Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Planet of the Apes and Religion and Rulership

Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport, or lust or greed. Yes, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him back into his jungle lair: For he is the harbinger of death. (23rd Scroll, 9th Verse)

Religion is always about power, whether the power to control and compel one's followers or the power to exclude the anathematized. It is a pity that we do not have more of the Ape Scrolls (quoted above) to play with, but this quote is good enough for a starting point. The psychology of religious political control is based on a dialectic of fear and submission. The sociology is based on the degree of force, whether armed force or the force of ideology as transmitted through social control, that religion can bring to bear upon rulership. As I tried to argue in my post about Gellner's take on the relations between Islamic piety and rulership, the Muslim relationship with power took place over a long stretch of history largely as an overt negotiation between an almost voluntarily subject pious urban population and a resident and tolerated "horseman" rulership.

The western Christian relationship between religion and rule is founded upon a long stretch of centuries in which the church was the centrifugal force, and rulership was a fractured centripetal force. Kingship did not arise instantly from the horsemen who drip by drip supplanted the Roman elites ... merging in some cases, dominating in others, and dropping almost instantaneously from historical view in yet others. Charlemagne stands out among the early definers of kingship, but even his famous coronation on Christmas Day, 800, was as much an attempt at episcopal usurpation for the purposes of the church as it was some sort of proto-constitutional establishment of the notion of divinely authorized kingship.

Even then, it was not until the 11th and 12th centuries that the church and the state settled into the pitched battles and fevered entanglements that set Europe on the path to its eventual liberation from the church ... a liberation that took another seven or eight hundred years to accomplish. What allowed western Europe to accomplish this was founded in the earliest moments of that relationship ... specifically, that the church had to confront rule as an alien force and not as a natural ally. It is exclusively in this sense that Christianity has a greater idea of the separation of church and state than Islam ... this idea is not in the theology but in the circumstances of the founding of modern Europe through the invasions of the horsemen at the expense of the Roman empire. Remember, theology is bunk, but religious history tells a tale that no one can sensibly ignore. Theology tail-ends events.

The proof of this paradigm is in the relative slavishness to power that one finds historically in the eastern church which was never free of the empire. Constantine dictated to the eastern chruch and this was a pattern that continued notwithstanding the various fights (for Arianism, for Monophysitism, against iconoclasm). The Byzantine church was an arm of the state. The western church sought to make the state an arm of the church, and in the event provided the venue in which the state eventually became independent of it.

That's my overview. It was not my intention in starting to write this blog that I would focus primarily on religious historical issues, notwithstanding that I have been reading almost exclusively for a year about the Middle Ages and in particular about the rise of Christianity. But having gone down this path, I thought it useful if only to me that I should put down the general lines of my arugment, and this is it. We shall see when I get back to it.

In the meanwhile, let's return to Planet of the Apes, a society in which church and state are fused. It is in that sense a fascist society, and that is the affect which the auteurs, if I might, used to inure the audience against its conceits. As much as rationalists rightly fear theocracy, we are not actually threatened by it at the moment in a Planet of the Apes type scenario, and the experience of the dubyaite cabal with the religious, and the speed with which it turned into bile, should frankly give us some comfort notwithstanding the hideous damage they have done. It is not that the bastards don't want to wrap us in a medieval cowl, it is that they still cannot notwithstanding that they are at their most dominant in a century. The religious have the upper hand in Planet of the Apes because they have a monopoly on the manipulation of fear, and it turns out to be an ancient fear that is well-founded. After all, Moses/Taylor/Heston ends the film wailing in the surf that human beings actually had destroyed themselves, and this "as-if" provided after the fact justification for the religious domination of rule in the society from which he is fleeing. The gift of this film, though, is that in the end we sympathize neither with the religious authoritiarianism nor with the rebel who is revealed as standing on sand.

Perhaps that is where we are now in society, recoiling at the religious madness but unable to find a hero.

Photo by Arod, Notre Dâme de Paris; click on the photo to go my Paris slideshow.

Balkin’ Bob and Benitez

The terminally .500 Giants hit a new low right after flirting with a new high last night. Lincecum pitched another gem, the bullpen hung on by its fingernails (Ortiz walked two and hit one to load the bases and then squeezed out of it), until Vizquel scratched out a run in the top of the 12th.

Then Benitez gets the ball. He walked Jose Reyes, then balked him to second. And after Reyes was sacrificed to third, Benitez balked him home. Then he gave up a massive home run to Carlos Delgado. Giants lose.

The balk is arguably the most baseball of baseball items. It amounts to the pitcher attempting to deceive the runner in order to induce him to steal inpropitiously. There are a couple of ways to balk ... starting and then stopping your motion or not coming to a full stop before starting the pitch ... but you never really expect it as a fan. When a balk is called, all the runners advance one base, even if that base is home plate. I predicted a balk once at Candlestick, the Giants’ old park, and got kudos from some kid next to me when I was right ... sports fans love calling a shot, and never forget the glee.

The first base umpire was Bob Davidson, famously known as balkin’ Bob for his penchant for calling the balk. The third base umpire was Hunter Wendelstadt, son of the famous umpire Harry Wendelstadt. He called his balk after the tiniest but totally obvious flinch from Benitez who got suckered by the prancing Reyes ... and he called the balk with authority and pizzazz, no doubt about it. It might be an inadvertent flinch, it might not mean anything, it could not conceivably have fooled the runner who was in fact fooling the pitcher (who is a fool, IMHO), but in baseball the umpires are fanatically committed to the integrity of the game.

It is not thus in basketball, whose referees are professionally corrupted by their open awe of stardom, or in football which, to paraphrase George Will, is refereed by a committee of idiots punctuated by blindness. Basketball referees lightly oversee a game that has, at least on the pro level, became a slugfest. There is open talk about how veterans and stars “establish their moves” ... that means they get away with traveling because they have done it so many times.

Not in baseball. The umpires are deeply integrated into the game which they defend as a point of honor. My fantasy sports job ... in the sense of the lie that “you can be anything you want if you only try try try hard enough” ... is major league umpire.

That said, balkin Bob got a little excited at first and probably figured it was a balk because Benitez is such a moron.

First pic is Benitez appealing to the clouds for some sympathy (he gets none down here on earth). The pic below is Lincecum whose crazy journey is too sweet for words right now.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Not sure what to write about tonight. I want to close off the religion and power in Planet of the Apes thread, but not sure if I have it in me tonight. Perhaps that reluctance is because it is hard to have gone back to work after a three-day weekend ... weekends are the time when the working classes pretend to be who they really are, and that extra day is just enough to dupe you into thinking you are who you pretend to be rather than who you must be to make ends meet. Identity, such a sweet slice of false consciousness. I am not who I pretend to be, but that does not mean that I am not, nor that I may not pretend.

