Monthly Archives: July 2009

Summertime

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From the National Weather Service Area Forecast Discussion earlier this evening

As of 8:54 p.m. PDT Thursday … another summer day comes to a close along the Central California coast. Keeping with the trend … afternoon highs were slightly below normal once again. Stratus continues to be banked up along the coast and starting to push into the bays and inland valleys. Profiler network and 00z Oakland sounding from this evening indicate the marine inversion varying from north to south 1500-2000 ft. Local onshore flow (SFO-SAC) maxing out once again above +4.0 mb with strong winds blowing through San Francisco Bay and the West Delta. Tomorrow should to be very similar to today … with widespread stratus coverage during the morning then burning back to the coast by midday. Localized areas of drizzle can be expected as well.

What’s all that mean? It’s gray, foggy and cool here. This week, we could sell that to folks in Portland, Seattle, and just about everywhere else north, east, and south of here. (The picture: Looking across Berkeley Marina to Mount Tamalpais from the I-80 pedestrian bridge, just after sunset tonight.)

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Summertime

fog073009.jpg

From the National Weather Service Area Forecast Discussion earlier this evening

As of 8:54 p.m. PDT Thursday … another summer day comes to a close along the Central California coast. Keeping with the trend … afternoon highs were slightly below normal once again. Stratus continues to be banked up along the coast and starting to push into the bays and inland valleys. Profiler network and 00z Oakland sounding from this evening indicate the marine inversion varying from north to south 1500-2000 ft. Local onshore flow (SFO-SAC) maxing out once again above +4.0 mb with strong winds blowing through San Francisco Bay and the West Delta. Tomorrow should to be very similar to today … with widespread stratus coverage during the morning then burning back to the coast by midday. Localized areas of drizzle can be expected as well.

What’s all that mean? It’s gray, foggy and cool here. This week, we could sell that to folks in Portland, Seattle, and just about everywhere else north, east, and south of here. (The picture: Looking across Berkeley Marina to Mount Tamalpais from the I-80 pedestrian bridge, just after sunset tonight.)

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Guest Observation: William T. Vollmann

The New York Times has a story today on William T. Vollmann’s new book, “Imperial.” It’s not a review, really; more of a travelogue, a return to the places Vollmann has visited since the late ’90s while reporting and writing the book and taking pictures for a companion photo volume. The story spends some time talking about Vollmann’s appetite for adventure and for what those leading rather safe, “predictable” lives–me, for instance–might call the seamy corners of life. The story says, “He explained his preoccupation with the marginal and downtrodden matter of factly:

“When I was a young boy, my little sister drowned, and it was essentially my fault. I was 9, and she was 6, and I was supposed to be watching. I’ve always felt guilty. It’s like I have to have sympathy for the little girl who drowned and for the little boy who failed to save her — for all the people who have screwed up.”

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Family History

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We’re repainting the entryway to our house, the first time we’ve touched it since we moved in toward the end of the Reagan administration. One artifact we’re going to let stay: the doorway molding where we’ve marked the kids’ (and others’) heights. It reminds me of the doorframe in our house outside Park Forest, upon which I took it upon myself to write the date we moved in along with all the family birthdays. The house was still there last time I checked. I wonder if those dates are.  

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Journal of Self-Promotion

Contributing to my lack of rest this week was a small radio story I did on locals watching the Tour de France. Through Yelp!, someone at KQED steered me to a little place in Richmond called Catahoula Coffee Company. Originally part of the draw was the news that the cafe opened at 1 a.m. so that people could come watch the Tour. The truth was that it actually opens at 7 — with the Tour playing in mid-stage. Earlier this week I went up there and the owner gave me the run of the place for one morning and part of another. Three minutes of thrilling (and I hope entertaining) audio ensued and aired on KQED’s California Report Magazine this afternoon. Here’s the link to the story page (where the audio will eventually be posted, I think):
http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R907241630/e

And for anyone who’s impatient, who doesn’t want to go to the beautiful California Report site and comment, you can play the story right here:

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Filed under Current Affairs, Cycling

Again with the Apparitions

Short barn owl clip:

Longer, narrated barn owl sound:

As earlier disclosed in this space, some barn owls have moved into the neighborhood. We've been hearing them during our late night walk almost every night for the last month or so. A few nights ago, I remembered an episode while visiting my friend Randy when he lived just outside Twin Falls, Idaho. He had a house down in a little canyon, and some barn owls roosted in the clefts of a sheer face right along the road. He mentioned that they'd fly out around sunset, and one evening we walked up to watch. I think we saw two or three owls on the cliff face, apparently asleep. After sunset they all seemed to wake together and, as if on a signal, they flew out into the dusk.

We went up to the date palm where the local barn owls are nesting, also just after sunset. After watching for 10 minutes at most, we saw a pair of owls emerge from the fronds and wing off to the west; a minute or so later, a second pair came out and flew east. Until dark, we could see them flying all over the neighborhood. It made us wonder how many times they've been around and we've failed to see them.

