Monthly Archives: April 2008

Tonight’s Fund-Raising Call

The Democratic National Committee called tonight. After all the sterling work the party has done since the 2006 election, helped of course by my hefty donations (five figures if you go to the right of the decimal point), a very cheerful and polite and hopeful-sounding young woman wanted to ask me for another couple hundred bucks.

You know, I was on the verge earlier today of writing down the litany of the woes I read about and hear about and witness and the sense I have that we’ll be good and tangled up in these things for a good long while: The people blown to pieces day after day after day in Iraq and Afghanistan, the people losing their homes or walking away from them, the four-buck-a-gallon gasoline, and the president who says everything will be fine if we just do things his way. Then there’s the stuff we apparently just accept as part of the landscape now–our shambles of an education system (tell me, when’s the last time you heard the candidates slug it out over that?), our excellent but increasingly unaffordable system of health care, and the fact we’ve apparently decided that as a country we can’t or prefer not to pay our own way anymore.

Did I mention that domestic ferry passengers in Washington State are being accosted by border agents demanding proof of citizenship? Or the sudden and calamitous decline of the last big salmon runs in California over the last year? Declining dollar, anyone? The estimate of my state’s budget deficit for the next year increased from $8 billion to $10 billion to $20 billion in just the last four days (or maybe it didn’t).

And then I look at the parties and the trio from whom we’ll select our next president. While all of the above is transpiring, one of the Democrats has been reduced to talking about his minister’s loony views and apologizing for speaking frankly about the fear and frustration that drives the electorate. His principal opponent is capitalizing on the fear and frustration to sabotage him (and probably herself, too, in the fullness of time). The guy from the other party appears to be promising more of his predecessor’s worst policies along with a few gems of his own.

Plenty of tunnel. No light. I know this is not the glass-half-full view. I know I am not being “part of the solution.” I am not being the change I’ve been waiting for or that you’ve been waiting for either.

You know, tonight’s not a good night to ask for that two hundred bucks.

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Advice from the Neighbors

Dogsign042408

One thing about living in Berkeley: You can count on encountering advice from all quarters on how to conduct yourself in public; sometimes the advice is very detailed. Here are a couple examples dealing with the plague of dog waste, Now, the town does have a law on the books about this: If your dog bestows a precious leaving on lawn or sidewalk or village green, you, the dog’s best buddy, need to pick it up. And the evidence is that most people do. Given the number of dogs around, it’s uncommon to find evidence of their alimentary workings underfoot, and the public garbage cans all over town are brimming with those little plastic newspaper delivery bags, all filled with crap of the non-editorial variety.

I guess I wonder who the signs speak to. If you are the kind of person who thinks nothing of having your dog take a dump on someone else’s lawn, and there are plenty of that kind, do these signs stir your conscience and make you think, “Gee–I should really think about other people sometimes!” And if you are the kind of person who does your best not to leave fecal surprises for your fellow townsfolk to step in, do these signs do anything more than irritate you a little? I suppose there’s a middle population of people who walk around not knowing what they’ll do when their dog unloads. These signs might make them say, “Jeepers! That’s a good point!” But since you actually have to prepare yourself to deal with the eventuality that your dog is going to be leaving day-old Alpo around the ‘hood–you need to carry bags, etc.–there really isn’t a middle group. If you’re not prepared, by definition you’re in the Dump and Run Club.

As far as the dog urine sign below: What it says may very well be true. Though the sign says in small type at the bottom that it is the work of “people who love dogs and flowers,” I question whether the authors have actually observed one of these lovely dogs. Because, even with the most fastidious owners in the world, most dogs are gonna go where they’re gonna go (and mostly that means where another dog went).

Dogsign042408A

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Guest Observation: Tom Kettle

Two or three weeks ago in my Irish history class, we were going the World War I years. One of the things the professor does is weave in poetry and song; he has even sung a song or two despite the palpable discomfort of many of his auditors. For the poetry, his habit is to declaim a stanza or two unless the piece is quite short. During the World War I lecture, he brought in a sonnet by a man well-known in Ireland but little known elsewhere: Tom Kettle.

