Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 34th Annual World Bodysurfing Championship

Mike Buchmiller stands at the edge of the shore quietly studying the breaking waves. It's a beautiful and bright morning, and there is a large south swell peaking in three to four foot sets. There are four bodysurfers already in the water braving the big surf, and Buchmiller watches as they compete in the 34th annual World Bodysurfing Championship.

"I'm going to go out there, get some distance, and try and get one of those big ones," says Buchmiller when asked to explain his strategy. "Once I get one of those big ones, I'll stick around somewhere in the middle and try and pull out some of those epic tricks." He turns to look back as the horn is blown, and the competitors begin making their way to shore. "Speed and style is what I do," he says.

Drawing nearly 400 bodysurfers from all over the world, the contest is held annually at the Oceanside pier. Contestants compete in divisions according to age. Bobby Beathard, former General Manager of the San Diego Chargers, is one of the contest's more notable competitors, and has been the winner in the men's 65 and over division five years in a row.

"I've been bodysurfing since I was ten," says Buchmiller. "And this is my third contest." The 36-year-old teacher can be found most days bodysurfing or whomping at either Windansea or Marine Street beaches in La Jolla. "This is the first year in awhile that the waves were any good for the contest," he says. "I had a hard time advancing in the conditions last year."

But this year was to be different. Buchmiller, who is a very strong swimmer, immediately positioned himself in a favorable spot where there was a left-breaking wave. The section wasn't lasting long, but long enough for him to impress the judges. Using his speed, he was the first in his heat to catch a wave, and with impressive style, he was able to score well. He wrangled three waves in the the heat, one of which was a beautiful barrel. Final score: 50 points and advancement to the next round.

While the contestants of Buchmiller's heat made their way to shore, there was an emergency situation. "One of the guys in the last heat got pushed into the pier," says Buchmiller. "He grabbed onto the pile and wouldn't let go. We had to run out and get him. Everyone up on the pier was was yelling, Help him! Help Him! The lifeguards weren't around, so we went in." The man was safely brought to shore. He suffered mild abrasions from barnacles attached to the pile.

Buchmiller advanced to the next round, but unfortunately his luck ran out. He was happy to have advanced, but regretful that he did not go further. "Well," he says with a smile. "There's always next year."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Having a Ball

It's the Marine Corps' birthday

Imagine an enormous room filled with the world's fiercest warriors, all dressed in their finest, their medals glimmering brilliantly in the light. It's enough to give a person some wicked goosebumps. This is what its like to witness the 235th United States Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

The birthday ball, held each year by various units of the Marine Corps, celebrates its formation on Nov. 10, 1775.

The nation's top Marine, General James F. Amos, the commandant of the Corps, addressed the Marines and their guests via video message. "For 235 years, at sea and ashore, Marines have succeeded in every clime and place...where hardship and adversity have often been the common thread," he said.

There was the presentation of the colors, accompanied by several rows of sword-bearing honor guards. The Marines stood at rigid attention as the color guard lowered the flags.

Next came the official birthday cake, which was slowly paraded through the center of the room. The Marine Corps Band played "The Marine Hymn" as the procession ended. Then the oldest and youngest marines present cut the cake.

"We're an assemblance of warriors, nothing else," said guest of honor Colonel J. Brian "Irish" Egan from the podium. Although retired from active duty, Irish is still strongly connected with the Marines. His salty language and colorful stories clearly move the crowd, and although his speech was rather lengthy for a formal affair, all eyes were fixed upon him.

"No other service has an annual celebration," said Irish. "Maybe that's because we were founded in a tavern, " he added with a chuckle. This brings forth a volley of oo-rah's from the Marines.

Irish served 33 years in the Corps, beginning his career as an enlisted man. After time in Vietnam as a rifleman, he was accepted into Officer Candidate School. Among his decorations are the Bronze Star with Combat "V", and four Purple Hearts.

"It was a long time ago that I attended my first birthday ball," said Irish. he went on to describe the oldest Marine present at that ball. "He was a PFC when Moby Dick was a minnow!"

Drinks flowed, as did stories about places the Marines have been and the things they have seen, both good and bad. There is an unspoken and robust sense of camaraderie among them, perhaps more easily seen by someone on the outside of their circle.

