Archive for November, 2007

100_5841.jpgBolinas residents watch private companies skim oil offshore after being told by sheriff’s deputies that they themselves were prohibited from cleaning up bunker oil that had washed up on the town’s beach. Some townspeople, however, concluded saving wildlife was more important than obeying a deputy.

There are many lessons to be learned from Nov. 7’s 58,000-gallon oil spill in San Francisco Bay. The spill occurred when the container-cargo ship Cosco Busan struck the fender of a Bay Bridge tower, tearing a 100-foot-long gash in its hull.

By now oil from the spill has drifted out the Golden Gate and traveled as far up the coast as Point Reyes and as far down the coast as Montara Beach in San Mateo County. Near Point Reyes, Drake’s Bay Oyster Company has had to stop harvesting and has said it could go out of business.

This week The San Francisco Chronicle reported that as of Monday approximately 2,150 seabirds had been found dead or had died at rescue centers, leading ornithologists to believe the real death toll is closer to 12,500 birds.

Ornithologists now warn that patches of bunker oil can be expected to wash up on coastal beaches for months to come. The toll on birds could get significantly worse, they note, because so many migratory birds winter here. Citing a lack of “resources,” federal and state scientists on Wednesday said they have already given up on trying to save roughly 250 oiled birds now dying on the Farallon Islands.


Whose interests were served when a National Park Service ranger stopped a Muir Beach resident from cleaning oil globs off the town’s beach: nature’s, the resident’s, the Park Service’s, or this government-hired cleanup company’s? (Photo by Gustav Adam)

For West Marin residents, the spill provided fresh evidence of the need to shake up the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service as soon as President Bush leaves office. From the Point Reyes National Seashore, to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to Yosemite National Park, Pacific West Region law-enforcement rangers have in recent years become notorious for bullying and otherwise abusing well-intentioned members of the public.

The Marin Independent Journal two weeks ago quoted Muir Beach resident Sigward Moser as saying that on Nov. 9 “he was threatened with a Taser gun, forced to the ground and handcuffed by a National Park Service ranger for refusing to stop cleaning up the oily beach beneath his home.

“Moser, a 45-year-old communications consultant, said he was forced to sprawl handcuffed on the wet sand for an hour before he was released and given two misdemeanor citations, one for entering an emergency area and another for refusing a ‘lawful’ order [to stop his volunteer work]. ‘It was pretty wet and uncomfortable,’ he said.”

Wearing protective gloves, Moser, a member of the Muir Beach Disaster Council, and a group of novice Buddhist monks from the Zen Center had already removed 3.5 tons of oil globs from the beach when he was arrested.

Why didn’t the ranger want Moser there? The federal government, as usual, was paying private corporations to do public work, and volunteers by the thousands were turned away from Bay Area beaches. Public safety was a concern but one that was grossly overblown.

Volunteers were at first told they would need 40 hours of training before they would be allowed to help. Eventually, the amount of training required for most volunteers around the Bay Area was reduced to four hours, but many volunteers were then told to go home and wait to see if they’d be needed in a month.


Numerous townspeople ignored deputies’ orders and proceeded to clean large amounts of oil off Bolinas Beach. Unlike National Park Service law enforcement, sheriff’s deputies declined to arrest or manhandle good Samaritans and let them do their work. Here Mark Butler dumps a bag of rags used to sop up oil into a truck owned by Nidal Khalili of Bolinas (left) and his partner Joy Conway. Khalili and Conway planned to take the bags to a staging area in Stinson Beach. Coming off the beach at right is Walter Hoffman, who had just spent hours cleaning oil off sand and rocks.

Marin County officials in their perniciously precious way at first resisted the shortened training program. A sheriff’s spokesman told The Independent Journal there was concern within his office as to whether “a four-hour training program [is] enough to ensure public safety.”

Come on now! The main risks from bunker oil to volunteers on the beach are rashes (if they get it on their skin) and nausea (if they eat it). Casual contact is virtually never fatal, which is why many oily seabirds survive if they’re cleaned. In fact, volunteers have been told that everyday Dawn dish soap is good for removing oil from both birds and one’s own skin. A West Marin plumber, who has worked with chemicals far more dangerous than bunker oil, grumbled this week, “Twenty minutes of training would be enough.”


Particularly irritated by private companies being in charge of the cleanup effort was Stinson Beach Fire Chief Kenny Stephens. One cleanup company called Clean Bay had regularly practiced at Bolinas Lagoon, but it never showed up, Stephens noted. Finally a company call NRC arrived (above) “four days late and about 40 people short,” he added. NRC was supposed to string a boom across the Bolinas Lagoon channel but didn’t know what to do.


