Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Ineffable

I'm writing this post because I am going to interrupt my reading of Stephen O'Shea's engaging and impressive Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World about half way through ... we've just re-encountered the 1187 Battle of Hattin in which the Kurd Saladin more or less permanently put paid to the Latin kingdoms of the Outremer ... that is, he beat the Crusaders and opened the road to Jerusalem which he took shortly thereafter. I'm going to try to mow quickly through Mark Lilla's The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West about which I previously wrote here. Descriptions of his thesis unnerve me a little. Even a casual reader of this blog will know that I am deeply suspcious of religion, consider it the root of all evil, and find religious hypocrisy to be the source of much of what ails us today.

But religion does not come from nowhere. First and foremost it comes from social power, and the so-called "world" religions derive from a relationship with the state as each evolves. But none of this denies that human beings are persistently ... what shall we call it ... "spiritual." And I want to address that before I read Lilla so that how his book might change me is the more evident if not to my reader at least to me. (I preface this promise to read with the proviso that finding time to read for a working stiff is a project, even for a working stiff with a love of books. I'll do my best to "mow" through the thing, but don't bother starting up a stopwatch.)

What we might broadly call spirituality is to me the encounter of the individual or the group with the ineffable. In the past, I found some utility in the decidely Christian work of Rudolf Otto in his Idea of the Holy, and especially his idea of the mysterium tremendum:

The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attribute of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its 'profane', non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of -- whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures. [Oxford University Press, 1958 (originally published 1923), pp 12-13.]

When I was a graduate student encountering religion for the first time as an object of deep study, I was much taken with Otto. My great friend, Kurt Woodill, who was most assuredly anti-religious but by the same measure deeply spiritual, took great delight in long discussions of exactly what Otto has set out here. I doubt that I could have come to my present understanding of the spiritual without Kurt.

I think what Kurt expressed was that human beings have a deep ineluctable need to encounter the sum of forces that are beyond us. He saw it as a crossover of the animal and the human in us. So as we stand in awe of "the Universe," as he put it, we let loose of our human control over our environment and encounter on some level the acceptance that the animal feels.

From my earliest memories, I have looked at the night sky and let my imagination loose ... who is there, what is there? When I understood the concept of the light year, I imagined looking at a star who, when the light I was viewing left it, supported a great civilization that was at this very moment millions upon millions of years deceased. I remember contemplating my grandfather's death ... I was ten, his name was Arod ... and trying to imagine the difference from being dead for a moment and being dead for a thousand years. On the other hand, as it were, listening to the songs of birds sends me into a wordless torpor. I remember of moment of deep awakening one early morning 30 years ago in the rain in Vancouver when a Great Blue Heron, startled by my passing, flew up and past me no more than a few feet from my gaze. My heart trembled and I stopped to contempate the mystery.

Being of a scientific mind I can either explain or point to the explanation of others the meaning of stars and songbirds and the Great Blue Heron. But explanation does not reduce the feeling of the spirit.

But, equally, no religion is necessary to explain the feeling of the spirit.

I believe that religion is an assault on the spirit ... it finds the spirit at its most vulnerable and forces it to perform horrible acts, to reduce its possessor, to snuff out his freedom. It is not the necessary consequence of the spirit ... as Otto would hold ... but a cheap parlor trick in the name of the powerful and their perquisites.

Now, this is not to deny that there has been much beauty in the name of religion. The assault on the spirit that is religion leaves a void which the various religious traditions fill through their mystical subsets. The austerity of the Islamic religious impulse created the suffused oneness cult of Sufism, just as it created saint worship. Buddhism postulates a continuous and seamless hierarchy of understanding that goes from profane ritual to, as they enthuse, extinction. Buddhism is the perfect religion for an atheist, despite the current mass marketing of the Unitarian Universalists that more or less postulates that they don't care what you believe, just come on down anyway. Christian mysticism (and I exclude the rather more mystically inclined Eastern variety because I know so little about its particulars other than its long-time proclivity to craven slobbering at autocrats) seems a poor cousin, notwithstanding the mysteries of Mary and what not, and cathedrals with all those immoderately unmodern and decidedly un-Protestant gargoyles.

I'm an old hippie ... well not really. I once affected the style of hippies at their moment in history, but I was actually an activist, a politico, and it is a little remembered, or leastwise inconvenient, fact that hippies and politicos did not get along. That may explain some part of the discomfiture that I had in the left because I had hippie and lefto in me. That's not the point. The hippie movement championed the notion of spirituality without religion. The social untenability of that in the long-term led many of its adherents to drug addiction and to that most loathesome regurgitation of the 60s, the Jesus freaks ... and, on the more positive side, to new age religions and shamanisic revivals. The new age stuff in many ways has made accommodations with power, but the shamanists remain, in a sense, romantic outlaws.

The problem for a secularist ... and hold on to yer horses because you are about to encounter a little atheistic arrogance which, by the by, is nothing compared to the arrogance of the en-gawd-ed ... is that the boundless dimensions of human stupidity provide a fertile field for religious attack. So, yes, the spiritual. But how do we imagine a society in which spirituality has a full field in which to blossom but religion and its dark and murderous urges are viewed as no more than the bizarre imaginings of a tiny coterie of the certifiably insane?

RL, my sainted roommate and bartender, just handed me a 100 proof rye on the rocks withn only the tiniest spash of soda water. Spirits, yes, spirits. I note that my instinct, which is just a little more "religious" in this instance than I might prefer, is that if one splash is good, then two must be better. No gourmet thinks this way, nor would any deep-thinker. If I applied my underdeveloped culinary tastes to deep-thought, I would be a Christian ... pile on, pile on, make great hay over nothing more than chaff in the wind.

And thus it is with religion. It takes the subtle, the sublime flavorings of the spiritual as we encounter a Universe vastly more numinous than what we can describe, more expansive than anything we can imagine, and it turns those imaginings into coarse death-worshipping religion whose first impulse and last action is to crush the spirit and the person, freedom and the mind.

Notwithstanding marveling at the sky and the birds, I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I think I grok the musings of spirit. I just cannot accept the movement of spirit to religion, nor the theft of spirit by religion, nor the argument that spirit is only proto-religion. Religion is not necessary in the same sense for me that a ruling class is not necessary. Very difficult to imagine how to get there from here.

Gonna leave this now because I am running out of steam. I think I will go into the back yard and wait for the moon to rise.