Smoky Situation

California voters will once again have to decide on the legalization of marijuana

 Should California be the first state to legalize marijuana? Voters will decide in the general election Nov. 2.

California has a longstanding reputation for being one of the most liberal states in the US. It has often been portrayed as a haven for non-conformists and free spirits, and has led the nation in the debate over marijuana. In 1996, when opinions supporting the medical use of marijuana began gaining popularity, voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for patients who had the approval of a doctor.

California's marijuana laws have become increasingly lenient in recent years. While distribution is still a felony, a person in possession of less than one ounce is issued a citation, as it is considered a simple misdemeanor.

Since the passage of Prop 215, medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries have operated under vague enforcement guidelines. There have been numerous debates over the validity of patients' need for marijuana.

Prop 19 would allow for those 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate marijuana plants on private property in an area up to 25 square feet, and possess smoking devices and paraphernalia. A doctor's approval would no longer be necessary.

A major motivation for Prop 19 is the tax revenue that could amount to millions for the state, which has faced severe budget shortfalls in recent years. Additionally, proponents of Prop 19 have claimed that law enforcement officers will have more time and resources to deal with more serious offenses.

And how does law enforcement feel about Prop 19?

"We don't have an official stance on the proposition one way or another," said Lt. David Bond of the La Mesa Police Department. "We're going to enforce the law, and we'll enforce it fairly. We'll let the voters decide about the politics."

Owners of marijuana collectives have their opinions, but most are reluctant to talk. With the constant threat of raids from law enforcement hanging over them, most refuse to be quoted.

"I do think that marijuana should be legalized," said one collective owner who did not want to reveal his name. "But this Prop 19 is a sham. There are so many loopholes in this thing that I couldn't even really tell you how I feel about it."

The legality of the marijuana collectives hangs from the thread of Prop 215, which in itself is a loophole in federal law. While California passed the so-called "Compassionate Use Act", the federal government maintained that possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana is illegal. However, according to the California Voter Information Guide, "in March 2009, the US Justice Department announced that the current administration would not prosecute marijuana patients and providers whose actions are consistent with state medical marijuana laws."

Californians will have to wait and see what the true affects of Prop 19 will be should it pass.


California Community Colleges suffer from state budget cuts

Students and faculty of California's community college system have become the newest victims of the state budget shortfall. With thousands of students starting the fall semester, many will be facing overcrowding, while others will be on waiting lists to add classes.

According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, the delay in the California budget has caused all state payments to the community colleges to be blocked, including a payment of $116 million for July, and of $277 million in August. The year's largest payment of $450 million, which is scheduled for September, is also in danger of being blocked. This would bring the total funding delays to $840 million.

The community college system in California is extremely important. According to the Office of the Secretary of Education of California, 60 percent of California State University (CSU) and 30 percent of University of California (UC) graduates are community college transfers. Additionally, 80 percent of law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, and firefighters are credentialed at community colleges.

Within the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, course sections have been reduced by six percent. This means that some 158 classes were cut. The number of wait list seats has risen to 15,200.

"The roster for my first class had room for 25 students," said 35-year-old Grossmont College student Gilbert Ardilla. "And about 35 students actually showed up. Six of us were wait listed, and the others were trying to crash the class. Anyone who was trying to crash was told that they wouldn't be allowed in the class." Ardilla, a new student at Grossmont, immediately noticed the overcrowding. "There weren't nearly enough seats for people. It was really crowded and nerve-wracking for the people who were wait listed, because a lot of us really needed the classes."

While districts such as Grossmont-Cuyamaca waited in the hope that the budget shortfall would be recolved in time for them to receive their payments, Southwestern College in Chula Vista took a more proactive approach. "We took a look at the state's budget crisis and decided to take strong measures early on," said spokesperson Chris Bender. "By accepting the position that the state was not going to fund us, we were able to keep from having to borrow any money from lenders. This way we haven't had to cut any of the staff or faculty."

In fact, even in the face of the budget shortfall, Southwestern College has added many new classes and certificate courses. "It was just smart planning on our part," said Bender.

With nearly 60 days having passed without a budget, community college districts in California remain hopeful that lawmakers in Sacramento will be able to make the scheduled September payment.

