Monthly Archives: September 2007

Monarch

Monarch093007

The star of this show: a sort of extended family member — a monarch butterfly that hatched from its chrysalis late last week in Kate’s second-grade class. She brought it home today and let it go in our yard. It flew directly to a big potato flower bush in front of the house, then sunned itself for awhile on a jasmine plant just across our neighbor’s fence. Then after a few minutes, it fluttered along the side of our house toward the backyard, and we didn’t see it again.

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A Sports Sunday

Today’s best football name: Derek Belch, Stanford kicker.

California 31, Oregon 24: Wow — a matter of divided loyalties in our house. Kate and I went to Cal (she even graduated) and we’ve lived in Berkeley for decades. On the other side of the coin, Thom is a Duck and enough of a fan that a couple years ago he went out to Autzen Stadium in Eugene to watch Cal and Oregon play in a cold, windy, soaking rain. Oregon won in overtime that day, then got thumped in Berkeley last year (Thom and some friends came down here for that one). If you’re a fan, you know yesterday was a big deal; if you’re not, suffice it to say that both teams are very good and the game actually got some national attention. It was far from a perfect game — Oregon gave the ball to Cal four times in the fourth quarter, and still Cal just squeaked by.

For Kate and me, the game was a different kind of challenge. We turned off our TV earlier in the week. So while the Ducks and Bears engaged in a great gridiron struggle far to the north, we were in Berkeley testing whether a household so deprived of video capability could long endure a game with Cal’s radio guy Joe Starkey as the only source of play-by-play. It’s altogether fitting and proper for me to report that despite the usually frustrating and occasionally comic shortcomings of Starkey’s work, we stuck with the game to the end.

Guest observation: Dave Barry, who grew up in Pittsburgh, recalling the denouement of the 1960 Pirates-Yankees World Series:

“That series went seven games, and I vividly remember how it ended. School was out for the day, and I was heading home, pushing my bike up a step hill, listening to my cheapo little radio, my eyes staring vacantly ahead, my mind locked on the game. A delivery truck came by, and the driver stopped and asked if he could listen. Actually, he more or less told me he was going to listen; I said OK.

“The truck driver turned out to be a rabid Yankee fan. The game was very close, and we stood on opposite sides of my bike for the final two innings, rooting for opposite teams, he chain-smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes, both of us hanging on every word coming out of my tinny little speaker.

“And, of course, if you were around back then and did not live in Russia, you know what happened: God, in a sincere effort to make for all those fly balls he directed toward me in Little League, had Bill Mazeroski — Bill Mazeroski! — hit a home run to win it for the Pirates.

“I was insane with joy. The truck driver was devastated. But I will never forget what he said to me. He looked me square in the eye, one baseball fan to another, after a tough but fair fight, and he said a seriously bad word. Several, in fact. Then he got in his truck and drove away.”

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Lucky, Lucky Winner

One of the best things about the Internets of late is that one can win unlimited riches through lotteries around the world without even entering. In just the last couple of days I’ve gotten emails informing me that:

  • “…You have been selected for a cash prize of £1,350,000 (One million, three hundred and fifty thousand, pounds sterling)held on the 26th of September 2007 in London Uk.” (Oddly, this one’s from the Irish lottery.)
  • “…You have been selected for a cash Price of 1,000,000.00 (One Million Pounds Sterling) in cash … from International programme held on the 27th of SEPTEMBER 2007 in the United Kindom. “
  • “…You have been selected for a cash prize of £1,000,000.00 (British Pounds) held on the 27th of September 2007 in London Uk.”
  • “…You have won our International Charity Awards of US $1,000,000.00 dollars during the past 2007 Global Internet Summit titled “Discovering Greatness”, held in the London, United Kingdom.”
  • “…Your mail account have been picked as a winner of a lump sum pay out of Eight hundred and ninty-one thousand,nine hundred and thirty-four Great Britain pounds£891,934.00 pounds sterlings) in cash.”
  • —“The Board of Directors of NETHERLAND LOTTERY PROMOTIONS announces to you as 1 of our 10th lucky winners of this month draw held on 27th of September 2007. … Your email address emerged alongside with 9 other as the first category winner.Consequently you have therefore been approved for a total pay out of 2,000, 000.00 (Two million Euro) only.”

So let’s see: Thanks to my having an email address — thanks, Yahoo! Mail — I’m 4,241,934 pounds, $1 million and 2 million euros richer today than I was yesterday (the only real headache in all this new wealth is figuring out how much it comes to in real money — the low, low U.S. dollar. Let’s see: According the the calculator at xe.com, those pounds are worth US$8,678,971.27. The euros are worth US$2,852,599.07. And the dollars are worth, well, less than when I started writing this. So my haul for today is $12,531,570.34. I’ll give those 34 cents to some panhandler. I’ll pay off my credit cards — finally! — with the rest.

