Sunday, December 30, 2018

Moviegoer plays Superman.

This happened 40 years ago this week.

It was late December of 1978, I was 19 and working the snack bar at the Elsinore Theater in downtown Salem, Oregon. For those not familiar, the Elsinore was built in 1926 and had a seating capacity of about 1,350 spread on three levels. The main floor had about 700 seats or so, a luxury loge section on the mezzanine level had another hundred, while the upper balcony had over 500 seats. Being the largest theater in town, we got most of the big blockbuster movies, and for this Christmas season we were playing the first Superman movie.

One night somewhere between Christmas and New Years we got the crowd in for the final showing of the day. We closed up the snack bar, I filled out my time sheet, and was ready to go home. I went out to my car, a 1976 AMC Lemon, er, Pacer, and it wouldn't start. I went back inside and asked my manager, Mr. Proctor, if he could give me a ride home since we lived barely three blocks apart. He said he'd be happy to. I would deal with my car in the morning.

We sat in the office for about an hour shooting the breeze until the show broke. We then stood in the lobby watching the crowd exit the building when some frantic ladies came running up to us saying “Someone just fell out of the balcony!”

Mr. Proctor and I ran into the auditorium. He followed the women down the aisle they came from. For reasons I don't remember I went down the far right aisle. Maybe it was to stay out of the way, or maybe to get a different perspective on the scene. I don't know. I watched Mr. Proctor quickly assess the situation before heading back towards the office. I followed.

In 1978 we didn't yet have a 911 emergency system. We had to dial a seven-digit number for emergencies, which meant we had to open the phone book and read it. Mr. Proctor was so flustered he couldn't focus his eyes on the phone book and he asked me what the number was. Of the two of us I seemed to be the calmer one so I said “I'll call.”

While I talked to the dispatcher Mr. Proctor went back to the auditorium and realized that in addition to the man who fell there was another man hanging motionless over the seat in front of him. Mr. Proctor's first thought was “Oh my god, he killed someone.” But then he saw his fingers move, one at a time, then his arms and legs, one at a time. The man was a body builder who had enough sense to test each limb before attempting to move his whole body. Eventually he got up and he was OK.

Medics soon arrived and took the fallen man to the hospital. We later heard that he got off with just three cracked ribs. Meanwhile, Mr. Proctor began getting witness statements. He started with the victim's female companion who said he fell asleep, then woke up not knowing where he was. In his disoriented state he accidentally stumbled over the edge of the loge section. Upon hearing this another witness standing behind Mr. Proctor leaned into his ear and whispered “Bullshit.”

The other witnesses were all in agreement. The man was seated on the aisle three rows back from the balcony's edge. When the credits rolled and the lights came up he got up and ran straight off the balcony, no doubt thinking he could fly like Superman. He landed on the main floor about four rows in front of the balcony. Had he stumbled off as his companion stated he would have landed directly below the balcony's edge.

Several days later the local newspaper ran a brief article about the incident, playing up the man-thinks-he's-Superman angle. But the story was not complete until one day several weeks after the fact. Two girls who looked to be about 13 or so came up to buy some popcorn. One of them asked me “Did someone jump off the balcony here?” When I answered in the affirmative she informed us “That was my uncle. He was on acid.”* I shared that bit of information with Mr. Proctor who, like me, was not surprised but mildly amused by how I learned it.


*Acid is a slang term for the psychedelic drug LSD.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Measure J Deception

