched in her lengthy career as a dental hygienist and community activist.
   Her greatest passion was for things historical, and that is how our paths first crossed nearly 25 years ago. It was in the company of this great lady that I made my first trip up the Mineral King Road on September 25, 1986, to visit the Peterson cabin in East Mineral King.
   The trip was an inspection tour of the cabin community and its associated historical sites to see if I might be interested (in my capacity of public historian) in coming up with a plan to convince Sequoia National Park officials of the historical significance of the cabins. My first impression in driving through the old rustic cabins was that this place indeed had the makings of a special historic district.
   But there was also an interesting backstory as to how this memorable life-changing visit came together. That part of the story involves the Mineral King District Association, founded in 1975, of which Ora Kay was a board member. Ironically, it was another longtime member of the Mineral King community, Jean Koch, who I first met in Garden Grove at an Auld Lang Syne luncheon in 1982.
   I was the speaker at that luncheon with a slide show on historical sites along the old railroad tracks that hadn’t been used to haul passengers on the Red Cars since 1940. At the time, the Orange County Transit District was proposing to bring back a light-rail passenger service to help mitigate the mess of the snarled freeway system.

  “There is a group of cabin owners up in Mineral King that could use someone like you,” said Jean Koch, who came forward when my talk had ended. “Here’s the address of Ora Kay Peterson in Visalia who is in charge of getting us someone to help. Maybe you could write a letter to tell the board what needs to be done.”
   In truth, I wasn’t even sure where Mineral King was located. As soon as I got home that evening, I pulled out a map. I found the spot east of a little blip called Three Rivers.
   The map read: “Road to Mineral King is closed in winter.”
   To me, that sounded like one of the most intriguing places on the planet. By the next afternoon, I had a rather detailed letter explaining that the Mineral King cabins should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places… and I’m the guy that can get the job rolling. I can start as soon as possible, I wrote.
   All that year, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one… I never heard a word. Then, finally, in September 1986 the phone rang at my house in Costa Mesa. When I first heard the voice on the other end of the line it took me a moment to get my bearings.

  “Hello, this is Ora Kay Peterson and I am calling on behalf of the Mineral King District Association. You wrote us a letter a while back and we were wondering if you might still be interested in our historical project.”
   Of course, I answered.

  "Could you come up next weekend to take a look at Mineral King and see if you might want to get involved? It’s important we go up right away because anytime now we could get snow up there.”
   After pondering the possibilities for a split second I answered: “I can drive up Friday morning and meet you in Visalia by lunchtime.”

  “That’s just fine,” Ora Kay replied. “That will give us plenty of time to drive up to the cabin.”
   That was the beginning of something really incredible for all of us who, in any way, shape, or form, enjoy the wonders of Mineral King.  Now fast forward to Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010, when there were more than 100 community members, Sequoia National Park officials including Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich, and other mountain folk who gathered at the Barton Cabin in West Mineral King — as they have for more than three decades — for the annual meeting of the Mineral King District Association.
   There were folks in attendance who have been coming to Mineral King for more than 80 years; most had been there for 40 or 50 of those summers. Jean Koch, my original Mineral King connection, attended on what was her 90th birthday.
   One beloved Mineral King personality that was missing was Ora Kay, who has done as much as anyone to ensure that this unique community is still extant and will be preserved. But that is another part of this epic story.

June 18, 2010

The Kaweah Commonwealth's plea to keep

people safe from the Kaweah River...

Dear Three Rivers Visitor:

We would like to talk frankly with you about our town’s namesake: the three rivers. Most likely, the Kaweah River is why you are here. It is certainly the principal reason why we live here. Read more...