Stinson Beach and Bolinas residents during the much larger oil spill of 1971 had figured out how to erect a wooden boom across the channel mouth to keep oil out of the lagoon. NCR, however, tried to use foam-filled booms that broke every time the tide came in — even though Bolinas and Stinson Beach residents had already determined such booms (as seen here) wouldn’t hold up. After the fifth boom broke, NCR gave up.

The volunteers above are on Kent Island within the lagoon. At the time, mired birds but no floating oil had come in off the ocean — although it has by now.

Bolinas fisherman and other local residents, are familiar with currents and the contours of the channel, the fire chief said. However, he added, those running the cleanup “didn’t put local knowledge to use.” Residents wanted to get involved, “but our hands were tied,” Chief Stephens said. The only outside official who initially worked with the two towns, he added, was Brian Sanders of Marin Parks and Open Space.

Northern California oil-spill-cleanup teams were so unprepared for even this medium-sized spill that “they’re tapped out of boom material,” Stephens said with amazement. The chief credited Sanders with “doing a great job locating lots of stuff” for Bolinas and Stinson Beach to use in trying to contain the floating oil.

On Nov. 11, the Bolinas Fire Department held a community meeting in which residents complained about members of the public not getting official cooperation when they cleaned oil from beaches.

Meanwhile in Congress, the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Marine Transportation on Nov. 19 questioned the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board about six concerns in particular, The Chronicle reported:

• Whether the pilot should have attempted to leave port in heavy fog when he had doubts about the ship’s radar.

• Whether the pilot of the Cosco Busan was wrong in relying on the ship’s captain to interpret an electronic-chart system with which the pilot wasn’t familiar.

• Whether there was a language problem between the local pilot and the Chinese crew.

• Whether the Coast Guard should have warned the pilot sooner that the ship was heading toward a bridge tower.

• Whether the tugboat accompanying the Cosco Busan could have been used to avoid the collision.

• Whether freighters, like tanker ships, need double hulls.

Congressional leaders, however, were unhappy with the answers they got from the Coast Guard and especially the National Transportation Safety Board, which said it would need a year to figure out what had happened.

Irritated that the Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish & Game are now responsible for investigating their own behavior in the wake of the spill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remarked, “I don’t think they have the credibility to self-examine or self-investigate.” Pelosi, a member of the subcommittee, said Congress has now asked the inspector general of Homeland Security to conduct a separate probe.

The Department of Homeland Security, like the occupation of Iraq, is unfortunately a cornerstone of the Bush Administration’s “War on Terror.” Already the California Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Save the Bay, and the Sierra Club have warned that the Coast Guard’s new emphasis on “homeland security” may be hampering its ability to cope with an oil spill. (Remember when there was a shortage of National Guardsmen to help Hurricane Katrina victims because so many guardsmen had been sent to Iraq?)

100_0152.jpgCoast Guard Rear Admiral Craig Bone told the House subcommittee the cleanup has “exceeded expectations” and is “one of the most successful cleanups I’ve ever experienced.”

But it was typical government BS. Stung by widespread criticism that it had waited too long before trying to contain the spill, the Coast Guard had already replaced the regional commander, Capt. William Uberti (left). Capt. Paul Gugg is the new Bay Area region commander and is now in charge of the Coast Guard’s part of the cleanup. Photo by Gustav Adam


The moon was full Saturday night, and in the Giacomini family’s pasture next to my cabin, a coyote howled off and on from 12:30 to 3:30 a.m. Sometimes I could hear a second coyote answering from the Point Reyes Station Mesa.

During the past five winters, I’ve seen a coyote in my backyard stalking fawns, which bounded away while the coyote was squeezing under a barbed-wire fence; I’ve seen a coyote on Highway 1 downhill from the cabin; and I’ve found coyote tracks in frost on my steps. I’ve also seen coyotes twice on Limantour Road and once beside Nicasio Reservoir. Twice recently, my houseguest Linda Peterson has seen coyotes along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard near the Mount Vision Overlook turnoff, where she shot this photo. [Update: Since this posting went online, Linda has spotted (and photographed) yet another coyote.] In short, coyotes are again common throughout West Marin.
Coyotes were once so common here that the town of Olema took its name from the Miwok Indian word for coyote. But in the 1940s, sheep ranchers using poisoned bait were able to eliminate coyotes in West Marin and southwestern Sonoma County, and there were none here for 40 years.
In 1972, however, the Nixon Administration banned use of the poison 10-80, primarily because it was non-specific and killed many other animals too. Coyotes, which had never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, then began spreading south. Since they began showing up here again in 1983, they have put more than half the sheep ranches around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford out of business.

