Monthly Archives: May 2006

Dawson, Goin, and Webb: A Doubtful River

[Another older review salvaged from Faultline. The book is still in print, still compelling, and still about the Truckee River, which I still haven’t been to this year.]

A Doubtful River
Robert Dawson, Peter Goin, Mary Webb
(Reno, University of Nevada Press, 2000).

The Truckee River watershed has been called one of the most intensely regulated in North America. This may be hyperbole. Take the Missouri for example, so hemmed in by dams and levees that it resembles a chain of aquatic link sausages more than it does a living river. Or the Mississippi, which for a century has been kept from leaving New Orleans dry (if not exactly high) and flowing to its inevitable outlet in the Atchafalaya Basin,  by the Army Corps of Engineers. Or the Colorado, or the Snake, whose fisheries face extinction due to poorly-planned dams.

But if you’re looking for a typical western river, it’s hard to think of a better candidate than the Truckee. Flowing from alpine wilderness in the Sierra Nevada to saline Pyramid Lake north of Reno, the Truckee rolls past a physical litany of western river issues. This steep, swift river encounters non-point-source pollution from vacation home sprawl, runoff from logging and fire, illegal dumping, diversions for drinking water and agriculture, and the thousand daily violations done to any river that flows through a major urban area; in the Truckee’s case, the burgeoning metropolis of Reno and Sparks. From the main stem’s source in Tahoe City, you can head downstream past homeless encampments, major freeways and leaking mines to the Derby Dam, linchpin of the century-old Newlands project. Derby diverts as much as 95 percent of instream flow for irrigation in Fallon, the garden (and leukemia capital) of the Great Basin.

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Mierda de La Esquina

Admitted ephebophiliac and former Kung-Fu movie villain John Derbyshire weighs in at The Corner with one of the most interesting posts I have seen in some time. I quote it below in its entirety:

A nearby family has a sweet little girl aged 6 or 7, currently attending kindergarten or 1st grade (I’m not sure) in the local elementary school.  She’s taking all her lessons (except English) in Spanish.  It’s an option the school offers.  Her parents are pleased:  “She can already speak a lot of Spanish!”

No offense to anyone, but I think this is awful.  I wouldn’t mind if it were being done with some other language—-Latin, say, or Hungarian, or Sumerian, or Chinese.  Since it’s being done — and ONLY being done — in Spanish, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that this is part of a deliberate program of Hispanicization on the part of our political and bureaucratic elites.

The logical end-point of this path will be the situation in Quebec, where a person not bilingual — in our case, in English and Spanish — will be at a disadvantage in the job market.  Is this a thing Americans actually want?  Did anyone ask us?

When stuff like this is seeping in even to drowsy middle-class outer suburbs like mine, bilingual America is well on its way.  Our masters are sick or our boring, unimaginative monolingualism, and they mean to do something about it, whether we like it or not.

I use the word “interesting,” of course, in the sense in which one would use the same word to describe a plot to loot widows’ pension funds to subsidize free heroin for kindergarteners, smuggled into the classroom in the bodies of stolen house pets, and the heroin is cut with Drano. The post is a rat’s nest of depravity, and it’s hard to know where to start in addressing the fractally complex dickheadedness Derbyshire exhibits therein.

What do I mean by that? Well, for one thing, given Derbyshire’s recent essays on such oppressive social institutions as the age of consent — the opening sentence qualifies as the creepiest ever to grace the constipated pages of The Corner. The notion that there is a bureaucratopolitical conspiracy to “Hispanicize” the United States only ramps up the nausea. Then there’s the Big Lie:

I wouldn’t mind if it were being done with some other language—-Latin, say, or Hungarian, or Sumerian, or Chinese.  Since it’s being done — and ONLY being done — in Spanish,

Because there are no Cantonese bilingual programs in US elementary schools, nor Vietnamese, nor Arabic (though I imagine Derbyshire might come up with an objection or two to that notion on separate grounds), nor any other language. Just Spanish.