Until a few days ago, I thought I knew what I was going to say about Measure J, which relates to a public buyout of our privately owned water utility California-American Water, or Cal-Am. Based on what I had been reading about it in the local press, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about it. But now that I've had a chance to read the complete text of Measure J I find it is far different from what has been advertised and much worse than I ever imagined.
The formal title of Measure J is “The Monterey Peninsula Water System Local Ownership Feasibility Study Initiative.” That's how it is being sold to Peninsula voters, as a “feasibility study.” But surprisingly, the word “study” is nowhere to be found in the body of Measure J's text.
Although the text of Measure J spans two full pages of the Monterey County Voters Guide the bulk of it is devoted to spelling out J's purpose, a list of “findings” or statements used to justify the measure, and some housekeeping legalese related to the circumstances of the ballot measure itself. The actual meat of Measure J involves just a few short paragraphs. Read them carefully:
The following Rule 19.8 shall be added to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, Rules and Regulations, Regulation I, General Provisions:
Rule 19.8. Policy of Pursuing Public Ownership of Monterey Peninsula Water System
A. It shall be the policy of the District, if and when feasible, to secure and maintain public ownership of all water production, storage and delivery system assets and infrastructure providing services within its territory.
B. The District shall acquire through negotiation, or through eminent domain if necessary, all assets of California American Water, or any successor in interest to California American Water, for the benefit of the District as a whole.
C. The General Manager shall, within nine (9) months of the effective date of this Rule 19.8, complete and submit to the Board of Directors a written plan as to the means to adopt and implement the policy set forth in paragraph A, above. The plan shall address acquisition, ownership, and management of all water facilities and services within and outside the District, including water purchase agreements as appropriate. The plan may differentiate treatment of non-potable water services.
As you can see, there's no mention of a feasibility study. None! Instead, it firmly establishes a public buyout as official Water Management District policy. It also mandates that the agency immediately draw up plans to buy out Cal-Am and carry out the plan “if and when feasible,” in other words, as soon as possible. Furthermore, the word “feasible” is undefined, leaving it open to a broad range of interpretations which will no doubt lead to unnecessary political and legal squabbles. 

This is no mere fact-finding study to aid us in making an informed decision on whether or not to buy out Cal-Am. No, it is an open-ended commitment to buy out Cal-Am regardless of whether it saves Peninsula ratepayers money or ends up costing us a bundle!

Just so you know where I stand, I really don't care if the water company is publicly or privately owned. I am completely neutral on the issue. If Measure J was really just a buyout feasibility study, with no obligations or strings attached, I would vote for it without hesitation. Having good data specific to local circumstances, as opposed to aggregated statistics about public water systems in general, would bring clarity to the public debate and help our community decide whether or not to pursue public ownership.

But Measure J doesn't do that. Rather it assumes that public ownership will benefit local water customers, forces the Water Management District to pursue it, and relies on the vaguely worded phrase “if and when feasible” to hopefully act as sort of an emergency brake just in case the assumption is wrong. That is bad public policy, so I urge a NO vote on Measure J.

Friday, October 26, 2018

$1,000 gas tax?

State senate candidate Rob Poythress has been running attack ads against incumbent Anna Caballero on local TV. In one ad Poythress criticizes Caballero's support for the 12 cents per gallon gasoline tax increase which took effect earlier this year. Poythress claims this tax increase is costing motorists $1,000 a year.


Let's do some math. $1,000 divided by 12 cents per gallon works out to 8,333 gallons of gas consumed per year. Divide that by 365 days and we discover that one would have to burn through almost 23 gallons of gas per day, every day, in order for the tax to add up to $1,000 annually. For a car that gets 30 miles per gallon on the open road, 23 gallons would take you all the way from Monterey to Eugene, Oregon, which for all practical purposes is a two-day drive.

I could be charitable and say that Poythress is being misleading, but since this claim of his is so blatantly false it really falls into the “lying weasel” category.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"OK Google," stop recording everything I say

While setting up my new Google Plus profile, Google asked me to do a "Privacy Checkup" in my security settings. I did and learned that Google has been recording every word I ever said using my phone's voice recognition software, used to type text messages, "OK Google" requests, and other functions converting voice to text. (NOTE: it was NOT recording phone calls or anything I typed with my fingers.)

The reason Google was doing this was to learn my speech habits to convert it to text more accurately. It also said I was the only person who could access my archive. But it kinda creeped me out.

Fortunately it gave me a  way to shut it all down. Here's how:

In a web browser sign in to your Google account. Find "Personal info and privacy". Select "Manage your Google Activity."

Click on "Go to activity controls."

Scroll down to "Voice and audio activity." Turn the slide switch off ("paused"). This turns off any future recording but does NOT delete any existing recordings.

Click on "Manage activity." You'll then see a list of all your speech to text activity ever. You can even play back every word you spoke.

In the left column click "Delete activity by". A pop-up will appear to delete your recordings by date. Under "Delete by date" click the drop-down menu and select "All time". Then click "Delete." All of your archived recordings will be deleted.

You're welcome.

LED Painting

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Congress behaves. Really!

I watched about an hour of the Mark Zuckerberg Senate hearings on C-SPAN this afternoon. It was the least partisan discussion I've seen in Washington for a very long time. Democrats and Republicans alike treated Zuckerberg with respect and their overall attitude was "We've got a problem, let's work through it." 