Photos by Arod. The first two are from windows in the Castro; the third from a window on Grant Street in North Beach, the last from Balmy Street, the incredible art alley off 24th in the Mission.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


“As a neighbor, China is extremely concerned about the situation in Myanmar,” the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said at a news briefing in Beijing. “China hopes that all parties in Myanmar exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue so as to ensure the situation there does not escalate and get complicated.”

From the New York Times which, in a upwelling of common sense that seems so out of touch with our current epoch, has opened almost its entire archives for free viewing.

So, two points here ... ah, the joys of the "Chinese century" ... lest things "get complicated" indeed. The lovely thing about debased totalitarianists is that they blithely operate under the pretense, as if no one could possibly contradict them, that nothing has to make sense because all sense is nothing more than the debased totalitarianism itself. We ex-leftoid neo-liberal/humanist/seculars increasingly have no difficulty in noting that China is truly the most nightmarish place on the face of the planet. Certainly the good ole USA continues to suck down the earthly patrimony with a level of greed unmatched by any civilization ever. But for sheer self-destructive nihilistic depradation, nothing matches China today. There was a piece in the Times today about how the water table in more or less the entire north of China (that covers a lot of territory, folks) is more or less depleted. Their cities are sewers, the country is surrounded by dead oceans, the air that they not only breathe but pass on to the rest of us is more toxic than anything ever experienced in LA. And they court any thug in a presidential palace who has a quart of oil to his name, be that name Kabila or Ahmadinejad or the tinpots of the Burmese junta whose names are completely irrelevant and will not long be remembered once they are trash-binned, to use a little Marxian poetics.

So why, for gawds' sakes, does the Chinese junta give a flying crap about propping up a tiny coterie of desperate tin men in Burma who don't even have the elementary cojones to show their faces in what used to be and still is in fact their own capital, Rangoon. [BTW, I am not much into this crypto-PC changing of the English name of places ... it's Burma, it's Rangoon ... call me cranky, see if I care.] But the habit of committee-crats, the collective form of autocrats if you will, means that their scrawny knees jerk long before any latent brainpower kicks in. See a committee, love a committee, even if it is a bunch of Burmese generals whose passage from the world stage will elicit not one single tear anywhere.

The second point, if I can be an ex-leftoid for a moment, derives from Lenin and Trotsky. The key to a revolution in Burma is to turn the troops. Not the cops, but rather the rank and file troops. The soldiers, as the old Bolsheviks pointed out, are cut from the same cloth as the protesters. They just have to come to consciousness that by switching sides the situation will flip. In this regard, the abbots of the assorted monasteries have played a truly reactionary role ... surprise, surprise, the high mucky-mucks of religion jerk their knees to the current order no matter what that order may be. When the abbots call on the troops to flip, the generals will be cooked.

As in so many affairs in history, it comes down to a couple of religious figures actually following their own rhetoric. Trotsky famously averred something to the effect that the crisis in world history came down to a crisis in the leadership of the proletariat. Can't quite agree with that. But the crisis in Burmese history right now does come down to a crisis in the leadership of the sangha, the monkhood. Once they rise to their duty, the Chinese committee-crats can be damned ... though you can be sure they will adjust quickly and lose nothing they care about in the bargain.

The Chinese century. Beware what you ask for, post-post-colonialist brethren and sistern ... you just might get it.

Photo by Arod of a window on Grant Street, North Beach, San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Barry Bonds

Tonight is Barry Bonds' last game in a home uniform for the San Francisco Giants. I bleed orange and black, and it has beeen a wild, fantastic ride with this incredible athlete and all too human man. I remember when they signed him that I could not believe our good fortune. It quickly became obvious that his being a Giant was a coming home, and that has always been a subtext that non-Giants baseball fans often miss.

The great baseball franchises never forget their own story. We are one of the oldest franchises in sports, and our living legends are ever present. I am sure that they, like the rest of us, cringe at Bonds' discomfitted misanthropy. But then he has a gentlemanly moment just often enough to make us want to love him. I always figure that what makes me love a sports star is what he does in the contest. I could not care less whether Michael Jordan gambles ... but what a sweet jump shot. I almost suspect a star like Tiger Woods who is great and apparently also a nice guy ... aren't great artists supposed to be abrasive and disruptive like jock itch or salt in your lemonade. But Bonds' abrasiveness is of a leontine variety. When it comes right down to it, nobody likes him ... maybe his kids, not likely whatever wife he is on. Mom, probably. Dad has left this mortal plane, and he was abrasive himself, though no comparison to his progeny.

But who cares if you'd let him in the house for dinner when he can electrify a ball park unlike anyone else. The steroids stuff seems like the hysteria of the untalented majority ... I've written about this here and here.

I'm glad we're letting him go ... I think he should have the class to call it a career, but instead we will be tormented by a winter-long barrage of speculation about who might swallow their gum and invite him on in. Speculation centers on the Mariners and the Rangers. He's probably too proud to go to the Royals or the ill-named Devil Rays, but what a ploy that would be for otherwise irrelevant franchises.

So, Barry, thanks for the memories. What else can I say.


He ended it classy, though. Hit a hard fly ball to Death Valley, the deepest part of the park in right center. Then he hugged Jake Peavy, the soon-to-be-great Padres pitcher who threw him a real pitch in a game the Padres are winning 9-2. Then a last tip-of-the-hat tour on the field, and he is gone.

Kruk says, "it was our pleasure to have been able to tell his story." Baseball is more about the story than most sports. Love him or hate him, Barry Bonds is a story that will long long be told.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad and Rumsfeldt

Two controversies about academic freedom, each centering on individuals who are most assuredly enemies of freedom in one way or another. Rumsfeldt's appointment as a fellow at the Hoover Institute has generated a teapot tempest of protest at Stanford, and I am proud of the righteous outrage at Columbia's inviting the disgusting Ahmadinejad to speak today.

That said, I have to go with letting them speak. What do liberals gain by arguing for the censorship of conservatives who are going to be heard anyway. Now we certainly don't have to play a low-bore neo-con as Scott Pelley did last night in his 60 Minute's interview in the tin-pot's garden in Tehran. The questions were hectoring, and had no more content than the current dubya-ite campaign to pin something ... anything ... on Iran as a diversion for the military and political failure in Iraq. Where were the questions about democracy, about personal freedom, about the wave of brutal executions, the repression of minorities? No. Like this question, which Ahmadinejad interrupted: "At the moment, our two countries may very well be walking down the road to war. How do you convince President Bush, how do you convince other nations in the West . . . . " What the hell does "walking down the road to war" mean? This sort of pandering to the Bushies actually hands the high ground to the fascist.

I thought Pelley caved to Bushism when he had an opportunity to expose the depth of Iranian depravity.

