Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Baldwin Park Parks and Recreation Director Receives $1,400 Month Raise, During Economic Recession

The overpaid Baldwin Park Director of Parks and Recreation
The Court of Appeals has said he is running a sham nonprofit
The Mayor and Pacheco voted to raise Manuel Carrillo Jr. salary to $1,400 month raise, even though he fired an employee who complained that a 40 cent raise wasn't enough, raising his annual pay to $217,000 a year. My research shows that he may be the highest paid recreation director in Southern California, which is odd because the average resident in Baldwin Park makes $15,000 a year. He doesn't even have a high school degree.

Other notable Carrillo achievements is stealing City money through sham nonprofits, selling City park space who could release it for soccer programs, hiring those who commit sexual harassment, and hiring criminals to work with children. For all this, he's going to make closer to a quarter of a million.

So why's he getting a raise? And how is the City justifying this?

Earlier Shot of Carrillo
It suggests that he may be with the
Sinaloa Cartel
Given that there was an election this year, and that it looks like the Mayor committed unprecedented election fraud, I suspect he's being rewarded for his part in it.

How did the City do it? Well, the Mayor and two council members fired the community services director. Carrillo is the new acting service director. It justifies his pay raise. The City will hire a new community services director.

Carrillo steps down. But, his raise stays the same.

Folks, let's not forget this is the same man who fired a boxing coach who worked there for 20 years, and complained that $8.40 an hour was not a fair raise. So, Carrillo gave him a 40 cent raise.

I emailed the City Council today, asking what he's done that's so meritorious for the City to deserve a raise of $1,400 a month. They haven't responded because whatever he's done, it's not for the residents; it's for the self-serving interests of the Mayor and Council Members Garcia and Pacheco.

His raise amount alone, is the total salary of certain people in this town. I mean, if you received $1,400 more a month, what would you do with that money?

Also, it looks like that Carrillo may be collecting money from other cities. Look at this link. http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?q=Manuel+Carrillo You can see that there are several Manny Carrillos collecting money from a number of cities. I would guess that the one associated with Montebello may be the same Carrillo that is working for Baldwin Park.

Well, in my view, there's nobody in Baldwin Park, more intend on doing harm to the residents, than Manuel Carrillo. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Council Woman, Susan Rubio, Accuses Baldwin Park City Manager, Shannon Yauchzee, of Defrauding City Money

Council Woman of Baldwin Park Susan Rubio 
On July 20, 2016, at the city council meeting, Baldwin Park Council Woman Susan Rubio accused City Manager Shannon Yauchzee of authorizing consultants to steal city money. According to her, Yauchzee authorized consultants to exaggerate hours billed to the City.

For instance, the consultant billed for four and half hours for talking with a resident, but according to Rubio, the resident claimed that the consultant only talked to the resident for forty five minutes at most.

City Manager Shannon Yauchzee
Before the plastic surgery
Greg S. Tuttle suspects that Council Member Ricardo Pacheco is behind the scam. Tuttle has received numerous staff complaints that Pacheco has threatened to fire employees, if they protest doing what he says, even when his orders are clearly illegally and unethical. Furthermore, Rubio accused Yauchzee of concealing records from her; so, that she wouldn't know what was going on.

The type of scam that Yauchzee allegedly authorized is a common scam employed by public officials to launder taxpayer money. By raising taxes, the public agency collects more money. Then, it hires consultants, who charge an incredible amount (as Robert Tafoya does) by billing excessive hours. The consultant then usually gives a cash kickback back to all the players involved. That's how our money lines the pockets of these public officials.

It's suspected that Yauchzee fears losing his job because Rubio no longer supports him. Yauchzee was installed as City Manager through the influence of State Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, who is now divorced from Susan Rubio. In fact, recently, Rubio was able to obtain a three year restraining order against Hernandez for punching her in the stomach and whipping her with his belt.

In response to the accusations, witnesses confirmed that Yauchzee turned red and was visibly upset and criticized other the directors the next day at their management team meeting.

Yauchzee has also been caught establishing another sham non-profit for the City of Baldwin Park called the Baldwin Park Charitable Relief Foundation. This happened after Manny Carrillo's sham non-profit was suspended and investigated by the California Attorney General. But instead of the City being apologetic about laundering money through a non-profit, the council members and mayor decided to start another one to continue the same scam. Only, because they found Carrillo too incompetent to manage the scheme, they gave it to Shannon.

Up next, Carrillo's extravagant raise.

[Updated at 02:01PM on July 25, 2016 - Shannon Yauchtzee was accused of illegally increasing his former city's project budget by $1.2M without getting council approval. http://www.sgvtribune.com/government-and-politics/20150710/cronyism-alleged-in-pervasive-financial-misuse-in-west-covina]

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Coming Home - Lessons From This Holiday

After traveling for fourteen and a half hours straight, my mom picked me up from the bus station, and as I entered the door in my house, the cat was excited to see me. He ran up to me, and I picked him up. He purred.