In West Marin these nights, they can be heard howling as far inland as the San Geronimo Valley, and for listeners who aren’t sheepmen, the high-pitched, barking howls are a beguiling reminder of life on the western frontier.

Frontiersman Davy Crockett (1786-1836) liked to claim his reputation as a hunter preceded him into the forest. As Crockett told the story, he once treed a raccoon that resignedly cried out: “Don’t shoot, Colonel! I’ll come down! I know I’m a gone ‘coon.” This here raccoon was lucky to merely be shot with my camera.


An old friend, Joy Adam, who has been living in Germany for 20 years, dropped by my cabin Saturday night and cooked some spicy dishes from India as a birthday dinner.

Here one of the guests, Gabriela Melano of Nicasio, has a through-the-glass encounter with one of this hill’s roaming raccoons.

On Friday, I had turned 64, and my former wife Ana Carolina in Guatemala had emailed me the lyrics to the Beatles’ song When I’m 64. During Saturday’s birthday dinner, Nina Howard of Inverness, Joy, and Linda used a printout of the lyrics to serenade me with; “When I get older, losing my hair/ Many years from now/ Will you still be sending me a valentine/ Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?/ If I’d been out till quarter to three/ Would you lock the door?/ Will you still need me/ Will you still feed me/ When I’m 64?”


I’d already had a earlier birthday dinner Friday at the Station House Café with my houseguest Linda plus Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, her partner Terry, her daughter Seeva, and our mutual friend Cheryl Keltner of Point Reyes Station.

Sixty-four didn’t sound that old when all of them sang Happy Birthday to You on Friday, but on Saturday after paying attention to the words to the Beatles’ song, I found myself wondering about my Social Security.

As it happened, I was sitting at my dining-room table when I spotted Ms. Raccoon looking over my shoulder, so I asked her what she thought about someone turning 64. Using my camera, Nina snapped this photo as Ms. Raccoon stuck out her tongue in reply.

Hundreds of West Marin residents plus a number of visitors enjoyed free turkey dinners (with vegetarian “turkey” available) Thursday in Point Reyes Station’s Dance Palace.

The 23rd annual West Marin Community Thanksgiving Dinner, as always, drew community members of all ages and from all walks of life. For many, it was a chance to socialize with friends and neighbors, as well as make new acquaintances.


The community dinner for more than a decade was held in Point Reyes Station’s Red Barn (now painted green) and in recent years was held in the gymnasium of West Marin School. One effect of the event’s moving to the Dance Palace Community Center this year was that guests could once again bring wine to enjoy with their dinner.


A happy crew of volunteers served the dinner. Here singer/musician Harmony Grisman ladles gravy while writer Elizabeth Whitney gets a helping of stuffing from ornithologist David Wimpfheimer.

Organizing the annual dinner is West Marin Community Resource Center, working with the Inverness Garden Club, Marin County Fire Department in Point Reyes Station, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, The Dance Palace, West Marin 4-H, West Marin School, and West Marin Senior Services.

Marin Organic members provided most of the vegetables for the feast, along with dozens of quarts of Straus Family Creamery yogurt for guests to take home with them.

Here’s who helped feed the multitude: Bank of Petaluma, turkeys; Bovine Bakery, bread; Brickmaiden Bread, bread; Clover Stornetta, dairy products; Coast Roast, coffee; Forks & Fingers (Novato), pitchers; rancher Bob Giacomini, Point Reyes Bleu cheese; Lombardi’s (Petaluma), bread; National Park Service, turkeys; Palace Market, potatoes; Rhea McIsaac, produce; Sacred Heart Parish, pies; Gail Coppinger, produce; Peter Martinelli, produce; Station House Café, salad dressing & produce; Waste Management, debris box; West Marin Lions Club, turkeys; Rotary Club, turkeys; Marin Produce (San Rafael), produce; Toby’s Feed Barn, produce; and Star Route Farms, produce.

100_5922.jpgHere to join me in wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving are a flock of wild turkeys, which I spotted this afternoon behind my pine tree as they strutted near the fence of neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman.

Wild turkeys, of course, are not native to West Marin. Working with the California Department of Fish & Game, a hunting club in 1988 introduced the wild turkeys on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. The original flock of 11 hens and three toms all came from a population that Fish & Game had established in the Napa Valley during the 1950s.

By now wild turkeys are common throughout West Marin, particularly around Spirit Rock and Flanders Ranch in Woodacre (where they’re protected), around Tomales (where they’ve shorted out overhead lines and intimidated children), and around Nicasio, Point Reyes Station, and Olema.

