Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Old Bastard Died in Bed

The careful reader of my occasional musings will note two normally unconnected facts: I don't think much of state sanctioned murder and I hold a doctorate in Indonesian Studies. These items are curiously connected this week in what ought to be the unmourned death of the worst of the third world tyrants, Suharto.

I should note, sarcastically, that he is actually Haji Muhammad Suharto, so named by the Saudi king after he performed the hajj some time before he finally fell from power. So named, he immediately reverted to the decidedly more Javanese mono-moniker, Suharto. Occasionally Soeharto for the hopelessly archaic. The Muhammad part was never mentioned again so far as I know.

I won't rehash the history. I thought that the New York Times obit was balanced and factual. It quoted Benedict Anderson, doyen of Indonesian Studies in the U.S., who was a persistent and principled critic. I'll try to find an online copy of the famous Cornell Paper on the events of 1965 by Anderson and Ruth McVey [see bottom of this post for an update.] Until then, I will note here that I met the great scholar only once at the time of the devolution of our department at Cal into a bitter tenure-driven feud ... Anderson knew nothing about it ... again, some time I will have to write obliquely about how graduate students should never be trusted.

Onward, onward .... Suharto ...

I have only ever been in Suharto's Indonesia; I have not returned since he fell. I was last there in 1995. It often felt like a light-handed dictatorship on the level of everyday life. It was not the always visible totalitarianism of the Khmer Rouge or the quaking fear state of the wicked Burmese generals or Saddam. But it was without doubt the bloodiest regime in the history of the de-colonialized third world. Suharto is personally responsible easily for a million, perhaps two million, deaths. His rise to power in the events following September 30, 1965 ... which the Indonesians refer to as Gestapu, an acronym for Gerakan September Tiga Puluh ... was the occasion of no less than half a million deaths over a year and a half. Benedict Anderson, in a well-known 1978 letter to the New York Review of Books (available only by subscription) quotes a CIA report:

In terms of the numbers killed, the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s. In this regard, the Indonesian coup is certainly one of the most significant events of the twentieth century, far more significant than many other events that have received much more publicity.

It has long been thought to be one of the CIA's greatest accomplishments, for it halted a popular Communism in one of the largest country's in the world with hardly anyone noticing. This iconic piece by Peter Dale Scott gives the broad lines.

Indonesia, the forgotten giant. And today's Indonesians seem to be willing to forget their own history.

But my purpose here was to reflect a little on Suharto not as the monster that he was but in terms of how I encountered his rule when I was a student wandering around Indonesia. I have two stories:

Wrong Way on Jalan Cendana

I was staying with my great friend DH who had taken a job with a Singaporan financial house in Jakarta. He lived in Kebun Kacang, a nice middle class part of town, quite central and very liveable. But he had taken up the idea that he ought to find a place in Menteng, the tonier part of town, much more central, generally described as leafy by reason of the trees. Suharto had always lived in his old house in Menteng on Jalan Cendana (for the fastidious, Jalan = street, and the 'c' is pronounced 'ch'). I believe that it is the house he was living in when the generals were seized on September 30, 1965, but I will have to confirm that and modify this.

So one evening, DH had this 20-something Indonesian friend who worked in real estate to show us around Menteng in DH's car. A pleasant evening ... and Jakarta is always more pleasant in the evening than by day when it is dusty and hot and sticky and uncompromisingly not-very-pretty ... looping around the curving streets of Menteng, whose madness reflects not the Indonesian sense of order but rather the Dutch sense of the quaint which is what invented this swamp as the Indonesian capital. We came to what I assume now was a five-way corner (again I will check on a map to see if that is true) ... DH at the helm ... ooops, wrong way down a one way street. Now DH, for all his brilliance and wit and courage, was not the world's most punctilious driver, and it turned out that the street he chose to barrel down wrong-wise was the one block in the entire archipelago where lived Presiden Suharto.

Jalan Cendana. Quiet, leafy, seemingly occupied only by a few warung, the ubiquitous Indonesian itinerant food stands. But these warung were manned by unusually buff and young peddlers, and they seemed to have rather few customers. Before we were half way down the block, from nowhere, soldiers appeared to pull us over. Within a moment, there was a large truck in front of us, its open bed occupied by a phalanx of rifle-toting soldiers.

My memories of the details are a little foggy, and no doubt DH will correct a few details. I was in the back seat. An officer came to the driver side window (they drive on the wrong side of the road in Indonesia), and asked what we were doing. The entire conversation was in Indonesian; I lurked throughout in the back seat not saying a word, and not indicating that I understood anything of what was going on. Soon enough, they hustled our Indonesian friend away ... he was evidently terrified ... and the officer slid into the driver's seat and off we went with the lorry full of rifleman following close behind. We drove around as DH and the officer more or less nakedly negotiated the bribe. I think DH was quite peeved because he had, by reason of living in Jakarta, paid plenty of bribes to assorted traffic cops and what not, and I think he saw no reason why this obvious little error couldn't be settled quite quickly in the usual fashion.

But the officer evidently wanted to know just where on the totem pole we sat. I figured that too high would mean no bribe, or maybe just a tip, as it were. Too low would limit the total take possibility. But we were right in the middle ... obviously no good could come of actually arresting us since then the bribe would have to pass to someone higher up. At the same point, mere convenience would dictate that we would be willing to pay considerably more than we would pay to some cop in a roundabout who wanted a little palm greasing.

Twice we circled past the local police station, slowed down, then moved on. Finally, as we returned to Jalan Cendana, DH just up and tossed Rp100,000 (Rp = rupiah) at the guy, and that did the trick. I believe that the rupiah at that point was around 1600 to the dollar. I was aghast at DH's arguably obnoxious behavior toward the guy, but on reflection it was apparent that that was part of establishing the relative position on the totem pole ... too obsequious might have got our "fine" doubled, too aggressive might have got us arrested.

