Bobby Fischer

I don’t play chess. Heck, I don’t really understand chess. Still: Bobby Fischer. What a wonderful, strange, tangled, disturbing story. The New York Times obit is a gem, weaving back and forth between the story of the prodigy and overpowering force on one side and the tale of the anti-Semitic whack job on the other. You can’t blame them for not knowing exactly how to play it; the protagonist would take volumes to unravel if you wanted to fight your way through to something like the truth of him. Worth reading if you have a little time: a 1985 Sports Illustrated piece by a writer who went on an obsessive years-long hunt for Fischer. In a sort of wistful denouement, he finds his man.

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Dennis Richmond: Adios, muchacho

Long-anticipated news: KTVU’s Dennis Richmond is retiring. Dennis Richmond: the dean of Bay Area talking heads. He just came back from an extended absence occasioned by neck surgery, and his retirement this year was anticipated. His contract was up; and though it’s believable that KTVU wanted to keep him on even at a salary at or approaching seven figures, it sounds like he’d had enough. He’s leaving May 21, five days before his 65th birthday. His replacement–who will sit beside Julie Haener, in all her semi-bland blondeness?–is unknown. Dave Clark, late of L.A. and new at the station in the 5 a.m. slot, could be the man. Or maybe Frank Somerville, a pretty boy with the look of a very earnest deer in the headlights, who was doing fill-in duty for Richmond.

And truthfully, he has looked like he’d had enough for several years, anyway. More and more often he has looked and sounded tired, impatient, and uninterested.

The Chronicle has the story: Longtime anchor Dennis Richmond to leave KTVU in May

And KTVU has a slideshow on Dennis’s many looks over the past few decades: Dennis Richmond through the years

January Lights

It’s late. I was just out for a long walk with the dog. A few houses in our part of North Berkeley still display Christmas lights. I took ours down over the weekend; there’s something about late Christmas decorations on my own house that I believe advertises distraction, disarray, or laziness. It may come from a childhood memory of a Christmas tree we didn’t manage to take down until after Groundhog Day. In my big bundle of neuroses, It’s a relatively minor one.

But on the other houses around about, I find I like seeing the lights, even if I wonder why they’re still up. They never mean exactly the same thing to me here as they did back in Illinois, because somehow you need to have snow or at least a dead lawn and a blast of Arctic cold to put the lights in the proper context. We don’t have any of that here, but they manage to bespeak a mildly out-of-season yuletide cheer nonetheless. After mid-January, though, they start to say something else: maybe about a desire to hang on to some little bit of fun while we’re waiting for the sun to come back.

It was a nice surprise tonight to see the place up the way on Cedar Street that still has its modest display of flashing white icicle lights. And another house, at Yolo and Bonita, with a couple of deep blue snowflakes in the window. And a yard around the corner from that place, on Hopkins Street, that I somehow didn’t see until tonight. Someone hung a long string of red lights in a 100-foot redwood and stretched them in a long diagonal down to a house below. Rubies suspended in the night. Beautiful.

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Guest Observation: The Vulnerable Spot

“The report of Ross’s death came over the telephone in a three-word sentence that somehow managed to embody all the faults that Ross devoted his life to correcting. A grief-stricken friend in Boston, charged with the task of spreading the news but too dazed to talk sensibly, said, ‘It’s all over.’ He meant that Ross was dead, but the listener took it to mean that the operation was over. Here, in three easy words, were the ambiguity, the euphemistic softness, the verbal infirmity that Harold W. Ross spent his life thrusting at. Ross regarded every sentence as the enemy, and believed that if a man watched closely enough, he would discover the vulnerable spot, the essential weakness. He devoted his life to making the weak strong–a rather specialized form of blood transfusion, to be sure, but one that he believed in with such a consuming passion that his spirit infected others and inspired them. Whatever it was, this contagion, this vapor in these marshes, it spread. None escaped it. Nor is it likely to be dissipated in a hurry.”

–E.B. White, “H.W. Ross”

In “Writings from The New Yorker 1927-1976

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The Fungus File


From a quick trip up to northern Sonoma County with my friend John. We spent about an hour traipsing through the woods to find mushrooms for his dinner tonight; we (he, really) found some black chanterelles in a couple spots that he and his wife know about. There were other fungi everywhere, though; my operating assumption is that very few of the species I was seeing were edible; but they sure are colorful, some of them. [Checking a couple of mushroom sites, this looks pretty definitively as if it’s an edible fungus called Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica); there’s a very similar species (Dacrymyces palmatus); but Mr. the giveaway appears to be that Witch’s Butter is actually a parasite of those leafy little brown fungi you can see up and down the bare, downed tree limb on which all this stuff is growing.]


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From the Roof


Up on the roof to take down our Christmas lights. Twelve strings worth. Stunning day: Clear, so clear you want a better word. Mid-60s, warm enough that it feels like a break from the few days of gloom we’ve had since the new year.

