Give peace in Syria a chance

I feel a real need to observe a level of propriety in what I’m handing out. Instead of just venting or spilling my guts, I’ve got to consider how it’s going to affect people. — Eric Clapton

Driving nine hours south to Santa Cruz last week all news reports focused on the “Syria seduction”. It was either the week that the US didn’t go to war or the war that got away. Only one moderate, on satellite radio SiriusFM, seemed relieved. The Michael Smerconish Program on POTUS [Politics of the United States] welcomes “spirited discussions of government, politics and current events without predictable left/right bias. Guests from every political party can comment and listeners are encouraged to debate and challenge opinions without being shut down.”

The pre-emptive peace strike from Russia took the US, if not the world, by surprise and had many people asking why the US didn’t think of that tactic.

Smart move. In a world that is tired of war, and from a country most Westerner’s think touts war not peace, Russia trumped the US by providing a way out of a potential military conflict.

So it is interesting to listen to the debate still raging around “what can be done about Syria” even after US Congress balked at President Barack Obama’s plan to attack. As Reuters reported Alexei Pushkov, head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, saying at this week’s Russia Investment Summit “for world leaders to reach a peace deal in Syria depends on the UN Security Council agreeing on a resolution to enforce it and Washington abandoning an ideology based on regime change”.

Pushkov made the point the military temptation would be always on the table [for the US], which “makes the whole situation extremely difficult and dangerous”. “There is a war party that wants war, no matter what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does… The war party in Washington is pretty influential.”

It sure is. There is a war machine in the US that doesn’t want to back down and despite this topic failing to rate a mention along the streets of Santa Cruz, talkback radio and cable TV has hardly let up on the issue. Some commentators are so incensed they called Obama a whimp for allowing Putin to call the shots! The vitriol has been … scathing!

What’s the alternative? Another war in the Middle East? Another round of lives lost, for what gain? Surely the past two decades of failed intervention in the region demands that the world gives peace in Syria a chance.

So around and around this debate still goes and where it ends nobody knows … but I like Pushkov’s comment “if we reach this chemical agreement with Washington, London and Paris, then it [disarmament] can have a future and become a political agreement.”

Let’s hope so given the news unfolding on CNN today that the deal could still fall apart despite three basic premises being agreed for a UN Security Council resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who can’t get enough of this issue. It may prove to be one of those defining times in our lives where people ask where were you when …!

Cruz’n the day away

Maverick is a word which appeals to me more than misfit. Maverick is active, misfit is passive. – Alan Rickman

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Surf’s up at Santa Cruz main beach.

Huddled together under Santa Cruz’s famous wharf, which next month celebrates its 100th year, a group of mavericks take shade from the September heat and northern Californian ocean breeze.

The local cop is telling them a tale about his weekend pursuits out shootin’ with the in-laws, laughing as he warns them not to leave the safe confines of their hideout without gathering up all their belongings. He knows they won’t be moving any time soon given they’re bunkered down smoking ‘medical’ marijuana which is legal here. They’re part of the towns misfits and war veterans from the ’70s that won’t let Santa Cruz forget.

On the other side of the bridge, two athletic-looking women gear up in wetsuits to ride the surf while a couple of guys drag their Malibu along the beach. A woman in a condo looks out over her balcony, drinking in the view as she sips coffee. It’s peaceful looking out over the wharf on a Tuesday afternoon. There are few tourists but still enough to create a queue at Marini’s at the Wharf where its famous ice cream sundaes and espresso bar draws the biggest crowd.

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Primed for pursuit!

Along the length of the beach boardwalk amusement park a security guard patrols his beat on a suped-up Segway. Tourist Segways top out at 12 miles an hour, he says. He’s armed and on point and says his Segway is primed to move at 25mph! The eclectic mix of visitors mashed with the locals throw up a surprising number of incidents that keep this officer busy and in hot pursuit, especially during the light of day.

But it was the guy on the bicycle that really caught my attention. Screaming down Broadway where Ocean Street crosses, he reined in that push-bike with literally a rebel yell. “Whooh hoo, just made that!” he exclaimed as I stood at the light crossing.

Bare chested, fit and most likely in his 60s, few teeth and with a lisp he ranted to anyone who would listen that he’d rather ride a horse, Harley or push-bike. “The ‘dang’ cars need to be removed off roads.” Within the few minutes the lights were to change, I discovered he’d had three brushes with death, all involving his push-bike, horse or Harley. And none of them were his fault!

The first stoush with steel was the motherload of all hits. It happened in Texas where he’s from and “they had to virtually cut me out of that diesel truck”. Then three months ago, he got side swiped by a car that broke his femur and the doctor told him it’d take six months before he could get back on his horse and Harley. “Hell no,” he looked at me, “I said three months!” I never heard incident three as the lights changed. As I walked across the intersection wishing him a safe journey, given he was in need of some divine protection, he yelled back “God bless America and God bless you!”

I was warned about the crazies that frequent the streets of Santa Cruz. Few appear harmful, like the guy wandering down the river bank where I rode my bike in safety. He was happy talking to the bag held close to his chest. I gathered it contained all life’s possessions.

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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park.

As one blogger put it: “Driving into Santa Cruz … it soon becomes apparent that this is a beach city in every sense of the term. Like many other coastal cities, this beach berg does attract down-to-earth non-conformists who, for example, don’t have any hesitation using hair colors that looked like they were chosen from a box of crayons. Think about your worst fashion nightmare for your teenage kids, and that’s what you sometimes see on the streets of Santa Cruz – which, of course, is part of the charm. You don’t travel just to see places exactly like home.”

Not all streets in Santa Cruz display such colourful behaviour. This place is thriving and September and October are the months to visit. On September 28, the city hosts the annual Thunderbirds on the Wharf, a collection of classic cars. The mural along Beach Street a reminder of the procession of cruising cars to come.

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The Village of Capitola.

Then there’s the must-visit small ocean-side village of Capitola, where real estate is at a premium. Prices vary from $US600,000 to $US7 million-plus. If you could, you would want to move here. Most of the bars and restaurants face the ocean or sit along the freshwater estuary. It’s upmarket and trendy but still with that laid-back beach feel. And when in need of a big-city fix, San Francisco is not much further than an hour’s drive taking the scenic route along Highway 1.

Of course, if you really want to visit a So-Cal city where the rich and famous frequent, then there’s none better than Monterey-Carmel, a 45-minute drive from Santa Cruz and, as this website explains, it attracts Hollywood high society!

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who travelled the Californian coast from LA into Portland, Oregon,12 months ago returning a year to the day to revisit some of the more memorable coastal getaways.