One of my favorite backyard projects in Berkeley: a house a few blocks from us that has (or shares) a stand of big eucalyptus trees (gum trees if you’re speaking Strine). Some time ago–two or three or four years ago, or maybe more than that–someone took it into their head to take down one of the trees. There are crews around here that do that work. We hired one to take down our big Monterey pine when it was sick and near giving up the ghost. The people who do this are experts, and it’s both breathtaking and a little heart-breaking to see how quickly they can bring a tree down. Since they’re working in the middle of the city and simply felling the tree is not an option, they start at the top and take it down in pieces. For really big jobs, crews use cranes to lower sectiions of the tree to the ground, where workers cut them up with chainsaws.

Someone tried that approach on the tree here, but they went about it in a somewhat crazy way. Instead of moving up the tree with a belt and sling apparatus, they lashed a series of ladders to the trunk to gain access to the upper limbs. It must have been a hair-raising climb. Whoever was attempting this feat of urban forestry gave up after lopping off some big branches (they never got into the crown of the tree. As I said, that was years ago. But the partly dismembered tree and ladders remain. (Click the image for a larger version.)

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Dog Stats

The dog and I took a walk today–2.7692 miles if a map of the route is to be trusted. The dog, who also answers most of the time to the name Scout, has been here just over two years. I’ve been mentally working up a statistical profile of his life since he joined our household. Just a rough idea of the major points:

Walks: Scout is some kind of mix–probably border collie and a bigger dog called a flat-coated retriever. His appearance says so for one thing. And for another, flat-coats are reputed to be calmer than collies, and Scout is generally very calm. Of course, the daily walking regimen has something to do with it. Since we were sure when we found him that we had a dog that needed a lot of exercise on our hands, we’ve made sure he gets out for three or four walks a day, every day. All told, he probably averages a couple hours a day out with us. And if we cover between 2.5 and 3 miles per hour, that means he (and we–though Kate and I generally split the walks) put in 5 or 6 miles a day with the dog. Over two years, 730 days-plus, that comes to somewhere between 3,600 and 4,300 miles.

Food: He gets something like 3/4s of a pound of food a day (mostly dry), not counting stray corn chips from the kitchen floor, sidewalk snacks, and daily lawn grazing (he’s got an amazing nose for food that others no longer have any use for). Over 730 days, we’re talking about 540 pounds of dry food. (You look at his 55-pound body and wonder where it goes. Stay tuned.)

Food–the Sequel: In Berkeley and other places that kid themselves they’re civilized, it’s the law that you have to pick up your dog’s dumps (prized though they may be by discriminating members of the strolling public). The accessory of choice for this chore is the little plastic bags that home-delivery newspapers come in. In some city parks, it’s common to see garbage cans full of tied-off New York Times delivery bags; in some city parks, there are special self-locking receptacles for this kind of refuse (I often think about what a future civilization–the one we imagine pawing through our garbage dumps in 2,000 years–will make of the garbage strata that contains all the nicely wrapped dog crap; I also wonder how long the nicely wrapped crap will maintain its freshness for future garbologists).

OK–all those walks I mentioned above are punctuated by stops. Stops for Scout to inhale the fragrance of his kind and to add his own to the mix; stops for squirrel staredowns; stops for unexplained noises in the bushes; stops to sample discarded school lunches; and stops to crap. No, I don’t weigh the crap. But my impression is that Scout performs this function dependably two or three times a day (never inside, and that’s a fact; the one time he came close, we were staying in a motel; he work me up in the middle of the night to take him outside). Let’s say he goes 2.5 times a day. So over 730 days, that’s … 1,825 responsibly retrieved and wrapped up dog leavings.

And on that note, I’ll also wrap up this tour of the quantitative dog’s life. (Though I wonder if I can figure out how many bales of fur he’s left around the house in the last two years.)

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One blogger I read faithfully posted a picture and invited guesses as to what it is. I and others surmise it’s a picture of three Japanese soldiers during World War II, but anything more precise about the circumstances is just a guess.

