Friday, September 28, 2007

Skyview Drive-in Update

Writing in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Genevieve Bookwalter reports that one of my favorite places, the Skyview Drive-in, is likely to close soon. While the story focuses on the flea market, it also contains news about the drive-in. Here's a snip:
Vendors who for years have pawned high chairs, stone necklaces and old videos, among numerous other wares, at the Skyview Drive-In flea market are concerned that a weekend tradition since 1971 will soon come to a close.

Vendors who have tried to reserve their selling spots at the flea market through the end of the year have been denied, and petitions are being passed to preserve what some are calling "a cultural icon"

But those fears are only partially justified.

Attorney John P. Christian with Tobin & Tobin in San Francisco, who represents the drive-in owners, the Martins family, confirmed that vendors have been told they could count on selling their stock on the Soquel Drive lot through the end of November.

"Beyond that, I don't know," Christian said.

But officials for Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center on Friday said sellers have no reason to fear; the health care provider stands by the group's statement earlier this year that the flea market — considered by many a community staple — would remain open for a couple more years, despite the pending sale.

"We realize that [the flea market] is something that is important in the community, and we want to explore any option we can to make sure that continues to be available," said Sutter spokesman Ben Drew.

He did not, however, commit to continue running the drive-in movie theater.
Update: The Skyview closed for the last time on December 2, 2007.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Newspaper Podiums

Riding the Highway 17 bus into town, beginning the turn near the train station, I saw a striking illustration of the demise of the newspaper era. To my left, I spotted a fellow standing behind a newspaper box, using it as a podium. He had placed a laptop computer atop the box and was typing. Standing literally opposite from the newspaper's "television screen" that depicted today's headlines that were written last night, this guy was almost certainly drawing from some wireless cloud. Catching this scene, I noted two particularly odd things. One was the fact that ten feet away, another guy was doing the same thing, using a newspaper box as a stand for his laptop. The other thing I noticed was stranger still: a piece of advertising for the San Jose Mercury News at the base of the box that read, "Your 50¢ Laptop. Upgraded Daily."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Holographic America

I found a useful parallel to omnitopia in Jean Baudrillard's notion of America-as-Hologram:
America is a giant hologram, in the sense that information concerning the whole is contained in each of its elements. Take the tiniest little place in the desert, any old street in a Mid-West town, a parking lot, a Californian house, a BurgerKing [sic] or a Studebaker, and you have the whole of the US -- South, North, East, or West . . . The hologram is akin to the world of phantasy [sic]. It is a three-dimensional dream and you can enter it as you would a dream. Everything depends on the existence of the ray of light bearing the objects. If it is interrupted, all the effects are dispersed, and reality along with it. (pp. 29-30)
Baudrillard, J. (1989). America (C. Turner, Trans.). New York: Verso.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Aviopolis Part 2

Here are some more notes from a book I recently read while researching for my own omnitopia project.

"You may not need to speak the language of the country to get around; but you do need to know the techno-cultural dialect of English -- the international language of the airport. "(p. 31)

"The airport represents 'laboratory conditions' for thinking through the techno-cultural processes and systems of global movement." (p. 38)

"Colonialism reorganised [sic] geographical space into sovereign zones of ideological and economic allegiances. Place became terra nullius long ago, wiped of indigenous particularities and incorporated into a totalising [sic] space of urgent global improvement." (p. 39)

"Sydney Airport . . . has been in continuous operation since 1920, developing from a modest airstrip in the middle of a swamp-lined paddock on the northern shore of botany Bay. For 80 years this airport has been 'terraforming' its environs, sucking highways and rail corridors towards it, re-zoning its surrounding suburbs, flattening houses and changing the geography of the city around it." (p. 41)

"Cairo Airport may look nothing like Singapore's Changi Airport, but its information is the same -- it is designed to process mobility. It is a self-renewing machine that 'refreshes' after each take-off and landing. Planes download passengers, baggage, cargo, excreta, and rubbish, and, then, upload passengers, baggage, cargo, fuel, food and packaged gadgets. The airport propels and regulates direction and flow. The sky is turned into bandwidth as plans move along specified air corridors." (p. 43)

"Within the glass groundscrapers that dominate contemporary airport design, only our thoughts move in private. Our baggage, our bodies and our movements are all part of an all-encompassing spectacle. Visible to everybody, we disappear into the multiple matrices of the airport." (p. 78)

All quotes from:

Fuller, G. & Harley, R. (2004). Aviopolis: A book about airports. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Newspaper Shrinkage

Today I opened my San Jose Mercury News and discovered a smaller paper. I wasn't surprised, though. Yesterday's paper included a note about how the Merc is rethinking its business model as newspapers struggle to compete with online media services. Money is flowing away from print and toward digital platforms, and I can certainly understand why. These days I briefly flip through the front pages of the paper, annoyed that old news, stuff that had been online or even on the 24 hour cable networks, is still 'breaking' in print.

