Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Arnold - his popularity is on the skids

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The new Field Poll says that if the election for governor were held right now, well, the cigar-smoking dude with this blog would not win re-election.

The guvenator would be terminated.

What happened? Not much.

And that's exactly what the problem is. Even in trying to win the recall election, Arnold made promises he couldn't keep, made others he had no intention of keeping and basically had no real plan to govern California, other than to take a few swats at unions, teachers, and nurses.

He's one tough guy, all right.

Somewhere between winning the election and today, he managed to piss off just about every constituency except the ultra-wealthy. And the ultra-wealthy don't poll well - they just spend all their dough to make sure the election turns out right.

But what has also hurt Arnold is when people really listen to him. And I don't mean the Austrian accent (which is largely fake), I mean his ideas. He doesn't seem to really have any. And apparently his staff doesn't have any either because when he speaks without a script, he sounds like, well, an actor speaking without a script.

So, Mr. Guvenator, maybe it's time to start renegotiating that movie career. The studios just remade Bewitched. Maybe they can find a suitable remake for you, too. The Terminator schtick is getting a little old anyway.

But I sure can't think of any movies I would pay to go see you in, except maybe The Long Goodbye.

For a story about the poll and results see:
  • Arnold terminated?
  • Tuesday, June 28, 2005

    Hot time and summer in the country

    VALOIS, N.Y. - When I got off the plane in Elmira five hours ago, it was like walking into a sauna - a very steamy one.

    It reminded me of Mexico, except the ocean here is Seneca Lake and unless my thermometer is off, the lake water is about 66 degrees. Quite a contrast!

    The weather I'm told has been like this for several weeks, a real upstate New York summer, not at all like last year when it was cold and raining all but five days of the eight weeks we were here.

    I use a weather service called Wunderground to keep track of what's happening and hoped a minute ago that there might be a big freakin' thunderstorm bearing down on us that would blow out the heat and give us some relief. That's the radar function with today's blog and around here it's hard to live without it.

    But is there a thunderstorm? Not a chance, amigos.

    I can't complain too much. It will warm up the lake and by the weekend we hope to have borrrowed Cousin Roger's Hobie cat to keep tethered at our dock to escape out on the water and get away from the chores.

    Still, the sweat, the sweat...

    Check out Wunderground here:
  • Valois weather from Wunderground
  • Monday, June 27, 2005

    Could this parade happen in say, Buffalo?

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The annual Gay Pride Parade was Sunday and by all news account a wild, but unifying time, for the city.

    Mayor Gavin Newsom, no stranger to where the votes are in San Francisco, was part of the parade, the centerpiece of the tourist industry for the day in a city that loves its tourists.

    This particular item caught my eye because the San Francisco Chronicle added video to their website to tell the story - a neat addition to the photos. The Chron has done this before, but this time the video works easily and the videographer did a nice job of editing to tell the story.

    You can see the video here, if your software will cooperate:
  • Parade video

  • San Francisco is a great city, because it does allow just about anything, provided that anything doesn't hurt someone else.

    Can we say the same thing about Buffalo or Cleveland or ?


    The full San Francisco Chronicle story is available here:
  • The story
  • Saturday, June 25, 2005

    Lady Justice back at the Justice Department

    WASHINGTON, D.C. - Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was always worried that a photo - just like this one - would show up.

    So he ordered the statues of Lady Justice draped with cloth while he was in office. One boob in front of the cameras was quite enough.

    But the new AG, hardly a civil libertarian, has taken off the drapes and seems a little more comfortable in general than Ashcroft, who required his staff to pray with him daily.

    When Ashcroft was AG, I confess I prayed quite a bit myself.

    The best anecdote about those statues though comes from the 1980s when Ed Meese unveiled a report on pornography and press photographers dropped to the floor to make sure that Ed was in the foreground and the exposed breasts of the statutes were in the background.

    Who says we journalists don't get to have fun?

    The new AG is a not completely fun guy however. He wouldn't allow any photographs of the statues being uncovered.

    Here's a link to the AP story:
  • Ashcroft and hooters
  • Passing laws that you don't mean to enforce

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - In my early reporting days, I lived on a busy street in Petaluma, Calif. on which people drove by about 45 miles per hour on their way to work.

    Granted, it was a pretty straight country road without too many houses. But there were houses and there were kids and there were dogs and there were even the occasional cow and chicken who would fall prey to a motorcar going way too fast.

    So I complained to my friend the chief of police that the 30 mph speed limit needed to be enforced and he responded that the department was considering raising the speed limit to be in line with speeders.

    Raising the speed limit?

    I was shocked, but after many conversations with him, learned that passing laws that you can't - or won't - enforce only weakens respect for law and drives everyone nuts.

    San Francisco is doing it right now.