We also met the woman above whose home the owl palm stands. She's become a student of the birds. She thinks they are an adult pair and two or three young. She had a great story about their arrival: On night one they began clearing dead palm fronds from a section of the tree; on night two, they "cleaned house," throwing down small-animal skeleton, bits of old nests, and other debris they found in their intended perch. She said she loves having the birds there, though they've gotten pretty messy what with discarded owl pellets and daily excreta.

Last weekend, I tried to record some of the sound we've been hearing. I have no idea how it will come out, but I've embedded a couple clips above. The first is short (30-some seconds) and includes what I thought was a warning or alarm from one of the birds. The second is longer (11 minutes) and includes me narrating the "action." Don't know how they'll sound via Typepad — in an earlier experiment the sound was awfully low.

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Who’s Your Cronkite Now?

You could call this “All Cronkite’s Children.” Not to blame him, or to praise him, but just as a nod to the news wreckage we’re left with world that evolved in his wake.

(Featured on the ABC News home page right now: Nude Video of ESPN Reporter Stirs Controversy; Will ‘American Idol’ Bid Adieu to Paula Abdul?; Do Circumcised Men Do It Better?; Woman’s DIY Plastic Surgery Nightmare; ‘He’ Becomes ‘She’: Husband’s Transformation. ‘Nuff said.)

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Walter and Rudy

I admit to being unmoved at news of the passing of Walter Cronkite. I'm sure he was a decent guy on a personal level. And professionally, yes, he became the news industry's voice of authority for a time. But that age, that industry, passed long, long before Cronkite did. I never liked his "and that's the way it is" sign-off. It bespoke a certainty that the papers, the networks, and the wire services understood stories and could be relied upon to get them right, a certainty that the product never justified. Some notable exceptions aside, I'd argue that the strength of the news media then was the persistence to get the story right eventually. The process might take years, but you'd get there. In the meantime, you settled for what appeared to be a straightforward recitation of the facts. Sometimes, you'd get more, as with Cronkite's famous pronouncement against the Vietnam War; but remember that Cronkite and many other journalists arrived at that view and became willing to voice it only after years of seeing that our government's story about the war didn't hold water.

Listening to a radio show this morning on which Cronkite's name came up, I considered how I'd convey to my kids the scope of Cronkite's reputation. Then I thought: Rudy Vallee. He was still kicking around on TV throughout my teenage years and beyond. I was given to understand that he was a big, big star once. The impression I had was a guy in a raccoon coat and funny hat, crooning corny ballads. Impossibly quaint and dated stuff. There was no way to look at him from the culture in which I'd grown up and understand why anyone would have cared.

Unlike me and my siblings, whose TV news world was dominated by Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and Howard K. Smith, my kids grew up in an age where the vision of "Network" had started to become reality. Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings presided over shows increasingly infused with entertainment values; their audiences shrank as CNN, Fox News, and the rest of the cable menagerie came to life. Like many people of their generation and mine, they've come to see comic versions of news as a more compelling reflection of reality than network news is inclined to offer. The culture in which they've grown up simply doesn't have a Cronkite. He's the guy in the raccoon coat.

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Today’s Top Scam

We have some dining chairs we'd like to sell. After the usual months of procrastination, I took pictures and posted them on Craigslist, where I've always had pretty good luck unloading things quickly. I think if I really wanted to sell these in a hurry, I'd post them on a Friday or early Saturday, when I think people are in garage-sale mode. But add Factor P (for procrastination again) and it was Sunday afternoon before they were actually online. I got one email soon afterward, from "Kelly Walker," who asked whether the chairs were still available. Yes, "Kelly," they are, I responded. I didn't check my email again until this morning. I had another note from "Kelly":

Hello,

I appreciate your response to my inquiry.I am interested in buying the items and i am ok with their description and conditions and i am also satisfied with their price($150).I would have love to come and check it myself but am not chance now,because I just got married and am presently on honeymoon trip to Honolulu in Hawaii with my wife and I would love a surprise change of furniture in our home on our return because my wife like surprises. Please do withdraw the advert from the website with immediate effect,as i don't mind adding $50 for you to do that for me,so i can be rest assured that the items are held for me,I will be making the payment to you via a Certified Check in us dollars which my secretary in united state will mail across to you and as for the pick up,i will know how to handle that with my mover that has been helping me to move in new furnitures into our home. My Mover will come for the pick up once the Certified Check has been cashed and i will like to complete this transaction before Wednesday the 22nd of July.If this arrangement is ok by you kindly send me both your name and full address to post the payment immediately and i would appreciate you include your phone#,i.e….

