Friday, September 19, 2014

September With No Name

People like to whinge about the summer heat in Florida, but given that September is the peak of hurricane season and so far - nothing; there's really not a lot to whinge about. Furthermore a few tropical depressions have swung by the neighborhood dropping tons of rain everywhere, which is what California could use, and that rain has cooled things off nicely. So much so I got Cheyenne out into the woods earlier this week.
It is hard for me to stress how pleasant it is o be in the Keys in September, despite the prolonged summer heat  (which I like), because this is the time of year one  gets away from it all. This is the time of year No One is Hiking or Cycling on No Name Key.
No Name Key is where you bring people who want to see Key Deer. They inhabit these forests, picking their delicate way through the undergrowth and from time to time they pop out onto the roadway so you don't even have to get out of the car to get a picture.
I like getting out of the car and recommend similar eccentric behavior to anyone who wants to enjoy the spectacular views that present themselves along the Overseas Highway. Get out of our cage, look around, you never know what you might see.
Considering how limited the landmass is around here, to have the ability to get on a trail and drag your reluctant Labrador away from civilization and its messy trash cans, is a wonderful ting.
I usually get to do more of it in winter but the past two winters we haven't seen many days with temperatures under seventy degrees.  
These woods are well known as he place where the Bay of Pigs landing in Cuba, in prehistoric times, was planned and where the anti-Castro insurgents/ terrorists/freedom fighters (take your pick) trained.
Of them there is no sign anymore. Nowadays there is, more incongruously a gravel quarry, a deer refuge and  commercial electric power.
There are no hills so the views are naturally restricted. Around here you don't see rivers and valleys, hedgerows and farmland.
 It's just miles of mangroves sitting in tannic water stained as dark as tea.
 Sometimes Labradors like to cool their heels in the high tide of summer storms.
 With more to come, looking west toward Big Pine Key.
 So dogs like to repair to their air conditioned comfort and the darkness of a rug over their faces.
Cheyenne doesn't notice thunder and sleeps serenely through any noise at all as long as her forehead is pressed up against something and no one has the temerity to touch her. She dreams of long urban walks, and the noise and smells of the city, dreams that cannot be ignored, even by someone who might prefer a wood to a parking lot, or a trail to a street. Dogs are stubborn things and they know what they like. More's the pity people don't pay attention to them when they indicate their preferences.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland Votes

Today's the day that decides whether Europe in the 21st century resembles that of the last century or if self determination in a time of diminishing resources means a united Europe breaks into several small pieces. Catalonia has set a date in November to vote to ask Madrid for the right to vote on independence and Northern Irish leaders say they will review their future status in the rest of the United Kingdom if Scotland votes "Yes" today. The question? "Should Scotland be an independent country?" Simple enough with widespread implications. A sense of humor helps...seen at Gretna Green on the English/Scottish border:

In many respects the vote seems like a peculiar exercise in tomfoolery. Scottish leaders insist come independence they will continue to use English pounds under the control of the bank of England, and the Royal Mail will deliver the post and Scotland will be part of the European Union. All of which is in question as English leaders say they want no part of sharing anything with an independent Scotland, except their share of the National Debt; while EU leaders say Scotland will have to apply for membership and that could take a decade to process if Spain doesn't veto their application as vengeance for Catalonia's renewed drive for freedom.

At this point all the considerations in the independence fine print are left behind as just about every single Scottish resident is showing up at the polls today between seven am and ten o'clock tonight local time. (The UK is five hours ahead of US Eastern time). One thing the independence vote has done that is positive and worth noting is that it has generated debate, some violent, but this is as pure an expression of true grassroots democracy as any we have seen on either side of the Atlantic. Earlier this year European Union nations voted for their members of the European Parliament and we saw a huge upset with right wing anti-union members getting elected. Watching those results I tried to imagine an upset in a Presidential election in this country. And frankly I could not see that. Voter apathy in the US is the product of that electoral certainty. Scottish voters, as young as 16, are streaming to the polls because they know their vote counts. They have no electoral college to interpret their wishes, or multi year monstrously costly elections decided by money long before votes are cast. Money has been spent and claims have been made because the outcome of this vote, likely to be known in 12 hours, is in doubt, too close to call.

As you watch this vote ask yourself what the Federal government would do if Montana elected to vote to secede. Inconceivable isn't it? More to the point I'd love to see something as simple as a viable third party candidate run for President with an actual chance of winning. Democracy is supposed to allow for upsets and whether or not Scotland decides to end its 300 year old union with England there can be no doubt they have stepped up to vote in a race with no certain outcome. Watch Hilary Clinton's race for President and ask yourself how uncertain is that outcome by comparison. And how expensive. And how little policy will change after it's all over. And then ask yourself what it must be like to be a Scottish voter today.

All photos from The Scotsman newspaper website.


Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Looking at the thermometer on my phone I was quite surprised to see it was supposed to be a modest 83  degrees. Faced with a  six mile ride home I wondered if it might not actually be closer to a windless 95  degrees.
I was as far south as I could conveniently go on Old Stat Road 939A on Sugarloaf Key, at the spot where the old road used to cross a tidal creek in he mangroves:
Just last week i was here on my boat checking out Tarpon Creek where the boat seen below was turning.
Only when I was here I drifted through the channel feeling far from civilization. This boater was playing a loud stereo that blasted 1980s dance music across the tops of the bushes making it seem like he was whistling to keep his spirits up as I watched the white canvas square twist and turn along the channel.
This is a popular spot for picnics and for ...trash:
Even though the last two miles of dirt track are now closed to motor vehicles.
Once upon a  time internal combustion could get you this far as I wrote  in 2007 :
Starting back in the mid afternoon heat I paused in a shady spot for a moment to take a picture that looked like this:
...but felt like this: 
I really prefer walking to cycling but Cheyenne has been reluctant to come out on this trail in recent years, even in the cool of winter so as an exercise in getting some exercise this seemed a good destination for my bicycle. I did walk a bit just to enjoy the peace and quiet of not being in control of a vehicle for a short while.
A friend sent me a few texts and I marveled at how connected we are, not a stunning revelation I know, but still the ability to be connected all the time in this age of electronic wizardry still catches me by surprise sometimes.
Here i was walking past a huge water filled hole in the track, surrounded by sodden discarded trash miles from any apparent neighbors and yet in my pocket not only did I have a phone, and several books but also a flashlight and a camera, a pocket calculator and an internet portal as well.
Humans have had bicycles - velocipedes - for more than a hundred and twenty years, two hundred if you don't need pedals and tires to count them as proper bicycles, yet I was born decades before a portable phone was even a possibility. I still marvel when I use it in any of its guises, from book buying to seeing my way in the dark, never mind taking and publishing these pictures.
Trash is a constant companion, here a pile of apparently household items including a coffee maker and a purse rotting under the rain and sun.

After getting off the dirt and back onto Highway One at Mangrove Mama's I turned east and crossed the bridge to Cudjoe and found myself on the newly  built section of the Overseas Heritage Trail. 

 Overseas Heritage Bicycle Trail is the page with all the information about the trail that will one day connect Key West to Key Largo, all 106 miles of it. And at least on Cudjoe Key they've done a really nice job converting the old Highway One roadbed into a partially shaded path separated from the modern roadway by a tall thick hedge.

The views are quite spectacular.
And where the trail crosses a street its separated from motor traffic. It crosses Highway One at open crosswalks which in winter require a fair bit of patience as traffic is heavy. 
Across the highway from Pirates Wellness Center (closing this month for ever unfortunately) the bike path is separated from the local access road by a  stout cement median, no expense spared:
The trail is a mish mash of solutions, and not all islands have this level of separate facilities. Not all the old Flagler bridges have been turned into bike paths unfortunately so sometimes bicycles have to ride on the shoulder of the Highway. 

However around here this new trail makes riding quite a pleasure.

And by the time I got home I was ready for a shower and a nap. My dog, abandoned for two hours had other ideas so after I parked the Trek I had to load up the Labrador for a walk. At least she enjoyed it.
And then it was all too soon time to go to work. I am lucky I love night shift as I can still take full advantage of daylight the nights I work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland And Independence

From the archives, a reprint to mark Scotland's historic vote tomorrow:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Yes Scotland And One Human Family

