Incensed Irony

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This is on the next street over from our place, of California Street at Jaynes. Not sure how long it has been hanging there. The message gets four stars on a scale of four, especially with the charger hanging there. I’m also taken by the font the aggrieved party has employed here–jaunty, but without detracting from the words’ impact. Henceforth, I’ll think of this typeface as Incensed Irony.

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Man with Box

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Going up 19th Avenue on the 28 Muni bus yesterday, a man got on carrying a long, haphazardly folded cardboard box. My guess is that it was his bed for the night. Without comment from the driver, he took a seat at the front of the bus, placing his box in the center aisle. The box extended across the feet or shins of several other riders; when those riders got off, the box blocked other people from taking their seats. When new passengers got on the bus, they had to gingerly make their way past the box; that proved to be a challenge for a couple of senior passengers who got on with walkers.

Still, the driver said nothing, and neither did any of the other passengers. The man, wearing a hooded UCLA sweatshirt, got off when we neared Golden Gate Park. My brother John, the New Yorker, took a look up and down the bus, and said, “What a tolerant bunch of people.” Heoffered the opinion that on buses or subways back home, the box would have prompted at least one “What the hell is this?” I can’t account for the scene on the San Francisco bus except to think people who ride Muni have probably seen it all and are past complaining or commenting.

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Daily Adventure

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John and Sean’s last (full) day here on this visit. Late in the afternoon, we went on an expedition, via BART (to Daly City) and Muni (the No. 28 bus up 19th Avenue) to the Golden Gate Bridge. We could tell looking across the bay from Berkeley as we left that the bridge was fogged in. That’s typical for August. Then again, everything might be different after an hour or hour and a half train-and-bus ride. But when we got off the 28 at the bridge visitors center, the fog was so dense that even on the very edge of the bridge the towers were completely invisible. We walked across anyway. The foghorns were blasting from the base of the bridge. Dew rained from the cables. The traffic roared. We went over and back, and the light was unusual and beautiful the whole way. As we neared the southern side again, deep in the twilight and just 15 minutes before the walkway was closed to pedestrians for the night, the damnedest thing happened: it cleared up enough that we could see all the way across the bay to Berkeley and out through the Golden Gate to the remnants of the sunset. Then, after watching the skunks gamboling around the visitors center parking lot, we got back on the bus to BART and then home.

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Family Day in the Dump

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My brother John and nephew Sean are visiting for a week. As honored guests, we’re taking them to all our favorite local spots. Such as the Albany Bulb–the abandoned landfill on the bay just north of Berkeley. It is part of a state park now and has long since become the haunt of dogwalkers, strollers, postmodern nature lovers, scrap artists, and pagan cultists of various light and dark stripes (to judge from some of the artifacts dredged up from or hauled down to the dumpland).

An artist (artists?) whose anonymous work we see down at the bulb stencils well-known images onto chunks of concrete: Amelie, the French movie character; Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist and pop icon; and Mona Lisa, Leonardo’s girlfriend. Down at the bulb Saturday, John and Sean got right into the spirit of the place. John spotted a piece of likely debris in the underbrush and placed it in suggestive juxtaposition to Mona Lisa; Sean then supplied a piece of performance art.

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King Philip Came …

A couple of acquaintances–fellow dog owners whom we sometimes encounter up at the neighborhood middle school–both teach in the biological sciences at UC-Berkeley. This morning, one of them was complaining that incoming students don’t know some of the basics, such as the Linnaean taxonomy scheme (you know–the “genus/species” one that breaks down the world of living organisms into related groups). I’d have to plead guilty to that myself, though I’ve got some notion of how it works. Anyway, one of these teachers said there’s a well-known mnemonic aid for remembering the scheme and keeping its levels in order. It’s the phrase, “King Philip Came Over From Germany Stoned” (or alternately, “…Came Over From Germany Seeking Victory”). And the order the phrase prompts is: kingdom/phylum/class/order/family/genus/species/(variant).

Here’s an example of the scheme in action: the Pacific chinook (or king) salmon, also known as Oncorhynchus tshawytscha:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Cordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Salmoniformes

Family: Salmonidae

Genus: Oncorhynchus

Species: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

A favorite trivia bit related to this name: Although we think of the chinook salmon as one of the great, emblematic, wild species of North America’s Pacific coast (and the name chinook originated with a Columbia River tribe) , the species name “tshawytscha” actually comes from a native word for the fish on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula. European biologists first encountered the fish there in the 18th century (the species names for chum, sockeye, and pink salmon as well as for steelhead trout also have roots in Kamchatka or Russia).

