Monthly Archives: August 2008

Gustav

Here’s what the National Hurricane Center has to say (public advisory and forecast discussion) about the storm melodramatically (and cross-dressingly) labeled “the mother of all storms” by the mayor of New Orleans. (How many people remember the origin of that “mother of” formulation? I think it’s time to retire the phrase and try some new personifying descriptions. A hurricane of Gustav’s reputation could be called anything from “unwelcome visitor” to “mannerless brute.” Any other suggestions? While we’re at it, we’d like also recommend a lifetime media ban on use of “The Big Easy” to describe New Orleans. If some hard-up news writers need a colorful handle for the city, let them use “The City that Care Forgot.”)

What’s it like down there in hurricane country? A blogger acquaintance I’ve followed for quite some time is named Rob. He lives near Bush, Louisiana, about 50 miles north of New Orleans. His blog is called Crabapple Lane, and he’s reporting on his preparations for the storm–including explaining why he’s choosing to ride it out at home rather evacuate. It’s compelling, immediate stuff. Thanks, Rob–we’re pulling for you.

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Game Token

Venturing into deep waters, but here goes: I think it’s safe to say that with Sarah Palin on the ticket, Team McCain has all but sewn up the battle for Alaska’s three electoral votes.

Palin’s sudden elevation from obscure environmental menace to No. 2 on the ticket is the most surprising rise to national prominence since Bush II named Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court. It’s reminiscent, too, of the cynicism that led Bush I to nominate Clarence Thomas to the court.

In the Myers case, the choice met with derision: Mr. President, you’re asking us to believe you have searched our great land high and low and that this is the best candidate for our most august tribunal? Of course, under this president, the notion that competence is a prerequisite, or even desirable, for high office has taken a beating. But in the Myers case, the howls were so loud and insistent from all quarters that the president was forced to let his friend withdraw herself from consideration for the court.

McCain’s choice of Palin provokes the Myers reaction all over again. Senator McCain, you’ve combed the ranks of GOP officeholders everywhere–and even a non-GOP one in the repugnant person of Joe Lieberman–and this is the person you want us to believe is the best-qualified to vault into high office?

OK–if you say so.

As even the dimmest pundit can see and as Palin herself made clear in her debut, she’s on the ticket as a magnet for the legions of Hillary Clinton voters so crushed by Obama winning the Democratic nomination that they’re going to vote for McCain. For them, Palin would clinch the deal. Or maybe McCain and his brain trust believe that everyone who voted for Clinton voted for her because she was a woman. Run out a new body in a pantsuit, put some of the same rhetoric on stage, and see whether anyone notices the difference.

We’ll see how that works, I guess. Meantime, from the Republicans, the party that has fought affirmative action at every turn, arguing that it begets tokenism and promotes the unqualified over the qualified, we get another bizarre episode of tokenism to ponder. When civil rights pioneer Thurgood Marshall died, they found a black man bent on reversing his legacy to take his seat on the Supreme Court. When Sandra Day O’Connor retired from the court, they suggested a woman without a scintilla of judicial experience or preparation to replace her. And now, to appeal to the partisans of Clinton–as steadfast an opponent of the GOP right as any Democrat–they put up a right-wing Republican.

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City Art

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On the sidewalk in front of the Burger King on 16th, right outside the BART station. (I gather it’s aimed at mortgaged plutocrats such as myself.)

Sidewalks in San Francisco are becoming a canvas for stencil artists. “Are becoming” is my way of saying I don’t know how long it’s been going on, though it reminds me a lot of the stencils that have appeared over at the Albany Bulb. Check out this, spotted within the past several days a couple blocks from the message above and which looks like the same hand at work. And then there’s this: Maybe the Best Multipanel Sidewalk Stencil Graffiti Ever? (also in the Mission).

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Bad Fish and Pedaling Machines

[Reposting from my other blog]

A must-see for the TdF fanatic, or even the mildly curious onlooker: “Vive le Tour,” an 18-minute documentary gem by the late French filmmaker Louis Malle. The film (available from Netflix and Amazon, among other purveyors), is a real time capsule, especially for viewers (like re:Cycling) whose Tour exposure dates back only to the 1980s.

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The film depicts moments from the 1962 Tour (won, eventually, by Jacques Anquetil). There’s not much of a narrative thread–it’s an impressionistic look at the race, the racers, and the spectators. The riders’ appearance is striking: they seem old, haggard, and rather beat-up looking compared to the riders we’re used to seeing. In fact, one is reminded of pictures of baseball players in the major leagues’ alleged golden ages: these guys look like working stiffs who are riding as much to make a living as for the competition or some higher “sporting” values.

