Sunday, July 29, 2007

8 Days to Go

8 days to go ... until I go to press with the now confirmed 744-page MRU course catalog. Every year I work 21 of the last 22 days, and so here I am in the cockpit of my editorial cubicle, surrounded as I have been since my earliest memories by a blizzard of paper, a dog, a bunch of books ... and coffee and a computer, though, of course, I did not have those things as a child.

I have felt guilty about not blogging very much over the last period ... remember a blog is like a dog ... you walk the dog, you write the blog. These are daily, even twice daily exigencies. The annual cycle of my life is tent-poled around two giant events ... July doing the Bulletin, as MRU calls its course catalog, and mid-November through mid-December doing my Victorian Christmas party. Those two months are monomaniacal, obsessive (but goddammitt not compulsive, you better believe). Yes, two painful months, if not entirely unenjoyable, with a burst of Elysian if mildly soporiphic ecstasy when it is finally over.

So I am going to try to blog a little all day as I lock down the book ... on this Sunday a week before I go to press, I make all the major page and column end decisions, and spread the white space around for photo placement. I call it locking down. Not to be boastful, but this is what I am best at in life, page makeup. I have been making up pages for publication since I was 12. it used to involve exacto blades and hot wax and a ruler ... sounds kinky ... and now it involves bad posture in a comfy chair, and whipping around in Adobe InDesign, my new, now old, friend.

So I'll stop from time to time, say what's on my mind, and add it to this post. Let's see if it works ... if I get a proper blog post out of it, or if it just a feverish pointlessness ... perhaps, cynically, everything is feverishly pointless, but that wouldn't be any fun, would it.

Gotta go heat up my quiche ... quiche eating, liberal, computer using, wordy editor. Better not try that in Mississippi ... or Tehran. (My good friend RO gave me the quiches as a gift from Noe Valley Bakery, our favorite ... great way to start the day!)

11:43 Between the devil and the deep blue sea. If I were to squash this book like a bug, I could squeeze it into 736 pages, but we would have a lot of weird column ends, big departments starting 80% of the way down a column before a page flip. I hate that. I actually started to try to squish it in, and then changed my mind. So it is 744 pages after all. Now I have to air it out, and there will be a lot more photos to place. Extra work, but extra enjoyment once it is done ... I like looking at my little black and white, contrasty photos ... always enigmatically placed. No one has ever really commented about them. The only principle is that there are no people whatsoever ... just too difficult getting the balance and all that. Besides, it's a course catalog not a marketing brochure; I like the silence that people-free photos engender. A course catalog is a framework, for the students and faculty to fill in with their work and exchanges. Architecture is a framework too, so architectural photos are of a type with the book's purpose.

Old MRU salts, no doubt, would be wondering whence the provenance, or leastwise the location, of all these little detail photos.

Work, work, work. No point in blathering.

13:09 Sheesh! Thought I could blog a lot more, but this is very involved. I had a 90-minute walk with Loki this morning all over campus, taking photos for the book as always. We went to the intersection of JS and Campus Drive to photograph the famous stone, and then back via the dry lake that is a feature of this campus. Too many ground squirrels for Loki to remain calm.

I think I will go to the bookstore and back.

13:46 Back from the walk. Loki, my sainted dog, is like me. He hates the heat. (Unlike me, he doesn't like rain, so he gets no choice on that one.) When we walk midday at MRU which is blazing hot in the summer, Loki heads for the shadows, and then slows down. He charts a path within the shadows as long as possible, and then more or less refuses to get back out into the sun. Very cute. He pants heavily the whole time, and then heads straight for the water dish when we re-enter the hallowed hall. He gets bored watching me type. But better here than all alone at home, I guess.

Back to the salt mines ... half way through locking it down.

14:25 Gettin' a little punchy. Just finished French and Italian. I tend to want to take their courses, unless they get too theory-silly ... the theory-silly courses often end up being taught by grad students who just haven't managed to force their feet back down to the ground yet.

I keep wondering about a book called The Black Swan, by one Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He was on NPR this morning as I drove in. I gather that his point is that experts are full of it. I want the book. I am not quite that cynical, but a month of editing a course catalog, let me tell you, gives one a full filling of experts. Some submitted course descriptions plain defy any modesty whatsoever, and others are shrill, some defiant, yet others proclaiming the almost insurmountable difficulty of the course. The worst are the blathery empty ones, or the ones with absolutely no sense of diction, grammar, or a reasonable approach to our glorious language.

Oh well, I think I am faking some kind of outrage. I love editing this book, and I truly enjoy the fact that I massage everything from lists of electrical engineering terms I do not understand to comparative literature concepts that I wrote about in my own dissertation.

Back to the page makeup.

16:43 Finis. Still have to add two pages somewhere, but that should be easy. Getting real tired, so this will be it for blogging. Heading home for an evening of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. And a drink!

Photo by Arod, of a fountain in front of a dorm at MRU.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

dot dot jot

12 days remaining before I go to press with my massive course catalog. The pressure is like nothing else I experience ... my skin tingles as I try to sleep. Last night I dreamt about following a small animal up the scree of a steep mountain as I tossed out course descriptions along the way. I was vaguely awake, as I am sure anyone would understand. Not actually awake. But aware that this is a dream even if I have no way out of it without actually waking up.

Three curious pieces of writing in the last little while:

1. Barry Bonds' now defunct mistress has announced that she will spill the beans in Playboy in a piece that will be illuminated by pix of her nude body. Her name is Kimberly Bell.