We sat there for a while after the officer got out, and eventually our young Indonesian friend returned, and off we went. Our friend had had quite enough. He told us that they had grilled him about DH and me, but he made it eminently clear that he wanted to go home. I do not believe that he and DH had further commerce.

Certain Books

Again, my details are a bit fuzzy here, and I will amend this piece as I figure things out. I had spent a summer in Malang, East Java at an advanced Indonesian language institute. Malang is a pleasant highland town ... if you have followed recent history, between Malang and Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, is the location of the great mud upwelling caused by a gas drilling project gone awry.

After a sweet summer in Malang, I returned to Jakarta's unbearable thickness and, among other things, set out to get copies of the banned books by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the Buru Quartet, so named after the prison island in the eastern part of the archipelago where he was imprisoned after 1965 until 1979. I knew the name of the publishing house, Hasta Mitra; it published other stuff, but Pramoedya's works were banned. I found the address in the phone book, and proceeded there. It was located in a monstrous and famous shopping center ... half modern concrete prison-like construction, half ancient trading bazaar. He was on the top floor, above the three or four stories of warren-like shops. I had to go a couple of times because no one was ever there.

I finally met a man whom I remember as Hasjim Rachman, and I told him I wanted "buku-buku yang terkenal" (certain well-known books). He replied in English, "You mean Pramoedya." Well, yes! We had a chat in Indoninggris, the fashionable dual-language version of Indonesian and English practiced by Indonesian cognoscenti and semi-fluent foreigners alike. And he took my address and told me that someone would come at such and such a time. Right on the dot, a young man who turned out to be his son arrived at my cheap, even seedy, hotel room with all the banned books that I requested and a few extras. They charged me through the nose, notwithstanding that I had honestly portrayed myself as a starving student. Indonesia may have been a cheap place to travel, but I was always on a tight budget.

And I had my books and my vicarious dance with the dictator who is now, at last, safely dead.

The photo is one of very few from the terrible events after September 30, 1965, well-known among those who have followed the history. The sight of the boy in the white shorts and the hell that followed scant moments after the shutter snapped has haunted me for decades. I post it here that it might haunt you too.

Curiously, Cornell continues to attempt to elicit $13.95 for the Cornell Paper. What are they thinking? It's 2008, and this is part of the scholarly conversation. Let it go, folks, let it go.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crack Whores

Does anything more clearly illustrate how American government acts like a bunch of crack addicts than the current bipartisan stimulus package response to the gathering economic doom. Let's see ... we worked ourselves into a crisis by loaning the ineligible too much money so that they could spend it on homes they could not afford. Then we traded the resultant worthless paper from hand to hand until somebody got stuck holding the bag, as it were. Then we decided that government should bail out a few of the borrowers and jury-rig the economy to save the bag holders. And when a relatively minor ripple worked its way through the stock markets, we offered every American a check for $600 so we could spend our way out of the crisis.

We're on crack.

Crack whores (no gender reference implied) know that the key to a successful crack existence is a steady stream of five-dollar bills. No point in wasting time creating a stable economic existence when five bucks every three or four hours will keep the demon spawn in your lungs. So government, following this dubious economic theory, in the face of unsustainable waste and graft and over-consumption answers with a metaphorical pile of fins to the masses. "Don't worry, ma, about the world collapsing. Let's go shopping."

A few nights ago, exhibiting my "male gaze" (and I use the term dripping with sarcasm) through channel surfing behavior, I caught 2.5 seconds of the McCain creature speaking ... he said, "We need less government regulation." He would be such a disastrous president. Less government regulation, but "mickey fin" style crack subsidies for the lower American middle class. (Isn't supplying checks to everyone out of the nation's piggy bank "government intervention" ... is that an example of less government? Give me a break.)

Republican economic theory (and I use the word "theory" lightly in this context) is like the theory that led to the crack epidemic. Crack is just cocaine packaged for the less-well-off. It was a brilliant stroke of commodity manipulation ... a Walmart approach to drug sales. Now everyone could afford cocaine, and the drug of the elite became the bane of the inner city, as well as job security for the prison unions. In the same vein, as it were, Republican economic theory is based on the notion that government is always bad. This makes sense to the billionaires, but for ordinary people bad government means no streets, no services, crappy schools, expensive health care. So how do you package this win-lose economic theory to those who have the most to lose? Give them cheap crack ... Walmart crack, ideological one-liner crack, swaggering populist crack, Fox News ... and every now and then, give them 600 bucks a head. You take the elite drug of choice ... Reagonomics ... and you turn it into crack ... dubya-ism.

And the well is so poisoned that no reasonable Democrat dare oppose this nonsense in an election year because ... because we're all addicted to political crack.

What would happen if we did like FDR ... we took that $150 BILLION they are planning to shovel via you and me into Walmart and Targét, and underwrote the construction of 300 Orange Country style water treatment plants? Or, more reasonably, a combination of water treatment plants and sundry carbon saving power plants. We would give people jobs, jump start the most innovative part of the American economy, save the environment, and let the world know we are looking to go about our business in a more rational way.

No way ... cuz we're a bunch of crack whores who ache for more bling made in China. "I need a new plasma TV, mommy." Sure, sez mommy, just wait till I get my government check.

Crack whores ... going to hell on the fast track.

Photo by Arod, taken today on 18th Street near Castro.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath again

Don't the Oscars ring awfully hollow every time you hear "the Oscar-nominated Heath Ledger." He was robbed by homophobia. Who remembers the film that won? Brokeback Mountain was a love story, certainly, but at bottom it was about the closet and how it destroys lives and tortured souls. The Oscars understood, and embraced the closet rather than this now gone, fabulous actor and his film.

