Category Archives: A blogger’s musings

The Deptartment of You Read It Here First


Yep, it was Tuesday we began a post this way:

John Oliver: Guilty of investigative journalism

Really.

A realization suddenly dawned as we watched this latest and much-viewed clip from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about the Miss America pageant: John Oliver and his crew were doing something truly subversive. They were committing an act of actual investigative journalism.

Not only that: The episode captures in a fairly accurate manner the thought process giving rise to a completed print/video/audio investigative report.

SO image the little frisson of déjà vu we experienced came when we read a story published today by David Bauder of the Associated Press:

Oliver adds journalism to his comedy

In poking fun at the Miss America pageant on the most recent episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver reached for the comedic equivalent of low-hanging fruit. Then he veered into something wholly unexpected — investigative journalism.

>snip<

Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, calls Oliver’s work “investigative comedy.” Thompson has played the net neutrality segment for his students.

Research indicates that young people are much more likely than their elders to take a deeper dive into news stories that interest them, searching for more information online, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. What Oliver is doing responds to that desire, he said.

“There is a natural link between committing journalism and committing comedy,” Rosenstiel said. “They’re both in the uncovering and unmasking business, but with different approaches.”

Have to admit its feel nice to see our own work came in advance of a media media outlet the Associated Press — one that is a cooperative, too, and headed by a First Amendment lawyer turned publisher.

Southern Berkeley/North Oakland street seens


Some images captured on a stroll with younger daughter. . .

First, a face spotted by Samantha on the base of a freeway support. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 800, 33.3 mm, 1/100 sec, f5.5

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 800, 33.3 mm, 1/100 sec, f5.5

Another face, spotted on the asphalt beneath out feet. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 12.5 mm, 1/400 sec, f4.9

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 12.5 mm, 1/400 sec, f4.9

Another sidewalk vignette. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.3 mm, 1/1000 sec, f3.3

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.3 mm, 1/1000 sec, f3.3

The ghost of a long-vacant neighborhood snack stand. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 18.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f5.3

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 18.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f5.3

And light and shadow at play on a street tree bole. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 24.4 mm, 1/320 sec, f5.4

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 24.4 mm, 1/320 sec, f5.4

Take Five: Variations on a Brubeck theme


For a generation of white youths outside a few big cities in the late 1950s, jazz was a somewhat distant concept, usually associated with big bands or else in Noir mysteries. Ballads, then the Rock revolution launched with Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” in 1956 [esnl, then 10, ground his 45rpm disc into dust, giving equal treatment to “Don't Be Cruel” on the flip side, altogether the best 45 we ever owned].

While Elvis appealed to a 10-year-old growing up in a Kansas farm town, we didn’t discover jazz until we were in high school in a somewhat large college town at base of the Rocky Mountain foothills in Colorado.

The album that made us an instant convert was Dave Brubeck Quasrtet’s Time Out, which we first heard on the 1961 rerelease of the 159 original.

And one song turned into an earworm, subtly syncopating the way we strolled down the street or pedaled our bike.

Herewith, “Take Five,” with Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums, via vlogger TheDathi:

Dave Brubeck – Take Five

Contrast Brubeck’s performance of his Paul Desmond’s composition with this incredibly intense 1976 rendition by Al Jarreau via vlogger omgadd:

Al Jarreau 1976 -Take Five

Program note:

Super Rare – from a German TV Broadcast

Next, George Benson applies his impressive guitar chops at the Montreaux Jazz Festival via vlogger Vicente Garambone:

George Benson playing “Take Five”

Program note:

George Benson’s insane performance.

Next, Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo lays it out, via DRProduções Artísticas:

Diego Figueiredo – Take Five

Program note:

Diego Figueiredo e Alexandre Martins 2007. Ibirapuera

And to round things out, a radically different version from Lahore, Pakistan’s Sachal Studios:

Sachal Studios’ Take Five Official Video

Program note:

Recorded at Sachal Studios, Lahore, Pakistan – the premiere of Take Five’s Official Video!