Now I'm not a prude. If moderately attractive people want to pose nude, go for it. A lot more nudity would make more than a tiny difference in this world of prudes and murderous moralists. But, of course, trading her modesty for some filthy lucre will no doubt eliminate any credibility in the federales' attack on Bonds. That, too, is fine by me.

But what struck me about the article was its puddling around with that most bizarre of au-current ideas, self-esteem.

Ms. Bell asserts that her posing nude "was one of the most liberating experiences of my life." Meanwhile, "If I had more self-esteem when I was younger," she said, "I wouldn't have been caught up with such a rotten man."

Hmmm, self-esteem is posing nude for money, but screwing around with a big-time athlete who slips you $80K for a down payment is anti-self-esteem.

I need a calculator, because this doesn't seem to add up.

The concept of self-esteem is one of those zero-dividers ... when you include a zero-divider, an equation can end up anywhere, and so it is with nonsense like the idea of self-esteem. We are given to assume that it is a good thing, but how do we explain the current generation of whining mommy-addicted youth who have an excuse for everything because they, inexplicably, feel good about themselves regardless of evidence... oops, perhaps that is a little too cranky. More pointedly, how would we explain a phenomenon like the self-hating genius as against the sickening reality of the self-admiring drug dealer, with "self-esteem" as a guide ... you see self-esteem never adds up.

But it can always be used as a cheap writing trick, and no reader dares to think twice lest s/he be accused of not being sympathetic, or whatever the current self-flagellation.

So, dear Kimberley, strip down if you wish, but it is of a piece with your money-grubbing with Bonds back when you suckered him for $80K. I have no problem with that ... to each his own ... but you need to call things by their real names. Self-esteem, whatever that may be at a given moment, has nothing to do with it.

2. Let us now praise editors is a little piece that appeared in today. I can endorse that.

Editors are craftsmen, ghosts, psychiatrists, bullies, sparring partners, experts, enablers, ignoramuses, translators, writers, goalies, friends, foremen, wimps, ditch diggers, mind readers, coaches, bomb throwers, muses and spittoons -- sometimes all while working on the same piece. Early in my editing career I was startled when, after we had finished an edit, a crusty, hard-bitten culture writer, a woman at least twice my age, told me, "That was great -- better than sex!"

I like to say that editors are like dentists ... they may be painful but the cosmetic result is well worth the short hours of discomfiture.

I've always been an editor, but only professionally for the last six years, seven bulletins, as we call MRU's course catalog. The last six years has been a deep, gut-wrenching learning experience. It has improved every part of my wordsmithing.

But editing is gut-wrenching in another way. I become attached not to my own prose, but to my take on the prose of others. It is always hard to let go of prose, but it is equally hard to let go of what I do to someone else's prose. Now, what I do professionally is technical writing in the sense that I reduce hundreds upon hundreds of pages of prose to a single, flat, authoritative style. But each little chunk comes from a different angle, and bears with it a different personality. None of that can shake my resolve to be loyal to my book and its single-minded vision.

Ah ... all of this in the greater scheme is a tempest in a teapot. I yearn to edit beyond the comfy confines of my Bulletin. But in the meanwhile, I enjoy what Gary Kamiya writes:

In an odd way, the exchange between writer and editor encapsulates the process of growing up. The act of writing is godlike, omnipotent, infantile. Your piece is a statement delivered from on high, a pronouncement ex cathedra, as egotistical and unchecked as the wail of a baby. Then it goes out into the world, to an editor, and the reality principle rears its ugly head. You are forced as a writer to come to terms with the gap between your idea and your execution -- and still more deflating, between your idea and what your idea should have been.

3. New-Look Bonaparte. This piece will be gone into the impenetrable New York Times archive shortly, but it is worth a read.How much more dramatic must French life be with active public intellectuals who make arguments as cranky and contradictory and erudite and just plain maddening as this:

I am only saying that there is in Sarkozy a relationship to memory that troubles and worries me. Men usually have a memory. It can be complex, contradictory, paradoxical, confused. But it is their own. It has a great deal to do with the basis of who they are and the identities they choose for themselves. Sarkozy is an identity pirate, a mercenary of others’ memories. He claims all memories, meaning that in the end he just might not have any. He is our first president without a memory. He is the first of our presidents willing to listen to all ideas, because for him they are literally indistinguishable. If there is a man in France today who embodies (or claims to embody) the famous end of all ideologies, which I cannot quite bring myself to believe in, it is indeed Mr. Sarkozy, the sixth president of the Fifth Republic.

There is an odd feeling in having a president about whom so much (his foreign policy, his generosity, his style) draws you together and so much else (his vision of France, his memory-greed, his cynicism) profoundly separates you. Such will be my lot for the next five or 10 years. Then again, why not? It’s fine.

Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote this. I think that we have no public intellectuals who could write something like this. And we are the more poor for it.

Again, I have to fall back on my utter exhaustion from the current mad dash to publication to slide by a deeper analysis. But read this article while you can. And wonder where we can find such dense, contradictory writing in our pages.

BTW, I actually tend to think that Sarkozy is the right guy. I tend to think, notwithstanding a lifetime's credentials as a youthful socialist cum aging liberal, that Royale would have been a captive to the least dynamic forces in French life. We shall see.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bone Tired

Bone tired. Two weeks and three days now from press day ... I send the book to press before I go to sleep on August 5.

I feel guilty that I have not blogged. I skipped out a little early today and will work more here at home once I scratch this little post out. My ex, RB, is coming over to make dinner and hang out. He'll probably fall asleep watching TV and I can work a little more then. Looks like we are going to add 16 pages this year to the catalog, up to 744 pages. That means one 24-page signature which wastes paper. I would be a lot happier to keep it to 736 pages.