The shots of the route, the fans, the preceding caravan, the motorcycle corps that accompanies the peloton, the mountain roads–it’s all familiar stuff, but also quite foreign. You see an older, unpolished France here. The alpine routes look primitive. As wild as the crowds get today, there was even less of an imaginary barrier between them and the competitors: fans are depicted giving racers long, long pushes up the climbs. On the flatlands, the riders are shown stopping for impromptu water breaks and “cafe raids”–the latter involving physically running into cafes and carrying away bottles of water, soft drinks or even beer and champagne. We see a velodrome finish, and a slow, tortuous mountain descent.

The physical difficulty of the race and the toll on the participants is also highlighted. One rider–from his number, it appears to be Italy’s Giuseppe Zorzi–is depicted getting back on his bike after passing out and resuming his race. But not for long: he soon slows and topples to the pavement, hors de combat. (Tour references say he quit in stage six.)

But there’s one brief segment that offers a striking parallel to the age of Landis, Rasmussen and Vinokourov. There’s a scene of a very shaky looking rider–Hans Junkermann of Germany, though he’s not named in the film–climbing off his bike and settling disconsolately in a roadside ditch. The voiceover–not sure whose voice–says:

Now let’s talk about doping. In cycling slang, doping is called “the charge,” and “the charge is killing this profession. Now every time someone quits, he’s under suspicion. This racer told us he must have eaten some bad fish. That same day, ten racers quit, and each said he’d eaten bad fish. Contrary to popular belief, doping doesn’t give you extra strength. It simply suppresses the pain. The doped-up athlete no longer knows his limits. He’s nothing more than a pedaling machine.”

Bad fish. That’s one excuse we haven’t heard recently. (But here’s a little more on the “bad fish” affair of 1962.)

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Muni Yard

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KQED is at Folsom Bryant and Mariposa, which is in what I describe as a seam between the Potrero Hill neighborhood to the east and the Mission to the west and south. One of the neighborhood landmarks is the big Muni bus yard, which has its entrance at York and Mariposa. Muni is both a source of pride to locals and a wilted flower. The system covers the city very well, but it has long struggled to provide reliable, on-time commute-hour service along the busiest corridors. One of the Muni’s undisputed gems, though, is its network of electrified trolley buses. They’re clean and quiet and run mostly on hydroelectric power supplied by one of San Francisco’s biggest environmental crimes, the O’Shaughnessy Dam that impounds the Tuolumne River and floods the Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Sierra Nevada (no less a nature guy than John Muir proclaimed Hetch Hetchy the fair sister to Yosemite).

Since a lot of Muni’s electric buses are garaged at the Mariposa yard, the entire neighborhood is strung with overhead wires. If you happen across vintage pictures of American cities circa 1900 or so, the streets appear forested with poles supporting improbable masses of wires. Most of those are gone are underground now, so the Muni’s wires are more of a city signature against the sky, graceful and geometrically refined. You could lose a day, maybe days, following them with a camera. I made do with a few minutes on the perimeter of the yard after I left work this evening.

(Pictures from top: Bus exit at Mariposa and Bryant; a trolley wire stanchion (or whatever it’s called), which is also visible on the left of the first picture; looking southwest across the yard from 17th Street (KQED is the light colored building in the left-center background.)

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The Clinton Speech

Watching her speak at KQED over C-SPAN’s feed. Hell of a speech number one. Especially her asking her delegates whether they were in the race for her … or for all the things she want to stand for. The C-SPAN pictures are wonderful. So many of the women in the crowd look like they are hanging on every single world. Many of them are near tears and look almost stricken. If anyone can rally them, though, it’s this woman talking to them right now. There was a quick cutaway to Bill Clinton where he looked so proud and happy he might break down.

My mom–my mom would have loved to see this.

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Contrails

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Snapped this while driving through downtown Spokane, Washington, at about 10 in the morning on June 23 with my friend Pete. You can count eight clearly visible contrails here, and the remains of possibly two more. I don’t know what accounts for the jet traffic over Spokane, though Seattle is in the direction most of these appeared to be headed. (I meant to post this ages ago, but am just getting around to it now because of a “thar’s strange things afoot in yonder sky”:comment made on a post elsewhere.)

