Today’s Best Names

Ida Mae Astute: Photographer. Came across her name on a photo credit while I was reading up on what has become of Bob Woodruff, the erstwhile ABC News anchor who was nearly killed in January by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Lastings Milledge: New York Mets phenom (if phenom is still a phenomenon — maybe we’re past that) called up to replace Xavier Nady, the former Cal star who went on the disabled list after surgery for appendicitis. (Word from the Baseball Politeness Cops at the New York Daily News is that the kid has something of an attitude.)

Walt Whitman: OK, no color in the name beyond the man who bore it. But there’s plenty there, and besides, it’s his birthday.

Two from the Road


Drove back from Eugene last night and this morning. Started at 5 p.m. or so, stopped at the cheap gas station (a 76 station just south of town that is always at least a nickel or a dime a gallon cheaper than what you find near the university), then got on Interstate 5 southbound. The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend: I recommend it for your long highway trips. Very few people were on the road, and by the time we started the climb up toward the last Oregon summit on I-5, in the last hour before the sun set, it was like driving in the middle of the night.

Most of the way through Oregon we drove through sunlit showers, and for a while saw a rainbow around every bend in the road. The shot above is from the stretch between Yreka and Weed, in far northern California: Rain refracted in the last light of the day, a semi-rainbow. The peak near the center is Black Butte, a small volcanic peak just to the west of Mount Shasta. The shot below: from the climb up the northern side of Canyon Creek Summit, a little more than halfway between Eugene and the California line.


Tennis in Iraq

Here’s an item from Iraq, by way of the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle:

Iraqi Tennis Coach, Players Killed

“(05-27) 10:38 PDT BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — An Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were killed because they were wearing shorts, apparently in violation of a warning by Islamic extremists.

“Gunmen stopped the car in which the athletes were riding and asked them to step out before shooting them Wednesday, Manham Kubba, secretary general of the Iraqi Tennis Union, said Saturday. The coach, Hussein Ahmed Rashid, was Sunni, and the two players were Shiite, Kubba said.

“The athletes were in shorts when they were killed and police believe the attack was related to a warning by extremists against such attire, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said. He said the warning was made in leaflets distributed in the Sadiyah neighborhood in southwest Baghdad a week before the attack. …”

First thought: Unbelievable barbarity; the people who did this are beyond understanding.

Second thought: Did this happen the way the authorities say it did? Were these guys killed for wearing shorts, or for being found (Sunni and Shiite) together, or for their car? Was the warning against shorts-wearing distributed in the neighborhood where the attack took place? You have to admit, this story is tailor-made to feed feelings of disgust and revulsion for those who oppose us over there.

Third thought: Without evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to think this really did happen. And that brings me back to my first thought: This is beyond comprehension. But is it really? My tendency is to think that wars of the past — say against Japan or Germany or Korea or Vietnam or even the less direct conflict with the Soviet Union — are easy to understand, at least on a general level. Right on the surface, you find nationalism in one form or other, a battle for territory, and an effort to extinguish competing claims to land and resources. A little below the surface, you find a struggle to impose a particular point of view of the world and our place in it. I think this is more complicated than seeing wars as struggles between fascism and democracy, communism and capitalism, or evil-doers and the rest of us.

The people we’re fighting in Iraq don’t have an army, they don’t appear to be fighting for territory or resources, and they’ve unleashed a wanton, terrorizing violence on the people they live among. So on that surface level, they simply don’t make sense. On that next level, though — exercising violence to impose their will and their view of the world — what they’re doing is as logical as anything any military commander has ever devised.

The question is: How do you oppose it, and where? Our soldiers and weapons are the best, or so we constantly reassure ourselves. But does anyone believe that they have prevailed? Or will ever prevail by themselves?

Motel Dog

I might be close to trespassing on the world’s patience — “world” in this case meaning the dozen of you who peruse these posts — by putting up a third consecutive dog picture. I’m doing it anyway.

