history


11
Aug 17

I could have used some water out by the river

I did that thing today where you look out of the window of your ninth-floor hotel room and see a nice little park below and think That’s where I’ll jog today. So it was a good thing when I packed my running shoes the night before last, really.

So I put on said shoes and the appropriate clothing and went out to the park. I figured I would do a few laps until I got in my three miles. It’d be a bit repetitious, but I’m in a park in a city I’ve only just arrived in and how badly can you get lost or otherwise out of sorts?

First I ran to the right. I quickly found I ran out of sidewalk space. OK, that’s one boundary. So I turned around, retraced a few steps and set off across the length of the park. The sidewalk in this park didn’t cover one route. There were turns and forks and the like. I managed to take all of the correct turns and, soon, I was down by the river, whereby I remembered my geography. I’m in Omaha, which is in eastern Nebraska. Which means this must be the Missouri River and that, over there, is Iowa.

Down on the river’s edge I met another jogger who told me how to get to the pedestrian bridge and then I ran to Iowa. This is the view on the bridge, over the Missouri. Nebraska is on your right, Iowa on the left:

By now I figure that I have to run at least a little ways into Iowa to make this count, so I did a mile. Here’s some evidence of that:

And at this point I figure, things feel pretty good, I’ll just keep running in the midday sun and make this a 10K. That’s 6.2 miles to you and me. I did that right about here, where the thought occurred to me that, this part of Iowa and Nebraska, looks like a lot of places I’ve seen:

So I’m on this really nice, but ultimately very quite trail, when I see, in the distance and around the bend, the top of a bridge that might be worth checking out. So I figured me and my sweaty shadow would just keep jogging:

I am in Council Bluffs, Iowa at this point. And the rules are, there are no rules:

Finally I round the bend and see the bridge. This is the Illinois Central Missouri railroad bridge. The original Omaha bridge was built in 1893, but what we see today dates to 1908:

And this is a double swing bridge. Each of the rotating spans are 521 feet long. I’m standing on the railroad tracks in Iowa looking back into Nebraska here. The Iowa side of the bridge remains open these days for river navigation. That’s why it is sideways:

The river through here was dredged in the 1940s, and a fire in the 1970s meant the eastern side, the Iowa side, couldn’t operate under its own power. They opened and closed the bridge with a bulldozer and cable after that. Here are some of the gears that would move the Iowa portion:

The bridge was shut down in 1980, but the tracks could be pressed back into service if necessary. Here is a panorama of the Iowa side of the bridge. Click to open the full-sized version in another window.

And this, standing in Iowa and looking west, is the Nebraska side of the bridge and shoreline:

And then, of course, I had to run back to Nebraska. Here’s my view from near the center of that pedestrian bridge I crossed over, this time looking upstream. Nebraska is on your left and Iowa is on your right:

And, finally, the last piece of evidence of my two-state run, the actual map:

I’ve run across a state line before, but that was in a triathlon and by design, not on a 10K impulse. I do not know what is happening.


9
Aug 17

Hurry up, cookie

With this evening’s dinner came this good news:

fortune

The obvious reply is … Well?

And the obvious retort is “You got lucky numbers on the next line, pal. This is an American thing, not some ancient mystic wisdom. This is from a factory in Manitowoc, Wisconsin or some place and not from a specifically catered-to-you diving insight. We use a javascript the boss’s nephew wrote to randomize these notes, after all.”

Which is funny in its own way. The last time we ordered Chinese we got four cookies. Two cookies each! My fortunes were identical. So someone in Manitowoc needs to step it up.

In our undying effort to set the record straight, Wikipedia will now tell us where fortune cookies are made:

The largest manufacturer of the cookies is Wonton Food Inc., headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. They make over 4.5 million fortune cookies per day. Another large manufacturer are Baily International in the Midwest and Peking Noodle in the Los Angeles area. There are other smaller, local manufacturers including Tsue Chong Co. in Seattle, Keefer Court Food in Minneapolis and Sunrise Fortune Cookie in Philadelphia. Many smaller companies will also sell custom fortunes.

So be on the lookout the next time you get a fortune cookie. Then maybe you start a spreadsheet and see whose cookies have the highest rate of prophetic accuracy.

Here’s a fine looking building:

Monroe County Courthouse

Find out more about it on the historic markers site. There are more interesting and important local places you can see right here.

