Annals of Public-Education Community Outreach

A friend shared this message in which an Oakland public school–a flatlands school with a largely poor and minority population–is allegedly trying to communicate an important event to students’ families. I’m at a loss to understand what the people who put this out might have been thinking. Maybe that they are communicating to a bunch of artificial speech machines who will now what the heck they are talking about even if no human can. I especially like the time advertised for the “Community. Meetandgreet”: April 30, 2013, from “Eight Thousand Ten-Hundred until Nine Thousand Ten-Hundred.”
Did anyone listen to this machine-generated message before they robocalled families with it? Did anyone consider having a human being record a message that might have been a little more personal, not to mention a whole lot more intelligible? Did anyone wonder how this would sound to the majority of school parents who are primarily Spanish speakers (or maybe they got their own Spanish-language machine voice).
It’s hard to believe that this kind of pseudo-communication would be found acceptable at an affluent school where parents demand administrators tell them what’s happening at the school.

Further Adventures with TV News Fonts

photo (12).JPG

Say you’re a news anchor–someone who’s paid handsomely to look good while reading the news competently and with enough dramatic flair to let the folks at home know that what you’re saying is really important. Question: Does it matter to you when your head appears on the screen next to something that makes you and the rest of the newscast look kind of dumb? (Picture is from a KTVU “10 O’Clock News” broadcast earlier this week, and the handsome head belongs to anchor Frank Somerville.)

(There are extenuating circumstances in this case. This was a newscast item on a high-school science competition sponsored by biopharmaceutical firm Amgen, the 2013 Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge. Whoever came up with the screen title didn’t consider that BioGENEius might not translate well to all-caps.).

In Praise (and Otherwise) of Oxalis


In an uncertain world, there’s one thing you can count on in Berkeley every late winter and spring: Oxalis pes-caprae, also known around town as oxalis, Bermuda buttercup, yellow wood sorrel, “some kind of shamrock,” and sourgrass. “Sourgrass” because the stems are edible and tart, and both our kids, as well as lots of their friends, occasionally picked the grass and ate it when they were little.

On one hand, the plant is not unattractive–the blooms are almost iridescent in the right light–and was once something that gardeners planted ornamentally. I have a neighbor who says he likes to let the plant have its day, seeing how pretty it is for a few weeks every year.

On the other hand, the damned thing’s a nuisance. It’s ubiquitous, showing up in garden beds far and wide. Once it arrives, it’s virtually to get rid of. Pulling it up, you discover it has little white translucent tubers that seem to have something to do with how it spreads. You also occasionally find miniature bulbs from which the plant grows in the fall. Since it’s an alien (it’s native to South Africa) and invasive, it’s more than a headache for gardeners. Here’s what the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management site says about Oxalis pes-caprae:

Bermuda buttercup was first noted in California in the San Francisco Bay region and has since spread throughout most coastal counties, the coastal range, and into the Central Valley. In the last 10 years, this plant has invaded native coastal dunes and natural areas along the coast, leading to the demise of native plants. It is a troublesome weed that is more competitive than is assumed from its general appearance.

Due to its extensive occurrence in yards and gardens, Bermuda buttercup has the potential to rapidly spread via the production of bulbs and the movement of contaminated soils into adjacent natural areas. Because it is practically impossible to eradicate infested soils of this weed, take care to prevent Bermuda buttercup from invading wild lands.

And here’s what the site says you’re in for if you’re really dedicated to the cause of eradicating your personal patch of oxalis:

The best control method for this pernicious weed is prevention. If new infestations are spotted and controlled early, it is possible to eradicate small populations. Large populations are difficult to control and will require multiple years of diligent control efforts.

Small infestations can be controlled by repeated manual removal of the entire plant. Repeated pulling of the tops will deplete the bulb’s carbohydrate reserves, but these efforts will take years to be successful. Repeated mowing also will eventually deplete the bulb. Cut Bermuda buttercup before it flowers and forms new bulbs. Repeated cutting or cultivation is necessary to reduce plant numbers. The soil from which plants are removed should be carefully examined or sifted to remove bulbs and bulblets, an extremely time- and labor-intensive process. Before planting in an infested area, use soil solarization to further reduce Bermuda buttercup populations.

Soil solarization? Here’s the details on what that means.

Friday Night at the Garbage Dump


The way things shook out last night, we would have had to rush to the Oakland ferry slip for our usual Friday night round-trip. So we decided to take it easy and do something else. “Something else” turned out to be going down to Cesar Chavez Park, the former Berkeley garbage dump, down on the bay. The Dog was so excited when he realized where we were going that he climbed into Kate’s lap in the front seat of the car when we got close to our destination. We parked right before the sun set, and took a long walk that looped down to the edge of the park, where the landfill ends and the bay sweeps out toward the Golden Gate, Angel Island and Marin County. A single sailboat was tacking along the waterfront, zigzagging its way back toward a berth in the Berkeley Marina.

