Monthly Archives: June 2011

Journal of Rain-Driving Photography

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A picture made during our storm a couple days ago.

Side conversation: Is this picture illegal? Or maybe just unwise? California has laws against using cellphones while driving (unless you have a hands-free setup) and texting while driving (I never believed that people tried to text and drive until I saw them in action on adjacent freeway lanes. Amazing). But a non-exhaustive search of the state vehicle code (there are only so many hours in the day) does not turn up an outright prohibition on drivers using cameras and taking pictures while driving (the Department of Motor Vehicles admonishes us to avoid distractions, such as eating, doing personal grooming, reading the newspaper, working on Rubik’s cubes, etc., while we’re behind the wheel).

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Filed under Berkeley, Current Affairs, Weather

Isotherm

The noon temperature in San Francisco is 59 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. Where else is it 59 right about now? According to the NWS, Weather Underground, and Environment Canada:

Gasquet, California
Lakeview, Oregon
Friday Harbor, Washington
Race Rocks, British Columbia
Portage, Alaska
Mayo, Yukon
Norman Wells, Northwest Territories
Isachsen, Nunavut
Maniwaki, Quebec
Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland
Quqortoq, Greenland
Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
Valentia Island, Ireland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Brest, France
Bronnoysund, Norway
Vaestmarkum, Sweden
St. Petersburg, Russia
Yakutsk, Russia
Adelaide, Australia
Vryheid, South Africa
Kermadec Island, New Zealand
La Serena, Chile
Ezeiza, Argentina

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Filed under Berkeley, Current Affairs, Weather

June Rain

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Nothing remarkable here–if you live someplace where rain or some associated form of precipitation is assumed to be part of your life year-round.

Here, we live by the myth that the rain starts well into the fall and sheds its last drops by the end of April. Rain in the dry months is more common than we like to think. As Jan Null, a Bay Area weather guy who has pored over our precipitation climatology, said in an email yesterday, “It hasn’t rained during the last week of June in San Francisco since… insert drumroll,.. last year! On the June 24th and 25th, 2010 it rained 0.01 and 0.04″ respectively.”

One difference, though: Several places in the Bay Area–Oakland, Oakland Airport, and San Francisco Airport) have already broken their all-time June records for rain (on the strength of a storm that came through during the first week of the month). And several more are on the verge of doing so (Santa Rosa, Napa, Santa Cruz, and perhaps others).

Of course, we’re not talking about a deluge here. Santa Rosa’s record rainfall for the entire month of June is 2.43 inches. In San Francisco, it’s 2.57 inches. That’s a good summer afternoon’s rain in a lot of places east of the Missouri.

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Your Illinois Governors: Felony Update (2011)

Update 12/7/2011: The judge has spoken: Blagojevich gets 14 years n prison.

With the news that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been convicted on 17 of 20 counts of corruption, it's time to freshen my list of recent Illinois governors whose legal trouble reached felony level. As I said back in 2003, when George Ryan, Blagojevich's predecessor, was indicted on federal corrupion charges, Prairie State governors have racked up quite a record over the past half-century:

William G. Stratton (in office 1953-61): Indicted (1964) for income-tax evasion (acquitted).
Otto Kerner (1961-68): Indicted (1971) and convicted (bribery and other charges).
Sam Shapiro (1968-69): Never charged with anything, but then he only had eight months in office.
Richard Ogilvie (1969-73): Clean, so far as we know. Probably why he only served one term.
Dan Walker (1973-77): Indicted (1987) in his post-politics career as an S&L thief. Pled guilty.
Jim Thompson (1977-91): His career was about indicting other people, for a change.
Jim Edgar (1991-99): No dirt so far.
George Ryan (1999-2003): Indicted (2003) and convicted on federal corruption charges.
Rod Blagojevich (2003-2009): Convicted for influence peddling, including an alleged conspiracy to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. (For a glimpse at government at its very best, it's worth reading the press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. It's a 12-page PDF. Among the highlights: "In a conversation … on November 11, the charges state, Blagojevich said he knew that the President-elect wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but "they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them." The full 78-page complaint, in PDF form, is available here: United States of America v. Rod R. Blagojevich and John Harris.)

Score:
Nine governors. Five indicted. Four convicted. One acquitted.

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Filed under Chicago, Current Affairs, History

Give Me That Old Time Vituperation

We often hear that we live in an era of remarkably blunt, if not downright ugly, political rhetoric. To me, the “rhetoric” seems to consists of patently loony claims–that the president was born in Mecca, brandishing an AK-47 among a family of bloodthirsty jihadis, for instance–that gain currency through relentless repetition.