I am very lucky in my job at MRU because it is a job that uses all of my native and developed skills — technical, electronic, print-production, web, and academic. And I genuinely appreciate the fact that my job contributes to education and intellectual development as well as to my sustenance. But, man, I would rather do it all in my PJs at home, and I would rather that it involved a lot more of the cerebral and a lot less of the social. Am I an incipient hermit or what!

Got back to work today to confront a big print deadline on Thursday. We had a few glitches, but I make all my deadlines, "religiously" as it were. Deadlines do not make for easy lunch hours of writing on the new laptop in the sun. So, instead, I ramble a little in bed, listening to the tail end of Keith Olbermann's nightly ramble ... he's on about poor Lindsay Lohan right now. I have no idea who Lindsay Lohan is, and I think I will keep it that way. I just wonder why she does not use some part of her ill-deserved millions to hire a driver!

I got to watching a documentary on Jacques Derrida last night ... I will ramble on about that at greater length later. I decided to write down random phrases as they appealed to me. Derrida is a victim of his own press ... he is actually quite an erudite literary critic, in my view, but he wandered aimlessly into the juggernaut of the American academic literary market. He comes across in the documentary as a little uneasy at being the object of attention. At one point he refuses to "naturalize that which is not natural", i.e., the camera which is pointing at him. Nice phrase, and well applied to any number of situations.

Perhaps it is well applied to work. My friend Michael Merrill, deceased since 1989, used to say that men are sexiest when they are at work. Michael was that unqiue being, the Buddhist Marxist ... perhaps paradoxically a more unique form of being had he survived than it was in the 70s from which we emerged or the 80s in which we endured ... again, a subject that deserves more attention anon. For now, Michael's notion of the sexiness of a man at work derives precisely from the awkwardness of the "unnaturality" of work. It is not that doing stuff for economic or survival reasons is unnatural ... quite the contrary. But work is removed at least one degree of separation from that in modern life, and it is unnatural because it always requires that we confront it as not in our nature. (With reference to the other half of that dialectic, sexiness is always an awkward confrontation ... there is something unnerving about the sexy, and each person has his or her own take on that awkwardness. Perhaps in a reductive sense that is why religion hates sexiness so much ... because the awkwardness is a counterpoise to the sure predatory character of scripture to which we are required to surrender innocently as if we do not see the potency of the awkward, the unscripted, the bawdy/body. The "earnest" religious swallow this whole; the "desperate" religious feel the contradiction, but come down on the wrong side at least in ideation if not in practice; the "cynical" religious see it all and take what they want, each to their own.)

Work in the sense above is subject to the "any force given long enough turns into its opposite" rule. The unnaturality of work is not immediate (unmediated) or even apparent. Now, it would be simplistic to equate the unmediated with the natural because it is in the nature of being human to be mediated. So working to, say, survive may be natural, but work is a mediation which escapes our control and so progressively retreats from the natural to the mediated ... the mediation is external and steadily more subject to external forces that we accept "as if" natural, and incorporate, but which are absurd and irremediable when we try to quantify them up close or isolate them or identify with them.

So, in Michael's sense, the sexiness of a man at work is congruent with the absurdity of performing "as if" naturally but in fact awkardly. The observer is jarred by reason of the distance from a "natural" that is imagined and idealized but never realized.

Will I regret this in the morning? Probably. Photo at the top (by our mutual friend IM) is of Michael who would have enjoyed this ramble if only because it provides so many opportunities for debate and for its B-S-iness.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Walkin with Loki

Another weird walk on Sunday. Somehow, I forgot about Carnaval and a street that is normally pretty empty on Sunday morning was teeming with people. We cut across Valencia as we often do anyway on this route, and then there was this photo op in a parking lot. So I leapt over the chain, and dog followed, and just as I pulled out my little Canon Elph, Loki jumped at some pigeons ... the camera flew out in an arc 10 feet high, and landed kerplunk ... damage minimal, but the aperture no longer functions. That little camera is two years old, and it changed my life, and it was just by luck the last purchase for which I bought a full warranty. So I can get it fixed for free, but I need a camera. I ended up buying the current model (a Canon Powershot SD 750), and I promised Mother that she can have the old one once it gets back from the hospital.

Sheesh, that's two walks in a row with unfortunate moments. I get a new camera out of the deal (well, I get to pay for it too).

Today (Memorial Day), we went to Land's End. I tried out the new camera, shooting shots I've shot many times before. After many tries, I finally had the opportunity to photograph the remains of the Sutro Baths with no other human beings around because we were so early. A madness of pelicans flying overhead .. we stopped in awe ... perhaps Loki had designs on them I would rather not quantify, but I was mightily impressed.

On the way back, we detoured and found ourselves in the middle of the golf course ... legal path, but that did not prevent the Japanese speaking golfers from giving us the withering look. I wouldn't mind golfers so much if their sport was not so environmentally destructive ... why not get back to the Scottish way and let the fairways go fallow.

Anyway, a nice walk, very relaxing.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Flux and Reflux: Planet of the Apes

I am still so pissed off about the paint job on the Hebrew Free Loan Association (see my immediately previous post); it is so galling when tiny minds or smug committees pollute the landscape with their witlessness. While I wrote that post, I flipped on the TV and managed to stumble on to The Planet of the Apes. Now, I am not much of a movie buff, though Netflix is allowing me to catch up (also killed some time today watching the hilarious A Shot in the Dark, the second Pink Panther movie), but for whatever reason, I have seen Planet of the Apes 4 or 5 times over the years.

This is a film thematically centered the relationship between religion and rule, often fought ought in a battle between faith and science. It is certainly curious of course that a bare-chested Charlton Heston represents the rebel for science and against faith. It struck me that the scene on the beach relates to my posts on flux and reflux in religion, and for that matter on the relationship between religions and rule that I wrote about in rehashing Constantine.

Dr. Zaius, who is a Jerry Falwell like cynical religious leader throughout most of the film, abruptly turns into a rather nuanced character on the beach. It starts when he says, "There is no contradiction between faith and science ... true science." This is a set-up line that played to rationalist sensibilities rising in public thinking in the 60s because what Zaius actually means is that true science is dictated by faith, not the other way around. So the audience was likely to see this as cynicism. Taylor (Heston) has no space for faith ... what he wants is a rifle and a horse (there are those damned horses again) and a shot at surviving by dint of brains and the quotidien application of reason to problems. Isn't it the more curious how that line about faith and science reads so differently in the present religious revanchism ... now true science is true faith, and butter does not melt in the mouths of those, be they the ludicrous creationists or the craven scientific apologists for religion, who claim that there is no contradiction between faith and reason. Nonsense.

