Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Merry Christmas!


I broke the seal last night ... I put a dozen ornaments on the tree which fabled and darling ex and I put up over the long weekend. Then tonight I put up another 50 or so.

This is all in aid of our Christmas Party on December 16. It will be the 17th time in 19 years. I'll try to write a little about the history of the party as I put it up. Suffice to say now that three weeks of effort, including a week off from work, is barely enough to cram all the Christmas I have into the house.

The centerpiece is the Christmas Tree ... over 500 glass ornaments on a now two-decade old tree, obviously artificial. The photo above is the tree last year. I hav a couple of theories about the tree. Firstly, to make it magical, it requires ornaments everywhere, including deep inside its branches, and all the way around the back even where few people go. Filling every nook and cranny creates a depth not otherwise possible. So half the ornaments only ever get seen by me as I hang them. That is a sublime pleasure ... handling all this tender glass twice a year ... once to mount and once to put away. They are like old friends at this point.

My other notion is that every ornament must hang free in order to create that shimmering and twinklying that makes a lit tree so magical. even one ornament that sticks on a branch can create a dark spot. Of course, that is a little obsessive, but what better project for obsession than an annual Christmas extravaganza?


Photos by Arod. The tree is from 2006; the lower photo is from my bedroom, also 2006.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blown Pixel

My relatively new MacBook ... the purchase of which is the proximate cause of this blog ... has a single blown pixel ... upper right hand corner, one pixel is red all the time. Yech. I asked about whether AppleCare covers that, and they told me that Apple defines a problem as 5 blown pixels in one square inch. That's cold. 5 blown pixels on the entire screen would make it useless. I plan to write some notes and what not and see what happens, but looks like I have to live with a blown pixel. I changed my desktop to red so at least I can't see it in the Finder.

Oh the pains of consumerism.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sabean ...


Brian Sabean: don't trade Lincecum, or Cain, or even Zito for that matter, for anybody, especially Miguel Cabrera. If we're going to be a great team, we need to build it around ptiching in our pitching park. If we are just looking to make the baseball groupies happy by hitting home runs, we will never be a great team, just a smug team. We've done the smug thing ...what have we got for it?

Don't trade starting pitchers. I don't even think that you should trade Jonathan Sanchez or Kevin Correia. Maybe Noah Lowry because there are a few questions, or Brad Hennessey because he hasn't got it done.

But get the idea that you would trade Lincecum out of everybody's mind.


Lincecum above, Correia below.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving

So, happy Thanksgiving!

This is not a holiday that means much to me ... even the four day weekend, no matter how welcome, has always seemed a bit prosaic. During the longue durée of my student life it meant fevered paper writing. Now it means kicking off the mad dash to get all of Christmas up in time for the big party this year on the 16th. "All of Christmas" refers to the gargantuan mass of decorations that I scatter meaninfully around the house.

Canadians celebrate a less meaningful Thanksgiving in October. Every year, the papers note that the first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in Canada. Not sure to what degree that is true, especially given the mythology surrounding the American version, but it fits the national myth.

American Thanksgiving, evidently, is the consummate family holiday, and Christmas apears to suffer by reason of it. In noting this, I take the stance of being on an extended anthropological expedition here ... I have come to know the natives well, I like them, and they seem to treat me as one of their own .... but some of their habits still appear befuddling.
The mythos of Thanksgiving is all about the Pilgrims, as we know, and much is made nowadays about the native people whose land they took. So Thanksgiving is as close as we get to celebrating migration. It doesn't take a lot of history reading to come to understand that migration is at the core of the human experience. In our mythologies, it is both celebrated and reviled. I am not going to such a Polyanna as to decide in one sentence whether its a goodie or a baddie ... migration's effects depend upon where you sit. But, as with war, there is no human civilization without it, no matter how tortured are those who find themselves at the receiving end of migration.

When I was in Prague, I ws struck at the otherworldy beauty of the angry young faces. There was something decidely Asiatic about them. You're not allowed to say that now, of course, because it is an impression piled on a trope. I speculated that there was a little Hun or Mongol there, and that a population relatively genomically isolated for a millennium or so betrayed its past in its faces. I think that we know little about the particulars of the migrations of the Slavs after the fall of Rome (I mean the western version), but migrate they did. And somebody was there, and somebody had to move on or perish. We still fight about these things in the 21st century, not to mention the rather notable wars of the 20th century that stirred up mythologized memories of long past migrations.