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Dogs, Wolves, Us

The New Scientist site is carrying a story headlined, “Dogs aren’t stupid wolves; they are much smarter.” Sadly, the oddly headlined story (“much smarter” than what? stupid wolves? whoa!) is just a come-on for a feature in the print edition of the magazine and only the first paragraphs appear online. But people aren’t stupid subscriber-sheep, and someone somewhere has seen fit to post the entire text of the article in a Usenet group.

The gist of the article is that dogs’ close association with humans over the last 100 centuries or so has endowed them with some “remarkable mental skills.”

“Domestic dogs evolved from grey wolves as recently as 10,000 years ago. Since

then their brains have shrunk, so that a wolf-sized dog has a brain around 10

per cent smaller than its wild ancestor. That was one

reason why animal behaviourists felt dogs were merely simple-minded wolves. It

has become clear, though, that despite the loss of brain volume, thousands of

years spent evolving alongside humans have had a striking effect on dog

cognition.

“For one thing, researchers are increasingly convinced that dogs must possess

some sense of right and wrong in order to negotiate the complex social world of

people. A pioneer in this area is Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado at

Boulder, who has spent decades watching animals at play. He has championed the

idea that in many social species, including dogs, one of the functions of

rough-and-tumble play is to develop a rudimentary sense of morality.

“The fact that play rarely escalates into full-blown fighting shows that animals

abide by rules and expect others to do the same. In other words, they know right

from wrong. Bekoff argues that this is a survival adaptation that allows animals

to smoothly navigate other social interactions.

“Friederike Range from the University of Vienna, Austria, takes the concept of

dog morality even further. In a series of experiments, her team rewarded dogs

with a food treat if they held up a paw. They found that when a lone dog was

asked to give its paw but received no treat, it would persevere for the entire

experiment, which lasted 30 repetitions. However, if they tested two dogs

together but only rewarded one, the dog who missed out would make a big show of

being denied its treat and stop cooperating after just a few rounds. ‘Dogs show

a strong aversion to inequity,’ says Range. ‘I prefer not to call it a sense of

fairness, but others might.’ ”

Fascinating. I don’t know how the resident dog in these parts comes down on the fairness question. But he has shown a strong disapproval of profanity, which he no doubt has observed is associated with human emotional states he has no desire to be around.

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Remember?

Somewhere over there, beyond the horizon, beyond the four-buck-a-gallon gasoline and the foreclosure crisis and the campaign sniping over what it means to be rich and who owns how many houses, there’s a war on. To date this month:

18 U.S. troops killed in Iraq. Ten of those deaths are listed as “non-hostile.”

191 Iraqis killed, including 158 civilians.

18 U.S. and 24 other coalition troops killed in Afghanistan. Scores of civilians, too, judging from the latest reports.

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Troubadour Moment

I rode up to the Peet’s at Vine and Walnut to buy a pound of coffee early this evening. I got a free cup of coffee and sat at an outside table. A guy with an acoustic guitar, and an open guitar case to receive the offerings of passers-by, had taken up a position on the corner. He played halfway decently. I heard a couple of lines from a song he was singing in sort of a scratchy bass monotone and recognized it as “When You Awake,” an old favorite that The Band recorded in 1969 on a brown-covered album called “The Band.” It’s sort of a winsome remembrance of childhood. Rick Danko sang it in a pure, lonesome tenor that I could instantly hear when I realized what the streetcorner troubadour was playing. I got up, walked over to where he was standing, and dropped a bill into the guitar case. “I love that song,” I said.

Then I went and sat down. He started another song. “Time to Kill.” I got ready to leave, and walked over to him again. “You’re partial to The Band,” I said. “Yeah. Especially that brown album,” he replied. Then he said, “How about this one,” and started playing the song “Stage Fright.” I couldn’t help myself. Having sung that song thousands of times along with the record, I joined in. A couple strolled up the street, and I wondered how much I might resemble one of corner denizens hustling change (I’m convinced that in my well-worn shorts and flannel shirts I look more and more like a panhandler as I get older). Never mind. I kept singing. He took a short cut past my favorite part of the song–“Now when he says that he’s afraid, better take him at his word,/For the price this poor boy has paid, he gets to sing just like a bird”–because he said it was too high for him to sing. We got to the end. I thanked him, and he thanked me. As I walked away, he started into another favorite, a gloomy romantic number called “All La Glory.” I was tempted to try a duet on that, too, but went on my way.

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