But, as I say, this is a set-up line in the movie for a consideration of the role of religion. Remember that Zaius is the villain, and yet he argues that religion alone can prevent people (or apes, as it were) from enacting their worst instincts ... that without religion's deliberate suppression of knowledge, the worst instincts would come to the fore. Again, it is Moses ... I mean Charlton ... who snorts at this argument, only to learn the truth of it when he finds the shattered Statue of Liberty in the sands shortly thereafter. So the flux and reflux in the scene ... between Zaius as villain and Zaius as prophet ... mirrors the flux and reflux in the world between resurgent reason and the flight into faith.

Zaius ends up looking rather better than one might have expected as he threatens people with trials for heresy. I had to snort when the penalty was determined to be two years ... real religious history finds that the penalty for heresy is typically a horrible death or exile. Zaius's rehabilitation, however, stems from one of the most noxious of the religious claims ... not that they alone have truth, but that they alone have morality and depth of insight ... a brash rebel like Taylor cannot see that the fat establishment is protecting him when it denies him his freedom. So in his moment of subtlty, Zaius actually shows that he has harnessed his insights to repression and authoritarianism. That's theology for ya.

I'll try to come back to the question of religion and rule after I walk the dog.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

An Architectural Desecration

Unhappy walk today ... didn't start out that way. Some young female twit blew a stop sign without looking while we were in the crosswalk at Octavia and Hayes ... the dog and I were five feet away. I yelled and she stopped and then gave me a little dismissive flip of the hand. Driving some obscene SUV. It's always somebody else's fault nowadays ... the little shit.

But that was nothing compared to an architectural desecration at Buchanan and Grove, a few blocks away. There is a magnificent old brick building there with a faded tile sign that says "Hebrew Free Loan Association" and a cornerstone that says 1925. This part of town is the Western Addition, and for many decades, especially after the Second World War, it was a relatively poor and very multi-ethnic neighborhood. In the late 40s and early 50s, it was largely razed and turned into ugly subsidized housing, and much of it remains an architectural scar ... opposite the building in question on both Buchanan and Grove are subsidized housing units, albeit in pretty good shape and well-maintained, but nothing compared to the fabulous Victorians that were destroyed in the 50s.

The Hebrew Free Loan Association building had long seemed empty, but in the last year or so several signs in Korean sprouted, and there is one rather weather-beaten metal sign that says "Korean American Residents Association of San Francisco Bay Area."

All well and fine, except ... today they started to paint the ancient bricks a hideous cheap yellow ... and a crappy amateurish paint job to boot. These magnificent bricks have never been painted before. They have already painted over the inlaid "Hebrew Free Loan Association" logo. Do they plan to rip out the iron grates with the stars of David? It is a brutal, bloody-minded assault on San Francisco's architectural heritage, and an assault on historical memory. What are they thinking?

The only organization with online contact information in this location that I can find is the Korean American Women Artists & Writers Association. It is possible that the organization is actually called the Korean American Community Center of San Francisco and Bay Area, but it has no readly accessible online presence. Whoever it is has committed a crime against art. It is bizarre that this is an Asian organization considering the recent, stirring world premiere of After The War by Philip Kan Gotanda (pdf) at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater which treated of the multi-ethnic community and its destruction in the 50s ... now some short-sighted organization does more damage. Shame on them.

I have sent some notes to sundry parties and will post any results here. If this building has already been declared worthy of historical preservation, whoever mucked it up will have some expensive restoration to do.

I have photographed the building numerous times ... it is a difficult subject because it is dark, close to the street and shrouded by trees, so I have mostly shot details. I mounted a folder of photos before the desecration here or just click on the photo. I think I have more photos but I'll have to hunt them down and will post them if I find them.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rufus baby

Frankly, I read the Salon piece on Rufus Wainwright only because his pic on the home page was so alluring. But his remark caught me:

I'm definitely a fan of juxtaposition ... using the most beautiful line to say the most horrific thing -- I think one of the main things in songwriting is definitely friction between the words and the melody. It's got to be done very delicately because both elements are somewhat explosive, and all of a sudden the song becomes like a crystal meth lab. You know, you don't want to blow up your family.

I'm only dropping this here as a placeholder because juxtaposition was a major idea in my dissertation. I used the phrase "juxtaposition and reversal." I am frankly not really up to writing about it right now as I lounge through a good start by the Giants young tuffie Matt Cain ... and that is a classic tuf baseball name ... but I will come back to juxtaposition some time soon. Meanwhile I get to mount that sexy photo.

Wolfie redux

Fine piece in Salon about Wolfowitz by Sidney Blumenthal. My friend JG says I was too soft on Wolfie ... I claimed I was balanced ... but Blumenthal's piece is pretty damning. He talks about Wolfowitz's penchant for the simple idea:

Wolfowitz's vision promised nothing less than a rupture with the entire world order. By one decisive act of will, all that existed -- all -- would be transformed. After a brief, very brief, interval, collective happiness and universal harmony would be ushered in. With shock and awe, change would roll in mighty waves, pounding all with its unceasing force.

The rest of the piece is so detailed and intellectual that it makes me want to buy a bottle of Gravol and read Blumenthal's How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Trinity and the Emperor

Theology is bunk, but religious history is endlessly fascinating. With that in mind, as I was padding around Paris a year ago, I had to admit that my background in the history of christianity was rather weak despite an extensive academic background in islamic history. And so I set into a year of reading on the middle ages and the history of the religion that rules our world. That is the background of this and future similar posts.

Thesis: the notion of the trinity was propagated by a pagan emperor for political purposes and visited upon a fractious bunch of mostly Greek christians most of whom disagreed, fought the decsion, but had little recourse in the long run.

Christians, broadly speaking, know little about the origins of their religion and know even less about its early history. There are several salient myths that we all know: the huddled downtrodden living in the catacombs, the noble martyrs fed to the lions, and then there is the miraculous conversion of Constantine on the eve of the battle of Milvian Bridge. Alas, either not true or so attenuated as to be in essence not true.

The real truth of early Christianity is that it was profoundly eastern empire in nature, predominantly Greek, overwhelmingly urban, and concentrated among the middle and upper classes. The repressions were sporadic, brutal when they occurred. The empire was primarily concerned not so much to supress christians, but to force them to sacrifice to the particular Roman gods associated with imperial rule. For every poor sod sacrificed in some colisseum, tens of thousand lived their lives quietly and in peace ... sort of like gay people before gay liberation, if you think about it ... official scorn and legal jeopardy, periodic savage repression, unpredictable episodes of violence and death in a large community who mostly led successful lives and whose acquaintances knew exactly what was going on.

