Portrait: Mom, 1964

Dad 1964, and others of Family 002 (1).jpg

My sister Ann reminded me, by way of a Facebook post, that yesterday, the 26th, was Mom’s birthday. She would have been 83. That’s her in a shot my dad took in May 1964, when she was 34. She’s posing in our Park Forest living room, and I think the occasion was that Dad was trying out a camera he had bought recently, a Minolta twin-lens reflex model. There’s a series of other shots taken the same time; my brother Chris scanned them after Dad died earlier this years.

So much of this scene is evocative and immediate: The painting, by a family friend, was a fixture in every place we lived (and now hangs in Ann’s house). I know Mom was sitting on a slat bench that also made it from house to house through our infrequent relocations (it’s at Ann’s or Chris’s now). The vase of pussy willows over Mom’s right shoulder–I don’t know where that came from. But I can see the living room, with a black linoleum floor, half-paneled in redwood, a set of bookshelves Dad had installed, the closet where his stereo system resided, the Danish modern chairs and love seat and round coffee table, the doorway into the kitchen, the hallway back to our bedrooms, the picture window looking out onto the lawn, which sloped down to the street, bordered on the far side by a field and woods.

And part of this scene feels odd and distant, almost false: There’s a tension in Mom’s pose, for one thing. She had a way of putting on a face sometimes in a way that I don’t see in photos taken much earlier or much later in her life. I might be seeing something that’s not really there, but I know what she and my dad had been through at this point: raising five kids, for one thing, and the death of one of them, and other troubles that I feel are barely contained beneath this serene-looking scene.

And also I know what’s to come for her. She’s about to go into psychoanalysis, get a driver’s license, join Operation Head Start, move out to the woods into a new home, become a foster parent to untold numbers of stray dogs and cats, and help organize a campaign to save the forest from an ambitious local developer. She’s going to use her considerable intellect and talents as a newspaper reporter, go back to school, and work in several other challenging jobs. She’s also about to confront deep and lingering depression, the reality of a husband and brother sinking deep into alcoholism, several angry adolescent boys and a daughter who was pushed into the background by all of the above.

It feels like all that is hiding inside the frame here, somewhere behind that composed smile.

Autumn, Rampant and Verdant


Back in the Pacific time zone after a week in the Eastern. The Dog got us up early (OK–sort of early) to get out on the street. It rained while we were away, and it was surprising as always to encounter our verdant November autumn, fall colors overlaying the greening streets and hills.

Autumn, Rampant and Verdant


Back in the Pacific time zone after a week in the Eastern. The Dog got us up early (OK–sort of early) to get out on the street. It rained while we were away, and it was surprising as always to encounter our verdant November autumn, fall colors overlaying the greening streets and hills.

After the Storm


The view looking north from the Highway 36 bridge between Highland and Sea Bright, New Jersey. That’s the Shrewsbury River in the foreground, which opens into Raritan Bay and then New York Harbor. That’s Sandy Hook National Seashore in the middle distance, which is still closed because of damage from Hurricane Sandy. The Atlantic is rolling in from the right. Beyond that is a Hapag-Lloyd container ship, then the south shore of Brooklyn and the skyline of Manhattan in the distance. All quiet and benign.

I got the barest idea of how much the storm has affected life in this part of the world. Looking south from the bridge, I could see groups of big houses in Sea Bright that were almost all dark as dusk descended. There was a highway sign advising of a 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew in the town, much of which was washed off the map. Utility crews rolled past, still working on getting lights on three weeks after the storm. I met a couple on the bridge and asked if they’d been around when the storm arrived. Yes, but they lived high enough up that it hadn’t affected them. It was a different story for the other town nearby, Highland. Most of the business district was wrecked. I didn’t go take a look.