Dodge, my good friend from days past in Vancouver has been busy scanning slides from our times together in the 70s. She calls the collection "Banffshire Days" because we lived in a great old apartment building below Burrard called the Banffshire. Very evocative. Those have to be the best days of my life ... you don't know it at the time, but the innocence and the conviction give you a sense of sureness and purpose that will be hard to reproduce again. Besides, I was young and vibrant and having a wail of a time.
The sad part is that many of the folks in the pix are gone. Maurice Flood is gone, and Michael Merrill, and Laurine Harrison about whom I have written earlier. And Robin Simpson, and Glen Hillson. All gone. And of course my lover of the time, the incomparable Gary Gaetano Bandiera is gone. This is an image of an unguarded Gary ... I am on the left.
Welcome Home, a Castro street greasy spoon at which I have been eating since my first visit here in the 70s, has closed. My friend Michael Merrill, mentioned above, and I used to eat there a lot. Michael for a while preferred the jelly omelette which I always found obscene. How many hours we sat there and argued and planned and consulted. It was a warm place, no window on the street with upholstered chairs and plants. It had a real hippie feel. Alas, the only picture I have is of the closed forever sign ... never thought to photograph the place when it was alive ... it just seemed like it would never go away.

A lot of changes in the Castro these days. I think we were a little immune to the dot com demographic wave, and equally immune for a long time to the effects of the obscene price of real estate in San Francisco. Gay guys just stuck it out. But it is changing. The child-bearing SUV and monster truck crowd is edging in ... you see it all the time all over the place. Some gay couples with kids, and sometimes hard to tell. But seems like a lot of new liberal couples, the baby wrapped papoose-style to Dad while Mom gabs on the cell phone and leads the way. There seems to be no end of the cell phone girls blocking the sidewalk or almost running you over with their tanks. Guys too, but maybe at most a third as many cell phone guys as cell phone girls. Of course, today I got buzzed by some idiot middle-aged guy in a titanic white Ford who had ear buds blocking his ability to hear my protests. Hard to generalize, but the feel feels to be a-changing.

Am I just a cranky old fag? ... well, yes. But I'd hate to see the old neighborhood turn into another vapid, self-absorbed Chestnut Street. Nothing to do but wait and watch. In the meanwhile, people should turn off their cellphones and pay attention to the life around them. Fat chance.

Anyway, life is like that. Things close, even greasy spoons that have been around for over 30 years.

So there are some rambles ... back to work. Two weeks and three days till press time.

Photos by Dodge.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I managed to work myself into a bit of a tizzy about the brutal stoning of Jaffar Kiani. I think that nothing since the Nazis, or the Catholic Inquisition, matches the Iranian state for savagery and barbarism, if not efficiency. They are disgusting.

But the post I have been trying to construct will not quite come together. It has far too much anger ... state murder enrages me more than I can explain ... and my editorial endeavors at MRU are at a fever pitch right now. There is not enough time to write myself through the problems.

The attempt did lead to a long ramble through the pages of Jean Genet who, more than any writer, grasps the sublimed erotic character of state murder. I read Genet when I was 19, 20. I read a good chunk of Funeral Rites on an island in the middle of a lake on the shores of which my father had a summer job as a chef one summer as he transitioned from headhunter to nightclub manager. I had borrowed a boat and rowed out to this lonely place to consume this eerily erotic book that was certainly deeper than I could fully grok at that point ... but there would never be a point in my life where I could feel it as deeply as I did then.

It is in Miracle of the Rose that Genet is in raptures about the condemned Harcamone, not to mention sundry other doomed thugs and lovers. Perhaps I need to find a metaphorical island, silent and uninhabited, to re-encounter the raw innocent eroticism that is Genet, and to extract from it the horrors from which he recoils and which yet he simultaneously embraces.

So I have to give up on this first attempt to blog the nightmare of capital punishment ... but I thank blogging for giving me two nights of wandering through an old friend, Jean Genet. There will be more executions ... perhaps none as brutal as the Iranian stoning ... and I can take up this subject again. Because I did the research ... there is a stark and horrifying picture here of some workmen burying a young woman before her stoning, and the entire law is here, insane and chilling in its detail and matter-of-factness and savagery.

Meanwhile, still working 11 hours a day, 6 days a week on my course catalog ... two weeks and six days to go till I go to press.

Click here for other posts I have written about Jaffar Kiani.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Phrase of the Day

Technogenic sources of ore.

From the New York Times story on Siberian pollution. It refers to 3-5 feet of accumulated sludge from the bottom of ponds near nickel smelting plants. The sludge is rich in particles of nickel, copper, and cobalt that were emitted by the smelter and which have settled into the pond through runoff, and contractors have been brought in to harvest the stuff.

Yeah ... those Soviets ... er, Russians ... always quick with a business idea, even as the country sinks into an unliveable environmental hell.

One more problem:

In another problem for a town that has many, pollutants are lowering the freezing point of groundwater, much the way salt scattered on a roadway prevents the formation of ice, said Ali G. Kerimov, a member of the Norilsk City Council.

That is particularly unfortunate here, because the city is built on permafrost, and as foundations once anchored in solid ice shift and crack, buildings become uninhabitable. Mr. Kerimov said 70 out of 1,000 buildings in Norilsk had been forcibly abandoned.