April 30, 2010

There's gold in these foothills

by John Elliott

    In my role as president of the California County Planning Commissioners Association, I attended the Central District Spring Conference held Friday, April 16, at Jamestown, Tuolumne County. It was an intensive all-day program entitled: “Bound for Glory: Promoting Prosperity in Your County.”
   Tuolumne County is situated in the heart of California’s Gold Country, a huge magnet for tourists. It’s difficult to imagine the county’s smallish size (pop. 60,000) because the typical visitor is so impressed by all that the area has to offer.
   The county’s historic Gold Rush towns with nearby state parks are alluring, and Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest offer limitless outdoor recreation. The locals have embraced their mantle as a tourist region and realize it’s a challenge to remain viable in today’s economy.
   The conference sessions featured several speakers who looked at the various assets of Tuolumne County and their relationships with Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Each session had a motion picture-inspired title from a movie that was filmed locally.
   Tuolumne County, with its string of charming gold rush towns and historic parks has been the setting for many famous flicks and TV serials. Here, every visitor is reminded of Hollywood’s immortal stars and Wild West settings that complement the local interpretation of California’s Gold Rush.
   Some of the richest strikes in California were made here in 1849 and many of the biggest nuggets ever found came from Tuolumne County’s gulches. After an El Nino season like this one, good paying dirt may still be found in newly eroded places in the area’s rivers and creeks.
   Learning about gold panning at Columbia State Park remains one of the area’s premiere attractions. But more gold today is found in the pockets of tourists and investors who come seeking to experience or develop one of these tourist-related assets.
   Shuttle v. trolley— There are some interesting comparisons to be drawn between Tuolumne and Tulare counties. The cluster of Gold Rush-era towns in Tuolumne County are linked by a new trolley that transports visitors back and forth with stops also at the area parks.
Riding on the new trolley from Jamestown to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park reminded me of the potential for a similar experience in Three Rivers. Our Sequoia Shuttle from Visalia could be so much more, yet Visalia and park officials cannot see beyond their own self-interest.
   The Sequoia Shuttle, now approaching its fourth season does a great job in Sequoia National Park. Outside the park, it has failed at what it was proposed to do in the first place; get folks out of their cars and improve air quality.
   For an array of reasons, the City of Visalia cannot cooperate with county transportation officials to make the shuttle more viable. At times, they act as if Three Rivers doesn’t even exist.
   Visalia officials claim they never intended to collect fares and make any more stops (than Comfort Inn and Memorial Building) as the main reasons as to why they cannot fill the hundreds of empty seats that go through Three Rivers from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Three Rivers and Tulare County could do well to learn a thing or two from Tuolumne County. A step in the right direction would be to establish a town center/transit center in Three Rivers for busses and shuttles to serve more passengers.
   There is no good reason why all those shuttles should return with empty seats to Visalia; all that would be needed is for a few vehicles to return daily and be stored overnight in Three Rivers. Instead, Visalia officials view Three Rivers as a rival for tourist business and not as a partner in this much needed progress. With no town leadership, Three Rivers remains without a voice.
   The shuttle advertisements even go so far as to claim that they (Visalia) are the gateway to Sequoia National Park. Anyone who has ever visited Visalia/Three Rivers knows that gateway part is simply not true for Visalia, nor will it ever be.
   Part of the responsibility for this misinformation must reside with Three Rivers businesses for not embracing our true gateway identity and collectively insisting that Visalia at least include Three Rivers in the tourist equation.
   Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, told the Jamestown conference that the new generation of visitors is seeking small communities just like Three Rivers to spend their tourist dollars.
   First, they want to get out of their vehicles so they prefer those places that are walkable and have lots of healthy recreational opportunities.
   Second, they want to experience a place where some remnants of the past have been preserved and the residents have a sense of their own history.
   And finally, they appreciate a vibrant local arts scene both of the visual and performance variety.
   There is no doubt that there is plenty of potential for Three Rivers to cater to these new tourists and we are headed in the right direction. All we need is a trolley — or shuttle — to take us there.


January 29, 2010

Welcome to the Hotel California

by John Elliott

  To think just two weeks ago I was exploring the Los Cabos coastline of Baja California Sur. After all this recent winter weather, the balmy 80-degree temperatures and the Baja breezes seem like a fleeting dream.
   A couple of years back, I promised my family that whenever possible we would try to spend part of each January someplace warm. As I pondered the options, it became apparent that warm place would be somewhere in Mexico.
   Traveling south of the border makes sense. It’s relatively easy to get to (lots of direct flights from California) and an affordable place to stretch those travel dollars. If you have time but are on a tighter budget, it’s a camper’s paradise.
   Mexico really is a safe, family destination as long as you steer clear of those drug-crazed border towns.
   In 2008, we tried Puerto Vallarta and explored the Pacific Coast of mainland Mexico. This year we focused on the southernmost part of the Baja peninsula and were very impressed by the traditional Mexican culture that still may be found there in spite of those expatriates who are encouraging Mexican investors to build condos, tacky mini-malls, and all-inclusive resorts.
   We opted to stay in San Jose del Cabo, the quieter of the two Cabos. Both San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are towns of about 50,000. Cabo San Lucas is a bit more raucous, is a cruise ship port, and is located where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez 20 miles to the west.
   About 60 miles east of San Jose del Cabo is Cabo Pulmo National Park. Cabo Pulmo, in the Sea of Cortez, is the antithesis of the all-inclusive resort and is home to the Mexican equivalent of a U.S. National Park. It is so remote that the government is finding it extremely difficult to enforce the laws enacted in the 1990s to protect this unique marine resource.
   At Cabo Pulmo there exists the last living reef of the region with plenty of excellent diving, snorkeling, and miles of pristine beaches. The fishing is among the best in the world so it’s tough barring guides and local fishermen from the Parque Nacional who are looking to feed hungry families and make a few pesos.
   It’s the mañana lifestyle, and recently relaxed immigration laws are appealing to an increasing number of gringos coming south of the border in search of “Hotel California.” Hotel California to some retiring boomers is wherever they find their extension of the idyllic California lifestyle; to others it’s simply a very cool vacation at the property by the same name that inspired the number-one bestselling Eagles album in 1977.
   This autentico Hotel California is an inviting, recently remodeled 11-room inn on Avenue Juarez located adjacent to the old mission in Todos Santos. Todos Santos is about an hour’s drive north of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific Coast.
   The sleepy, old Baja town was discovered in the 1960s by California surfers, hippies, and coastal aficionados looking for that perfect sunset. Among those 1960s visitors was Don Felder, an accomplished guitarist and studio musician looking for a little peace and quiet to write songs and escape life in the L.A. fast lane.