Kettle was an Irish nationalist of the Home Rule stripe. Meaning: He hoped for an independent Ireland, but supported a campaign to create an Irish government that would still be part of the British Empire. Just as that goal was about to be realized, the European war broke out. When the fighting began, in August 1914, Kettle was in Belgium trying to buy guns for Irish nationalist militias. Instead, he spent several months helping the Belgians in their futile bid to hold off the German onslaught. Prompted largely by what he had seen, he volunteered for service in the British army when he returned home and recruited fellow Irishmen into the ranks. Among radical nationalists, who held to the age-old position that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity, Kettle’s position was akin to a sellout. When the nationalists launched the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, Kettle was devastated; though in poor health, asked for a front-line combat position. He was sent to France to join an Irish unit in the Battle of the Somme.

It was there that he wrote “To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God”:

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,

In that desired, delayed incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby’s throne

To dice with death. And, oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh, with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

The poem’s postscript reads: “In the field before Guillemont, Somme. September 4, 1916.” Kettle died leading his troops into action five days later.

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This American Gripe

One thing I’ve made myself get used to is that there’s nothing I can do about the way my fellow humans drive. For years and years and years, I’ve gotten steamed about people blowing through stop signs or speeding up and down residential streets and generally acting like idiots behind the wheel. (No doubt I’ve given people to get steamed, too).

I had a moment of enlightenment last fall when I was walking the dog and a car came screaming up the street behind us and went through a stop sign. For some reason, it hit me that it was just a coincidence I happened to be there to see it happen, and it would have happened whether I had witnessed it or not. And if I hadn’t been there–if I had been at a movie or sitting at home reading a book–the guy would have raced through the stop sign and I would have been none the wiser. I would not have gotten upset or started thinking about what an idiot the guy way or gone through any of the usual mental and emotional gymnastics. What the guy did had nothing to do with me, and getting exercised is a waste of energy and attention.

That insight, if that’s what it was, has helped me to stay unengaged on the street. I’m less upset more of the time, and that’s a good thing.

Since last fall, three people have been run down and killed in North Berkeley crosswalks. Two of the deaths occurred at the same corner, the third a block away. It’s not clear to me that anyone was ever charged in the incidents. Unless a driver is drunk or drug-addled or exhibiting some recklessly outrageous behavior, killing someone with your car seems to be regarded as just one of those things that happens.

We live on a street that has two relatively busy thoroughfares at either end. Both of those bigger streets have stop signs close to our street. And over the 20 years we’ve lived here, we’ve become used to the fact that most of the drivers who do slow to what passes for a stop here in Berkeley do so only grudgingly. The implicit impatience–for instance, the cars that continue rolling through the intersection as you cross, the cars that avoid stopping at all so as to get through the intersection before you can step off the curb–is obvious and constant. And I’m not one to stroll ostentatiously across the street, either–since I’m a driver in my other life, I know driver-kind is anxious to get a move on.

So right there is one time that my little mental trick–hey, that guy swerving across the double-yellow line and ignoring the oncoming traffic: as far as I’m concerned, he’s not really there–doesn’t work so well. When you’re actually in the crosswalk and have to interact, however indirectly, with the driver who is worried about not making the next traffic light a block away, that driver really is there.

Late this afternoon: It was a beautiful day here in Berkeley. We were crossing the street over to the school where we sometimes let the dog run. A couple weeks ago, an acquaintance was crossing at this same corner–there’s a stop sign and a crosswalk, all installed to make it safer to get to the school. A driver rolled through the stop sign and hit her dog, who somehow was not seriously injured.

So there we were. We started to cross. There was a car to our left. The driver didn’t stop; instead, he steered around us as he continued on. There was a car to our right. That driver didn’t stop, either. He continued to roll.

I won’t go into detail about what objects or epithets may have flown through the air during this intersection encounter. It’s not an episode that reflects well on me. I can repeat that one of the drivers explained, somewhere amid a bouquet of f-words, that “I didn’t come anywhere close to you” as he rolled through the stop sign into the crosswalk. In other words: Buddy, you’re not under my car. What are you complaining about?

Eventually, I calmed down and though about all this. It’s true there’s nothing I can do to change driver behavior, and nothing is less effective than getting angry with them. Still, what gets to me is what I think I see in these incidents: the basic lack of awareness or care when drivers get behind the wheel that other people are out there in the world and that yes, it’s necessary to grant them a shred of attention every once in a while. What a way to live.

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Today’s Best Expression

“As mad as a hatter.” That’s a tried and true formulation, though maybe a little archaic. One of Kate’s colleague’s has supercharged it and and updated it a little. In reference to someone who might be a little off-center, she’s fond of saying, “He’s as crazy as a f—ing mad hatter.”

So there, Charles Dodgson.