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Wednesday Notebook

Operation Narrow Stall: My friend Pete alerts me to a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism from the Washington Post: One of the paper’s bloggers went all the way to Minnesota to cover Senator Larry Craig’s heroic withdrawal of his guilty plea for disorderly conduct (next from Senator Craig: a patent filing for a “a method and device for getting toothpaste back in the tube”). While he was in Minnesota, said blogger visited the very restroom where Senator Craig made/didn’t make sundry sordid advances to an undercover cop earlier this year. The blogger’s conclusion: The stalls in the restroom are very narrow, so maybe Senator Craig’s assertions about his intentions being mistaken aren’t as ridiculous as they sound. The blogger even discovered that there were scraps of toilet paper on the restroom floor — just as Craig has insisted there were the night of his arrest. Wow. This is starting to sound like something Oliver Stone could run with. As Pete says, “If our nation’s media had directed this level of scrutiny to the bush administration’s pre-war machinations, how different the world might be. …”

Grisly Find: By way of my brother John, this AP item in the Times, datelined Maiden, N.C.: “Man Buys Smoker, Finds Human Leg Inside.” It’s a classic of the “bondage file” genre as we called it at the San Francisco Examiner (“The Monarch of the Dailies,” R.I.P.). The key graphs:

“The smoker had been sold at an auction of items left behind at a storage facility, so investigators contacted the mother and son who had rented the space where the smoker was found.

“The mother, Peg Steele, explained her son had his leg amputated after a plane crash and kept the leg following the surgery ‘for religious reasons’ she doesn’t know much about.

” ‘The rest of the family was very much against it,’ Steele said.

“Steele said her son, John Wood, plans to drive to Maiden, about 35 miles northwest of Charlotte, to reclaim his amputated leg, police said. ”

… Or Two Balls: I half-heard something on the radio during the Giants broadcast Tuesday night that I found a little hard to believe I was really hearing. An ad from a local group promoting testicular cancer awareness. And the group’s name: the Have A Ball Foundation.

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Recent Fascinating Find

Capitol

In the process of researching some recent legislative handiwork in the U.S. Senate — the absurd resolution condemning MoveOn.org for picking on poor little General Petraeus — I came across something much more interesting in the Defense Department appropriations bill now before Congress: an amendment, the Wartime Treatment Study Act, that would establish a commission to investigate and report on how alien European-Americans (the legislation’s term) were treated during World War II. The bill would also mandate a study into the measures the United States took to bar European Jews trying to escape the Nazis.

It’s a fascinating question. Most Americans now know that more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese-born residents were interned during the war. For many reasons — mostly the sweeping nature of the action that targeted a non-European ethnic group and the scale of the internment regime — the Japanese-American example stands out and is really without parallel in our history. But as this bill states, most of us aren’t aware of the actions the U.S. government took against German-Americans, Italian-Americans and others under Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, the same measure that called for action against the Japanese-Americans. Among other things, thousands were interned, many were involuntarily repatriated to Axis nations, and hundreds of thousands were identified as enemy aliens and required to carry special IDs.

Something interesting about this bill: This is the fourth or fifth Congress in which the original sponsor, Sen. Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, has tried to get it passed. Among his cosponsors is a Democratic arch-liberal, Kennedy, and a Republican conservative, Grassley (also: the self-interested Nutmeg Stater, Lieberman). The bill has an interested sponsor and cosponsors in the House. But for some reason, it’s not moving. Feingold complained in 2004 that an unknown Republican was exercising a “secret hold” to keep the bill from coming to a vote. This year, he hitched it to the ill-fated Senate immigration legislation; even though Feinberg’s section was approved, the bill as a whole was killed. Now, he’s gotten it attached to the military appropriations bill. Nobody’s watching it or writing about it, so far as I can tell, so Feingold probably isn’t holding his breath for this one.

You wonder, though, what in the world would possess anyone to oppose such a measure. It costs very little. Nobody’s talking about monetary reparations. The bill merely aims to shed light on what we euphemistically term a difficult chapter in our history; God knows that, even as Ken Burns is reminding us how heroically the nation behaved during the war was that we might learn a thing or two from the less heroic moments. And perhaps we’d succeed in giving some abused survivors of the era a measure of peace, if not justice.

(In the Senate, the bill is S. 621; the identical House bill is H.R. 1185.)

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Bureau of Nonessential Information

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Somewhere or other in my reading yesterday I came across a mention of “reassurance shields.” In the context, it was clear that the term referred to highway route markers rather than, say, some sort of adult incontinence product.

Reassurance shield? Specifically, they’re highway markers placed strategically to reassure us drivers that we’re on the route we want to be on. They’re also called confirmation shields; because, you know, they confirm what route you’re on. And if they’re combined with a sign that also indicated the direction the road is traveling, then you have a reassurance assembly (or confirmation assembly, which to a Catholic has a whole different ring to it).

