Saturday, April 28, 2012

Roseanne Cash writes USA a theme song (International Pow Wow 12 Report)

Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association introduces the Vote Travel bus

International Pow Wow is a travel trade show where destinations across the USA get to promote themselves to international journalists, with a few domestic travel writers, like myself, thrown into the mix.

America gets a brand name, a theme song and a new tourism website

On Monday, Brand USA, unveiled (its new website) and "Land of Dreams," a theme song written by Roseanne Cash designed to evoke a feeling about what America represents.  A free download of the song is available on the website's home page.  (Brand USA was created by Congress in 2010 to promote travel to the United States, which had declined after September 11, 2001.)

It's likely that not only will attract foreign tourists but will also help Americans discover new destinations both across the country and in their own backyard.  Visitors can "Explore" by clicking on pictures, searching by States, Territories or major cities as well as using filters (including Beaches, History, Natural Wonders, Shopping and Great Drives) to sort possibilities.  For those that prefer to daydream by reading travel journals, there are reports of road trips made by three international visitors.  (Hopefully, at some point some female travelers will be able to contribute and perhaps an American or two.)

By providing an email address to the site, users can save info into a "suitcase."  I found several items on the website that I wanted to save into a suitcase but couldn't.  I wanted to find out more about the Indianapolis Zoo and save that to my suitcase, but I could only save info about the Indianapolis 500.  (Although Los Angeles, Honolulu, New York, Dallas and Las Vegas are listed under major cities, Indianapolis and Houston aren't.)

The good news is that it's easy to click through to the website of a state such as Indiana. When I reached the Indiana website, however, I had to hunt for a page with a link to the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association website.

President Obama addresses International Pow Wow attendees 

Good news for Chinese and Brazilian Visitors

President Barack Obama addressed the International Pow Wow delegates by videotape, stressing the importance of international tourism to America and the efforts we are making to expedite the Visa process while protecting our borders.  Wait times for Visas for Chinese and Brazilian visitors that once took weeks is now often accomplished in days.  And visitors from 36 countries, including Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain, New Zealand and Australia, aren't required to have a Visa.

Next year, International Pow Wow is set for Las Vegas.  Presentations from Las Vegas made delegates eager to blow on some dice long before June 2013.

Two showgirl ambassadors for Las Vegas

Elvis was alive and well and inspiring "Viva Las Vegas"
Performers from Cirque du Soleil's "Mystere"
dazzle at a luncheon

Friday, April 20, 2012

Celebrate the Earth with Music and Yoga in Santa Monica

Molly demonstrate crab position using two Three Minute Eggs at
Tadasana International Yoga & Music Festival

When I stopped by the Tadasana International Yoga & Music Festival this afternoon, I expected to snap a few pictures and then take off.  But I wound up spending a few hours there wandering through the eco marketplace and peering in various yoga classes. I foolishly arrived without my yoga mat, plus I learned that you are actually supposed to schedule your classes.  Here are a few scenes from the first day of the festival.

If you can make it to the festival on Saturday or Sunday, it will be well worth your time.  I'd recommend spending the entire day because the admission is $99 per day.  But there are slews of activities and a variety of vendors are there with interesting products.  The Yoga Beauty Bar  had several paraben free body products on display including COOLA (a great locally made sunscreen) and Olie Biologique (which uses argan oil, rose hips and other natural ingredients to heal and moisturize skin).  Founder, Linda Alixe Thompson, says that Olie Biologique facial products are used by both men and women.

yoga beauty bar is a pop up store that carries organic body products

Additional vendors include: Three Minute Egg (oval yoga props [rather than blocks]), Hard Tail (with 20-50% savings off their amazing yoga wear), Jade Yoga (yoga mats), Mamma Chia Vitality Beverages, EOS Earth Friendly Products (dish, laundry and hand soaps), Kevita, Whole Foods, Eco Vessel, Yoga Hitch (an innovative strap to carry your mat that can double as a yoga strap or towel) and Simply Straws (lose the plastic straws and carry your own sipper).  Simply Straws has a promotion where you can earn a free straw by taking their pledge against plastic straws (and sharing it via Facebook or Twitter).  Beyond O2 Alkaline Water was supplying free water in several areas.

And for travelers looking for budget accommodations within the yoga community, OmStays is making its debut at TadasanaFest.  People can join as a yoga student or yoga teacher, and OmStays helps connect you with a yogi where you're heading.  Although men are welcome too, one of OmStay's goals is to help women travel on a shoestring.  At a glance, it struck me as a cross between Airbnb (which acts as an intermediary) and couch surfing with a yoga component.  Cost to stay at OmStay pad is $15 plus gratitude.

Founder of Simply Straws, Cyndi Sladics
A simply straw can help you sip at the San Diego Wild Animal Park
where plastic straws are forbidden (dangerous to animals)

Steve offers samples of Mamma Chia's vitality drink.
Guests could buy bottles or a case for a discounted price.

Alycia Monet Denham created Yoga Hitch to carry her own mat while she's also managing her toddler .
Like its inventor, Yoga Hitch can multi-task by serving as a towel or a yoga strap when you're in class.

When:  Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22 from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Cost: $99 (minimum age 14)

Where:  2600 Barnard Way in Santa Monica

Tadasana is even offering a free 30 song download of the Music of Tadasana through YogiTunes (provided you give YogiTunes your name, email address and zipcode).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shell, Condoms break. Prove you can clean up a spill

All photos courtesy of NRDC

That title may be unfair to condoms, because a broken condom can lead to new life whereas an oil spill leads to death and destruction for wildlife and people.  If there's a problem when Shell drills in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve in Alaska, the Inuit Eskimos will suffer if Bowhead whales perish (because these whales are a food source for the Inuits).