I was home.

I learned a lot on this trip; I really feel like I'm getting a lot better at traveling. I know how long to stay at one place, how much to bring, and how to enjoy myself. (I even made a formula for how many books I should bring on a trip; you have to remember, books are heavy - so you shouldn't bring more books than you can read.)

Justice Brandeis once said that every lawyer should take a one month vacation to unstring and restring the bow of the mind. In other words, Brandeis said that a one month break is good in terms of resting and sharpening the mind, as a knife require sharpening with flint. This advice doesn't apply just to lawyers - anyone with a high pressured job should take a month break; it really helps.

Brandies also stated that to keep a mind sharp, one needed at least one trial a year. So, for this year, I've had my Tuttle trial and my one month break. Hopefully, that'll keep my mind from dulling.

Now that I'm back, it's time to work hard. Play hard will come again.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Traveling the Galapagos Island and the Amazon on a Shoestring

Copyright Nasdaq
This article is being written for those who want to travel to the Galapagos and the Amazon Rainforest on a budget. Hope it helps.


When I told people I was going to the Galapagos, they all said, it's expensive there. Or, wow, you have money.

Well, it didn't cost me that much. Even then, I believe I could've saved at least a hundred USD more, if I planned better.

Let's start with some principles first, then I'll give you some more details about what I did and should've done.

Well, here are some principles of travel I live by to save money.

Rule One: You can't see everything; so, don't try. 

Novice travelers try to see everything in such a short time: Paris, London, Italy, and a handful of other countries in one week. Unless you have infinite time, accept you can't see everything, and perhaps you don't need to.

I think people think, "This is the only time I'll see the Galapagos, or be away." One, you should question that assumption.

But assuming that's true, seeing everything (or what you think is everything) is really expensive.

Here's an example. I really had my heart on seeing the hammerhead sharks and orcas (or killer whales). I didn't get to see them. The orcas weren't in season. To see hammerhead sharks, I could've spent over $150 to $300, easily. I had already seen so much; I decided to save $150 and not do the scuba dive. That money allowed me to see the rainforest.

I justified it by saying, Well, you can see them in Jamaica next time. And, seeing hammerheads wouldn't have made me that much happier. I was already recognizing I was animal-ed out. I saw so much; so seeing some more sharks wasn't going to make me that much happier. So, I accepted, I just wasn't going to see the hammerheads on this trip.

Rule Two: If it feels like it's too much, it is; so feel offended and ask them to reduce the price to that of the locals. 

People in third world countries like Ecuador, live off of little, meaning, costs are really cheap. With that said, the residents of the Galapagos treated me like I was made of gold and were constantly trying to take advantage. I felt extorted, all the time (which was one the reasons I hated Santa Cruz.)

If it feels like it's too much, negotiate, or go somewhere else. Remember, all prices are negotiable in Ecuador. If they don't like your price, don't worry, someone will give you a better deal. (I know, it gets tiring to constantly negotiate, but saving money is like earning money. It's work.)

For instance, a taxi wanted to charge me $10 for a ride to the bus stop on the mainland. I knew it was $4 to $5. That's it. I told him, unless you charge me $5, I'll find someone else. He said, (and regretfully), "Go find someone else, then."

I did, two minutes later. And that guy tried to charge me $6. And I told him, "It's five, or you see that taxi right there. I'll go with him."

That guy, being smarter than the first, said, "Get in."

Sure, it's only a few dollars that I saved. But in the end, it's a mentality, that you need to pay the same prices as the locals.

Remember, every dollar you save makes your trip longer or means you could see something else or means you could spend it on your next holiday.

Rule Three: You're greatest cost are in the hotel and your tours. 

If you want to travel awhile, you need to find cheap lodging. Also, be careful that your tour is several hours, if you're going to cough up money. Otherwise, just seeing something cool for a few minutes, really isn't worth it.

That's it for rules.

Tips for the Galapagos

To do the Galapagos for cheap, find a cheap fare to start with. I had miles, which allowed me to purchase an airplane ticket on LAN for free + taxes, which was $100. Some say, you can find something at $200 USD.

Fly in from one airport and fly out of another. That way, you don't have to spend extra money on the boat ride back and forth, which is $30 one way. There are two airports on the Galapagos. I recommend flying into the east island of San Cristobal and flying out of the middle island Baltra, the main town being Santa Cruz.

Find a place for $15 a night with a kitchen. Every island has lodging for $15 a night, and it's clean. You just might not be in front of the beach, but do you really need that, when the beach is a 5 minute walk?

Pack light and pack food. If you can, leave most of your luggage on the mainland. Use that empty space, and stock up on food.