    Starting in about a week, smoking outdoors is going to be restricted. Yup, outdoors. And the department that is supposed to put up the signs around the city, about 1,000 of them, hasn't even ordered a crayon to draw with.

    It seems that department doesn't even respect the rule of law of its own governing body!

    When the law goes into effect, Cate Blanchett could be cited for puffing on the cigarette that she shown stylishly holding on top of her head. (Must be a movie star thing.)

    But what about when the Guvenator goes to San Francisco? Will they ticket him for one of his famous cigars if he lights up?

    We can hope so.

    Here's the story about the smoking ban in San Francisco:
  • Who let the smoke out?
  • Thursday, June 23, 2005

    Karl Rove, the GOP's very own trashmeister

    NEW YORK, N.Y. - So Karl Rove opened his mouth and used 9-11 as a way to take a cheap shot at Democrats.

    Hello! The entire presidential election in 2004 was a cheap shot at Democrats and 9-11 was used shamelessly by GOP hopefuls from Dubya down to county commissioners in the boondocks of Maine. It worked then, so Karl, the trashmeister himself, decided why not keep at it?

    Still, it would be nice for this guy to be forced from office, not because he would lose a nickel, of course. The GOP backers have made such incredible money off the rape and pillage of the environment, the ongoing war in Iraq, and fluctuating oil prices that Karl will be rewarded handsomely financially whenever he leaves office.

    But what would be nice is for him to lose what he wants the most - power.

    In this photo, he bears a striking resemblance to Rush Limbaugh, another wingnut. But Karl seems to have lost his chin almost entirely, a symptom of too many cholestorol laden-steaks and icy martinis at fund raisers where the bellies of the men protrude and the hair of most of the women is that silver color that costs a fortune at the day-spa.

    Or maybe those jowls-in-development is where he stores up all the venom he spews when he speaks.

    For the story about his latest rabid attack, see:
  • Talkin' trash with Karl
  • Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    A long way from Annette Funicello, I'd say

    HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - The young lady pictured with today's blog, Lindsay Lohan, is starring in Disney's latest Love Bug franchise movie and was royally pissed at the premiere and stormed out because a song of hers was cut from the beginning.

    So sad.

    But it just goes to show that even Disney has to put up with tempermental artistes. In this case, they might have also considered a singer/star who wasn't such a blasted stereotype.

    I mean look at the photo. Kee-rist, it's a Herbie the Love Bug film, a G-rated movie. Come on.

    Not that it was going to be a flic I was hanging on for, or worried about what Roger Ebert might think of it. Thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs in your ear, doesn't matter on this one for me.

    Lindsay, I know you are reading this, so just make sure your missing song is on the CD of the movie soundtrack that a million little kids will pester their parents to download from ITunes. Then, eventually, you can buy your own record label, then studio, the make your own movies and not have to play second banana to an automobile, an automobile that isn't even sold in the U.S. anymore.

    Honk, honk!

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    Jodi Picoult's books are deep, deep, deep...

    SALEM FALLS - I just finished reading Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult whose books are nothing short of wonderful. The Salem Falls story is a neat web of intrigue with characters soooo interesting that you want to know them, even though some of them are not always Mayberry nice.

    I've read most of her work, but this one really struck home about a situation a teacher got into quite unintentionally. It's an old story, and anyone who teaches could see some parts of it as it unfolded. But not for long. And the twists just keep on coming page after page.

    The careful research she puts into her books shows in this one, not in a Perfect Storm sort-of showoff way, but more subtle. You'll learn enough about Wicca to either buy some candles and a pentagram necklace - or hang a cross above your head when you sleep.

    By comparison, a few hours after I finished reading Salem Falls, I was standing in the grocery store line and picked up a New York Times bestseller. I though, well, why not, I need another book and it is, after all a NYT bestseller.

    This bestseller was probably half the length of Salem Falls in pages, had type big enough that I could almost read it without my reading glasses and the first few paragraphs were so poorly composed, I think a German Sheperd could write as well with one bandaged paw.

    Ok, that last one wasn't fair. I love German Sheperds and don't mean to malign them.

    Check out Salem Falls and also the Picoult website. Both are worth the look.
  • Jodi Picoult is right here
  • Time to commit some educational heresy

    PITTSBURG, Calif. - The people in charge of high school education in California are clear on one thing - everybody, and I mean everybody must take college prep classes in high school.

    If they don't they are headed into some kind of educational abyss, from which they will never be able to pass the state's tests to certify that they are, well, certified.

    There's a little problem with the idea. No, make that a problem as big at Kate Smith's (fill in the body part of your choice here). Who is Kate Smith? Whoa, you need to study your American History. Look under American singers, circa WWII.

