Saturday, October 25, 2008

Things are getting creepy ...

Halloween in the air. The World Series on the boob-tubery, as I like to call the TV. Tonight's game delayed by heavy rain in Phillie, and right now, bottom of the first, 2 on, nobody out and the total babe from UCLA, Chase Utley, at the plate. Beautiful, stud, intelligent, athletically gifted ... and a totally cool name as well. Some guys get it all.

The creepy part of the World Series from where I sit is that it involves the fake franchise with the fake stadium, the Tampa Bay no-long-Devil Rays. I never root for a team from Florida, and I certainly never root for a team with a scale model of a cupcake for a stadium ... unless they were playing the Dodgers, of course.

Lots of Halloween around town, but still no commitment from the city that gay folks will be able to celebrate Halloween in the way we know how. The totally creepy, grey-complected Bevan Dufty had a creepy opinion in the Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco's gay paper of record. He writes: "Through the second annual "Home for Halloween" campaign we are communicating - again - that there is NOT a party in the Castro. The streets will not be closed. There is no stage. There is no party. In short, unless you live and work in the Castro, there is no reason to come here that night."

Screw you, Dufty, and the lame jackass you rode into town. Gay guys have always made their own parties whether or not that pleases the homophobes and their simpering, slobbering apologists.

Later in his tiny-minded "opinion" he writes this about that much overblown shooting incident that led to his pissing on everybody's fun: "Two years ago, one person with a weapon marred an evening that had otherwise been one of the more peaceful in recent years." In other words, one idiot ruins it for everybody, and then Bevan "I am a hero in my own little mind" Dufty plays fake-daddy to all the straight yuppies who scorn us and brush past us in their me-me-me search for a latte and self-congratulation.

Alas, young gay guys today have no sense of what it took to win gay liberation, and they cave to the midget Dufty's by their abstention and flight. So we're screwed, and in being screwed, we have to pretend we are led by tiny, tiny men.

Sorry about the obscenity folks ... but the assault on Halloween in our neighborhood boils my blood ... in case you hadn't noticed.

Another creepy item in the BAR last week about Prop K which would legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Seems that all the progressives have lined up against it with this classically fallacious logic expressed in an article that turned my stomach: "While I certainly think consenting adults ought to do whatever they want, the situation on the streets is a different reality," said Chiu, a former chair of Lower Polk Neighbors [and a supervisorial candidate]. "Many unconsenting adults and children on the streets are forced into prostitution." Of course, forcing people into prostitution would still be illegal if consenting prostitution were legalized, but such subtleties are lost on the sex-haters. Of course, pimps beating up their whores would still be illegal, but that old canard is whipped up by fake-progressives who dare not, even in liberal San Francisco, be tarred by the brush of supporting the right of people to screw freely when they feel like screwing freely ... even if there's a price. Jeez, people work at MacDonald's for minimum wage, but that isn't illegal.

The campaign against prostitution is religious ... it says that the state must control the body according to the dictates of paternalistic bastards dead these three thousand years.

I'm for adults deciding for their own reasons to have sex when and where they want to, and I'm for the state getting out of everybody's pants.

I'm for the state getting its wrinkled puckered nose out of Halloween.

And I'm for the Phillies over the Rays.

Photos by Arod: top is an installation on the art fence surrounding the Project Artaud, middle is from a bar on Haight Street, bottom is from an abandoned gas station on Market at Sanchez ... they quickly deleted this art and now the lot is being turned into more housing for the unwelcome yuppie scum who haunt our city ... call me cranky, see if I blanche.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yellow Boxer

Tonight's drink is a Yellow Boxer, a Tequila Tiki from the inimitable Beachbum Berry's Intoxica. The drink is from the Hemingway Tropical Bar, Cologne, Germany, ca 1981.

What's a Yellow Boxer ... I think, of course, of the Boxer Rebellion ... but perhaps it refers to a hepatitic pugilist ... not a nice thought when one consoles one's evenings with a cocktail and glass of wine.

But none of that matters because my luggage, possibly diverted to Johannesburg per my immediately preceding post, appears to be on a delivery truck that at this very moment is approaching the house in which I sit and tipple and write. I want my bag! I want it right now ... but I may have to wait until 10.

