Today’s Time Waster

[By way of Marie:]

Blufr: I can see this getting old very fast, but it’s a semi-addictive social trivia site. I say “social” because apparently visitors submit the true/false statements that you’re asked to vote “way” or “no way” on (some of the questions are pretty lame, I admit. Mine, of course, was brilliant: Of the four assassinated U.S. presidents, only Abraham Lincoln died in Washington, D.C.” Way? Or Now way? The answer at the “read more” link below).

I said I can see this getting old. But ‘m embarrassed to say how long I spent on this and how many questions I clicked on. Ridiculous.

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Monday Dribblings

Search of the day from the infospigot visitor logs: “How to stop a drippy spigot.” People have wondered that for years.

Leslie Griffith Watch: Or non-watch. Matier and Ross, the San Francisco Chronicle’s news/gossip duo, are onto Griffith’s disappearance from the air (her last show, according to transcripts, was the 5 p.m. news on August 22). M&R don’t get to the bottom of The Vanishing, but they quote the station’s general manager as saying Griffith is on “short-term” leave that has been extended to October 27 (a Friday, for what it’s worth).

Indigenous Peoples Day: That’s Berkeleyese for Columbus Day, which isn’t until Thursday, but let’s be flexible. If I see one–an indigenous person–I’m going to at least say hi.

Today’s worst-sounding ailment: Toxic megacolon.

Tomorrow’s health adventure: This.

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The Dad Saga: 8 October 2006

This morning, Thom, the younger of my two sons, climbed in a car with several friends from the University of Oregon and headed back to Eugene. The group came down for the weekend to see the Ducks (ranked 11th nationally by gridiron pundits)) take on the Golden Bears of the University of California (No. 16, pundits opined). On Friday, the Oregon visitors, who included more than one Berkeley native, went to see the A’s in the American League baseball playoffs. If you follow that kind of thing, you know the results already; I’ll just say Thom and his friends got a split for the weekend.

As I said, this morning just after 10 they hit the road back north. The road trip, the quick weekend visit, the expeditious return to business back at school–it all felt like a new chapter in our lives as parents. The kid doesn’t need us for field trips any more.

Then later, I went over to visit my older son, Eamon, for a slightly early birthday dinner at the Beach Chalet on the Great Highway in San Francisco. It was a warm, clear day, the kind you feel almost entitled to here after the damp, gray late summer and the rains to come. But when I got to the city this afternoon, I could see the fog was hanging right on the sea edge of the peninsula. But slowly, it did something you almost never see a fog bank do late in the day: It backed up over the water and receded. We got a table looking out on the highway and the beach and had a slow dinner as the sun set and the night came on. Afterward, we went out and walked up to the Cliff House, which has gotten spruced up a little after years and years as a funky tourist dump. Then we turned around and walked back down the walk above Ocean Beach with the moon rising and fires flickering far off down the strand.

(The fires led us to a conversation on the origin of the word “bonfire.” Eamon, if you’re reading, here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says about the origins:

“[f. BONE n. 1 + FIRE = fire of bones. The etymological spelling bone-fire, Scottish bane-fire, was common down to 1760, though bonfire was also in use from the 16th c., and became more common as the original sense was forgotten. Johnson in 1755 decided for bonfire, ‘from bon good, (Fr.) and fire’. But the shortening of the vowel was natural, from its position; cf. knowledge, Monday, collier, etc. In Scotland with the form bane-fire, the memory of the original sense was retained longer; for the annual midsummer ‘banefire’ or ‘bonfire’ in the burgh of Hawick, old bones were regularly collected and stored up, down to c. 1800.]”

Try the temporary link to the full definition.)

Anything else about today or tonight? Maybe this: After 27 years as a father, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

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On Mars, Meanwhile

Mars Rover Opportunity

When the subject of Iraq comes up, my brother John occasionally will point to some stunning NASA accomplishment–for instance, the continuing odysseys of those two little rovers on Mars–and say something like, “We should stick to stuff like that. That’s what we’re really good at.”

The latest exhibit: The rover Opportunity, still rolling 24 months past its 3-month life expectancy, is getting ready to explore a big crater. To help scope a route, the NASA spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, flew over the Opportunity to take a look at things. The space agency published a picture today–the one above, and click it to see the bigger version–showing the Opportunity complete with faint Rover tracks. I just love it that we’ve put machines on and around this rock 35 million miles (minimum) out there in space, and now we have them checking up on each other.

Albany Bulb: Dog vs. Seal


OK — it was a fair fight, since the battle was on land and the seal was dead.

I took Scout out for a midafternoon hike around the Albany bulb. The last time we were out there, about five weeks ago, it was high tide and much of the outer ring of the old dump was submerged. Yesterday we visited at low tide and could pick our way all the way around the concrete-and-asphalt-strewn perimeter.

When we got out to the edge, Scout went ahead of me, exploring. I kept an eye on him, but didn’t think there was a lot of trouble for him to get into. A couple of times, he stuck his nose between rocks and drew back quickly after discovering something that wasn’t to his liking. He was 50 or 100 yards ahead of me when we got to the northwestern corner of the outer bulb. Up to that point he’d been relaxed and nonchalant; abruptly he became alert, almost rigid, and started backing up. When I got nearer, I asked what he’d found. Maybe because he felt like I was his backup, because at that point he started to bark at whatever it was he’d found. Nearer up, I saw that he’d discovered a dead seal, about a seven-footer, lying on the rocks. It was mostly intact; intact enough that Scout was apprehensive of it even when I was standing right there; he’d edge right up to the carcass but wouldn’t touch it. I’m sure he was smelling something I couldn’t and can’t.

[Above: Scout and marine nemesis, and nemesis alone. Below: western edge of the Albany Bulb, afternoon low tide, October 3, 2006. Click for larger versions.]