Fresh food can last a week too in the fridge. Food is expensive on the Galapagos. Remember to stay in a place with a kitchen. Had I planned better for food, I could've saved at least another $100. Nonetheless, I'm a big coffee drinker. And to save money, (because coffee is about the same price everywhere being a commodity), I bring my own coffee almost everywhere. I buy the milk locally. And I've saved heaps of money this way, even now, I no longer drink Starbucks. My mother (bless her heart), brews my coffee every morning.

Don't take a cruise, if you want to save money. I don't know what the experience is like, but you will save no money taking an expensive cruise.

That's all my advice. And be creative. I traded a book for a breakfast with an American ex-pat who owned a restaurant because I knew books were hard to come by. I was also proud of myself because I convinced someone to use miles to book me a flight to the rainforest. So, be creative. If you really want to see a place, figure out a way.

Tips for the Amazon

The Amazon is expensive because there's little information available on how to see it. The biggest cost is if you book a tour in the City. Instead, book it at the villages in the Amazon.

Here's how to get to one.

Get to Coca. Take a bus ($1.50) to a village called Sacha. In Sacha, take a bus to Limoncocha ($1.50). Book your tour with the locals there. There's also a hostel.

The locals also know where the next village is at, and where to stay. So, take a canoe ride to the next village and book there. And remember, prices are negotiable.

That's it, folks. Good luck. Hope this helps people. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Amazon Rainforest

Tallest tree in the Amazon Rainforest (Ecuadorian part)
It's 60 meters or 198 ft.
After the Galapagos, I made my way to the Amazon Rainforest, where I saw birds of paradise and a 198 feet or 60 meters or 15 stories. After landing on the mainland of Ecuador, I made my way up the west coast and took a flight to Coca, the capital city of the Orenella province, where the Amazon Rainforest is. (I didn't know the Amazon extended all the way into Peru and Ecuador; I always thought it was just in Brazil.)

Coca has to be the ugliest city I've ever been to in all of my travels. The Lonely Planet, a famous travel publishing company, called it "uncharming." It's ugly.

It reminded me a lot of my city, Baldwin Park, without the new development. The North of Baldwin Park, which is full of machine shops and chemical plants, is a lot like Coca - concrete and oil and grease. Also, Coca, as Baldwin Park, has a lot of people spitting on the streets and teenage mothers with babies crying. You also get the sense of a lot of drugs (like Baldwin Park) and prostitution (like Baldwin Park) in the City. Get this, it also has the same official population of over 70,000 people. It's not a nice city, but you have to cross into it to get to the rainforest.

Why is Coca such an ugly city? Well, there's a lot of oil in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon. And, let me tell you, (and I used to work on an oil rig), oil booms attract generally poorer people and ex-convicts. Those are the only people willing to suffer the work of being exposed to pollution and the dangers of losing your limbs on an oil field. So, it's the same in Coca, though their saving grace is that they have good food.

(A brief aside. There's a famous case, in which the Amazonian Indians sued Chevron and won a multi-billion dollar judgment against Chevron for contaminating their water and poisoning them. Although the judgment is final, Chevron refuses to pay the judgment because they're arguing it was fraudulently obtained. Case is pending, even now.)

I had to book a tour to see the Amazon, and it wasn't cheap. I talked down the agent to get me a better price because it was the last part of my trip, and I didn't have more money to spend. He gave in, and gave me a discounted price.
Three Hoatzins
copyright wanderingnature.com

The reason that you generally need a guide is that this part of the Amazon is so wild, meaning tourists don't frequent it. The roads are unpaved. There isn't running hot water around the Amazon. And the internet doesn't give you good information on the Ecuadorian part of it. Surprising enough, though, the village had WiFi.

So without knowing where to go and how to get there and limited time, you have to hire a guide. (Though, in the next post, I'll tell you how to do the Amazon cheaper than I did it, and hopefully, the internet can show others.)

Upon going to the Amazon, my guide, a local in the village of 1,000 people, took me on a canoe on a Lake Limoncocha, during sunset. Limoncocha is said to be the only "green" water lake. There's no real such thing as a green water lake though. It's really a black water lake.

Black caiman
Copyright vanaqua.org
What is black water? I happen to know actually a lot about Amazonian water because I have an Amazonian aquarium back home, and have had one for nearly 10 years or more. Black water just likes tea water, and it's brown in color, versus clear water. It gets it's color from the tannins, which leach out of the wood and plants that drop into the water, as tea leaches in hot water. The plant debris or the black water create a water that is low pH, making it acidic, and the water is soft, which would be ideal to take a bath or shower in because the soap washes smoothly from the skin. So, I was kind of excited to be in a black water lake. Why is it called "lime" lake, which has "green water"? For some reason, probably because of the algae, something my guide couldn't explain, the lake has a greener tint than the rest of the Amazonian black water.