I read that journalism students are rushing to enter the digital age, learning high-end web design even as they learn the inverted pyramid. In the meantime, old papers are shuffled and sometimes discarded as media conglomerates deal out their useless cards. My own paper has been bought and sold recently, and is the only real game in town. Those days of competing dailies (in the morning and in the afternoon) are long gone. I wonder if they'll even sell newspapers a decade from now.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Rudy Giuliani takes phone call during speech

I'm not sure what this represents more: the contribution of mobile telephony to the utter collapse of common sense or the depths to which Giuliani's handlers will sink to convince voters that this guy can appeal to the "family values" crowd.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mad Men Set for Renewal

I hear that the AMC series Mad Men will be renewed for a second season, and I'm delighted. As I noted in an August 21 post, Mad Men is terrific television. The show is remarkable for its dead-on 60s-era design, its integration of cultural comment with dramatic narrative, and a profound ambivalence toward its characters. I think, though, my favorite aspect of this show is the patience by which stories unfold. Scenes play out in a leisurely way, never being rushed in search of obvious beats. A confident inner rhythm advances each episode along its own strange path that somehow manages to move the broader story along. And unlike any other show I watch, the end of a Mad Men always leaves me wanting more. A show that runs slowly and yet still manages to end too soon: that's an accomplishment. If you haven't seen Mad Men yet, I recommend that you give one or two episodes a try.

Heck, just watch the intro and you'll get a taste of what I mean...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don't tase me, bro!

By now, you've probably seen footage of University of Florida college student Andrew Meyer receiving a taser shock after being dragged away from a question-and-answer session with Senator John Kerry. And many observers have already leapt to the assumption that cops employed excessive force by trundling the kicking and howling kid away from the microphone and delivering an electric shock after he was on the ground, crying, "Don't tase me, bro!" Some may offer conspiracy theories about how the kid was removed only after he asked about the senator's affiliation with a Yale secret society. Clearly we have seen yet another example of authority run amok.

Believe me, I'm willing to accept that interpretation. I recall plenty of examples of cops and other "security personnel" abusing the public trust, particularly after forgetting the ubiquity of video cameras in our contemporary surveillance society. I remember citizens being barred from Bush campaign events simply because of t-shirts they wore or bumper stickers found on their cars. We're not talking about swear-words or the display of excessive flesh, merely the audacity to arrive at a political event with ideas not appearing on the talking points memo. I also remember seeing footage of presidential candidate Ralph Nader being told by police to leave a debate, even though he had been given a ticket to attend. In all of these cases, and in far more egregious and harrowing scenes, cops (both of the formal variety and the rent-a-type) were willing to back unconstitutional barriers to civic participation with potentially lethal force. Thus, I'm hardly surprised that a number of Meyer supporters are unfurling the banner of free speech and hurling epithets of police brutality.

But this incident, while shocking in a number of ways, can be boiled down to a far more basic issue, the obligation of forum organizers to balance the rights of individual speakers with the rights of the guest and the audience. Meyer had every opportunity to ask a challenging question and await a respectful reply. But instead, this kid harangued the group with a meandering lecture and overstepped any reasonable time limit that a participant to this sort of event should accept. The audience applauded the cutting of his microphone and Meyer received his moment of fame. Yet as he continued his stream of increasingly agitated speech, cops stepped in to remove him. And then he made his critical mistake, forsaking any sympathy he should earn.

When a cop steps up to arrest you, and I've had some experience in this matter, the time to talk, argue, and debate is over. Whether you're being taken to the back of a squad car or being removed from a public setting, the wisest response is to calm down and shut up. You may "resist" of course, if by resistance you decide to go limp and not participate in what you perceive to be an unjust act. You may lie down in front of a cop or a tank if you think it's the right thing to do. And you may use the judicial system and the media to seek redress. But shouting, cursing, and trying to escape a cop is only going to call for an overwhelming response. All too frequently, police officers have experienced moments in which peaceful interactions exploded into violent struggles, and with that possibility in mind, they don't mess around. Add the fact that this kid, while thrashing to elude the police, leapt in the general direction of a former presidential candidate who had probably received countless death threats, I can only conclude that Meyer deserved what he got.