The U.S. is mired in Central Asian ... never fight a land war in Asia! The Arabs in Iraq stem historically from the migrations after the Arab conquest of the 7th century, and they were migrated over by Turks and Mongols and Tatars. The Persians like to think that they have been there since ancient times, but they too have been migrated over successively. The Afghans are a boiling cauldron of the peoples who washed over their land, and the Pakistanis sport a new ethnic group of migrants who tell us more about the foundations of ethnicity than almost any people around ... the Mohajirs are just those who came from India at Partition. But in due course they had to assume the characteristics of an ethnic group in order to compete in the hellish politics of the islamic-ideology state.

If they had Thanksgiving in Pakistan, who would celebrate it, and on what day? Would it be about harvest in a new land, or would it be about real estate in Karachi? If they had Thanksgiving in Baghdad, would they celebrate the arrival of the Abbasid Mansur in 762 ... remember that the Abbasid revolution essentially started in what is now Afghanistan and swept the Ummayads off the face of the earth ... well a few of them managed to get to Spain where they founded a glorious dynasty whose tale is too little told. Why? Because that civilization was itself swept aside by a bunch of migrants ... not so much the conquerors of the Reconquista, as by the peasants who followed in their tracks and reseeded the lands with Catholicism late filled with Islam. If they had a Thanksgiving in Spain, would they mournfully celebrate the Moors who surrendered their civilization to make way for the Inquisition? Or would they celebrate the first burnings once the conquest was complete in 1492.

So Thanksgiving always rings a little hollow to me, and even the anti-Thanksgiving traditions do as well. But Christmas ... now there is a great holiday. Pure myth at its root, with another pure myth plastered on top of it, with a solstice underneath everything, and glittering lights illuminating its ancientness. By that, I mean, its pre-Christian roots along with the fairy tale of the birth of the boy king, all celebrated on the darkest day of the year with lights that remind us that spring is on the way.

Photos by Arod. Top photo: a student project at the major research university (MRU) where I work. Lower photo: commercial street art, Oak and Buchanan, San Francisco.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rambling

Not sure why these pauses in blogging occur. During the day, I think about what it is that I am thinking bout that I ought to blog about ... and then in the evening I manage to find some other thing to do, and finally postpone blogging to tomorrow. Gotta find a way out of that because I want to blog nightly ... certainly I am opinioned enough!

So a few things on life's way. I keep aquariums ... aquaria is the spelling I prefer. A year ago, I had a failed experience with keeping some Oscars in a 60-gallon tank, and I have just let the tank run empty every since hoping that the ammonia problem would eventually self-correct. Well it did, but I waited a while to make sure. Last week I put 10 tetras of some strip in there, and they are thriving. I am happy. I think it will be a while before I return to the Oscar attempt. But at least I have life in that aquarium.

That is the more satisfyaing becuae we are approaching Christmas ... say what ... because we are approaching the 17th annual (actually 19 years minus two missed years) gala Christmas party. In July, I wrote about how my life is tent-poled around two great events, the second of which is the Christmas party. I had hoped to hold it this year on the 23rd, but it turns out that faithfulness to a number of friends demands that we hold it on the 16th.

So this is going to be a little placeholder post that announces that I am going to blog Christmas ... setting it up as I have done for 17 of that last 19 years ... the first three of which were at my friend Kurt's house, but I will explain all that.

I'll put a Christmassy photo up on this post tomorrow since we get off work at noon.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rambling

I'm watching the fourth quarter of the Cal-USC game. Not really much of a football fan, but being a spurts junkie means watching women's bowling if there's nothing else on when you need a fix. Certainly college football is a damned sight better than any form of bowling ... and when the noble California Golden Bears have a shot at crushing the profoundly evil USC Parthians or Persians or some ancient non-Greeks ... can't remember which ones just now ... well, just gotta watch. Of course, I have three degrees from Cal. Currently tied 17-17 with ten and a half to go in the fourth quarter.

I feel kind of guilty about my Pakistan post ... how can I say that any nation is "worst". Plenty of folks around the world would quickly chime in that the good ole U.S. of A. is the worst for various reasons. What I mean by worst is that a place is horrible to live in, contributing essentially nothing, and causing or at least threatening tremendous harm.

