Freeway Overpass


From Friday night on Potrero Hill. From Utah Street just south of Mariposa, there’s a pedestrian overpass crossing U.S. 101 to Vermont Street on the east side. I can’t quite explain it, but I alway like walking over the freeway there. Something about getting to watch the traffic from so close by without being part of it, maybe. Last night after work I went up there and experimented with some time exposure by placing my camera on one of the railings of the pedestran bridge (there’s a fence to prevent it from falling onto the highway) setting the shutter on delay before releasing it.

This view is looking north. Interstate 80, which goes all the way to New York City, starts where you can see the green highway signs in the left center (if you click for the larger image, you can see that one of the signs directs drivers to the Bay Bridge, which is visible in the right center).

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Utah Door


Busy week at the radio station. Got off early tonight, and walked a little on Potrero Hill, up Mariposa and onto Utah, before getting in the car and driving across the bridge home. It was a beautiful, clear warm evening at the end of a beautiful, clear week.

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Today’s Right-Wing Ship-Jumper

Well, yesterday’s actually: It’s Christopher Hitchens. And even though he goes out of his way to tell us all the ways in which he doesn’t want to be the friend of any flower-waving liberals, he’s devastating in his indictment nonetheless:

“The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: ‘What does he take me for?’ Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party’s right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama’s position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.

“It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.”

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God’s Little Acre, Revisited


One of the local news shows did a bit tonight on a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that doubles the recommended daily dose of Vitamin D for children. Apparently, the only guy they could find to talk about it was the lad pictured above, Dr. William B. Grant, Ph.D., of Sunarc–an organization devoted to spreading the word about the benefits of Vitamin D and sunlight. Never mind that Grant in his moments on the tube called for radically higher doses of Vitamin D than the pediatrics group is calling for, putting his expertise a bit at odds with that of the mainstream medicos. What got us when we watched was the hair. Check out the style: a smattering of carefully cultivated strands arranged to suggest full-maned glory. I’m sorry. Speaking as one who has laughed in the mocking face of baldness on many a bleak morning, midday and midnight, the guy’s do impeaches his testimony, whatever he says. Or maybe Vitamin D is convincing him he really looks like, well, this guy. In which case he needs to consider a different therapy.

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Sunday Matinee

I heard the other day that the Druid Theatre, from the city of Galway on Ireland’s west coast, was in Berkeley presenting “The Playboy of the Western World.” This morning, Kate and I talked about going. Tickets were $75, and even as I like a good play and love Irish storytelling, that seemed steep. I took a look at the website of the outfit presenting the play, Cal Performances at UC-Berkeley. There was a mention of discounts. Students–and I have a current ID–could get in for half. Good deal. Then I noticed a mention of “rush tickets.” If seats are still available, the box office will tell you two hours before curtain, and you can purchase them at a steep discount beginning an hour before the show. It turned out rush tickets were available, and I wound up sitting front row center, close enough to wonder whether the four actor balanced on a flimsy-looking wooden table might topple over into the audience.

I went alone since my would-be matinee companion decided other business pressed too hard to give up the entire afternoon to a gaggle of very thick Irish accents. After buying my ticket, we walked through downtown Berkeley running an errand or two before the show started. And that gave me the chance to hear a young guy selling a demo recording say to passersby, “Free CDs … free CDs. I’m trying to expose myself.”

The play? It was great to the point I hated to leave the theater afterward and stood watching the stage crew begin cleaning things up. (I had once wistfully thought of going to Ireland to see this company do the play after reading they were visiting the town in County Mayo that Synge visited before writing it. It was worth waiting for.) The production goes to Los Angeles now, and then to the Kennedy Center in Washington and the University of North Carolina. If it shows up in your town, go.

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With yet another close election in the offing, the media are starting to focus on undecided voters. After last night’s joint candidate appearance, BBC America talked to two young Yanks in London who said they remained undecided. Ditto on NPR this morning, which had a feature on some persistent undecideds in New Mexico. How it’s possible to remain undecided, I don’t know; if you’ve been paying attention even occasionally you know more about the candidates than you do about most members of your own family.