I approached this third-in-three-flights delayed baggage experience with as much aplomb and calm as I could muster ... yes, United has lost my luggage on three consecutive flights. No point in raging. With reference to that and the second of the three mislaying flights ... when it became apparent on arrival in Ottawa 10 or so days ago that the entire assembly of steerage class luggage had been left behind in the ill-fated Washington-Dulles airport, a female businessperson decided to unload on the poor United Airlines shill whose job it was to hand out the baggage forms. Venting, they call it. There was a line of 15 people waiting to meet the hapless employee .. so I shouted out that her venting was wasting my time. I'm loud that way. She persisted, so I repeated my complaint, somewhat louder and rather more peeved. She took the hint.

BTW, that hapless employee was the one and same who 6 days later put the wrong name and the wrong itinerary on my baggage. Coincidence? ... who knows? I am chastened, though, and will re-affirm my commitment to not yelling at imbeciles in public. At least not at imbeciles who might have a gun.


Losing a bag, losing anything, unleashes two not-precisely-contradictory but certainly-not-intertwined emotions ... the fear inherent in being revealed as vulnerable and the unease of a too quick resignation to fate. Fear and fate. I fear that something worse might happen but rely on fate to get me through. I am fated to have lost the bags, but I fear that it was my fault ... yes, I should have looked at the tag, but the bastards were the ones who screwed it up. So I am confused rather than enraged.

And of course, there is the amputation of all the old things ... I pretty much only have old things, electronics aside, because that is the way I am. I lost ... or might have lost or would have lost, but let's just go with the past tense as if it happened since that is the emotional complex I am trying to evoke. So there is the red Land's End toiletries bag that I purloined from the second of my three lovers and with which I have been traveling for almost two decades. There is my old Swiss Army Knife. And the brown belt that is worn and I have been wearing since the early 90s ... I miss that guy. I lost a pair of black shoes and a brown belt, so I am left with brown shoes and a black belt ... two black belts, but one too wide for work wear ... o the horror, the fashion nightmare. My man purse I bought for the Paris trip in 2006 and the yellow Goretex I bought for the London trip in 2004. All gone. Well, maybe not.

I lost three books that I have just read, and that is annoying since I very much prefer to own books. I lost a video camera ... DV type, under 300 bucks. But more to the point, I lost a one-hour tape of my sister and brother playing guitars and singing. I lost two favorite T-shirts ... one old, one new. And socks and underwear. For the shopping-challenged, socks and underwear are a nightmare. I never know what to buy, where to buy it. I always figure I am making a stupid choice, and so I end up making a stupid choice. I have dozens of pairs of useless socks, but barely enough underwear to get through a week. Now, I am down a couple of quarts as a result of that fool in the Ottawa airport who sent my bags to Johannesburg.

Or did he? We are waiting to find out.

The bag arrived at 20:41! Yeah.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Notes from Winchester

I am sitting on a full-to-the-gills flight from Washington-Dulles to San Francisco and am crowded against the wall by a charming but very fat young woman who is sleeping through this sardine can. From time to time I have to put my right arm in the air because there is nowhere else for it.

United has managed to lose my luggage three times in a row now. I noticed ... too late, obviously ... that my baggage ticket was inscribed with the name of one Gavin Brown who is heading ... egawd ... to Johannesburg, and so, apparently, is my bag. The man in front of me in the check-in line had a red passport, and that has to have been Gavin. I guess the idiot at the counter didn't clear the name or something from the computer ... I had kiosk-checked-in my seating assignments, so no red flags. A fine customer service person, Sharon, at Washington Dulles headed off to head off my baggage. She thinks she got it, but no guarantees, and I get to find out in SFO.

Three times in a row. Life's like that.

Part of what bugs me in that is that once your luggage is lost, you leave the Internet world and head back to paper form world. I know that they have all my data in the computer ... I know when they look up my record that they can not only find my Social Security Number, but also probably have access to the NSA-screened calls I make to various other skeptics and atheists obviously unconvinced that what we need is to Palinize our security systems. Crude joke. Crude world.

I just want my bags delivered with me just once in 2008. Perhaps I will have to find somewhere else to fly if I am going to take that final shot at victory. Perhaps United will pay for that.