Two Napa earthquakes: A video and a story


First up, some footage of Sunday morning’s disastrous Napa Valley earthquake, now estimated to has caused at least a billion dollars in damage to one of the planet’s most scenic places.

The dramatic footage was shot by videographer Evan Kilkus using a quadropter drone as a demonstration of the potential of drones to document damage from natural disasters. Pay close attention to those shots of parking shelter roof collapses at an apartment building, especially the very last ones.

We’ll explain after the video.

From Evan Kilkus:

Napa Earthquake 2014 Quadcopter Test Video

Program notes:

These are aerial clips showing a unique look at the major damage in downtown Napa caused by the earthquake on August 24, 2014.

Pretty impressive, no?

The quake sent scores to the emergency and critically injured three people, one a small child.

We were living in Napa when the last significant quake hit the valley.

It hit just after 1:30 a.m. one September 2000, and we were sitting in a recliner in a second floor apartment in the building with those collapsed parking roofs, and our own car used the last structure shown in the video.

Fortunately for us, the roof held in that 2000 quake, a 5.2. shaker compared to last weekend’s 6.0.

But less fortunately, we found ourselves suddenly alone in the dark, and feeling damn sore as we’d been struck repeatedly the instant the lights went out. Fortunately, we always keep a flashlight within reach, and once we managed to locate it in our chairside table, we discovered that the assault had been the result of books hurled across the room from our 140-year-old walnut wardrobe, the sharp end of which had come to rest on the elevated leg rest of our recliner. Just a few minutes earlier, we’d crossed our legs in our lap. Otherwise we’d have had two broken femurs to contend with [it’s a heavy wardrobe].

Since the phones were out and we lacked a cell phone [ah, blissful days], once we cleared a path through the detritus [stereo compents and our 32-include tube television also took a dive when the earth moved] me made our way to our car and headed up the road to the house where the ex and our two daughters lived.

They and the house were fine, so we headed back to the apartment, and found ourselves profoundly shaken because our ever-so-carefully arranged library had been scattered across the floors of three bedrooms, while most of our bookcases [made of plastic-connector-fused reinforced wire square grids] had collapsed into their components.

For a depressed and jobless writer and bibliophile who had read each of those thousand-plus volumes, the sudden and profound disorder [plus breakage of some antiques and antiquities held in trust for progeny] simultaneously shocked and dismayed.

Restoring order would take weeks, possibly months.

On 20 October, seven weeks after the earthquake, we were sitting in the same chair in the same room, when the second blow came, in the form of a painful cramping sensation in the neck and jaw. It’ll pass, we decided. But it didn’t, and the pain wasn’t just a cramp, but a wholly different thing altogether. Could it be a heart attack? No, we thought, that’s when you feel something similar, but in the left arm.

Then we got up.

Promptly falling to the floor.

We got up on knees, painfully making our way two knee-moves to the phone to punch in 911.

When the operator asked the nature of the emergency, we said we were probably having a heart attack. Three minutes later, paramedics were at the door. Minutes later we were in the same emergency room that handled this weekend’s earthquake victims.

We got a stent in the left anterior descending artery, the one the paramedics had called “The Widowmaker,” then spent two or three days in the ICU before heading home with prescriptions we’ve been swallowing since.

Subsequent research directly links earthquakes with increased heart attacks in a 16-week period after the temblor itself [with a major spike on the day of the quake itself as well], and we were convinced ourselves that the lingering effects of the quake-caused disorder in our physical environment had significantly prolonged the quake’s impact.

So when we see the impact of the weekend Napa quake, including the devastating caused at the apartment where we’d once lived, we feel a particular sense of empathy with those whose lives where literally and psychologically profoundly shaken by a reminder of the fundamentally contingent nature of our carefully ordered personal universes.