The only folks doing much turkey hunting around here anymore, however, are Point Reyes National Seashore rangers. As might be expected, the park has attempted to eliminate these “exotic” symbols of America’s first Thanksgiving celebrations.

America’s Thanksgiving, as it happens, originated with two celebrations. The initial one was held by Virgina colonists in 1619 to thank God for an abundant harvest. Two years later, Massachusetts colonists held a Thanksgiving celebration after their first harvest. This second celebration was the one where the governor of Plymouth Colony invited the Wampanoag people to join them for three days of feasting, and the Indians brought venison to the potluck.

Every year at this time, I like many other people in the Western World display a cornucopia at home. I knew from my days as a Latin student that cornu means horn and copia means plenty, but until last year, I’d never looked into the mythology behind the display. It turns out to be fascinating and has to do with the birth of the god Zeus.

The ancient Greeks and Romans considered Zeus the youngest son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Cronus, who then ruled the world, supposedly had been told that he would lose his throne to one of his children, so he gulped down each one when it was born. To avoid having another baby eaten, Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete. She then wrapped a rock as if it were a baby and gave it to Cronus, who swallowed it whole.

Growing up on Crete, Zeus was protected by a goat named Amalthea, who also provided him with milk. One day while the young god was playing with Amalthea, he accidentally broke off one of her horns. Horrified by the pain and distress he’d caused his surrogate mother, Zeus promised Amalthea that forever after, the horn would always be full of whatever good things she desired. Thus was born the cornucopia that many of us display each fall as a symbol of an abundant year.

And may you too get whatever good things you desire during these end-of-the-year holidays.

A reminder: This year the annual West Marin Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be held in Point Reyes Station’s Dance Palace. Turkey dinners will be served at no charge (although donations are always welcome) from 2 to 3 p.m. And for the first time, those planning to attend have not been asked to make reservations. However, people willing to volunteer time serving the dinner have been asked to call West Marin Community Resource Center at 663-8361.

Many of us in West Marin have gotten to know radio newsman Peter Laufer although his homes are in Fairfax and Bodega Bay. Ten years ago he was part of Víctor Reyes’ Spanish-language classes that meet every Tuesday evening at Susan Sasso’s home in Olema.

Photojournalist Ilka Hartmann of Bolinas found herself traveling part of the way with Peter when both rushed to Germany in 1989 to document the fall of the Berlin Wall. I first met him roughly 29 years ago when he interviewed my former wife Cathy and me about the Synanon cult for KNBR radio in San Francisco. Three years later I ran into him again in El Salvador. I was covering that Central American country’s civil war for the old San Francisco Examiner while Peter was reporting for NBC News.

Over the years we’ve kept up contact, and when we had lunch together last August in Fairfax, he told me how lively his Sunday morning radio show on KPFA had become. Subsequently listening to his show, I realized that while Peter did not shy from closely questioning his interviewees, he was invariably polite to them. A true professional.

100_5910_1.jpgSo I was startled yesterday at a news release Peter sent to the press. Without warning, KPFA had dumped him. The firing came only two days after Peter had moderated a fundraiser that collected thousands of dollars for the non-commercial FM station. It was a case of a legendary radio station firing a legendary talk-show host.

And Peter is a legend in his own right. He has authored more than a dozen well-received books of social and political criticism; his most recent works probe the lives of soldiers opposed to the Iraq War and promote open borders with Mexico. (This photo is from his book Iron Curtain Rising.)

Peter created the National Geographic World Talk radio show and is co-anchor with publisher Markos Kounalakis of the program Washington Monthly on the Radio. Ironically, Peter noted, “the firing came on the eve of a feature article in The San Francisco Chronicle by Ben Fong-Torres about me and my talk-radio career.”

In the article, Fong-Torres cites Peter’s book Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air? and comments, “Laufer knows his stuff. He’s qualified to offer an update on the state of talk radio — albeit from a decidedly left-of-center viewpoint.” As the article notes, Peter founded talk stations in Berlin and Amsterdam, and has a talk-radio career that dates back to the first-ever talk station.

So why was Peter taken off the air? To quote his news release: “Laufer believes — based on letters and email, along with op-eds in the alternative press — that a group of malcontent KPFA listener-activists orchestrated a smear campaign against him because he is, as these critics wrote, ‘not a person of color’ and because his credentials are ‘too mainstream.'”

Peter’s radio career has been mainstream in the sense that he has won virtually every prestigious award in broadcast journalism. His worldwide reporting, for example, resulted in a Polk award for a documentary on Americans in prison overseas. Here in the Bay Area, he shared a Peabody award as a member of the KCBS news department when he co-anchored the station’s coverage of the 1989 earthquake that devastated the Bay Area.

