Monthly Archives: May 2012

Posted in Berkeley: Lost Key

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I saw the posting at left about two weeks ago on Grant Street near Ohlone Park. As part of my ongoing interest in Berkeley flier culture, it piqued my interest. I especially like the handwriting and the attempt to attach the sign to a tree with packing tape. I also noted that somebody had come by and written “thanks” on the sign, which I thought might have been an acknowledgment from he or she who lost the key. I didn’t notice when I snapped the picture that I had not captured the whole phone number.

I saw the sign at right, one of several posted in the same neighborhood, maybe a week later. I thought, “Wow, I saw those signs they’re talking about.” I took a picture, but didn’t download it from my phone right away and forgot about it. Until yesterday, when I looked at the “Lost Toyota Key” picture and went back and located the “Found Toyota Key” picture. Too bad I captured only six of 10 phone digits. I decided to call the guy who was looking for the key anyway to see if he had found it.

He had not. In fact, he was waiting for the locksmith to come and make him a new key. I told him about the (not totally amazing) coincidence of having pictures of both signs. He was excited until I told him that all I had of the phone number was “510 277.” That meant he had 10,000 possible numbers to call to find his key. I went back out to the place where I took the “found key” picture. The tape is still on the tree, but there’s no sign of the sign.

Lesson: Get the whole phone number next time.

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War of 1812: A Quiet Bicentennial

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President James Madison’s proclamation of war against Great Britain. (Library of Congress. Click for larger image.)

I’m not hearing a lot about the 200th anniversary, on Friday, of President James Madison asking Congress to declare war on Great Britain, opening the way to the War of 1812. The president’s message outlined the provocations that led to war, and it reads like a musty reminder of junior high history class: impressment of American sailors into British service; British interference with American commerce and a naval blockade of U.S. ports; Britain’s insistence that the United States repudiate its diplomatic and commercial detente with France; and British support for Indian raids on the American frontier. The president concluded on what today is a foreign-sounding note:

“Whether the United States shall continue passive under these progressive usurpations and these accumulating wrongs, or, opposing force to force in defense of their national rights, shall commit a just cause into the hands of the Almighty Disposer of Events … is a solemn question which the Constitution wisely confides to the legislative department of the Government. In recommending it to their early deliberations I am happy in the assurance that the decision will be worthy the enlightened and patriotic councils of a virtuous, a free, and a powerful nation.”

“Foreign-sounding” because—well, when’s the last time a president treated the legislative branch as if it had a real role in deliberating whether the nation goes to war or not? That’s despite living in an era of one war (or conflict, or police action, or retaliation, or high-level drug bust) after another. Since the last time a president deigned to go before Congress, we’ve fought in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Libya (Reagan edition), Panama, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya (Obama edition). The only question is who’s next.

Oh, yes: Congress is still a convenient fig leaf for a determined chief executive. A recent president, addressing the nation on the need to go to war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in a foreign land ruled by a former ally, noted that “recognizing the threat to our country, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly … to support the use of force.” The president didn’t see fit to mention the campaign of lies and half-truths he and his underlings waged to persuade the legislators and the people that the danger was imminent. That wouldn’t become universally understood until later. But the president left no doubt about his view about where the sole responsibility for committing the nation’s blood and treasure lay:

“Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed. The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. That duty falls to me as commander in chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep.”

In Madison’s case, asking Congress for a declaration of war was more than a gesture undertaken by an executive who took it for granted he could do whatever he pleased. Congress had never considered such a request before. And it took nearly three weeks before they approved. When they did, it was with plenty of opposition: the House passed the resolution 79-49, the Senate went along, 19-13.

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Bridge Expedition

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Filbert Street steps, San Francisco.

Last night, we went on an expedition over to the city (or “The City” to conform to the old San Francisco Examiner stylebook) to watch the Golden Gate Bridge 75th birthday fireworks. It was Kate’s idea, and I was lukewarm to it at first mainly because I figured there’d be a huge crowd with attendant problems getting to and from the event. But we came up with a plan: to go to Coit Tower, on Telegraph Hill, which would probably have a decent view of the fireworks and not be in the thick of the mob. We’d be able to take BART over, walk up to the tower (about a mile) using the stairways on the eastern side of the hill. To make the evening complete, we discovered that our boat, the Oakland-Alameda ferry, is running on a summer schedule and that the last trip back to the East Bay would leave the Ferry Building at 10:45.