    The test these state education bright lights are talking about tests, not surprisingly, what you need to know to go to college. And what you need to know to go to college is good stuff. (I teach college, I'm not going to impeach all of higher education.) But somewhere in the last few decades the nation has forgotten that while knowing how to write a sonnet (14 lines of rhyming iambic pentameter) is great, so is knowing how to weld, connect an electrical box and use paint and chemicals without poisoning yourself.

    Today's San Francisco Chronicle has a compelling story that's worth looking at:
  • A Blue Collar

  • In the Dark Ages when I went to junior high school, all boys were required to take what were called 'shop classes' - mechanical drawing, wood shop and metal shop. Mechanical drawing taught you the precision side of drafting. The two shop classes taught you some basic tool safety and God-knows how many ashtrays, cutting boards and barbecue forks were manufactured. A fair percentage of my high school class opted out of college and went to work in the factories and in professions that required a knowledge of metals, wood or electricity, not iambic pentameter. Provided they didn't get caught up in the corporate job slashing and move to the South of the U.S. (this was before U.S. manufacturers discovered India), they did quite well financially, and the nation was well served.

    Right now the nation is not as well served, as is obvious if you read the Chronicle story.

    Sometime later today I have to take my car into the shop to get it steamcleaned and have a mechanic check for an oil leak. If it's what I think it is, it will cost me $70 per hour to get it fixed, with the mechanic getting maybe half of that (maybe more), the business the balance.

    I'm glad that they will be able to fix it, because I certainly can't. I didn' t take auto shop, nor am I inclined to wrench on a car.

    But while they're doing it, I'll see if I can get another column/blog/web-entry from the experience.

    We all have our talents, things we like to do and things that training and education can prepare us for. California's education gurus need to recognize it and stop making everyone write sonnets.

    Saturday, June 18, 2005

    Amigo - Sprechen Sie Englisch? Mais oui!

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Some people have nightmares that they are standing naked in the middle of a crowd. Psychologists sometimes tell those folks that they believe themselves to be fakes and thus are unmasked in their dreams.

    My nightmare is more about not knowing something I think I should. And so when I walked into a meeting at a convention of CPAs in San Francisco, in which a specialist from the U.S. Treasury was discussing accounting projects for a CPA 'Technical Resource Panel," I wasn't dreaming, I was in the nightmare.

    At first, I thought perhaps the editor who had sent me had coached the CPAs around the table - and the speaker - to talk in such uncomprehensible jargon as sort of a prank. It sounded almost like German, where most English speakers can pick up about every third word if they listen really carefully.

    Well, it wasn't a joke and it wasn't German.

    But inside of 15 minutes I had written down 15 acronymns to look up later, acronyms that meant nothing to me, but obviously were so common with the 12 people in the meeting they needed no explanation.

    LMSB, SAB101, EAG and a dozen others came at me like I was playing dodgeball with a totally pissed-off octopus. I began to long to be one of those people who dreams about being naked in a crowd.

    But about a half-hour into it, just about when I was ready to simply march out, get my bags from my room and go find a nice Wal-Mart to work at, a truly weird thing happened.

    I began to understand some of what they were saying, as if my ears had been plugged up and suddenly were beginning to clear. Note that I said some. The goons at Guantanamo could flush this blog down the toilet to torture me all they want, but I couldn't tell them what-the-hell happened exactly. But I have the meeting on a digital recorder, some basic ideas and themes that seemed to be in play, and notes about when people's eyebrows arched - or they snorted at the Treasury specialist's comments.

    Most important, I have the Treasury guy's phone number and email address and a solid committment from him to chat with me Monday on the telephone to give me a recap of what went on.

    No es un problema para mi, amigo. (It's not problem for me, buddy.) Soy periodista! (I'm a journalist!)

    And this non-CPA, non-German-speaking journalist will sleep a lot better when this damned story is written and sent to the big chiefs in Washington D.C. sometime Monday. Si?


    Auf wiedersehen.
    Au revoir.

    Friday, June 17, 2005

    Not the best view, but not that bad either

    Transamerica Pyramid
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - When they put me on the 13th floor of the Renaissance Parc here, I didn't think about the number of the floor, or the earthquakes we've been having, all I wanted was a good view.

    Well, I didn't get a great view, but I can see the Transamerica Pyramid and craning my neck the other way, I can see a sliver of San Francisco Bay.

    But what does that matter? I'm spending most of the day locked in small window-less rooms with CPAs, listening to them yack about tax shelters.

    It's not as bad as it sounds, actually. I discovered that a lot of these folks are really pretty lively, not at all like the stereotypes. But they are precise. At the morning session, there were no stragglers coming in late. And at break, they all looked at the clock simultaneously and stood up.

    Just doing things by the numbers, I guess.

    And it's already time to go to the next delicious luncheon with the head of the IRS as our speaker.