Nice image ... early christians as the faggots of their era.

But the myth I am concerned about here is the myth of the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. It is pretty clear that Constantine did not personally convert before the battle in which by besting Maxentius he became the Augustus of the western Roman empire. There is some evidence that his troops may have had the chi-ro, or labarum, on their shields. There is, of course, no evidence that any supreme beings intervened in the skirmish.

Constantine issued the Edict of Milan the next year in which he granted tolerance not only to christianity but to all religions not previously tolerated in the empire, although Jews did not do as well as christians. Polytheistic religions whose members were willing to sacrifice to the Roman gods had always been tolerated. It was, to put it succinctly, the intolerant religions that were not tolerated because they eschewed the empire. More on christianity and empire below. But the evidence on the Edict of Milan points not to a Saul/Paul-type conversion, but rather to a savvy emperior whose prescience about the state of the empire and its future led him to understand that the existing politico-religious system was untenable or at least useless to him.

It took another dozen years of warring for Constantine to become sole emperor, and it was at this point that his understanding, I would argue, of the value of christianity for his place in history matured. He came to understand the future of the empire was Greek and eastern, and history proved him right for only in 1453 did his creation slip beneath the waves. He founded Constantinople and he set out to harness christianity by calling the Council of Nicaea in 325. He presided there on a golden throne, and it was there that he picked the trinity as orthodoxy notwithstanding that the arians almost certainly vastly outnumbered the trinitarians both at the council and in Greek society.

Why did he do it? I think, following the argument of Charles Freemen in The Closing of the Western Mind that he saw, whether explicitly or intuitively, that a trinity of divinities removed the figure of Christ from an ability to sponsor anti-imperial rebellion. Jesus' life, as depicted in the gospels written decades after his life by men who never met him, was one of a rebel against authority; now, in the service of empire a mere decade after that empire had legalized the religion invented in his name, he had to be subsumed into an unapproachable godhead so that his role in religion could become the psychologistic one of providing salvation for the compliant rather than the sociological one of providing means of liberation to the oppressed. The arian approach that Jesus was less than god, a human being taken to god, was just a little too real. What empire wants, as it had with its focus on sacrifice to its ancient gods before Milan, is a godhead that it controls and before which individuals are beseechers, meek and controllable.

Arianism lived on in the east for centuries, and it was the preferred religion of various barbarian horsemen probably more because they sought to differentiate themselves from the Romans they ruled than anything else.

It is remarkable the speed with which christianity turned into its opposite once it had been subsumed and adopted by empire. Things bite back, and the religion that proclaimed itself as the religion of the oppressed became the oppressor with a speed that must have been dizzying.

Nevertheless, those myths of martyrdom and conversion hung around. The present-day christian talk about a personal relationship with Jesus has a bit of an odor of arianism to me. Regardless, such thinking requires some supporting myths, and the greater context of a religion whose worldwide success arose from a deal with empire is not enough. So with a wink and a nod, just as it has been in one way or another for two millennia, the churches propagate myths that they do not believe or which undermine their claims. But then, theology is nothing if it is not contradictory.

Meanwhile, old Constantine finally died, converting only on his deathbed. He had succeeded in yoking christianity to his empire. That yoke remained in place in the eastern church thereafter; the western church had a long struggle with rulership ahead of it which relates to the role of the barbarian horsemen. But Constantine's big moment in Nicaea nevertheless became an orthodoxy for which countless more christians would perish than the few who provided a meal for Roman lions.

Image of Constantine by Markus Bernet (July 10, 2004) courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


Been a blast writing this blog, and I'm only on my 10th day. But it raises issues that I didn't expect, and I think it worth addressing these from time to time.

So the first such issue is this: the name is Arod, rhymes with Herrod, nothing to do with A-Rod who came along decades after I was Arod. It was the given name of my paternal grandfather's whom I adored and who died when I was 10, and it is a name that is liberally sprinkled around in my family. It occurs in the Bible, Numbers 26:17. No idea of where it came from in the family. It is my middle name, and it has been my Internet handle since I first had an email account in 1994. My friends, however, call me Stephen.

A couple of issues relate to identity and identifying. Anyone who chose to do so could identify me by name pretty quickly, and I am not really trying to hide it. But I would rather keep my identity a little fuzzy on the blog itself, at least for now, and require that extra step or two of anyone who wants to have the actual moniker. Why? See below.

I have also chosen to identify my friends, acquaintances, and family rather obliquely by using initials that may or may not correspond to their actual names unless any of them tell me explicitly that they prefer that I identify them or, perhaps, link to their Internet presence. And I am going to identify the place where I work as a Major Research University or MRU. Again, you can find out where I actually work in about 3 or more clicks, but if you have to know it by name you will have to do that work.

Why? This blog is about my intellectual and ideational ramblings born of a lifetime of study, both formal and informal, but always passionate and involved. It is not about the specificity of identity either of me or where I am now or of whom I know or have known. The Internet paradoxically allows us simultaneously to be more identifiable and less unique. So if there is anything unique here, it is not in the naming of an identity but rather in what I might say and, more importantly, who out there is touched by it, whether that be a couple of friends or a self-selected cross-section of folks whose take on ideas and thinking bears come congruity with mine. I am not concerned about who or how many look at this, but I want whoever does look at it to do so because of some part of what I write, not some part of any specificity which I can identify or which they can identify.

I am a little suspicious of identity, anyway. You see, incongruity, ambivalence, and looking at the edges are features of where I came from, where I am, and where I am getting to. So the approach mirrors this.

I remember an anecdote about Stephen King who said, in response to the news that he has macular degeneration, that it was okay with him because he always looked at things out of the corner of his eye anyway. I like to look at things square on, but I prefer to turn my gaze not to the center but to the boundaries between things. And boundaries are usually fuzzy, not hard.

So, if this is a pile of steaming crap to you, then you will probably gag at my ramblings. If not, check me out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lincecum and Oswalt

I always wanted to blog a game, so this was little experiment ... but the end result was way too long. If you want to read the whole thing, click here.

Tonight's Giants game features a matchup of similar pitchers, rookie Giant Tim Lincecum and veteran Astro Roy Oswalt, both of whom are dominating little guys who slingshot the ball with ferocity and accuracy. Both have hard fastballs and big breaking balls. I think they each have a changeup and Oswalt has a sinker. We didn’t see a lot of Lincecum’s change-up in his last start, but he sprinkled it in tonight to good effect.

The game did not disappoint. Lots of late movement, pitches on the black, futile swings and frozen stares as the ball bloew right by.