Morning Rituals


We got up early this morning in Brooklyn Heights to play a pursue a favorite neighborhood pastime: moving the car from one temporarily illegal parking spot (it’s a street-sweeping day) to a spot that will be temporarily illegal tomorrow (or maybe not, since it’s a holiday). We found a gorgeous new parking space on the north/east end of the Brooklyn Heights promenade. The view across the East River where it opens out into New York Harbor was dazzling. As I started to climb out of the car, I saw a procession of people walking up the promenade. Scores of them, all in business attire. My surmise: They were all headed to the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters, just down the street. The church is a major landowner in the neighborhood where the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges touch down on the east side of the river, with several large buildings bearing the legend “Watchtower”–the name of the church’s publication.

We stayed and took in the view, watched the parade to The Watchtower, then walked through the stream of parents and kids and commuters to get our first coffee of the morning.


Bridge Walk


I’ve been in New York for the past couple of days on a work assignment–attending a conference on transportation reporting sponsored by WNYC. One of the best parts of being in the city is walking; in particular, walking from my brother John’s place at the Brooklyn landing of the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. I went over and back yesterday. And today, I walked over to WNYC, in what I think is West Greenwich Village, and then back to John’s by way of the Manhattan Bridge.

The Manhattan Bridge crosses the East River just to the north of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s striking in its own way, but rougher, less venerable feeling, more industrial, without the cathedral air of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s also far less frequented by pedestrians. After dark this evening, it was almost lonely up there after the crowds I’ve seen on the other span. A good place from which to watch the crescent moon set.

The Long, Long Vote Count


“No on T”: Lincoln Street, North Berkeley.

Once upon a time, almost all of us went to the polls on the same day and cast our ballots. And most of the time, you’d find out the outcome of an election the same night or the next day. But all that’s changed. California had a record high number of registered voters this year, more than 18 million (that’s close to the total population of Florida). And more than half of them–a little more than the entire population of New Jersey–asked for mail-in ballots. One of the results of the accelerating vote-by-mail trend is a very long, slow vote count here. News item from the Sacramento Bee: More than 3 million ballots left to count in California:

“California’s elections officials had tallied more than 9.6 million votes from Tuesday’s elections by late Thursday afternoon, but they still have their work cut out for them.

“How many ballots are left to count? More than 3 million, according to information that county officials had given the Secretary of State’s Office by late Thursday. Los Angeles County alone had about 796,000 to go. …”

The vote in at least three congressional races here is still up in the air. Three Republican incumbents who are trailing by narrow margins, Mary Bono Mack, Brian Bilbray, and Dan Lungren, could still come out ahead.

In Alameda County, where I live, the registrar of voters reports 142,000 ballots left to count. So that raises the question of how close races might change once election workers make their way through that mountain of mail-in and provisional ballots. For instance, a county transportation sales tax that needs a two-thirds “yes” vote to pass is short of that threshold now, with 65.4 percent. But those outstanding ballots represent about one-quarter of all the votes cast in the election, so it’s conceivable that the measure could still edge ahead in the end.

Even closer to home, in Berkeley, we have a measure on the ballot, Measure T, that would change zoning rules on the west side of town to allow some big new developments. The vote in that race, updated once Wednesday, once Thursday by the county, is 16,640 “yes” and 16,639 “no.” Yep–one vote.

So: how many votes might there be left to count in that race?

So far, a total of about 33,300 votes have been reported in the Measure T race. In the November 2008 general election, about 66,000 people voted in Berkeley, with most ballot measures showing a total participation of 55,000 votes or so. In November 2004, the total vote was about 60,000, with about 49,000 ballots cast on most ballot measures (I would go further back, but that’s all I can find for historical vote totals on the county site). My guess is that turnout would be closer this year to 2004 than 2008. If you split the difference in ballot measure participation for those two years, you’d be at about 52-53,000 for this year. If that guess is right, there are still about 20,000 votes to count citywide; even if you’re at the lower end, the 2004 participation level, there are still 16,000 votes to count. The Measure T drama has a long way to go, and might not even be so dramatic at the end.