Now if I were Columbia University, no way would I invite that tiny tin-pot to speak. But that doesn't mean that they do not have the right to do so. And, sure enough Columbia President Lee Bollinger had the guts to call Ahmadinejad a "cruel dictator" to his face. Maybe that's why they did it ... to show the Scott Pelley's of the world how you confront evil from the vantage point of truth. The appearance gave protesters a focus that undermined the Iranian regime's purposes in sending their stringer to New York. It gave Ahmadinejad an opportunity to lie out loud about homosexuals ... that they do not have them in Iran ... a lie that has been told about us time and again to justify killing or imprisoning us. (I remember a good friend of mine in high school sagely averring that there were no Jewish homosexuals ... that was 1970, and I am sure she does not remember it, so I have thoroughly forgiven her.) If there are none, you slimy bastard, who the hell is that you are hanging from the end of crane in your glorious capital city. Check out the the Iranian Queer Organization for a brutal story or a young gay male couple flogged for holding a private party.

Yes, it is galling to have to look at that creep. But opposing his speaking plays to his conceits.

And it certainly will be galling to know that Rumsfeldt will be padding around an office in the Hoover Tower. That said, let him defend himself ... expose him to the questioners and the protesters. Liberals have no stake in censorship other than to end it. This guy is the proximate author of the worst military disaster in American history. I think it is amazing that he has the khutzpah to show his face in public. Let him show it. We got the facts.

Addendum: I just watched Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia, on Anderson Cooper's 360 ... a quiet, solid defense of free speech. This man is a hero! If you're going to believe in free speech, you can't pick which speech will be more free. You have to answer the free speech of bigots and murderers with the free speech of truth and liberty.

Friday, September 21, 2007


What a joy it has been these last years to watch the incomparable Omar Vizquel play shortstop for the Giants. He just hit his third home run of the year ... a three-run shot ... wow. Kruk notes, "one thing about Omar ... he's not afraid to smile."

For the non-baseball fans among you, he is 40 years old, spry as a cat, fast as a whip, and as smooth a shortstop as has ever lived. I think he's the best ever, but I don't know what I'm talking about.

He says he will play winter ball in Venezuela this year for the first time in 13 years. Wish I had the time to winter in Caracas. What a scene that will be.

Watching his footwork, his preparation to meet the ball, the way he throws with what is only an average arm ... it is all sublime.

We figure he'll be gone next year, but thank you Omar for three years of beauty and grace and good times. I hope you'll be back. Regardless, we'll never forget you.

It's all academic, now

So here's the scenario. Kevin Frandsen at third, one out, pitcher at the plate hits a hard grounder right down the first base line that is handled by the first baseman. Pitcher out, Frandsen does not move. There is a discussion of whether or not he should have gone on contact.

Next batter, wild pitch, Frandsen trots home, and Kruk says "It's all academic." Curious phraseology. Academic here means "not worth arguing about" or "if you do want to argue about this, you're wasting your time since the run scored anyway." Sort of an insult to those of us who think that there is nothing hman about which we cannot construct an argument ... whether an argument of one or the clash of multiple arguments.

Is the future of Barry Bonds with Giants now "academic" given that they have decided not to sign him again ... I think so. But the academic here is not that it does not need to be discussed, but rather that the discussion is now entirely after the fact, attempting to re-construct the situation, assess it, give it shape and history and perspective.

I'm glad that Bonds will be gone. I think we should focus on pitching, and that seems to be the way we are going. That said, I am loyal to him, and I think he should be honored, and Giants' fans have been uniquely fortunate to watch his progress, lo these many years. He made us what we are, good or bad. When Magowan signed him, he transformed the franchise.

Happy Trails, Barry baby. Nothing academic implied.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sheesh ...

Sheesh, I sure get hot under the collar quick when religion comes up. Thomas Cahill's reference to Augustine about which I wrote a few days ago got my back up, but I have cooled down. I left his Irish book by the wayside for a while and picked up something rather more to my typical taste ... Stephen O'Shea's lively review of "Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World" entitled Sea of Faith. And there on page 79, discussing the world after the fall of Visigothic Spain to the Muslims but also after their timely defeat by Charles Martel at Poitiers/Tours in 723 or 733, he writes this:

A commonplace of monastic chronicles and letters spoke of mundus senescit, the world grown old. That glum sentiment would have been deemed peculiar outside of western Christendom. The idea that a dying civilization was "saved," by the Irish of whomever, is parochial and would have been thought of as such by the denizens of the Mediterranean. By the yardstick of trade, intellectual inquisitiveness, and cultural interchange, civilization was doing quite well in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, with or without the monks.

If I have a single impression from having spent a year reading medieval European history, it would be precisely that. (That O'Shea takes an obvious swipe at the nevertheless engaging and talented Mr. Cahill is just a pleasantry.) The fall of Rome was cataclysmic, but life went on with its wearying combination of battles, migrations, disasters, and death alongside quotidien joys and boredom and countless lives lived passionately and anonymously. Alas, I cannot deny, having considered the matter long and deep for fifteen years, that I consider the irruption of Islam to have been, on balance, a tremendous blow to humanity. But the clash of civilizations (is a liberal allowed to say that?) has certainly been fascinating, and it deserves the full attention of every worldly citizen. (To be ecumenical, I consider the rise of Christianity to have been a blow to humanity as well ... let's be fair.)

The disaster of Islam is not without its upsides ... carpets, music, Ibn Khaldun, calligraphy, chanting, the Egyptian middle class, Rumi, graduate studies. But this was a monotheism that stripped away the ambivalence so thoroughly that it had to invent Sufism as a stand-in for the subtlety that its dominant demagogues so expertly crushed with their recitations. Since I wrote that piece a few days back, I have not been able to get this out of my mind: "[it was] Christianity's own fundamental ambiguities — torn between a picture of God as both present and absent from the temporal realm, an ambivalence powerfully represented by the paradoxes of the Trinity — that made it 'uniquely unstable,' subject to a plurality of interpretations that became institutionalized in sectarianism, and hence to several centuries' worth of devastating upheaval."

I studied Islamic history for a decade, primarily in service of a dissertation on Islamic chronicles from the early Malay world. And it is a fascinating history, no doubt, but a history whose peaks are early and whose declines are long. There are no escape valves in Islam. When Muslims pretend to seek to return to the halcyon days of the rashidûn — the first three or four rightly guided caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and then the ill-fated Ali, the latter three of whom were all assassinated — they can actually pull up some texts that are reasonably unambiguous about what sort of stick to use to clean your teeth, and appropriate methods for lopping off a foreskin or a hand or a head. Christian fundamentalists, generally speaking, seek a return to an era no further back than a few decades or a century or two at the most. The early days of Christianity were filled with tornadoes of hair- and ear-splitting discourses about body and divinity and trinity, and the presence or absence of a single iota. Hardly a Christian alive can sort all of that nonsense out, let alone give you a reasonably accurate representation of Leviticus.