    The life of the journalist. On to the rubber chicken and tapioca dessert.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    The Daily Show is NOT to be missed

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Maybe it was because I spent hours watching the California Assembly members beating up on one another - and then not passing the budget.

    Maybe it was because I was waiting for some sane commentary about the Michael Jackon acquital. Whatever it was, it was just too funny.

    Here's the link to the Jackson segment from The Daily Show:
  • Michael Jackson clip

  • What is so marvelous about Jon Stewart is that he is beyond brutally honest, but in a such a funny way that he can make the most awful stories still show the human condition at its best, when rolling on the floor with laughter.

    I'm a late convert to The Daily Show, though my students have pestered me to watch him for a long time. It was his appearance on Crossfire that got me interested in him,

    He's really a serious guy - he just happens to be funny as hell.

    Forget television news, just watch Jon Stewart.

    And if you want to see what kind of intellect he has, check out this clip from Crossfire in which he outflanks two of television's best known talking heads. At least they were. They didn't last long after this encounter.
  • Crossfire
  • Tuesday, June 14, 2005

    Governor gets to see his critics up close

    SANTA MONICA, Calif. - The governor of California has frankly just pissed off too many people, too many of the same people who elected him to office.

    And so he couldn't even give graduation speech at his California alma mater, surrounded by cops and bodyguards, without drawing boos and hisses like George Bush at a pro-choice rally.

    I wish it would make him wake up and understand that his movie star personality isn't carrying the freight anymore, that his policymakers are just dragging out the old Pete Wilson tapes (which never played worth a damn with the public).

    He had the chance to be bold and do some good work when he was elected, but now, well, no one seems to trust him, most of it based on his reneging on the school finance deal. How can you trust him?

    In the movies, he just can have the script rewritten to make him more heroic. Not going to happen here. So for awhile, he should considering staying away from public gatherings where he can't control the crowds and their reactions to what he has to say.

    Otherwise, his ballot measures will fail in the fall, considering how tightly they are linked to his popularity, however fleeting that may prove to be.

    For the story about Arnold getting the raspberry see:
  • Guvenator gets boos and hisses
  • Monday, June 13, 2005

    So what if it costs$80 million - we get to vote!

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The life of journalist revolves around people doing largely bad - or stupid - things.

    That's why you read headlines that say:
    Child dies in crosswalk accident
    but never:
    50,000 kids made it safely to school
    Still, when the governor of the most populated state in the union says he is calling for a special election to vote on some pretty hinky ballot measures, you have to take notice and for a second think it might be positive. Then reality hits.

    He calls it a special election. What it really will be is a free-for-all, with money flowing to political consultants so fast it will look like another California Gold Rush.

    As a taxpayer, I'm galled at having to pay $80 million for Arnold to try to have his way on a couple of issues, one of them raising the bar on granting tenure for schoolteachers. He says it's to make schools more accountable and strive for excellence. It will do the opposite, I suspect, drive out even more people from considering teaching.

    He also is supporting a measure that would make it extremely difficult for labor unions to use union dues for political purposes. He paints unions as sinister forces, whose members are helpless as to how the money is spent. (Quite untrue, actually, in the union I belong to.)

    At the same time, he has raised more money than any governor of the state for his own reelection and God knows how much for these initiatives. And in this election you can bet he will be quite helpful in convincing anti-union businesses to contribute even more to get that initiative passed.

    As a journalist, there will be lots to write about. As a citizen, it just makes me want to weep.

    Eighty million just for the election, while schools don't have books and many school districts haven't given a raise to teachers or staff in years. And think of the money that will be spent battling pro and con.

    Maybe it is time to weep, or start a Guvenator recall. We don't need to worry about tying a recall to the November special election ballot - apparently the state has lots of money for elections.

    A special recall election in, say, March might be just the ticket. Break out the petitions.

    Sunday, June 12, 2005

    Kayaking on the river was worth the trouble

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After a morning of cleaning house and getting my writing stuff ready for what looks like Hell Week - starting Monday with two complicated stories due before noon - I took a water break Sunday afternoon.

    The American River runs right behind my house. At night I can hear the coyotes running around, catching God-Knows-What, and howling. And from my front window I can see the kayaks and rowboats and fishing boats and canoes going by soooooo gracefully.

    Today, I decided it was my turn, but like the tasks of Hercules, there were many challenges before I would skim the surface in my Santa Cruze kayak.

    The first challenge was the dinghy (my lovely, battered 10-foot Kevlar Captain's Gig from Sabbatical) which was tied in the bed of my pickup truck. What to do with it? The people in the complex are nice, but condo association rules don't allow for leaving things around outside your garage at all - especially something as large as a boat.

    So, I slid it into my parking space, figuring that if anyone came sliding around the corner and crushed it, well, I could use the insurance money to fix it up. The regulations don't say you can't park a boat in your spot. I suppose if you had a horse you could tether it there, provided you had some large garbage bags and... Oh, forget it.