We're on our way to hell.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Curious the way the Internet works. I periodically look at some stats of visits to this blog. They are always kind of spotty, but you learn funny things ... especally the Google search terms that might lead to my blog. So someone searched Jaffar Kiani, the poor sod who got his head bashed in with rocks by the peacock-proud strutting mullahs who terrorize the Persians these days. I clicked on the search link, and my blog is the top reference. The fifth reference was to an Indonesian site,, and they, quoting Deutsche Welle, had some more lugubrious details of the slaughter. It turns out I read Indonesian, and so I translate:

Jaffar Kiani and Mokkarameh were sentenced to death by the judge at trial, and the condemned had their hands tied behind the back and were buried in the ground up to the waist for the man, and the neck for the woman. Then the witnesses pelted the condemned with rocks until they were dead.

Jaffar Kiani dan Mokkarameh dijatuhi hukum rajam oleh pengadilan. dalam aturannya, terpidana diikat tangannya ke belakang dan dikubur dalam tanah hingga pinggang untuk lelaki, dan hingga leher bagi perempuan. Lalu penonton melempari si terpidana dengan batu hingga mati.

These details did not make the English language press that I read, and I could not locate a reference on either the English or German language Deutsche Welle. Capital punishment is about the details, because just counting up the cadavers obscures the horror. The New York Times article implied that the woman had been spared, but the Indonesian implies that she too got to meet god's mercy a little earlier than perhaps she had planned. There is some vagueness there, and I might alter my translation when I manage to go to a dictionary.

Note that the witnesses throw the rocks. Witnessing is big in Islam ... as in the profession of faith: "I bear witness that there is no god but god ... " The Indonesian in the reference above uses the word penonton which is an Indonesian rather than Arabic root, and might as easily be translated audience or onlookers. The Arabic root word in Indonesian would be syahid. One wonders how a "witness" got so lucky as to be selected to huck large rocks into the immobilized head of a living sentient human being. More to the point, one wonders what kind of bloodthirsty upbringing would prevent such a witness from vomitting in horror, or passing out in fear, or running in disgust and disgrace. Shame on them.

The witnessing thing points out a difference between christianity and islam that is obscured by the feel good multiculturalism of "we are all people of faith" nonsense. Christianity is about faith ... becoming a christian means surrendering your rationality in favor of that famous foolish fairy tale that is evidently fictional and bears the clear marks of oral formulaic storytelling. Islam is not about faith ... it is about surrender and submission. The fairy tale is less important than the submission. In actual practice, of course, notwithstanding all the angry words and lectern banging and parched throats that pass for muslim discourse these days, the fairy tales are important for keeping the unwashed in line. But they too are required to bear witness by professing the religion and publicly submitting to it. Remember our poor Palestinian and his sac of flour.

I think that the closest thing to the word "faith" in Arabic is dîn, but I may be wrong on that. You can see this word in names like Nûr ud'dîn (light of religion). I don't think it matters much.

Muslims like to say that "it is written" (maktûb), and in this sense god, notwithstanding his ineffability, is knowable. The Quran is described as uncreated in the sense that it is the eternal unchanging statement of everything. Christians these day like to stomp around holding the bible above the shoulder and aslant from the head at a 60 degree angle, clutched at the lower right side between the thumb and the crooked forefinger, and thunder knowingly, snidely, menacingly, "This is the literal word of god." "Literal" ... i.e., that which is written. Now these persistent but archaic religious traditions arose in societies where literacy was the possession of a caste, if I may, of professionals, sometimes honored, sometimes enslaved. Literacy skills were something that you had to purchase from someone. So written words were a mystery to most, and when the charismatic possessed them, and wielded them, they had a power rather greater than we can feel at this point in time when the written word is our daily companion. The foregrounding of the literate god is a hangover, but one that has its resonances, yessirree bob.

So stomping around saying that god can read and write doesn't make a lot of sense. But in the climate of fear that religion creates ... whether by crushing heads with stones or by the sanctimonious tut-tutting and sturdy finger wagging which is what the Enlightenment reduced our christian bigots to ... this god with a pencil seeks to overwhelm all the writing that ignores or supersedes him. The muslims are open about it ... as with pretty much everything, they want to slaughter anybody who writes against them. The christians can only perform their slaughters in the remote parts of their world, but they can always fantasize. But they love to fulminate against texts that do not do their work. I like to remember this gem ... I used to watch late night religious TV back in the early 80s, before the Bakkers brought the whole scam to such low repute. There was this fabulous moment with the sweating, prancing Jimmy Swaggart ... what a performer ... holding that bible characteristically twixt his thumb and crooked forefinger at that precise heaven-pointing angle ... talking about movies and the temptation to watch them and bellowing to the swaying faithful gathered as if at his feet ... "Just walk on by." Just walk on by, yes, brothers and sisters, just walk on by.

Of course, in due course, Swaggart got caught in his own web of adultery. His preferred sexual peccadillo was to have naked prostitutes in fur coats walk around his car and flash him as he, presumably, pleasured himself in a most ungodly way. Now I applaud the creativity of his preferred perversion ... and I firmly believe that perversions are the stuff of literature and life and a rollicking good time ... but isn't it odd that his professional madness about "just walk on by" was also his private madness about adultery and horniness.

And so it is with words ... if god is the reading and writing god, if what he has written (since he cannot write, in the present, because that would make him temporal and not eternal) is all that you need to know, why can't he make his intentions known? Why is there so much doubt and so much ambiguity? Why do his texts make so little sense? Why is god just as relentlessly local as a Swaggart in a car with a naked prostitute doing cartwheels in a back alley?