And I think you should read this on Twitter:

It’s nice to see the public-facing Bill Murray have such a nice year. Seems the least the universe can do.

I hope he didn’t steal my luck, though. The fortune cookie came to me, after all.


26
Jul 17

‘Now batting … Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II’

Any guesses on why this path is important?

Trick question, the sidewalk itself isn’t important, but the property is quite meaningful. You can find out why on the most recent addition to the historic markers site. And if you want to read all of the markers I’ve collected from my bicycle, well you’re just a special history fan yourself, aren’t you? You can see them all, in reverse chronological order, right here.

A quiet day at work, a quiet evening with food from the grill. I spent some time writing.

And I read the scariest story of the day, something Michael Lewis got in Vanity Fair, that reads like it is the first chapter of his next book. Lewis has his detractors, but he can put words down. And if even a third of this story is feet-down accurate, this is disturbing. And so an almost-random six paragraph selection:

(T)he Trump White House asked the D.O.E.’s inspector general to resign, along with the inspectors general of the other federal agencies, out of the mistaken belief that he was an Obama appointee. After members of Congress called to inform the Trump people that the inspectors general were permanent staff, so that they might remain immune to political influence, the Trump people re-installed him.

But there was actually a long history of even the appointees of one administration hanging around to help the new appointees of the next. The man who had served as chief financial officer of the department during the Bush administration, for instance, stayed a year and a half into the Obama administration—simply because he had a detailed understanding of the money end of things that was hard to replicate quickly. The C.F.O. of the department at the end of the Obama administration was a mild-mannered civil-servant type named Joe Hezir. He had no particular political identity and was widely thought to have done a good job—and so he half-expected a call from the Trump people asking him to stay on, just to keep the money side of things running smoothly. The call never came. No one even let him know his services were no longer required. Not knowing what else to do, but without anyone to replace him, the C.F.O. of a $30 billion operation just up and left.

This was a loss. A lunch or two with the chief financial officer might have alerted the new administration to some of the terrifying risks they were leaving essentially unmanaged. Roughly half of the D.O.E.’s annual budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal, for instance. Two billion of that goes to hunting down weapons-grade plutonium and uranium at loose in the world so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists. In just the past eight years the D.O.E.’s National Nuclear Security Administration has collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs. The department trains every international atomic-energy inspector; if nuclear power plants around the world are not producing weapons-grade material on the sly by reprocessing spent fuel rods and recovering plutonium, it’s because of these people. The D.O.E. also supplies radiation-detection equipment to enable other countries to detect bomb material making its way across national borders. To maintain the nuclear arsenal, it conducts endless, wildly expensive experiments on tiny amounts of nuclear material to try to understand what is actually happening to plutonium when it fissions, which, amazingly, no one really does. To study the process, it is funding what promises to be the next generation of supercomputers, which will in turn lead God knows where.

The Trump people didn’t seem to grasp, according to a former D.O.E. employee, how much more than just energy the Department of Energy was about. They weren’t totally oblivious to the nuclear arsenal, but even the nuclear arsenal didn’t provoke in them much curiosity. “They were just looking for dirt, basically,” said one of the people who briefed the Beachhead Team on national-security issues. “‘What is the Obama administration not letting you do to keep the country safe?'” The briefers were at pains to explain an especially sensitive aspect of national security: the United States no longer tests its nuclear weapons. Instead, it relies on physicists at three of the national labs—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia—to simulate explosions, using old and decaying nuclear materials.

This is not a trivial exercise, and to do it we rely entirely on scientists who go to work at the national labs because the national labs are exciting places to work. They then wind up getting interested in the weapons program. That is, because maintaining the nuclear arsenal was just a by-product of the world’s biggest science project, which also did things like investigating the origins of the universe. “Our weapons scientists didn’t start out as weapons scientists,” says Madelyn Creedon, who was second-in-command of the nuclear-weapons wing of the D.O.E., and who briefed the incoming administration, briefly. “They didn’t understand that. The one question they asked was ‘Wouldn’t you want the guy who grew up wanting to be a weapons scientist?’ Well, actually, no.”