Teacher's Aide

NU Helps educators get back to school

In an effort to help credentialed teachers who have recently received pink slips, National University has announced its Project Teacher Assistance scholarship. Launched Aug. 1, the program is intended to assist alumni who have fallen victim to the financial crisis in California.

"The idea behind this program is to extend a helping hand to our alumni," said Vice President of Student Services Dr. Joseph Zavala.

The scholarship initiative will cover 50 percent of tuition for the first three classes taken toward the completion of a master's degree. In addition, the standard $60 application fee that qualified alumni would pay will also be waived for those who enroll between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31, 2010. To qualify, candidates must be a credentialed teacher in California who has received a pink slip this school year, and an alumnus of National University.

While the difficult times faced in California have some 22,000 teachers facing the possibility of layoffs in the new school year, it is also a time of increased demand for their services. According to a study by the California Department of Education, 32 percent of California's teachers are expected to retire within ten years. In addition, enrollment in teacher preparatory programs at colleges and universities is on the decline. A 2008 study conducted by WestEd indicated that San Diego County alone will need to hire over 5,000 teachers by the 2015/16 school year in order to meet the demands of new enrollment.

While teachers who enroll in Project Teacher Assistance are encouraged to build upon their qualifications, the program will also provide them with an opportunity to find another field of study.

According to interim NU President Patricia Potter, the program "is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate our respect and appreciation for their [NU alumni] achievements, and assist them in improving their current situation.

Since the Aug.1 announcement, just one applicant has enrolled in the program thus far. Dr. Zavala expects this number to increase in the coming weeks. "Many of the school districts haven't finalized their budgets. When they do, there will likely be more layoffs and more candidates for this scholarship," he said.

Candidates for Project Teacher Assistance are required to submit their application along with a photocopy of a pink slip dated within the 2009-2010 school year. Applications and additional information can be found at

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Time Magazine's Richard Stengel Interviews Julian Assange

Julian Assange is no stranger to tough questions. Time Magazine's Richard Stengel recently interviewed the 39-year-old Assange, and was able to get some answers from the controversial Wikileaks founder. The two met via Skype Nov. 30.

Launched in 2006, Wikileaks has published many sensitive and classified documents from various secret and anonymous sources.

What is the purpose of Wikileaks? Assange explained to Stengel that Wikileaks is dedicated to a more open and transparent society, one in which governments are not permitted to employ unethical methods and practices. He desires for government leaders to say in public the same things they say in private. In other words, Assange feels that they should be practicing what they preach.

"...Organizations can be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient," he said.

Many government officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have stated that Wikileaks, by exposing this sensitive information, has put many lives in danger.

"This sort of nonsense about lives being put in jeopardy is trotted out every time a big military or intelligence organization is exposed by the press," said Assange.

Julian Assange (MSNBC Photo) 

Assange explained that there have been no deaths, nor has anyone been wrongfully imprisoned as a result of the information that Wikileaks has published. He compared the record of Wikileaks to that of organizations and governments that he feels have been responsible for thousands of deaths.

When asked if he felt if he were practicing what Stengel called "civil disobedience" in order to expose wrongdoing at a much higher level, Assange answered that he felt Wikileaks was practicing "civil obedience" in its attempt to make the world a more just place. According to Assange, in some 100 legal attacks against Wikileaks, none have been successful in proving any wrongdoing.

While many tend to feel that the US is one of the most free societies in the world, Assange disagrees. He explained that the US has become less and less free in the last thirty years.

"And what has kept the United States in check, to the degree that it has been kept in check from abusing its powers, is this federalism, this strength of the states," he said.

But Assange does not see the US as the only nation guilty of unethical practices. He mentioned China as a nation that he would like Wikileaks to focus on in the future, but for different reasons. In his opinion, when nations are more politically-based, rather than fiscally, there is still potential for change; when money becomes a prime focus, there is no hope. Assange feels that China is on its way to a more open society.

While Assange appears to believe that he is a messenger of truth and information, a savior of journalism and transparency, he is also aware that this role is a dangerous one. He has been quoted several times as saying that his life is in danger.

Assange also has been the focus of attacks on his character. Most recently, he was charged with sexual misconduct in Sweden.

According to the UK's Media Guardian, Assange said, "This case in Sweden is a travesty. No person should be exposed to that type of investigation and persecution."

There is speculation that Assange will soon face charges in the Unites States under the Espionage Act.