Back to the Blog ……

Back to Berkeley from Chicago, where I spent Friday and Saturday at Bill Hogan’s memorial and funeral. What was great about it:

–Met lots of the religious people and activists with whom Uncle Bill spent his life. Many priests who were ordained in his class at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary (1952) or immediately before and after. Many people from the civil rights movements. Even a few from the Communist Party USA, one of Bill’s latter-day affiliations.

–Met a few only dimly known relatives, including Joe O’Malley, one of my mom’s first cousins, who saved her from drowning in Lake Michigan in 1939 (she was 9, he was 17; four other members of her family did drown)

–In talking to the people at the memorial, managed to come up with what I think is a workable parallel for the life Bill led. Everybody talked about what an activist he was, his humor, how interesting he was, how constant in his principles, how ready always to start a protest or join a protest (one person claimed that Jesse Jackson nicknamed Bill “instant picket” back in the ’60s). What I hit on was this: Yes, Bill did fight for freedom and lead a free life. But one aspect of doing that is pure terror (for most people, at least, including myself): Like Jesus in “The Last Temptation of Christ,” you let your actions be guided by a voice no one else can hear, by a vision no one else can see. To others, you look crazy or extreme. To persist in following that course is one definition of courage.

Brief History

Mentioned the “Small Towns” post to my Dad, for whom it was intended. He in turn mentioned driving around the Dakota countryside in the early 1990s looking for the grave of Sitting Bull.  And that jogged my memory about an almanac item for today: The Wounded Knee massacre took place on this date in 1890 (two weeks after Sitting Bull was killed). Our reflections on how short a history we have: Wounded Knee was just 113 years ago, and happened during the lives of people we both know; the blink of an eye, really.

Blog Time

There’s some research out there on blogging activity: How many blogs are out there, how many are abandoned, frequency of updates, etc. But, having dabbled ever so lightly in online diarizing, and having come across some reasonably well informed, well written, and constantly updated blogs — let’s list BoingBoing (maintained by a group of friends), Dan Gillmor’s eJournal, the Volokh Conspiracy, and Bruce Sterling’s Wired blog (modestly titled Beyond the Beyond) for starters — the question I always have is: Where do these people find the time?

For me, it’s a conundrum: Getting my work done in a halfway respectable manner, doing the nonwork stuff I want to do (in random order: cycling, working out, being a halfway attentive husband, father, son, brother, and friend, reading, and watching “24” and “Survivor,” then thinking about and occasionally noodling with “my spare-time literary activities,” which might, by a stretch, be said to include blogging).

I don’t see any research about that. Maybe there’s a story in it.

Especially at This Time of Year

Man sets car on fire on a Bay Area freeway, incinerating his wife’s two kids and critically burning her. Local police chief’s comment, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Certainly it’s a very tragic situation, especially at this time of year.”

Thanks to the magic of a Google news search, we discover that the chief isn’t the only one who’s feeling this way about a Yuletide human torching. Scotland’s Evening Telegraph reports that a 48-year-old man in the town of Kinross set himself on fire. The Telegraph quotes a witness: “It doesn’t bear thinking about, especially at this time of year, the Friday before Christmas.”

That’s actually a nice touch, reminding us just what time of year it is. But wait, here’s more tragedy and extra-heartfelt emotion stirred by the coming of Xmas. In Rhode Island, a trench collapse killed an apprentice plumber on Thursday. His employer — responding to the second such death in less than a year — said: “Our heart goes out to the family, especially at this time of year.”

In Hilton Head, S.C., a few days ago, a high school student was struck by a car and killed. The school district flack had this to say: “It’s a sad day for this family and for the island community, especially at this time of year.” I’ll refrain from comment. Especially at this time of year.

SpamStats: The Hobby

It’s an experiment. Maybe a dumb one,  since it involves allowing 350 megabytes of email to just pile up, most of it unread, a lot of it unreadable. But the point was trying to learn about spam. It sure looks like a lot comes in. But how much? From whom? Whence? (Yes, whence?)

The first question is easy to answer. And since nothing is new under the sun,  it’s also easy to find innocent-looking email account holders who have been keeping track. Like this guy — he used to archive all his spam, and has a running record of the volume back to 1996. He gets a lot more than I do.

The second question is easy, on the surface. There are lots of real-looking names attached to spam messages. Lots of people who use just their first names, like they’re your buds. I just now got a note from David, telling me I can get 90 percent off a nice piece of maintenance software. Wow. Thanks, David. He gets deleted with the rest. But looking back to last December, I see David has sent me six messages, all trying to turn me on to a great deal of some kind. And lots of other Junkmail Daves and Spam Davids, many complete with last names — 37 in all — have contacted me to let me in on the latest in “teenz hardcore software account-past-due horse-humpin’ action.”

Some of these Davids might be real people. But if they are, they didn’t send this stuff. So, who really did? And where are they operating?

If that was easy to find out, we wouldn’t have spam. But for the next little while — let’s please not inquire for how long, because it might expose ugly truths about my attention span — I’m just going to sift through the last year’s worth of filth, free offers, and fun to try to answer some of the Big Spam Questions of Our Age.