Welcome to esnl’s 10,000th post, five years on


And by way of celebration, a rerun of our very first post from 22 October 2009:

Of newsrooms and toe gum

I’ve joined the legion of downsized journalists. The Berkeley Daily Planet laid me off Monday, leaving me with time to work on this blog, a gift from a dear friend, inspiration, and future contributor.

American journalism is dead.

I wrote my first newspaper story in 1964, in the closing days of the era when the ink-stained wretch was king [and a few queens as well] and newsrooms were peopled with folks with sharp elbows, sharper tongues and a camaraderie that doesn’t thrive in today’s newsrooms, where many a reporter nurtures dark hopes that her neighbor, not her, will be the next victim of the accountant’s ax.

When I started in the business, anyone with a decent set of clips could walk into any medium-sized burg in the country and count on landing a job within days, at most weeks.

This is my first post, one of what will be an occasional series about te changes I’ve seen in newsrooms over the past forty-plus years. And I promise I’ll throw in some toe gum along the way.

Toe gum? Read on. . .

My first job at a daily paper was at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where I covered civil rights, radical politics, the war on poverty, conventions and night cops–the last one being the traditional assignment of rookie reporters.

I had a great city editor, Tom Wilson, who taught me the basic skills of the craft, the foremost being “Ya gotta put some toe gum in your stories.”

Toe gum?

Yep. Toe gum.

“Brenneman,” he said after I’d turned in my first few stories, “y0u’ve got what it takes to be a good reporter. You know how to ask questions, and you can write a good sentence. But the problem is that you don’t put any toe gum in your stories.”

My eyebrows shot up. I knew a reporter was supposed to write a lead that, in 25 words or so, included the who, what, when, where and how, with the why coming in the second graf at the latest. But toe gum?

Tom smiled.

“You gotta think about who you’re writing for,” he drawled. “Now you work the swing shift, and that means your stories go out in the edition that hits the casinos and hotels when the midnight shift is getting off. Folks who want to buy a paper, take it home and give it a read.

“Now imagine you’re writing for a cabbie. He’s been haulin’ around a bunch of drunken tourists all evening long. He’s been yelled at, maybe cleaned some puke out of the back seat, and his ass is numb from sittin’ on dead springs for eight hours straight.

“Now when he gets home and opens the door, he’s gonna head straight for his easy chair. He’s gonna slip off his shoes and socks, then rub his feet and rub out all that gum that’s built up between his toes. Then he’s gonna lean back and open up his paper.

“He doesn’t want to read an academic dissertation. He wants to read something that tells him about his world in a way that means something to him. He’s who you’re writing for. So put some damn toe gum in your stories, Brenneman!”

After that, whenever the academic in me threatened to come out, Tom would throw the story back at me with the simple instruction, “Needs toe gum.”

I’ll be forever grateful.

UPDATE: WordPress seems to have listened


As noted yesterday, WordPress made disastrous changes to the way bloggers entered and edited posts, prompting a raucous from users.

Well, lo and behold, when we set out this morning to make our first post, the old format had been restored.

A one word response: Hallelujah!

WorPress: Worst ever formatting changes


Any readers out there who happen to use WordPress have undoubtedly discovered changes made to day in the way users writer and edit their posts.

And, simply put, the changes are A*W*F*U*L.

We’re no longer able to add color to our typographic arsenal, and font sizing has been eliminated. Bullet point have become unusable in indented text, and we are no longer able to access past posts from the editing page.

The editing page also no longer displays paragraph spacing, forcing us to rework our last text post.

In addition, the display on the editing/new post page features impossibly pale blue type, widely spaced, and virtually unreadable for anyone with even a mild visual impairment.

Oh, and if you exercise the Preview Post function, you are no longer able to publish the post as you were previously, but must cut and paste the text into an entirely new post in order to publish what you’d previewed.

And, yes, this is all a little bit “inside baseball,” but the changes are so uniformly awful that we had to, er, vent.

In short, it’s a colossal disservice.

Perhaps they’ll come to their senses. At least we hope so.