So the middle ages of Islam is a slow sinking into torpor, and the middle ages of Christianity is the slow rising of a challenge to its institutionalized nonsense. And modern Islam is predominantly a revelling in the torpor, and modern Christianity is a thuggish ignorance of its own history and those who have defeated it again and again. That's what I think ... and more historically minded western liberals than care to admit agree in some measure notwithstanding all the palaver about multiculturalism and acceptance and the truly moronic notion of Islam as a religion of peace.

I actually sat down tonight to write about Alfred the Great ... I have a post in my head that insists on being stillborn ... but this is what came out. Within a day or two, O'Shea is going to hold forth about one of the most important forgotten battles in history, Manzikert in 1071. I can barely wait, even though "our side" will probably lose again ... it has in every account I have read so far.

Photo at top by Arod; detail of a poster about town these days advertising the ill effects of methamphetamine. Not sure why, but the head seems a propos. Image below from Wikipedia Commons, depicts the battle of Manzikert; I believe that the Turk Arp Arslan is using the defeated Byzantine Romanus IV as a stepladder to mount his horse. Both would be dead within little more than a year.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Worth noting ... today is the thirty-third anniversary of the day that I arrived on the West Coast ... by train in Vancouver, showing up at the home of my friend-turned-enemy-now-deceased Maurice Flood's home. He let me in, put me in the basement, and the rest is history, as it were.


Sitting outside at the Cafe Flore, my long-time haunt, with only intermittent Internet access. Beautiful windy Sunday afternoon in the old town ... totally sexy young gay guy holding forth beside me on some sort of enthusiastic self-discovery theme. Like old times at the Flore in the early 80s when I sat here afternoon after afternoon consuming the battles of Napoleon, drinking too much coffee, arguing with passing fellow gay libbers, taking the sun in considerably less clothing than I prefer nowadays.

That's not why I am writing. I have been having a little trouble settling on a book to read ... sometimes these little interludes in reading can get protracted when you work for a living because the stretches necessary to devour a book do not present themselves daily.

[Overheard conversations are both alluring and annoying ... in a discussion of acting and life, the cute one is trying to defend the notion that notwithstanding artifice, there is a baseline of honesty which one cannot breach. His interlocutor is trying to defend the notion that a certain level of dishonety is necessary and not be bothered about. I'm with the cute guy. As this develops, I am more and more intrigued.]

So I tried mowing through Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, but it is all a little obvious and vastly too vast ... when an author disposes of the first three dynasties of Chinese history in 10 pages, and when I learn nothing from it ... well, it was just too boring. So I thought I would take a detour through Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization as a post script to having read Justin Pollard's richly rewarding biography of Alfred the Great: the Man who Made England. I heard Cahill speak last year at MRU (where I work) and he gave a riveting and entertaining off-the-cuff lecture about death. I subsequently read his Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. He's great fun ... like being a culture-vulture tourist in history. But it slowly dawns on his reader that this is a great, long-winded, undeniably fascinating and well-written but nevertheless revanchist defence of Catholicism. It gets a little nettlesome, and evidently his craftiness was somewhat less subtle when he wrote the Irish book.

I am no fan of Augustine ... this will not surprise. I like to argue that two of the most disastrous lives in religious thought are Paul and Augustine who between them managed to muck up any possibility that Christianity might be liberation with their death-obsessed loathing of the senses. This is what Cahill writes concerning Augustine's flirtation with Manicheism:

For a while, [Manicheism] let Augustine off the hook ... it absolved him from any responsibility for his raging lusts ... it was a made-to-order religion for a smart young provincial who needed to explore every dark corner of the the boiling city and experience every dark pleasure it had to offer and at the same time think himself above the herd. But it couldn't keep up with Augustine's fearlessly inquiring mind. Like Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormonism, it was full of assertions, but could yield no intellectual system to nourish a great intellect. [my italics]

Ah, the conceit of the Catholics. Sublime. To paraphrase the Mohammedans, there is no system but the one system ... the Catholic system. Everything else is sterile. (I would certainly agree that Jehovah's Witness-ism and Mormonism are sterile, but that is a subset of the sterility of religion.) Then there is the knowing nodding about dark pleasures. What is so bloody dark about pleasure? Why do intellect and system and genius have to start with the rejection of the senses? This is an obscene conceit whose only proof is its own infinite repetition. And it is a little rich to imply that the "system" was in place when Augustine more or less invented the bulk of Catholic doctrine out of thin air and his own self-loathing. Christians in those days were a fractious lot who barely agreed on anything including, and especially, the nature of Jesus.

There is a lot of this sort of religious conceit about its own exclusive depth these days, and more intensely in the last little while. The obvious deadliness of religion in the current era is such that even the supine press has to note the rise in atheistic or secular revulsion at all of it. After each new atheist tome, there are various backhanded ... Cahillesque, if you will ... defenses of religion ... to whit, that morality is only possible with religion, that atheism is sterile, the poetry of the spheres kind of lunacy. And then there is the argument, which is at the core of Cahill's unadmitted defense of Catholicism, that European civilization is founded on Catholicism or Christianity, that there is no Europe without it, and by implication that we should be worshipful towards it.

I'll get back to this in a moment. But this rising debate between consistent atheists and secularized apologists for religion takes place in the context of a political period that I like to call post-post-colonialism. Among humanists ... terminology for delineating who we are talking about in these zones tends to be vexatious, but secondary, I think, to the argument ... among humanists, I think there is a rising but embarassing understanding that colonialism was a multivalent as opposed to a monolithic phenomenon. Colonialism was not an exclusively moral impulse, but rather the moral reflux that followed upon the history. That is to say that the long progress of European civilization put it in a position of rising power and military and technological superiority at a time when many of the places it conquered were in political torpor and all of them were technologically weaker. This historical judgment is not moral, but that is not to say that a morality did not flow from the circumstances, and that we can readily reject that morality after the fact ... that is, now.

But how do we explain the political, military, and technological superiority of Europe at the moment when colonialism's rather short reign began? Is it Catholicism, or Christianity, or the Protestant Reformation? Is it climate? Is it the millennium and a half of competing micro-states? Is it the Enlightenment?