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Hey, Where’d Everybody Go?

I would be embarrassed to admit the attention I pay to how many people land on this site. For the last three years or so, the number has been in the low hundreds every day; it has spiked briefly several tiimes, but I don’t think it has once hit 1,000. I’ve also found that in the past couple of years, more and more people arrive on the sprawling Infospigot web property not to partake of the brilliant bons mot but in search of pictures of Mount Shasta or the Haymarket memorials in Chicago. That’s fine–glad to be of service.

But in the last ten days, something odd has happened. That steady volume of visitors has shrunk suddenly and rather sharply, to just a few dozen a day. I can’t think of any reason this might have happened so quickly. Maybe Google has weeded out a lot of the redundant references to the site. Maybe something else has happened. Hope it wasn’t something I said.

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Exit Polls Again …

Well, the polls are closed in Pennsylvnania and the The New York Times says that Obama and Clinton are “locked in a tight race” and that the result is “too close to call.” Others appear to be on the same page: CNN says it’s a “competitive race.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, on its home page, perhaps tellingly, doesn’t offer a take.

So what do the exit polls say? Well, you never know what you’re really dealing with here, especially given your analyst’s near perfect state of ignorance of what other information is out there.

That said, the exit numbers show a close win for Clinton. If the poll numbers displayed on CNN reflect something close to reality, about 78 percent of those voting in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary are 40 or older; Clinton is winning handily with that group. Some 38 percent of the Democratic poll respondents are 60 and older, and Clinton wins that group 59-41. Obama wins the 39 and under voters decisively, too. Based on the numbers in the age category only, Clinton comes out with something like 52 percent of the vote in the end.

For the vote by race, the CNN exit poll appears to have statistically significant results only for white voters. Among white voters, Clinton got a significantly larger share in every age group except the youngest (18-29), where she has a 50-50 split with Obama. My guess from this category and from others (education, religion, gun ownership, region) where Clinton seems to enjoy large advantages–and considering also that the exit polls show 58 percent of the Democratic voters in Pennsylvania were women–I think Clinton will wind up with something like 55 or 56 percent of the vote. Not as close, probably, as the major news outlets are saying (or hoping, perhaps).

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Boston Final

Some really fast people won the (men’s and women’s) Boston Marathon. Here are the final results for the two guys I was following:

Bostonfinal

Congratulations, you guys.

[Update: Pete’s time is a personal record by about 6 minutes. Pete reports, “What an amazing race! The crowds … you can really feel how attached everyone is to this race.” Crowds four and five deep along the route, kids high-fiving runners and handing out refreshments. “Coming into the big city … very fun … a lifetime experience for sure.” He also says, very soberly: “I’m drained”–and Wildflower, which I spoke of in the first Boston post earlier today, is off his calendar. I call that a wise call, with another huge challenge just two months ahead.]

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Boston Again

A friend of mine from high school, Mike Koerber, took up distance running decades ago. He was always a pretty serious athlete, and we spent many, many days playing hockey (he had a pond in front of his house), softball, basketball and football. Last time I saw him was … 1977, I’m guessing. But last fall, I looked his name up in the Chicago Marathon results and saw that, yes, in the midst of a race beset by unseasonably hot temperatures (about 90, in mid-October; it was weather Mrs. O’Leary’s cow would have loved) and some logistical problems (not enough water on the course), there was Michael Koerber, finishing in something like … 3:12, if I remember correctly. I traced his past performanced and found at least one time under 3 hours. I’d guess that that puts him in the 80th to 90th percentile among runners his age (which is also my age, since we were born four days apart). So, Mike not only runs marathons, he’s pretty accomplished.

So, I look him up on the Boston Marathon site, and he’s out there today, too. Here are the early splits for both Pete and Mike (click for larger). Go, you two!

Petemike

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In Boston, Meanwhile …

I’m sitting here gathering my wits for the day (not that there are all that many to gather). In Boston, meanwhile, my friend Pete has just crossed the starting line in that marathon they have there. He’s an amazing athlete, really: In the last six months, he’s done a series of long races getting ready for this day, including a 50-miler. Yeah. Fifty miles. Running (it took something like 9 hours and 50 minutes). In the next couple of months, he’s doing a tough half-Ironman triathlon (Wildflower, here in California, next month) and a full Ironmon (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in June). And today, he’s there in Boston, running again. Here’s the first split from the online tracker:

Petemarathon

Go, Pete!

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