In the run-up to the Trump inauguration the man inside the D.O.E. in charge of the nuclear-weapons program was required to submit his resignation, as were the department’s 137 other political appointees. Frank Klotz was his name, and he was a retired three-star air-force lieutenant general with a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford. The keeper of the nation’s nuclear secrets had boxed up most of his books and memorabilia just like everyone else and was on his way out before anyone had apparently given the first thought to who might replace him. It was only after Secretary Moniz called a few senators to alert them to the disturbing vacancy, and the senators phoned Trump Tower sounding alarmed, that the Trump people called General Klotz, on the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and asked him to bring back the stuff he had taken home and move back into his office. Aside from him, the people with the most intimate knowledge of the problems and the possibilities of the D.O.E. walked out the door.

And, finally, John Jay is trending. Apparently this is a left fielder for the Cubs, though of course I thought of the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. So I decided to make an all Supreme Court baseball team:

OF: John Jay
OF: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II
OF: Bushrod Washington
3B: James Iredell
SS: Benjamin Cardozo|
2B: Salmon Chase
1B: Thurgood Marshall
C: Melville Fuller
P: Hugo Black
DH: Harold Hitz Burton

Relief: William Howard Taft
Relief: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Closer: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Holmes has to make the team, of course, but he has to also wear his bushy mustache. And Harold Hitz Burton was an obvious and inspired choice for DH. And my team probably can’t hit for power, and they have no real speed, but they make up for all of that with their clubhouse presence.

UPDATE: Of course it has been pointed out that I left off perhaps the most athletic jurist on the court. Byron White was an All Pro in the NFL before turning to the law. And he was an All-American on the football field at the University of Colorado, as well. The Whizzer also hit .400 for the Buffaloes. I wonder what he thought about free agency…


19
Jul 17

I’ll soon tackle the office closet, requiring signal flares

I installed two more shelves on an office wall today. If you enjoyed yesterday’s explanation of the process you can just imagine this twice this evening. Though, this time there were four nails and only four nail holes. Also, I developed something better than the traditional tape system to mark my spots. Then I did math four times, measured twice and drove a nail.

But the first nail is never the problem, is it? When you’re hanging something that has more than one holder it is always the math related to that second nail which is a bit more tricky. The first nail will live wherever you put it and, at worst, you just have a quirky sense of style. That second one though bears a direct relationship to the first. And at that point all of your hardware better come from Mars. Or Venus. Either one, so long as they are from the same one.

The nails have to be relative, is what I’m saying. Maybe they have to be related. No, that’d be weird. Why would the second nail stick around for that? Morbid curiosity? “What just happened to my brother? Oh well, I guess I’ll just sit around and seeeeeee — ” and then suddenly that nail is driven into the wall, too.

At any rate, a slow rate really, my home office is coming along. There are only two walls that aren’t spoken for. One is dominated by a rather large bookshelf. The other features a closet door and some curiously placed electrical plate covers. It is a small room, but it has two cable outlets, and they are about four feet apart and that is in vertical distance. This was done, I can only assume, at the beginning of the wall-mounted television craze. My solution has been to cover this space with wall art.

Now, would you like to hear about the procedure I used to chop vegetables for dinner tonight?

Back to the historical markers. We just returned to this section of the site last week and I’m now showing off some of the historic sites in this new county. The original premise is still the rule. I’m riding my bike to all of the historical markers in the county. To find out all about this building right here:

You can see the complete list, here. There will be more as the weeks progressed.

Elsewhere, check me out on Twitter and over on Instagram, too.


12
Jul 17

Today we went global

I sat in a chair for about an hour and moved three faders up and down at the appropriate time and listened to three ladies talk about their time in town, in the state, in the country. It was a multinational show, you see. The ladies are from Zimbabwe, Mali and Mozambique. They are here, 25 in all, from 20 African nations, young leaders in a six-week academic and leadership institute called the Mandela Washington Fellowship. It is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative.

They did two shows today and we recorded one last week. They are really passionate, thoughtful people. I’m just moving faders and listening closely. They have a lot to say. I have a lot to learn.

Here they are now, in the production booth:

The composition was a deliberate choice. I didn’t say anything, it seemed right.

I think we’re in week three of their visit. I hope I get to see them a few more times while they are in town.

Meanwhile, on the site we are returning to a dormant section of the site. We’re back to checking out historical markers. I haven’t uploaded anything there in a little over year. The original premise of that subsection of the site was, and remains, that I would ride my bike to all of the historical markers in the county. Now, of course, I have an entire new county to explore. So here we are. You can find out all about why this building is important right here:

To see the complete list, go here. There will be more as the weeks progressed. Watch, as they say, this space.

Elsewhere, check me out on Twitter and over on Instagram, too.