    Challenge number 2 was a little trickier. The kayak was stored in the back yard and had to be carried through the bedroom, down the hall and out the front door to the pickup. It's not that heavy, but kee-rist it was a tight fit getting by everything and into the back of the pickup.

    But Challenge number 3 made me wistful for Mexico.

    I drove to the nearest river access (about a half-mile) all ready with a check and application form filled out to buy a $60 season pass. The county charges $6 per day and so I decided I might as well commit and not have to pull out cash every time I wanted to go check out the nude beach. Oops! I mean paddle placidly on the river.

    When I got to the access, the ranger station was closed and they had those damned little brown envelopes on the counter.


    I didn't bring any cash or my wallet. I've had some pretty wet kayak experiences.

    But then I saw a vision (chill out - not the beach), a vision in a ranger truck who I motioned to come over. She looked very official in the truck, its police band radio telling me I should be glad I was down on the river and not some other places around Sacramento at the moment: shootings, stabbings, thefts and vandalism. Just another Sunday in Sacratomato.

    The ranger said she was sorry, but despite the $60 check I was waving wildly, the filled-out form in my hand and the closed ranger station, well, I had three options: put $6 in an envelope and deposit it, drive two miles in the opposite direction to the next river access to buy the pass (then drive back) or simply bag the whole expedition and go home..

    I asked in my best, pathetic, whining, sad voice: "Couldn't you just give me a note or something to put on my dashboard for today? I'll get the pass later. I promise."

    She said sure. For $6 she would drop the envelope in the little box herself.

    Jaysus H. Kee-rist!

    I went from Clark Kent to Superman to Incredible Hulk in about 15 seconds when I realized what this snotty ranger (who was sweating in a very unladylike manner, I must say )had said.

    Smart ass. I hate a smart ass like that, probably because I'm so much the same way.

    But I was not to be deterred.

    I did a U-Turn and went to the next river access where the gate attendant took my $60 cheerfully and gave me a season's pass in about 10 seconds. Then I drove back to the access right near my house and launched the kayak, but not before I got to practice my Spanish to convince the families swimming that I needed some space.

    I realized listening to the chatter and looking around that I was the only gringo at the park, except for the sweaty ranger who by then was giving tickets to people who hadn't put their money in the little brown envelopes. The families were having a great time and a couple of five-year-olds helped me get off the mudbank and onto the water.

    Oh, and how was the kayaking?

    A-1 fantastic, though I couldn't find the beach I had been told about.

    But now I have a season's pass and a long hot summer ahead to, to, to... go kayaking.

    Gone kayaking, will return tomorrow

    LAKE NATOMAS, FOLSOM, Calif. - From Where I Sit's author this afternoon should be inside a 12-foot Necky kayak at Lake Natomas east of Sacramento (also known as the Redneck Riviera, according to my colleague and partner in crime, Sanders Lamont). The water is up in the lake, the weather is hot enough to promise abundant wildlife on the shore and it's Sunday for Chrissakes. (A bad pun?)

    Thus, look for kayaking adventures and maybe photos tomorrow - if I don't drop the damned camera into the lake.

    Where is the damned camera, anyway.


    Friday, June 10, 2005

    The fast food of a generation on its way out?

    Twinkie man
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The news this morning was disturbing. The two bakeries in San Francisco that still make Twinkies (and the Twinkies high-caloric cousin, the Ho-Ho) are closing up shop, taking their white flour with them somewhere undisclosed.

    Have they been outsourced? Has the baking of one of America's favorite fat-inducing foods gone to India, too?

    It would make sense, what will all the programmers leaving Silicon Valley, the best customers of those spongy, flavored, cream-filled, intestine-busting bombshells. But what's next? Might Jolt Cola be made offshore and sold in unmarked containers in the back alleys of Oakland?

    The fellow in the photo with today's blog, is kind a special Twinkie guy. Since 1941, he's eaten a Twinkie a day.

    Since 1941. No shit. It was in the Washington Post so it must be truth, si?
  • The Twinkie Story

  • He's alive, perhaps a testament to the preservatives put in Twinkies, or perhaps it keeps his diabetes in check when his sugar runs wild in the afternoon before slams his first Grey Goose or swills merlot.

    In a low-carb, low-cal world, the Twinkie stands as a symbol American indulgence. But it's also a pillar of the food group that keeps places like Jenny Craig and the entire Atkins Empire churning out books and recipes and programs for former (and current) Twinkie addicts.

    For that reason alone, the Twinkie will survive (maybe the Hostess Company is owned by Jenny Craig) well into the 22nd century.