Monday Dribblings

Text vs. image: The New York Times has a sort of character essay this morning on father and son farmers in Lebanon, Kansas (the geographic center of the lower 48 states). It’s a good enough piece, though it tries to do too much–relate the end of a way of life and a son’s break with his father–with too little–maybe 500 words. As it happens, the text is accompanied by a video version of the piece. The story follows much the same outline, but it’s different: For one thing, you get to hear and see the reporter play his role, gently prompting a couple of the the answers the son gives in the story. You also get to see the way the dad plays to the camera when he’s talking to the son. At the same time, the father and son come off as more compelling characters; the kid especially seems a little guilty and torn about leaving the farm for school. The video version comes off as the better piece of storytelling; if nothing else, the beautiful visuals make it worth watching.

The other Foley scandal: Let me add my voice to those decrying the emails of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). I don’t need to rehash the story. But I think something has gone unmentioned in the furor over his come-ons to young congressional pages: His disgraceful prose style. For example, one email read:

“glad your home safe and sound…we dont go back into session until Sept 5,,,,si its a nice long break….I am back in Florida now…its nice here…been raining today…it sounds like you will have some fun over the next five weeks…how old are you now?…”

Maybe the congressman was just trying to adopt the breezy style of instant messaging (“cul8r!”) to demonstrate he was an electronic communications hepcat. His IMs with another page show he was a master of the form (“Maf54 (7:37:27 PM): how my favorite young stud doing”) despite his advanced age and high station. If so, he was going too far. Email accommodates a certain degree of informality–“Hey, guy” can substitute for the stuffy “Dear Hunk,” for example–but it is not an invitation to abandon form altogether, as Foley did. He seems incapable of maintaining a thought long enough to type it.

Foley would have done well to follow the example of one of his young correspondents, who shows an admirable respect for standard orthography and makes a game if less than perfect attempt to employ proper capitalization and punctuation:

“What happened was I gave certain people Thank-you cards, you know? I gave Foley one because he was a really nice guy to me and all. Then, he asked me to write my e-mail on the back of his. So I was like, ‘sure!’ because of course I had no suspicions.”

Last Days at the Ballpark

First of October, last day of the baseball season. Not really the last last day — two rounds of playoffs and a non-global World Series are still to come. But in reality and emotionally for most teams and most fans, Sunday was it. It’s a great occasion for musing on the changes of season and of life. Let’s skip that; Roger Angell and by now about fifty-one other diamond prose slingers have been there and done that. Besides, I went to just one game all year (the A’s cuffed the upstart Tigers). But I’ll indulge in a couple of pictures that come to mind:

–Fan Appreciation Day, Oakland Coliseum, 1983 or ’84 or ’85: The last Saturday of the season. I went with Kate. We sat in the second of the three decks on the third-base side. I don’t remember who the A’s played or what the outcome was. But the park had that look it only gets at the tail end of the year, the afternoon light coming in at an odd low angle. It being Oakland, the game was sparsely attended, as it should have been, the A’s having descended into a stretch of mediocre years. What I remember, though: Seagulls, crowds of them, all over the field and the stands long before the game was over.

–Last day of the season, Oakland Coliseum, 1986: Kate and I were going to go to the last game of the year with out friends Robin and Jim, who were and are the most faithful A’s fans we’ve ever known. Something came up that I thought I had to do, so Kate went with them to the game; I was going to drive down whenever my work, whatever it was, was done. I had the game on from time to time, and realized as it progressed that the A’s pitcher, Curt Young, had not given up a hit. Around the sixth inning, I left for the game, now aware that Young was pitching a perfect game. Now I started to worry: I had waited so long to go to the game that now I was going to miss a piece of baseball history. While I was on the freeway, the game went into the 7th. Young got one out, then two; he had retired the first 20 batters in a row. I’d be in time to see the end of it; the 21st batter came up (by looking it up, I know it was Kevin Seitzer and the game was against the Kansas City Royals). He hit an infield grounder and beat the throw to first for a hit. I was simultaneously crushed and relieved; too bad about the perfect game, bu at least now I hadn’t missed one (Seitzer turned out to be the only base runner Young allowed that day). I got to my seat in the top of the 8th.

Enough of the glory of my times. One team I follow, the A’s, is going to the playoffs; they’re playing the Minnesota Twins, a team they’ve had real problems with the last four or five years, so I don’t have big hopes.

My other team is the Cubs. That’s a legacy of having grown up in the Chicago area, having gone to my first game at their park and maturing as a fan, if that’s what fans do, just at the time their good late ’60s team came along. That’s ancient history, though, and by now I don’t have a single atom of sentimentality left for them. They’re just a bad team, no more cute or colorful or loveable or worthy of some special loyalty than, say, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They’re so bad, they even fail to excel in failure. They did manage to lose 96 games this year, more than any other team in their league. But the mark of a colossally bad team is to lose 100 games; the Royals and Devil Rays managed to achieve that, but the Cubs fell short.

The horror show the Cubs put on has no apparent effect on fans’ willingness to pay to watch. The team drew a full house Sunday, as they did nearly every game. More than 3 million people attended their games this year. The explanation has got to be that the score doesn’t matter any more; the old park, the red brick, the ivy on the walls, the big centerfield scoreboard, the Old Style and franks and Frosty Malts, have become a draw in themselves.

Maybe It’s a little like visiting the U.S. Capitol or the White House. The scoundrels and miscreants in residence today matter less than having an idea what the places were built for and knowing that once, they were home to a Jefferson or a Lincoln or an FDR. Still, I think I liked baseball better when people just stopped coming out to the park when the team stunk. Tickets were easier. And that autumn light, a sparse crowd and a big flock of seagulls seem like the perfect sendoff for a failed season.

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