An a propos review appeared today in the New York Times, "The Political and the Divine", a review of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla ... you will have to read this right away, as the Times shoves everything into its vault after only seven days ... I know they are trying to make money, and I subscribe online precisely in order to have access to their vault, but it is a sad drag on the national conversation that everything in this flagship publication disappears in a week. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein starts by writing that "Some of us have been taking the European Enlightenment a little bit for granted." And she goes on to note, not without some sympathy, that Lilla argues that "Hobbes's thinking on the religious impulse [i.e., that it arises because man is a frightened ignoramus] [is] both historically pivotal and psychologically simplistic ... The religious impulse isn't merely a matter of man's cringing self-protective fear; it can also be an expansive response toward the universe, morality and freedom, and a strain of post-Enlightenment thinking, featuring thinkers of the caliber of Kant, struggled to do justice to religion's expansive aspects."

According to Goldstein, Lilla argues that the Enlightenment occurred only because of "Christianity’s own fundamental ambiguities — torn between a picture of God as both present and absent from the temporal realm, an ambivalence powerfully represented by the paradoxes of the Trinity — that made it 'uniquely unstable,' subject to a plurality of interpretations that became institutionalized in sectarianism, and hence to several centuries’ worth of devastating upheaval.” Goldstein has a lovely turn of phrase. In reference to this, she writes: "Or as I would less soberly paraphrase his point: Christian political theology encouraged the development of Enlightenment progressiveness the way that runaway mitosis encourages the discovery of cancer cures."

There's something here, of course. The Europe we know ... and the larger European civilization which through its bastard child, The United States, dominates the world, arose through, or leastwise in the company of, Christianity. But Christianity proved susceptible to science and rationality in a way that, straightforwardly, Islam has not proven itself, notwithstanding the monotonously reiterated fact that it once was more scientific than its contemporary Christ-lovers.

Here is where we return to Cahill. The fact that seculars ... the children of the Enlightenment ... need to contemplate the role of religion is not an entrée to a revisited Catholicism. It did happen the way it did, and we need to know and understand it. But that is not, ipso facto, an argument for a return to a church which, every day these days, proves what a decrepit wheezing old biddy it is.

[Alas, the fascinating discussion next to me ultimately foundered on the shallow shores of multiculturalism ... identity and background and colonialism and all that. The cute guy ended up being silent for quite a stretch as the studly other guy lectured him on how he should think. All the vitality of the discussion drains away ... cutey tries to start it up again by returning to his favorite word ... liminal. I want to chime in, but I am twice their age and cranky as hell. It eventually resurrected itself ... they are quite a vital pair. ... omigawd, cutey has an iPhone. The other guy is actually quite a stud, Brazilian, I think. It feels like they are cruising each other, but are lost in this by reason of the deep discussion. I've had that experience where the intellectual nature of the conversation makes it impossible to leap back to the sensual ... a bit like having Augustine sitting in on your moves. ... Eventually they part, but not before being certain that each of them plans to end up at Martini's at Valencia and Market. If I weren't such an ole fart, I'd go just to watch what ends up happening.]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Living and Thriving

I'm pretty impressed by the new big boss ... we've had a few conversations that have focussed on new directions. I only seem like a stick in the mud. I want to grow and thrive and move as much as any other mover and shaker, provided that the growing and moving is grounded in the reliability and integrity that is the irreducible core of any university.

So the new regime is feeling better and better.

Anyway, this post is about a curious comment he made as a way of introducing a new direction. He noted that he had bought a new bed and the instructions, as if one needs instructions for a bed, were on a jump drive. But his new remote for the TV came with a packet of paper instructions. Seems backwards. But that kind of reversal illustrates something about audience. The TV company figures its users are a bunch of dolts, but the bed company wants to improve its customer profile. So the first panders and the second breaks new ground. The modern technology is hidebound, but the most ancient article of quotidien life gets a jump drive.

The key to taking book information online is not to lose the authority that comes form print by reason of the infinite malleability of electronic media. This is an issue that relates to audience ... to keeping the faith of the audience even as you provide it with tools that it might not be able to imagine. Academic journals have only circled around this problem and more or less refused to come up with an answer. I may have an opportunity to work on an answer for this in some measure. But simply pouring the print into a web site is not the same as making a usable, multi-networked resource that still bespeaks the academic integrity of the institution.

I intend to speak obliquely about this stuff here because this aspect of this blog is not about the particulars of what I do but only about the generalities of handling and presenting information in the academic context.

But right now I am excited to have some new horizons and a new perspective.

Photo by Arod of the mural on the back of the Safeway at Duboce and 14th

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Just a quick note to say that the new American Conservatory Theater production of the Sondheim classic is a mind blow. As I have noted before, my critical abilities in music pretty much stop and start with what I like. So, I like it. I like it a lot.

What do I like about it? Well, the music is just transfixing. Ya gotta wonder if this Sondheim guy ever did anything else ... hmmm. It was jarring and seductive. It had me on the edge of my seat and recoiling at the same time. And how can you not thrill to a performance where the players sing and play instruments and move like cats on a crowded stage, and act to boot. Every time the fetching Tobias put his 17th-century violin down on the stage, I was terrified that someone would step on it. But like a bunch of pixies, this spectacular cast sashayed around the obstacles and came to attention on a dime, ready for the next number. Cellos flew from hand to hand, clarinets appeared from nowhere, trumpets exploded, and the violin became a fiddle and then a violin again all within a phrase. The one loose horsehair in the violinist's bow dazzled in the pointilist lighting.

That horsehair was attached to the puckishly pranching and froggily leaping Edmund Bagnell as Tobias who plays a sly and uncomprehending narrator to perfection. The superbly professional and riotously funny Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett dominated the set and sutured the actions into one breathing bloody bossy bold protoplasm of a play. I thrilled to the classic tones of Lauren Molina as Johanna and the eery Diana DiMarzio as the Beggar Woman ... you want to ignore her, you want her to go away, but she insists and insists, and turns the play on its head just when you least expect it. David Hess as Sweeney Todd was dark and demonic and obsessive ... sort of like a Hummer owner turned loose on an innocent planet.

But the most overwhelming part remained the dizzying choreography. For a sports fan, it was like a protracted bootleg where misdirection creates waves of action all over the field. I'd see the thing again just to watch the movement. Of course, the music enchants ... it drowns you in its creepiness and its sinister drubbing. So how could even the practiced fan stop his mind long enough just to watch the motion.

So that is lavish praise. And I really liked it.

