Sunday, September 28, 2008


Let's start with now and move backwards ... and since now seems so after the fact, it will be like climbing up hill and looking down at the same time.

So to start with my network is cranky ... because my Airport apparently got pissed off at the old wireless phone I installed. So I am stealing the next door neighbor's unprotected wireless ... my always available backup for moments like this.

And as we speak, now-not-quite Hurricane Kay is approaching Lake Kejimikujik in interior southern Nova Scotia. This is my homeland, where my grandfather Arod Beales Shirreffs met and married my grandmother Hattie Seldon some time after the turn of the century ... the story I was told is that Meemee, my grandmother, eloped with Papa, my grandfather, because her brothers did not want to lose their only female, my great-grandmother being dead at the time. I visited Lake Kejimikujik once in the summer of 1969, I think. More on that at some point, but passing strange that it is as I write my ancient homeland is under assault by a hurricane.

A little while ago, I uploaded a bunch of photos of windows to my Flickr site. Just a random collection, but I had promised my good friend JG, whose Flickr site continues to draw critical raves, that I would upload some photos. This was an easy set to publish because I had already selected in in iPhoto. Uploading the collection of Fisherman's Wharf/North Beach photos that JG so kindly Photoshopped for me required too many steps, and I dedicated today to cleaning and watching wee Timmie.

Wee Timmie would be Tim Lincecum who pitched a beauty today on the last day of the season for the "young" Giants. 13 strikeouts, 1 run, total domination. And he appears to have "lost the cross" ... thank you, Timmie ... it is such a relief for your legion of middle-aged gay guy atheist fans. It was a bittersweet goodbye to my team. Bochy, the manager, gave the incomparable Omar Vizquel a fabulous send-off ... and he made one last sweet defensive play at short to remind us of the beauty of defense in baseball. But the game was about Lincecum who has Cy Young hopes ... and this dominating start seems to put him in the driver's seat.

Perhaps I will have more to say about the Giants later, but as I watched the domination, I was trying to think of a way to tie this baseball game to the bizarre events in the Presidential election last week. I've read lots of folks who nailed it ... Frank Rich, as usual, or James Fallows, or the indispensable TalkingPointsMemo.

(60 Minutes in the background as I write ... and Henry Paulson is a fraud. Others will dissect this more exactly, but this is a fraud, a naked run on the public's purse to prop up a failed economic philosophy. He's a joke, and we're the punch line.)

So let's see Lincecum as the best of America ... self-invented, upstart, devil-may-care, reliant upon what he does himself. He's on a team, and somebody else pays him, but he still plays it independent. There's no rage there, no fake conflict with evil. He smiles easily, even when he loses. In fact, when he loses, he blames it on himself. He called his second-to-last game a "garbage start" because he lost.

Who looks like Lincecum, McCain or Obama?

Who channeled Lincecum on Friday evening? The angry scowling blaming can't look-'im-in-the-face McCain, or the congenial Obama who conceded something to his opponent and yet threw his pitches hard and in the strike zone. I don't think that McCain was in the strike zone all night. He gripped the ball too hard and when it left his hand, there was no telling where it would end up ... inside, outside, up or down, wild pitch or in the zone, the only thing his pitches had was anger. Hard fastballs, no movement, no sense, no strategy, no thought.

I admit that I didn't get it right away as the debate droned on. I was surprised that McCain was as effective as he was. I wanted Obama to be more vicious, more like McCain. But I was wrong about that. It is funny in the context of the McCain tactic/strategy rant that Obama has demonstrated in his actions that he understands his own strategy and does not allow the moment to dictate tactics that take him away from what he has determined as his over-arching course of action.

That's the same as pitching. Just because some Dodger gets a hit doesn't mean you default to hard, straight fastballs all the time. You stick with your change-up when the time is ripe for a strikeout.

Obama's performance impressed. It's not in the bag yet, but the breakdown on the McCain side is near complete, notwithstanding the continuing phony "balance" that requires that the press not see what everyone sees.

BTW, I was impressed for the first and only time by what that Rollins monster had to say on CNN ... he understands that McCain is not ready, not up to the task. He is ready to throw him to the wolves. And he, too, obviously thinks that Gloria Borger is a grade_A moron ... did you see how he brushed her off? Another crushed fly bites the dust. I like how Begala calls dubya a high-functioning moron ... nobody disagreed.