What's most galling about this incident, however, is a sense that I can't shake, a belief that Meyer intended to scream his way into history, that he sought and enjoyed his notoriety. In an age when vapid celebutantes flash their privates for willing paparazzi, when sociopaths upload videos of themselves beating up homeless people, when "talk" and "reality television" shows demonstrate a steadily collapsing threshold of personal shame, I am no longer surprised to see some moron ignoring a cop's lawful commands, aggressively resisting arrest, and then being shocked, shocked when the taser comes out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I’m reading Gillian Fuller and Ross Harley’s Aviopolis, researching my book on omnitopia. An interesting quote:
Airports are a type of city designed to facilitate global mass-movement as efficiently as possible. The city exists in no single location. It is dispersed and distributed in much the same way as most global information networks, and yet it is inhabited by real people and things (not just data). To access this city one needs to buy into a very particular set of procedures and rules. (p. 11)
Read More: Aviopolis 2

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iran Update - mid September

The Telegraph offers new insight into U.S. preparations for potential war with Iran. Some excerpts:
Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran, amid growing fears among serving officers that diplomatic efforts to slow Iran's nuclear weapons programme are doomed to fail. (para 2)

In a chilling scenario of how war might come, a senior intelligence officer warned that public denunciation of Iranian meddling in Iraq - arming and training militants - would lead to cross border raids on Iranian training camps and bomb factories. (para 5)

Under the theory - which is gaining credence in Washington security circles - US action would provoke a major Iranian response, perhaps in the form of moves to cut off Gulf oil supplies, providing a trigger for air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and even its armed forces. (para 7)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lincoln Highway

The back of this 1941 postcard (distributed by Central City, Pennsylvania's Grand View Point Hotel) reads "Having a swell time."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Upgrade to MS-DOS 5!

The eighties weren't all hair bands and new wave thin ties. Let's not forget corporate r-r-r-rap!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saving Grace

Tom Petty's 2006 single "Saving Grace" is a literally perfect addition to my prized roadtrip playlist, one of those rare songs that I know will amp my interstate travels for a long, long time. I must admit, though, I'm a little surprised. Back in the eighties, I never cared much for Petty. His nasally voice and seemingly pedestrian lyrics failed to impress me, a confirmed Genesis fan in those days. Nowadays I don't listen to Genesis that much, but I've come to appreciate Tom Petty. I don't know if he grew up or if I did, or if it's a combination of the two, but his latest album ("Highway Companion") and single have grabbed me.

"Saving Grace" begins with a driving pulse of rhythm guitar and an occasional metallic clatter that reminds me of telephone poles and clotheslines and westbound trains. "I'm passing sleeping cities," Petty says, "fading by degrees, not believing all I see..." Organs and textured guitars roll to the sound of handclaps and the song gathers steam: "And it's hard to say who you are these days. But you run on anyway…" After the first chorus, "Saving Grace" officially becomes an ass-kicker, growling with a primal junkyard saunter that catches me a little by surprise every time I hear it. I flash on tin roof Mississippi juke joints. I remember empty, dusty roads and blue-sky afternoons. And I yearn to hit the highway with a six string of my own.

"Saving Grace" speaks of guilt and the desire to escape the sins you've committed, and I think of my own. To me, road trips have always been about that saving grace, the chance to live simply, without context or memory. They provide opportunities to flee the small places of my life, oddly enough by visiting smaller ones still. Among the broken bottles and grimy windows of an abandoned motel I've always felt some degree of renewal. And yet the road never offers a real escape, only a brief respite. That's what the song means, I think, when Petty sings, "You're confident but not really sure." But I run on anyway.

PS: Listen to the song a couple of times and see if you don't agree: Petty begins with a simple roadtrip anthem, but he seems to conclude with a shove at President Bush's inability to get off that bloody road running through Iraq:
You’re rolling up the carpet
Of your father’s two-room mansion
No headroom for expansion no more
And there’s a corner of the floor
They’re telling you is yours
You’re confident but not really sure.
It's almost as if a new adventure in Iran may be perceived as some form of "saving grace."