And why do his stalwarts ignore his words and pick up stones instead and cast them bodily at the immobilized heads of those who do not fit? Why? Why does the proof of god require a smashed skull on the body of a man buried to his waist in a cemetery with a bunch of zealots applauding and drooling and patting each other on the back?

Why? ... because he is not there, and the cynics and bastards and preachers and mullahs who make themselves proud and powerful in his name are liars and muggers and bloodthirty murderers.

Never forget poor Jaffar Kiani, friends. He is what religion means. His crushed skull if what it portends for you.

Photo by Arod, of a mural on the side of a bar on 16th Street above Valencia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Two Cases of Adultery

Ah the moral pecadilloes of our holier-than-thou crowd. The tawdry, puffed up moralizing beast of a 'publican congressman who turns up in not one but two prostitute black books ... David Vitter, the latest in a long line of religious political hypocrites. It makes slurping one's coffee in front of the virtual newspaper in the morning oh so satisfying. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

There is another adultery in the news as well. One Jaffar Kiani, 47, did not seek the limelight, but the religious thugs of Iran's version of the 'publican party dragged him to a cemetery and stoned him to death notwithstanding an order to the contrary from the "chief of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi”. I guess stoning the old bastard in a cemetery saved on cadaver transportation costs. Iran plans on a bunch of executions for "moral" reasons, and you can bet yer bottom dollah that a bunch of homos will swing in that special Iranian way.

First of all, I'm in favor of the unfettered right to adultery. Sure it has made a lot of lives miserable, but ... and this might be a shock ... people have sex. Yes, they do. Despite centuries ... millennia ... of efforts by sanctimonious preachers and schoolmarms, people continue to rut like ... well, rut like people. The right to adultery, like the right to believe whatever nonsense you want to believe, is simply a big unfenced boundary. It is not an encouragement or a discouragement. It is simply that people have the right to associate and the right to do what they want to do. And, without adultery, just how much less rich would literature or opera be? Name me a solid old epic that does not have adultery at its core?

So the problem with the hypocrite and christian 'publican Senator Vitter is not that he is horny but that he is a liar. And the problem with poor Mr. Kiani is not that he had wandering eyes but that the facist regime under which he lived has been having some political problems and tends to solve them by slaughtering people in public.

Both Mr. Vitter and Mr. Kiani illustrate the dangers of religion when we allow it out of its cage as optional private moral bellwether to public political discourse.

There is this fellow with whom I associate in my public life who wears a Promise Keepers hat from time to time. He is a warm and friendly person, affable to a fault. Perhaps his Christianity has been a positive force for him. He once urged me to prayer during a chance meeting at the urinals, but my stony silence has evidently led him to leave that one alone. Maybe he has learned something from Promise Keepers; that's up to him. But he is obviously oblivious to the indubitable fact that those people are a direct imminent threat to my personal safety. If they were in power, they would act like a bunch of Iranian mullahs; they would kill me. I can't prove that, but I certainly do not plan to participate in any kind of social experiment to find out.

But the Promise Keepers and Falwells of the world can only fantasize about the hangings and beheadings of resurgent Islamist power, and that is where the attitude of liberals to the Vitters of the world has to be shaped. Let people lead their lives, and when a liar like Vitter is exposed, we have to focus not on his wandering genitals but on his hypocrisy. For every condemnation in that holy book of sex, there are dozens of condemnations of hypocrisy. It is his hypocrisy that make him ineligible to be a Senator, not his libido.

Liberals need to remember that appeals to faith are zero-sum dividers. We need to appeal to reason. People have the right to screw around, but hypocrites have no place in the Senate.

And neither mullahs nor preachers have any place in judgement of anyone. They should guard their own sallacious souls and leave the rest of us alone. A pox on medieval revanchism of any kind.

Compulsory morality is the opposite of freedom.

But, then again, the relationship between compulsory morality and actual behavior is the source of epic and farce and poetry and opera. So we get the good with the bad, and the bad with the good.

Gotta leave it at that ... perhaps in a rather less fatigued mood I can attack this subject with a little more subtlety some day.

Click here for all the posts I have written about Jaffar Kiani.

[A reminder that I am absolutely fried from the every-day, all-day travails of putting out MRU's course catalog. It is a special pleasure and agony. I am really good at it, and I love doing it, bothering every comma and type style and university rule. But, man, I can barely wait till the thing has gone to bed, and I am free to mutter and roam and confabulate again. In the meanwhile, posts will be a little more rare, and photos will just have to follow when I get a moment.]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rambling, for Mother

I always say of my mother that she is the most huggable person in the world. Certainly she is for me. I tease her that she should be spending a lot more time reading my blog than she evidently does. But instead of such idle pursuits, she spends her 18 hour days caring for my Dad whose is five plus years out from a stroke. I told her tonight that I should never let myself complain of being tired after a long day considering the great labors she performs so selflessly.

I also promised her a post here on my first dog, our dog, Laddie, who was with us from when I was six until I was 18. Instead of writing such a post, I spent the last two hours combing piles of unsorted photos looking for the one good photo I have of my sainted old Laddie, and I did not come up with it. Of course, the pack rat rarely despairs of finding the lost treasure since there is an infinity of nooks and crannies not yet mined where the little beastie might lay awaiting. And I credit my sainted Mother with imbuing in me the relentless instincts of a pack rat ... or, as I prefer to be known, a collector.