I can hardly wait for Thursday's Biden/Palin face-off. The loudmouth against the ditz.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Swallow the Rabbit Whole II

When I returned from Five Days in Paris in 2006, I vowed that I would return to my lifelong reading practice of wandering around history ... and force the mad snippet practice of Internet browsing into the background. I do not know how successful I have been with the latter, especially given the madness of following the present madness that my kind American hosts call a presidential election. But my vow to return to history has been ... well, just perfect.

As I wander around the ages, I keep coming back to Central Asia. You see, I think we have long underestimated just how critical has been the Central Asian role in constructing world civilization, and that role has always been radical but not always nice. So I read Hugh Kennedy's When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, a rather popular but well-written history of the Abbasid dynasty from 749 to ca 935, then John F. Richard's The Mughal Empire from founding in 1526 to the effective end in 1720, though they lingered in dissolution and feebleness for another century and half, and now Colim Imber's terse dissection of the first three and half centuries of what became the Old Man of Europe, The Ottoman Empire. I am plowing through the last one because I am anxious to move on to a period I have never before studied in the form of Roger Savoury's Iran Under the Safavids. (Honesty demands that I note that in the midst of this jag, I indulged in Efraim Karsh's Islamic Imperialism: A History ... and I promise a post on that some day.)

So there's my reading ... and it all makes me wonder how the hell the 'publicans ended up with their standard being borne aloft by the increasingly dish-rag-like John McCain. Dynasties were based on the charismatic notion of infixed authority ... that is to say that the ruler is corporeally given to rule. Hence the authority of idiots when they come along, hence the felt necessity to preserve a dynasty (see the Abbasids) long after they were powerless. Hence the fear and trembling in front of a genuine ruler. Nothing new here.

I like to argue that authority and authenticity flip in the movement into modernity. So, where the Ottoman subject quivers in front of a dribbling fool like Ibrahim I (r 1640-48, then deposed and murdered), he does so because authority proves authenticity. That there is a Sultan, he must be real.

But no one quivers in front of John McCain. The networks worry themselves into a lather about who is "presidential" ... that is, who appears to be authentic. Once they prove that to themselves, they will anoint that one with what we can call authority. The present, long-running configuration is that no Democrat is authentic, but all Republicans are. I remember someone a long time ago explaining this to me. When Republicans splay a football-sized flag across their convention, this is natural. When Democrats do it, it feels like pandering ... or at least we are made to think it ought to feel like pandering. This is akin to atheists feeling ashamed that they skipped church every Sunday morning.

Still, no one quivers in front of John McCain. Somehow dubya had the Kevorka, if I may. It was lost on those of us with brains ... and in that, I include the cyncical reactionaries with brains who pretended to believe they believed in him when in fact they believed in a Sultan-styled presidency where any moron with a world-consuming smile can "lead" a dark cabal which operates hidden and without principle. Reactionaries think that this is good for us, notwithstanding five millennia of earth-shattering proof that cheaters never prosper ... at least not for very long.

McCain is a cheater ... and I am not referring to his reasonably rank treatment of the first wife whom he dumped for miss frozen-face rich-bitch wife number two "who cares how many houses we own." No he is a cheater because notwithstanding all the maverick tripe, he lies and lies and besides he never tells the truth. But that is nothing new ... it is that his transparency is not the knee-slapping type of fake-rube dubya, but the lies of a terrified little man way out of his depth who is making the case that he is capable when in fact all he believes is that he is deserving.

Today's "suspend the campaign" thing, surely that is the last straw. I am of the view that a genuine capitalist recoils at the prospect of a bail-out, and that a genuine socialist figures the bastards had it coming. McCain can't figure out who he is ... his obvious and evident discomfiture presently derives from a man once sure of himself in that simple "I was a POW" manner who has now strayed so far from his fairy-tale narrative that he cannot figure out where he is.

Meanwhile, Obama is plain ... well ... presidential. Calm, magisterial, unperturbed. Notwithstanding ... understand the tongue-in-cheek ... the touch of the tar brush, isn't this the authenticity our nervous tail-ending commentators seek? They are so damned close to saying it ... even George Will has gone over to the dark side ... there is only one president in this race, and it is Barrack.