California Fire Safety Propaganda

Ahh, the joys of California politics. Given the vast distances and huge population of this state, partisans for various causes find that reason expressed through oratory, a foundation of democracy, must be replaced with garish and manipulative emotional appeals. Consider a group calling itself "Californians for Fire Safety." This organization paid for an ad in a recent issue of the San Jose Mercury News that featured the horrifying image of houses on fire, explained by the following vague threat: "…[S]ome politicians in Sacramento have proposed a sweeping ban of flame retardants that help prevent fires -- and keep our homes and families safe." Those awful politicians! Why don't they keep our homes and families safe? What do they have against the suburbs? Won't somebody think of the children? Every time I see this kind of crude pitch, I get suspicious. And I'm not alone. A number of bloggers (most notably Surf Putah) have concluded that this ad is, at minimum, misleading.

To begin, "Californians for Fire Safety" are not Californians at all. According to a biophysical chemist named Arlene Blum (who is writing for an admittedly left-leaning website called California Progress Report) these "Californians" represent out-of-state chemical companies who help produce flame retardants that have been outlawed in children's clothes because of their carcinogenic properties. The companies who produce these chemicals are now fearful that legislation pending in the California assembly (AB 706) will outlaw their products in furniture as well, so they're raising the alarm that new retardants designed to replace the outdated chemicals will torch houses and kill people.

Truthfully, I have no idea whether the chemicals sold by "Californians for Fire Safety" are toxic or not. I have no expertise to evaluate the claims and counterclaims by industry insiders and scientists. But I do study persuasion with some experience, and I smell something unsavory about this ad. Yes, a huge picture of burning houses will grab the attention of the average newspaper reader (or recipient of a mass-mailed flyer or auto-dialed message or statewide television spot…). But this ad should more directly state its terms. Who does the group represent? What bill is at stake? What is wrong with the unnamed chemical alternatives? What precisely are we to tell our state legislators? I imagine that the producers of this pitch expect frightened Californians to call Sacramento and say, "Ban fire retardants? Are you crazy?" -- as if AB 706 fails to offer a responsible alternative to the materials being sold by these chemical companies. And I'm fearful that some Californians will fall for this lame appeal.

I plan to learn more about this issue. And I may indeed conclude that today's flame retardants, despite the cancer-causing risks they may bring, might be better than the alternatives, and that California should allow their use. But I don't anticipate that outcome. Any group of companies that would label themselves "Californians for Fire Safety" and employ these sorts of fear-mongering tactics does not inspire my trust.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Cool article posted by the Associeted Press yesterday, Techies Ponder Computers Smarter Than Us. Here's an excerpt:
High-tech entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil raised the profile of the singularity concept in his 2005 book "The Singularity is Near," in which he argues that the exponential pace of technological progress makes the emergence of smarter-than-human intelligence the future's only logical outcome.

Kurzweil, director of the Singularity Institute, is so confident in his predictions of the singularity that he has even set a date: 2029.
And, yes, 2029 is a Terminator reference.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tee Pee Motel

The Houston Chronicle has just posted a story story about the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, Texas. Monica Rhor writes:
For years, however, Wharton's Tee Pee Motel was little more than 11 gutted shells engulfed by a tangle of overgrown weeds and a broken sign that once beckoned guests with neon lights and an image of an American Indian chief.

Then, a diesel mechanic named Bryon Woods won $49 million in the Texas lottery in July 2003.

Four months later, Woods and his wife, Barbara, were driving by the ruins of the Tee Pee Motel, about 50 miles west of Houston, when Barbara Woods piped up.

"I want to stay there. Let's buy it and renovate it."

Barbara Woods had dreamed of staying in the Tee Pee Motel ever since she was a little girl. And now, she was an adult with nearly $50 million to spend.

After waffling for a few months, Bryon Woods gave in. He bought the 10-acre property for $60,000 — and spent the next two years and $1.6 million sweeping away the cobwebs and debris, remodeling, painting and fixing the neon sign.

"This wasn't about making money. It's having something no one else has," said Woods, 42, whose grandmother was Comanche. "This is a piece of Texas history."
We had the pleasure of staying at the Tee Pee this summer. A renovated piece of Americana, this site is a treasure, and a bargain to boot.