We’re in Eugene visiting Thom. We’re parked in the Best Western right across the street from the university. Last night we had to stay about 20 miles outside town because the state high school track championships were being held today at the U of O’s Hayward Field, and every motel closer than the one we found was booked up.

One of my mom’s distant Irish cousins, Michael Joe O’Malley, used to have an expression he used when it was time to retire for the evening: “I’m going to stretch my four legs from me.” I think he explained once that it referred to dogs going to sleep. So here’s Scout, after we walked him all over this afternoon, stretching his four legs from him. Outside the frame, Kate’s taking a nap, too. Thom just woke up from his. I’m the only one here not getting his early evening shuteye.


Gratuitous Dog Picture


OK — here’s our pal again. This was the pose he struck when I was trying to get him to come back in the house when I was headed off to work the other day (yes, he’ll stay in the house and behave himself, unless he’s making popcorn and watching pay per view behind our backs). This went on for a couple minutes and would have lasted longer if I’d let it. I especially like the teeth.

About a Dog


I mentioned, more than a week ago, that I’ve got a story about a dog. Here it is:

A week ago last Saturday, we were down in Paso Robles, a town at the southern end of the Salinas Valley. For me it was a bike-riding trip: I was signed up to do the Central Coast Double Century, a ride that starts from Paso Robles, crosses the at a relatively low spot and goes out to Highway 1, then north to the lower end of Big Sur. From there, it recrosses the mountains at a much more rugged and much higher spot, then descends into and tours the valleys and hills to the east. Two hundred and ten miles in all, and something like 14,000 vertical feet of climbing.

While I was doing all that, Kate went with a big group of people from Paso Robles down to a wild place called the Carrizo Plain. Carrizo is a national monument, a big, open expanse of rangeland at the eastern foot of the coastal mountains. It’s dry, remote and forbidding, The last California condors soar there, and pronghorn (antelope) and elk have been reintroduced.

A long story made short: The group found an abandoned dog at the edge of a dry lakebed on the plain, 10 miles from the nearest highway and 20 miles from anything you might call a town. and we wound up taking him home to Berkeley with us. We named him Scout. He’s gotten his shots and been checked out by a vet and is smart and sweet and so far very calm, which makes it all the more mysterious how he wound up out in one of those places that really is the middle of nowhere.

We’ve been checking online lost and found listings for San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, the nearest cities (though “near” in this case means about 60 miles to either place). Lots of dogs reported lost, though none in this area and none bearing any resemblance to Scout. After a week, I called the Carrizo Plain visitors center to ask if anyone had reported a dog missing.

“No,” the woman at the center said, “and let me tell you what happens with these dogs. People come out here and just leave them, no water, no food, nothing. It’s a real bad deal.” Occasionally, she said, herders will shoot the strays to keep them from harassing sheep grazing in the area. Starvation or thirst or coyotes take care of most of the rest, though occasionally the monument’s rangers will catch a dog and take it to the animal shelter in San Luis Obispo.

“This is far enough off the road that you can put the dog out and drive away and they can’t chase you,” the visitors center woman said. “People split up and decide they can’t keep their dog, or they don’t want to take it to the shelter — over in Taft you just put the dog down a chute and they usually just put it to sleep. But this is a bad deal. You wonder what people are thinking.”

Naked Guy

One Saturday back in the last decade, I stood at the corner of University and Shattuck avenues, downtown Berkeley’s always faintly shabby main intersection, waiting for the light to change. I noticed a tall, well-built, handsome young guy on the opposite corner. I think he wore sunglasses and sandals, and nothing else. His name was Andrew Martinez, and by the day I spotted him he’d become a local celebrity known as the Naked Guy. He came by the name through his one-man campaign to liberate the human spirit by going naked to class at Cal (and just about everywhere else, including a court date to defend himself against a charge of indecent exposure).