So, dear mother, this is not a post about our great Laddie who was my old friend for 12 long years of my raising up. No, it is another ramble of a tired mind that has spent a long day editing turgid copy so as to reduce its turbity ... yes, Ma, I went into work today and processed the long section of University rules on getting any of the numerous degrees that MRU offers. It is a work which requires acknowledging those various individuals and committees that keep a nervous eye on every word I torment with my little red, metaphorical pencil. By way of example, I loathe the future tense in formal writing as in "The University will" do this and that. Call it a fetish, but I think it sounds stilted, and I think it passes off to the future that which is a policy now. So vastly better to say, "The University suspends students who fail to do what they oughtta do" than "The University will suspend your sorry rear end if you mess up." Of course, in the end product there are no "oughta's" or "rear ends", but one can always fantasize. But what if the legal folks think the future is just the sort of softener of intent that the phrase requires. The editor sits nervously and wonders who might notice.

As I ploughed phrase by phrase, and word by word, through this dense thicket of rules, my now dog, Loki, chewed a stick beside me. Going into work on Sunday is almost worth it for the slender pleasure of having the old beast beside me. Well, there is also the well-known pleasure of haunting the entire office all by your lonely. LP dropped by to return a little of the copy that she professionally proofreads ... if anyone was a born proofreader, it is LP who views each discovered typo with a burst of adrenalin ... no way, you can't do that ... outta here. Rather like an umpire who sees the sneaky late-movement fastball catch the tiniest corner of the plate and rings 'em up. Yes, I grok the satisfaction of nailing the typo ... and then again, I grok the agony of printing the typo, but we will not go there right now.

The dog was awfully patient as I muttered my way through the dense thicket of text. Of course, he was resting off a 90-minute walk around campus where I doddered a lot as I professionally snapped a hundred photos for possible inclusion in my life-work-course-catalog. So he was not exactly suffering. Nor was I, notwithstanding the jibes, because there is, in point of fact, nothing I enjoy so much as editing copy.

Now with that, my roommate and cook RL informs me that the salmon is ready. Sometime tomorrow I will try to mount a photo to illustrate this ramble, and later tonight I will clean up the typos. But, that promised, that is a wrap and this is a post.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


I have to post something on 7/7/7 ... since my earliest memories, I have had as my numbers 3 and 7, and by consequence also 21. I put no store whatsoever in numerology, though I practice it on the sly in the sense that three candles is better than 2, and seven better than 6. My dear departed best friend Kurt Woodill once caught me short on this. It was a period of my life in which I was wont to light candles by night. I told him that I always had an odd number of candles lit in any given room. You must understand that Kurt was quite mad, a collector and object fetishist who instructed me in my own collecting habits. Nonetheless, he sagely intoned, and I quote, "You better watch out for that." So I have never counted candles, or any other light source, since then.

One does have to watch out for any kind of pointless obsessive behavior. It is vastly better to save one's obsessions for things that matter. Obsessiveness is not about abstraction; obsesssion is about the content of a given obsession. I like to tell the story of the lady in L.A. who collected full but discarded vacuum cleaner bags. This is a problem. Who would fault her if she collected thimbles, or salt and pepper shakers, or books. But vacuum cleaner bags ... lady, you need to get a life.

On another front, would we instruct a modern day Beethoven to seek help for his obsession? Or perhaps, better, would we just leave the poor man alone to make sweet music for the ages.

So 7/7/07 is just an accident, and it has no meaning or direct impact. But still I like the number 7.

Then there is that episode of Seinfeld where George goes nuts over the name Seven for a child that he does not have. Great name, folks. Of course, it differs from my actual first name by only one phoneme ... a "t", not to mention "ph" instead of "v" ... but I still guilelessly assert that Seven is one great name.

So here's to Seven, and to seven seven seven. And with that, we have had quite enough.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Madness. I don't want to leave a cranky post like the one below on the top of the blog, and I still feel like writing a little more. But madness! July has been for seven years now the month of complete madness in my life. I am going to take Saturday off work to get my hair cut, but other than that I will probably have no more than one more complete day to myself between now and August 5 ... that is the big day, the day I do not go to bed before my publication, that massive 736-or-more page catalog, has also gone to bed.

Stress. We all complain about it but there is something that is not entirely unpleasurable about it. At the end of a long day of manipulating copy, my mind is buzzing, quite literally. At dinner tonight, RL saw me staring into space and asked if I was in "Bulletin-world" ... my book is called the Bulletin. Yes, I was thinking about how today I bounced a course description in which an instructor had insisted I include the word "fast-paced" notwithstanding that the title included the word "Accelerated." Who cares! Well, alas, I professionally care. I find it impossible to draw a line below which some error does not matter. That, of course, serves to double up the stress.

But, again, all of this is not entirely unpleasant. Maybe that is the great American secret ...we like the grind. 12 hours of work leads to a sense of ...not accomplishment, nor gratification ... just sheer bloody-minded survival. I done did it, dad! I done it, and I'm gonna do it again tomorrow.

Eventually the book will be done ... that will be the morning of August 6 when I sleep till I cannot help but wake, and then take myself to breakfast at Boogaloos, above. After the book is done, there are the two weeks of terrible waiting, wondering if there is some horrible typo. And then the great satisfaction of the product in the hand. Jumping for joy.

I think I have run out of steam. Over the next month, I am going to try to continue writing at the pace I have done over the last two months in this period of non-stop work. There will no doubt be a little less of the lit crit and historical stuff, and more of the mad-mind-outpouring stuff. But blogging is like having a dog ... you gotta walk the dog, you gotta write the blog.

Photos by Arod.

