Sunday, February 26, 2006

The consummate newsman - Karl Kolchak, INS

PETALUMA, Calif. - I still have the picture somewhere of me pointing a cigar, with about the same emphatic look on my face as Darren McGavin (pictured here) confronting his editor, played by Simon Oakland.

The photo comes from the movie The Night Stalker which later became a tv series. But the initial Night Stalker was a wild ride of a made-for-tv movie. And if you were in the news business, well, it was too much fun.

Kolchak discovers that there is a vampire loose in Las Vegas - a real one, not just some retiree on a bus trip who has played the slots too long and seems like they are the undead.

But his editor is skeptical. (Who wouldn't be?)

The local authorities are concerned it will be bad for business. (A universal theme, correct?)

But Kolchak won't let it go and in this scene finally confronts his editor.

"This nut thinks he's a vampire. He killed five, maybe six women. And he's drained every drop of blood from every one of them. And that is news, Vincenzo, news. And we are newspaper. We print the news. We don't supress it."

My editor at the Petaluma Argus-Courier, and the reporters who worked directly for me, got so sick of hearing me light up with some variation of that quote photographer Tom Balmer finally took a picture of me, waving my cigar and printed the text of the quote in the corner, handing it to me in a little newsroom ceremony. It's still a prized possession.

It was part tribute, part shut up, willya. But in weird way, the quote - and Darren McGavin's dogged pursuit of the story - set the tone for that newsroom. The city officials in Petaluma thought that they had a whole newspaper full of Karl Kolchaks on their collective asses. And they did, I suppose. Several of the city councilmen looks kind of like vampires, now that I think back about it.

McGavin just died, well into his 80s after a long and successful film career.

My nomination for his best work should be pretty obvious.

R.I.P. Karl Kolchak.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A fish that leaps right into your boat

Leaping carp
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
CHICAGO, Ill. - Waiting impatiently for the next-to-the-last episode of Dicken's Bleak House on PBS last night, I watched a program on Nature that looked at the collision of people and animals, including a segment about the Asian carp species, featered in the photo with today's blog.

(Ok, ok. I admit it! I watch public television, just not often...)

The story - which is very interesting - cannot compete with the video of these creatures leaping out of the water and sometimes landing in boats, with the people screaming while the fish flop all over. We are not talking about a couple of fish - we are talking about hundreds, all within 100 feet of the boats.

Outboard motors seem to scare them and when these fish jump, they don't have a lot of control over where they end up. I've had that problem myself lately.

In the Nature program, they showed 20-foot boats with protective screens on them because some of these carp weigh 50 pounds and can knock people down - or I suppose right out of the boat into the water boiling with these creatures.


Right now the people of Chicago and all around the Great Lakes are hoping these critters don't escape into Lake Michigan where they could arguably take over and wipe out most of the other species of fish, fish themselves that have only recently recovered from the pollution of years past.

Here's a link to the story:

  • Reuters

  • In the meantime, you might consider rethinking carp as a part of your meal planning.

    Jaysus, what am I thinking?

    I take the idea of carp-as-food back. Forget I mentioned it.

    I think I would go vegan, first.

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    Hey captain, what kind of fish is behind us?

    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The captain, admiral and chief engineer of Sabbatical spent a nice weekend doing some bay boating but mostly maintenance on the ship, getting ready for the good weather that is soooo close.

    It's 70 degrees again today and the shorts are coming out of the dresser, it's springtime.

    Let's hear it for California, especially after the thumping the east coast just got with record snowfalls. Ouch.

    But the sad news yesterday was to see that Peter Benchley died, the author of the book Jaws that spawned the movie by the same name that scared the crap out of me and, well, is still scaring people.

    If you take a look at the healthy Great White Shark in the photo with today's blog, well, respect is definitely called for. I would not want to see that fellow, or any relative of his, doing that jump-out-of-the-water routine anywhere near my boat.

    In our travels on Sabbatical, I've only seen a few sharks, small ones, maybe five-feet long, lounging on the surface. Snorkeling I've never spotted any, but we tend to snorkel in shallow spots where Moray eels and jellyfish are more likely hazards.

    And I'd like to keep it that way.

    Ironically, the likelihood of us seeing a Great White is dramatically higher off the California coast than the warm waters of Mexico. The Farrallon Islands, just off the San Francisco coast, are believed the be a breeding ground for Great Whites.

    And up in Tomales Bay, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, there is a 'shark derby' held each year for fisherman who want to test their skill at angling by hooking raw meat on their lines and tossing it into the bay.

    The resulting catches are impressive, if frightening.

    It all just reinforces the Golden Rule of Sabbatical: Don't Fall Off The Boat.

    Aye, aye, skipper.

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    Super Sunday - super for lots of things

    Football injury
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Our planned excursions today include visiting a couple of stores that are normally jammed on any other Sunday of the year.

    But today, while most of the nation is tightly glued to that new plasma tv they bought just to watch the Super Bowl, we will likely be strolling through a deserted Costco - except the television section, however.

    My students at the university marvel at how disconnected I am from professional sports. They can't believe I don't spend hours watching professional football or basketball or baseball. How can I live, they ask quite earnestly, not knowing whether the Sacramento Kings beat the Lakers.

    Quite easily actually.