Nice appreciation in the New York Times by A.O. Scott here. My earlier post on his death here. A Salon piece here, and my friend Jim Gaither's correspondence with Roger Ebert on Brokeback Mountain and the Oscar's here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath and Moors

Heath Ledger's numbing death reminds me of Pip, of Dickens' Great Expectations.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

The fearful man was Abel Magwitch, a convict, who repays the kindnesses of young Pip with a fortune later in life. The fortune was earned in Australia whither Abel Magwitch had been condemned before returning to see the smile on the face of the young man whom he had helped. No smile though, for Pip was most aghast at the revelation that his benefactor was one so low.

In the face of death out of the blue, we are each one of us Pip .. afraid, suppliant, willing, retiring. What recourse is there against cruel untimely death.

Ledger could have played Magwitch, or he could have played Pip. He was that plastic. In either event, he is descended as are most Australians not from the Pips but from the Magwitches. Perhaps the allure of the Australian is that Magwitchian temperament. But in this sad moment, not to think of such fancies.

My memory of the young Heath is this. It was Christmas 2005. The careful reader will know that I imbibe much from Christmas, and use the season to skate on emotion, and freeze that emotion lest I forget in the intervening madness of the long year of making a living. For several such seasons, I had noticed the rise of an allergic reaction to something in Christmas ... I have since deduced that it is the cedar I bring into the house ... and I sought refuge from my sinuses one rainy day between Christmas and New Year's in a long drive. I went to my old haunts at Cal in Berkeley, abandoned of its normal denizens for reasons again of the season. I wandered about on the campus of the nourishing mother in the rain, and then headed north in the East Bay, picking my way across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge which soars past the depths of San Quentin, and then I zig-zagged down through Marin County to Mill Valley. And, lo, Brokeback Mountain was showing at the famous local theater. So, on a whim, I bought a ticket and settled in. You must realize, here, that I never go to the movies, that I loathe the crowds, and that I prefer my own company to a bunch of yappy popcorn-eaters. I also avoid the movies because I prefer to suffer the emotion that great art induces in solitude, and in control of the pause function, so that I am the more immune to the wash of sorrow and fear.

I shushed a couple of yappy ex-sorority gals, and settled into Heath and Jake. The performances left me without air, drained. Heath dancing with the clothing of his deceased lover ... I live in a house filled with the memorabilia of the army of friends I have lost to the plague ... it was love and longing and the impossibility of living without dread and anguish. From my groin, it was Jake I loved; from my heart and gut, it was Heath.

The next evening, my oldest friend Frobisher dragged me out of my isolation to a movie at the Sony Metreon. But, alas, Frobisher had misread the newspaper, mistaking a.m. for p.m., and whatevver froth we had envisioned was not available. The only movie left was Casanova, starring, ta da, the young sexy Heath Ledger. What a romp! Farce and the comeuppance of the self-righteous and a bunch of sexy repartee. What does not please here!

So, I ended up going to the movies two days in a row after not having ventured into a theater for over a year ... and both starred Heath Ledger.

Now, without a hint of a warning, he is gone. It reminds me of the emotion of when River Phoenix died. Both were keepers, men who would have grown into depth and vigor unike the frothy nothings who populate People magazine. I have never recovered from River Phoneix' death, and I think I will never recover from the passing of Heath.

Death and the gonads ... it is not that one harbors some realistic hope of a trist with a Heath. Rather, it is that he represents some ideal of the glory of the male erotic. Not strident, but nuanced. Not a stomp but a song and a dance. Not rage, but a dance of irony and joy and play and strength.

When we mourn our cinema heroes, we mourn our hopes, our faint dreams. I want to be Casanova. I wanted to be Heath. No longer.

When I was a boy, I wanted to know Pip, I wanted to wander with him on the moors. I wanted to suffer with him, exult with him, settle with him. Heath was Pip, and I wanted to know him as the sad man left alone in Montana, and as the prancing dandy in Venice ... but now he is Magwitch, a cadaver, gone, dead. Gone dead. Too sad.

Further short reflection on Heath here, and my friend Jim Gaither's correspondence with Roger Ebert on Brokeback Mountain and the Oscar's here

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Deal

Great week at work.

I thought I would spend the week catching up with the little jobs that get lost in the shuffle. On Monday, one of my colleagues asks me to update a brochure we distribute to graduating seniors. I can't stand the layout, and so I figure, with a new big boss and all, I can just redo it. And then I looked at the web site, and I thought that this doesn't cut it either. So I used a technology called Spry in Dreamweaver to create a much more exciting site. (Whoops, if you click on that link you will be able to figure out where I work ... whoops.)

And then we got talking about collaboration. So I created a Facebook page in order to add myself to a University Administrator group that one of my colleagues created.

And then ... damn the torpedoes ... I created a University Registrar wiki. I haven't set the thing up as I write this, so you might want to check again in a few days. But this is exactly the kind of boundary breaking collaboration that we have been talking about at work. I may have created the wiki, but its future will be in the hands of anyone out there in the Registraring world who chooses to be involved. Wow.

So this was an exciting week at work. Shows how the new boss ... a revolutionary, as I have blogged earlier ... has opened up my job as well as the jobs of most of the people I work with. Registraring can be exciting. Whodathunkit.


Again, Frank Rich nails it.

MSNBC is so bloody weak. If Chris Matthews would just embrace his innard liberal, he might have something to say. Instead he tailends whatever stinks at the moment, and dumps on any Democrat who shows signs of life. He even brings Keith Olbermann down to his level.

