Sep 17

Tomorrow, we meet George Jetson

Tomorrow, the town will receive its first automated vehicle. It is said to be a bus. And you can ride in it. They gave away tickets! But if you didn’t get a ticket, there’s still a chance! They are doing walkup tours. All of this reminds me of those old newspaper stories about the first plane in town. Here, it was 1911, and the headlines read “‘Birdman’ with Machine Coming.”

“Take a ride in the air ship, and listen to the band play. Welcome to our city. There will be a hot time … stand on the hub of the wheel of the center of population and feel the world go around.”

That October, the flight crew reassembled their plane (it had to be hauled in by train) in the meadow next to our building. The paper says thousands of people came from all around to see two flights. An uneven field, a barbed wire fence and a stall on takeoff caused a crash.

The locals rushed in and started tearing apart the plane for souvenirs. One of the flight crew threatened to shoot the looters, so much of the plane, and the pilot, Horace Kearney, survived. He flew the plane again that December, but died in a plane crash the following year.

The next summer, there was another plane and another flight in Dunn Meadow, another pilot got his plane in the air. He crashed into a fence trying to dodge power lines and telephone wires.

So maybe that’s the reason they are also closing the roads for the automated bus.

The bus is expected to go up and down one of the main business roads. Today they’ve cleared off the parked cars, too. This is apparently going to be a three or four block ride up a straight street.

So, naturally, we’ve closed all of the intersecting roads, as well.

Blocks of two-lane gridlock.

You don’t want to inconvenience the robotic bus, after all.

Sep 17

So your standard Thursday night, then

And now, a nice little sports show you can watch to catch up on all of the local sporting news:

I saw this print in a restaurant last weekend:

We have a running question about whether it is true that Marilyn Monroe came home from that USO tour to her new husband and said “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering.”

“Yes,” Joe DiMaggio said, “I have.”

It’s a great line, because Joe DiMaggio. But it was apparently first written in a Gay Talese essay, so it almost seems too perfect. The nature of quotes is a fickle thing sometimes, but if we will them into being we can sometimes will disbelief into submission.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. It’s interesting to think that it happened, because it says so much about Marilyn Monroe. But to think that it is just a manufactured line, that she would know better, would say an awful lot more. Which is why I like to think it didn’t happen, that that wasn’t the exchange between an aging ball player and a young starlet.

I do know this. She’s just glowing in pretty much the entire photo collection, and she’s got that little dress on, in Korean, in the winter. All of the troopers are bundled up. It is February and some 30 degrees, at best. But there she was, soaking in that adoration and lust. A shot of home in a place very much not.

And of course I see this photo on the side wall of a hallway heading to a restroom.

You know, it isn’t as easy to track down the photographer of a 63-year-old photo as you might imagine. Surely the rights to that photo belong to an agency by now, but they’re all buying each other up and none of that helps gets you back to the actual photo zapper.

I think she’s singing Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend in that shot. You can see the same gesture here:

And if you watch the whole thing you might have to re-think everything you know about the 1950s.

I don’t really have a way to end this piece. I’ve looked for loops to repeat and curious, out-of-this-world trivia hooks that you wouldn’t believe. But everyone in the story is from somewhere else, or did other things. But I’ve watched that video a few times and I imagine Joe DiMaggio had a … different sort of adoring crowd.

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.

Aug 17

Hurry up, cookie

With this evening’s dinner came this good news:


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.

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…