As for his not being a person of color…. This criticism seemed so off the wall that I asked Peter about his ethnic background and was surprised to learn he comes from Gypsy stock. His father was, in fact, born in Hungary.

Hitler’s death camps, of course, gassed Gypsies — along with Jews, homosexuals, and Communists. And Slovakia is currently barred from entering the European Union because of its mistreatment of Gypsies. These days, however, to be able to understand oppressed minorities, it apparently isn’t enough to belong to an oppressed minority. You also have to look the part.

“If you can’t count on KPFA for tolerance of a diversity of views, what can you count on?” Peter asked. “Of course I harbor no desire to return to their airwaves after being treated in such a shabby fashion.”

So what’s a fan of progressive radio to do? Personally, my donations to non-commercial radio are going to KWMR 90.5 FM, community radio for West Marin.

Update announcement from Peter late Tuesday: “Peter Laufer and Bob Agnew, the program director of Green 960 — the Clear Channel, progressive, talk-radio station for the San Francisco Bay Area, have agreed to test Laufer’s Sunday morning talk show on the AM dial begining Sunday December 2. Laufer expects to lure his loyal KPFA listeners over to the wild world of commercial radio.”

“I have been one acquainted with the night.” — Robert Frost, 1928


Crescent moon at sunset Wednesday, along with an Oregon junco on my railing. Every culture I’ve encountered enjoys colorful sunsets but feels some apprehension when night falls, fearing danger may lurk unseen in the dark. Here are some more creatures I’ve recently managed to photograph with a flash around my cabin after nightfall.

A young but aggressive (toward other raccoons) male in my pine tree. The “waschbär (wash bear),” as a raccoon is called in German, is indeed in the same order (dog-like carnivorans) as bears, and it does like to wash its paws — although not necessarily its food. When a raccoon finds acorns in the forest, it makes no attempt to wash them, causing some zoologists to believe raccoons actually wash their paws to increase tactile sensitivity.

Judging from the amount of grit raccoons leave in my birdbath, however, I suspect that some of the washing is simply a matter of cleaning debris from their paws. Here my camera’s flash gives the raccoon both green and white eye shine. (Please see Posting 12 for an explanation.)

100_4080_1_1_1_1.jpg“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night…. Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness” — Psalms 91

A roof rat gets a drink from my birdbath at night.

The rat, a native of southern Asia, is the same species (Rattus rattus) whose fleas spread bubonic plague throughout Europe in the 1340s, killing off half the population.

In West Marin, however, roof rats don’t transmit such pestilence, but they are a threat to dishwashers. (Please see Posting 13 for an explantion.)


“From ghoulies and ghosties/ And long-leggedy beasties/ And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!” — Traditional Scottish prayer

At 2:30 a.m. one night last week, I was working on this blog at my computer upstairs when I was startled by something that bumped loudly into the window next to my desk and then flapped up and down the glass before coming to rest on my window sill. A few feet from me, a stunned bird sat around long enough for me to shoot this photo, which I then showed ornithologist Rich Stallcup of Point Reyes Station.

To me the bird looked like a starling, and I assumed my desk lamp had confused it. But what was it doing flying around in the dark at 2:30 a.m.? “It is a European starling,” Stallcup confirmed. “Often when birds are migrating at night or when they are disturbed from a night roost, they are dazzled by — and attracted to — to artificial light sources like lighthouses and your desk lamp.”

Nonetheless, bumping into my window can’t have been any fun for the starling, and it may have decided, in the words of Lord Byron, “We’ll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon.”

With the West Marin Medical Center in Point Reyes Station about to stop caring for thousands of patients, Zsuzsanna Biran, pharmacist at Point Reyes Station’s West Marin Pharmacy, has sent this blog a description of how health-insurance companies are sabotaging health care.

Zsuzsanna Biran (above) and Jason Yoon bought West Marin Pharmacy last year after previous owner Dan Donovan died unexpectedly. The pharmacy has been hard pressed both by the inadequate payments from health-insurance plans and by Medicare’s refusal to reimburse her for prescriptions filled until she gets her own Medicare certification for the drugstore. She belatedly discovered she could not take over the certification the pharmacy had under Donovan.

Meanwhile, West Marin Medical Center will close at the end of December, Dr. Molly Bourne has announced, and this will leave 4,000 patients without their primary doctors.
portraitsmall.jpgDr. Bourne (seen at right in a picture from her website) told The Marin Independent Journal last September that problems with health-insurance companies are forcing her to close the 53-year-old clinic. “The practice of medicine has changed from medical care to managed care,” Dr. Bourne explained to The Independent Journal, “and I don’t like being told by an insurance company what drugs to prescribe or what protocols to follow.