"Mac is back." Makes me sick. McCain eeks out a narrow victory, less than a third of the votes of one of the most right-wing electorates in America, over a nobody who represents a point of view that would have been reactionary in the 13th century. Big whoop. Meanwhile, Giuliani, the self-proclaimed hero of 911, managed to get 2% of the vote. 2%.

I am listening to McCain's speech. First of all, as a long-time resident Canadian in the belly of the beast, this guy would not win a seat in the Parliament of any country where we speak English. That evident fact will not prevent the "pundits" from proclaiming the speech "presidential" whatever that means in this era of the debased presidency.

But more to the point, McCain appears to have dodged his immigration problems ... to wit that he does not want to string 'em up which is probably the majority opinion among people who still think dubya is a good president. He evidently gained from the joke candidacy of Fred Thompson who suckered enough sub-90 IQ types into thinking that TV and the world are the same place such that he took some steam out of the Huckabee popcorn maker. We can thank the deluded for saving us from nine and a half months of worrying about how horrifying it would be if Huckabee actually managed to beat the Democrats. Now we only have to worry about McCain peddling the old "maverick" myth to enough independents so that he can spend four more years ignoring reality.

McCain does a touching nod to Mother. Touching. We all love our mothers. I'm sure she is a lovely woman. Now, what about the future of the planet? He waxes expansive about being "proud to be an American" and referencing his being a "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution." Yup ... nothing like 'publicans ... there is no stupidity too overblown for their denuded sense of what is at stake in this electoral process.

"... build an even greater country than the one they inherited." Sorry, John, that ship has sailed, and it is your party that has guaranteed that the next generation will be poorer, more desperate, less secure, and living in a world that is more depleted and in danger than ever before in history. Quite a legacy.

" ... the opportunity to serve this country that I love a little longer." The ultimate 'publican electoral appeal. It's my turn, now ... damn the facts.

The speech is finally over ... Olbermann thinks its a goodie ... I think it is froth with a covering of slime. Then Matthews starts sucking up ... he thinks that McCain should call Nancy Reagan, thinks he is a Reagan-like guy. Matthews, stop the blather and start thinking. Matthews signs off by promising us that "we will soon be hearing a lot more from Joe Scarborough." I think I'll go hide under a rock.

McCain is a foul reactionary who would freeze America in its present impending failure. He would be more loathed than dubya a year into his presidency. A disaster. A man whose only idea is that he deserves the presidency. A man without a clue of what faces humanity and how America might actually make a difference. Make no mistake ... McCain is an old fashioned reactionary. Nothing "maverick" about that.

That said, I still think we'll beat his ass in November.

ps ... Gloria Bolger, "senior" political analyst on CNN is the weakest chatter on TV. She exudes the desperation of those elevated far above their intellects. What a fraud.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Race to the Bottom, and Other News of the Day

Well, I was plain wrong about McCain in Michigan. I figured the low density of Romney was perfectly obvious, but Michiganers apparently see something where others see nothing. Perhaps it was his bluster about getting everyone to roll up their sleeves and revive the dying American mega-monster industry. Sorry, buds, but that ship has sailed. The opportunity to lead the world was lost. Auto execs are like crack addicts ... they know crack is bad for them, bad for everybody, and that they would do so much better on chicken soup ... but, ooooo, crack is so much better. Let's make as many Hummers as we can and watch the planet shrivel up and drown.

It is hard to remember a bigger phony than Romney considered as a serious presidential candidate. You can't compare him with dubya ... dubya played dumb and he was dumb. You really can't blame him for the fact that a near-majority of voters considered dumb as a qualification for office.

So the race appears to be open. I think Romney would be easy to beat, but I do not exactly grok the mentality of the uncommitted in the crowded spaces between here and there. Gawd noze what Missouri will think. And on that turns the fate of a planet.

BTW, I think that Giuliani has been toast for a month now. Nobody wants to say so out loud, just in case. But the man is obviously corrupt, and his "strategy" was a dishonest charade that allowed him to hide in the vain hope that somehow Florida would come through for him.

I watched the entire KTVU new broadcast tonight ... even missed the season opener for Remo 911 ... because I happened to catch the teaser that Dennis Richmond has a big announcement. It seems like he might retire, and that would be, locally speaking, earth-shaking. He has always had a little edge, like he might one day just be so pissed off that he up and tosses his papers at the camera. But he never did. Rather, a real class act. I rarely watch the local news, but I will be sorry to see him go. 30 years as an anchor 40 years on the air. KTVU may be local par excellence, but it is the best local in this locality, and Dennis Richmond will be tough to replace. And you have to hand it to KTVU, they stick with what works. The notion that any change is good is just churn. No churn at KTVU. Kudos for that.

Spent the day at work mastering Spry Accordion Panels in Dreamweaver. Notwithstanding that I loathe the fate of having to work, I love my job. At least I get to learn and grow and create. I have it good, notwithstanding the annoying occasional feeling sorry for myself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Fog horns in the far distance before the sun rises. Silence in the city. The sky is clear over Buena Vista Park, and there is the Big Dipper.

Blue this morning because an old toad whom I have kept for a decade died last night.

Dog walk over, sun rises, I answer the bell.

Photos by Arod. Photo of my toad in happier times here.

Monday, January 14, 2008


RL, the Handel of bartenders with whom I am roommates, made us a sidecar tonight ... Courvoisier, Cointreau, lemon juice. He makes a cocktail ca 4 nights a week, and it slakes off the fatigue and doubt and makes home warm and permanent and the raison d'être.