The fact that 12 percent of people in the United States speak Spanish already can’t be the reason for this, of course. Nor the fact that the US’s trading partners in the Western Hemisphere are predominantly Spanish-speaking nations. Or the fact that Spanish is rapidly becoming the second language of choice (after English) throughout the European Union. Or the fact that Spanish is the fourth-most-commonly spoken language in the world, and the two more popular non-English languages, Hindustani and Mandarin, would be significantly more difficult for English-speaking grade school students to learn, Hindustani being more a swarm of dialects than a language and Mandarin a tonal language whose nuances are often lost on native English speakers. And then there’s the little matter of the different alphabets. The fact that it just utterly makes sense for US elementary school students to learn Spanish cannot possibly be the reason so many kids are studying it. It must be a conspiracy of — how does Derbyshire put it?

part of a deliberate program of Hispanicization on the part of our political and bureaucratic elites.

The part of this increiblemente stupid post I found funniest, however, was this:

The logical end-point of this path will be the situation in Quebec, where a person not bilingual — in our case, in English and Spanish — will be at a disadvantage in the job market.  Is this a thing Americans actually want?  Did anyone ask us?

First off: We cannot, of course, allow ourselves to become more like Quebec. Why, any right thinking American certainly shudders in horror at the thought of being forced to endure the better food, the higher literacy (in both languages), the more active and enthusiastic political engagement, and the general I-Don’t-Know-What to be found in Montreal. Give us Bethesda! Dubuque! Provo!

Anyhow. Does Derbyshire honestly think that knowing Spanish doesn’t already confer an advantage to the job seeker? N.B. the reference to trade partners in the preceding text. Is this preference for people with actual communication skills a thing Americans actually want?  ¿Que carajo quieres, pajero? Life handed to you on a silver platter? Conservatives once claimed to reward hard work and study and sacrifice. Here Americans are rising to the occasion, ready to ensure their kids’ place in the anticipated new global economy by helping them learn a crucial skill, and Derbyshire? Derbyshire gimotea como un cochinillo sobre las conspiraciónes.

Because Derbyshire es un hipócrita. Jamas nunca estaba sobre el trabajo duro. Ha estado siempre sobre sembrar las semillas del odio. Y la cosa peor: tantos Americanos son ignorantes, y entonces lo creerán.

Que lástima.

Que maravillosa ese ensayo: tan mucho odio cabe en solamente doscientas palabras.

Today in the forest preserve

I look up from recording this interesting entomological event:

new clothes

to see this.

why, hello

I see deer in the winter frequently, but less often in the summer. There are a lot more people, and dogs, out walking this time of year. There’s more food available deep in the woods, and so less incentive to come close to dangerous predators. This one is startlingly unafraid of me. Perhaps she’s young and hasn’t learned. Perhaps she’s hungry. I can see ribs clearly under the glossy coat. Except for her weight, she doesn’t look sick, though-the healthy fur; the precise, graceful steps; the huge, mobile ears swivelling alertly at every sound speak of a creature fit and whole. She watches me as she nibbles her way across the path. She is very, very close, and she comes closer. I watch her back. I am drawing her shape, the sculpture of her bones, her shining endless eyes and narrow prey-face, on my memory, because when am I going to be this close again?

not a telephoto

Finally, I take a long deliberate step back onto the path. She flicks past me in an instant, white tail flagging.

West Grand Avenue

OAKLAND — Eba Walker and Marina Guzman do not know each other, but Friday they both shared inconsolable grief. Each mother’s 14-year-old son was gunned down, victims of the city’s raging gang violence.
Michael Walker was killed Thursday night on West Grand Avenue; William Guzman died six hours earlier, miles away in East Oakland.

Michael Walker was with two relatives and a family friend, walking home from a fishing trip at a canal near Laney College. Longmire said one of them was a Latino gang member — not Walker — but did not identify him.  Longmire said a car pulled alongside them and someone inside opened fire, hitting only Walker, who was able to run a short distance before collapsing. He died at Highland Hospital at 11:58 p.m. Thursday.