USC just had a big pass play wiped out by a holding penalty. Such is the lot of those in league with the devil. I smile. Some people take the devil seriously, and I daresay there are plenty of the religious in Pakistan who count themselves among that number. I consider the notion of the devil as a longstanding and hilarious, albeit rather cruel, joke. It is a notion that readily serves as handbag for assorted complaints and fears and disappointments and hurts ... like this one ... USC, in league with the devil, scores a touchdown after a 95+ yard drive.

So back to Pakistan. It was founded on an idea, or at least it had ideology at the forefront of a founding that certainly had plenty of other interests at work. I decided I should review Pakistan's history given my post and shortly I shall re-read Owen Bennett Jones' comprehensive survey of Pakistan's history, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm ... sort of a drag, because I have been enjoying a fabulous tour of the middle period of the middle part of Asia ... the Turkic, Mongol, Tatar invasions and conquests. But there is a relationship between those middle-middle-middle events, and the historical impasse in which middle-middle-middle Asia finds iitself.

Put briefly, I refer to the notion of the third rule of history ... that any force given long enough turns into its opposite. (You can see my three rules of history at the top of this blog.) Modern Western historians like to emphasize how backward Europe was in the middle periods of human history, and how advanced and spectacular and populated were China and the Middle East and the vast stretch of steppe between them. But in those long millennia where the nomads on horseback repeatedly beat back civilization either capturing it or destroying, they bequeathed historical predilections that continue to haunt that vast middle even when the power of horsemen is now confined to that most backward corner of human life, the Sudan.

In other words, the successes of Genghis Khan and Tamurlane and the Seljuk and late Ottoman Turks and the Mamluks had the effect of freezing political and social innovation. How that worked I do not yet have words to describe ... but it is that which motivates me in my current re-reading of middle-middle-middle Asian history. And I write out this predilection here to challenge myself to come up with some of those words.

[Nate Longshore, Cal QB, just threw another fourth-quarter interception, and the game is essentially gone. Cal's failure this year has hung on his bad right ankle, but you have to begin to wonder if he is the guy who can take us there. He is still a junior, but we have a keeper in young Kevin Riley ... we just might have to go with him next year.]

So the "worstness" of Pakistan the nation, as I see it, along with the seemingly permanent fracturing of Afghanistan not so much as a nation as in terms of its being a cultural zone, is the playing out of historical dymanics that are several millennia old combined with the peculiar horrors of 20th-century ideology. To counter the straw-man notion raised above that the U.S. is the "worst" nation, we have only to point to the fact that its dynamics are of much more recent genesis, and so the possibility of re-working them seems closer to the surface. And we can consider that the basic ideas of American democracy are 18th- and 19th-century, where the driving ideas of the founding of Pakistan are a hellish brew that conflates the superstitions of the 7th century with the worst megalomanias of the 20th.

USC just made a first down with a minute to go. We're dead. Woe.

No first downs in Pakistan. It has been fourth and long since 1947.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pakistan

At the risk of inviting a little opprobrium, I have to confess that I have long held that Pakistan is the "worst" country. That is not to say that the people are any worse than others, or in any way inferior. But it is to say that the sum total of what constitutes Pakistan the nation makes it a combination of being among the worst places to live, with the most deadly possibilities for a future and the least hope for some sort of progress, defined any way you want to look at it. It is not that Pakistan is worst in everything, but just that it is bad in most everything, and truly awful in some critical matters, and you put it all together, and there just does not seem to be much redeeming in its nationhood. Lovely people, of course, but what a country. Besotted by religion, infested by an army that is vastly too large and corporate and unchecked by other forces, ringed by tribes who have not emerged from the devastation of centuries of brutal warfare, awash in utterly insane ethnic conflicts, and, worst of all, possessed of nuclear weapons. It does have a middle class, apparently growing, but also largely trapped up in ethnicity and lineage and all the attendant insanity.

So, if I were cynical, which I am not, I would just have to say this ... so Pakistan is having another crisis ... imagine that.

The key to understanding the current crisis, I believe, is that Musharraf is attacking this middle class, not the Islamists who are not really a threat to him. I think he has fundamentally misread the situation, and that his apparently immeasurable hubris has swamped a mind that seemed to be working reasonably well for the first part of his rule. But that is neither here nor there. It seems remarkable to me that he could not bring himself to give up his position as head of the army ... but perhaps he knows that once he has shed that direct lever of control, he is simply twisting in the wind. So what ... he is twisting in the wind right now, waiting upon some other power base within the army to put him out of his misery.