So: We drove to Oakland, left our car near the ferry, walked to Oakland West BART (getting stopped for a few minutes on the way by an Amtrak train that pulled across the street in front of us and stopped), raced through the tube under the Bay to Embarcadero Station, then hiked north to the Filbert Street steps, just west of Levi’s Plaza. The beacon drawing us on: Coit Tower, bathed in “international orange” light (in honor of the GG Bridge’s paint job).

I have worn out the sidewalks and shortcuts across other parts of the city, but this is a piece of the urban landscape I rarely visit. It’s one of the older settled places in San Francisco, and it feels that way, maybe because of the many fragile-seeming older masonry structures along Front and Battery streets. And when you head up the steps, you enter a different world altogether: a warren of narrow paths and alleyways crowded by garden yards and lined by a jumble of cottages, apartment buildings old and new, humble and spectacular. Every little bit, the tower would reappear, closer and redder, above us.

When we got to the drive winding up to the Coit Tower parking lot, the sparse procession of people we’d been among heading up the steps joined a crowd converging on the hill’s summit. Traffic was stopped. Around the base of the tower, people were staking out positions to watch the show. We found a space looking west toward the bridge through an opening among the branches of a eucalyptus tree. Maybe 40 or 50 people, a mix of people, were perched at the same spot: some families with kids, some younger folks, some older folks. The mood was restrained until the fireworks started with a cascade of white fire along the entire length of the bridge. “I love this city!” a woman next to me said. (Later, she said, “What a great show! She deserves it.” “Yeah,” a friend of hers said, “she didn’t go down 20 years ago (during the Loma Prieta earthquake).”

And then it was over. On the way back down the steps, I was impressed by how steep and long they are–especially the last pitch (pictured at top), which is flung down a sheer drop at the base of Telegraph Hill above Battery Street. Kate said that section made her a little nervous, and steep as it was I could see her point, especially with blackberry shoots making a bid to reach across the handrail and snag you.

We walked down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building and waited for the boat to Oakland. It was a little late because it had to negotiate some heavy traffic with hundreds of small boats heading back to marinas along the bayfront and across the bay. The boat wasn’t jam-packed, but it did have an unusually large Sunday night crowd. We got off at Jack London Square, picked up our car, and came home.

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Eclipse, Grass, Water, Rancher, Mormons

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As anyone who cares knows, we in Northern California had an annular eclipse on Sunday. “Annular” means ring-shaped, and this term for an eclipse denotes one in which the moon at apogee, the highest point in its orbit relative to the Earth, crosses the sun’s disk but does not entirely block it (as it does in a true total eclipse). The result is a “ring of fire.” The sun is dimmed but still quite bright.

This is as close as I’ve ever lived to a real live total eclipse, so I took it upon myself to drive about 170 miles north into the area where the maximum annular eclipse could be observed. Those possibly wiser and possessed of less nervous energy than myself decided to stay here in Berkeley, where the eclipse was going to be about 90 percent of maximum.

Headed north on Interstate 5, I found myself imagining the gears of the solar system turning, the moon sliding invisible in the clear sky toward the brilliant sun. My idea was to get off the interstate somewhere north of the town of Willows, which was near the southern limit of the annular zone, and head east toward the foothills that rise east of the Sacramento River. I exited at County Road 7 at the northern end of Glenn County, heading over to old Highway 99, the former main route up the valley, and then noodled around on smaller roads in southern Tehama County headed toward the river. I stopped a couple of times to scope out the sun action (I was unprepared to photograph the eclipse so was depending on projecting the image onto an index card with a pair of binoculars) and take some pictures (landscape highlight: Mount Lassen in the distance). I hit one dead end, reversed field, and in due course wound up in the town of Los Molinos (“The Mills”), about 15 miles southeast of Red Bluff, as the hour of maximum eclipse neared. I found a promising-looking eastbound route called Wilson Road. A mile or two outside town, I passed an intersection marked with a “no outlet” sign, and figured I ought to park and get ready for the big moment.