  “Don Felder frequented Hotel California in those days but in truth, the Eagles as a group never actually stayed here,” said Debbie Stewart, the owner of the venerable property for the past eight years. “It was coming here that inspired Felder to write his part of those famous lyrics.”
   Felder was not an original Eagle but when he sat in on a 1974 tour he so impressed Don Henley and Glenn Frey that he was asked to join the band. Felder is credited with being a co-writer of the song “Hotel California,” the title track on the album that has sold more than 10 million copies, placing it among the top two or three bestselling albums of all time.
   In recent years, it also surpassed one million digital downloads. Here is an excerpt from the lyrics of Hotel California that won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1977.

On a dark desert highway,
cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas
rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance,
I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and
my sight grew dimmer
I had to stop for the night

There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
‘This could be Heaven
or this could be Hell’
Then she lit up a candle and
she showed me the way
There were voices
down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to the
Hotel California
Such a lovely place
(such a lovely face)
Plenty of room at the
Hotel California
Anytime of year
you can find it here...

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
‘Relax,’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out
anytime you like,
but you can never leave.’

—Felder, Henley, Frey

  So if you are in need of a break from winter head south to BCS, Mexico. There are beautiful beaches, whales to watch, lots of water sports, and nine missions including San Jose del Cabo and Todos Santos to explore.
   Today, you can check in or out at Hotel California anytime you like but you better make a reservation: www.hotelcaliforniabaja.com.

January 1, 2010

Y2K decade

by Sarah Elliott

  No matter when you think the recent millennium began, there is no denying that there are 10 years of the 2000s that are now in the past. As of today, we enter 2010 (pronounced twenty-ten, not two-thousand-ten or two-oh-ten).
   But let’s look back over the decade, which started when gas was $1.25 a gallon, but at least didn’t end with it eclipsing $4 per gallon, as it did in ‘06. Way back when, when postage stamps were 29 cents and lickable, and now are 44 cents and mostly self-adhesive.
   We’ve bid goodbye to floppy disks, cassettes, yellow pages, and our rolodex, and embraced iPods, Blackberries, and iPhones. We are now entertained by reality TV, social networking, weblogs, and YouTube. CDs have come and mostly gone; DVDs and downloads have replaced VHS.
   We’ve added new verbs to our vocabulary: googling, blogging, texting, friending, and tweeting. We have new “conveniences” in our lives like automated phones (press 1...) and online banking. But use those wireless devices wisely, because we also have identity theft.
   We certainly can’t look back on the decade without knowing that it will forever be defined by 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
   We’ve dealt with SARS and H1N1, but the worst epidemic is that the majority of us are fat — and there are categories for our stages of fatness: overweight, obese, and morbidly obese — which is also our nation’s leading cause of death. Our “Western diet” is infamously known throughout the world, loved and hated at the same time.
   In 2000, it was peacetime. Now we are fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are no WMDs, Saddam Hussein has been hanged, more than 5,000 troops have died, and airport security lines are the new norm.
   The decade began with the presidency hinging on hanging chads and a ruling by the Supreme Court that sent George W. Bush to Washington, D.C., and ended with lots of political scandal — John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and Mark (“hiking the Appalachian Trail”) Sanford. John Kerry challenged Bush mid-decade, but “Swift Boat Captains for Truth” sunk that presidential campaign.
   Hillary Clinton almost became the first female president, Sarah Palin was the first female Republican vice-presidential candidate, and Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president.  

  Enron, the energy trading giant, collapsed amid scandal; we watched as the Columbia space shuttle, with its seven crewmembers, fell apart in the sky; an Indian Ocean tsunami killed thousands; and Bernie Madoff “made off” with millions of dollars of our money.
There was a recent financial collapse, and no one escaped that global-wide tsunami. While unemployment climbed into double digits, the Dow dropped below 10,000.
   There are heroes — Captain Chesley Sullenburger and the Hudson River landing, Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong campaign — and ethical and moral duds — Martha Stewart, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Tiger Woods, Octomom, Balloon Boy, and wardrobe malfunction.
   Here at home, The Kaweah Commonwealth published its first digital photos in 2001, eliminating the weekly run to the one-hour photo lab. In 2003, we launched a website, taking Three Rivers global. In 2004, DSL came to town, which meant that the newspaper could now be electronically processed to the printer instead of hand-delivered, again eliminating a 120-mile-plus roundtrip.
   According to my long-term goals, John and I won’t still be preparing these pages at the end of the next decade, but I certainly hope The Kaweah Commonwealth will be serving Three Rivers for millennia to come.





THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
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