Sometimes the flies are worse than the…

Back in the dark, distant past, I used to work on an estate in upper Northwest Washington, DC. One day, U.S. Marshals started to swarm the grounds, putting up a large fence around the entire property and issuing badges to those of us who worked there. Elian Gonzalez arrived soon after, taking up residence in the 18th century farmhouse outside my office window.
The whole time he was there, the Marshals did little to disrupt my everyday routine. I was still allowed to drive in and park in the parking lot, I could come and go as I pleased.
No, the most disruptive part of it all was the news media. They tried to stop me as I went to work, they hovered helicopters over us, and the Marshals had to put opaque covering over some of the windows because the media were stationed on the street behind us, trying to take pictures with long lenses through the windows and out to the other side.
I’m reminded of this because of an interesting sidelight to the “melted freeway” story here today.

West Oakland residents are steeling themselves for the inevitable onslaught of freeway traffic coursing through city streets this afternoon, but it’s the constant roar of television station helicopters overhead that really has them fuming.
Hunter Wimmer lives on 32nd Street. He said the tanker crash didn’t wake him, nor did the explosion or collapsing freeway, although he vaguely remembers hearing something and going right back to sleep. But he knew something serious was up when the choppers started hovering at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and never left. Except for nighttime, they’ve been at it nearly non-stop ever since.
“We don’t pretend to live in a quiet neighborhood, we’re on a bus route,” he said. “The freeway collapse will already impact our neighborhood with traffic, and the helicopters are rubbing salt in the wound.”
Wimmer said he called one station to complain and the news director there said he couldn’t hear him over the noise. [Mercury News]

The News In Brief

The AP has moved a story that tells it like it is, with no embellishment or speculation. True journalism. The thing is, the headline itself is only marginally shorter than the entire story.

2 Dead in Shooting at Kansas City Mall
(04-29) 14:47 PDT Kansas City, Mo. (AP) –
At least two people were killed in a shooting at a Kansas City shopping center Sunday, fire officials said.

That’s it. The entire story.

Roads are not fireproof

Early this morning, a gasoline tanker truck crashed and exploded on the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge. The resulting fire collapsed the freeway and closed two interstates.

And I couldn’t help but think: first, that whole tanker full of gas burned up at a time when the Bay Area is seeing prices of about $3.60 per gallon.
But second, I started to stress about the strength of freeway flyovers. A crashed truck, albeit loaded with gas, managed to melt the steel supports within the concrete and collapse a huge freeway bridge. It is a bit scary to think that fire can bring down huge concrete and steel structures; witness the World Trade Center.
Coincidentally, one of my personal phobias — one that intensified after September 11 — is being under things like freeway flyovers. For instance, if I am stuck in traffic and come up to a flyover bridge, I will generally wait just outside the underpass until traffic allows me to move all the way through. I try to avoid stopping underneath one.
I really hate driving over them as well; there are more flyovers here in the Bay Area than there are back home in DC (although the new Springfield Interchange is towering and terrifying, I successfully avoided it for the last year or so that I lived there) but I stick to surface streets and avoid the freeways.
One truck crash brought down two major interstates. What happens in the next earthquake, I wonder?

Gutless Wonders

I’m really getting a bit sick of the people who are coming out of the woodwork — years after it would have done any good — criticizing the Bush administration to get themselves in the news. Today it was former CIA director George Tenet, who says that he was made a scapegoat in the Bush administration attempt to manufacture intelligence to present an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein. True enough, I’m sure, but why didn’t he say this years ago?
Earlier it was Lee Iacocca, who asked “am I the only one?” That question would have been more appropriate five or even six years ago, when people like myself were trying to point out the lies of the Bush White House. Now he’s not even close to the only one, he’s only one in about 4 million.
They’re all starting to come out now, well after it would have done any good, because of course now they won’t face any difficult questions or criticism themselves; they now hold the same opinion as the majority.
Oh, and they are all flogging books.
Imagine how much courage it would have taken for Tenet to voice this criticism five years ago.
But there are few people of courage out there.

Slip the bonds

I just love this picture. Stephen Hawking is a one-man university, proof that our species is so much more than the sum of its parts. What an amazing ride that must have been — I wish more people who are trapped immobile could experience this. For just a few moments.

Daylight Becomes Electrical

I don’t want to make any comments about the intelligence of those from Arkansas — after all, Bill Clinton was an Arkansan, FedEx founder Fred Smith and Wal*Mart founder Sam Walton are from there, both obviously quite intelligent.
That said, while I generally steer clear of criticism of people who aren’t public figures, I have to bring your attention to this letter, written by Connie Meskimen — who I am sure is lovely.

Why phone numbers are running out: I have them all

I am cornering the market on phone numbers, before they’re all gone.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


Yet another of NBC’s attempts in the 1980s to create a viable news magazine format, this one was tagged with the unfortunate and lengthy name “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” The opening titles led the viewer on a path through history and into the waiting arms of Stone Phillips and Maria Shriver.

Designing Women and Teddy Z

One went on to television success, the other faded into obscurity. Here are the themes from the debut of two CBS sitcoms.

Designing Women:

The Famous Teddy Z:

It’s worth noting — especially on the “Designing Women” theme — how the first years of stereo television broadcasts were marked by hyper-exaggerated stereo separation; much as the first color broadcasts feature hyper-real primary colors. Listen to these with headphones.

Sister Kate and The Nutt House

Bet you don’t remember either of these sitcoms on NBC — especially “The Nutt House,” a hotel-based comedy (barely) which was produced by Mel Brooks and starred his usual troupe of characters including Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman…

Sister Kate:


The Nutt House (theme from the pilot):

PBS Pledge Music

This one is both interminably annoying and yet useful. It’s a whopping fifteen minutes of looping, spangly stock music for the background of public television pledge breaks. Used for years on end by Maryland Public Television among others, it is likely to induce a bit of stupor and flashbacks of tote bags and mugs. You have been warned.

Public Television Pledge Music (Warning: 15 minutes long, 20mb):

Something for Everyone on WETA



Although I was serving as the interim publicist at WETA — the public broadcaster in Washington, DC — when this ditty debuted, I disavow any knowledge of it and take no responsibility whatsoever.