That first picture intrigued me, and I went looking for other pictures of Japanese soldiers during the war. I eventually lit on this–a collection of Flickr photos. The photographs–and that’s one of them above (click for larger version)–were posted by a guy who is in possession of a photo album his grandfather picked up on Guadalcanal during the war. Most of the pictures depict a sailor (or perhaps marine), some alone, most with compatriots, in a variety of settings: on shipboard, some apparently in China. There are a few family shots, and a couple pages depicting the Japanese royal family. Nearly all the pictures have handwritten captions.

The guy who posted the pictures also started a blog–WWII Japanese Photo Album–which says he intends to “get this long lost treasure back to its family.” It’s a long shot–but a great project.

Meantime, you look at the pictures of the young men in sailor’s and soldier’s gear and you think, “These were just kids.” Odds are, most of the ones you see here didn’t survive the war.

The Bike

I have not been on the bike a lot this year, and it shows. I’m heavier and slower. Mostly, I feel “c’est la vie.” I was in great shape by the end of last summer and able to ride about as long as I wanted and as hard as I wanted. Or so it seems from nine months’ distance.

But still. I went out for a ride today with one of my local riding friends. The “classic” start to a ride from my house involves going up into the hills and a street called Grizzly Peak Boulevard; riding that way involves a long, sharp hairpin if you took a look at a map. About a mile north, up the side of the north-south ridge that rises east of Berkeley and then at the top you double back close to but not quite at the top of the ridge. After another couple miles you hit the city limit and cross, oddly, into a piece of Oakland that lies just above the upper hillside reaches of the University of California campus. It’s all open land up there: eucalyptus groves and grass and brush. The road winds up the upper slopes of what on the local U.S. Geological Survey maps is labeled Frowning Ridge. The view down across Berkeley to the bay, San Francisco and the Golden Gate beyond, is still transfixing a good 30 years after I first saw it. The road tops out at about 1,700 feet above sea level — nearly 1,600 feet above my house, and about six and a half miles above sea level. It’s an amazing climb to have right out my front door–long and never really steep, with one of the best vistas in the state.

After you hit the top, the road immediately starts down. You’re headed south, so the logical destination, if you’re going anywhere, is the network of roads that leads into the Oakland Hills; then maybe further south and east through more hills and open country. Today, we rode down to an over-stripmalled suburb called Castro Valley, got a cup of coffee and a scone, then got on our bikes and rode back to Berkeley. Great day out, though unseasonable, if we really do have any seasons around here. We were in the mid-90s the week before last, and that’s sort of freakishly hot around here. Today, at midmorning, it was 48 up in the hills, and it stayed in the low 50s virtually the entire time we were on the bikes.

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Today’s big Bay Area news: a wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The wind is blowing hard from the north, and the blaze is moving fast. The images below are from a NOAA weather. The top frame (click for larger image) shows a smoke erupting (near Monterey Bay, the big scalloped area in the bottom center of the picture) at 5:30 a.m. The next frame (8 a.m.) shows the smoke plume spreading south two and a half hours later. The bottom image, from 10 a.m., shows a wider view of the coast with the southern end of the smoke plume off the coast of Santa Barbara County (also see the NOAA satellite loop).




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The Rules

[“Immigration raids terrify kids, House is told” — San Francisco Chronicle]

You know, it’s such a gift to have had ancestors who had the foresight to emigrate to the United States while the doors were wide open. I’m not saying that everyone involved in the melange of immigrants that led to me qualified as wretched refuse, but I’ve seen where most of them came from. There are a lot of rocks strewn across the fields they worked. There is plenty of wind. There are long winter nights to contemplate the season to come and how to keep the cold out. For the people who left there, nothing was in short supply but level ground, cash in hand, and a prospect that things might change for the better.

But they crossed, they did, and they were welcome to try what millions of others had tried. They farmed. They mined coal. They worked in the stockyards, taught school, ministered to parishes, and worked in banks. If any of them got rich, I never heard about it. They did something far more important: They made me and everything I know possible.

The country kept the door wide open back then, but that should not be mistaken for an act of warm-hearted generosity. The country needed willing hands to help realize its manifest greatness; those forebears of mine and the millions like them were more or less willing.