Visiting the aged parents is a tough and tender thing. I cannot stay as long as I would want, and especially as long as they want. The day of departure hangs over us from the moment I arrive. They live in a near-perfect senior housing complex in Winchester with a mob of the sweetest other aged p's you could imagine. They have their little dog, Hershey, and they have two sons within hailing distance. But Dad is almost 7 years out from a stroke, and life is hard work. Our visits break the monotony, I think, not to mention provide some love and comfort. But when the end of the fun is promised by the beginning, it is tough.

Life's like that.

I seem to say that to Mother a lot when I am around ... life's like that.

Sister and bro-in-law are on an around-the-world celebration of their 33 years of being together, most of those years having been spent in Australia. Sister and I take up as if we had not been apart for more than a day or two. But it was very cool to reconnect with bro-in-law whom I have not seen in almost exactly a decade. Funny the convergences that happen between dissimilar but not unalike souls. I suppose the fact that he is attracted to my sister predisposes him and me to have similar valences ... not exactly orientations or perspectives, but valances in the sense of wavelengths. If you are a physicist reading this, please roll your eyes and be appreciative of the fact that at least we-types believe in science even when we abuse its terminologies in our quest to concretize our humanism.

Life's like that.

Speaking of physics, I have rolled through a copy of Scientific American over the course of two airports today, and swam through the article on loop gravity which appears to propose that we replace the idea of the Big Bang with the Big Bounce. Sounds cool. The article wandered about the question of whether there was a pre-existing Universe that collapsed on itself and, if so, could we find traces of its history in our present Universe. I say "yes" ... that is the humanist response. Theists would have to go there too, I suspect. But the religious must glower "No".

I like to read Scientific American on flights, and I especially enjoy the cosmological arguments. Not because I grok them in any deep way, but because they inspire that poetry-of-the-spheres thing. Again, physicists, I accept your eye-rolling, and I obey ... but I plan to sneak back to my poetry as soon as you look away. Life's like that ... physicists beware.

Crowded in here, my right arm starting to ache ... and, christ, a ceaselessly nattering child babbling behind me, occasionally kicking the back of the seat. I half expect the little shite to pull out a drum and start banging. Still, I have a window seat and I can watch America slowly fade from green to brown and back to green again as we futily chase the slowly sinking sun.

So, the Universe, and the Big Bounce, and Theists. I have just plowed through a great read ... The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine, By Paul Collins. I say plowed through ... should that be ploughed? ... because I hardly stopped for a breath. It is the sort of book that needs a glossary of characters because I kept getting lost. I especially enjoyed the reformed southern racist turned enlightened liberal rational Moncure Conway. Collins' great gift is to use his plot ... the search for Tom Paine's bones ... to allow his reader to wander almost convivially through the great budding of intellectual currents of the 19th century. We are their product, even if the vast majority of the ideas they produced are long-since garbage-heaped ... Darwin excepted, of course. That said, there is a confluence in ideation from the 19th century which is having a latter-day and unfortunate revival ... to whit a kind of half-baked theism in the sense of those who proclaim that there is no necessary contradiction between religious belief and science. Sorry, I beg to differ. It had a certain rationality in the 19th century given the dominance of religious thought over every aspect of life, but its revival now only proclaims that all that we know, all that we have discovered, every unearthing that we have done has yet to convince vastly too wide a swath of the species that religion is bunk. Depressing. Maddening.

That is what I mean by Palinization ... the revanche of the religious into your living room. Weak theism is no answer, but perhaps it is all we can get. See Obama as weak theism.

I saw another aspect of the 19th century in Ottawa when the whole lot of us ... aged p's, sis and bro-in-law, and myself ... tottled off to the spectacular Canadian War Museum. Notwithstanding the 18th century and the 20th century, Canada's self-invention is potted in the soil of the 19th-century. I saw the uniform of Sir Isaac Brock and the clean hole just under the broad lapel where the bullet that killed him entered at the battle of Queenston Heights in 1813 ... years ago we all climbed the obelisk at the site when we were a young family of six. A fine speaker of a docent, a 60s-something man with the classic jacket and medals of a Canadian legionnaire, spoke up on the point to us. He long wondered, he stated, why there was no blood until he ran into a group of Canadian Armed Forces surgeons who explained that the precise location of that hole predicted an almost instantaneous death in which all the bleeding would be internal. Fascinating. Father took it in silently.