A Piraña
At the lake, I saw monkeys, kites (a type of raptor), a hawk, parrots, and other birds of paradise. They were beautiful. I even saw a black caiman, which is the Amazon's variety of an alligator or crocodile. Apparently, they're the most aggressive.

Even though there are pirañas in the water, I still jumped out of my boat and swam in the black water. It was lukewarm. I jumped back into the canoe. Didn't want to stay in too long. I actually did have a cut on my arm and remembered.

A fisherman gave me two of his cichilds (a type of fish) for my aquarium back home. They ended up dying overnight though, so I couldn't bring them back home. Next time, though.

Then, on the lake, we just watched as day turned into night. The Amazon changes into a different beast with the passing of light. The night animals come out. You see the birds rushing to roost. And instead of flock of birds flying overhead, a cloud bats fly over you. The caimans and their eerie green eyes could be seen, floating on top of the water. And, the water lights up, with little blue sparkling lights, which look like a constellation of stars. They're glowworms.

I found my peace at that lake. I felt at pace in that lake.

All in all, I'm glad I took the trip to see the Amazon. The tour wasn't worth paying for. In the future, I have to see more of the Amazon, and do it more properly. I think it'll take three weeks. I knew the time was coming for me to return home.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Recommended Reads and Movies of the Year

UCLA Law Library
Top of the Tower
(Desk I used to Sit at)
I don't think I've read so much in one trip. I also finished watching the Sixth Season of the Game of Thrones. I'll have a short discussion on my film list too. [Note: I updated the list on July18, 2016 to include Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I forgot about originally.]

Part about my holidays, that I love, is that I finally get to read what I've been needing to read, but putting off because of work. I also love watching my Game of Thrones and other movies all at once.

Here's my recommended reading list for this year; (these books are not necessarily only published this year):

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Tobin. Even if you're not a lawyer - Jeffrey Tobin writes in simple English, regarding the personalities and scandals and people who were in charge during the Rehnquist Court. I told a friend about the scandals within the institution, and my friend wrote back: "You just love scandals, don't you?"

Tobin starts with the Clarence Thomas' Anita Hill Scandal and climaxes with how the republican controlled Court stole the election for George Bush and the bitter and ugly aftermath of the whole affair. To be sure, this point drives home one clear point: the Supreme Court is run by people.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. Grant synthesizes all types of research to conclude that businesses generally fall into two categories: those who copy other business models and those who are creating original business products and services. He finds patterns on what makes people creative and successful. This book reminded me that the activist has to constantly repeat his or her message as to why change is important.

Ponzi's Scheme by Mitchell Zuchoff. Zuchoff chronicles the first Italian-American mastermind, who defrauded the masses on an enterprise level. What I think I like about this book the most was the way that Zuchoff lays out the story in a dualism plot. Ponzi was a university drop out, who believed he was entitled to be great, even if it was at the expense of stealing from others. Richard Grozier, the owner of the son of the Boston Post, who would later become Ponzi's arch-nemesis, nearly dropped out of Harvard. Although he had great expectations thrusted upon him, Grozier kept failing to live up to them; that is, until, he was in charge of running the Boston Post. In the end, it becomes a battle between these two. Grozier, however redeems himself, fiercely gambling the paper's future to take down Ponzi. This book certainly hasn't received the attention it deserves.

No One Would Listen by Harry Markopolis. Read about how a Greek math nerd, Harry Markopolis, discovers that Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi Scheme and how nobody would believe him. Markopolis formed a group of financial analysts and journalists to take down Madoff, but no matter how hard he tried, Markopolis couldn't bring down the financial giant, nor could the Security Exchange Commission. Markopolis stresses how incompetent (if not complicit) the SEC was in investigating Bernie Madoff. The book really tells you, if you have money, you really can get away with murder - until those you owe find out you can't pay them back.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. Ever wonder why white European controls (and East Asians to a lesser degree) dominate the world? This book argues that the control of the world, by Westerners happened, not because of the Europeans were genetically superior, but because their environments forced them to farm, which in turn led to advances in technology, namely guns, germs, and steel.

I took a class with Mortimer Chambers, and a lot of what Diamond discusses was covered by Chambers, but I must say that Diamond does so in a clearer and more comprehensive way, distilling Western (and some Eastern) human history to about 440 pages. Now, that's an amazing feat.

I disagree with his premise that the cold didn't help advance society. In general, peoples from colder societies tended to dominate the world, although not all of them. The cold forces people to think about the future, and it forces people to prepare for winter because the winter is coming.

But all in all, this book is on point, and gave me some brilliant insights. Like, how difficult it was for man to invent an alphabet? I just never thought about that.

Onto films (HBO is included in this category.)

Game of Thrones Season 6. I don't get how this series just seems to get better and better. I like Season 1, but I'm loving Season 6. You can really tell that the budget and qualify of the show has taken television series and reached new peaks.