If there really are that many votes outstanding, I’d think there’s at least a small chance that Measure S, an ordinance that aims to crack down on transients by banning sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., could still pass. About 36,000 votes have been reported so far in the Measure S race, and “yes” has trailed “no” by about 1,000 votes since the final election night count (it got a tiny bit tighter yesterday). Let’s say there are at least 15,000 Measure S votes still to count (probably more). It wouldn’t take much of a shift in the remaining group of mail-in ballots to close that gap. It’s really hard to say, though, since there’s no way of telling (from outside the registrar’s office, at least) where the remaining ballots come from.

Last: The arithmetic on the S and T suggests a sizable percentage of voters in the group of ballots counted so far–about 6 percent–voted on Measure S and skipped Measure T.

I look forward to seeing whether my vote-total numbers are way the hell off or not.


Sacramento and Francisco streets: Election Day, November 6, 2012.

An Election Day Tale: Dewey Defeats Truman


Election Day, 1948, Chicago.

This was a few years before my dad met my mom–by his account, she asked him out to dinner at Schrafft’s when they were both working at a Chicago urban renewal agency. He was at home on Nashville Avenue, a business student at Northwestern, a year and a half or so after his short hitch with the Army was over. By his account, he was lying on the living-room couch in the dark, listening to election returns on the radio. It seemed the vote might be going for Truman over his Republican challenger, Thomas Dewey of New York. But an announcer mentioned the Chicago Tribune was already calling the race and that an early edition declaring Dewey the winner was on the street. Dad said he went out to a newsstand and bought a copy just as as a Tribune delivery driver was trying to retrieve the early edition. (That’s the copy pictured above.)

One of the things I noticed when I was a kid looking at that front page was how little evidence the Tribune had to declare a winner. Much of the South looked like a lock for States’ Rights candidate Strom Thurmond. The Trib’s front-page copy mentioned polls were still open in most of the country, and where voting was over, the count was so preliminary–well, you just have to admire the power of wishful thinking. Of course the Tribune had to be first with the news: its owner, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, was an arch-anti-Democrat and sworn foe of FDR and everything he stood for. A 1936 story on the Democratic National Convention was headlined, “The Soviets Gather at Philadelphia.” A subhead in this 1948 edition’s lead election story reads, “New Deal Repudiated.”


What also got my attention, and still does, are signs the front page had been prepared in great haste. Several lines of type in the lead story’s second paragraph were inserted upside down. Also, the first three pages seem to be cast in a “typewriter” Courier typeface that appears slapdash and irregular, with some lines askew and poorly spaced; the type is different from the interior pages, which are set in what I assume was the paper’s regular type. (After some accidental research, the explanation for the appearance of those pages appears to be that the paper’s typesetters were on strike and that the copy in question was indeed typed, then cut and pasted somehow, then photographed for reproduction on the press. (See “Dewey Defeats Truman: The Rarely Told Story of Chicago Tribune’s Most Famous Issue” and “The Eleven Editions of the November 3, 1948, Chicago Tribune” — the latter a fascinating breakdown of what the paper published and when that day.)

Perhaps what I admire most about this journalistic exercise is the reporting on display in the lead story. In perhaps the only story he’s remembered for, the Trib’s Washington bureau chief, Arthur Sears Henning, declared the outcome of the vote:

“Dewey and Warren won a sweeping victory in the Presidential election yesterday.

“The early returns showed the Republican ticket leading Truman and Barkley pretty consistently in northern and western states. The indications were that the complete returns would disclose that Dewey won the Presidency by an overwhelming majority of electoral votes.”

Since the numbers didn’t bear out the tale, what was the source of that intelligence? Herbert Brownell, Dewey’s campaign manager.