The fact is, though, that the “debates,” as we persist in calling them, aren’t about changing minds. They’re about playing things safe, sticking to scripts, and hoping that the other candidate will be struck dumb or collapse into a heap a la “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” OK, sure, there’s more to it: The hopefuls want to look good, too. The consensus among brilliant political minds is that the debates are about avoiding changing people’s minds in a negative way–about not doing anything that would turn an undecided against you. That way, you keep them in play. Then nature takes its course. You get as many of those votes on election day as you lose, and plenty of the people who can’t make up their minds never do and join the one-third of the eligible electorate that never votes at all. Who’s to argue with the work of smart and richly compensated strategists?

Leave it to the rest of us, exposed to the realities of an economy, a government, and political system that appear to be unraveling, to show some unguarded concern about it. When I say us, I mean the host of friends and relatives who are for the first time volunteering for campaigns, sending out alarmed emails about our situation, or who like my friend Pete, up in Oregon, or Ron, in Texas, or “blog friends” Marie, in Illinois, and Rob, in Louisiana, are provoking discussions about the race. Or former TV colleague Steve, who posted a link recently to perhaps the most clear-sighted rant all year on what’s wrong with the election and the electorate.

Somehow, I feel like I’m getting a more focused sense of what this campaign is about and should be about from the people I know than from the candidate I support. Somehow, I wish my candidate would drop the script for just a few minutes and let me know he gets the depth of concern–hell, despair–that so many people are feeling out here. I don’t expect him to, though, and certainly not during the next “debate.”

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At Night


By way of an Open Salon blog: a recent composite view of the Earth at night, courtesy of NASA (click for bigger images). There’s lots to reflect on here. For example: Look at the Korean peninsula, and check out the difference between South and North (for more on night-time lighting in North Korea, see this).

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Clean Rice


Last Thursday night, just outside the town of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture. We were walking along a semi-rural road just after sunset, and, not reading Japanese, I had no idea what this little kiosk was. My son Eamon said, “Well, what would a farming community like this need?” Well, there were rice fields all around us, scattered with single-family homes and small apartment buildings. But I still had no clue what I was looking at.

The large characters on the canopy say, “Kubota Clean.” What I was looking at was a personal rice mill (built by the Kubota company). People bring their winnowed household rice here, dump it in the hopper, put in some money, and this unit hulls and polishes the rice to the finely finished white grain most in Japan prefer. Not sure what the U.S. equivalent would be. A neighborhood flour mill to grind people’s wheat into flour?

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So, *That* Happened

Item 1: We returned from Japan today. In fact, I’m on my second Sunday evening (we took off from Narita airport, outside Tokyo, at about 7:15 Sunday night; and here it is getting close to 7:15 Sunday night after landing in San Francisco before noon. I understand the why and how of it, but it’s still strange.

Item 2: Before we left, I mentioned to someone that gee, the Cubs might be out of the playoffs by the time I get back home. Just indulging a moment of pre-emptively rueful Cubsy-ness. When we got home early this afternoon I picked up the San Francisco Chronicle, whose Sunday sports section featured not one but two misspelled names in other headlines, and saw the news that the Chicago nine had been swept. You can say wait till next year, or you can just admit you’re not waiting anymore. Go Pale Hose–spoil that beautiful Tampa Bay Rays story for us.

Item 3: Sometime I’ll relate my greatest adventure of September 2008, which was not flying to Japan but running out of gas on the very busy San Francisco Bay Bridge. I believe I’m an unindicted co-conspirator in the event, which involved a faulty fuel gauge.

Item 4: Not to leave the subject of The Trip too quickly: We flew Japan Air Lines both ways to Tokyo. Oddly (or probably not), about two-thirds of the seating space is devoted to first and business class. We were jammed in the back with the other groundlings. One of the entertainments offered on the screens-at-every-seat was a map of our flight’s progress. This morning, I saw that we were nearing the Northern California coast and started looking for Mount Shasta. The mountain is our Fuji, 14,000-some feet, a good hundred miles in from the coast. At the point I started looking, probably near Point Arena, we were about 200 miles from the mountain. But there, way off, rising above the clouds, was that beautiful snowy (not Sno-) cone.

It’s interesting to be back, even after just a week away.

(And where did the post title come from? Watch the clip below. You gotta stay with it to the end.)