    We'll miss the bread that the same San Francisco bakeries made each day, but I'm sure the fellow in the photo will have no trouble finding the little yellow fuzzballs forever. He lives not too far from Chicago, where Twinkies are, for all intent and purposes, the official city snack.

    And if I read correctly, the company produces 1,000 Twinkies per minute, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, all year long. At 150 calories per Twinkie, times 1,000 per minute, times 60 minutes, times 24 hours a day, I estimate that's 24 million calories in a single day.

    In a single day.

    I think we may have solved the problem of hunger in India, if that's where the San Francisco bakeries have gone.

    Thursday, June 09, 2005

    How desperate are you to see Teri Hatcher?

    ST. HELENA, Calif. - I detailed out here some months ago, how I bumped into Jane Fonda at a cocktail party and for the first time in my journalistic life, was struck speechless in the presence of someone famous.

    I think it's a good thing I didn't go to this June wine tasting. I think I would have started mumbling around Teri Hatcher, too.

    I have never seen her in the show she stars in now, Desperate Housewives. I remember her from earlier tv shows and a couple of quite unimpressive movies, except for her, of course,

    At this fund raiser for charity, she offered to raise her skirt one inch for every $10,000 bid - and apparently raked in some serious cash. Jay Leno was the host/auctioneer. Can you imagine what he had to say about it?

    I like living in Napa years ago, as a reporter at the newspaper there. For all too short a time, I had the wine beat and would drive up the wineries and load up the trunk of my car with free wine, courtesy of the winemakers.

    Very little bad news got published about the wine industry in the Napa Register.

    And Terry Hatcher probably wasn't even born yet.

    Jaysus. I need a glass of Mondavi cabernet.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    The Army is having some trouble recruiting

    Army training
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    FORT APACHE - My students at the university have an all-encompassing expression that seems to cover the U.S. Army's puzzlement over its difficulty in making its recruitment quota.

    No duh.

    Americans are dying every day in Iraq, the president wants the bodies brought in without anyone taking a photo of the caskets (bad for morale, another No Duh) and the units there are improperly equipped with armor.

    Hey Verne! Sounds like it's time to run down to the recruiting office and sign up for a career. Yee-Haw!

    Oh, I almost forgot! All those stories in the past month about recruiters who used bait-and-switch tactics on young kids that would make a used-car salesman blush in embarassment.

    Yup, trust those recruiters, too.

    In another time, not long ago, our president would be facing impeachment hearings right now, not going around the country selling his brand of nonsensical, fiscally irresponsible conservatism. The last president had some extacurricular sex and was the target of a wingnut special prosecutor and enough hate mail to shut down the post office. This president has his minions watering down (or supressing entirely) reports that urge action on global warming, thinks Guantanamo Bay is a model prison, and wants to strip mine the Social Security fund so his most wealthy donors can get an infusion of cash into our ailing stock market.

    And the public yawns.

    The funniest part (if funny can be in any way associated with the story linked at the bottom of this blog) is where the story talks about how the Army is more attractive now to young people, because of economic conditions.

    What a strategy! Have the economy go into the tank so we have plenty of young men (and women, don't forget the women) who will voluntarily enlist.

    It worked for the British Navy in the 1800s.

    Here's the recruiting story, but keep your aspirin bottle nearby. You'll need it.
  • Recruiting
  • Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    On being a blogger and a journalist

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The cartoon with today's blog comes courtesy of Bob O'Hara in San Diego, an amigo from San Diego, Mexico, and now San Diego again.

    Bob is a two-boat owner: a sailboat in Mexico and a powerboat in San Diego. He winters in Mexico and summers in San Diego. (Can seasons be verbs?) In just a few weeks, he'll be in France aboard a friend's canal boat, cruising for croissants. Will there be a third boat in Bob's future? Not if his wife Karen gets a vote. (Now that I think about it, she gets two votes... Soooooo no boat, I fear.)

    But the cartoon is very clever because it gets at an issue that both bloggers and journalists kid about all the time.

    I do this blog (and The Class of '66) daily, but I also write every day for two publications: one on education, the other on health care. When I talk to my editors in Washington, D.C., they sometimes ask me how the commute was that morning.

    I turn from my desk and look back about 15 feet to the edge of bed and always answer the same way.

    "It was brutal today, just brutal."

    A lot of writers and journalists say they are unable to work at home - too many damn distractions. And there are times when I would rather be stepping out the back door and headed down to the jogging path or the river, not noodling about stem cell research or textbook companies. But every day that I can simply start writing from this computer at this desk - and not get in a car - I guesstimate that I save at least 1-2 hours per day in travel time.

    Even going to the university to teach (in the fall months only, thank you very much) takes 15 minutes, and then I have to walk from the parking lot, go up the elevator, down the hall... You get the idea.

    Two hours - one-twelfth of your entire day.