Eerie how similar Lincecum and Oswalt's motions are. Lincecum says he modeled himself on Oswalt, so it is odd that they face each other in back to back starts in the earliest stages of Lincecum's career.

I think that the umpires are squeezing the strike zone this year. Oswalt didn't get an inside fastball early on. I like a big strike zone ... swing the bat, boyz.

Oswalt has a weird waddle when he walks, like his muscles are too tight. When he throws, it is that same sling shot motion as Lincecum ... as if the little guy has to get the whole musculature into the throw in lieu of the muscle or the weight of the big boy pitchers. I like little guy pitchers ... and I like the big ones too ... I just plain root for pitching.

Lincecum was victimized by two hard hits down the respective baselines in the 4th; he gave up two runs but stuck with it and looked strong the rest of the night. Lincecum is cool ... got victimized by some bad luck, but stuck it out. Still throwing hard, and cool as a cucumber.

Oswalt paid for walking Bonds in the 7th. The Giants scored thrice and that was the game except for ...

Benitez is up ... hold yer breath ... Carlos Lee smashes the ball to the deepest part of Death Valley (right center) for a fly out ... a home run anywhere else in the world. But Feliz gets the third out with his stylish hard throw across the diamond.

Sweet. Giants win 4-2.

Huzzah! The Witch is Dead!

Mark Morford of the SF Chronicle reports that the Hummer H3 will soon be toast. Read the article ... scathing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Broken Public Transit

Another proposal to fix Muni, San Francisco's ludicrously broken public transit system.
Bravo, I suppose, but half measures will accomplish quarter purposes at best. I know it is not feasible given the political climate of "government-as-always-irretrievably-broken" but what we need is to make parking triply expensive, and spend every bloody nickle of that money on transit, including right-of-way streetcars, mini-buses for odd routes, and on-call handicapped vehicles to get us out of the business of constructing these wheelchair ramps that block everything and serve virtually no one. Predictably, the union came out opposed ... why doesn't the union back a measure that doubles the money spent on transit ... isn't that in their interests?

A little cranky, here, but public transit will remain broken until we apply the same sort of creativity to it that we have done to the Internet. The union's approach is like the approach of the ADA ... holding onto your little sinecure rather than bargaining for something that changes the terms of the debate. Those ridiculous wheelchair ramps cost millions and serve a few ... why not put all that money in one big pot and create an Internet-savvy system that serves all the handicapped, even if they live miles from a wheelchair ramp. Same with the union ... can the kvetching, and become a leader for a public transit future.

The new T line cost nearly $700 million for a four-mile line! We can do better than that. How about starting with a new Geary streetcar and builiding it for half the cost of the T line. It can be done.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Watchin baseball with TF, my upstairs neighbor and 20-year friend. We're Giants fans, and the Giants are up 3-0 on the Astros in the 8th. Bonds hit a ball to the warning track to right center, not the very deepest part of Death Valley, but deep enough to be outta here in most parks. Meanwhile, Noah Lowry has given way to Brad Hennessey who reminds me of Steve McQueen. Sweet pitching tonight (2 of the Giants runs are unearned on a silly error at first), and that's the way I like it.

But this is not about beautiful curve balls or late movement hard fastballs ... maybe more on that tomorrow when I have slated an evening with Tim Lincecum and Roy Oswalt. (Yech, Benitez is up ... Sabean's worst move ever ... I am convinced Benitez is just plain dumb ... but that is for another time when he actually blows it. This time he got 3-up, 3-down in a non-save situation.)

I wanna say that Bonds is getting the bum's rush. Of course, I'm a Giants fan, but that means not only that I am predisposed to like him on some level, but also that I have seen the thrills. The problem with all the nastiness is that it, like so many things in American life, seems to pin all the ills on one guy while pretending that everybody else is a clean-living christian. It's just ain't so.

The SF Chroncle reported today that for the first time that prison spending will outpace higher education spending. We love to point fingers in this country. You ... you ... you did it ... throw the bum in jail. But what happens when you throw people in jail for just being unlucky enough to be caught at what 100 times more people do every day. That's the war on pot ... and that's the war on Bonds. We want to diss Bonds because he got caught (sort of) and because we love to see big dudes get caught. We love to see anybody get caught.

The war on Bonds comes from the unlikely combination of his having been targeted by the federales, the fact that he has the personality of a rabid poodle, and the lionization of the man he seeks to pass. This is no knock on Hank Aaron who is fine man. But it is a knock on the slobbering pack mentality of the media and its public that reduces this situation to the nice sweet Hank versus the bionic cheater Bonds. Why is Hank's sweetness so ripe for the occasion? ... is it just because it fits the paradigm, and once the paradigm is set, no one has the cojones to head in another direction? Yeah.

The fact is that Bonds accomplished his feats on a level playing field relative to his peers but not relative to his predecessors. But that is the way things are. Babe Ruth probably never saw let alone lifted a weight. Should we diss Bonds because he works out year round? Where were all the Bonds haters when McGwire and Sosa were fighting it out?

There is a cynical everyday desperation afoot in this society ... we see it every day from the red light runners to the cell phone jackasses to the gas guzzlers to the professional religious hate mongers. It's exactly that cynicism that points at Bonds mocking and bleats cheater, as if projecting the cheating absolves the rest of us from our complicity. He played by the rules he got given, and he is the best; we used to love him, but the opporutnity to point and scream loser is too tempting. When we diss him, we diss ourselves. "No bluff ... just naked American aggression" (quoted from the announcer for the U.S. Poker Championships which I have on in the background now that the Giants game is over).

If Barry's tainted but real, so are the rest of us. His feat is our feat, his being is ours. Face the music, folks, because we live it every day.

Giants won, Bonds was 0-2. Lincecum tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT: more on this from Gwen Knapp of the Chronicle writing on Jason Giambi.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Walking with Loki

Loki, my big ole mutt, and I did our Sunday morning walk on the Embarcadero this week. We walked from the Giants' ballpark along the Embarcadero to Broadway, then wended our way back through downtown, ending up in Yerba Buena Gardens, the urbane park behind the Metreon, and then back to 3rd and King.

Nice day, clear skies, blustery wind, cool temps. Not so many people on the Embarcadero because of Bay to Breakers, the annual foot race.

I've walked this route many times, and so I only shot a few photos, mostly focusing on reflections, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. Loki is very patient as I stop to shoot, but sooner or later he ends up pulling on the leash. That little tug means I have wasted enough time.

Click here for a little slide show of some of today's shots.

