They’re Off!

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Eamon and Sakura at the airport this morning, about an hour and a half before they took off for Tokyo. The clerk at the airline desk didn’t quite get it when Eamon said he didn’t have a return ticket: He’s going to Japan to stay (well, his initial spousal visa is good for a year and will be renewable for three years). Eamon and Sakura’s trip has been coming for such a long time that I think I took it kind of for granted and only thought briefly about how I’d feel when they were gone. But now that they are — it kind of hit me this evening when Kate said to Tom, “It’s just the three of us here now” — I miss them both

and feel like they’re very far away. But what a great adventure. And the next time we see each other, I hope, will be in


Ralph Wiley, 1952-2004

Just saw this on ESPN: Ralph Wiley, an author who worked on the network and for a long time as a feature writer for Sports Illustrated, died. OK: I have not read one of Ralph Wiley’s books, and didn’t follow his magazine career avidly. But I remember him when we were both “copy clerks” (an upgrade from “copyboy”) at the Oakland Tribune in 1977. I was personally in a pretty bad state at the time — was angry with my life and the paper and treated the job like a piece of crap. The Tribune let me go at the end of my three-month probation period. That felt bad, though entirely deserved, and for years I thought I would never work for a paper again. Eventually, I learned something from the episode about not burning bridges.

Ralph learned something else. On the job — at a not-first-rate paper run by a publisher who liked to put on disguises to visit the city room, a paper living under constant threat of going under or getting sold — Ralph made an impression Smart, quick, good-looking, and funny; he seemed like someone who was having fun and was really on his way someplace. He moved up from copy clerk to writing for the sports department, then became a beat writer and columnist, then moved

on to Sports Illustrated. Here’s a decent obit from theWilmington (N.C.) Journal.

Next-morning update: The San Francisco Chronicle has a nice piece on Wiley by columnist Ray Ratto this morning. And the Oakland Tribune remembers him, too.

Names on the Land

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I printed out a little map from Yahoo! Maps yesterday because I was driving over to the scary suburbs of northern Contra

Costa County to pick up a box of tile. I noticed this morning that the map contained the name of a place I’d never heard of before and thought was a humorous misprint: “Herpoooo.” I know that some mapmakers salt their products with deliberate errors to catch cartographic thieves who betray themselves by repeating the mistakes. I was wrong on two counts. First, the name is “Herpoco” but was unreadable on my poor printout.

But still — Herpoco? Never heard of it. Though when I thought about it, it occurred to me it might have a connection to nearby Hercules, which itself has a link with an explosives company that ran a plant there (here’s the history).

Still — look where Herpoco is placed on the map — smack in the middle of a freeway interchange. But having too much time on my hands, obviously, I plugged Herpoco into Google. The result shows it’s an actual place name, though I don’t think it would mean a thing to most of the hundreds of thousands of people who live close by or pass through every week. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System delivers this hit when you query the name Herpoco:

Feature Name: Herpoco

Feature Type: populated place

Elevation: 60

State: California

County: Contra Costa

USGS 7.5′ x 7.5′ Map: Mare Island



And the gay-lesbian community search site ePodunk lists Herpoco, too, with a note that it was named after the Hercules Powder Company (successor to the California Powder Works and a long-ago spinoff from DuPont. But that’s another story).

Funeral, Hold the Blather

Kate wanted to watch the Reagan service before she went off to school this morning, so she turned on CNN about 6:30. Within a minute or so, one of the “hosts” asked such an offensively insipid question about Reagan’s legacy that we switched to C-SPAN’s coverage. Not a new observation, of course, but it’s great to get a chance to watch events like this free of the network’s insistence on providing running commentary on everything. Aside from the awful quality of most of the noise the TV people provide, it’s like we in the media are terrified of ever letting anything speak for itself.


Through the intercession of a friend, I got an email account on Google’s Gmail beta. That was a couple weeks ago, and so far I’ve sent exactly three messages and received three. If I like it, I’ll make it my primary address, replacing my venerable but spam-bombarded Well account. The controversial aspect of the service is automatic text analysis of incoming messages so that Google can deliver ads tied to keywords it finds in your friends’ and business associates’ notes to you. That hits the privacy nerve big time. This morning, I got to see how this works in practice. A friend sent a note mentioning “Lightning Field,” an amazing-sounding art installation in New Mexico. Cool! On rereading the note, here’s what I see on the page’s right-hand margin:

Related PagesLightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt — Franklin’s Philadelphia [The Electric Franklin]“The Lightning-rod Man”

From The Life and Works of Herman Melville.

First thought: Look at that!

Second thought: Interesting that of all the things mentioned in the note, the only hit was on lightning. And the results are obviously noncommercial; maybe a feature of the beta to deliver sites relevant to keywords rather than ads for now.