Brownell, wrote Henning, “claimed that on the basis of the complete returns ‘we will wind up sweeping two-thirds of the states for the Republican ticket.’ ”

“As states definitely in the Republican column in the light of the fragmentary returns Brownell named Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, and South Dakota. Four years ago the Republicans carried only five of these states.

” ‘At this moment,’ said Brownell, ‘the polls have closed in 12 of the 48 states outside the solid south. These states have a total of 120 votes in the electoral college.

” ‘On the basis of reports which I have been receiving from organization leaders thruout the country, I am confident that the Dewey-Warren ticket has already carried 10 of these 12 states with a total of 101 of the 120 electoral votes.

” ‘In the other two states–Kentucky and West Virginia–returns are not yet conclusive but the trend to the Dewey-Warren ticket is heartening.’ “

Brownell wasn’t completely off-base, though Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky all went for Truman. Still, the paper went out on that limb on the basis of 12 states and hearsay about “reports from organizers.”

Henning’s eventual successor as head of the Tribune Washington bureau, Walter Trohan, was in Chicago that night covering congressional elections for the paper. He recorded an account of parts of his bureau tenure for the Harry S Truman Library in 1970. He said an election evening phone call with Ohio Senator Robert Taft, who had lost the Republican nomination to Dewey, led him to believe the Trib’s story and banner headline were wrong. About the 72-year-old Henning’s insistence that Dewey was winning, Trohan said, “Why he became so stubborn I don’t know; I guess age.” Trohan was eventually called on to write a new version of the story for later editions, with Truman the victor. But before that happened, he was asked to appear on a local TV show to discuss the returns:

“… And that night it was terrible, about 10 o’clock, before — we were still carrying the headline, I was called to go on TV to discuss the congressional election. And I went up and there was Henning, and there was the wife of the publisher, and some very important people, a dozen people or so. The announcer was a fellow with a charming voice, but no sense, in a very nice pearl-shaped tone, said, ‘Well, Walter,’ and I had never met him before in my life, ‘how is Mr. Dewey going to get along with majority Congress?’

“I said, ‘He isn’t going to have a majority Congress, the Democrats have won the Congress.’

“He said, ‘You mean that Dewey will have to work with a hostile Congress?’

“And I said, ‘No, I don’t mean anything of the kind. Mr. Dewey ain’t going to be there either.’ “

But Henning and the Trib were already committed to a different version not only of the story, but of history. Henning’s rather brief piece ended with this bit of context under the previously mentioned subhead, “New Deal Repudiated”:

“The Republican victory brought to a close the 16 year reign of the New Deal which began in the country’s most devastating depression, introduced a collectivist economy, produced a four-term President, embraced a disastrous war and left the nation a 250 billion dollar debt and heritage of foreign policy containing the seeds of another war.”

‘Seek Help If Having Trouble Coping’

Looking for news about power restoration in New Jersey, I’m drawn to these tweets from a customer of Jersey Central Power and Light:

@brianaericson 1h Brian Anders Ericson @jcp_l 30 degrees in house. Can’t stay warm. Still no power. Town comfort center closed. No one to stay with. I’m disappointed in jcp&l

@jcp_l also my fish are dead and there is a thin layer of ice at the top of their tank. I am officially angry.

Elsewhere, I note a picture of a cabin cruiser rather oddly (or humorously) named the Graf Spee–anyone recall how that ended up?–being hauled off a commuter rail line north of New York City, near our friends Jan and Christian’s place in Hastings on Hudson.

And then there’s the nor’easter that’s on the way.

I’m an inveterate reader of National Weather Service arcana: forecast discussions, quantitative precipitation forecasts, river stage summaries, and special weather statements. I went looking for news of the approaching storm and found the following instead. It was issued earlier today (Monday, November 5, 2012) by the NWS office in New York City. It says so much without a single specific mention of meteorological phenomena.



1101 AM EST MON NOV 5 2012












800-232-4636…TTY 888-232-6348. HTTP://EMERGENCY.CDC.GOV/DISASTERS/