<strong>RESCUED:</strong> The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand rehabilitates the big animals suffering abuse from logging and tourism industries.

THIGHLAND: Santa Barbarans I know headed to Thailand for the holidays, but not to tour the fleshpots of Bangkok.

They visited the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary in the northern region of Chiang Mai, where abused animals rescued from the tourist and logging industries are rehabilitated.

Barney Brantingham

Tourists love to ride elephants, unaware of the terrible abuse the animals undergo.

KNOCKOFFS: Speaking of fleshpots, I toured Bangkok’s notorious Pat Pong district some years ago, but the most corrupt thing I did was to buy two knockoff Rolexes, both of which stopped running the instant my plane landed at LAX.

I’m racing through the thriller Bangkok 8 by John Burdett, set after the Vietnam War. A Bangkok Buddhist detective named Sonchai Jitpleecheep, apparently the only honest cop on the force, hits the mean streets to try to find out who killed his buddy. In the book, it’s a society that runs on yaa baa (meth) and money gleaned from all-too-willing farangs, or white suckers. A blonde FBI agent also gets involved in the story. (Watch for the movie.)

ROB THE BANK: The innocent essence of Santa Barbara was broken by a 50- to 60-year-old guy who robbed the Rabobank on (horrors!) Christmas Eve.

Rabobank is a Dutch-based outfit, hence the name that would seem to invite crooks. The branch on Bath Street got hit. Rabobank got involved in a scandal a couple of years ago and got nailed with a $1 billion penalty for banking irregularities.

Tithe by Text: In tech-happy Stockholm, parishioners text tithes to their churches, and homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. In a nation rushing toward a cashless society, many banks no longer accept cash.

101 BLUES: Freeway headaches, like the poor, will always be with us, it seems. Now that Judge Thomas Anderle has trashed Caltrans’s Highway 101 EIR for the freeway widening, it’s back to the drawing board. You won’t be seeing 101’s extra lane between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria until Santa’s beard gets a lot longer.

In lambasting the woefully inadequate Caltrans report, Judge Anderle found that there was “no evidence” that Caltrans ever seriously considered the serious impacts it was bound to study. No impacts, no need for mitigation, right?

What? No impacts from an 11-mile $435 million project, the biggest since Fr. Junipero’s days? Critics warned that without fixing the expected impacts on Santa Barbara intersections, freeway traffic spilling out into Santa Barbara streets will result in “unmitigated gridlock.”

Worse, there’s apparently no money to fix those city intersections to deal with the oncoming rush of traffic. According to the local group that challenged the EIR, the needed $110 million fix money won’t be available until at least 2040 because it’s all been committed to other projects.

Since much of the problem results from Ventura County folks driving here to work, commuter rail has long been hailed as a partial solution, but there’s no sign of it.

The citizen group that challenged the Caltrans study pointed out that a decade ago, a commuter-rail system was projected to be ready by 2015. Well, that train hasn’t left the station, and who knows when it will?

And since there’s no sign that pouring more and more cement will ever solve the problem, the solution seems to be getting people out of their cars.

It’s not like no one warned Caltrans. Mayor Helene Schneider and City Hall had raised crucial questions, but for her trouble she got Yuletide pudding thrown in her face by Officialdom. Apologies, anyone?

LET’S COMPARE HOME PRICES: You’ve got $1,700,000 to spend. According to a New York Times survey, it will buy you a 2,000-square-foot 1930 home in Ventura with an ocean view, pool, and hot tub. Or a 5,223-square-foot contemporary home in a wooded area near the northern end of Atlanta on a hill overlooking the Chattahoochee River. It’s got a pool and sits on two acres. Or a 1790s farmhouse west of the University of Virginia, with five bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms, and 10 fireplaces; it sits on seven acres and is surrounded by an 18-acre golf course. It also has a pool and a horse barn, and the lot is partially wooded. (Or you could save money by buying a San Roque charmer for a million, plus or minus.)


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