So nerve-wracking. Like being told that either you will be beheaded or you will be crowned. Kind of like old Ibrahim I who lived in captivity his whole life, trembling lest the executioner arrive at any moment. And then he became Sultan, still trembling, and devoted himself to 8 years in the harem, apparently given especially to fat women. Didn't save him. He ended his days being strangled in a prison cell.

Do we get strangled or do we inherit the kingdom? Hold on.

Tonight's drinks ... a Manhattan (Wild Turkey and Carpano Antica with both Angostura Bitters and Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6, garnished with an organic maraschino cherry) followed by a Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (Bullet Bourbon with CuraƧao, Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, water and ice). I'll try to get some pix up before I go to bed but after Project Runway. Sorry if the logic is a little tormented here .. .I am still decompressing from my Summer of Toil ... that'll just have to be the excuse.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Some of us fearful ...

I have long wondered why somebody didn't just up and slap George Will ... but listen to what he has to say in the embedded video here.

BTW, doesn't Cokie Roberts come off as shell of a human being. Does she ever say anything ... other than to suggest that Hawaii is a foreign country ... remember that? How do these empty vessels hang on to jobs?

And thanks to KW for pointing out that it is impossible to listen to Sam Donaldson because of his truly off-the-charts rug ... good lord, man, fix that thang!

Another article by George Will here that makes you wonder when he will just come out and endorse Obama.

Updated September 23, 9:30 a.m.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Stoppard's Rock 'n Roll

Saw Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n Roll at American Conservatory Theater today. So a few quick notes while it is fresh in my mind. I'd love to get my hands on the script and go over some of the dialog again, but we shall see if my "vast leisure" permits such a luxuriant excursion.

The play concerns the life of one Jan (Manoel Felciano), a young Czech Jew who had left his homeland before the Nazis invaded and then spent his youth in England before returning. He was in England as a student in 1968 but chose to return just after the Soviets invaded. His Cambridge professor, Max (the incomparable Jack Willis) is an unrepentant Stalinist prone to rage and in-your-face rage at the lily-livered who have abandoned the party line. Jan, by contrast, clings to the notion that ignoring the power makes it go away or at least disempowers it. He hangs on to rock 'n roll and, as it turns out, even provides some info to the authorities in order to preserve his precious record collection.

The dialog was a little stilted for Stoppard, but I thought that it accurately represented the sort of intense political rhetoric that saturated the lives of politicos in the era ... I certainly recognized it from personal experience. I found the whole thing intensely nostalgic in that sense. I was both a hippie and a lefty at the time, which made for uncomfortable moments in both camps. Eventually my hippiedom devolved into the free love dynamic of the early "heroic" gay movement even as my politics tended to get a little more sectarian and strident than I would prefer to remember at this rather later stage of my life.

So I was impressed by the depiction of the conflict between the explosion of creativity in music and its social effect as against the explosion of the left and its social effect. And the inconclusiveness of the conclusion (everybody gets older, communism lost out, and the two key characters end up in love in a liberated Prague ... but the ideological conflict was unresolved) mirrors the fogginess of how stuff happens in real life. Perhaps those looking for a pleasant afternoon in the theater were satisfied by the love conclusion, but I kept thinking about how empty must be the soul of a man who had been so defeated and stripped of dignity as Jan was.

The rock and roll theme has to touch anyone who lived through the era. I especially grooved to the Pink Floyd stuff (although the references to Syd Barrett would be lost on anyone who had not read the program). We are so cynical now that it is hard to remember what an era of cheeky optimism was the 70s. On the other hand, it would be hard to underestimate what a body blow to lefties was the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia ... I was 15, but I wept when my father told me. The conflicted feelings of liberationists ... if I can use that as a broad term ... was not a dark conflict of the soul, but a bright confidence that no matter the problem, no matter the forces at work, there had to be, there would be, a great historic solution and it would be soon.