Fractured Cityscape

I promised some images to illustrate yesterday's rant, so here they are. The photo above is the house across the street from the new excrescence. I start with it not just to foreground my point, but because I want beauty to top any post here when I can. The folks who live here never say hello when I pass in the morning. There are assorted motorcycles and cars. I know they are devout Catholics by reason of a prominent Mary, and they are evidently heterosexual and be-childed in a neighborhood that is the center of the gay world. Never quite understand why people cannot say a warm hello to a passing neighbor, but of such self-absorption is much urban living made. Besides, it's their right. They can be grim, circle-the-wagon, 'publican Catholics if they want ... it's their right. But I do respect one thing about them. They made a beautiful house for any passer-by to enjoy.

Look at the reflection in the picture window. That is the monstrosity these poor souls must gaze upon daily. There used to be a rock massif there, with a rickety staircase that led to a ramshackle cottage on the top. But they ripped that out, and chiselled out the rock, and then built this ...

You have to realize, of course, that some trained architect, probably in snazzy clothes with a fresh kewel haircut sitting in an Aeron chair in a great open airy office ... some bloody architect actually drew that streetscape. Somebody actually felt that this was what urbanites want to look at. What a scam. A finger in the eye of every passer-by.

I believe that city government should look at plans like that and toss them out the window. Try again, sonny boy, come up something that befits a beautiful city.

Here's one more shot ... looking up at this energy hog of a "home" which bears no architectual relationship to the neighborhood in which it landed like some kind of rogue spaceship. With any bad luck, after the crash, a bunch of latter day hippies will move in and chill out on the great views ... and maybe rip the doors off the garage and make an open market or a crash pad or at least something better than a silo for a planet-destroying pair of giganto SUVs.

Cranky. We should helicopter this thang out to the 'burbs whence it emerged.

Photos by Arod, with his eyes shut.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


This is about cityscapes, and I will get there eventually.

Ah, the Glorious Fourth. I am a-bed, the dog having worried me out of my efforts around the house to at least a semblance of slumber. Dogs are like that ... they enforce a conservatism upon their owners that may not be natural in the human sense, but is natural certainly in their sense. In this sentence lies a lengthy peroration on the contradictory implications of the natural, but that must lie fallow for a while longer lest I lose my train of thought for the evening.

A-bed though I be, we are surrounded by the muffled crackles of celebratory explosions. The dog is not nervous, leastwise now that I have fulfilled his agenda and retired. He can finally get on with his fevered business of a deep sleep. My first dog, Laddie, was a spectacular beast, but his one flaw was that he was terribly gun shy, and the fireworks of the Queen's Birthday made him a mess. Other than that one evening, he was a model of majesty and service, my best friend for 12 years. But that too is a peroration that awaits some other evening's blogging, and we do not want to get lost.

I took a big step today, a good one, but I am going to leave that too as a mystery. Writing a blog, as I have quickly learned, means always bothering the lines between the private and the public ... well, not so much the public as the available. Something is public, I suppose, when it hits the New York Times, or the local avatar thereof. For the private individual, something is available when folks at work suddenly grow silent as you approach, or when somebody forwards an email, or when your sainted mother calls and asks what the "h" is happening. My mother, probably like yours, doesn't actually spell out the "h" but ya know what ah mean.

A minor step, on the other hand, that I took today was to go to work. It is course catalog time in the life of the course catalog editor ... yours truly ... and there is no end of life-threatening minutiae that need my attention. My assistant, a temp and an old friend, PJL, came in with me. MRU in its wisdom does not pay temps for holidays, and that is the single one thing about MRU with which I disagree ... so I guess we are doing alright. The upshot is that PJL wanted the day's pay, so we went after it. Got a lot done, too, given that we were alone in the office. I am, in that curious new word, "exempt" which means that the hard-fought-for 40-hour week doesn't count for me. I do not blame that on MRU, but rather on the larger America for whom no amount of work is ever too much. Gotta take the good with the bad, I suppose.

A day's good work, followed by a dog walk. And that is what I want to talk about. Notwithstanding a good day, I have to admit that I am filled with foreboding in general about the brinksmanship of this great society. Yes, our great society on its glorious celebration of itself. I may be a Canadian, but I live in this country because I love it, and because I admire its revolution and its Constitution, and because I believe all people should be free. But as we know, all reality is grungily real, and these ideals get trotted out one time for black and the next for white, and mostly for gray and any other color you want. Believing in them is, to misquote Anthony Burgess' inimitable reference to the oneness of god, like proclaiming the wetness of water.

PJL and I, on the way home from our purloined work on the Glorious Fourth, argued that America is a strange place because it is at once the most creative society that ever existed and the most hidebound. RL, my roommate and great friend, and I, later as we prepared for dinner, were listening to a new compilation he is making of Swing and Big Band and female vocalists. We thought about 25 years, from 1930-1955 or from 1981-now which is the period I have lived in San Francisco. How can one compare the history that passed in two such periods. Is the rise of the computer, which was merely a rumor as I arrived here and as Ronald Regan was inaugurated, any greater a revolution than the personal car or the television of that earlier period? And of course, they had that nasty little war the immolated the planet. I'll come back to the notion of 25 years and a peroid in history at some other point ... another promise.

Why am I asking this? Because a rational thinker cannot help but fear the imminent dark cloud that hangs over us now. A day's good work followed by a dog walk. The dog and I walked past this monster new two-unit building that some cynical builder squashed onto Beaver Street. The place has no soul, but it has size, and that is what counts in "fin-de-siecle" America. No class, just a big wad-a-bucks. The place is on a modest street, facing a beautiful old stucco building that has been lovingly restored and painted. The new place crowds the street with two giant garage doors that leave only the narrowest passage for an entryway. I have been held up several mornings as the new debt-ridden owner slowly, slowly eases his gigantic black dark-window-tinted SUV out of the garage ... the vehicle is so vast that it has no more than an inch or two of clearance on each side notwithstanding that the garage alone would house fifty in the Third World.