    I'll hang out in my PJs and write at home anyday. But when I do go down to the Legislature, I do put on my Clark Kent outfit (complete with glasses, but sans the ugly chapeau) and get caught in the real brutal traffic snarls of Sacramento.

    Just not very often, thank God.

    Truth, justice and the American Way

    METROPOLIS, USA - The entire day yesterday was spent reporting, sitting in a meeting about a $3 billion a year enterprise dealing with stem cell research, then listening to politicians spin the story, then chatting with other reporters about what the real story is.

    And when I finally dragged my butt home and sat down, my mind drifted to Clark Kent and the old Superman program from the 1950s. I didn't feel like Superman, more like Clark Kent after a loooong day.

    If you missed that program, it set the stage for all of the relatively modern Superman movies and programs. It was as cornball as most shows in the 50s, but had a certain panache about it, a blissful 50s innocence.

    No wonder most of the episodes were in black and white - the whole country saw things that way.

    But when I don my sports jacket and tie and loop my press pass around my neck, I flash on Clark Kent (played by the late George Reeves) dashing out the door, usually to switch into his Superman costume.

    I can't remember him every sitting at a typewriter. And the first computers were wet dreams of the 1950s scientists (if they were allowed to have wet dreams...).

    With Superman/Kent in this photo is Perry White (on the left, the editor who Clark called 'Chief,' and who would yell 'Don't call me Chief!), Jimmy Olsen, the young photographer and the lovely Lois Lane, who never seemed to figure out that Clark was indeed our hero.

    Clark-Superman-George Reeves died the victim of his own hand, police claimed, though to this day there is speculation that he was murdered and that it wasn't suicide.

    But suppose he had lived? Suppose he had finished his acting career and gone into politics?

    Superman/Clark Kent for governor!

    At lot better than having a Terminator running the show.

    If you want a blast from the past, listen to this sound clip - the original theme song.
  • Superman Theme
  • In the meantime, I need to get my cape out of the washing machine and find a clean shirt for today's scenes as Clark Kent/Mike Fitzgerald at the state Legislature.

    Up, up and away!

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    A video review of 'The Aviator'

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - To get things straight right at the outset, Leonardo DiCaprio is right there with, well, I can't think of another actor I have liked less.

    I didn't like him in Titanic (but what sailor could like that film?) and I've suffered through several other films (Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can) in which I ground my teeth so hard they hurt after the movie.

    So what about The Aviator, with Leonardo as Howard Hughes?

    Damn, I hate to admit it, but it is a fabulous film. And Leonardo (whom until I viewed this movie, I always have called, Leonardo DiCrapio) made you forget it was him. In this movie, he is Howard Hughes.

    Many people unfamiliar with Hughes's strange life might miss a few of the nuances in the film, but it's well worth taking home on a DVD (or use Netflix like I do, much easier).

    The Aviator gets a solid thumbs up - even with Leonardo DiCrapio, now that he's learned how to act.

    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    He's no pig, he's just walkin' bacon

    Bacon on the hoof
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Sometimes the photos are just too good to pass up - like Phil Spector's hair a short time back.

    And so today here's a great shot of a 4-H lad giving his pet porker a drink of water. The 4-H is alive and well in California, with kids raising animals for market and learning all the lessons that the people from PETA would prefer they not learn.

    Where I grew up in upstate New York, the 4-H was a really big deal and kids learned not to get too close to the animals they raised, but still to be compassionate about their treatment.

    Looking at this particular pink guy, it's hard to believe that he will be pork loin and Oscar Mayer bacon strips in the near future. Looking into those eyes is enough to make you agree with the PETA wingnuts.

    Then again, I really like bacon.

    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    The drove-500-miles-in-traffic blues

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The admiral and I are beat today after leaving San Diego at 4 p.m. and arriving in front of the condo at 1:30 a.m. this morning.

    The toughest miles were from San Diego to the north of Los Angeles with a few gazillion of our closest traffic friends bumper-to-bumper. Still, in a rented minivan stuffed with books and clothes from Sabbatical (and a soon to-be-repaired hard dinghy strapped jauntily on top) it wasn't a bad ride, just damn long.

    We did have SUV/minivan-sticker shock at the service stations: $35 in Kettleman City, another $22 at the airport to fill up before we returned the Hoover this morning to National Rent-A-Car.

    The Miata would have done it for half the gasoline, but then, 90 percent of the debris on the office floor would still be on Sabbatical.

    Now it's time to read the newspapers and see what political imbroglios I get to write about - or comment on here - in the next few days.

    Oh-my-God, I can see the headline about a 12-year-old SF boy killed by his own dogs. What kind? Do you really need to ask?

    Here's the story, I can't read it right now:
  • Twelve-year-old killed
  • Friday, June 03, 2005

    Endangered species covers snakes, too

    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - I suppose I should be worried about whether snakes are endangered. I draw the line at Great White Sharks, however.