Didn't turn out that way, but life went on anyway. Perhaps that is why Jan ends up with his interrupted childhood love interest, but this time in Prague, this time middle-aged, this time listening to the Rolling Stones in the same venue where his previous Communist overlords had vainly celebrated their supremacy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Down the Rabbit Whole

Hope the title is not too obscure, but I think I will use this for periodic posts on this bloody election.

I never read David Brooks ... he's such a little creep. The smug arguments for conservatism that just don't add up. But I had to choke my way through his "Why Experience Matters." He's too much of a weasel to admit that the Palin pick was sheer cynicism by a desperate spent man who considers that his own ambition trumps, or at best equates with, his nation's interests. It has been fun to watch the Palin candidacy unravel, notwithstanding how much the media props her up and how much American idiocy cannot see what a danger she represents. But for Brooks to face th obvious ...that his candidate is dessicated ... well, he can't do it. We get this:

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.

I don't see the virtues, but I do see the conservative rejection of someone as callow as this twit. But creepy little Brooks cannot save himself from the gratuitous dump of talking points on those who saw through this choice. The Times should look for someone with a little more integrity. And legitimate conservatives need to figure out some defensible reason why their candidate would actually improve America.

Polls and more polls: It feels like Obama has weathered the Palin storm and he is back up by a couple points in most polls today. My main source of election info is Talking Points Memo, and their Poll Tracker. There's even a poll that puts Obama up by 3 points in Indiana ... and if that holds, it is game over for the former POW. Even better is the 5 point lead Obama has in the CBS/NYT poll.

Long way to go yet, but it may well turn out that Palin was the worst decision of McCain's life, and that the bump in the poll s was more a pimple than a blip.

Project Runway: I don't know why I love this program, but I set aside an hour every Wednesday to watch it. There is no really charismatic character this year, and the two hot gay guys left early. Tonight, the straight guy, Joe, got booted. I admit I was happy. He made a tacky close to anti-gay comment earlier. Like a lot of fags these days, I never forget a gay bait. But at this point, e are down to the strongest candidates. I predict that Suede is the next one to go.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Buffalo Bill Cody

Started the day out at the beach ... Ocean Beach. Actually started it by waking up bolt upright at 4 in the morning, thinking about work, but that is par for the course these days. And then I walked the dog down through Hayes Valley. But all this was in aid of getting my sorry rear end to Ocean Beach as early as possible while the sun was low in the east and before the masses arrived.

And why would that be ... well it would be a fabulous art event put on by San Francisco native artist Thom Ross Ross recreated the 1902 visit of Buffalo Bill Cody and his traveling show of Indians by creating and erecting over a hundred representations of the participants on plywood. The Chronicle had a truly underwhelming little piece on it ... why were they trying to hide it? I'll come back to that.

The images are quite unreal, and the collection of them on the beach is mind-blowing. It is gone now ... it was there for only two weeks. Not sure if this was underwritten by anyone, but it had the feel of a guerrilla art, albeit on a large scale. My friend June says that there was a demonstration against it at some point, again not reported if it in fact happened. Perhaps a bunch of the excessively racially aware came down to grouse, perhaps they had placards. I don't know.

I do know that recreating something that did in fact happen forces everyone to think about it. This should have been a huge event that sparked conversations about the relationship between representing and thinking, about the nexus of being and seeing, about the modern fallacy of identity and the premodern fascination with posited otherness. You see, we like otherness when it is domesticated, while the premodern enjoyed otherness when it was presented as untamed but not dangerous. Both revel in otherness, but the earlier one seems more genuine, less self-righteous.

I have argued both here in my little blog and in my dissertation (which I really do need to rescue from its dark repository on my own bookshelf) that there is a flip between authority and authenticity as we move from the premodern to the modern. The premodern look for authority and attribute authenticity to it. The modern do not trust authority, so they look for authenticity and posit authority in it. In the case Buffalo Bill and Thom Ross ... Buffalo Bill presented himself as an authority on the real Indian, and his show was authentic by relation to his authoritative stance. In the case of Thom Ross, we peer at his creations and wonder is they are authentic ... did Indians really have stars on their saddles. If they did, then he is authoritative; if not, he is a charlatan, a usurper. This is the nervousness that leads the Chronicle to a mere paragraph about an event that should shake this city that is too broad to be shaken any more at this point.

