Blogging Skilling

Current events note: The Wall Street Journal is offering some fine as-it-happens coverage of the Jeffrey Skilling/Enron fraud trial in Houston via its Law Blog. Just one example from today’s many posts:

"[Defense attorney Daniel] Petrocelli had Skilling describe the day of his indictment,
when the government allegedly purposely orchestrated a meeting between
a shackled Ben Glisan, Enron’s former treasurer, and Skilling in an
elevator with Skilling at the federal courthouse. Skilling said he
hadn’t seen Glisan since he left the company in August 2001. Here’s how
Skilling described their conversation:

“How’s it going Ben?”

“Not so good. You?”

“Not so good either. Hang in there. Take care.”

“God bless you.”

Coming Attractions


“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

–Sinclair Lewis, “It Cant Happen Here,” (1935)


On the marquee of Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre, whose owners are given to displaying extracurricular messages. Kate spotted it during the past week, and we drove over after midnight this morning to take a picture.

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Storm Water

It rained again last night, before midnight, then after, making today the seventh out of eight days this month we’ve had measurable precipitation. But today is beautiful. Sunny and a little warmer than it has been. Still: There’s water everywhere, and the creeks that run mostly underground from the hills down to the bay are high for this time of year. Here’s Codornices Creek where it emerges from a culvert on the west side of Colusa Avenue, about a half mile from our house.


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A Teacher (2)

A few years ago, another former teacher of mine, Mort Castle — also a longtime friend of G.E. Smith — helped G.E. pull together the hundreds of poems he had written since he was a boy in central Illinois and select some to be self-published in what turned out to be a pretty hefty volume called “Long Trails from Pleasant Hill.”

At various times, G.E. talked about his youthful ambition to be a writer. Most of the time he was dismissive of his own efforts, though occasionally he would talk about the factors that led him in other directions. For instance, that other writers had already said what he wanted to say, except better (published writers are the ones who realize this and keep going anyway). More significantly: His teaching absorbed so much of his time, intellectual energy and creative attention he didn’t really have the resources to follow his writing seriously. That was not an excuse: He poured all of himself into his classes and students, to the point where the demands he placed on himself brought him to and beyond the point of exhaustion. As Mort remembered in his little introduction to “Long Trails”:

“In 1968, I was Smith’s student teacher. I saw him in action, ‘grading papers,’ and it was not a quick-scrawl ‘Nice figure of speech’ here and ‘comma splice’ there. Not infrequently, a student who handed in a two-page paper received four pages of comment, comment not limited to correcting apostrophe goofs and refining expression, but personal commentary, a Smithian response to what was said and how it was said.”

Still, G.E. had the 800 or so poems, maybe in a picturesque heap that he thought of as organization, probably piled in the post-World War II semi-finished concrete-shell basement of his co-op apartment unit at 134 Dogwood in Park Forest. They probably would have stayed that way except for Mort and a change in G.E.’s own thinking about what his writing represented. “After I left college, I had no interest in publishing my poetry,” he wrote in his book’s preface. “It wasn’t until I began to think, as a genealogist, about how anything written by ancient relatives — even in signature — was (or could have been) so extraordinarily precious that I decided to consider publishing. I realized that I, too, someday, would likely be a long-ago ancient relative to someone who was pursuing my family history.”

So he and Mort brought out the book. I’d like to say that when it arrived here in Berkeley a few years back, I dove into it. But I didn’t. G.E. wrote a long inscription that thanked me, for among other things tracking down a copy of an obscure futurist novel that he had read while sailing from Europe to the Pacific as a Navy Seabee during World War II. I flipped through the book and stopped at a few of the poems. I probably found the project of reading more than a little overwhelming; and I’m sure I also had a tinge of envy and regret that I was holding yet another book by someone I knew while I myself had produced — what, exactly? (If I had ever said anything like that to G.E., he would have had something reassuring to say, then maybe started a conversation about why exactly I thought writing a book was important. Mort would have just said to sit down and start writing if I wanted to publish a book.)

G.E.’s funeral is tomorrow, down in the town where he went to and first taught in high school, Lexington. Afterward, I imagine there will be a long, long procession out to the tiny cemetery in his real hometown, Pleasant Hill, about three miles away. It will be by far the biggest event that would-be city, which started withering when the railroads bypassed it in the 1850s, has ever seen. G.E. and his grandfather and probably many others to whom he unearthed family ties have been cemetery caretakers there; we visited the spot together a couple of times a good 30 years ago; I think I was aware even then, when he was younger than I am now, that this was where G.E. hoped to come back to; not a patch of dirt in a swath of farm and prairie, but a place where his people were.