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‘You Don’t Need to Know’

A nice entry on The New York Times Olympics blog on the hair’s-breadth finish in the men’s 100-meter butterfly that gave U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps his seventh gold medal in Beijing. The Times and its sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, tried to get underwater footage from the official timekeeper, Omega, that reportedly gave a clear view of the finish. At first Omega said the footage would be distributed. Then FINA, the body that oversees competitive swimming, said the news media would not be allowed to view the pictures. The explanation, as related by the Times, is a pretty good working definition of arrogance:

“[FINA’S Cornel] Marculescu said it was a matter of policy, and that the Serbian team [whose swimmer finished second] was satisfied with the ruling after seeing the images — so there is no need to share the images.

“[Asked] why FINA wouldn’t distribute the footage if it showed the margin conclusively. Marculescu said: “We are not going to distribute footage. We are not doing these kinds of things. Everything is good. What are you going to do with the footage? See what the Serbians already saw? It is clarified for us beyond any doubt.

“He’s the winner in any way. He’s the winner no doubt. Even if you could see the pictures, I don’ t know how you could use them.”

[By way of Pete in the comments: Sports Illustrated has the next-best thing to the official photos–an amazing underwater sequence showing the race’s final two meters or so.0

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More Advice from the Neighbors

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We do “pick up after” our dog. But if I were to somehow not see The Dog take a dump after dark, or forget to bring a plastic bag with me, or suffer some other lapse of responsibility, I sure hope the pile would happen right under this sign. My antagonism toward this precious advisory isn’t rational, and I can’t really explain it. I suspect, though, that part of my feeling arises from the belief that the sort of people who put up notes like this wouldn’t give you the time of day if you passed on the street–unless it was to tell you that if you want the time, you should be careful enough to own and wear a watch.

The other day, I was walking The Dog when we approached a woman sitting in a lawnchair alongside the sidewalk. Her back was to us. The Dog was about 40 or 50 feet ahead of us. He passed Lawnchair Woman, and I approached. I got ready to say, “Hi, there,” which is my normal greeting to someone I meet in such circumstances. But as I approached, I heard her croak, “Six feet.”

Me: “What?” “Six feet. The city ordinance says you have to be within six feet of your dog.”

Discussing this later, I agreed with someone who has a much calmer demeanor than my own that the proper response to such an utterance is a simple, “Thank you.” After offering thanks, the proper course of action is to continue on your way and count yourself lucky that this person does not live next door.

I won’t recount what I actually said or what Lawnchair Woman said by way of retort. But it wasn’t “thank you.”

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‘The Best Way to See a City’

A marvelous little story in The New York Times: Reporter Katie Thomas took a ride on regular old civilian bikes with Olympicans Jason McCartney (U.S.) and Michael Barry (Canada). She wrote that McCartney seemed a little skeptical, but all that changed once they were riding:

“… As we coasted along streets that were as flat as a moo shu

pancake, McCartney was almost giddy. ‘Isn’t this the best way to see a

city?’ he shouted.

“And it was. Heavy rains a day earlier had

cleared Beijing of the humid air we all had been living with for the

past week. The weather had been so oppressive that McCartney was one of

more than 50 riders who did not finish the road race.

“We breezed

through Beijing in fast forward, pedaling past storefronts decorated

with Chinese flags, a mother washing her toddler’s face, a pair of

soldiers standing at attention. A block or two later, the traffic

cleared and the stone walls of the Forbidden City appeared. Through an

archway, we saw a cobbled courtyard, stately trees, and hordes of

Chinese tourists.”

[Belatedly: the story comes with a very cool two-minute audio slideshow. Some great pictures of working bikes on the streets of Beijing. Really well done on the part of the Times.]

‘The Best Way to See a City’

A marvelous little story in The New York Times: Reporter Katie Thomas took a ride on regular old civilian bikes with Olympicans Jason McCartney (U.S.) and Michael Barry (Canada). She wrote that McCartney seemed a little skeptical, but all that changed once they were riding:

“… As we coasted along streets that were as flat as a moo shu

pancake, McCartney was almost giddy. ‘Isn’t this the best way to see a

city?’ he shouted.

“And it was. Heavy rains a day earlier had

cleared Beijing of the humid air we all had been living with for the

past week. The weather had been so oppressive that McCartney was one of

more than 50 riders who did not finish the road race.

“We breezed

through Beijing in fast forward, pedaling past storefronts decorated

with Chinese flags, a mother washing her toddler’s face, a pair of

soldiers standing at attention. A block or two later, the traffic

cleared and the stone walls of the Forbidden City appeared. Through an

archway, we saw a cobbled courtyard, stately trees, and hordes of

Chinese tourists.”

[Belatedly: the story comes with a very cool two-minute audio slideshow. Some great pictures of working bikes on the streets of Beijing. Really well done on the part of the Times.]