No class, no taste, no sense of proportion.

So we are walking by today and it appears that the proud new owners are having a Glorious Fourth celebration. It is loud, it is way up there because this edifice has no contact with the street but rather looms over it like some sort of ghastly Gormenghastian nightmare. I stopped as the dog scanned for odors I thankfully cannot perceive. All the voices were young. I strained to hear someone who at least seemed past 40 ... no one. Why does this matter? This is bubble wealth where folks on a little insubstantial economic high get way over their heads in debt, sink it into an energy sump architectural monstrosity, and hope for the best.

I hope for the best, but it doesn't add up.

I think cities need scale, they need great public spaces, they need street views that welcome and energize. They need a citizenry that melds and contradicts and roils and creates. Cities do not need obese architecture and unsustainable debt and callow bubble life.

So a good day and a sallow day, all wrapped up in one.

Still, I plan shortly to sleep the sleep of the just, so long as the crackling celebration erupting around me starts to fade out in good time.

The pics are of cityscapes with soul. I will mount a picture of the monstrosity tomorrow.

Photos by Arod.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Canada Day

We have held a July 4th BBQ for many years, probably 10 or so. But last year and this, July 4 fell unfortunately mid-week so we switched to celebrating Canada Day. Works well enough given that I am a Canadian and I am surrounded by enough Canadians and lovers of Canadians to make it all worthwhile. Next year it is back to July 4.

My ex and I gave a lot of parties here over our decade together, and the pattern we established is what I continue to follow. I like to worry every tiny detail. This year's Canada Day started out, alas, a little lax in that department because the invites were multifarious ... some by Evite from one of our housemates and some by pdf from me and my roommate RL. Next year, a web site in plenty of time, I promise. I have to admit that I find Evite vulgar, and perhaps I am being pompous, but I dislike subjecting my friends to advertising and invasive monitoring. But more than anything, I have a pet peeve against addressing people by a handle rather than by name. Call me an old fart. (The snide reader, and I am in sympathy with the snide, will note that I identify myself on this blog by a handle, but we will proceed by agreeing to blithely ignore this obvious, gnawing inconsistency.)

Before the party, there's the cleaning and the buying and the prepping and the fussing. I have never given a party that I do not regret it an hour before it begins, and I have never given a party that does not make me blissful an hour after it starts.

My sainted ex, R, is an electrician, and I rely on him to hook up the speakers and, most important, fly the flag. But exes are harder to push around than partners, and he managed to arrive after the party started. Horror of horrors, the flag was unflown even as guests were arriving. But R got it up pretty quick once he rolled in, and we had ourselves a party with all the fixins.

Now, I am no chauvinist, love Canada as I still do, but that flag is simply the most beautiful national flag in the world. I reminded those of my guests who were not sufficiently quick afoot to escape my ramblings that the original "new flag" proposed in the Great Canadian Flag Debate in the 60s had three red maple leafs in a field of white with narrow bars of blue on either side. The blue bars being sea to sea, and the three maple leafs being, well, Canada. It was famously the design of Lester Pearson, Canada's hapless great liberal prime minister. Click here to see this monstrosity (I remember the blue as bluer than this image, but perhaps I remember wrongly). Fortunately, good sense and a better design won the day, and all but the most curmudgeonly old goats have embraced the flag that is no longer new, just Canada.

Back to the BBQ. We had enough meat to feed a small army, appropriate I suppose for a country inordinately proud of its small army. Last time I was in Ottawa, I visited the new, spectacular Canadian War Museum ... I'll try to write about that some time. Perhaps this is one of those Canada/U.S. differences that we Canadian expats love to worry ... no American museum could call itself War; it would have to be War and Peace, or Defense, or Service, or some other euphemism. But Canadians remain proud of their warring, at least partly by reason of the smugness that three or four decades of peacemaking can instill.

RL, my roommate, supplied the drinks (a Fred Collins flavored lightly with maple syrup) and two salads, one pasta, and one melon. Now, strangely enough, I cannot stomach any kind of melon, and the salad pictured here which our honored guests mowed through without mercy, fills me with revulsion.

Now one fellah who had a hell of a time was my old dog. I figure that it is a party for him too, although there is no enjoyment for a dog for whom that deep hunger is always in the foreground. He got plenty of the meat ... I threw him a whole sauage at one point, and I know he got a hamburger patty. I did not waste any of the tuna on him, but he got assorted bits of ribs. He is a big old mutt, so he handled it all with aplomb, begging with the dignity of an old monk ... earnestly, religiously, but not so sanctimoniously as to turn off his possible donors. Everyone says he is well-behaved, which fills his master with pride, even if I know what a shill he really is.

So we ate and we drank and we talked and we enjoyed the perfect San Francisco day of big blue sky and moderate temperature and enough wind to remind us that the fog would eventually come.

As they filtered out, our guests wished us a Happy Canada Day, and I was happy just to have made evident our little big country. Because the chief business of Canadians is being Canadian. So, even in exile, I want to remind Americans that we are there, and when they nod, I am satisfied. Of such is Canadian identity made.

That said, we're a hell of a country.

O Canada!

Photos by Arod, all but the last at the party. The bottom photo of Parliament taken in January 2007, in Ottawa, of course,