Feeling sad about the prospect of missing G.E.’s funeral, I picked up his book of poems. I thought, there’s got to be something in there where he talks about his own passing. I turned to the back of the book, to the section whimsically titled “Fear, Aging and Death.” And found this, dated 1990:

Grave Notes from the Underground

When I am dead,
who will enter this quiet sanctuary
and, speaking softly,
(Don’t shout!
I’m not deaf, you know.)
tell me the news I want to know?

Did the Cardinals win last night–
and who was the winning pitcher?

Did the bluebirds sing this spring
on the trail along Bluebird Lane?

Has the Big One ever struck
San Andreas or New Madrid faults?
(And am I safe in Pleasant Hill?)

Have politicos on Capitol Hill
yet understood the limits …
… and limitations … of capitalism?

Do my friends I loved so much
… just once in a while, perhaps …
call or visit each other?

From the knoll and the gnarl of Old Flat-top,
does anyone ever watch, as I once did,
the sunsets west of the sanctuary?
Or the April sunrise on the trail
as it enters Canary Clearing?

Does a cool breeze still stir the air
under the sinuous branches of Old Flat-top?

Do Browns and Boggs still gather
for reunions in July?
(Or do they go their separate ways,
ignorant of the roots that nourished them?)

Is warmth still there at one-three-four
on Dogwood Drive?
Is someone nurturing those
in need of nurturing?

Who came to say goodbye
as I lay freshly dead?

I know, I know.
I can’t reply.
Nothing has really changed.
I rarely had a chance,
when lifeblood-flowed and tongue was ripe,
to sneak a word in edge-wise.

Hey, take it easy there.
Your clomp’s so hard it’s apt to wake the dead.

More on G.E. Smith
Happy 80.5, G.E.
A Teacher
In Which We Gather by the River

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A Teacher

A for-the-record entry that should really be much more: Earlier this week, G.E. Smith, an old friend and one of my English teachers at Crete-Monee High School in the late ’60s and early ’70s, passed away. He died Monday, April 3, in St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights, Illinois. He was 81 years, three months, and a day old, a native of the village of Pleasant Hill, near the town of Lexington, in McLean County.

I wrote about him once before, on the occasion of his 80th birthday celebration last year. I’m just one of hundreds of former students and neighbors and distant relatives who became G.E.’s extended family. Every one of us would describe him differently, I’m pretty sure, yet we all saw a lot of the same thing: Someone who poured passion and love into ensuring the well-being and happiness of others, into learning and teaching, into exploring the world through the ideas and people he encountered, into developing a moral understanding of his place in the universe. A powerful example, and he is missed.

More on G.E. Smith
Happy 80.5, G.E.
A Teacher (2)
In Which We Gather by the River

Odd Quirks and Remnants

Just randomly, because Kate and I were quoting part of the passage last night:

“Benedick: … Love me!

why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censured:

they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive

the love come from her; they say too that she will

rather die than give any sign of affection. I did

never think to marry: I must not seem proud: happy

are they that hear their detractions and can put

them to mending. They say the lady is fair; ’tis a

truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous; ’tis

so, I cannot reprove it; and wise, but for loving

me; by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor

no great argument of her folly, for I will be

horribly in love with her. I may chance have some

odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me,

because I have railed so long against marriage: but

doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat

in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.

Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of

the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?

No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would

die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I

were married. …”

–“Much Ado About Nothing,” Act 2, Scene 3

I can’t read or hear this passage without seeing and hearing Kenneth Branagh’s peformance in his movie version of the play.

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Enough Already


I admit it: At some point, you just want to say, “Basta!” Today makes it 28 or 29 days out of the last 35 that we’ve had measurable rain. Everything’s sodden, and the curbs along every street have turned into permanent streams. But people adapt, like the guy on the bike. Spotted him while walking to work this morning and barely managed to get a shot.

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Marvin and Me

So today: Marvin Gaye’s birthday. And mine. The theme this year: 52-Card Pickup.

Got up late because of prolonged April Fool’s Day cycling activities. Began the day with conscious effort to deal gracefully with the fact my day got shortchanged a full 4-point-something percent through the loss of this morning’s spring-ahead hour. Kate and Thom and I had breakfast and opened presents, then Thom and I hit the road for Eugene, where classes start tomorrow after spring break.

The only driving worry was weather, but after seeing the first showers of the latest storm to sweep into the Bay Area, we didn’t have to drive in the rain until we got into the northern Sacramento Valley and along the drive up into the mountains north of Redding. But things cleared up after Mount Shasta, and the weather was dry across the higher passes into Oregon; for the first time on a trip up to Oregon, I carried snow chains today; I figured it was insurance against having to use them. We had some showers on I-5 through Oregon. Along the way,we listened to Thom’s entire iPod library of Marvin Gaye songs:”Let’s Get It On” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The pictures? They could be titled, “Hey, I got a new camera.”


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