The eclipse experience: The sky was noticeably darker the closer it got to the eclipse maximum. The temperature, which started out in the low 90s, seemed to fall about 10 degrees or so. Once stopped, I called home and got the Berkeley sky report as I projected the eclipse image on my little white card. Somewhere a magnificent cosmic event was taking place, but I was standing amid pastures fumbling with office supplies.

But the scene was beautiful. I heard moving water and realized a small irrigation ditch was running down one side of the road. After the eclipse maxed out and the sun started to re-emerge and the heat came back on, I snapped a few pictures. I was curious about the irrigation works, which included a few hand-operated gates. I took a few pictures of the main ditch, then walked down the road a hundred yards to where it crossed under the road and took more pictures there. After a few minutes, I heard the sound of a bike tires on gravel, and a youngish guy, say mid-30s, showed up with a little cattle dog. “Can I help you?” he asked. I was trespassing by stepping off the public road, he said. I told him I just happened to be up there looking at the eclipse and was interested in the irrigation. He looked and sounded very skeptical and almost dumbfounded when I told him I’d driven up from Berkeley. I gave him my card, which includes the name of my public-radio employer. “And what do you … do … at Northern California Public Broadcasting?” he wanted to know. His tone was what I’d imagine a government agent might hear after happening upon a still in yonder hollow. “I’m a news editor,” I said. I explained more: that I took an interest in how water works here in California, that it’s not well-enough understood, that I was familiar with some of the creeks in the area and their spring-run chinook salmon. He took all this in with an expression that said, “Uh huh.” In fact, I think he actually said, “Uh huh.” We probably talked for 15 minutes, during which time he allowed that folks in the Los Molinos area are defensive about water because people (environmentalists) are trying to take it away (to restore flows for fish and wildlife). He got a call from his wife on his cellphone and headed back up to his house. I headed back onto the road.

A car drove up. Two young guys were sitting in the front seat, wearing short-sleeve white shirts with black ties. Mormons on mission, for sure, which they confirmed when I asked them. They were curious what I was doing out there, so we talked about the eclipse. Elder Miller, who was driving, said he’d gotten a nice photo shooting through a piece of welding glass (I should have gotten a piece of welding glass). We talked a little Latter-Day Saints talk, and I tried to avoid anything that might make me look open-minded enough to consider a religious pitch. I did give them my email address, though, so Elder Miller could send me a copy of his eclipse picture. He did. (That’s it below).

I went back to my car. The sun was low enough that it was shining through the grasses along the roadside. I took a few frames (a couple examples at the top of the post). Then I was ready for the drive home.

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Friday Lawn Report

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It seems like just a couple weeks ago things were still a little damp from the last of our spring rains. I mowed the lawn one Sunday, then went away on a short trip. I came back to find the dry season had taken over. Our little patch of lawn in the backyard, so recently lush, was already starting to go brown. So after mowing last weekend, I broke out a sprinkler (for the back only; our scruffy front lawn is pretty much a weed patch fringed with some plantings; so much for curb appeal, but then that’s the price for my guilty relationship with outdoor water use).

After I turned the sprinkler on, I went back in the house to start coffee preparations. Looking out the kitchen window, I saw a hummingbird hovering just above the spray over the lawn. Getting a sip of water, I guess.

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Procrastination Friday

Marina City

I’m writing an assigned work-related blog post, which means that I’m procrastinating. Which means that I found it necessary to vacuum my office and back hallway. Which means that I’m posting another shot from my recently completed trip to Chicago. Last Friday, Ann (my sister), Ingrid (my niece), and I went on a Chicago River boat ride. Westbound, I happened to look up through a bridge grating to see the Marina City towers looming overhead. When we came back east, I tried to get situated to take a picture of what I saw. I was a little slow, so I didn’t get both towers in the frame. I still like the result, though.

Now back to work.