Flux and Reflux

This post is really part of my Horses and Peoples thread, but it is going to take a bit to get there. I'm going to argue that a different relationship to the metaphorical Horse in this opposition informs a lot of what we need to know about the contradicion between secular power in the Euro-christian world and temporal power in the muslim world.

I have been thinking about Ernest Gellner's estimable study, Muslim Society, in which he quotes David Hume:

It is remarkable that the principles of religions have a kind of flux and reflux in the human mind, and that men have a natural tendency to rise from idolatry to theism, and to sink again from theism to idolatry.

I like ideas like flux and reflux, and notwithstanding the contradictions in Hume's religious thought, which Gellner coolly details, this paradigm has exceptional utility in looking at religion and, its "partner in crime", power. Hume postulates that fear-motivated "competitive sycophancy" (Gellner's term) can focus on a single god in a polytheistic context until it overwhelms all other gods and becomes increasingly unapproachable; thereafter, the reflux, as it were, is to throw up intermediaries who make the onetruegod more approachable. There's some food for thought here ... seeing the Reformation as a flux (or re-reflux) that sought to isolate the onetruegod from the numerous intermediaries mediated by the Catholic church, or seeing the Joel Osteens of the world as a re-re-reflux that allows the desperate faithful a way to access the onetruegod without having to swaller all this rapture, self-denial, authoritarian crap that the Falwell's of the world proffer to their profit.

The Islamic case is more difficult because reflux is both formally and essentially illegal ... Mohammed being the last prophet and all that. Historically, the reflux has tended to be sociological in the form of saint cults and Sufism and women's religion as well as charismatic mullahs. Shi'ism is a form of reflux because the imams are charged to represent the community to the onetruegod; but they in turn, by becoming hidden, had a re-reflux of their own.

So there's the idea. What has it got to do with political power in today's world?

Gellner goes on to discuss the rather sociological thought of the 14th-century muslim thinker, Ibn Khaldun. I have to state my bias here that I believe that Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah (his introduciton to his world history) should be read every year by as many college kids as read Herodotus because its thesis is the best tonic to the simple idea that there is no separation between religion and state in islam. Ibn Khaldun is concerned about the relationship between an urban, literate society in which blood ties atrophy and the surrounding bedouin societies in which a relatively egalitarian communitarianism creates the ideal conditions for military prowess. The urbanites in this conjecture need militarily potent rulers to guard them against the ready supply of potential replacements in the surrounding tribes, and this reliance limits the ability of these urbanites to rule in their own name. In other words, better the devil you know than the devil you don't ... better the ruler you have than the one who would replace him ... better surrender power than have it taken from you.

Islamic history is replete with cases in which the military-imperial elite domesticated the institution of the bedouin/horsemen through mamlukes or janissaries (i.e., the "slave" soldiers recuited from peripheral non-muslims), but the principle is the same: the urbanites stick to piety and trade while the rulers stick to soldering and taxing. The flux and reflux here operates through the competition between the religious demands of the urban pious upon the ruling "tribesmen" and the exploitative demands of the horsemen upon their semi-captive urban pious.

Horsemen? Again channeling Gellner, the essence of being a soldier is being able to run away (or retreat, if you prefer), and tribesmen do that on horses. For the bedouin, victory means wealth, defeat means running away and trying again some other time; but the urbanites always stayed put and had to endure the victors no matter who they were. So the enduring dialectic of the urban pious and their horsey overlords meant precisely that power and religion confronted one another as aliens notwithstanding that the onetruegod meant that they had to speak in the same ideational language.

Meanwhile in Europe, the horseman barbarians were domesticated in an entirely different way. They were quickly localized, and their ability to run away was diminished because their power was in the fields and peasants who provided wealth, and later in a stone castle that did not travel well; defeat meant death and annihilation of the line. On the other hand, religion's epicenter was not a broad community of urban pious merchants and their sedentary clients, but a narrow and thickly interlaced group of specialists, the church, who negotiated and struggled directly with the horsemen/barbarians/nobles/kings over the centuries. This was the situation that the Enlightenment confronted in creating the political theorizing that led to democracy. Religion and state shared in and struggled over power overtly with specialized languages that were congruent but not identical; the masses, in particular the steadily rising numbers of urbanites, were in between, increasingly experienced at negotiating on their own behalf, and eventually able to seize that power directly.

This is idealized and reduced, of course, but I believe it is one of the essential things we need to know about islam: there is no concept of civil society in islam because the dialectic between power and religion was historically a radical separation that trapped the masses in religion, notwithstanding that both sides spoke the same language of the onetruegod. (In shi'ism, the train of historic defeats meant that power did not speak the same langauge as religion, and the concept of taqiyyah (dissimulation) interjected another mediator that further separated religion from power ... the curiosity of Iran is that the mullahs actually rule like sunnis, not shi'as ... another flux and reflux.) So in modern times, there is a deep historical/sociological expectation that power is best left to itself because confronting it can only lead to substitution of another power equally remote. That is the flux. The terrible reflux now being visited upon the planet is that islamism seeks to subsume the military power of the state within religion, in contradiction to the long historical pattern: by yet another cascade of competing sycophancy, the religious seek to conflate the onetruegod with the state and make it ever more and more remote from those it rules, just like the onetruegod.

And so historically, we might expect to find the tonic more in a new flux (a re-reflux, if you will) of intermediaries. Right now those are the self-styled mullahs. Will that change? Who, what, where, when? No signs on the horizon just yet.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dodging the future in the hinterland

The Minnesota legislature managed to pass a 5 cent tax increase on gasoline, but it was vetoed by the Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican with ambitions. The New York Times reports that Connecticut and Texas are considering suspending their state gas tax for this summer’s “summer driving season.” Summer driving season?! Americans just don’t get it. If we don’t get on our horses, the summer driving season will be in a parched and burned landscape with temperatures in the 100s. 5 cents?! We need a national gas tax that starts at an additional 25 cents, and then adds 25 more cents every year ad infinitum ... an effective way to force business to create solutions ... you know it is going up, it is going to continue to go up, now let’s conserve. And 100% of that tax should be spent on renewable energy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Poor Wolfie

Only once have I seen a wolf in the wild, on Vargas Island off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino. It was rainy, and I was standing on a rocky shore when I heard a horrific scream behind me across a little cove. There, no more than 30 meters away was a wolf grabbing a fawn which he had chased down to the shore. He dragged it back into the bushes, as the screaming slowly dimmed and then stopped.

Wolfie of the World Bank is the fawn in this case, and the wolf is the inexorable process of the indirect assault that took him from autocrat to heck-of-a-job status in short order. I feel a little for him, notwithstanding that he has been a shill for the dubya-ites and bears a terrible responsibility for the mess in Iraq. He is a man with ideas, he set out to undermine corruption which is a staggering economic problem worldwide, and he managed to git out of the dubya corral, and the morass with his name on it, while the gittin' was still good.