The joys of drink ... this one an elixir of the relief in Paris after the first great slaughter of the last century ended. Jazz and joy and jivin' around. Gettin' loopy, getting plain drunk, and breathing as if there are no threats. People shattered by the first war, terrified of the prospect of the next, drinking, imbibing, sucking it down. Life without liquor ... that would prison, or religion, or an abstemiousness that cannot be healthy for the soul. Not thinking of those who can't handle it or don't like it ... perhaps being unfair. But a sidecar by night, warm company, the dog staring at the cheese that I will not give him. L'chaim.

One sidecar not enough for now ... two. Two is better than one, even on a Monday night when the sensible are thinking of the bell tomorrow morning.

Photo by Arod of a mosaic in Paris ... Le Marais, I think.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

More after New Hampshire

Postscript: as usual, Frank Rich nails it.

It strikes me that the main utility of John Edwards at this point in this pivotal primary battle is too hold off the left and let the center of the party decide. The unions, who often act nowadays like the right wing of the party, have in greater proportion lined up with Edwards, and it is a safe spot for them because they can leap onto the appropriate bandwagon once the issue is decided. Given their impotence and recalcitrance, I prefer that they play no role, and they are saitsfying us in that zone.

The Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco's gay news rag of record, came out on Thursday with its endorsement of ... ta da ... Bill Richardson. Yawn ... how's that for turning your back on what matters. Not to mention that he dropped out some time between when the BAR went to bed and when it showed up on the streets. Notwithstanding that I still find myself a Hillary kinda guy, I think that gay organizations ought to be pressing Obama on some language for us ... something like "America needs to remember its legacy of openness and individualism, and welcome all its gay citizens into the mainstream ... the new mainstream, the mainstream of hope and blah blah blah." See, the "hope" stuff just flows like chocolate syrup on a warm summer day.

One reason why I support Hillary still is that I fantasize her appointing Uncle Bill ... or 42, of Mr. President, as you prefer ... as Secretary of State. "Here, Bill", she says, "here's an airplane, here's a staff. Get your sorry ass off this continent, solve some problems, shake some hands, and don't come back until I need you for the primaries in 2012. Luv ya', Bill. But, seriously, rack up some miles on that ole crate." If Obama would promise to make him secretary of state, I'd be there in a Bronx minute.

Let's turn to the 'publicans. Leaving McCain aside, if you ground up all the rest of them and reshaped them into some kind of body, you still would not have a whole man. Romney is just plain phony, Giuliani is so corrupt that he leaves oil stains wherever he goes, Huckabee is less prepared to be president than Ed Jew and his only appeal is his gleeful superstition, and Ron Paul is a gasbag whose "phenomenon"is explicable only as the last oxygen-free gasp of right-wing youth and former youth who cannot face just how disastrous the legacy of their party will be.

McCain, though, is a real man. A real rage-o-holic, so they say. A real right-winger. A real militarist. But a real person. Just the wrong person at a time when America stands on the precipice of doom. There is always ... at least in the last half dozen campaigns ...  a sense among the 'publicans that one of their number "deserves" the nomination. It is on that liquid ground that McCain stakes his claim. This "straight talk" notion is obviously canned; maybe it had a brief moment in 2000, but dubya put paid to the notion that 'publicans ever want to hear straight talk, or, gawd help us, speak the truth. There is nothing in the notion of straight talk that means it oughtta be true. It just means that the sentences should be short and uncomplicated by subordinate clauses. So straight talk leads to things like "We most secure our borders" and "we are winning the war." Right. 

No doubt he is the least creepy 'publican, and no doubt he will be the hardest to beat. So the Democrats have to use the current Hillary/Obama thriller to galvanize a party to seize the changes. Otherwise, we will have a presidency that is the grumpiest in history, and the least able to move America into the chilling future.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hampshire and all that

As I write, CNN has the porous Larry King interviewing that quacking fool Laura Schlessinger ... I flip to it for a second and catch her saying "... and drugs and drinking and sex ..." I flipped the channel real quick. I enjoy those little vignettes you can get from channel surfing, and that line is just about all you ever hear from the Schlessingers of the world. Meanwhile, the faux-stentorian Dan Abrams is interviewing some crime expert about some poor pregnant Marine who has gone missing.

How soon they forget. Is the news world so totally bereft of originality that all this is all it can gather together in the middle of the most exciting presidential race since 1992? Last night, the talking fools ... they call it punditry, but they give pundits a bad name every time they open their gasholes ... looked peacock proud as they ate a whole bunch of crow. Turns out everything they said about Iowa was, in a phrase, a crock. Never mind ... insta-invent another zero-sum analysis. Who cares ... they never get anything right anyway.

I think that the present race for president, at this frozen juncture between primaries in minor states, illustrates with singular clarity the three rules that head up this blog. Let's see:

No such thing as a zero sum game: Anyone who wasted a single neuron on the pontifictions of the pundits after Iowa knew that the election in November was bound to be Huckabee against Obama. Five days later, who the hell is Huckabee? (Except for Ralph Reed whom Anderson Cooper has chosen to resurrect from the sepluchre of his corruption, nobody seems to know anything about this Huckabee guy today.) It turns out that things are much more complex, and that a single event or a single factor does not suffice to explain. So for the Democrats, the pundits think that this is hope versus experience ... only that experience is hoary and hope is chill. But in reality, it is about neither. I think that Democratic voters are thinking about two things: who can win and who can govern. When McCain won Iowa ... I know Huckabee won it, but everyone knows that McCain was the real winner ... I figure it made a lot Democrats think that Obama might be more likely to beat him than Hillary. But that did not translate into Obama winning in New Hampshire not because Clinton teared up but because the race is not settled, there are more issues than one (whichever single issue the pundit is mindlessly repeating), and sometimes winning gains an advantage for the loser.