“The insurance companies pick and choose what they’ll pay for, and it’s not enough to be able to sustain my practice. I’ve bounced a lot of checks in the last year because I haven’t been able to pay myself. Reimbursement from insurance companies requires to much paperwork that three of the center’s four employees work fulltime at processing forms and documents.”

Independent Journal reporter Rob Rogers noted, “The insurance companies often do not reimburse the clinic for the cost of the treatment for several months, making it difficult to cover expenses.” In addition, Rogers quoted Dr. Bourne as noting she sometimes has to “eat” the cost of providing medical care to patients whose health insurance company refuses to pay for it.

Here is how pharmacist Biran describes the situation:

The Insurance Myth….

Once upon a time in the good ol’ days, when you got sick, you went to the doctor and paid your bill and then went to the pharmacy to fill your prescription. You could expect to pay a reasonable amount and still have some money left over to get yourself a decent dinner. The pharmacist and the doctor could also buy decent dinners for themselves, and everyone lived happily ever after you finished taking your medicine and got well.

Now jump to the present when that all this has been updated by insurance. You go to your doctor, who bills the insurance for your visit and charges you a co-payment. The insurance payment won’t come in for a while, and when it does, it will pay 40 cents on the dollar. So dinner has to wait… which is why none of the doctors you see in Point Reyes Station have a weight problem.

100_5883.jpgAnd the pharmacy? An even worse scenario. Just as you have to sign up with the insurance company, I have to sign up with each company I deal with… and sign a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ policy, which doesn’t leave any room for negotiations. And I have to pay for the privilege of belonging to their programs… and pay a software company each time I bill a claim.

The insurance only takes into account an assigned (by the insurance) cost for the drug, so no overhead expenses get included in the payment. What mostly happens is that the only payment I ever see, especially on a generic prescription, is the discounted price, the insurance company mandates. So when you pay $1.34 or in some cases $5 or $10 for a prescription, [your “co-payment”] is ALL I get. The insurance company does not pay me any more.

I’ve now started to “come out of my shell” and let people know that nobody is making up the difference between what a medication’s going market value is [for uninsured patients] and the discounted rate I actually get.

If a medication is expensive, insurance companies often refuse to cover it. If they do, they make you pay for the medication at an assigned ”discounted” rate. For example, if the discounted rate is $145, no one is making up the difference between that and what a patient without insurance would pay the pharmacy.

I have chosen to speak out because of what happened with Dr. Molly Bourne. It occurred to me that the community deserves to know what is going on behind the scenes. From speaking with many of you at the pharmacy, it is evident that most people with health insurance are under the impression that the insurance companies pick up at least part of the tab most of the time. This is no longer true. Au contraire; it’s almost the opposite.

I know I am leaving you with a cliff-hanger, but as I write, I still don’t know the end and where it will lead, what road we’ll go down on. I do believe we are all responsible for our destinies. In spite of all of the above adversities, I am enjoying being part of this community, and it is a pleasure and a privilege serving you, living and working here. I thank you all.

He was the noblest rancher of them all. Forced to choose between a Farm Bureau political stand he was publicly advocating or standing up for his wife, who was being insulted in print for publicly taking a different position, Mike Gale last week resigned as president of the rancher organization.


Saying he “reacted as any husband would when his wife is unfairly attacked,” Gale had asked fellow directors of the Farm Bureau to oust the director who publicly insulted his wife; when they declined, he resigned.

After news of his resignation became public, even Mrs. Gale’s acrimonious critic, Farm Bureau board member Judy Borello, was quick to say Mike Gale had been a very good president. He had represented the organization well, had brought in organic producers, and was a congenial person, Borello said. With his wife Sally, Mike Gale (above) grows apples, along with raising beef and poultry, in Chileno Valley.

Borello, who owns the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station and a beef ranch near Millerton Point in Marshall, also writes a column, Moo Town News, for The Coastal Post. In the November issue of the monthly publication, she excoriated Sharon Doughty of Point Reyes Station and Sally Gale for breaking with other ranchers during a Board of Supervisors’ discussion on whether to limit the size of ranchers’ homes.

helen-and-judy-august-102007-025.jpgCounty government had initially considered 4,000-square-foot limits, and Mike Gale on behalf of the Farm Bureau had opposed limiting the size of homes. The supervisors on Sept. 11 then raised the proposed maximum to 8,500 square feet.

(The saloonkeeper is seen last August during a party in the Western for bartender Helen Skinner.)