Anyway: Me and Andrew Martinez, Shattuck and University. I wish I could say I high-fived him as we passed or said something memorable, but all I recall is trying not to stare. For me, the idea of being naked in public is the stuff of unpleasant dreams, not liberation. That was the first and last I saw of the Naked Guy. Sooner or later, Martinez left Berkeley. I remembered him, though I never thought of what became of him.

Today’s Chronicle had the story, or at least its end: Martinez, who was 33, died in jail in San Jose last week, an apparent suicide:

“… After his days as the Naked Guy, Martinez spent the next decade bouncing among halfway houses, psychiatric institutions, occasional homelessness and jail, but never getting comprehensive treatment, his family said. His life ended in an apparent suicide Thursday morning.

” ‘It was an endless cycle of trying to get answers but never getting any,’ said his mother, who requested that her name not be used. ‘It was endless, endless, endless.’

“… But before his mental illness wreaked havoc on his and his family’s lives, Martinez was a bright, charismatic, sweet-natured youth with a promising future.”

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‘Baghdad ER’

HBO’s documentary on a combat surgical hospital in Iraq, “Baghdad ER,” aired tonight. See it if you can. It’s tough to watch from the bubble of safety in which most of us live because it involves viewing people who have suffered awful, often fatal injuries. On the other hand, the work of the medical people and their commitment to all those who need their help is inspiring to see.

One quote of many that stood out, from Major Martin Harnish, a surgeon:

“This war and the number of lives it’s affecting is just unbelievable. I have to think the people in this country [Iraq] are in a better place for it, or will be in a better for it. I have to believe that, because otherwise this is just sheer madness.”

Quotes like that and the film’s occasional unfiltered glance at the terrible reality that lies behind the casualty statistics is sure to provoke some in the Fox News sphere to denounce it as anti-war propaganda. I prefer to think of it as a glimpse at the price we’re all paying, some way or another, for the war.

In Passing

Stanley Kunitz, the poet, died the other day. He was 100. I’m not sure I can hear so well above the general static of life and lesser news, but he seems to have passed with hardly a sound beyond standard obituary treatments. He was not a contestant on “Idol,” a singer on the wrong side of the law, a president of the United States, a ballplayer, a fallen corporate chieftain, the architect of a policy condoning torture, a movie actor or director, a NASCAR legend, a pioneer of the Motown sound, a pitchman, the winner of a million bucks, or a suspect in a sensational crime. Not that this is a lament for unsung poets. If some network put a prime-time poet drama or sitcom on the tube, I know where I’d be: Watching “24” and “Survivor” and reruns of “L&O.” I probably wouldn’t know or care much about the poet’s TV adventures. And the real-life poets? They’d still be unknown, mostly, their voices too soft to hear.

But what voices, what profound voices, full of rain, sun and sane consideration of our condition. I wasn’t aware of Kunitz until he was 95, when he published a new collections of poems. He got a flurry of attention in poet-friendly mass media: public radio and public television (for instance, “Fooling with Words,” with Bill Moyers). I believe that on one of his appearances, someone had him read a poem he’d written when Halley’s Comet crossed our sky for the second time in his lifetime:

“Halley’s Comet”

Miss Murphy in first grade

wrote its name in chalk

across the board and told us

it was roaring down the stormtracks

of the Milky Way at frightful speed

and if it wandered off its course

and smashed into the earth

there’d be no school tomorrow.

A red-bearded preacher from the hills

with a wild look in his eyes

stood in the public square

at the playground’s edge

proclaiming he was sent by God

to save every one of us,

even the little children.

“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,

waving his hand-lettered sign.

At supper I felt sad to think

that it was probably

the last meal I’d share

with my mother and my sisters;

but I felt excited too

and scarcely touched my plate.

So mother scolded me

and sent me early to my room.

The whole family’s asleep

except for me. They never heard me steal

into the stairwell hall and climb

the ladder to the fresh night air.

Look for me, Father, on the roof

of the red brick building

at the foot of Green Street —

that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.

I’m the boy in the white flannel gown

sprawled on this coarse gravel bed

searching the starry sky,

waiting for the world to end.