(Photo by Andrew Wood)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tokyo Rising

Some things just speak for themselves.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Time for a Draft?

Newsweek recently ran a piece by Mark Finelli, a veteran of both the Twin Towers attacks and the Iraq war, who asks a once-crazy question that increasingly seems sane. In a time of war, why have we not initiated a draft?
The real failure of this war, the mistake that has led to all the malaise of Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the failure to not reinstitute the draft on Sept. 12, 2001—something I certainly believed would happen after running down 61 flights of the South Tower, dodging the carnage as I made my way to the Hudson River [I worked at the World Trade Center as an investment adviser for Morgan Stanley at the time]. But President Bush was determined to keep the lives of nonuniformed America—the wealthiest Americans, like himself -- uninterrupted by the war.
Finelli raises a troubling issue, one that we must no longer ignore. Americans don't believe in vast standing armies; we prefer well trained volunteers in time of peace. But if we're in a war, we should mobilize all the nation, poor and wealthy, to this effort. That's how democracy works.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Searching for Car Guys

These "car guys" fascinate me. While traveling, I frequently spot these fellows on auto business signs, fixing engines, repairing cracked windshields, adding new coats of paint. They're generic icons, appearing all over the country, notable for their blocky bodies, sharp lines, and bold colors. I imagine an auto body shop owner receiving a graphics catalog one day: "Add zip to your signage with these car guys."

Truthfully I have no idea who creates and distributes these images, or even whether they can be newly purchased; something about the car guys screams late seventies or early eighties. Either way, they grab my attention every time. The "car guys" are functional, professional, and direct in their pitch. Need your car fixed? That's what these guys do.

I call them "car guys" because I can't think of a better term to reflect their identities, though I think the same artist has worked in other venues. During our recent Summer BBQ Tour, I could swear that I saw a "car guy" on a sign for a bar. Apparently "car guy" likes a game of pool after a long day at the garage. There he was, standing rigidly with a pool cue parallel to the straight line of his body. I regret not shooting that sign, and I'll keep an eye out for "car guys" on my future travels.

Are there any "car guys" where you live? Send me a photo!

(Photos by Andrew Wood)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Obituary for a Fake

Following up on yesterday's post about obituaries, I got a kick out of an obit correction that appeared today:
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) -- In a Sept. 2 obituary for Bill Henry, The Associated Press reported erroneously that he was the former major league pitcher of the same name. The deceased was a Lakeland resident, also known as Bill Henry, who had been passing himself off for more than 20 years as the player, according to his stepfamily and his pastor. The former pitcher lives in Texas and says he is in good health.
Here's the original, and here's an article expanding upon the error: Lakeland Man Wasn't Who He Said He Was. An excerpt transforms this tale into something truly sad:
[Elizabeth] Henry said her husband . . . loved speaking to schoolchildren about his glory days. As a surprise about 10 years ago, she even painted a portrait of her husband, using a Bill Henry baseball card from his days with the Cincinnati Reds. Henry, 79, said her husband's first and second wives died years ago, as did his two biological children, and she assumed that all of his possessions, photographs and memorabilia from his baseball career were long lost.

"I was married to somebody that maybe I didn't know," she said. (paras 27-28)
I wonder how many autographs this fellow signed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Obituary

I wrote my own obituary a while back. No, I don't plan to die any time soon. But I've had an opportunity to read the obituaries of both my mother and my mother-in-law in the past year. And I found both efforts, well intended as they were, to be less than satisfying. Maybe it's the control-freak quality of my nature, but I wouldn't want to have my life sifted and weighed by someone else, even by a loved one. I'd rather mark my life's turns on my own terms. It's a futile gesture, I know. The memory of a person is precisely not hers or his. The life of the dead is a communal patchwork of anecdotes and quotations, delicate euphemisms and courteous lies, and as a future corpse, I have little hope in stitching that quilt precisely to my own liking. Even so, I wrote a fairly decent obituary, and I plan to update it from time to time and ensure that my family can find it without too much hassle. The speed of events unleashed when someone dies, the funeral preparations alone, make the early completion of an obituary a gift, at least a first draft of how I'd like things to be.

