Category Archives: A blogger’s musings

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.

Via Post Secret: Life in post-New Deal America


From Post Secret, where folks submit the secret thoughts close to the core of their beings, an anonymous message that strikes close to home for esnl:

BLOG Golden

Such is life in an America where the New Deal protections of the 1930’s and the ideals they embodied have been gutted, along with the labor unions that paid a major role in their enactment.

Pension plans have been gutted and the rules of the financial game changed profoundly, resulting in a concentration of wealth as great as that preceding the Great Depression.

Polling shows that most people in most countries believe the world will be worse for their children than it has been for them. We all know the warning signs, though most of us [esnl not included] have a comforting religion or belief system that promises a better afterlife, or at least victory over pain and suffering.

For great many of, anxieties about retirement are real and imminent, as they are for us.

And we also know what it means to be confronted with a cancer where diagnosis means if not certain death, the the high likelihood [80 percent or more] of a short-term lethal outcome.

And so spotting the card at Post Secret sunk home, 13 months after the chemo that has carried its own not-insignificant price.

And such are the thoughts of a Thursday evening. . .

Sadie Rose, happy as a clam with her new digs


Grandma just sent a new snap of the apple of our eye after Sadie’s mom and dad move into their new digs in Los Angeles, necessitated by her arrival and the need for more space.

So we indulge a Grandpa’s prerogative and share it with the world:

BLOG Saide Rose

How Roman Polanski got us kicked off a jury


UPDATE: We removed a couple of identifiers from the case from which we were excluded to preclude just the problem that lies at the heart of the story.

Not that we wanted to be kicked off, exactly.

In all of our nearly seven decades of life, we’ve never had the opportunity of serving on a jury, so when we received a summons and drove down to the local County Superior Court Tuesday morning for the first phase of jury selection, we found ourselves in a panel selected for voir dire in a criminal case.

Good, we thought. Having spent so many years reporting on the criminal justice, we were finally getting the opportunity to see its workings from the inside, in the very heart of the process, the secret deliberations with a group of fellow citizens which would decide both the fate of the defendant and, to some degree, the credibility of those who had brought him or her before the bar of justice.

Besides, we’ve been having a record heat wave for May, and welcomed the chance to spend a few days in an air-conditioned courtroom rather than our own non-air-conditioned little home.

We filed into the courtroom, filing every seat in the spectator’s section and the jury box as well and after the swearing in, the judge explained the basics of the case.

The defendant, it seems, was a man charged with raping by threat of force his own niece while she was 12 and 13 years old. There were other charges as well, including forcible oral copulation.

Before midday we went sent hope and told to return today for questioning to determine our suitability to sit in judgment.

It was last night when then sobering thought occurred that during the questioning process — something we were very familiar with, having observed it as a reporter on a dozen or so occasions — might provoke some answers that could prove inflammatory or prejudicial.

That’s because we had testified in a case involving a very famous suspect who had been facing some of the same charges before the victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution and testify, leaving the defendant to plead to lesser offense, so-called statutory rape of a 13-year-old.

People v Roman Raymonnd Polanski

The defendant was Roman Polanski, and during the course of the legal proceedings, we were summoned to the witness stand to refute a story by a German reporter claiming that Polanski had violated the terms of a pre-trial agreement that had allowed him to travel abroad to finish arrangements for a film he was scheduled to direct for Dino DiLaurentiis [who also testified, along with Bill Farr, a reporter for the Los Angles Times who had previously and famously done jail time rather than testify as to the source of a leak in another famous case, that of Charles Manson].

Our testimony at the time [1977] was widely reported, resulting in [among other things] a call from an ex-wife who had seen us on the evening news as we left the courtroom [cameras were allowed in California courts at the time].

Our role in the Polanski case resurfaced in 2008, with the release of the documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich, a film in which we are prominently featured, providing both background on the case as well as direct evidence of misconduct by Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, who had called us into his chambers, complained that wives of his friends from the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club [the center of his social life] were complaining about the terms of the plea bargain. And then he dropped the bombshell: “Dick – tell me. What the hell should I do with Polanski ?”

Judges are supposed to reached decision based on facts produced through the legal process, statutes, and case law. One thing judges are barred from doing by the canons of their own profession is to seek advice from reporters on sentencing and disposition.

We threw up our hands, and said “Whoa, judge, that’s your decision,” earning a scowl and a curt dismissal.

We was only able to tell the story because the judge had died a dozen years earlier, releasing me from an agreement never to reveal anything we discussed in his chambers as long as he lived.

After we had learned of Rittenband’s death a few years before we were interviewed for the film, we had contacted Polanski’s attorney to recount the story and sent along an affidavit of the account, declaring its veracity under penalty of perjury. We were told we might be called to testify, because the director hoped to return tot he U.S. at some point to lay the matter to rest.

Polanski had spent time in a state prison undergoing testing to determine in he was a mentally disordered sex offender, a legal label that would have haunted him for life. But the prison psychiatrist and the Los Angeles County Probation Officer assigned to the case agreed that Polanski should serve no more time. . .but there were those darn wives at the Hillcrest, leading to the judge’s gross violation of judicial ethics and, perhaps of more serious statutes.

[For more about the case itself and our role in it, as well as the judge’s mob ties, see our previous posts.]

Back to Judge Hashimoto’s courtroom

The release of the documentary resulted in newspaper and magazine articles as well as reports in online media, both in the U.S. and abroad, in which we were mentioned, sometimes prominently, and they’re appear if any jury happened to Google “Richard Brenneman” and “Polanski”.

And so it was last night as we were about to drift off into sleep that we suddenly realized that questioning in front of our fellow would-be jurors might evoked the notorious words “Roman Polanski,” a named which has been harshly treated in stories often poorly written and riotously inaccurate accounts both in print and online [just search for “Polanski” and “rapist” and see what sort of bilge washes up].

Just the mention of his name, much less a detailed account of our own role in the case, might inflame the jury, we decided and prejudice them against the defendant, who was already facing highly inflammatory charges.

And so this morning, we interrupted the court clerk, who then instructed us to fill out a sheet of paper outlining just why we felt we had information important for the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney to know.

After an initial round of questioning of some of our fellow jurors, everyone but esnl was instructed to leave the courtroom. After they’d departed, the judge summarized the contents of my note [which mentioned that the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, European newspapers, and other media had covered our role the case as revealed in the film just as they had reported on our testimony three decades earlier.

We acknowledged that, indeed, such were the facts.

The judge then announced that he and the lawyers all agreed that I shouldn’t sit on the jury.

The defense attorney smiled as we left.

And so here we are, sent home to enjoy the heat because of Roman Polanski.

Ain’t it a kick in the pants?