As an aside, why do the plainclothes cops have to gratuitously punch and kick the black-and-white-clad lawyers as they load them up into paddy wagons? This is from the endlessly repeated CNN footage. The photographers seem to outnumber the lawyers, and they are allowed without interference to photograph every last little blow. So you have to assume that the regime has decided that it wants these images propagated, and that a few kicks and clubbings will demonstrate to the comfortable middle classes that this is what awaits protesters ... a rough handling and few nights in jail away from their estates and their armies of cowering servants fresh off the farm, as it were. Just as the blows are feeble, if real, so the regime shows itself as feeble, waiting for some force whose brutality is more visceral to come along and sweep it away.

It turns out that I am reading about Tamerlane, more appropriately Temur or Timur, the great and brutal Turco-Mongol who conquered Central Asia in the 14th century. I have a long fascination with horses and peoples, and my reading keeps returning to the early and middle periods of Islamic history. Tamerlane (I prefer the English versions of names because it is English I speak and because every language naturally domesticates the names of places and peoples it considers important) was a monster who, notwithstanding his intellectual, architectural, and literary fascinations, had the effect like Genghis Khan before him of destroying great cities and cultures so thoroughly that they have not recovered to this day. Witness Afghanistan. But that is the way it is with nomads when they overwhelm the urbane.

When Tamerlane conquered a resistant city, or especially a rebellious city, he committed horrible slaughters, none worse that when he piled 2,000 living sentient human beings into a tower and bricked them in to die and rot as a memorial to those who opposed him. The point of this was to warn others that submission was the only rationale option. Dictators still think that way. But when their exemplary violence is as flabby and unconvincing as Musharraf's latest round-ups, you have to wonder ... who is weaker, Musharraf or his lawyeristic opponents? We can be assured that the Islamist madmen who are the ostensible and requisite villains inn the piece would not stop at a few kicks. (Compare it, by the way, to the murderous brutality of the petty thugs who run Burma.)

I do not believe that the islamists have the power to come to power in Pakistan, and none of the analysis seems to deal with this. They cannot defeat the army, and they cannot capture it. So they can cause destruction and chaos here and there, but they cannot seize the state. I think that the Islamists are an important part of Musharraf's power ... without them, his only excuse for rule is that Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were corrupt. Big woop ... who isn't corrupt in power in a third world hellhole? But the possibility of an Iranian style state takeover? Not very bloody likely.

The tribal islamists serve another purpose as well that does not dovetail with Bushie 9/11-ism. Pakistan has essentially four borders, five if you count China. We hear little about the Iran border and I doubt it is troublesome. The India border is big power stuff, puffing and huffing and occasionally getting into a disastrous war. Kashmir is a bleeding sore that keeps some of the Islamists busy and provdes the army with a valuable raison d'ĂȘtre for its overweening control. Afghanistan is an open door to chaos. Pakistan wants a weak, troubled Afghanistan, and it wants its islamists to be more concerned with their criminal activites on that border than with bringing their premodern version of enlightenment to Pakistan's tumultuous cities. So the army needs the Islamists, and the Islamists need the army, and neither of them cares a whit about Bushite 9/11-ism except insofar as it feathers their beds (army) or provides a requisite great Satan figure (islamists.)

I think Musharraf suffers a coup from within the army within a month or two. Then fevered negotiations ... Condi's last gasp ... and semi-brokered elections presumably some time before November 2008 for another brief stab at democracy before the army takes over again in the face of another wave of arrogant civilian corruption and exemplary religious violence. Those elections in the good ole U.S. are easily as important to Pakistan as any legislative elections at home. That marks the level of desperation in this worst of nations.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Delicious ...

Delicious comment in this story about how tightening legal drinking limits in Ireland might adversely affect priests. One Rev. Brian D'Arcy, a priest from Enniskillen, told the Irish Times, "I don't like to use the word wine, as it is Christ's blood in the Eucharist -- but it still has all the characteristics of wine when in the blood stream."

This requires no further comment other than ... jeez, give me a break.

Tiny Minds ...

Tiny minds make tiny cities, and the pencil sharpener Supervisor Bevan Dufty who personally killed Halloween is just the sort of civic midget that would turn San Francisco into a day care center for lobotomized adults. We had a little correspondence. I wrote him a note in much the same terms as my post on Halloween. He replied:

Thank you for your message. To me it's not cowardice to protect the public safety of the neighborhood. It's what I was elected to do.