In 2000, the State of Alaska sponsored a test to see if a spill could be cleaned up in the Arctic.  As you can see from Oceana's YouTube video clip below, the test was a total failure.

The 2000 North Slope Broken Ice Trials proved that booms and skimmers do not work in ice.  Booms and skimmers are among the tools Shell plans to deploy in the event of a spill.

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil explosion occurred off the coast of Louisiana causing the  BP oil spill in the much warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  In Feb. 2011, a Norwegian tanker spilled oil in the icy fjords off Oslo, Norway.  So why isn't the U.S. government isn't telling Shell "You can only drill in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas if you prove you can clean up a spill."  

Chuck Clusen, Director of Alaska Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) described for me the risks and  ramifications for both humans and wildlife if Shell has a mishap in the Arctic.

Although Shell has invested in equipment that can be immediately deployed if there's a spill, there is a very limited window of time to clean up a spill in the chilly Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, environments that are already showing stress from climate change (with incidents of polar bears drowning trying to swim from ice pack to shore and small young male Pacific Walruses being smothered by older male walruses due to the receding icepack and limited room on the beach.

But the major problem with any spill is that the water is so cold and winds can be so powerful that there is a Response gap where you can't effectively clean up oil due to ice in the water or winds that cause waves to be too high.

"Between July 1 and Oct. 31 (the other eight months, the seas are frozen over), the so-called response gap is three to five days of each week. So at best you have four and on average as little as two days.  Oil does break down to a degree fairly quickly when you can no longer skim or burn it.  You can't skim oil a week or more after a spill.  World Wildlife Fund did some calculations: it's impossible during those four summer months between 44-84% of the time.  In Beaufort  drilling, they can drill up to end of Oct. - if there's a blow out at end of work period - there's insufficient time to drill a cap relief well.  Then oil freezes into/under the ice - ice moves hundreds of miles all around the arctic -Ice could drag liquid oil underneath it too-- could still be oozing," says Clusen.  If oil is carried long distances in the ice, then next summer, when when the ice cap melts, oil is all over the place.

If there is a spill, we better hope it happens in the Chukchi rather than the Beaufort.

Clusen says that Shell must stop drilling 38 days before the Chukchi Sea freezes (where between 5500 and 25,000 barrels a day could spill).  But there's no such limit in Beaufort where the risk in a spill is 5500 to 16,000 barrels.  The Capping stack, Shell's principal strategy of controlling a leaking well is being built in Seattle, but Clusen says it won't be tested with real oil.  "The real question is whether a capping stack can work as well in the Arctic.  The drill rig in Gulf of Mexico had motors on all sides --no mooring lines with anchors.  Two drill rigs that Shell would use in the Arctic would be moored," says Clusen, adding that trying to get around and through mooring lines without getting tangled up is pretty challenging because there's not a lot of room to maneuver.

"There's so much we don't understand about it how the ecosystem works, the niches for each animal, etc." says Clusen, adding that we also don't know how the noise from drilling and the vessels will affect the whales and other wildlife.

In the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, "a lot of oil stayed in the water column, which means that cleaning up the surface (even if possible) does not prevent potential ecological damage," says Clusen.  The Bowhead whales are a special concern because they feed in the shallow waters where Shell will be drilling.  In the event of a spill, if there's oil in the water column it will gum up the baleen filters in the mouths of Bowhead whales.  Even if there's no spill, if the drilling drives the Bowheads further out to sea, the Inuit Eskimos may lose a principle food and culture source.

Shell's oil exploration will occur in a known denning area for female polar bears and within the migration route of the Bowhead whale. (Belugas and grays also pass through the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas).  "A spill in this area could be deadly and oil the coastline of the Arctic Refuge Barrier Islands.  This is key habitat for polar bears as well.  The Arctic Refuge Coast is the highest density denning area for female polar bears on shore in the American Arctic.   In Beaufort and Chukchi Sea - in fall they tend to come from Eastern Beaufort  Sea in Canada - come in Camden Bay along the shore of the Artic national wildlife refuge - then they loop further out in north and west around the Chukchi lease area where Shell plans to drill four exploration wells in the next couple of years.  Again, a spill as the result of this exploration could be deadly to Bowhead whales," says Clusen.

So whether you are rooting for polar bears, whales, us or the earth, what's the harm in the U.S. government demanded that Shell prove it can clean up a spill?   If there's a problem, any spill will make the Exxon Valdez or BP oil spills look like minor mishaps.  The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico spill released 200 million gallons of oil. This means that every 5 days, an oil spill the size of Exxon Valdez was released into the Gulf of Mexico, and this spill is over 18 times the size of predecessor.

Following the BP oil disaster, reported that 21 years after the Exxon Valdez spill, Alaskan waters are still recovering, and many beaches and coastal areas are still contaminated with oil. Many species (including sea otters, killer whales, clams, mussels) are still recovering, and some haven’t recovered at all (the Pacific herring and pigeon guillemot) (See: Exxon Valdez and Long-term Recovery after a Spill).

To urge the government to take action or to learn more, visit the NRDC website (and watch a video message from Robert Redford about the wildlife imperiled by Shell's plans).