    When I was a teenager, I watched some pro football, actually admiring the spunky AFL before it merged. I thought the play was faster and more interesting than the stodgy NFL, but given how bad television reception was in those days, I'm not really sure now.

    The only sport I do watch on TV with any regularity is college basketball, and then usually only when its the NCAA tournament. This year, it looks like Villanova is going to be in it and maybe make it all the way.

    And even though I only spent three semesters there, the basketball bug has stayed in my veins and so I'll follow.

    But the pro teams?


    My not watching football also stems from my dislike of the manifold injuries football players seem to get so routinely. Add to that is the testimony from two doctors now that my medical problems of the past five years are linked to earlier injuries from playing high school football 40-plus years ago.

    My surgeon said many of the anomalies found in the MRI of my knee are consistent with football injuries - all six of them. The seventh (and recent) I did dancing last summer at Seneca Lake, but we won't go there today.

    And my neck injury - the compressed disk that sidelined me for a year from any real heavy duty physical activity - was likely linked to a full-on, head-to-head collision I had at 15-years-old, when I went left instead of right and clanked helmets with a teammate.

    When I came to a few minutes later, well, my future injury was probably cast from that compression, the doc says

    So today I won't watch the Super Bowl - total heresy, of course. But I will throw the Frisbee for the dog. It's going to be close to 70 degrees, the sun is shining and it's waaaaay too nice to watch any television - unless it was Villanova basketball.

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    Into the federal courthouse to cover a trial

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In a few hours, after reading another 50 or so pages of legal documents, I'll be scribbling notes in a pretrial hearing, not in the historic building shown here, but on the 13th floor of the Sacramento Federal Courthouse in downtown Sacramento.

    Yes, the 13th floor. Hmmm...

    The last time I covered a federal case was the now-famous Petaluma controlled-growth trial when the city's slow-growth policies were under legal attack by developers.

    And that trial was at the San Francisco courthouse, but things were just a bit different then for a journalist covering a trial.

    Today I'll be equipped with a cell phone (so I can call my editor the second the hearing is over and let him know what's up), a digital voice recorder (for exact quotes from the attorneys), and as soon as the hearing done, I'll sprint home to write the story and file it electronically via email. If I wanted to, I could carry my computer to the court, and find a downtown Wi-Fi hot spot and send my story in.

    In 1976 (yup, 30 years ago), I left the San Francisco federal courtroom to run downstairs to a bank of 10 pay phones (for about 50 reporters, all trying to file stories!) to make a collect call to my newspaper (the Petaluma Argus-Courier) so I could dictate a story to an editor back in Petaluma.

    And those legal documents I'm reading (or should be reading instead of blogging)?

    In the Petaluma case, I had to go to the federal courthouse and pay 10 cents per page to have them photocopied. And the clerks were really sooooooo happy to do it, too. I still remember the looks on their faces.

    For today's case, I downloaded a blizzard of PDF files directly to my computer, along with past news stories, photos of the defendants, photos of the attorneys, a Mapquest document to show me where to park and even instructions on how to find the courtroom in which the hearing will take place.

    But I've dawdled. It's almost time to head to the 13th floor and there's still those 50 pages to read.

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    Writing about property values in Mexico

    Sabrina Tourtlotte
    Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
    LA CRUZ, BANDERAS BAY, Mexico - It's so nice to think about warm water and the sun of Banderas Bay, particularly when having to look outside in Sacramento at dreary cold weather.

    Oh, and it just started to rain. Again. Even the squirrels are hiding under the porch to stay dry.

    I won't complain, too much, however, as my friends in upstate New York and the Northeast are dealing with a lot worse weather than a little rain and cold.

    The photo with today's blog accompanied a story I wrote for The Log newspaper, which has its headquarters in Irvine, Calif. I worked for them a lot about five years ago, then didn't do anything while I was in Mexico. Wait, maybe I didn't do anything for The Log... But I did a lot of stuff: surfing, swimming, snorkeling. Just not too much commercial writing.

    The story is at:
  • The Log

  • Beautiful La Cruz harbor is about to get a 400-berth marina, but the property owners, including the lovely Ms. Tourtlotte here, are up in arms because the developer decided to build some more beachfront 80 meters out from the shore - right in front of their beachfront houses, in apparent violation of a stack of Mexican laws - even his own building permits. He wants to build hotels and condos and all kinds of, well, neat stuff, depending on whether the neat stuff would block your view.

    The view Sabrina Tourtlotte will have is likely to be piles of trash cans behind a multi-story hotel, not the sailboats you can see in the distance over her shoulder.

    Developers, it seems are the same north and south of the border.

    The gravel in the background is what's left of the first effort. Mother Nature, thanks to some huge swells that came all the way from the Gulf of Alaska, staged her own protest and was quite effective.

    The whole issue of property rights for gringos is taking on new importance with all the American and Canadian purchases of property, beachfront and everywhere else. From Mazatlan to Zihuatenejo, gringos have been buying up property like crazy. The admiral and I have even looked at the lots in La Manzanilla, on Tenacatita Bay.

    Hmm... If what's happening in La Cruz is any indicator, perhaps it might be a good source of ongoing stories for The Log and other publications - and a good reason to take some 'business trips' to Banderas Bay to check things out again.