Watching my Giants

When I watch Ryan Klesko at the plate, I am reminded of the notion of the boy in the man. Klesko seems to have an anger problem, and one suspects that you'd have to tiptoe around the guy. I remember when he was not a Giant that Kruk (the inimitable color man and one-time 20-game winner, Mike Krukow) used to comment richly on how annoying anger-holics are in the clubhouse. Now Kruk enthuses about what a good guy he is. That's what boys are like ... endearing and annoying by turns, sometimes at the same time.

Unrestrained anger has a little boy in it. It's a drag that the current child molestation hysteria combined with a rather uncritical proto-feminist de-focussing on the issues of boys is such that the notion of the boy is fraught with danger ... even the mention of it. (Don't get me wrong ... I'm agin child molestation, in favor of girls getting at least as good as boys get. Yadda yadda.) But I was a boy once, and I viscerally remember the confusion and elation, the anger and the flights of joy that I had to constrain lest I seem like a girl. That's what it's like being a boy. Being a man is so much easier and more satisfying. But some guys just never give up the boy ... the boy in the man.

And somehow, gruff and rough-bearded and lumberjack-frame Ryan Klesko reminds me of that spirit. It's not just the quick-to-anger. It's also the suppressed giddy joy when he succeeds. It's the prancy swagger and the glum retreats. It's the seeming confusion and the front of sureness. It's the way he sits down hard on the bench and starts to sigh ... and catches himself ... and flashes a glare. And then gets up for something to drink and prances around some more.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Walking with Loki

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I guess I've been a little glum lately. It strikes me that was the case last year as well at this time except for those fabulous five days in Paris. No Paris this year, alas, or any such European adventure as I have declared this "The Year of the Teeth" ... a bunch of moola laid aside to tackle all the extant dental issues as I head in the latter part of early middle age.

So the period after I publish my catalog makes me a little glum ... I should keep that in mind so it doesn't catch me with my eyes closed again.

The Waterfront: So changed from its grubby before life in the 80s when I first became a San Franciscan. Vastly improved, a thoroughfare for pedestrians and skaters and bicyclists and all manner of folk. I think the City is still dragging its feet in restoring and opening up the piers. The one that they recently opened for high end offices is magnificent, an architectural feast (photo above is of one of the windows there). Why not more of the same. And I quibble with the lack of retail, dining, and drinking down south near the ballpark ... evidently caused by the suburban objections of the condo owners who want their peace and quiet. A pox on them. If you want quiet, move to Montana.

But these are quibbles. The change is for the good.

I tried to write about change obliquely in the immediately preceding post. I don't like it ... the post, that is ... but if a blog is going to be meaningful, I think after-the-fact editing should be limited to typos and style and constructions. Fail your way to success ... gotta leave the crumbling shacks beside the epic monuments, if there are any.

So I spent the long walk along the waterfront and back through downtown thinking about change, and change at work in particular. I don't want to articulate the solid issues here ... the particularities of work are not the point of this blog. But change in the abstract is different than change in the event. Curious instance of that on the waterfront in the last few days.

Red's Java House has been around for a long time ... like so many shacks by the sea, where it starts and ends, and the boundary between it and the pier and the bay, these things are not at all clear or delineated. I have not eaten there in some time, but the last time was with my boss in that one year in the dot com world ... and I ended up with indigestion from a truly threatening hamburger and fries. But the story here is that the city recently and suddenly upped their rent from $800 to $4400 (or figures very near to those). The owners squawked mightily, and through benefit of the predictable public outrage, ended up with a deal around $3000 plus a cut of profits that both sides agree are meager.

Change ... the waterfront changes for the better, but Red's loses out because no incremental increase in business can possibly fund a quintuple rise in rent. An ambience consumer like myself wants Red's there because it has funk. But funk-watchers are not a revenue stream. The handwriting is on the wall ... Red's will get gussied up (I would say gentrified but the word is so loaded that I loathe it) and what was once funk will be funk design. The odor will float away to be replaced by cool framed photos of what used to be odiferous. With any luck the son of the owner might end up manager of a new place and make a lot more money and even have time off for vacation.

Kearny Street: All of this is speculation, but the point is that there is no such thing as a zero sum game. It is not that each winner makes a loser ... but it is that even in big wins, there are those on the winning side who would rather that the game had never begun. The speed of these sorts of things in the modern workplace is dizzying. I guess that explains a little of the glum I feel. It is not that I am not prepared for, even excited, by a change of style and direction. It is that it is fatiguing, and I do not know if I will be the owner of the new franchise or if I will be the former owner of Red's ... so I better decide I will be the new franchisee. Glum is pointless. Buck up, buttercup!

My first job in San Francisco was two blocks from where I shot the photo above today. We were on the fourth floor of a fabulous building on Sutter Street that was home to art galleries and what not. Reardon and Krebs was the name of operation; it had been a long-time byword in high quality typesetting, and the detritus of the old metal type shop lay around the little air conditioned shack that had been built in the middle of the floor to house the new "cold type" operation. A lot of guys had lost jobs, and the several who accepted retraining on the ADS Berthold 3000 system did everything in their power to slow the computer revolution ... they typed slowly, they broke big jobs into tiny pieces, they loaded the glass fonts into the printer slowly. I was not welcome ... young guy full of the new technology, I could out-operate, out-typeset them in my sleep.

I hung with that place for four years before I headed to Berkeley as a 31-year-old freshman in January of 1985. But the foot dragging by the old guard never stopped, and ultimately that along with a raft of other factors led the place to fade away. I never heard that it had actually failed, but evidently it did. The place on Harrison Street to which they moved from Sutter Street in 1983 is now a gay sex club.

R&K was one of the first classic typeshops that moved into the new technology; but the bad attitude eventually sunk it anyway. I didn't share that bad attitude, and ultimately I moved on.

(About the photo ... this is two or three blocks from the Stock Exchange, right downtown. As long as I have been in San Francisco, those few blocks of Kearny have always been tacky at best, cruddy at worst. But we have a nail salon in what was once a real estate office. Progress? Not sure. Change? That it is.)

Zeum: There is a distinctly new Europe feel to the architecture of this place, a playground for children and adults. Notwithstanding how central it is, it is a bit of a forgotten corner. I have been here a few times to see productions with my friend RO. You can get a good hamburger upstairs.

That said, when it is empty of people, it has a post-apocalyptic feel, and that feeling is reinforced by the walk south back and forth along the little alleys between 3rd and 4th. Click on the photo above for a little collection of some vignettes from that portion of this walk.

The speculations on change that I tried to represent above had the effect of lightening my mood, and I ended taking around a hundred photos of an area I have photographed many times before. From glum to giddy, and no doubt back again. Life as a low bore manic depressive. I'm laughing.