Nothing in this race has yet convinced me that Obama would be a better president than Clinton, and I find his denatured "hope" cloying and evasive. He is certainly the better orator, and that counts for me. And if Clinton loses this campaign, then Obama is our guy. But that does not mean that this is a zero sum game. The experience of a genuine contest at least about style and approach is changing the party and the nation, and it will change the presidency if only we can grab it away from those monstrous 'publicans who only know how to push on a rope.

You can't push on a rope: Ever walk a dog on a leash? He's in front of you but you want him to move to the right. You do a little jerk to let him know where to go. If you and your dog are cocok (an Indonesian word meaning kopasetik, and I use the word because like all Indonesianists, I find myself thinking about the dying Suharto ... more on that anon), the dog groks your drift and moves to the right. If not, you just can't make him go by pushing on the rope.

American punditry has played dog to the 'publicans, panting and grinning as they eagerly grok the little leash jerks, and moving to where they have been instructed. But the public is beginning to understand in its majority that we are being leash-led down the garden path to perdition. So the 'publicans, going to where they figure they have been succeeding, keep trying to push on a rope, mouthing the contradictory platitudes of the three antagonistic wings of their temporary and corrupt coalition. Think of it this way ... do you believe that Dick Cheney gives a rat's patootie about rounding up homos and confining us to camps? Or, do you really believe that anybody who actually read and thought about the gospels feels that the most compelling issue of the day is to live the rich more tax breaks or to kill Social Security so granny can live out her life under a bridge?

But droning on with these incompatible slogans worked for them, so now they know no better. The grokking ... that is the putative dog listening and obeying ... has gone, but the leash remains, strangely with less and less effect.

I think that the Democrats for a long time tried to push on a rope ... mouthing the certitudes derived from nodding at each other in closed rooms. That's a large part of my problem with Obama ... I think he is speaking loud and sonorously, but the message is all form designed to satisfy without quenching, to give you the sugar rush of believing without the protein of proposals. But even so, he is not trying to push Americans to him with some rope of dishonesty like the 'publicans ... he is trying to entice them to his side with a proverbial cookie. Here, Fido, come and get your cookie.

Any force given long enough turns into its opposite, or things bite back: There's an easy one here ... the 'publicans are paying for the crimes of what will end up being 8 years of hubris and corruption and self-satisfaction. Well, maybe. Remember, it's not a zero-sum game, so gawd nose what'll actually happen. I don't believe that the 'publicans have turned into their opposite ... they have become more and more of the venality that is their root and branch. I don't believe that the Democrats have turned into their opposite ... they still rely too much on hoping and dissembling rather than thinking and acting. What I think may be happening is that Americans might in some measure turn into their opposites ... that Americans might be on the verge of demanding the enactment of their majority belief that climate change is real, that people should control their own bodies, that government has a duty to lead, that we are the stewards of the planet we live on, that basic decency requires that the privileged help the downtrodden. It is hard to imagine this nation giving up its hummers and parking lots and Walmart. But in our majority, we know things have to change.

So perhaps only in the sense of the things bite back rule does Obama represent something for me ... the indistinctness of the content of his message might allow that it be filled by spontaneous movements for environment and generosity. Perhaps the next generation, voting now in larger numbers so far than expected, might inflate the balloon of an Obama presidency.

Maybe. Still, Clinton seems the surer bet. As long as she can beat that old fart McCain.

Postscript: Nice piece on political rhetoric and the current campaign here by Peter Applebome.

The careful reader will note that I wrote this post over two days ... caught ... I am actually posting this on Friday night, 48 hours after the date stamp. Honesty, and a dollop of obsessive-compulsiveness, demands that I note this.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Three decidedly cranky posts in a row. I am trying to be good about posting, and hence the crankiness ... I guess I had best try to have an optimistic day tomorrow so I can post something nice. I have a budding post on the key issues of early islamic history. But that will require an uninterrupted hour of quiet and reflection. Perhaps I will write about how nice puppies are.

Twitchin' 'n Grimacin'

Justice Stevens then pressed Mr. Englert to justify the state’s use of the second drug, and Mr. Englert replied that it served to protect the inmate’s dignity. The justice was unpersuaded, remaining “terribly troubled,” he said, by the fact that the drug appeared “almost totally unnecessary” except to spare witnesses the “unpleasantness” of seeing the inmate twitch or grimace. --New York Times, January, 8, 2008

To put this in context, the BBC reported today or yesterday that the Iranians in one of their gawd-forsaken outer provinces lopped off the right hands and left feet of 3 or 4 armed robbers. No doubt they are continuing their monstrous lust at hanging people in public as well.

Beware the company you keep. Americans in their self-righteousness should not allow the gore of the Iranian approach to obscure for one moment that we continue to slaughter people judicially. At a furious pace, with Texas gleefully leading the parade. "76 trombones lead the ..."

I am opposed to capital punishment in all cases. That said, if you want it to be painless, it's gotta be the guillotine. Or a properly conducted hanging. Saddam obviously suffered less than any ole Southern white trash drifter who figgers to rob a liquor store in Texas and fall afoul of the Harris County DA so as to be suffocated alive while paralyzed.

This country seems to know no shame. "There is no painless requirement" in the Constitution, states the professional executionist Scalia. What about yer Catholic Church, Mr. anti-abortionist?


Sunday, January 06, 2008

60 Minutes

Postscript: See the excellent article by Nicholas Schmidle in today's New York Times magazine for analysis of the state of Jihadi politics in Pakistan.

Let's blog 60 Minutes.