However, Doughty’s and Sally Gale’s warning of “McMansions” and “starter castles” replacing genuine ranching in areas zoned for agriculture “gave Supervisor Steve Kinsey the opening he’d been looking for,” Borello wrote.
Two weeks ago, Kinsey “and the other supervisors reversed their Sept. 11 decision, voting instead to reduce the maximum size of houses on our expansive ag lands to 7,000 square feet — smaller than single houses allowed to be built on tiny lots in many Marin towns,” Borello complained. “Why would these two women have the nerve to come out against their (former) friends and neighbors like this? Because they think it will benefit them financially and at the same time garner favor with the government.” The two will benefit financially, Borello wrote, if they get county government to “hogtie” potential competitors.


(Sally Gale stands in the garden of the once-decrepit, Victorian ranch house that she and her husband restored.)

In a phone interview, Borello added that the Farm Bureau had been trying to speak to county supervisors with a “united” voice, and she felt Mrs. Gale had been “disrespectful” when she advocated limits on home sizes while her husband, as Farm Bureau president, was arguing against them.

In her column, Borello wrote that Doughty and Sally Gale “are harming the rights of their fellow ranchers, which I find totally distasteful and disgusting.” In the interview, however, she said, she was “sorry” that her column ultimately led to Mike Gale’s resignation.

Borello conceded during her interview that from a rancher’s perspective, Sally Gale “has been good on a lot of issues.” She had opposed a county proposal for creating public trails across ranches with no compensation to the rancher, and as a member of the Tomales Bay Watershed Council, she had defended ranchers from environmental regulators who displayed more zeal than knowledge. On the issue of home sizes, however, 90 percent of the Farm Bureau disagreed with Mrs. Gale, Borello wrote in her October column.

100_5524_1.jpgWhile Mike Gale and Borello agree the columnist has the right to express her opinions, Gale has written that Borello’s November column “crossed the line” into a personal attack on his wife.

In the column, Borello also accused Sally Gale of undermining ranchers’ “property rights,” and in his resignation letter to the Farm Bureau board, Gale responded, “Are we focused on looking out for the ranchers of West Marin or are we focused on property rights?”

The Farm Bureau “for years… was a model of progressive thinking and was respected. We… are now viewed as marginalized in terms of influence within the community,” Gale wrote.

Marin County Farm Bureau, he added, “can turn it around, but it will take time and a united effort to get there. [But] for me personally, it is over.”

(Gale is seen last month talking with Veda Radke, communications officer for the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, during his organization’s annual luncheon for Marin County politicos.)

Writing to this blog, Gale commented: “Very few choices in life seem so clear as the choice I had to make over the published attack on my wife Sally by Judy Borello, a member of the Farm Bureau board of directors. In her November column in The Coastal Post, she criticized Sally and fellow rancher Sharon Doughty for urging the Board of Supervisors to lower the house-size limitations in the Countywide Plan.

“As president of the Marin Farm Bureau, I spoke numerous times for removing limits, but Sally is not a board member; nor is she bound by its policies. As a thoughtful and independent thinker, she has a right to speak out anywhere or anytime she so desires, and I support her 100 percent.

“Borello’s written assault clearly crossed the line, and I reacted as any husband would when his wife is unfairly attacked: I looked for support for ousting Judy among the board leadership, but that failed to materialize so I sent in my letter of resignation.”

Replacing Gale as Farm Bureau president will be rancher Dominic Grossi.


Two skimmer vessels collect bunker oil offshore of Bolinas Beach late Friday afternoon. Although spilled oil had not yet reached Stinson Beach or Bolinas Beach as of Friday evening, several dozen oily birds had washed up still alive, or had been found dead, or could be seen still swimming just offshore.

An 900-foot-long container ship, the Cosco Busan, at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday hit a plastic-and-concrete fender protecting a Bay Bridge tower. The collision tore a hole in the ship’s hull, causing 58,000 gallons of bunker oil to spill into San Francisco Bay.

Over the next three days, much of the oil drifted out the Golden Gate and is now miring birds along the West Marin Coast.

The collision in heavy fog did not damage the bridge tower (the second west of Yerba Buena), but it left a 100-foot-long, 12-foot-high gash in the ship’s hull. The Cosco Busan is owned by a Regal Stone Ltd. of Hong Kong but leased to Hanjin Shipping of Seoul, South Korea.

The pilot, John Cota, 59, of Petaluma, has 26 years of experience, and Coast Guard tests of crew on the ship’s bridge found no indication that alcohol was involved in the mishap. The results of drug tests are still pending, and the reason why the ship was off course has not yet been determined. However, the pilot’s attorney on Friday told The San Francisco Chronicle that shortly before the collision, the Coast Guard by radio had questioned the ship’s heading and that Costa radioed back that the navigational aids on the Cosco Busan indicated the ship would pass midway between two towers. The radio transmissions were recorded.