I allowed myself an Egg McMuffin on the way back ... sort of like pricking yourself with a pin. It hurt, but in a fun, spanky sort of way.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Friday ... short week but long on tension. We got a new big boss who is cool and long and suave and assured. He speaks about change, and we all know that work is change now. There are no sureties; nothing today is as yesterday and tomorrow will not be recognizable. But talk about change in the abstract is like the joker in a deck of cards ... you can lay it any way in your mind and only in the event will it make sense, and only then once the die has been cast.

I like the new big boss, though. He has the "kavorka."

Ah, work ... '"curse and foil". What would it be like not to work, not to have as a supervening concern a conjuncture in which you are involved but which presents itself as artificial as if invented out of whole cloth.

Watching TV ... Dan Ortmeier, young guy, hits a homer to give the Giants the victory over the hated Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth. We don't care other than because they care because they are in it and we are not. The first walk off home run by a Giants hitter this year.

Meanwhile, spent some time watching three shows at once ... the Giants, a new prison documentary on San Quentin, and the inimitable Cesar the dog whisperer. A Friday night, just chilling, trying to hide away, the dog asleep at my side. In between books not so much because I am not living in the midst of a vast library as because I have chosen the wrong book for my next venture. So three silly shows.

Prison reality shows are a guilty pleasure. I have been tortured ... well low bore torture at worst ... that I might some day be imprisoned ever since I first read about the unjust conviction of Steven Truscott when I was a mere slip of a boy. But that is a little quirk. Watching these shows reveals how little the state cares about the human garbage heap it has created by the now decades long American "tough" attitude in politics. Tough on crime, tough new laws, tough sentences, tough prosecutors. Tough, tough. Tough on the prisoners, tough on discontent, tough on poverty. It is a disgrace that the state cannot control the prisons it created.

I found a little hope in this latest documentary on San Quentin which featured the SNY ... "special needs yard". Once a prisoner has done something to rile up the the gang bosses who run inmates' lives, he has no choice but to bunk up with child molesters and other of the damned. But, curiously, this appears to be the only place in San Quentin where tolerance is required and exercised. Queers and trannies and ex-Nazis and ex-Norteños smilin and chillin and getting along.

Sort of like the rehabilitated dogs on Cesar's "calm submissive" Dog Whisperer" show. I like Cesar, and I have used his methods to reduce sweet Loki's irrational over-reaction to big dogs on our walks. But the thing that sticks out the most in his Dog Whisperer show is how idiotic most people are about their dogs. Everything he says is pretty much obvious. But in the human mind, the obvious is not necessarily clear. So telling the dog "no" seems mean, just as rewarding prisoners for tolerance is "soft".

Obviously prison is hell, and obviously dogs need control. But what is obvious does not always or immediately seem right or real or actual or better. Change is obvious, and it seems so unreal.

And work, which is obvious, gives you no clarity, no surety, nothing upon which to rely, even though you want to feel as if it does. That is what change means in the real life. We do not want it to be a threat, but we are here and we are fine, so a change presents itself first as something that can only upset the balance.

No way to escape it though. So embrace your master. Thank you, sir, may we have some more.

Friday ... two days off ... then back to being human.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gary Gaetano Bandiera

Today is Gary's birthday. Gary died of apparently HIV-related liver disease on July 1, 1993. I wrote about that in Three Deaths in Vancouver. The photo above, by our friend Dodge, is of us at our apogee.

I spoke with his mother last night as I try to do every year on his birthday, on the day of his death and at Christmas. She is a fine old lady who lives a fabulous life in the new high rises of Vancouver that arose more or less directly over the discos where Gary and I danced our tails off during the Vancouver days of our love affair. I met him when he moved in to the apartment under me in 1975. It was love at first sight for me, but I think he needed a little convincing. We broke up for a few weeks a year or so later, and then merged again by reason of a more expert campaign of seduction than I believed myself capable at the time. It involved a Shakespearean sonnet and then later a passionate kissing beside the coatcheck in the Playpen Central, a not so elegant Vancouver gay bar.

Gary was Gary in Vancouver, and then he was Gaetano in San Francisco. Those of us who knew him in both places go back and forth between his two names. Gaetano was his grandfather's name and he loved it. In his low bore masculine way, he enforced the name change when he moved here a few months after me in 1981. Its funny how his two names are so iconic and yet each points to this singular man as if they are one and the same name.

Gary was sarcastic, dry, solid, humane, intelligent, sensual. As he grew older, he found solace only in nature, and came, I suspect, to avoid the company of those he did not know, and even those he did. He was never immune to finding quiet joy in solitude and whiskey. When we were lovers, from time to time he would suggest that I spend the day elsewhere, and he would turn up the music, embrace a bottle of Jack Daniels, and spend the day dancing and hanging with himself. I love a man who enjoys the pleasure of his own company.

He used to call me "da Baptist". This was a reference to the Baptist affiliations of three of of my four grandparents. I think lots of folks in our company were puzzled by our union ... I was this wiry pushy "sectarian" (as IM would have it) hyper-political activist with a fast mouth and a sharp tongue, and Gaetano was this natural man, movements like a cat, skin like suede, muscles that grew simply when he thought about them. Maybe a little bit of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to us. An odd pairing; never seemed odd to us, even after we moved on to other lovers.

Curious conjunction: both my father and Gary's father were born in Timmins, Ontario, a mining town in the Canadian Shield 500 miles north of Toronto. Gary's father, Leo, was born of Italian immigrants, my father born of economic refugees from Nova Scotia.

I moved to San Francisco first, and he followed eight months later. The photo above, by our friend IM, is me at the wheel and GGB riding shotgun in the Ryder rental truck that transported every last dust bunny that we owned from our palace in Vancouver to our new fortress in San Francisco. I think our great days were in Vancouver. San Francisco was where we were destined to go and grow, but it was not the soil that had generated our being together. It was a slow drawing apart, and we even continued living together for a year after we parted as lovers. After a few years of living separately, we ended up as house neighbours, him upstairs and me downstairs in IM's house here in the Castro. I'm still here ... and gawd noze, I wish Gaetano were still here.

So many memories. That he is gone, fourteen years now, is still unfathomable. So unfair. I mourn him every day.

Click on the image below of the altar his friends created for him in San Francisco, for a little photo essay I mounted a decade ago about my sweet Gary.