I have to wonder how they would fare today. The door is still open, but just the slightest crack. Yes, lots of people slip over, under, or around it. Once they do, they seem to embark on the same path those forebears of mine did–they are today’s willing hands, and in slaughterhouses and construction sites and farm fields far and wide they are building something that only their children and grandchildren will get to see.

Or maybe not. These new immigrants aren’t following the rules if they fail to wait their turn at the door (a door, it should be noted, that is unlikely to ever open for their ilk–poor, uneducated, unable to speak our language). The rules–that’s another thing I have to wonder about. In the debate over immigration today, descendants of yesterday’s immigrants’ are careful to point out what honorable, law-abiding rule followers their ancestors were. Without subjecting anyone to a historical treatise just now, let’s just say that the bar for entry for most of these huddled and rule-following masses was a lot lower than it is today–unless, of course, they were Chinese or Japanese or from some other group loathed by the rule writers.

So, many of our new immigrants aren’t waiting their turn. Today’s immigration rule writers have decided this behavior is a danger to the country and are taking steps to punish the rule breakers. What form does the punishment take? See the article linked above. It talks about immigration roundups. I know most of us know this is going on, have heard stories about workplace raids, and probably put the whole business out of our minds.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend who teaches nearby told me about a student, one of the brightest in the class, who had come to school with his mother that morning. The mother was weeping. Why? the teacher asked. Because immigration agents had pounded on her door at 7:30 p.m., swept through her small apartment, and taken away three relatives. It was a shattering experience.

So this is what we’ve created to safeguard our bastion of prosperity–thug tactics in which a certain sector of the population is freely targeted and virtually without legal recourse. Oh, yes, none of this would happen if the affected people had just followed the rules, and we are, above all, a nation of rules. But there is a human cost here in the dismantling of people’s lives, the destruction of their sense of security, and in sowing emotional trauma. And for those who have got ours already, the sons and daughters of past generations of rule followers, there’s a cost in building the kind of apparatus that treats people as if they’re so much garbage to be thrown out. I’m all for rules–I’m not a fan of anyone coming into my house and taking my stuff, and I hate people who cut in line–but the rules need to have a humane edge. At our best, that’s the kind of rules we’ve written.

(Oh, and my solution for the illegal immigration issue: Amnesty, education, and citizenship.)

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Done and Neglected

Done: The semester at UC Berkeley. I await the results of the semester. Promising not to go into the details, I’m sure the outcome was mixed. That paper I mentioned recently? Got an A on it; but it was a tough A, and reading the comments — both the graduate student instructor and the professor who taught the class wrote a full page of single-spaced comments — made me realize how much I have to learn (and also, the research made me see how often historians have trod the same ground (the Irish, the Irish in America, slavery, abolition, racism); well, perhaps not exactly the same ground: I want to explore how the Roman Catholic Church fits into the mix. Maybe I’ll write some more about that later.

And my other class? Cognitive linguistics. An excellent class that I could have done better by. In the end, I got into a bind with a long, complex take-home final due at virtually the same time as my long, complex research paper. One lesson I learned: Ask for an extension (on something). In the end, I put nearly all my chips on the history paper. Glad that it paid off, though I feel like I missed something in the linguistics class. Like I said: more to learn.

Neglected: Nearly everything else, including this here blog, though I have been watering the plants and mowing the lawn.

That is all. For tonight. b

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From the Mailbox


Here’s an odd recent arrival, thanks to our letter carrier (the one we used to have a cordial relationship with before we got a dog, but that’s another story). The county health department wants us to know how to fend off the avian flu epidemic (sorry–pandemic) that was coming last year. Thanks, county health department. Inside the pictured folder (with its weird “up, up with people” logo) is a fold-out sheet with helpful information like the frequencies of the local emergency broadcast stations, addresses of hospitals, and reminders to wash your hands.

On the long list of things I worry about, the avian flu is pretty low–way behind my concern over George W. Bush being able to launch a nuclear weapon, for instance.

