Friday, March 30, 2007

Mt. Hollywood Burns

FIRE!... No, we are not in a crowded theatre but at our office, where we have an excellent view of a wildfire on Mt. Hollywood

The fire at about 1:30

The fire at about 1:45

The fire at 2:05

The fire from the office of my friend, Beth, who works on the West Side, miles away

A workmate flagged me down at about half-past one this afternoon and pointed out the window. In the distance, south of the Disney tower in Toluca Lake rose a huge plume of smoke. We went up to the roof to look and I brought my camera. According to news reports, the fire started on the north side of the Hollywood Reservoir and rapidly made its way into the Barham Pass / Cahuenga Pass area, where it threatens the large Oakwood Aparments complex.

After a few minutes flames were clearly visible to us on the rooftop, some 5 miles distant. Through the binoculars -- which I keep in my desk drawer for watching planes fly in and out of Bob Hope Airport across the street from my office -- I could see tanker helicopters dive-bombing the flames with jets of water. Then, back at my desk, I fired up the Internet to see what news. offered a live video stream of the fire. Watching it I could see the same helicopters descending onto the Hollywood Reservoir to snorkle water out of the lake.

Ash is beginning to fall.

The response of the fire crews and the media has been phenomenal. The live stream at KTLA was up within minutes of the start of the fire. Judging from that media coverage, the fire crews have shown stunning professionalism in dealing with the crisis.

As of this moment, however, the fire is still burning out of control.

The fire at 3:00 p.m.

Right now I'm glad I live on the west side of the Cahuenga pass in Studio City, as the wind is blowing the smoke and ash eastward over Glendale and Burbank. It promises to be a very smoky and unpleasant weekend for those folks.

The news reports say that 150 firefighters are fighting the blaze.

Update: The fire is out. Two teenagers started it. They turned thenselves into the police. Stupid bastards. Well, I played with matches, and worse, when I was young. Luckily I never burned up 120 acres of valuable habitat for wildlife trapped in an urban setting. Looking at the damage today from the next hill over, some of it looks pretty bad, with large patches of ash in some places. It'll be bad when the rains come again, if they ever come again, as there will be nothing to hold down the loose ground. I feel bad for the chipmunks, coyotes, deer, possums, lizards, squirrels and other pesky li'l critters who struggled to make that already bleak hill their homes.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Real Men Don't Take Hostages

In which we express our ire at an international situation

Fifteen sailors of the Royal Navy were captured by Iran's Revolutionary Guard while running a routine inspection of a vessel suspected of trafficking in contraband autos in the Shatt al Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq. Iran now reports that the Royal Navy mariners have "confessed" to violating Iranian national waters. One wonders under what duress did they "confess."

Real men don't take hostages, which is exactly what Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, has done. It's a cynical move designed to postpone, if not scuttle outright, the negotiations over Iran's suspect nuclear program that Ahmadinejad was scheduled to enter into a couple weeks ago at the United Nations. It's intended to buy Iran's nuclear bomb-builders more time to finish their work.

Here in the U.S. we have a phrase for men who pull these kinds of shennanigans. It's "asking for it."

Now, in support of these brave boys in blue, let's all sing:

When Britain first at Heav'n's command
Arose from out the azure main;
Arose, arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
Addendum: The Daily Show's John Stewart -- a man who already owns a pair of cajones of considerable girth -- augmented his balsiness last night with this report on the Iran / British hostage crisis...

Meanwhile, writing in the L.A. Times, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, two fellows from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, have called for tough international action on Iran for violating the Geneva Convention, a treaty to which that country is a signatory.
Even Timothy Garton Ash has come out condemning Iran's hostage-taking, saying that the E.U. must step up to protect its people regardless of how Europeans feel about Britain's involvement in the war in Iraq.

Monday, March 05, 2007


In which we mull over the L.A. Marathon of today and the Marathon of the past

On Sunday the City of Los Angeles held its annual marathon. A guy from Kenya won in the men's competition, as usual, while a woman from Russia won in the women's (it's usually a Swede). Behind them came about 30,000 foot-sore losers. No surprise there.

The race began a few hundred yards from my apartment. I know because I was awakened by half a dozen T.V. helicopters flying low over The Grotto early in the morning to observe the spectacle.

Anyway, after lounging around reading the paper all morning, I decided to catch "The Departed" at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood to see what all of the Oscar hubbub was about. From what I can tell the hubbub was just that and not much more. I give it about a six. (And, by the way, remind me never to trust the Boston Irish.)

Taking the subway back to The Grotto I shared a car with about a dozen teenage marathonistas wearing medals showing that, if they didn't win, they at least finished. I congratulated one young girl who blushed. Then I asked her, "So do you know why it’s called a 'marathon?'" She shook her head. I asked another. He didn't know either. This sparked a round of questioning among their friends, answered by shoulder shrugs and phrases like "Dude! Why you ask me?"

The Battle of Marathon, 490 B.C., was one of the most important victories in Western history. Had the Persians won the day instead of the Greeks, there would very likely never have been what we today call "Western Civilization," with all of its ideas of democracy and its beliefs in personal freedom and individual rights. The modern marathon, of course, commemorates that victory and the running of the Athenian hoplite, Pheidippides, from the city of Marathon, where the battle took place, back to Athens, to report the victory. Pheidippides is said to have croaked from exhaustion, right there on the spot.

It's a wonderful thing that so many people today live in such outstanding conditions -- conditions that only personal liberty and leisure time can bring about -- that they are able to run more than 26 miles one day and go to work or to school the next, barely even limping. What’s not so wonderful is that we owe much of it to the blood, courage and sacrifice (not to mention the superior reasoning) of our Greek forebears -- and we don't even have the smarts to acknowledge it.
Yet there may be hope. This weekend opens "300," the special effects, violence-fest extravaganza based on the tale of the 300 Spartans, directed by Zack Snyder of "Dawn of the Dead" fame. Yes, I know, that was Thermopulae, not Marathon. The point is that, where traditional education may fail to engage, Hollywood sometimes fills the gap. No, I don't mean Hollywood is faithful to history. I mean that Hollywood films and T.V. programs about historical events can whet the appetite of the curious mind to learn more. It certainly happened to me, growing up on an audio-visual diet of old war movies, sword-and-sandal epics, Hogan's Heroes, Victory at Sea and so forth. Perhaps a few young minds will be intrigued enough by this film's violence and drama to explore the history and ideas behind them... Or maybe they'll just come away thinking the Persians liked cool face piercings.