Third thought: The privacy concern is real. How do I feel about even an automated analysis of messages that *must be* traceable to me or my friends if someone decides there’s a basis for interest (not to be too vague there, but the first issue here is the USA Patriot-era expectation that the FBI and other counterterrorist police will cast a wide net in the search for people thinking about or writing about or contemplating the wrong things; and the second is that textual analysis has been a major challenge for the police agencies, and here someone has created a service that probably accomplishes a lot of useful work for them).

Still thinkin’.

Bill and Ivan in WWII

On the Mother Jones site today, there’s a mini-essay that makes the point about the Soviet role in defeating Hitler much more clearly and completely (if also more shrilly) than I did (it’s the part titled “Remembering Bill and Ivan, about halfway down the page):

“… It is no disparagement of the brave men who died in the sinister hedgerows of Normandy or in the cold forests around Bastogne, to recall that 70% of the Wehrmacht is buried on the Russian steppes not in French fields. In the struggle against Nazism, approximately forty ‘Ivans’ died for every ‘Private Ryan.'”

D-Day Remembered

We all know what happened 60 years ago today. The Allies — really the Allies, not some jury-rigged “coalition” — launched a massive, risky, daring invasion of France, the key stroke in the western offensive against Nazi Germany that would help bring down the Third Reich just 11 months later. That seems like a lot, right? But it’s not enough for the president or nearly anyone else who lives under the Red, White and Blue. Here’s the prez, in part, from his speech in Normandy earlier


“The generation we honor on this anniversary, all the men and women who labored and bled to save this continent, took a more practical view of the military mission. Americans wanted to fight and win and go home. And our GIs had a saying: The only way home is through Berlin. That road to V-E Day was hard and long, and traveled by weary and valiant men. And history will always record where that road began. It began here, with the first footprints on the beaches of Normandy.”

And here’s another stirring example, from the beloved Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes” tonight:

“What the Americans, the British, and the Canadians were trying to do was get back a whole continent that had been taken from its rightful owners by Adolf Hitler’s German army. It was one of the most monumentally unselfish things one group of people ever did for another.”

That’s all great. We’re heroes who saved the world then and are still busy doing it, one Iraqi militant, one Iraqi soccer ball at a time. But you got to wonder what those helpless liberated Europeans — who happen to include Russians, by the way — make of this renewed reminder that we saved their butts.

Yeah, D-Day was huge. But anyone who’s got any idea of the course of the war knows there was an Eastern Front on which Hitler wrecked his armies (but only after inflicting horrific casualties on both civilians and enemy forces); anyone who knows the course of the war knows that American GIs might have talked about Berlin, but that it was the Red Army that fought its way to the German capital; anyone who knows the course of the war knows that U.S. forces were on the sidelines as Germany invaded Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Norway, Greece, the Balkans, the Baltic states, Russia and the rest; anyone who knows the course of the war knows that it took the Japanese attack on

Hawaii to kick our sense of selflessness into high gear, a full year and a half after France had fallen to the blitzkrieg.

It’s fitting to celebrate heroism and sacrifice and the nobility of citizen soldiers answering the call to duty. It’s dishonest to rewrite history to defend, implicitly, current policies that have nothing to do with the heroes’ sacrifice. And it’s tiresome and kind of boorish to keep reminding the world of all the great stuff we’ve done on its behalf.

Reagan’s Dead

Now is no time to be uncharitable. Ronald Reagan died a long, lingering death that was doubtless heartbreaking for everyone close to him. I never thought I’d find myself saying so, but I admire Nancy Reagan for responding to her husband’s decline by taking on the fundamentalists and flat-earthers (like Bush and cronies) to demand more aggressive embryonic stem-cell research that might lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s. Good for her.

As for the former president himself, it must be noted from the Infospigot perspective that he became the answer to a big presidential trivia question: Which former chief executive lived to the greatest age? (I think John Adams, who remained lucid to the end, was the former title holder; he died at age 90, but that’s a well-known story).

Standing apart from the instant canonization and overnight hagiography of Reagan the Great, the Pious, the Good-Humored, the Brave, the Handsome, the Rugged, the Well-Spoken (who looks especially good when compared with the resident White House squatter), let us remember the Ron who (short list, and everyone has their own favorites):

–Played war heroes and talked tough, but never served in the ranks himself.

–Declared with relish that he would “loose the dogs of war” on

protesters at the University of California, which led to National Guard

helicopters gassing the campus.

–Ran up a deficit higher than an elephant’s eye, then shrugged and walked away from it (an obvious role model for Bush).

–Signed off on, then slept through, Iran-contra.

–Appointed James Watt secretary of the Interior.

–Made ketchup a vegetable.

–Pointed with pride to his union-busting (remember PALCO)?

–Invited the Bush dynasty into the White House.

But hey, he loved macaroni and cheese. What a guy.