No Right to Be Tired

If you were only to read The New York Times one day out of the year, I’d nominate the last Sunday of December as the day to go out and pick up a copy. That’s the day the Times Magazine publishes its “The Lives They Lived Issue,” which marks the passing of notable and remarkable persons over the last year.

The final piece in today’s issue is titled, “The Combatant.” It’s a short remembrance of David Halberstam by Neil Sheehan, who was, like his subject, one of the great journalists of the Vietnam War. And by that I mean: they were among those who fought hardest to penetrate the veil of misinformation, myths and outright lies that were standard issue from the Pentagon and White House to explain what we were doing in Vietnam during the war’s early years.

Here’s how Sheehan wraps up:

“Some months into our partnership, after the Diem regime provoked the Buddhist monks into rebellion, the government began to censor so aggressively that nothing meaningful could get through the cable office. We resorted to sending our dispatches out with sympathetic pilots and flight attendants on planes passing through Saigon’s airport, with instructions to call the U.P.I. office at their next destination for a pickup. One night we were so wrung out from days of covering demonstrations, dodging police batons and choking on tear gas that we kept dozing over our typewriters. We considered giving in to our exhaustion for a few hours of sleep, but if we did we might not finish our reports in time for the first plane in the morning. “A reporter doesn’t have a right to be tired,” David finally said, ending the discussion. Our dispatches went out on the morning flight.”

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Last Saturday of ’07


The last two or three days have been alternately drippy and cold; Thursday we had the rare Bay Area day during which the temperatures never got out of the mid-40s. It drizzled and misted all day today until after dark. Then fog billowed in off the bay; this kind of fog — dense, hugging the ground, is sort of rare here; what locals call fog is usually a dense layer of low clouds that blows in off the Pacific, through the Golden Gate, during late summer afternoons, creating a dense, dark gray overcast and swirling over the tops of the hills but never reaching the ground in the flatlands.

The picture above (click for larger versions): California and Cedar streets; I noticed the shadows on that house to the right some time ago while walking the dog and have been meaning to try to see if I could get a picture.

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Still Shocking

Not to romanticize a subject of which I know little, but I think you could do worse than Benazir Bhutto if you were looking for an example of courage in public life. She returned to her country this year knowing that violent extremists, forces who wanted to harm her, were on the loose. She returned knowing the leaders of the government — that is, the leaders of the army that had overthrown her — had little reason to protect her. She stayed despite an immediate and devastating first attempt to kill her. Despite the dangers, she didn’t shrink from her battle with either the generals and the government or the assassins arrayed against her. No, she didn’t go into the street without protection — she escaped the first attempt on her life because was riding in an armored truck, and at her last rally today, plenty of security was in place to deter bombers and gunmen. She must have known that those measures wouldn’t thwart her attackers for long.

I don’t pretend to know what motivated her. I don’t think the answer is as simple as “freedom” or “democracy.” Her cause was to oppose those who had deposed and assassinated her father by judicial means; and her cause was bigger, too: Pakistan, whatever that is, so far removed from our quiet streets, busy malls and safe elections, ruled by something more than fear and force.

It’s good, I suppose, that events like this are still shocking.

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BART Moment

Getting off BART at the 16th Street/Mission station early this afternoon, someone wearing an oversize white Yankees cap and full fashion camouflage exited the fare gates ahead of me. She headed straight for the booth where the much unbeloved BART station agents spend their time. She knocked on the glass and said, “Excuse me!” The agent, also a woman, glanced up with an “OK, here we go again” look on her face. She was probably expecting the usual — someone with a ticket that didn’t work, or someone claiming that they’d just lost twenty bucks in a ticket machine, or someone who wanted to use one of the station bathrooms that have been closed for six years as part of the war on terror.

“Excuse me! I just wanted to say happy New Year’s and thanks for everything you do!” the camouflaged patron said. That was it. Then she turned and walked away.

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Morning After


Before we get to the subject at hand, let me try out my innovative new (yes, both new and innovative) holiday greeting on you: Merry HannuKlausZaa. Call in or write with your comments.

Above: The morning-after paper bags. A few of them got a second night of life in front of our house and a couple others on the block. Most of them are going to recyclingland.

Beautiful day here. Sunny and 60, then cloudy and cool. That’s cool by local standards. North America to our north and east is another story. Wales, too. To wit, in the words of a story I’ve read often at this time of year:

“The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. … We returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay.”

“Fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow.” That evokes a hundred dark winter afternoons. My hands hurt just reading it.

After the day here, night. One more walk with the dog before turning in. And so too in Wales, where that story ends:

“… And then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

Very little music here tonight. A few carol verses from a couple across the street, a couple tunes on my iPod — that’s what Santa brought me — and that’s it. But the darkness is close and holy even without the blessing of song. ‘Night, all.

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After the Luminaria


Just one from tonight, about 11 o’clock, after the luminaria had started to go out. I went with Kate and our neighbors Jill and Piero and their friend Greg for a walk around some of the streets that had been lit. Every year I’m surprised by how far the lights have spread. This has gone on long enough that you start to feel like it has taken root somehow. More tomorrow, or later today, or whatever day it will be when the sun rises. God Jul!

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Luminaria 2007


It will be hours before the luminaria are out on the street, but for the first time in a long, long time, I don’t think I’ll be around for the set-up; I’m working in the KQED newsroom this afternoon, and working in the newsroom means you get out when you get out (though one hopes it will be earlier than the 9 p.m. formal end of the shift). Here’s a bundle of my luminaria posts from previous years:


Luminaria Streets

Hot Xmas Eve Bag Action


Luminaria ’05: Pregame Report

Luminaria ’05: First-Half Action

Luminaria ’05: Second Half, Game Summary

Luminaria ’05: Maps


Blogging the Luminaria

Morning-After Disassembly Line



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Tree, Lights, Bells


We’re late with the tree this year. Kate and I went out and bought it yesterday from a place on University Avenue run by a San Francisco outfit that tries to help our burgeoning population of ex-convicts stay straight. We didn’t decorate until tonight, though — late tonight.

(And now, it’s tomorrow already. Christmas Eve. On Saturday evening, I turned on an acoustic music show on one of the local FM stations, KALW, and there was a song about bells playing. Kate, hearing the word “tintinnabulation” recognized right away that the lyrics were from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells.” I thought, but didn’t say, that the singer sounded like Phil Ochs. We were both right. The poem and the song start with a lightness not often associated with Poe:

“Hear the sledges with the bells, Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells! How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, In the icy air of night! While the stars, that oversprinkle All the heavens, seem to twinkle With a crystalline delight; Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells— From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.”

The poem gets darker as it goes along. The song is on iTunes. I want to say “amazingly, it’s on iTunes, but I guess it’s not so amazing anymore.)

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Yuletide Cleansing

No matter how much you attack it, filter it, or complain about it, spam persists. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing if you’re looking for some cheap, serendipitous entertainment. I just found an email in my inbox with the subject line, “Look great for the holidays.” The sender is “Holiday Colon Cleanse.” I can already hear that in a carol: “”…Troll we now our Yuletide cleansing/Fa la la la la, la la la la.”