So the question is: what do a passel of no account little lumps of subtropical rock and mangrove stalks have in common with the bleak peat bogs of frigid rainy Scotland? Not much on the face of it but there is the little matter of independence that is coming over the horizon. 31 years ago the Florida Keys asserted their right to independence and now, trailing along behind the Fabulous Florida Keys by a matter of decades, the residents of Scotland, be they English, Scottish or citizens of the European Union actually in Scotland get to vote tomorrow on whether or not they want to secede from the overbearing English.
Every nation state has its own flag and Conch Claude Valdez came up with the design seen above. The Scottish flag, a banner associated with a nation but not with a state since 1707, is the cross of St Andrew shown below. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
I figure the story of the creation of the Conch Republic is pretty well known but it has given rise to a mythology and an industry including passports and identity cards, bumper stickers and the notion that the Conch (pronounced konk please) Republic is a "state of mind" all in great good humor. But it wasn't always so, the good humor.
April 23rd 1982 the Prime Minister of the Conch Republic, promoted for the day from his day job of Mayor of Key West, having argued for the removal of a Border Patrol checkpoint at the Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, came out of court and spontaneously announced that if the United States, in an effort to stop illegal immigration, wanted to treat the Keys as a foreign nation with an ID check on Highway One, then so be it. And Dennis Wardlow announced the Free Florida Keys were seceding from the US.
The crowd gathered at Mallory Square to hear the announcement and the Prime Minister attacked the United States by breaking a loaf of Cuban bread over the head of a representative of the US Navy. The mouse that roared promptly surrendered and demanded a billion dollars in foreign aid from the US to compensate for the interruption to the tourist trade caused by the Overseas Highway roadblock. The money never came but notoriety did.
So now every Spring for a week there is a rather cheerful celebration of Conch Republic Days in Key West when drinks are drunk and they race transvestities down Duval Street and the whole thing wraps up with a sea battle between the Conch Republic Navy and the US Navy in which Cuban bread is still the ammunition of choice. The US always loses and everyone drinks their sorrows or their joys away.
Personally I have a different vision for an independent Conch Republic. I'd like to see a place like Andorra or Monaco in the Keys, a city state with no army and only enough navy to protect its fisheries, an economy based on all those items one sees banned in the US, so busy morality posturing, that could be had openly and cheerfully and guilt free in the shining new capital of unbridled capitalism that would be my Conch Republic. How much would you pay to sit on a beach in the Conch Republic smoking legal genuine Cuban cigars, drinking Cuban rum with a new and expensive friend then gambling in one of our world class casinos? Banking secrecy laws would be paramount, every law firm in the city would be the international low-tax headquarters of some corporation or another and every citizen of the Conch Republic would grow fat and content earning ridiculous tax free wages pandering to every American desire impermissible at home. "One (Stinking Rich) Human Family" indeed, my Conch Republic would have the motto of rectitude for citizens, lassitude for visitors, with health care, marriage, and the rule of law for all. I have a dream...of the gates to Paradise built as a frontier post in the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge. But let's be practical...
The US would never let it happen - and see Boca Chica Naval Air Station converted to civilian use, for a foreign country at that? Never! Besides I have a feeling a real Conch Republic would pretty soon descend into an extended impotent lament in the anonymous Citizen's Voice column in the newspaper followed by fratricidal urges and riots at Little League International games against the Americans from Marathon as parents take on the battles only hinted at by their sporting offspring. True independence would never work. Too bad as I could use a substantial raise, and though I do not smoke I have heard Havana Club is a decent rum. For Scotland though it's another matter, far more serious than stale Cuban ammunition bread and illegal rum toddys...

700 Years ago near the city of Stirling, Scottish soldiers handed an invading English army their lunch on a platter at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh has called a vote by all residents 16 years and older on the very simple question: Should Scotland be an independent country? Scotland's First Minister in the semi autonomous Scottish Parliament Alex Salmond (shown below just to prove that telegenic politicians are a US obsession) is leading the Yes Scotland campaign on a leftist plank of affordable housing and jobs though how Yes Scotland will follow through on those promises in these arduous economic times... A group of right wingers has come out with a libertarian position supporting independence called Wealthy Nation, so everyone is climbing aboard the change bandwagon it would seem at first sight in Scotland.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, shown above, whose name keeps up the fishy link in Scotland's march to freedom, is also promoting the Scottish National Party's "National Conversation" about independence. However as you might imagine not everyone is delighted about this separatist path. Lately the European Union has said it's not clear Scotland would gain admission to the EU, and suggestions that an independent Scotland might continue to use the English pound have been rejected by ministers in London. The message seems clear: if Scotland decides to set a bad example to independence minded Catalonia and Corsica they will get no help from the Big Boys in Europe. This sort of bullying seems to be having an effect, even as England plans to offer increased autonomy to the Scottish parliament if the people vote No. It's all carrot and stick...
England fought Ireland horribly when they wanted independence, and union was forced on Scotland with a brutality that would give modern sensibilities the vapors. Over the past decade the English who constitute about 53 million of the United Kingdom's 63 million people have given autonomy to Wales and Scotland in hopes of fending off this day. North Sea Oil, Scotland's great economic hope is drying up so England's delaying tactics worked on that front, and losing Scotland won't mean the huge cheap energy loss of even a decade ago. But Scotland's five million residents, like the Conch Republic's notional 40,000 in the Lower Keys, have a lot of scenery to sell. We smaller states end up selling ourselves to visitors with our history and pretty views.
There is in me a streak of silly escapism, a desire for change for the sake of change and the chance to see what happens when one leaps where angels fear to tread, which to some extent is what prompts people to move here. I have no idea what's best for Scotland, or the Lower Keys come to that. But I do have a mad desire to see what happens if the Scots do take that leap of faith. Who knows, perhaps they could lead the way to independence for Wales, Catalonia, Corsica and perhaps even these distant lumps of rock where endless debates about abortion and gay rights and evolution and guns all the rest of the mad mainland political posturing mean so little. One Human Family: is that a philosophy strong enough to build real human freedom upon, instead of using it as an excuse for bed races, fake battles and drunken public partying? Would the real Conch Republic, a place of tolerance and belief in the res publica as originally envisioned find space to live and breathe and prosper? Lead the way Scotland and perhaps Sassenachs everywhere can learn from your example.