In writing my obit, I reflected on the thousands of family-written paid notices that I've read over the years, vowing not to make some of the same mistakes. Yes, I read the obituary pages every day. It's an essential part of my newspaper routine. I'll almost never even open the sports page, but I'll always read at least one obit. I so enjoy hearing about life lived well, of a person's travels, accomplishments, and surprising choices. I look forward to those brief stories that add some meat upon the bones of "born here" and "died there." I relish the quotes and quips that suggest the humor or sparkle or ornery nature of a person who lived in some coherent manner. And I read with particular fondness the obits of men and women who served in the Second World War. It's an oft-quoted number that 1,000 veterans of that global conflict die every day. Sometimes these are folks who fought with distinction alongside noted generals. But I'm just as happy to hear about the guy who worked in the motor pool of some forgotten Pacific island or the gal who rigged parachutes somewhere in England. Generally, these obits mention WWII service and then jump to a thirty-year career that, from the length of the notice, seems to pass in seconds. I slow down in these columns, and sometimes I read them twice.

Reading family-written obituaries, and rewriting my own, I think about the things that drive me nuts about this form of epideictic prose, the practices and formulas that make for a lousy life story. At the top of my obit-rant list is the baffling choice to document every second cousin and brother-in-law in an unreadable paragraph of family names. Yes, a person's legacy might be found in the number of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. If that's the case, let's hear those numbers: 4 children, 12 grandchildren, and so on. But an entire paragraph that lists the names (and, in the most annoying instances, their current cities of residence) of a person's progeny could better be spent offering vivid detail about the deceased's style of parenting. Tell a story that offers more insight into the quality of a person's ability to raise a family, something more than "goodness, she certainly was prolific." Beyond the dreaded name-list are the hoary obit clichés: people who die "surrounded by family," men who'd "give you the shirt off his back," women "beloved by all." Perhaps the worst of the bunch is the evaluation of a person's death. It's not enough to die of cancer. We must now consider whether a person dies "courageously" of the dread disease -- all the more reason to savor the bitter humor of The Onion's story, Loved Ones Recall Local Man's Cowardly Battle With Cancer (warning: adult language). The most likely sin to be committed by my obit: reading like a resume. I'll try to excise some of that posturing before that document is put to use, but I'm making no promises.

For quite a while I've thought about writing this post, fearing that my breezy analysis of this form or my list of obit clichés would bring pain to someone still raw from their own grief. And I certainly don't intend to belittle the occasion. Still, I think it important to consider with some critical detachment the nature of the obituary, particularly ones written in the United States that suffer from a pronounced atrophy of form and style. I suppose my inspiration to finally write this note came upon finishing Marilyn Johnson's book, The Dead Beat, a humorous and thoughtful analysis of the craft of obituary-writing. Filled with moving history and sparkling anecdotes, her book offers a solid description of why we write and read these things:
[O]bituaries, as anyone who reads or writes obituaries will tell you, are really not about death. They're occasioned by death, and they almost always wrap up with a list of those separated from the beloved by death, but they are full of life. The good ones are as intoxicating as a lung full of snowy air, as clarifying as the glass the ophthalmologist drops before your eyes, that brings the world into sudden sharp focus. The great obits aren't the products of jackknifed tractor-trailers and hurricanes -- the obits are released by such disasters. (pp. 195-196)
That, more than anything, is why I wrote my own obituary, not as an excuse to dwell upon death but rather to reflect on life, my own in particular. As of yet, I haven't filled my few allotted paragraphs with sufficient love or sacrifice or courage or adventure. I've traced out some paths and moved in a few general directions, but the trajectory of my life still stretches onward, somewhere out there. In this way, the obituary, both for the dead and the living, remains a map more than a requiem. A great obit points the way to how I'd like to be.

Monday, September 3, 2007

San Jose - Before and After

Here's a terrific collection of San Jose (California) before-and-after photos sponsored by the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association.

These images show plainly how fundamentally San Jose has changed in the past three decades. Dusty, gritty streets are now lined with trees, and low, flat buildings are augmented (if not replaced) by towering glass structures. Once known as possessing a downtown best ignored after dark, San Jose is becoming a destination worthy of its size and historical significance.

Certainly the city continues to suffer from a range of urban ills, and I don't necessarily agree that new buildings necessarily represent an improvement over old ones. But no one can study these pictures and not be impressed with the breadth of the changes that have swept through this city.

(Images gathered and photographed by Gerald J. Greenleaf)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Next stop: Iran?