I’m relieved that we saw a safe event last night. That said, I was saddened to take steps that were dramatic but necessary.

We certainly want to create an Office of Special Events and involve people in planning for 2008. I am all too aware that a non-event strategy will not be workable with Halloween on a Friday next year. We have much to do for next year, but I feel we've turned a corner and have some good things to build upon.

I wrote back to him:

Thank you for your note. I wrote a post on my blog here: http://arodsf.blogspot.com/2007/10/halloween-shame.html

The problem is that you did NOT have an event, so to claim you had a SAFE event is an oxymoron. I spent the most formative decade of my life in the gay liberation movement in the 70s, and what guaranteed our impact was that we did not run from a challenge. You did. In doing so, you committed a terrible affront to gay people, our history, and our creativity. I still believe that it is shameful, and when compared to the risks to our lives that we took in creating a gay movement, it is cowardice. If New York can run Times Square on New Year's Eve, not to mention Halloween in the Village, then we can run a costume party
on Halloween just has we have done for decades.

If you believe that you deserve electoral support from gay people, you can undo the damage by guaranteeing a Castro event next year. Frankly, it's like the old adage ... if you don't the heat, vacate the kitchen.

The two things that really boil me about his reply are the "safe event" piffle and the Office of Special Events.

Safe, safe, safe. Safety is the rage ... Detroit sells SUVs because they are safe, notwithstanding that they are not safe, that they induce people into an orgy of bad driving, that they are deadly for the entire planet. But they're big and mean and heavy and ugly, so they must be safe. Soap sellers fool people into buying anti-bacterial soap because it is safe ... but it is not safe, it is dangerous, and it fools people into thinking that killing everything will make us safer. Politicians sells us "safety" in the form of "tough" prison sentences, but we are less safe because we have created monster criminals out of petty thugs, and we have created a prison gang culture that kills relentlessly far beyond prison walls, and we have created a reward system for rogue prosecutors to punish everyone, innocent or guilty, with a metaphorical death penalty. And of course poor dumb dubya sells us safety from terrorism, but he has made the world infinitely more dangerous, painstakingly built a platform upon which terrorism is thriving, and driven the reputation of this country lower than at any point since Vietnam.

Dufty is just one more in that long line of fear-mongering snake oil salesmen who promise that his special balm alone will guarantee your safety. But it won't ... it just creates ignorance and fear and makes our lives less colorful.

Now the Office of Special Events. By the time that Kublai Khan had completed the conquest of Song China in 1276, he had made sure to establish a Ministry of Rites to oversee public ritual. He patronized the arts, especially drama. In this, he was in line with previous Mongol conquering practice that had collected artisans from the far-flung corners of their new realms. Kublai Khan understood the role of ritual and celebration in the lives of a people. (The careful reader of my screeds will note that I have moved on in my reading from Genghis to Kublai; I am nearly finished John Man's rollicking if not precisely scholarly Kublai Khan: The Mongol King Who Remade China.) He also understood the need for a monarch to control both the people and his bureaucracy. Notwithstanding the monarchical reign of Mayor Gavin Newsom who will be acclaimed rather than re-elected a few days hence, we do not have the pleasures and agonies of a Kublai Khan. We have to rely on re-cycled accountants like the plain gray dank Dufty.

Mongol warrior or pencil sharpener, an official should be able to create an "Office" when he sets out to do so, or he should "vacate the kitchen". Dufty failed. He does not have the clout, what the Chinese might have called the mandate of heaven. In this case, it is the mandate of the merchants' associations or the homeowners' grousing clubs. So, having failed in stitching together yet another bevy of mournful civic hand-wringers, Dufty kills the "special event." Tiny minded ... and cowardly.

Now they like to proclaim that they ... the "they" here are the hand-wringers and their pencil-sharpening goatherds (refuse to fear the mixed metaphor) ... can start with a clean slate. Nonsense. The Halloween celebration in the Castro grew from history and struggle and pride and art. I promise you, they will try to bring children into this thing, they'll do anything to relocate it, they'll fulminate and mealy-mouth all year long, and they still will not be any closer to where they should have started in the first place: provide the services, police the perimeters, engage the celebrants.

And don't turn into a squawking, the sky-is-falling, prancing chicken in the face of one small episode.

Tiny minds make tiny cities. If we are to be remade as a city filled with Bevan Dufty's, then let us call things by their real names and change our name from San Francisco to Smallville.

Previous post on Halloween Shame in the Castro here.