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Court of Special Sessions

In connection with my ongoing Irish-American research project, I’ve had occasion to peruse The New York Times archives at length. Looking for information on one case in an 1860s version of a police blotter column, I started reading accounts of cases brought on September 7, 1867, to the city’s Court of Special Sessions. The tribunal apparently tried petty crimes. But it didn’t regard them lightly. If someone made a credible enough accusation to get a police officer take you in, you’d have your hands full at the very least and stood a good chance of being sent to prison. On the other hand, looking respectable counted for something if you were a shoplifter. From the Times:

Court of Special Sessions.

Before Justice Dowling.

There were sixty-one cases tried yesterday at the Court of Special Sessions. The charges, in but very few of the cases, were of more than ordinary gravity. These we give:


John Shay was charged by Mr. Geo. W. Shaw with attempting to steal his watch on Broadway Bridge. The prisoner was leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, looking down the street. He turned when complainant was passing and made the effort with which he is charged. Counsel for the prisoner denied the direct statement of the complainant, saying that his client was on an errand connected with his employment, and that he merely stopped upon the bridge to see the operations of a photographer, shortly after which he was arrested and charged as complained. The complainant was so positive in his evidence, and as there was no rebutting testimony, the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to three months in the Penitentiary.


Ellen Gallagher was found guilty of stealing a wash-tub from Thomas Mulholland. After gathering the tub from the door of the complainant while his back was turned, she endeavored to effect a sale to the daughter of Mulholland, whom she met on the next floor. Mrs. Mulholland recognized the tub, and the prisoner was arrested. Officer Cornelius Read was called, but stated that he knew very little of the case, only that the prisoner had confessed to him that she stole the tub. This “only” of the officer’s was sufficient to send the prisoner one month to the Penitentiary.

Under “Miscellaneous,” we find among other reports, this:

Mary Burke, a respectable looking lady, was charged with entering the store of Bertha Rosenberg, and stealing therefrom a roll of muslin containing five yards. Mrs. Burke entered the store and examined different articles but bought nothing. Mrs. Rosenberg suspected that something was wrong and stopped her on the way out, discovering the parcel. In consideration that it was her first offence, and that her connections were otherwise respectable, the prisoner was permitted to pay a fine of $50 and go.

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January 9

Just one small birthday wish to cast out into the universe: January 9 was our Uncle Bill Hogan’s birthday. I can and have summoned up lots of labels for him, Catholic priest and communist being two of them. He was also a committed Chicagoan, a lover of ideas, a reader, a selfless devotee of the human cause. And most of all, as I’ve said many times before, an optimist, a real believer in the possibility of making the world a joyful — not just less miserable — place for everyone. He would have been 81 today, I think. Happy birthday, Uncle Bill.

Exit Poll: Undeclared Candidate

CNN on Tuesday night published results of its Democratic exit polling in New Hampshire. In addition to posing the standard demographic questions–showing younger voters tended to vote for Obama, older ones for Clinton, for instance–the pollsters asked the following: If Bill Clinton had been running, who would you have voted for–him or your candidate? (It’s the fourth question listed; the results table doesn’t give the exact wording.)

Overall, the response seems to have been that people would have stuck with their candidates by a large majority: 61 percent said they’d vote for that candidate, 37 percent said they’d vote for Bill Clinton. Of those who said they’d stick with their candidate, 47 percent voted for Obama yesterday and 27 percent chose Hillary Clinton. Of those who said they’d vote for Bill Clinton instead, 58 percent voted for Hillary Clinton yesterday and 24 percent voted for Obama.

In other words, a majority of Hillary Clinton voters in this New Hampshire sample–note all the qualifications there–would vote for her husband instead if given the chance.

How big a majority? That’s a little hard to quantify exactly, since I’m not sure how percentages were rounded up or down and I can’t find a place right now to pose questions to CNN, but let’s try: The reported sample population is 1,955. Assuming every member of the group answered this question, 1,193 people said they’d vote for their candidate instead of Bill Clinton; 723 said they’d vote for Bill over whoever they voted for yesterday; and 39 apparently didn’t answer.

Among the 1,193 voters in the “I like my candidate better than Bill” group, 27 percent, or 322, voted for Hillary Clinton; among the 723 people in the “I like Bill better than whoever” group, 58 percent, or 419, voted for Hillary Clinton. (For comparison: 561 Obama voters said they’d stick with him, 173 said they’d vote for Bill instead.)

If I’ve got those numbers right — and if is the operative word here — 56.5 percent of the Hillary Clinton group said they’d vote for Bill Clinton if he was on the ballot. I find that shocking. Maybe the result is meaningless, a quirk. But maybe it shows that Hillary Clinton’s voters, to some extent, view her as a surrogate for the ex-president (and saying that, I’m shocked again: It flies in the face of one of her main appeals, which is, as Gloria Steinem reminded us yesterday, that she’s a history-making woman). It may also show that the former president is still a powerful draw for Democrats

In any case, I’d love to see the results if the same question were posed in the primaries to come. Go read the poll yourself and tell me whether I’ve got it right.

[Later: MSNBC, which published the same poll, focused on this finding last night. They report the full question as, “If Bill Clinton were eligible to run for a third term and had been on the ballot today, who would you have voted for?”]

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