Some photos by Gary Gaetano Bandiera here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Four Days

It's been a lovely four days off, and now the hours fade and it is time again for the routine. I am sitting at the kitchen counter, a Planter's Rum Punch in hand courtesy of RL, my inimitable bartender and roommate. I can face "the routine" only because I am practiced at it. If I think about it, well, it becomes a nightmare. But why think ... just drink.

As we drink, a few thoughts ...

Further thoughts on that old fag, Mr. Craig: IM, my oldest and best friend, suggested today that I add the frankly obvious note that the man was clearly entrapped. Tea room sex, as it is properly called, is not exactly new. Laud Humphreys wrote about it in his seminal (if you will pardon the school boy pun) Tea Room Trade. The essence of what we can know is that when Mr. Craig tapped his foot, he only proceeded to rub his hand along the base of the divider because the good sargent tapped his foot. We have mutual foot-tapping, people. Those who do not foot-tap will suffer no further inconvenience. By reason of this pas de deux, we are all saved from a closet queen fascist and now Idahoans will proffer a standard 'publican hypocrite. We can only assume that the new Senator has been vetted for unassailable heterosexuality ... and by that I am not suggesting that he dressed up in a diaper for a New Orleans hooker like certain impeccably heterosexual Senators evidently did ... of course, in that case, there was no guilty plea so all is forgiven.

A few films populated this long long weekend: As I have mentioned before, decades of not being cinematically inclined have made for pleasant, if unnerving, surprises. I caught a PBS screening of Witness for the Prosecution on Friday night. Nothing much to add to what is undoubtedly a large web of commentary other than to say that the whole film is Charles Laughton. On the closet theme, of course, Laughton was evidently gay, at least by the testimony of his wife who plays the comic nurse in this piece. At any rate, it was an entertaining two hours notwithstanding the excessive focus on the courtroom. Strange to see how forthrightly the plot develops notwithstanding the length. Modern films sometimes want to languish, almost as if lingering proves the auteurishness of the auteur. The stagier Billy Wilder keeps it at a reasonable clip. All you have to know going in is that there will be plot twists and you pretty much figure it all out. Loved Marlene Dietrich, but then I'm an old fag ... smile ...

And then there was The Queen which I finally saw last night. Again, not much to add to what has been said. Helen Mirren is the queen ... you never for a moment doubt that the real flesh 'n blood queen is there on your TV screen. The rest of them are good enough, and Tony Blair is a believable portrayal even if he never convinced me that he was a prime minister. But Helen was all she wrote, and all that you need to know about the film. As a 50-something Canadian living amongst the primitives, and one who was fashionably anti-monarchical and an unfashionably ideological socialist those decades ago, it is with some sheepishness that I admit that I have come to admire the old queen. A bit like religion I guess ... there is no truth in the myths, and considerable danger in the hierarchy, but the occupant of the institutional chair gives you a certain warm security ... like a pocket warmer or a pair of knit mittens. I thought she came out well in the film, and in a definable sense the film is a defence of the monarchy. Note that the "victims," Diana and her boys, are not acted but only portrayed in news footage or by anonymous actors seen only from the back. They are not real ... Mirren is real.

BTW, Charles got the bum's rush; he is actually a lot more substantial a man than portrayed. Put it this way, in the fairy tale sense: if Diana had been an old hag with a big wart on her chin to whom Charles had been forcibly married, and if Camila were a wee slip of a lass devoted to her man and he to her, then this would be a fairy tale romance. But Camilla is a horse and Diana is a glass slipper, so Charles has to play ugly, and this has become the ultimate fractured fairy tale.

Another museum: My newly minted membership to the de Young also admits me to the Legion of Honor. And so on Sunday, I headed out there to see Rembrandt to Thiebaud: A Decade of Collecting Works on Paper. Spectacular. Pity they produced such an underwhelming catalog. Museum hounds salivate over catalogs. I'm sure it is a losing proposition economically, but any great exhibit deserves a lavish publication for the devoted to devour. Anyway, a couple of notes on particular pieces ... I'll try to fill in the bibliographic details in the next few days ... and I will add a few more after dinner ...

White Horse in Baghdad, Christopher Morris, 2003. Low horizon, almost sepia colored. A tank with a crew in Baghdad in the background, and a white horse galloping down a road, going gawd nose where. The horse, dirtier in color than the sky, seems to gleam against the gloom of its surroundings. As I look at it, the horse seems to recede from reality, as if it cannot really be there. Barely visible against the backdrop of a low wall, two trios of men, walking abreast with their hands on their heads.

I ended the weekend with my favorite walk with Loki along Fisherman's Wharf and back through North Beach. Perhaps more on that later ... the important thing is that ... this is a post ... and dinner is ready.

Photos by Arod.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Just for Fun

A Troop of Kangaroos
A Knot of Toads
A Crash of Rhinoceroses
A Colony of Ants
A Flock of Sheep
A Litter of Pups
A String of Ponies
A Covey of Partridges
A Pride of Lions
A Herd of Elephants
A Plague of Locusts
A Kindle of Kittens
A Leap of Leopards
A School of Fish
A Pod of Seals
A Sloth of Asses
A Drove of Cattle
A Rafter of Turkeys
A Gaggle of Geese
A Pace of Asses
A Walk of Snipe
An Orientation of Peacocks
A Gam of Whales
A Route of Wolves
A Host of Sparrows
A Gang of Elk
A Clowder of Cats
A Peep of Chickens
A Husk of Hares
A Dule of Doves
A Sulk of Foxes
A Dissimulation of Birds
A Spring of Teal
A Fall of Woodcocks
A Bevy of Roebuck
A Crackle of Cockatoos
A Business of Ferrets
A Bale of Turtles
A Drift of Hogs
A Paddling of Ducks
A Siege of Herons
A Trip of Goats
A Charm of Finches
A Cete of Badgers
A Deceit of Lapwings
A Shoal of Bass
An Exaltation of Larks
A Singular of Boars
A Tiding of Magpies
A Congregations of Plovers
A Husk of Hares
An Unkindness of Ravens
A Labor of Moles
A Richness of Martens
A Cast of Hawks
A Knot of Toads
A Decent of Woodpeckers
A Sounder of Swine
A Mustering of Storks
A Clutch of Eggs
A Bouquet of Pheasants
An Army of Caterpillars
A Hover of Trout
A Flight of Swallows
A Watch of Nightingales
A Barren of Mules
A Shrewdness of Apes
A Rag of Colts
A Murmuration of Starlings
A Building of Rooks
A Smack of Jellyfish
A Harras of Horses
A Parliament of Owls
A Nest of Rabbits

From an Australian tea towel supplied by TR. Photo by Arod of a bevy of Asian pears proffered anonymously at work.