Anyway, I happened across this the other night. It’s an account in the late Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert” featuring Hiram Johnson, a Progressive Era politician who, among other things, championed the state’s now-jaded ballot initiative system. Here’s Johnson, talking about “General” Harrison Gray Otis, a figure he apparently did not think much of:

“Hiram Johnson was addressing a crowd in a Los Angeles auditorium when someone in the audience, who knew that Johnson’s talent for invective surpassed even the General’s, yelled out, ‘What about Otis?’ Johnson, all prognathous scowl and murderous intent, took two steps forward and began extemporaneously. ‘In the city of San Francisco we have drunk to the very dregs of infamy,’ he said in a low rumble. ‘We have had vile officials, we have had rotten newspapers. But we have had nothing so vile, nothing so low, nothing so debased, nothing so infamous in San Francisco as Harrison Gray Otis. He sits there in his senile dementia with gangrene heart and rotting brain, grimacing at every reform, chattering impotently at all the things that are decent, frothing, fuming, violently gibbering, going down to his grave in snarling infamy. This man Otis is the one blot on the banner of southern California; he is the bar sinister on your escutcheon. My friends, he is the one thing that all Californians look at when, in looking at southern California, they see anything that its disgraceful, depraved, corrupt, crooked, and putrescent–that,’ Johnson concluded in a majestic bawl, ‘that is Harrison Gray Otis!’ “

(As my friend Steve notes elsewhere: “Imagine anyone these days using a phrase like “he is the bar sinister on your escutcheon.” A way to call a person a bastard.” And indeed, I had meant to look that term up. Here’s what the OED has to say about it (under “bar”):

6. Heraldry. An honourable ordinary, formed (like the fess) by two parallel lines drawn horizontally across the shield, and including not more than its fifth part. bar sinister: in popular, but erroneous phrase, the heraldic sign of illegitimacy….

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Filed under History, Literature

Give Me That Old Time Vituperation

We often hear that we live in an era of remarkably blunt, if not downright ugly, political rhetoric. To me, the “rhetoric” seems to consists of patently loony claims–that the president was born in Mecca, brandishing an AK-47 among a family of bloodthirsty jihadis, for instance–that gain currency through relentless repetition.

Anyway, I happened across this the other night. It’s an account in the late Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert” featuring Hiram Johnson, a Progressive Era politician who, among other things, championed the state’s now-jaded ballot initiative system. Here’s Johnson, talking about “General” Harrison Gray Otis, a figure he apparently did not think much of:

“Hiram Johnson was addressing a crowd in a Los Angeles auditorium when someone in the audience, who knew that Johnson’s talent for invective surpassed even the General’s, yelled out, ‘What about Otis?’ Johnson, all prognathous scowl and murderous intent, took two steps forward and began extemporaneously. ‘In the city of San Francisco we have drunk to the very dregs of infamy,’ he said in a low rumble. ‘We have had vile officials, we have had rotten newspapers. But we have had nothing so vile, nothing so low, nothing so debased, nothing so infamous in San Francisco as Harrison Gray Otis. He sits there in his senile dementia with gangrene heart and rotting brain, grimacing at every reform, chattering impotently at all the things that are decent, frothing, fuming, violently gibbering, going down to his grave in snarling infamy. This man Otis is the one blot on the banner of southern California; he is the bar sinister on your escutcheon. My friends, he is the one thing that all Californians look at when, in looking at southern California, they see anything that its disgraceful, depraved, corrupt, crooked, and putrescent–that,’ Johnson concluded in a majestic bawl, ‘that is Harrison Gray Otis!’ “

(As my friend Steve notes elsewhere: “Imagine anyone these days using a phrase like “he is the bar sinister on your escutcheon.” A way to call a person a bastard.” And indeed, I had meant to look that term up. Here’s what the OED has to say about it (under “bar”):

6. Heraldry. An honourable ordinary, formed (like the fess) by two parallel lines drawn horizontally across the shield, and including not more than its fifth part. bar sinister: in popular, but erroneous phrase, the heraldic sign of illegitimacy….