I was just telling someone over lunch today that the last two episodes of Season 6 are masterpieces, to live passed their time. You really get the sense that the season has created a new type of energy amongst the cast, in which the actors really know who they are in their roles and that the set is working together to tell a story, unheard of by the world.

The episodes were so good, I had to read the director's notes on them. I was impressed, for instance, that one war scene that lasts about 10 minutes, took over 20 days to film. I was also amazed to read that after working so hard, such as 20 straight days of filming for 10 minutes, the staff cheered and hurrahed when the scene was complete. Imagine being on a cast that is so excited in what it's making. (You can tell, Season 1 didn't have that type of confidence in their actors - even though the same actors now have it.)

This series has certainly taken television series to new heights; we'll see if the directors and producers could continue with the quality of work with future series.

To Kill a Mockingbird. I watched the American timeless classic, and it was great then; it was great when I watched in high school; and it's even greater now. To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of Atticus Finch - the Southern White lawyer, who defends an innocent black man, accused of raping a poor, white southerner - who really is secretly in love with that black man.

The trial exposes the entire small town's ugliness and secrets and unspoken norms. In judging the defendant, the entire town really has to judge itself, and in the end, both are declared guilty, but of different sins.

The story is told through Atticus' daughter Scout, who remembers events as a child, and not an adult. It's to be watched, if not for the plot, for the superb acting, especially by Gregory Peck, who plays Atticus. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Lessons from the Galapagos

A Galapagos Gull
Copyright of http://www.olsvik.info/
The speed boat pounded against the choppy waters of the Galapagos. One hour and a half into the ride, I saw a Galapagos gull hovering over the water. It meant we were closer to land. Think about how Noah felt to see the dove, while the earth was flooded. In general, when you're out at sea, you know you're near land when you see the birds because you'll meet them, before you hit land.

I was heading back to another island to catch my departing flight, and in doing so, I could feel my time running out on my holidays. It feels as if you're trying to catch water, which only slips between your fingers. There was no stopping the loss; the time was going to end, and there was nothing I could do to stop it (no matter how much I wished I could).

Why is it, when you finally find what you like doing, the time just has to speed up on you? But when you're miserable or suffering, the time just slows down on you? That's a mystery I think I'll be pondering for awhile.

I watched that gull for a good 20 minutes, and it was like watching a television show. My eyes were glued onto that gull. Was it because it was beautiful? No, it was a plain bird; it wasn't like the flamingos or boobies. Nor was it as stunning to behold as the sharks or massive sea turtles. But it was graceful and agile.

It would swirl and loop in the air, like the most skilled acrobat. And it did it so effortlessly.

I watched that gull's mechanics of flight. It pulsed it's wings twice, then it glided near the surface of the shimmering and sparkling sapphire ocean. Always two pulses, then a glide, as a swimmer does her strokes, then also glides and repeats. I saw it pick up more lift and power from the surface of the water, probably because of the evaporation and energy that hovered right above it.

I never watched a bird's flight so intently. But I remember reading notes from the Wright Brother's diary, and they spent a lot of time watching South Carolina seabirds, in order to understand the physics of flight. On that boat, I wondered if I saw what they saw over a century ago.

I was convinced that there was more energy in the air, a lift or a thrust, right above the air's surface than there was higher up in the air. I could clearly see the bird take advantage of it, and shoot up when it wanted to, without pulsing it's wings. It was as if a visible liquid was right underneath the wings, to hold in such a gliding position. To see the invisible secrets of flight, in that silent moment, filled me with an appreciation for such natural wonder - flight. (Man has only been able to fly for about 100 years, while birds have been doing it for millions of years.)

It was then, I also realized that there are certain insights that cannot be learned in school. I realized that there are certain conversations that cannot be had at home. I realized that certain mysteries and conversations could only be had in the realm of other worlds, and some of those worlds, like the Galapagos, can be so far, far, away.

There are many more lessons and people I met on this trip. But, those have to be saved for another time.

I felt conflicted. I wanted to stay longer on the island, but did I really? I wanted to hold onto the enjoyment of having no worries, but did I want to let go of my responsibilities too? But like all my journeys across the sea, soon, my time on the Galapagos will be just another memory.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sharks, Sea Horses, Turtles, Seals, and Boobies on the Galapagos - Los Tuneles

White Tip Reef Shark
Los Tuneles - Isabela Island - Galapagos
The speed boat took a 40 minute ride out to Los Tuneles, on Isalaela Island, where we snorkeled with the sharks, green sea turtles, eagle rays, and sea horses. The water was shallow, being no deeper than 8 feet or (2.4 m).