Earlier the same docent-legionnaire had marveled in front of a large photograph of soldiers on their way back from the battle of Passchendaele at how fat and powerful their fingers and hands were. "These are farm boys," he said, and he was right of course. Passchendaele is likely the best place to say that Canada became Canada there. Our troops there proved themselves to be elite forces ... and as they participated in the great bloodletting that brought the long 19th century to a close, they defined Canada as a nation. Blood and nation. Life is like that.

On Saturday, there was an article in the usually quite underwhelming Ottawa Citizen about the role of Lester Pearson in the United Nations response to the Suez Crisis of 1956. A rather nuanced article that seemed simultaneously to support and undermine the thesis, broadly accepted, that the 40s and 50s were a high-water mark for Canadian diplomacy, and one from which we have shrunk ever since. Again, not precisely certain where the writer stands on the question, but he seemed to suggest that the undermining of that argument provided ground for those who do not lament the current Canadian irrelevance in international affairs. If we weren't so great then, so he suggests, then who cares if we are a bunch of duffers now.

I was raised on the notion of Canada's unique and liberal contribution to world affairs ... that our contribution of troops to solve the Suez Crisis in 56 was the road to a future without war in which rationality and sense prevailed over the bloody nationalisms born of that 19th century and which would not die. My family is NDPers ... the Canadian labor party ... but we admired Pearson even then. Pearson, of course, found his nemesis in the maniacal and eccentric Conservative, John Diefenbaker, who managed to take just enough of a bite out of Pearson's time on the stage to prevent him form being the greatest Prime Minister of our long century on the stage. Can't say I agree or not, but Pearson changed from being a liberal hero to a bit of a sad sack over time, and we remember him as a man just shy of greatness.

Life's like that.

Canada, too, just shy of greatness. I feel that all the time when I am there. Canadians do not know how good they have it ... no one does ... and they are just parochial enough not to be able to use their unique position to bless the world with the fruits of theirs insights. That's how I feel about it. That's how I feel about the election concluded during my stay in which the tiny minds of the Canadian Conservatives managed to deny themselves the majority which they do not deserve based on about 38% of the vote nationally.

Still, I love the country, and it is always bittersweet returning to my home for more than half my life. I want to be in my world, and I leave behind that fantasy land, Canada.

One more note as the ladies with the gin and tonic draw near. There was a piece on the National News on CBC about how Canadian banks are doing much better in the great financial crisis by reason of two factors ... they are more cautious and they are more regulated. Harrumph. Whoddathunkit. Caution and regulation, the cure for the American disease.

Or would you rather have Palinization?

Life's like that.

More photos from the Canadian War Museum here. I'll try to add some photos to illustrate this rant later.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Canadian Tire

I am on vacation again in Winchester, Ontario, with my aged parents, and all my siblings including my sister who lives in Australia. So, I set myself a little task ... I had 20 minutes in Canadian Tire while mother and sister returned a coffee pot and procured a replacement. Brother-in-law and I were free to wander the great mystery that is Canadian Tire ... a Canadian institution and a bit of a myth in our minds since we go to one so infrequently, him less frequently than I. Canadian Tire has a certain odor to it ... heavy with tire smell ... that is unique to the chain. It also has its own currency which you receive as a sort of dividend for purchases. My brother once held significant reserves in Canadian Tire currency.

Not sure that my little photo essay was very successful, but here it is anyway.

Photo by Arod in Canadian Tire, Morrisburg, Ontario.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Choice

I just don't think there is a better way to put it than this piece in the New Yorker. Thanks to Winfield for pointing it out. There is no choice at all given McCain's cynicism and truly erratic behavior, but more so Obama has proven himself not just ready to lead but quite possibly ready to change the world.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My Trip to Berkeley

I'm on vacation starting Monday ... heading back to Winchester to see the family including my sister who is visiting from Australia. But work demanded one more genuflection ... there is a Drupal conference this weekend in Berkeley called BadCamp, and it was certainly useful for me to go notwithstanding that I am not really a geek, I just play one on TV.