I had dinner with Wolfowitz once. He is a friend of a friend from their days in Indonesia and I was providing airport services to both of them on intersecting layovers. We went to the Flower Lounge in Millbrae, one freeway stop from the airport, and a great SFO layover eatery if you can get there. He asked me one question about Indonesia, and I guess I equivocated because he pretty much ignored me for the rest of the eating. This was in the pre-dubya days when Wolfowitz was one of any number of the expectant, hoping that a 'publican victory would give them the power to implement the ideas formulated during the short Clintonian exile.

That little dinner gave me pause when he came to power and began his career of shilling. I was, and am, opposed to the war. It was, and is, so obvious a massive strategic blunder that it was difficult to understand how a man of obvious intelligence and knowledge like Wolfowitz could not just support it but create it. I think it has to do with the flaw of allowing one's thinking to devolve to one simple central truth. In this case, that central truth is that the judicious application of targeted American force will have a cascading and decisive impact that will ineluctably lead to good results. It is curious that Clinton actually demonstrated how to do this in Kosovo notwithstanding the loud cackling of the reactionaries at the time.

This simple idea is a little like chiropractic ... adjust a joint and the whole body falls in line. Chiropractic may have its uses, but it is a poor guide to history and poorer still to policy. Wolfie and the neo-cons ignored the first rule of history to everyone's peril ... there is no such thing as a zero sum game. So if you adjust the wrong joint, you might just break a bone and everything conspires to get worse and worse. A simple truth is no guarantee of success, especially when you jigger the facts. Certainly that is what has occurred.

But Wolfie did not fall from his perch because of his errors on Iraq, or because of his management style. I do not really follow the World Bank very closely, but even a die-hard liberal has to be a little taken aback by the shrillness of the employees' jumping on the boss ... was he really that bad? Did he accomplish so much less than a predecessor? I have no way of judging just at the moment. But he did not fall for that; he fell because he had a girlfriend who was herself an accomplished person. Accomplished people in contiguous offices are no longer allowed to have sex with each other, so there had to be some fine sliding and moving to keep all happy. Again, I don't really see the crime ... why should she give up a career because he got a job. He appears to have been reasonably transparent about it, and she apparently did not want to make the move. People have to work, for crying out loud. Put yourself in her place.

So again and once again, some guy pays for his crimes not by being convicting for them but by getting caught jaywalking. The slender injustice of the vector from which he was hit should not obscure the miseries that his commitment to a simple but bad idea engendered. But it is unsettling.

The dubya-ites are a hellish cabal of three groupings who have opportunistically blinded themselves to their natural antagonism ... the kleptocrats, the religious fanatics, and the neo-cons. Dubya is not a neo-con ... notwithstanding its simple core idea, neo-conservatism is a complex thinking that requires knowledge and balancing and contradiction. But that simple kernel does allow a pea-brain like Bush to hop on board. I think he got snowed by them, and I think he is vaguely aware of that, but his immeasurable hubris and lack of computing power means that he has to keep on truckin down the road they laid out for him, even as they wander off into another self-satisfied exile of fevered ideology and red-faced recriminations.

For dubya, retirement will be the luxury of self-congratulation and good sleep. For Wolfie, it will be a long nightmare of what-ifs. I hope he ends up at some august institution ... I think Georgetown is his natural home ... lecturing the cloying and encouraging the budding bow-tied set, and privately rehearsing this mantra over and over again: no such thing as a zero sum game.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Horses and Peoples

I took a class one semester as an undergrad at Cal from one Professor John Smith ... that's really his name. It was called something like Middle Islamic history. I remember the first class vividly because Professor Smith spoke so slowly, dryly, softly. "Now, how many hours does a horse have to spend eating in a day?" And he proceeded to figure that out, again slowly, deliberately, unhurried by the obvious impatience of the fidgety students. I thought I was bored stiff, and wondered what other class I could substitute. But something told me to hang in there, and I did.

The next class was nearly deserted. I felt sorry for Smith who seemed like a decent man, rather gray. I was older than most undergrads ... I started my academic careeer at 31 ... but still too young to understand that a tenured professor of such erudition and grace was rather pleased to be rid of the hordes of the uninterested. And that little something that told me to stick it out ended up exposing me to one of the most important influences in my thinking today.

What I took away from his class was a thorough fascination with the materials of everyday life, and how they frame history. More specifically, Professor Smith taught me the modalities of the movement of nomads into civilization. It is an error to believe that barbarians were merely murderous marauders. They were by and large small bands moving deliberately most of the time and suddenly from time to time. They enjoyed the advantage of movement over the sedentary in that they could go to resources rather than wait for them to grow, but also the associated disadvantage that once they have consumed they must move on. His approach was reminicent of the old saw about studying military history: battles are for amateurs, logistics are for professionals.

European civilization is the result of barbarians, and most national myths hearken back to them. But these myths are heroic rather than material, and it is here that the lessons of Professors Smith again came to good service in some recent reading: the impressive The
Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe
by Patrick J. Geary of UCLA. His thesis is fundamentally this: the notion that these barbarians had ethnic identity is a back formation. Their identity was shifting. They started as small bands whose size varied according to their success. But once they seized a place ... and there are many ways in which they seized a place over the 5 or so centuries in which they did so ... it was only then that they began to develop ethnicity as we know it. That ethnicity developed as the new rulers needed it, or as the newly ruled chose to shift from one view of themselves to another, or as those who sought to coopt them set out to define them. It is only late in history ... in modern history ... that these ideas solidified into the nationalism that became the mark of modernity.

In general, I tend to think ethnicity is bunk ... not unreal sociologically or politically or economically ... but based ideationally on unsupportable myths. So in the modern world of the free individual, we succeed when we reduce ethnicity to a flavor, and we fail when we "force it" or "allow it" to be essential to a person’s being. By ”force it" I mean primarily through repression, and by “allow it” I mean primarily by indulging its conceits.

By origin, I am a white male middle class Anglo Canadian whose grandparents had surnames that were Scottish, English, Dutch, and German. By paternal decent I am a ninth generation Canadian, and by maternal decent, I think I am eighth generation, both through the male line. So what am I? Maybe that it why I am little skeptical of ethnicity as a hard concept, and prone to look at it as a banner. What is essential to us is our humanity; ethnicity is just the hue.