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Talkin’ Baseball

Me: [Erstwhile Cubs closer Carlos] Marmol. He’s bad. He’s explosively bad, like a bad case of diarrhea.

Thom: Yeah?

Me: Yeah. He’s the only pitcher who has recently been likened to diarrhea. ‘Cause when he’s on the mound, the other team gets the runs.

Thom: Aw, shit.

Me: Exactly.

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Air Blog: O’Hare

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Back west tonight after a week in Chicago. Hard to leave there, but always good to be home. Here’s my ride back, a Boeing 737, snapped as I was about to step from the jetway onto the plane.

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Road Blog: The Fog

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URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CHICAGO IL
1216 AM CDT TUE MAY 8 2012
...DENSE FOG ESPECIALLY NEAR LAKE MICHIGAN TONIGHT...
.LIGHT WINDS AND CLEARING SKIES HAVE ALLOWED DENSE FOG TO DEVELOP
ACROSS MUCH OF NORTHEAST ILLINOIS AND NORTHWEST INDIANA...WITH
DENSE FOG ALSO PUSHING INLAND FROM LAKE MICHIGAN. DENSE FOG WILL
CONTINUE THROUGH MUCH OF THE OVERNIGHT BUT VISIBILITY MAY START TO
IMPROVE FROM WEST TO EAST BY AROUND DAYBREAK AS WESTERLY WINDS
INCREASE SLIGHTLY.
ILZ006-014-INZ001-002-081300-
/O.CON.KLOT.FG.Y.0013.000000T0000Z-120508T1300Z/
LAKE IL-COOK-LAKE IN-PORTER-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...WAUKEGAN...CHICAGO...GARY...VALPARAISO
1216 AM CDT TUE MAY 8 2012
...DENSE FOG ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 AM CDT THIS
MORNING...
* VISIBILITY...LESS THAN A QUARTER MILE IN SOME LOCATIONS
ESPECIALLY NEAR LAKE MICHIGAN.
* IMPACTS...VISIBILITY MAY CHANGE RAPIDLY OVER SHORT DISTANCES
MAKING TRAVEL HAZARDOUS. VISIBILITY MAY BE NEAR ZERO AT TIMES
ALONG THE LAKE MICHIGAN SHORE.
PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...
A DENSE FOG ADVISORY MEANS VISIBILITIES WILL FREQUENTLY BE
REDUCED TO LESS THAN ONE QUARTER MILE. IF DRIVING...SLOW DOWN...
USE YOUR HEADLIGHTS...AND LEAVE PLENTY OF DISTANCE AHEAD OF YOU.

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Road Blog: Sidewalk Sharpener

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Late last Thursday morning, I went walking up Western Avenue from my sister’s place. Ultimate destination: the long-term-care/assisted-living facility (a.k.a. “nursing home”) where our dad landed after his most recent hospitalization for pneumonia. Secondary destination: Starbucks, for the coffee I hadn’t yet had.

On the way north, just across Touhy Avenue, I encountered the gentleman pictured above, sharpening scissors outside a beauty salon. I passed, went about 10 paces, thought “I don’t see that every day,” then doubled back.

His name is Richard Johnson. He was sharpening scissors for the salon workers engaged in the beauty trade. The open-air contraption he was using, he said, “was designed by a genius”–meaning himself. He’s an engineer by training and said that back in the ’60s he worked on ballistic missiles stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. His sharpening contraption consists of what looks like an emery belt and a polisher that he runs off an electrical outlet. The cord snaked across the sidewalk into the salon. It was his first time at this particular establishment. “Mostly I work at pet groomers. They’re always dropping their scissors and clippers.” “The clients aren’t as cooperative as here,” I said. “Yes–they always blame the dogs.”

The most urgent task he was facing the morning I met him was reconditioning some “texturizing” scissors for a woman who already had a client in the chair. He worked on them, tested the sharpness on his arm hairs, then worked on them a little more. Then he brought them in to the shop. Looking inside, I could see the beautician making a few preliminary snips. Then Richard came back out with the scissors. “They let them get rusty and dull, and then they expect miracles,” he said.

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