[To set the stage, I am, martini in hand, recovering from my day's exactions by watching Polyester ... this is probably a two-day blog post, but I am going to pretend that it is all taking place this evening, snuggled under the covers and preparing for a Sunday of performance ... update ... oops, never wrote another word after setting the stage which I blame on the martini. I actually managed to sleep through Polyester. I woke up at 5:05 ... how twisted is that I do not seem to be able to sleep past somewhere between 4 and 6 every morning. So I am going to finish this in bed in the dark while the rest of the city snoozes contentedly on Sunday morning.]

So, where were we ...yes, I am not really a geek, I just play one on TV. I go to these things not so much to sharpen my skills as to learn the flow, to understand the medium, to know how to talk to the guys who actually make the things work. Frankly, at my stage in life, I am going to be managing technology not creating it ... in the broadest sense. Sure I can bang out a quick web page and I am pretty slick on page-layout stuff, but only marginally competent on photo or video-editing. But all the content needs to be gathered and massaged, and that is where I come in. (My job is transitioning in this sense, and I plan to spend some time thinking about these terms while I vacation in fabulous Winchester.)

So with these chestnuts of wisdom squirreled in my larder, as it were, I descended into the 24th Street BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station. I took BART pretty much daily to Berkeley for years as I pursued my three Cal degrees, but I hardly ever find myself on the system nowadays. It really is sweet ... perfect place for a half hour read. (I am taking a time out from my Central Asian middle period reading to tackle the lively The Trouble with Tom by Paul Collins, and that was my companion today.) BART sounds nice too ... the trains, I mean. And it is sufficiently clean and tidy notwithstanding that it is a heavily used urban transit system. It is not regal, though, like CalTrain which I ride daily now to my job at MRU. IN that sense, BART tells you what is happening, where CalTrain prefers palatial silence ... no announcements, no info. Just a train ... you figure it out.

So a half hour later, there I am at Shattuck and Center in downtown Berkeley ... or Berzerkeley as I generally prefer. The place is awash in studied unconcern and self-conscious coolness. Non-Bay-Areans (if I may) might figure that the two most liberal cities in America scant miles apart would feel the same ... but Berkeley is as un-San Francisco as San Jose or LA to me. It is a world apart ... isolationist, and frankly it feels more American to me than San Francisco. I am not entirely sure how to explain that ... but it is unpolished and raw like America is. It is not a jewel, but more like a big farm where the animals go about their business of eating and belching and littering. Perhaps it feels more American to me because it resembles Ann Arbor, one of the first American towns where I spent a lot of time.

When I return to my alma mater, I am unnerved a wee. Excited, giddy, uneasy. I try to walk the same routes I used to take. Cal looks great these days; the campus glows, and the major construction is confined to a long strip on the far south side. I was trying to admire the new East Asian Library but couldn't come up with words ... later one of my colleagues from MRU told me he thought it looks like a modernist mosque, and he had it right on. A little disappointing. Even so, it has fundamentally changed the weighting of the campus and made what used to be a spot to walk by while getting elsewhere into a hub.

And so, I arrived at the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, one of the finest buildings on campus and one which I only ever entered during my long stay here to look at the lobby. There is a pond outside that used to have fish, but is now, like so many ponds, just a fetid collector of trash ... I suppose the fish are gone as part of the great chloramine scandal ... but I will not go there now.

I like to say to my mother that I am now a wikian drupaller. And now in the lobby of Hearst, I am in the company of all manner of drupallers, wikian or otherwise. One of the guys at the sign-in table liked my Museum of Anthropology t-shirt and we had a long chat about Canada ... alas that turned out to be my only significant exchange with someone I did not know before I arrived. That stems as much from my own tendency to stand to the side and observe as from anything else. Of course at these affairs of enthusiasts, one avoids being exposed as a neophyte. It is the same in all conventions of believers ... I once found myself at a convention of killie fish enthusiasts by way of my then lover who had a brief dalliance thereabouts. The in-talk there, all the little in-jokes and snide asides ... just like every other in-crowd. Of course, being in an in-crowd does not make you cool in the broader sense. In fact, enthusiasts, if I may, are the least cool of all people. Hence, geekdom.