Los Tuneles is a place where lava caves have formed and the rising sea level has actually submerged the cave. Hence, at one point, thousands of years ago, the lava caves (also known as lava tubes) were above sea level and you could probably walk in them. The animals there, knowing a good hide out spot, took refuge there.

The lava tunnels also meet groves of mangrove
A small fever of sting rays
trees. Let's talk a little bit about the formation of lava tunnels and mangroves.

The lava tunnels formed because as the lava erupted out of the volcano, it starts off really, really hot. I've read that the temperature could read 2,000 C. So, it erupts and flows, but as it starts flowing the outer layer of lava cools, as it's closest to the air. As it cools, it hardens. Think about ice, the surface hardens first. Then, the hot lava keeps pushing its way through, even though a crust forms. That it hollows it out.

Sea horse latching on mangrove roots
As sea levels rose, the marine water covered the caves, and made them underwater ocean
Endemic Galapagos Penguin
caves. I like to see these animals as hiding out like bandits in their little shelters.

The mangrove forest (or groves) create their own ecosystem. Where lava and sea meet, you could see the tangled mangrove roots anchoring onto the lava. Mangroves are the only trees I know of that could actually have their roots submerged in saltwater. All other trees die.

They have a unique system to thresh saltwater from freshwater. Black and white mangroves do not take in saltwater at all. Red mangroves, which are found in the Galapagos, have a unique filtration system, which could separate saltwater from freshwater, similar to a reverse osmosis system. Think about this, it was only in the 1950's that we humans successfully could replicate reverse osmosis. So, it's only been in the last 65 years that we could replicate what mangroves have known how to do for what has been speculated to be 3.5 million years. (I believe we can learn more, from these plants in terms of efficiently threshing freshwater from salt.)

The combination of shelter and the nutrients provided by the lava caves and tunnels provides an ideal haven for the animals we saw. For you underwater photographers, this is an ideal spot to shoot the large animals because the water is really shallow, and you could get a large amount of natural light on a good day.
Blue footed boobie father,
shot by Paul Cook

Some say, Los Tuneles is the best site to visit on the Galapagos. From what I've seen, I agreed.

The bad part, for me, was that the tour started at 07:30AM, which is way too early for me. I wasn't in the mood to talk. On our tour, there were two senior English South Africans, a Swiss girl, two Spainards, and two South Americans.

They did the usual, "Hello, how are you?" And all the other introductions.

But because I was moody, because it was too early in the morning, I pretended not to speak English or Spanish. And because I'm Korean, at least genetically, they bought into it, and therefore, these people did not introduce themselves to me. And I didn't introduce myself to them, because it was too early in the morning. But, I think they wanted me to talk to them.

But as the guide spoke, both in Spanish and English, I understood most everything that was said. Yet, I played the game of pretending to not know anything.

Of course, 40 minutes into the trip, my silence broke. A huge manta ray swam near our boat, and I pointed it and said, "Manta!"  Uh oh, I thought. They now know you know English. And they did.

The large black ray, looked like a large cape floating and flying in the water. It was huge.
Blue footed boobie mother with chicks
shot by Paul Cook

After, the boat rode to the lava caves. I was the first to plunge into the water. I knew it'd be unpleasant because my wet suit didn't fit well, and I knew that the water would be cold.

When I jumped in, the water filled my wetsuit, and it was cold, like I thought it'd be. Remember, this is the Galapagos, where it's not a warm water island.

On our snorkel, we saw white tipped sharks (which I've seen in Australia), eagle rays (which are also in Australia), large green sea turtles, and sea horses. On land, we saw blue boobies and the endemic Galapagos penguins, which were small and cute and adorable. They look like miniature soldiers that stand upright at attention for you, while wearing a tuxedo.

Endemic Galagagos fur seal
(They're not as friendly as the sea lions.)
Back on the boat, the staff fed us. At that point, the South Africans and the Swiss started talking to me, asking me the usual questions. I thought to myself, Now the questions come. And they did. While answering, I was shivering and chattering. I think I was most affected by the cold. (I always am.) I'm glad the staff gave me warm tea, and it heated me up and made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

After the tour, I decided that we should further our conversations. I asked the South Africans and the Swiss girl if they'd like to get dinner, later on the island, together. They all agreed.

After coming back to my hotel, I took a really hot shower. I let the hot water drench my head, which felt icy. And I just let the hot water glide over my body and skin, until my temperature returned back to normal. It felt good, to be under the hot water.

When we ate, the Spaniards saw us eating. They joined us for dinner too. All in all, it was a great day.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Meeting Mr. Green Sea Turtle in the Galapagos

Paul Cook meeting Mr. Green Sea Turtle on a snorkel
Los Tuneles - Isabela Island
While snorkeling at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island, I met Mr. Green Sea Turtle. I've met Mr. Green Sea Turtle, plenty of times, all over. I have to say, though, this is the largest Mr. Green Sea Turtle I've ever seen.