If they can take that approach to social media, they should be able to do the same with health care, gun violence, police brutality, global warming, environmental protection, infrastructure, transportation, tax policy, deficits, public safety, and more. Our government would then be working as the founding fathers intended.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Star Spangled DC-3

I'm going to try something new here today. I have generally kept my Mental Notes separated from my photography. Not for any particular reason, it just sort of happened that way. Oh, I have a link and slide show widget in the sidebar pointing Mental Note readers to my online Photography Gallery & Picture Shop, and occasionally I have used some of my images to illustrate a blog post, but never before have I used this venue to write about my photography directly.

But lately I've been looking for ways to drive more viewers (OK, let's be honest, I really mean potential customers) to my online gallery. I've been looking to expand my social media presence, and may do that very soon, but it occurred to me that I already have a built-in audience of 3 or 4 regular Mental Note readers and an unknown number of irregular ones, so this seems like as good a place as any to showcase my images and tell the stories behind them. It's strange that I hadn't thought of it sooner.

So from time to time, when the mood strikes me, I'll share a picture accompanied by a few relevant words. Let's start with the story of the Star Spangled DC-3.

Star Spangled DC3

This was the first airplane I ever photographed, at least in a serious fashion. It was in the spring of 1978 during the final weeks of my senior year in high school. My mother had recently given me my first SLR, an Olympus OM-1, as an early graduation present.

I was attending a boarding school in the mountains of Lake County in California. Our school cook, Chick, was also a seasoned pilot, and one Spring afternoon he took me and my buddy John flying out of Lakeport. We had hoped to fly over the campus and get some aerial photos, but it was a bit stormy that day and the ceiling was too low to safely fly over the mountains. So instead we just flew over Clear Lake. The flight was rather bouncy, and after one go-around I'd had enough, as had the cook's wife, so we got out and let Chick and John go around a few more times without us.

A pair of DC-3s were parked at the edge of the field, so I took my camera over to check them out. One was missing its engines, but this one was intact. I walked all around it and photographed it from every angle. This shot is still my favorite. The angle was partly inspired by a scene near the beginning of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind wherein a WWII TBM Avenger engine is photographed at a low angle as it was started up.

I shot this photograph on Agfachrome slide film mainly because, unlike other brands, the price included processing. All I needed to do was pop the film into the included mailer and drop it in the mail. It was by far the easiest way to get film developed while living far from the nearest drugstore. Although it has been in storage for the last 40 years the color has held up remarkably well, but compared to the Kodachrome slides in my collection it had quite a few blemishes which required several hours of digital clean-up work.

Prints of this photograph (framed or unframed) are available by clicking on the image above or by clicking here. If you don't have room on your walls, the image can also be printed on customizable greeting cards, handy tote bags, soft fleece blankets, decorative pillows, and round beach towels. If you or anyone you know likes historic aircraft or patriotic imagery, any of these products would make a great gift. Every purchase includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. Finally, please note that the "Fine Art America" watermark will not appear on your prints or other products.

If you'd like to purchase a digital download with publication rights please visit Pixels Licensing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

That damn gun problem.

Judging by their reaction to every mass shooting in the last twenty years, it is evident that gun rights activists aren't willing to lift a finger to help curb the violence. Quite the contrary, they go to great lengths to explain through twisted logic why common-sense gun regulations “won't solve the problem.” Their unwillingness to even try suggests that they're content to let the carnage continue in order to maintain their unfettered access to firearms.

Besides, they tell us, the real problem is the government. A heavily armed citizenry is absolutely necessary to protect us from government tyranny, they say, implying that random gun violence is an acceptable price to pay to keep the government off of our backs. 

Meanwhile, the more sensible among us cry at the latest news, and we live in fear wondering if we, our families, or our friends will be among the next victims. We watch helplessly as every attempt to solve the problem is thwarted by politicians bought and paid for by well-funded gun lobbyists, and thus we realize that the tyrants controlling our lives are the gun owners themselves.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Trump's Infrastructure Plan

Trumpty Dumpty's infrastructure plan is a fraud, and here's why. For most of our lives road and highway projects have been funded 80% from federal money and 20% from state money. Trump's "plan" reverses that formula so that the feds only put up 20% and the states must pay 80%. In Trump's fantasy land, states will have to find four times as much money in their highway construction budgets before being eligible to receive any federal highway funds. Fat chance of that happening without massive state tax increases.