(1)..Your full name
(2)..Your full home address or your office address
(3)..your zip code
(4)…your phone number to contact you

And please i don't want a P.O BOX address because i want the payment to get to you at your house or your office address to make the transaction fast.Thanks and get back to me with the full info as soon as possible.Thanks

"Kelly," who wrote me from kellywalker100@gmail.com, sounds like quite a guy. So thoughtful and generous. He's on his honeymoon in Hawaii, and he stops to shop Craigslist just to find some new furniture to surprise his wife! Such solicitude, too. He'll pay 50 bucks just to get me to hold the chairs for his "mover." And he wants to make sure I get his bunko check without delay. Really the only less-than-glowing thing I can say about him is his English needs a little polishing.

I was tempted to write back: "Dear Kelly: The sale terms are cash only. For scammers, the cash price is double, plus a $500 handling charge. You're responsible for your own attorney's and bail fees upon your arrest and trial for grand theft." When I did write back, though, I stopped at "cash only."

Like everyone else, I've seen multitudes of online scams. Craigslist is apparently rife with them. I'm not sure anyone has ever approached me directly and individually this way before. It's disturbing and offensive, especially when you consider that "Kelly" and his like do manage to sucker the unsuspecting.

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Filed under Berkeley, Current Affairs

Supreme Court Rope-a-Dope

I have to say, I’m enjoying not listening to the Sandra Sotomayor confirmation hearings. I suppose that’s a conundrum: How could I possibly know that not doing something is a feel-good experience? Well, the answer to that puzzler is that I have listened to short sections of the hearings. They’re unbearable. They’re the forensic equivalent of Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope,” the tactic he improvised to tire out and eventually beat the bigger, stronger George Foreman in 1974.

Not to compare the hearings with that fight in any way. Ali’s method was brilliant and exciting. No one expected it, and it represented the supreme gamble that his wits and reflexes would allow him to survive long enough against the pure power of his opponent to eventually reset the odds in his favor.

What’s going on in Washington now bears no resemblance to that. The hearings are so predictable, so empty of substance, so free of risk. They have turned into a ritual in which the appointing president’s opponents windmill away at the nominees, desperate to score points even with the most trivial forays. The new court hopefuls, for their part, cover up, trying to avoid saying anything to any questioner that might give their foes advantage. Their audience learns they never prejudge anything. You wonder how they might answer a question about their favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor or how they’d ever manage to select one while they’re shopping.

I liked this exchange yesterday between Sotomayor and Arlen Specter, Pennylvania’s new Democratic senator. Specter wanted to know what the nominee thinks about the Supreme Court taking on more cases. Sotomayor didn’t want to say “until I’ve experienced the process.” (Here’s the transcript.)

You can imagine what happened when Specter turned to the topic of the Bush administration’s Terrorist Surveillance Program and the court’s declining to hear an appeal on the program’s constitutionality. Specter reminded Sotomayor that he had written to her a number of times advising her he would ask her about this during the hearings. “I’m not asking you how you would decide the case,” he said, “but wouldn’t you agree that the Supreme Court should have taken that kind of a major conflict on separation of powers?”

Sotomayor wasn’t going to fall for a trap like that–offering an opinion on whether the issues in a case merited the court’s attention. Here she goes:

Sotomayor: I can understand not only Congress’s or your personal frustration, and sometimes the citizens when there are important issues that they would like the court to consider. The question becomes what do I do if you give me the honor to serve on the Court. If I say something today, is that going to make a statement about how I’m going to prejudge someone else’s…

Specter: I’m not asking you to prejudge. I’d like to know your standards for taking the case. If you have that kind of a monumental historic conflict and the court is supposed to decide conflicts between the executive and legislative branches, how can it possibly be justified not to take that case?

Sotomayor: There are often, from what I understand — and that’s from my review of Supreme Court actions and cases of situations in which they have or have not taken cases, and I’ve read some of their reasoning as to this. I know that with some important issues, they want to make sure that there isn’t a procedural bar to the case of some type that would take away from whether they’re, in fact, doing what they would want to do, which is to …

Specter: Well, was there a procedural bar? You’ve had weeks to mull that over, because I gave you notice.

Sotomayor: Senator, I’m sorry. I did mull this over. My problem is that, without looking at a particular issue and considering the cert briefs file, the discussion of potential colleagues as to the reasons why a particular issue should or should not be considered, the question about…

Specter: Well, I can tell you’re not going to answer. Let me move on.

The rope-a-dope routine at least shows Sotomayor knows how to survive. But to go back to the ring for a moment, the performance doesn’t call to mind the imagination and courage Ali used to conquer Foreman, but his tactics in another fight. A few years after the Foreman fight, an unprepared Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks. It was Spinks’s finest hour, and it was short-lived. He fought Ali again before the year was out, and this time Ali came with a game plan: to hit Spinks when he could, which was often enough, and hang onto him the rest of the fight. It was a tired, embarrassing display. But it worked, and Ali regained his crown, if only for a moment.

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