Island internet has not been that good. I'll write more later.

All I can say, is if you like this picture, go get out more. Life is way too short.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

On Brexit - British Exiting the European Union and a History of Empires

Copyright The Guardian
British Exit
This post isn't about an argument, rather it's about the questions we should be asking about what it means for us and the world that Britain now voted to leave the European Union (also known as Brexit). To give you some perspective, I'm in the Galapagos right now, which is owned by Ecuador. Does anybody know what currency Ecuadorians use?

If you guessed the U.S. dollar, you were right. Now why that matters is that I've been meeting a number of British people on my travels. Overnight, on June 24, 2016, the British Pound Sterling dropped 10% against the U.S. Dollar. So, overnight, all the British travelers had to pay for 10% more in Ecuador. Can you imagine? And yes, they were upset at the fallout.

Both the formation of the European Union and one of its members leaving is historic and hasn't been seen in history. So, let's talk a little bit about history.

The latter half of the 20th Century marked the first movement to create what I call superstates. Before that, the largest entities were just states. I just finished reading a book, which has been long overdue for me, called Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (who teaches at UCLA). In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond argues that societies are formed by bands, then tribes, then chiefdoms, and then ultimately, states.

I came to a similar conclusion in my piece of why the Roman empire fell. You can read about it here. My heart of activism Large states, which actually are empires, is not a new phenomenon. There have been a number of empires that have made our Western Civilization books: the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, and the Mongolians, to name a few. So, super large states are not new.

What is new, however, is the rise of these super states at the same time. Or in other words, the coexistence of multiple empires at the same time hasn't been seen (at least not to my knowledge). After World War II, two empires formed: One, the Soviet Union, and Two, the European Union. Then, there was America, which already had a federation of 50 states and several territories. So, post-World War II, in human history, there are essentially three super powers and the existence of a separate countries.

Do we live with two or three super powers now? That's up to debate. With Perestroika, which is the Russian name for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, was it just the E.U. and the U.S.? To me, the Russian Federation still behaves and is a super power (maybe not as strong as it used to be) as the Soviet Union. I'd say, we still live in a world with three super powers.

In my view, there are two purposes for forming the European Union. The first one was to prevent the rise of a total dictatorship in Western Europe from happening once again. Hitler and the Third Reich achieved the feat, and in order to stop one state from dominating the rest, a contract had to be agreed upon, in which member states agreed to binding decisions, either by the political body or by the EU Courts. In theory, if one state becomes rogue (as Germany did with its Third Reich), the EU can agree to band their force and resources together to bring that country in line.

The second purpose is to also band their trade and commerce power together to form the Euro currently, which could rival the Americans. But why have a strong international currency?

In my view, World War II changed the nature and landscape of warfare. Warfare is no longer about firepower and force, because in the end, such prolonged and continued warfare can only lead to the death of the entire human race because nuclear weapons now exist. So, warfare has moved towards different spheres, one of them being economic.

Economic warfare, once again, in my view is done through enslaving nations through debt. To enforce debt, however, requires a strong currency, not a weak one.

Why? A nation could always escape debt of a weak currency by arbitrage. What does this mean? Take for instance, if I'm Afghanistan and I export opium. I borrow $1 billion in weak currency. Over time, the U.S. Dollar becomes twice the amount of the weak currency, meaning, the $1 billion in USD is now only half a billion. I export my opium to the U.S., I get back strong USD. I sell the USD for weak currency. And poof, my debt's been halved. I pay it. I'm no longer enslaved. See, how it works?

So, going back to the first purpose. The world should be asking, will the European Union dissolve?

I would lean towards, "Yes." Historically, federations (united nations or states) get tested and succession breeds more succession. For instance, during the Civil War, South Carolina was the first state in the United States to declare itself to be it's own nation - the Confederacy of America. Afterwards, six states followed. The entire affair led to the American Civil War.

A modern Supreme Court has interpreted the post Civil War Constitution to hold that once you're part of the United States - you're in it for life; you cannot leave. (I never got this one, as Scalia was an originalist, and an originalist Constitution is silent about the terms of whether a state could leave or not; therefore, the framers in their experiment with a federation, probably thought it possible for states to leave.) But there you go: History proves that states will test federalization, and the centralized power will determine the fate of its centralization.

But unlike the United States, I also believe that European nations are not willing to relinquish their own sovereignty for the European Union. In other words, when push comes to shove, will States give up their own power, money, resources, and people for the better good of the entire nation?

For instance, if the EU taxes you, and your country needs that tax in crisis, should your country come first or should it be the EU? Because of the Civil War in the states, each American state knows the answer to that. The feds come first, not the state.

But the EU, hasn't been tested with such a crisis yet? In the end, I predict each state will do what's in their best interest. Hence, I believe that BREXIT is the beginning of the end of the EU.