Understanding Too Late

It’s early yet, but the teams I follow in the major leagues of North American baseball seem headed in opposite directions: The Cubs south, having dropped six of their first nine, demonstrating a penchant for losing from in front: the A’s north, winning eight in a row after playing their first two games of the season without bats; the A’s play far from perfect baseball but when things are going their way, they look like a bunch of kids, no cares in the world.

While watching the A’s take apart the American League franchise from Anaheim on Wednesday night–I find few things in televised sports are more fun to watch than a glutted, money-besotted team fall flat on its face the way the Angels did to the underpaid Athletics–Kate pulled out a book of baseball poetry, “Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves.” She turned to a poem we’ve read many times in the past, “Pitcher,” by Robert Francis (1901-1987).

Here it is, reproduced without permission (but believe me, not for profit):


His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

That is a gem, a perfect description of something you can watch inning after inning, game after game, season after season and still not see how different appearance is from intent. And that’s where I think I tend to read poetry, too–on the surface. In poking around to see if I could find a copy of “The Pitcher” online, I came across a nice analysis that looks beneath the appearance of the couplets to examine the poem as a metaphor for writing poetry (I found a more technical analysis here).

Why didn’t I see that? Now that you say it, it’s obvious, like the way an inside fastball can set up a slider low and away. Or another inside fastball.

Here’s another Francis poem, “Catch.” Maybe what’s going on here–I’m talking about intent, not technique, about which I know nothing–is a little clearer.


Two boys uncoached are tossing a poem together,
Overhand, underhand, backhand, sleight-of-hand, every hand,
Teasing with attitudes, latitudes, interludes, altitudes,
High, make him fly off the ground for it, low, make him stoop,
Make him scoop it up, make him as-almost-as-possible-miss it,
Fast, let him sting from it, now, now fool him slowly,
Anything, everything tricky, risky, nonchalant,
Anything under the sun to outwit the prosy,
Over the tree and the long sweet cadence down,
Over his head, make him scramble to pick up the meaning,
And now, like a posey, a pretty plump one in his hands.

April 11, 1953


Sixty years ago today: My future mom and dad smooch in full view of their wedding party at the Windermere Hotel, down on the South Side near the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago. The Windermere: My mom’s family, the Hogans, had a history there. I believe my mom’s parents, Edward Daniel Hogan and Anne Louise O’Malley, had their wedding reception there, back around 1925. My Uncle Dick’s ordination party was held there in 1965. I think I read that the U of C owns it now and has converted it to a residence for students.

Anyway, the picture: It’s one of a couple of color snapshots I’ve seen of the event. There are lots of formal black-and-white wedding pictures, too, showing the wedding party and important family members in various configurations. To me, Dad looks nervous in most of those pictures and Mom looks something I interpret as close to ecstatic. My dad’s mother, Otilia Sieverson Brekke, a Norwegian Lutheran, shows a steady lack of warmth for the proceedings. After all, she’d been forced to endure attendance at the Hogans’ Irish Catholic parish, St. Kilian’s, at 87th and May streets.

On the left margin of this picture is Dad’s friend (and best man?) John Lacognata, a fellow musician. I know he and my dad and another guy–who was the other guy?–once drove out to the West Coast from Chicago in a Hudson my dad had bought. I remember Dad showing slides of that trip, complete with a shot showing the car with water bags slung across the front to aid the crossing of one of the Southern California deserts.

On the right of the picture is a woman named Kay, whose last name I can’t remember, but whom I think went to Loretto High School with Mom; they would have graduated about 1947. Kay and her husband, Norbert–again, I don’t recall a last name–lived out in the south suburbs when we were growing up there; I remember visiting them and not getting along with their kids.

In the center of the picture: Mary Alice Hogan and Stephen Daniel Brekke. She was all of 23; he was 31. What were they thinking? I never talked to them much about their courtship, and uncharacteristically, Mom didn’t give me the inside story during some long, wandering, late-night talk. My Dad volunteered after Mom died in 2003 that it was she who asked him out on their first date when they were both working at the Chicago Land Clearance Commission. They went to Schrafft’s downtown. There was also the story of how Steve took Mary on a date to Uno’s, the original location at Ohio and Wabash. Mary Alice reportedly told Steve she’d never been to Uno’s, a pizzeria that allowed patrons to scrawl their names on the walls. Anyway, they get there and are seated. On the wall adjacent to their table, “Mary Alice Hogan” is written in red lipstick. I don’t know how Mary Alice explained that.

Anyway, there they are: Norwegian minister’s son and the daughter of an Irish-American bank clerk and schoolteacher, getting ready to set sail into joys and sorrows unimaginable, right after they cut the cake.

goatrock1985.jpg goatrock1985a.jpg