Routesigns

And if you want to immerse yourself in the world of highway signage — the standards, the rules for where which signs with which arrows and whatnot are appropriate, and other nonessential knowledge that will make you an indispensable party bore — you want to visit Section 2 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

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1710

Floyd Landis lost the 2006 Tour de France on stage 16 with a spectacular and humiliating collapse on the final climb in a long alpine stage. He came back the next day and did what no one imagined possible, riding a solo attack across the Alps that shocked those who left him for dead the day before. He won the Tour in the race’s final time trial and got his victory lap on the Champs Elysees. And then… . Well, you know all that. A urine sample taken after the thrilling stage win showed an unusually high level of testosterone. Something like a trial was held, and the verdict is in: 14 months after his apparent triumph, Landis’s tests have been ruled reliable and he appears to have lost the ’06 Tour once and for all. Unless he files and wins and appeal or contemplates a comeback in his late mid-30s, his career as a professional cyclist is over, too.

It’s a bad business. I’m not well versed in the case evidence. But I don’t want to believe Landis doped, and circumstantially the case against him — the very idea that he would cheat at that juncture of the race — never made sense to me and still doesn’t. The system in place to prosecute Landis and others is flawed simply by its presumption of guilt; essentially, it presents riders with test results and challenges them to prove they’re not right. So, in the absence of a “Shoeless Joe” moment — me: “Say it ain’t so, Floyd”; him: “I’m afraid it is, kid” — I think I’ll always see Landis the way he was on that one amazing day, bursting from the pack and overtaking and dropping one rider after another until, finally, he rode alone over the last mountain. He crossed the line at 5:10 p.m., or 1710 in the 24-hour time scheme the French use.

There’s a little movement afoot, promoted mostly by Trust But Verify, I guess — for fans and supporters to hoist their libation of choice in Floyd’s honor at 5:10 p.m. today, wherever you happen to be. I’ll be doing that.

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Dawn

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It’s not just me, is it? All of a sudden, the dawn seems to come very late. Of course, it’s almost time for this.

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Wednesday Notebook

The Dad File: As reported elsewhere, my dad had surgery Monday after falling and breaking a hip over the weekend. The operation took a couple hours all told; a surgeon inserted three pins into the fractured bone to help it mend. Afterward, he told my brother Chris and sister Ann, “If you break your hip, I guess this is the way you want to do it.” Yesterday, I talked to Dad in the hospital in Evanston. He sounded great, and the nurses or physical therapists had already had him up briefly, parading around with a walker. I’m relieved, though I know there’s some rehab ahead and that Dad won’t be able to immediately resume his routine of scouting out local Dairy Queens.

Guest observation: Courtesy of The Smiths: “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

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Auschwitz — the frolicsome side: The New York Times has a remarkable story today — you can tell, because I’m remarking on it — about a newly disclosed photo album depicting life at Auschwitz during the last six or seven months before Soviet troops liberated it in January 1945. You know, even S.S. troops assigned to the slaughter of innocents had a way of maintaining a day-to-day existence that probably helped reassure them they were good people doing a distasteful job. The pictures show social gatherings, a Christmas-tree lighting (the Soviets were just a few weeks from the camp’s gates), and hearty singalongs. As the Times article explains, a U.S. soldier discovered the pictures in an album in Germany after the war; he donated them to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last year. The museum, in turn, has created a Web exhibit that went online this week. The Times piece online also includes a multimedia presentation with some good background from the exhibit’s curator.

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Dog 101: Sensitivity Training

Here’s one way to tell if you rely too much on four-letter words, and in particular the strongest Anglo-Saxon variety beginning with the letter “F”: your dog reacts when you say them. It’s no surprise that dogs react when they hear angry language; they may not understand the words literally, but they’re faultless interpreters of tone and mood and body language. But the last time I was around a dog on a daily basis, back when I was a kid, really, I didn’t pick up so much on how dogs responded to the tenor of someone’s speech. Since Scout has been around, nearly a year and a half, I’ve been surprised to find that he’s really put off when he hears me swear. Today, driving home from picking up the van at the garage, I made an angry comment about one of my fellow drivers. Scout had been sitting next to me, but he immediately got down and went to the back of the car; he didn’t want to be around if I was pissed off. He also seems to be especially sensitive to hearing the F-word; maybe it’s because he hears it only when someone is really angry. I don’t know. But it’s something I find myself more and more conscious of; again, I don’t know, but maybe it’s because he reacts so viscerally and visibly. Ironic that it has taken a dog, and not wife, kids, siblings, parents, coworkers, softball umpires or other unfortunate ear witnesses to demonstrate the emotional effect of my swearing habit.

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