So back to the horses in Professor Smith’s class. When I look at Darfur, I wonder about their horses. When I listen to the claims of the Serbian nationalists, I remember that there is no good evidence as to how and when they became an ethnic group. When I think of Islamic political thinking, I am reminded of Ibn Khaldun's seminal comments on the relationship between nomadic military might and urban piety (on which subject I will write more on another occasion). And when I listen to the Hungarian-named President of France, I remember that the whole of idea of Frenchness was invented over millennia in response to innumerable pressures, no single one of which can be labelled the first cause.

But “civilization”, now that is an essential ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Good Riddance to a Hate Monger

Well, good riddance to Jerry Falwell, one of America's most infamous hate mongers. Too bad he will have to watch the rapture as a spectator.

The man was a veritable font of those "sins" that the bible spends lots of time condemning ... avarice, gluttony, pride, and hypocrisy, chief among them ... rather than those "sins" christians have invented for those they seek to revile. I think of Falwell primarily in terms of his boundless hatred. Despite the wafer-thin evidence for biblical homophobia ... the evils of shrimp eating get more coverage than gay love in the oft-quoted and more oft-ignored Leviticus ... Falwell created a profitable industry of hate mongering against gay people. He lied about us whenever he could to keep those dollars flowing from the troubled, the aged, the lonely, any victim for his con job empire.

With all due respect to Christopher Hitchens on Anderson Cooper last night, whether he actually believed or not is quite beside the point. He was a man of faith, and there are three kinds of the faithful ... the masses of the earnest, the isolated desperate, and the cynical who hold the power. Nothing prevents a cynic from being a genuine believer, and that is Falwell to the core. Believing has a reassuring impact on the faithful ... anything goes in the name of the belief, and for the cynics that means "even" lying, hating, profiteering ... not "even", but "especially." So he found his niche, selling reassurance to the earnest, extorting the desperate financially and politically, and employing the cynical to build an empire of greed and power. Mammon, indeed ... and in deed! Check out the sermon on the mount and compare it to the lived life of Jerry Falwell. Doesn't compute.

The man was always a doofus, but he got given some unctuous credit in the 80s because he created a political force. By the 90s he started fulminating about teletubbies, gay people causing hurricanes, secularists paving the way for 9/11, and Jewish anti-Christs. Larry King, the professional sycophant who did a lot to prop Falwell up in his lengthy dotage, had a long list of sanctimonious self-congratulators on CNN last night to slobber on the cadaver. No doubt there was some mighty bible-thumping and fag-bashing, all in the name of "news", but it was too sickening for me to actually watch.

America is besotted with religion. It rises up as a heaving from the gorge of a society that trumps its materialism periodically with a crypto-medieval revanchism more properly seen as a bizarre postmodern cauldron of the ridiculous and unprovable. Evangelism never forgets its roots in hatred. They love to rant on about loving the sinner and hating the sin. But those of us who have been the objects of their "love", both now when all they can do is intimidate and scorn, and in ages past when they burned us alive and imprisoned and drove us from our homes and livelihoods ... we know what they mean, and we know they know that we know what they mean. The earnest among the faithful may truly "feel" that it is love. But the death of this swindler Falwell should remind anyone committed to reason and rationality that the earnest faithful are too often led by diabolical cynics.

Religion is the root of all evil, and faith is its enabler. Step away, friends, and join the Enlightenment! In the meanwhile, good riddance, Falwell, hate monger, liar, thief, hypocrite.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Walkin with Loki

It’s tough to start writing a blog. I write all the time, but when I think of committing it to print, as it were ... or were not ... I figure it is either too cranky or too arcane or not what I want to be the first post on my blog. So something nice and not arcane and fundamental to what it is I do with myself these days when I have moment to relax.

The dog and I take a two plus hour walk every Sunday morning, somewhere in San Francisco ... we have many routes, but Fisherman’s Wharf/Embarcadero/North Beach is one of our favorites. The dog, Loki, is a 90 pound short-haired yeller mutt, rather more concerned than most dogs, but a great walker which is his main job in my life. We started at Fort Mason, amble though Fisherman’s Wharf, march along the Embarcadero, then over Telegraph Hill via Vallejo or Filbert, past the Trieste Café, along Columbus and back to Fort Mason via Bay Street. Various detours here and there.

Stopped for a crab sandwich at Fisherman’s Wharf ... I’ve lived in San Francisco for over 25 years, and this was my first crab sandwich at the wharf. It was cold! Normally I get a lox bagel at Katz’s Bagels on 16th and take it to wherever we walk ... or get one at Puccini’s on Columbus if we’re in North Beach and sit at the sidewalk tables and watch the turisti squeeze by. Think I’ll go back to the old route. The sandwich was okay but so what ... and the dog, strangely, wouldn’t eat the crab. He won’t eat shrimp either, so no surprise. Sat on a wharf and scarfed it down watching some fishermen put out for a day’s labors. Maybe next time I’ll get clam chowder.

Last couple of times I walked the Embarcadero there was some vast cruise ship docking, with crowds of the obscenely overfed gabbing on cell phones and pushing luggage, milling about. None this week ... just the usual rivulet of runners, coursing through scattered clustered families craning and straining.

Cut through Levi Plaza which has two very different but fabulous fountains. The big one on the main plaza can be traversed on stepping stones ... concrete blocks, really. The dog fell in one week ... my fault as I was more concerned with lining up a photo than preserving a few square feet of rock for his foothold. He looked at me with that combo look of surprise and disdain that dogs in their comfort of middle age can get. Shook it off and moved on.

Sometimes we climb the Filbert steps to Coit Tower, but I was lazy this time so we went up Vallejo which is not quite such a climb and has the advantage this time of year of all its many roses in bloom. Homeless older black guy, rather beatnik looking, taking the sun, didn’t return my hello. On the way down the other side I stopped at a sidewalk sale next to the Cafe Trieste run by an old North Beach looking lady who was harassing an old alkie who didn’t know what the L-train was. Funny. I asked her how much the little Eiffel Tower was; she said fifty centavos. “How about a buck”, and she took it. I told her I had been too embarrassed to buy one in Paris, and that got a good round laugh.

We did stop at Puccini’s for a macchiato and biscotto. I was battin my eyes at some long lean drink of water, but battin yer eyes at 54 does not have quite the electricity it had a few decades ago. I gather he didn’t notice. Still a nice sit and spin. Poor dog is never quite content with a pause.

And then we ambled back down Columbus to Bay. Found some kooky hidden gardens on Francisco Street. And took some fotos of the Hercule Poirot wavy building at 1111 Bay which they are, sadly, painting a faint hospital green.

And that’s a walk.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Three rules ...

Three rules for observing history:

- no such thing as a zero sum game
- you can't push on a rope (the mystical principle)
- any force given long enough turns into its opposite, or ... things bite back