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End of a Desperate Ruffian

Doing some research on a possible future project, I came across this: a judge passing sentence in a Revolutionary War case that today might be called today attempted murder with special circumstances. The prisoner, named Abijah Wright, had with several confederates broken into the home of a Pennsylvania militia colonel; his intent was to murder the colonel or deliver him to the British; but the colonel, aided by one of his sons, “discomfited” the attackers. Wright was captured, tried and convicted of “felony and burglary,” and sentenced to death. (He was also charged with treason, but there’s no record of how the jury disposed of that charge, apparently; I found a recent paper on Wright’s trial, one of nearly two dozen similar proceedings held in late 1778 and early 1779 in Philadelphia).

Here’s what the judge had to say to Mr. Wright:

“YOU have been indicted of a burglary and thereto pleaded that you were not guilty, and for trial put yourself upon God and your Country: They have found you guilty. What have you to say, why sentence of death should not be pronounced against you?

“(A long pause ensued and no answer)

“A copy of your indictment, and of the panel of the jury who were to try you, was delivered to you many days before your trial, that you might be prepared in the best manner for your defence and challenges. Upon your trial you have had two able Counsels assigned you by the Court to render you every possible assistance. A sensible and unbiased jury have found a verdict against you upon as clear and full evidence as ever was given in a Court of Justice. It only remains for the Court to pronounce the awful sentence prescribed by law.

“Before this is done it may be useful to you to remind you of the heinousness of your crime, and in what manner you ought to employ the few days which may be allotted to you in this life. The law has so particular and tender a regard to the immunity of a [man’s] house, that it stiles it his Castle, and will never suffer it to be violated with impunity. You have in the dead of night, with a number of desperate ruffians, broke and entered the mansion house of Colonel Andrew Knox, in this county, then peaceably in his bed, it being after midnight, and when all the creation, except beasts of prey, were to be supposed at rest. You broke and entered this house in a hostile manner, with arms in your hands and with an intent to murder the owner, having discharged many loaded muskets at him. It has been alledged, that you might have intended not to murder him, but to carry him away a prisoner to the enemy, then in possession of this city. This is so far from being an extenuation of your guilt, that it is an aggravation of it; for you, in such a case, would have been guilty of treason. … [Y]ou, his countryman … attempted to put him into the power and under the dominion of his inveterate foes, foes to God and man, by whom you were sure he would at least have been confined in a loathesome dungeon, if not assassinated, or starved to death. But he, with the assistance of his son, discomfitted seven of you, whatever your wicked purposes might have been, and has proved that he was not deficient in that prowess and courage necessary for the station he was in. …

“Let me intreat you for God’s sake, who wisheth not the death of a sinner; for Christ’s sake, who died for all mankind; for your own sake, whose eternal happiness or misery depend upon a sincere repentance; to reflect seriously upon your past life, to redeem your time, and to be earnest and importunate at the throne of grace for mercy and forgiveness. If your desire the conversation, advice or prayers of any pious divines, or other good men, the Court will use their best endeavors to obtain them for you. Do not go out of the world in the manner too, too many thoughtless wretches in your condition are apt to do. Be convinced of the justice of your punishment, ask pardon of your offended country; but strive, above all things, to make your peace with God.

“Having now discharged my duty to you as a Christian, I must resume the office of the Judge.

” ‘YOU shall be taken back to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until dead.’ God be merciful to your soul.”



From the New York Times: Satellite-based maps of the coastal area before and after this week’s storm struck. I don’t know from Burma–my most intimate knowledge came from reading the post-World War II novel (and seeing the movie) “Harp of Burma.” And the country has made incidental appearances in other readings. And then there’s been the news about Aung San Suu Kyi. And that’s it, except I’ve the name Irriwaddy River has always had a lovely resonance for me. Like Mississippi.

And now this. One of the breathtaking things about the maps is the storm track they depict. I’m not sure if that path is characteristic of storms in the region, but look at it; eyeballing the scale on the map, I’m guessing it scraped along the coastline for a good 400 miles. In the newsroom, my impulse would be to put that in terms familiar to the reader, so here goes: Imagine a storm of that ferocity traveling the coast from San Diego to San Francisco; or from Norfolk to Boston; or Memphis to Chicago.

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