We have to blow this contradiction to shreds. The modern aficionado is so terrified of being snowed that he cannot look at anything unjaundiced. This is the slender advantage of the brainless conservatives who again are threatening the Republic with their madness. Apparently precious few of them have considered the obvious disadvantage of having a cheerleader-sportscaster in charge of their drive for war with Russia ... has that imbecile truly not understood what a war with Russia would actually mean? The conservatives do not worry about the contradiction between authority and authenticity since they are one and the same, and only a pointy-headed liberal equivocator would think otherwise. Read Frank Rich today, and be very afraid ... I am sure you are already very afraid.

But back to art.

I think this display precisely challenges the thoughtful to articulate where and how they stand in relationship to the contradiction between what is real and who says that is it real.

I tired to approach the artist who, much to my admiration, was all dooded up as Buffalo Bill. I just wanted to say thank you. But he was surrounded by the slightly more than middle-aged art ladies who love these things much as I do. So I never said it to him ... but now I say it ... Thank You, Thom. Mind-blowing.

Photos by Arod today, except the historic one from 1902. My collection of photos on Flickr is here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricanes and all that

Since my earliest memories, hurricanes have thrilled me. I confess that I root for them ... having a rooting interest in hurricanes has no actual effect on their progress. As with everything else,the Internet makes a mini-obsession like this so much easier. I look at the National Hurricane Center constantly whenever there's a biggie on the way.

Perhaps the obsession has to do with the darkness of water, and how hurricanes enforce the dominance of the oceans upon our precarious perch here on land. Perhaps it is the great howling of wind and the prospect of being ripped away from mother earth and thrown about helpless. Most likely it is simply quivering before the power of nature, of being done to no matter our pretensions to power and control.

Just imagine the unnerving thrill of the howling winds, the bottomless pit of your stomach as you realize that you are without recourse, the dark realization of return ... return to the depths of the ocean, return to nature's wrath.

I wake up in the middle of the night when there is a hurricane and turn on the television to watch whatever they proffer for us.

Gustav was a sloppy affair once it made U.S. landfall ... even managed to make dubya look good, at least for those who don't pay attention, and so far from disturbing the 'publican convention, it made them seem human and under-exposed their tawdry mendacities notwithstanding that liberals always underestimate how transparent they are.

And let's not forget poor Haiti, thrashed thrice in rapid succession when it has nothing left to give. Of course, one should not forget that its lack of forest cover ... and hence particular vulnerability to flooding ... is the direct result of the first anticolonial revolution in the Americas which, no matter its justification, ended up exiling or slaughtering all the whites and denuding the entire Haitian part of the island of trees. But I digress.

Now Ike, that was a hurricane. The photos from space were staggering ... it plain filled the Gulf like a big pudding in a crystal blue glass. It kept threatening to gather its skirts and regain its status as a cat 4, but never made past a high 2. And the vaunted storm surge peaked some miles down the coast from Galveston. But still, what a thriller.

One never roots for death in these things, but I cannot deny that I root for hurricanes to hit the self-righteous. And is there a place more contemptuous of the future, more bound into its own self-righteousness and more oblivious to the nightmare it represents for the species than Houston? Or leastwise a place that is in the path of a hurricane?

They got away easy this time. A bunch of damage, all of which will spur a little economic revival as construction jobs and insurance money flow about. Galveston will be ugly for a while, but why the hell do people think they should be living there anyway (sez the finger-crosser living just to the right of the San Andreas fault)? Regardless, the unspeakable truth of this hurricane is that the entire Gulf and Atlantic coasts will become uninhabitable as global warming progresses because vaster and more powerful storms will drive economic activity away ... perhaps to California, gawd help us. I speculate that in a hundred years, those coasts will be inhabited by poverty stricken subsistence fishermen living in stilted houses that are washed away every few years.

There was an exciting piece in the New York Times about the eye of the storm which passed directly over Galveston. How many times have I fantasized about being in the eye of a hurricane. Fortunately for my longevity, I prefer fantasy to chasing the bloody things. And that is how it will have to remain.

Photos by arod ... the top of street art in the Mission, the bottom of Christmas lights. These speak hurricane to me, albeit in a rather secular fashion ... or perhaps I just mean dry.