Oiled birds in the lagoon behind Rodeo Beach on the Marin Headlands. (Photo by Gustav Adam)


Booms keep oil from backing up Muir Beach’s Redwood Creek at high tide. A few oiled birds, along with oily seaweed, were found at Muir Beach.

Thursday night a boom was strung across the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon’s channel, but the tide in and out of the lagoon created more of a current than the boom could withstand, as Stinson Beach firefighters here confirm. Friday night a second boom was installed, but it too could not handle the current and let the tide through. A third attempt was made for Saturday night. But it failed, as did a fourth attempt Sunday.

For many Bolinas residents, the accident brought to mind the mammoth 1971 spill that resulted when two oil tankers, the Oregon Standard and the Arizona Standard, collided in fog off Angel Island. Each tanker had been carrying more than 100,000 gallons of bunker oil, and the two ships — unable to separate — drifted out the Golden Gate.

More than 10,000 birds died from the oil, many of them along Bolinas and Stinson Beach. At that time, phone poles were strung across the channel and anchored to posts sunk on both shores. According to West Marin lore, scores of counterculture volunteers who showed up to rescue birds saw Bolinas for the first time and liked what they saw. Some stayed and forever changed the character of the town.

Two skimmer vessels brought in by the Coast Guard use booms to circle patches of bunker oil at sunset Friday off Stinson Beach. Tidal currents by Friday evening had carried the bulk of the 58,000 spill out the Golden Gate, leaving it centered two to three miles off Stinson Beach. (Photo by Gustav Adam)

mitzihomebirth.jpgUpdate as of Saturday, Nov. 10: Mitzi and Chelsea, Home Birth (1977 Berkeley) ©Kathleen Goodwin from California Trip, has been selected by Black & White Magazine for a gold award in the Photojournalism category of the magazine’s Single Image Contest. Altogether 5493 images were received, and Kathleen said she feels “truly honored to have reached the top of such a tall pyramid.” The issue of Black & White featuring award winners will arrive on newsstands the last week of November.

Surf, Rocks, Mountains — Rocky Point ©Richard Blair

More than 200 people showed up Sunday at the Inverness Park home of photographer Richard Blair and his writer/photographer wife Kathleen Goodwin. The occasion was a party to celebrate the release of their new book California Trip.

100_5756.jpgTo quote from the book’s jacket, “The authors of the best-selling Point Reyes Visions have expanded their horizons to encompass the entirety of California…. Traveling thousands of miles throughout the state, they have captured its spirit with photographs that range from surfers, farmworkers, and movie stars to exquisite pictures of California’s deserts and mountains…. From the hippies and protests of the sixties to California today, the authors were there with camera and a reporter’s notebook, recording vivid details of California’s unique place in the world.”

Sunday’s guests at the Blair-Goodwin home on Inverness Ridge got a taste of that variety. Inside the home was spread a feast of shellfish and prawns, meat and poultry, salads, pasta and pastry. In the garden, guests sampled a table of California wines while on the other side of the house, some guests sat quietly at the edge of a forest and gazed out to sea at the Farallon Islands.


Meanwhile in the couple’s studio next to the house, an East Bay band named The RaveUps blasted out stunning renditions of releases by John Lee Hooker, The Animals, and other heavies while one crowd of guests danced up a sweat.


El Capitan, Clearing storm, 1971 Yosemite Valley ©Richard Blair

Richard, who grew up in New York, was a park photographer at Yosemite in the early 1970s and received an award from the Secretary of the Interior for photographing a rescue on El Capitan.

100_5772_1_1.jpgKathleen, who celebrated her 60th birthday, as well as the book, Sunday, was born in South Africa and was a newspaper writer there. Unhappy with South Africa’s then-policy of racial apartheid, she moved to San Francisco in 1974.

California Trip is now for sale for $49.95 in stores around West Marin, which are listed at Information on ordering is also available at that address or by calling 415 663-1615.

Book-signing talk-and-slide shows are scheduled for: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov.14, at The Depot Bookstore and Cafe, 87 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, (415) 383- 2665; and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov.29, at Copperfield’s Books, 40 Kentucky St. in Petaluma, (707) 762-0563.


Lush Stream, Pfeiffer State Beach ©Richard Blair

Water Tower, Mendocino ©Richard Blair


Abandoned Drive-In with Plowed Field Central Valley ©Richard Blair