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Custer Day

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“Last Stand Hill” at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, near Crow Agency, Montana. Today’s the 135th anniversary of the battle. The stones are said to mark the spots where individual U.S. soldiers were found after the battle; the locations were marked first with stakes as burial details hurriedly covered the bodies, then with more permanent wooden markers. Later, most of the remains were moved to a common grave marked by the monument beyond the fence in the left distance (the remains of most officers, including Custer, were transported back East for burial; Custer was interred at West Point). In 1890, 14 years after the battle, the temporary markers were replaced with the white marble stones seen here. The strongest impression I had of the site when I first visited in 1988 was the sparse scattering of white markers stretching across several miles of rolling terrain. You can easily imagine the story the stones tell: a rapidly moving, chaotic fight in which many soldiers fell alone, in pairs, in groups of three or four. This group, which included Custer and his brother, is by far the largest on the battlefield.

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Coast Solstice

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I spent the day out reporting in Sonoma County–salmon stuff, which I’ll write more about tomorrow. The drive back down the freeway, U.S. 101, was brutal, so I took a detour out to the coast and stopped at Goat Rock, just south of where the Russian River empties into the Pacific. The last time I stopped there was 1985, though I’ve passed it many times since. I parked, walked around the beach recording sound. Then on the drive back to Highway 1 pulled over and hiked up a trail to a summit overlooking the coast (the name, it turns out, is Peaked Hill; height given variously at 367 or 377 feet above sea level). Above (looking south, toward Bodega Bay) and below (looking northwest across Arched Rock, left, and Goat Rock) are the views from the top. It was very warm inland today and absolutely perfect on the coast. By the time I was back in the Berkeley, just before 9 o’clock, the sun had just set and a seabreeze was breaking our hot spell.

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Filed under Berkeley, Travel

Family History

I think it’s pretty common among families to think and talk about the unseen influences on our lives. I”m talking about the little shreds of detail, or sometimes rich, complex stories, about our parents and maybe their parents that we think might explain something about them and about us.

Concrete example: Growing up, I was very aware that both my parents lost their fathers at an early age. My dad’s father died when he was 10; my mom’s dad died when she was 11. I came to assume, through small details I picked up over the years, that these events were traumatic if not shattering events in their families’ lives and that in one way or other they shaped my life and the lives of my siblings and maybe even the lives of our kids.

I was thinking about the biggest incident we heard about growing up, one that I think I heard my mom refer to simply as “the dunes.”

In August 1939, my mom, at age 9, was the lone survivor of a five-member family group swept into Lake Michigan at Miller Beach, in the Indiana dunes. I wrote a little bit about that a few years ago. Her account of what happened was pretty graphic–especially regarding her memories of trying to save a brother who was within arm’s reach and what it was like to have almost drowned (she said that by the time she was rescued she had stopped struggling; she was revived on the beach).

Mom suffered from depression for most of her life. It’s reasonable to think that one of the triggers was this terrible incident in the dunes. But she suffered a couple other major tragedies, too. The early death of her father, as I’ve mentioned, and the loss of a child–a brother of mine, the youngest of the four of us who arrived roughly annually in the mid-1950s, who died just before his second birthday. I saw some of the effects of that last tragedy. I remember that eventually my mom started seeing a psychiatrist–a move that may have saved her life and in some measure changed my life, too.

Something that was tucked away in the back of my head about the psychiatrist: Some years after my mom began seeing him, he suffered his own tragedy in the lake. He was out on his boat with his wife one August evening when a storm came up. The boat capsized, and the doctor and his wife were thrown overboard and separated. He was rescued after seven or eight hours in the water. She drowned. I recall my mom talking about this and overheard her saying that he told her that he simply didn’t want to get out of the lake when he was found.

Thinking about all this just now, I went looking for signs of the doctor online. He’d be in his 80s now, or even older. I checked news archives, and the lake incident came up as the only hit for his name in the Chicago area. And here’s what prompted this post: The date of his accident? It was the anniversary of the 1939 dunes drowning. I wonder if my mom and the doctor ever talked about that coincidence.

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Restrooms & Cemeteries

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First morning of our recent road trip: We stopped in Roslyn, Washington, on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass and a few miles off Interstate 90. Reason: The town was re-created as “Cicely, Alaska” for the series “Northern Exposure” back in the early and mid-’90s. The main street in town, Pennsylvania Avenue, is much the same as it’s depicted on the show. Just in back of me when I shot this was The Brick, the tavern/restaurant featured on the show. The building across the way–the exposure here hides the details–was the location of the radio station on which the character Chris held forth. The sign pictured here? Never saw it in the show, and I can’t account for the pairing of restrooms and cemeteries.

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