    They may all disappear as far as this sea-going guy is concerned.

    But San Francisco just imported garter snakes and had to go all the way the land of windmills and dikes to get them.

    I think they could've come to my house in Sacramento along the American River and done ok, but perhaps the snakes who have been showing up on my doorstep, in my backyard and in my pond (because of the high water in the river) are not garter types.

    Today's photo shows one of these critters up close and personal. We had about a four-foot snake curled on our doorstep about a week ago, which barely wanted to move when we went to leave. No rattle however, so we let him/her slither off to sit on our neighbor's welcome mat. Maybe it was the straw material that was so appealing.

    We return to Sacramento today after a week of cleaning out many of our personal effects from Sabbatical now that the ship in on the market.

    Amazing what you save - even on a sailboat - over four years.

    And even more amazing what you decide to keep out of all that and haul back to your condo on the river.

    But more on that in the next blog when I have time to go through the photos of the girls on the beach, er, I mean nature shots.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    Now the debate begins about 'the right thing'

    WASHINGTON, D.C. - So there are some hounds out there that still think Richard Nixon was an ok guy and didn't deserve getting forced from office.

    I suppose for them it's easy to overlook that virtually every single member of his administration went to jail for all kinds of crimes.

    But now the right-wing nut jobs are starting in on W. Mark Felt, saying he betrayed the FBI, etc... by confirming for Woodward and Bernstein what was going on in the highest offices of the government. The last crackpot theory I heard was that he should have gone to the grand jury - not the press.

    Well, excuuuuuuse me, at Steve Martin says. If you fast rewind to that time in history, all of the official investigating organizations were giving Nixon & Company a pass. It took the press (in this case the Washington Post) to get the truth out in such a fashion that the public found its ire and the rest, is history.

    I started as a journalist at that time, watching the fall of Spiro T. Agnew, John Mitchell and a dozen others, doing my own local investigative work that I still believe made my little towns better places for people to live. Yup, I found corruption, liars and all kinds of nasty stuff. I wrote about it and the people (government, mostly) decided what needed to be fixed.

    But that brings us to the sad state of affairs of today in the USSA.

    The press has been fragmented into the mess we call 'media,' diluting the voices of truth and in many cases having truth overwhelmed by shouting voices like Rush Limbaugh and some of the other wingnuts. So many people have trouble hearing.

    Worse, I believe that people like George W. and others at the national level are probably the most skilled liars I have ever seen in my journalistic career.

    Bill Clinton, it's true, did say that he never had sex with Monica Lewinsky. But somehow that lie (and the obvious reason for it) pales to George W. lying to get us into a war that has cost us thousands of American casualities and pushed the nation to the brink of bankruptcy. How many children are going to pay the price because of less money to schools and public health?

    And Social Security? How can the president run around the nation claiming crisis there where if we weren't in a war we could RAISE benefits?

    Because as liars go, he makes Nixon look like an amateur.

    If Mark Felt's family makes a boodle of money off a book about Watergate and Felt's role in bringing the public to its senses, good for them.

    I'll buy the book,watch a made-for-tv movie (starring Matthew Modine or some lesser luminary, no doubt) and even take part in panel discussions defending the notion that people - even those in high places - need to tell the truth, be honorable, do the right thing.

    W. Mark Felt did.

    Good for him.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    So Watergate's Deep Throat is finally revealed

    Watergate reporters
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    WASHINGTON, D.C. - All these years my money was on Alex Butterfield in the Nixon White House. I was sure he had been Carl Berstein and Bob Woodward's source, Deep Throat, in the Watergate stories that helped force Richard Nixon out of office.

    But it turned out to be Mark Felt, who for years denied any connection.

    Now, at 91, he's seeking a little redemption, mostly because he did the right thing but knew that many people would not think so then.

    In retrospect, Deep Throat did the nation a service, even if we did end up with Gerald Ford as president for a short time. Ford is the only president I ever shook hands with, though I've been around plenty of famous people as a journalist.

    As a journalist, famous people don't impress you. They are just, well, people and usually represent a story you have to write of some kind. Gerald Ford certainly hit that category, so did Chuck Yeager, Alan Cranston, Norman Mailer, Ben Bradlee, Gary Hart, Gloria Steinem and God-knows-how-many others I've met over the years.

    The single time I ever was flustered was 20+ years ago when I was at a cocktail party and backed up without looking and crashed into Jane Fonda. She was more beautiful in person than on the screen. And I couldn't speak, literally. She spoke and in that silky voice said, "Hello, I'm Jane," shook my hand and walked off smiling at me.


    If I bumped into Mark Felt, I'm sure I could speak, however.

    And I would simply say, 'Nice job, Mark.'