Finally, let's talk about the Euro. The Euro was a doomed project from the beginning. (I'm sorry to say it to those who are my European friends, but a simple understanding of currency shows why.) When the United States formed, each state was like its own country. To make a united currency, all the debt had to be consolidated. And, only the federal government could bind the country to debt.

What does that mean? It meant that the federal government had to take on the debt of each state and turn it into one loan. That way, the terms and conditions of the loan were uniform, and only the federal government could negotiate or settle those terms. The reason for doing so, is that it prevents arbitrage against the currency. (To be discussed, if enough people show interest.)

The Euro never consolidated the debt; hence, it was and still is open to arbitrage. And that only further stresses another problem, with a transnational currency like the Euro, each country has to obey the currency rules in place. But without a strong centralized system of enforcement, countries break the rules, at the expense of member states that follow it.

So, for all these reasons, the Euro was doomed to fail before it was ever printed. In my view, my generation will see the Euro currency die, and member states return back to their own currencies.

Hence, to conclude, the questions BREXIT leaves us with are two. One, will other member states also succeed the EU, signaling its demise? Two, will the Euro last?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Flamingos and Boobies

Why did Paul cross the road?
To see the tortoise on the other side.
I found blue boobies. (If English isn't your first language, go research boobies.)

My days generally consisted of reading, taking a hike, eating, reading again, napping, and repeating the entire affair. It's great, and I recommend it to everyone.
Pelican, Blue-footed booby, and pelican, on Isabela
Photo by Paul Cook

On my days in Isabela, I saw the Wall of Tears, (more on that later), flamingos, and boobies. On Isabela, there are blue footed boobies. (Picture below.) I don't really know much about these boobies, but they're famous for their brilliant, sky blue feet. (See picture below.) (In general, I don't know that much about birds, which wasn't my speciality in university.)

Also, in the brackish water swamps, I found the flamingos. Brackish water is when salt and freshwater come together, to form a concentration of salinity, less than the ocean. You often find endemic, which means native only to that region, species in such areas. (I used to have a collection of brackish water puffer fish that I liked, but in the end, brackish water fish almost always die in captivity because I believe that they need the water to change from fresh to salty from time to time.)

Blue-footed bobby
Copyright Wikipedia
In the muddy swamps, you can see the flamingos dredging for food. They have cartoonish looking eye.

They step in the mud with their feet and lift up the mud after, creating a suction. Then they scoop their heads, upside down in the mud, and siphon off the muddy water through their filter beaks, trapping their food through the filter in their beaks.

As a kid, I was always taught that flamingos were pink because they ate shrimp, which is red in color. Now that I'm older, (24 by some accounts), I realize that this explanation is not complete. Sure, the shrimp may color them. But I eat a lot of shrimp. How come I don't turn red? For certain, it's the keratin in the shrimp, which has a red crystalline structure, that turns it red. But why does the flamingo need to be red? Is it to signal health to it's mate, to show the mate that it eats a lot?

Furthermore, how does the color of the keratin get into the feathers? If you feed a white chicken, nothing but shrimp, does it turn red too? (Maybe, I should try, we have a white chicken at home - come to think of it.) The answer, as you can see, isn't a very good one.
Flamboyance of Flamingos in a brackish water swamp
by Paul Cook

I also observed that flamingos have unusual behavior. They like to stand on one leg. They also like to tuck their neck and head into their wings. Why do they do that? (If I was a bird watcher, I think I'd pay more attention to their behavior, but I'm not; I like fish and mammals more.)

Back to what I saw. I did enjoy seeing their brilliant colors, no doubt: something that I believe zoo flamingos can't achieve.

Finally, I hiked to the Wall of Tears - which is a wall made of lava rocks by former prisoners. A brief history.

Sunset on the path to the Wall of Tears
Isabela was under American occupation during World War II. After Ecuador took back Isabela, they didn't know what to do with the army base. So, the government decided to turn it into a prison in 1944. In 1946, the government shipped off 96 prisoners, mainly comprised of petty thieves and political dissidents. (So, Mayor Lozano would've gladly sent me off, as a political dissident, like myself, is someone who criticizes a public official.)

Seeing that water and food are hard to come by in the island, a number of these prisoners lived in misery and cruelty. Many died of starvation. (The Wall of Tears is though to be a useless project to keep these prisoners occupied.) In 1958, just 14 years after its opening, and after a rebellion, the prison was shutdown.

There certainly is an eerie feeling at that wall. On your way there, you stop by different mini trails to see beach, swamps, birds, lizards, and tortoises.

On my way, I saw another giant tortoise. If you notice the shape of the back, it has a number of triangular points, rather than being circular and round like the tortoises on Santa Cruz.

I guess that's it for now. Time to do more reading. Time to drink more coffee. Time to enjoy my time off.