From Tim Shipman's Telegraph article entitled, Will President Bush bomb Iran?:
On Tuesday, President Bush dramatically stepped up his war of words with the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom the US government accuses of overseeing a covert programme to develop nuclear weapons. In a speech to war veterans, Mr Bush said: "Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust." (para 6)

This was widely taken to mean that he is set on a confrontation with Iran that will culminate in a bombing campaign to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, just as Israel bombed Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in 1981. (para 8)

So the question is: did Mr Bush last week set America inexorably on a path to the next war? (para 10)
For many Americans, such a question seems absurd. Anyone who studies the state of our military -- troops, equipment, morale -- would conclude that the United States has shot its wad in Afghanistan and Iraq, that we'll need a decade to rebuild after our adventures in that part of the world. And yet few doubt our president's stubborn confidence in the rightness of his actions. Mr. Bush, the candidate who once spoke of a humble U.S. foreign policy, may have set us upon a path that has no detours.

Now, let's be clear. The actions and rhetoric of the Iranian government are indisputably threatening. Indeed, I take seriously the claims that U.S. soldiers have been killed due to the proxy efforts of Iraq's eastern neighbor. And I respect Israel's genuine alarm about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. These are dangerous times, and they call for a brave response. But still, I remember those assurances of Iraqi WMD waiting to be uncovered from the desert sands. And I cannot help but be skeptical that, yet again, we are gearing up for another strike in that blood-soaked region.

Did history just catch up with us? Or are we inventing as we go along?

Learn More

Sarah Baxter, The (UK) Sunday Times: Pentagon 'three-day blitz' plan for Iran: "Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same." (para 3)

Howard A. Rodman, The Huffington Post: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bombing Iran: "I've been dismissive of these rumors, as have you. Why? Because one would have to be a madman (or Dick Cheney) to start a second war when the first one is going so [kissably] well . . . I was inclined (you were inclined) to dismiss all this bluster as sabre-rattling. Alas, in the past week it has become apparent . . . that those sabres are Tomahawk missiles -- and that they're locked, aimed, loaded. (paras 2 and 6)

(Image from CarryaBigSticker)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Alpha Aurigid Meteor Shower

I read yesterday that residents of the western United States would be blessed with a rare opportunity to watch the Alpha Aurigid Meteor Shower, so Jenny and I awoke at 4:30 this morning to enjoy the show. While the San Jose Mercury News cautioned that the storm might be a bust, thanks to the brilliance of the nearly full moon, we couldn't resist an opportunity to see a meteor shower that might peak at between 100 and 200 shooting stars an hour.

At the appointed time we ventured to the nearby soccer field and peered upward. A few yards away, another fellow was doing the same thing. He asked us, "meteors?" in a hopeful tone. I imagine it would have been much more fun to reply, "Meteors? No, we're here for park sex," but I didn't have to heart to freak him out.

Truthfully, the show wasn't that stunning. In about twenty minutes we must have seen no more than seven shooting stars, though that's more than our average for all of last year. The longest ones, lasting less than a second, nonetheless seemed to glow a deep green as they swept downward from the east sky.

I remembered the story of how Steven Spielberg was inspired to create Close Encounters of the Third Kind, my favorite childhood movie, upon recollection of his father waking him up and racing him to the car to see a "surprise." The young Spielberg was scared and excited at the possibilities of being up late at night during that mysterious hour. It was that very moment of fear and wonder that ran through a scene from the movie when Roy Neary raced his family out of their beds to see something in the night sky.

Eventually Jenny and I began to associate meteors with occasional cash-outs of a slot machine. Minutes of waiting, the gathering gloom, then whoosh - the exhilaration of the lucky moment when the light would streak. Ding, ding, ding! By about 5 we agreed to turn back, just as the sprinklers began to turn toward our patch of the field.

I write this, thinking of the wondrous feeling of being awake at some strange hour, looking for lights in the night sky and thinking, "just one more minute. The next one will be worth the wait." Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. But it was undoubtedly nice to stand in the dew with Jenny and share a few moments of anticipation.

Learn More

American Meteor Society 2007 Meteor Shower Calendar

Alan Boyle's MSNBC Cosmic Log: Catch a falling star: "The bottom line was that the meteors were a bit more impressive than I expected, but a lot sparser than the three-per-minute that had been projected."

Wes Stone's Major Meteor Showers in 2007

See More

November 18: Leonids

December 14: Geminids

(Image of a 2006 Meteor Shower from NASA)