Becky was Michael’s second-grade teacher.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est.


I never hiked much when I lived in New York. A mile through sugar maple and hemlock here, two miles there up cobbled creek beds, but walking was my main mode of transportation in those days. Three miles each way between my house and a girlfriend’s, or four miles to work and back, and hiking seemed too much like commuting, albeit through pin oaks.

Within three months of arriving in Berkeley, I had moved into an apartment at the corner of Dwight Way and Piedmont, the last little vestige of what you might call flatlands at the base of the Berkeley Hills. Three blocks toward the hills, sloping upward the whole way, and the pavement ended. The climb began from there in earnest: a thousand feet climbed in a mile of steep trail, up the west face of Panoramic Hill. A thousand feet in that short a distance was more relief than you could find within a day’s drive of Buffalo. From the first moment I moved into the place, I eyed that climb. It took me perhaps a week to find myself with both the time and energy at once.

I was a weak little thing then, bone and a bit of sinew, and yet I walked up that hill once every couple weeks, the first dozen or so times in those flat-soled black canvas shoes you can buy in Chinatown. There was a row of aged Monterey Pines at the ridgeline that overlooked Strawberry Canyon, and I hiked up there one day with Shannon, a co-worker at the cafe off Telegraph Avenue where Matthew and I worked. We sat beneath the pines and shared an orange and some cheese, and she talked about her troubles with her boyfriend, an insanely jealous Peruvian expatriate, a veteran of that country’s air force. I don’t recall his name. Luis? Call him Luis. Luis heard about our little hike and was enraged, despite its utter outward innocence. He was civilized about it, after a fashion. A few days later he met Elissa and me on the deck of the cafe. Elissa and I were eating a late breakfast, and Shannon had taken a break to sit with us. Luis saw us, walked over, took an empty chair and turned his attention to Elissa.

“You look beautiful today, Elissa,” he said.
“Thank you?” said Elissa.
“Today is a very pretty day, don’t you think? It would be a great day to go to the beach.”
“It sure would,” said Elissa.
“We should go,” said Luis. “Are you busy today? Yes? Well, we should go sometime, together.”

His point made, Luis turned to address me. “It doesn’t feel very good, does it?”

I shrugged. I turned to Elissa. “Do you want to go to the beach? You’d have fun, and I have to work this afternoon.”
Elissa smirked subtly. “Some other time, maybe.”

Shannon told me later that Luis had apologized, regretted making even a minor, defused scene, swore that he trusted her, understood that I was just a friend, agreed that his response was condescending and sexist.

Though his behavior was obnoxious, Luis was not precisely wrong. He had seen into my heart. The hike was, in fact, innocent. Neither of us had any other intention on setting out up that steep trail. But I would have liked to have had that intention. I loved her. She was thoughtful, striking, and a little sad. She was taller than me. Her voice was deep, a contralto. Even in her early twenties she had a bold stripe of gray hair, the same color as her eyes if a bit lighter. At work she was quiet and relatively efficient. But when we hiked, for those few hours, she told me stories. Growing up, coming to the Bay Area to escape her small town origins, friends and school, and always I felt her shift when her stories would reach a certain point, as though some large part of her life, intertwined and connected and wound in upon itself, was still off-limits to her hiking partner. Perhaps even to herself. I wanted, more than anything, to unwind her.

Despite Luis’ apology, we never hiked again. Having extracted her admission of guilt from Luis, she conceded her friendship with me in return. Nothing was spoken, no sorrowful decisions relayed, but that sadness rolled in to cover her. After some weeks she quit the cafe.

I saw her five years later, the summer Elissa and I moved back from Washington. She was on the street in Berkeley. She was glad to see me, and told me about motherhood, and how Luis was behaving much better now. Her voice — how I had missed her voice — betrayed not a trace of restlessness. And though it seemed to me her eyes flitted nervously for the ten minutes we talked, and that her spine tilted slightly and familiarly with that same sad weight, a sigh of nothing can be done, I may merely have seen the reflection of my own seared soul in her gray eyes.