"Did you like her?" Good grief. Is that what 60 Minutes has come to? Lara Looloo, whatever her name might be, is a pale shadow of a journalist, softballing Musharraf with questions like that about Bhutto, and then faking toughness about Osama, apparently trying to play to the imagined vast crowd of the ignorant who prefer to know nothing about what it is that makes Pakistan such a hopeless place. It's not Osama ... its much more than that. Pakistan may be a tough country, but the politics is real and subject to analysis that goes beyond "liking" and Osama. This looks like the same sort of method that the "pundits" use to support 'publicans ... phony questions that let a smiling crook look good.

Don't get me wrong ... I confess to having been a little soft on Musharraf who was ... was, past tense ... the best dictator Pakistan ever had. Not a tough competition. He replaced the venal and, frankly, stupid Nawaz Sharif whose claims to legitmacy rest on ignorance ... he didn't know about Kargil, he didn't know that the army actually runs everything, just another innocent caught in the lights. Hmmm. Give me a break. The worst thing about Bhutto's death may be that it gives cover to that creep.

"Misperceptions of American thinking" says Musharraf ... but Lara Looloo misses the moment, no doubt because her knowledge of the background is rather less than any other miscellaneous sorority girl elevated to newsperson, and she lets Musharraf off the hook. Then, she pretends to get get tough about Al Quaeda without evidencing even the slightest background in what the frontier provinces represent. Gawd, this is awful.

But remember, 60 Minutes is actually the best, notwithstanding the temporary sidelining of Jon Stewart.

Story 2 is a mobster executioner with Steve Kroft. Entertaining, not important. 60 Minutes excels at this sort of thing. "Are you still a Catholic?" Steve asks ... and the mob executioner finally squirms a little. Fascinating ... I'd still rather have a proper story on Pakistan. Some touching remembrances of Ed Bradley who curiously played high school football with the future mobster.

And now story 3, the dastardly Roger Clemens. Seems a lots like the Bonds line except that instead of flax seed oil, he got B-12 ... yeah ... I don't believe him any more than I believe Bonds. I don't really care, and I don't doubt that he worked hard. Frankly, Clemens looks nervous, and I think he's lying. What do I know? That said, I also think he played by the de facto rules that management and players AND fans silently agreed to. But I think he dunnit.

"I was eating Vioxx like it was Skittles." That's pretty frightening. But then he criticizes steroids as a quick fix. Hmmm ... which is which?

It ends up being a pretty compelling interview, and I probably like the guy better than when it started. I still don't believe him, and I still don't care. Just as long as they apply the same standards to Bonds as they do to Clemens. And just as long as sooner or later we apply the standards of science to steroids and figure out what part is good and what part is bad.

And finally, Andy Roooney on the primary season, singing the praises of Roosevelt and Jefferson. Seems safe. So he devolves into pointless meandering about names. Cmon Andy. There's more grist for the mill in these bizarre early primaries than that.

Four stories, one compelling, three misses. You can do better than that, folks.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sodden Foolishness

Back to work today after 12 days off ... that's not the foolishness in question .... nor is the bizarre American habit of stooping to divine the future of the highest office in the land by a seemingly almost accidental canvassing of a tiny bunch of white farmers in Iowa who have the time and the inclination to take a drive in wintery weather to a local school or church. Foolish, indeed, but not the foolishness I plan to address. Certainly foolishness is the name of the self-congratulatory cackling of the TV talking heads who do not seem to have had an original thought on American politics since one of them hit on the red-blue thangie. But that is not the foolishness pursued here.

So I get back in the office, and I lose an hour with all the software updates that have accumulated in our absence. I work at a major research university which I call MRU ... not because anyone with the inclination could not figure out the name ... I mean, I live in San Francisco, I take the train about 40 miles, and it is not Cal which is where I got all my assorted degrees ... hmmm ... I choose not to name it because the blog is about my ramblings not about my place of employment, and I don't want it to show in searches.

Anyway, back in the office, finally looking at the rather sparse accumulation of email, and the first message of the new year is from a student who has signed on to the new University sponsored wellness program ... let's call it Wellness@MRU ... that encourages staff, faculty, and students to shape up and set goals. Here is what this poor sod wrote (enough changed to protect the sodden):

I'm R, an MRU grad and fellow Wellness@MRU member. It's that time of year when we're all thinking about our New Year's Resolutions, and I just wanted to share mine and how I'm using Wellness@MRU to help me stick to it.

This coming year, I've decided to drink at least 12 cups of water every single day (did you know that almost 90% of us are chronically under-hydrated!). That's my re-hydrating resolution for a thirst-quenching 2008. I set this as a goal on Wellness@MRU and track how many cups I drink every day.

I also set myself a reminder on Wellness@MRU so everyday at 11am I get a text message on my cell phone: "Drink More Water!" I invited a few friends to support me, and they've been good about checking in with me and letting me know when I missed a day here or there, and I've been enjoying interacting with people in the Healthy Eating Community who are making their own diet changes. My friends on Wellness@MRU automatically get notified when I track my progress, so it's been fun to get little well-wishes every time I update my log.

I thought it was a joke, so I clicked on the link, and sure enough, this guy thinks drowning himself in 12 glasses of water will improve his health. What a crock! It used to be 8 cups a day, so I guess the 12 cups of water a day is inflation.

The only thing more ludicrous than the 8 cups of water myth is the idiocy of people drinking bottled water in a modern industrial society. Idiocy. In fact, it is the single biggest scam in the history of humanity. It's like the pet rock thing gone nuclear.

What precisely causes perfectly intelligent people ... remember, this is one of the greatest research universities in the world ... to swallow this nonsense. "They did a study", and it turns out that there is a mechanism in the body to indicate when you need water ... it's called thirst. Drink when you're thirsty. Who'da thunk it?

And who with even the simplest rational mind can believe that 90% of Americans are chronically dehydrated ... would it be possible to palm off any more frivolous piffle than this anywhere on this planet of foolish mythologies? Lunatic beliefs are depressing enough, but when intelligent people create drooling foolishness ... is there no hope at all?

Have you ever seen these sexy young morons crossing campus carrying a gallon of water ... I mean, really, a gallon bottle of water. Even one of these two-quart bottles is moronic. These people are not heading out across the Sahara. They are going to class in a private university in a wealthy community in the richest country in the history of the world. But they seem to think that they have to drag a gallon of water along. What happened to their grey matter? Who taught them this nonsense?

I posted a comment on the guy's site including bottled water = global warming and referred him to this item on that exposes this fraud. Or check out this refutation of the superiority of bottled water.

Friends don't let friends drink bottled water!

Photo by Arod ... a fountain at MRU.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Walking with Loki: Happy New Year!

Somewhat worse for the wear, and the time nearer to noon than an early riser like myself would prefer to admit, I managed to drag myself and the dog into our magnificent '86 Honda Civic and headed over to Fort Mason for a long New Year's Day walk through Fisherman's Wharf. On NPR, Sam Keen was discussing his Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds. It was a re-run and I had heard part of it before ... no matter because thinking about the miracle of birds is pretty much as spiritual as I get. I tell this anecdote, because Loki and I had unusual luck in casual birding during the three hours we wondered around.

But back up a little ... last night, we had a pleasant, long dinner with a few friends upstairs, eating AW's exquisite offerings and slowly, slowly drowning the old year in fine booze. We basically missed the big moment ... no countdown ... Frobisher quickly found a complete version of Auld Lang Syne on the net, and we sang that all the way through. And then we scattered just like the bunch of early risers we mostly all are, rebeling against being forced to stay awake past midnight.

And so it is 2008.

2007 for me: I started a blog, upgraded my computer life with a new desktop and laptop. I visited Vancouver. I read and read and read. The job went well, and the new boss has turned out to be even more revolutionary than I had imagined. Gave a few good parties, and the Christmas party was perfect. I think we ... that is my roommate and I ... made a lot of progress in ecologizing our personal habits. A good year, not earth shattering. Maybe that is why the days after Christmas often leave me a little melancholy ... good, not earth shattering. It's not that I am objectively stuck ... I have a good life, great friends, comfort and happiness. But some part of me keeps nagging ... isn't there more? Am I missing something that would require more guts, more glory, more risks?

So as Loki, my dog, and I wandered around the piers behind the tourist hordes at Fisherman's Wharf, and as the birds reigned above and on the water, I thought about guts and glory and risks, and living well, and figuring out what to do next.

The night heron at the top of this post was the most sublime avian encounter we had today. You don't see them that often. I saw three today, and one on Sunday when we also walked along the wharfs. I am assuming that they are night herons, but they might be green herons. I asked a couple of cops who were obviously part of the water patrol and who had stopped to look at a rather large starfish. Cops, even when you're being nice, have a tendency to look at you with undisguised skepticism. They didn't know. A couple of young, rough-looking fishermen did confirm they are night herons, and then volunteered that the night herons don't like gulls and harass them. Nice folks ... happy new year's all around.

We also saw several great blue herons. The pic above I actually took on Sunday. My little "belt camera", a late-model Canon Elph, has many positives, but a long telephoto is not one of them. 2008 will see some camera-upgrading once I have caught up with Christmas expenses. In the meanwhile, birds in my photos seem a little far away. But birds are never far away from my wandering thoughts. I have more or less given up on the iPod when walking the dog because I couldn't hear the birds.

Anyway, we also saw grebes, sundry gulls including one that I could not identify (gray body, white head). I'm not an expert of any type, so the assorted sea birds are confusing ... but I assume that we saw lesser scaups and some kind of merganser. We also saw a white egret ... or is that a cattle egret or a snowy egret. An egret nonetheless, and any day in which one sees three different species of egret/herons, well that is a good day. And once we left the shore, we saw and heard all manner of songbirds.

Before the walk, I had decided on creating New Year's resolutions that would be a series of monosyllables. I had three ... write, make, break ... and I wanted to add another ... go. But I tend to avoid even numbers of things ... that's a little nutty, of course ... so I set out to think of another monosyllable. The birds helped out ... fly.

Write, make, break, go, fly.

Write means that what I have started here I need to continue and expand.

Make means that I want to create photos and objects and aquariums and collections.

Break means I need to break up those parts of the comforts that I enjoy which interfere with thinking and changing and growing ... in particular my great comfort in solitude.

Go means I need to travel on down my roads gamely and boldly, and not be afraid to let go instead of running away.

Fly means I go to Europe again this year after taking a year off in favor of dentistry.

Living in comfort and as much security as any working middle class person can pretend to ... it obscures the fact that our world appears to be on the brink of an epochal change, and that change does not appear to be promising. So I can plan to write, make, break, go, fly, but what will it mean if the climate continues to decline more rapidly than even the most pessimistic scientists predicted only a few years ago? What does it mean in a society that continually accelerates the pace of living to the detriment of personal lives and the deeper satisfactions? What does it matter when I live in the midst of the greediest society that has ever dominated the planet, and as the lust for commodities crushes more of our planet ever passing moment?

I do not have answers for that ... not now at any rate ... but it did stir me to some side-vows that this will be a year in which I will not let the anger at the decline in our world impact my personal behavior ... no more fingers at Hummers, no more angry glares at the brain-dead cell phone herd, no more lectures to the passing impertinent. I still get to be cranky here, of course ... what the hell is a blog if you can't be cranky. But I am going to try to blithely ignore the ugliness through which I swim every day as I go about my business as best I can.

So, Happy New Year. Write, make, break, go, fly.

Photos by Arod.