Geekdom. I got a cool, free T-shirt with a bad boy logo ... more like a bad drip logo in the powder blue that drupallers appear to favor. I like the T-shirt because it says "Bad Camp" which sounds naughty, and because it is black. I was surprised it was free ... evidently that exposed my newbie status as they were a little "oh well" about telling me so. Not nasty, just "in". In fact, nothing nasty here anywhere, a very welcoming atmosphere, but no doubt about the in-ness. Found this comment on the feed at the web site: "I was wondering if there was any thinking to having a party or social gathering (at a venue or bar or restaurant) on Saturday night? It's fantastic when a sea of Drupal swarms a place to drink, dance, and hack code." Yes, it is fantastic when a sea of the in expose the out to their in-ness. I wanna be a geek, too.

I attended three sessions ... skipped the middle session in the afternoon to do nostalgic tour of the campus and check in at one of my old coffee-shop haunts. As I said, this sort of thing is not about the latest techniques or advanced programming for me, but to get an understanding of how to manage and be involved with technology like this. So I am looking for flow and paradigm ... and naturally I have plenty of time to observe the interaction of geekdom and maleness ... maleness is my favorite topic any day of the week. So, no offense meant, but I was quite taken with the co-presenter in the first afternoon session I attended.

He seemed sweet and innocent ... rather blond, and evidently a farm boy of some kind as he sported a T-shirt with an inscription "Is this heaven? No it's Iowa" with an arrow pointing to a map of Iowa. Obvious geek. Tight body ... indeed very tight to the point where he didn't seem to be able to unhinge his neck from his shoulders. Lots of uhs and ahs, and constantly leading his sentences with "basically". When he wasn't speaking, he got his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, or stood nervously arms akimbo for a bit before throwing those hands behind him again. His feet dancing. He had to move past his co-presenter to point something on the projection at one point, but he quickly scurried back to his off-position, deferring, each movement behind the other fellow who was vastly more assured but equally informed and informative. The other fellow, tall and truly ill-dressed, looked like a garage band bass player grown past where the style makes sense. That hair ... he must stop every now and then during the day to find a pillow to muss it ... talk about looking like you just got out of bed. Not a studied look, at all. There were no studied looks at Bad Camp.

The Iowa boy works with five monitors. The other fellow made the point, and a light giggle trickled through the audience. Iowa boy was pleased. So was I.

What did I learn ... there are lots of tools and add-ons, and I figured out three things that we can do with our Drupal installation to solve specific problems. Again, I can't do them ... but I know they can be done, and I know how to set up the meetings to argue that they ought to be done.

The other presentation I went to was very advanced. This presenter, probably five years older than Iowa boy, just as cute, but vastly more assured, smoothed his way through what I saw as a complex installation, but never lost his audience for a moment. No highs and lows, no excitement, but ... to channel Cesar Milan ... calm authority. And what did I learn ... all the key terms and the order of creating a module. You see ... and I am constantly saying this at work ... I am looking for the narrative in technology, and I leave the mechanics to the mechanics.

So eventually, the day was over for me. I hung out in the lobby to make sure that my colleagues knew I was still there ... well, and to see if I could catch another glimpse of Iowa boy or smooth presenter ... no such luck. Had a chat with TC who is our server guy at work. Neither he nor I are coming on Sunday ... life, or in his case wife, demands a little attention and an all-weekend Drupal conference is best attended by the young and uncommitted, or by those who still thrill to a sea of night-swarming drupallers making the scene.

A not very efficient, long walk back to BART across the campus, cell chat with my sainted ex whose birthday I managed to forget again. One last thrill ... I managed to sit amongst a group of three louts ... well-behaved louts ... each of whom was sporting a beer. They spoke unaccented English, but slid into patois Spanish from time to time. One guy had his beer up his sleeve ... nice trick. Late 20s, over-fed, dingy-beclothed, bad hair, too loud by only a third, I would say. Suddenly, from nowhere, two BART cops, built like brick shithouses, and cinched into uniforms so sharp you would cut yourself if your ran your hand lovingly along the creases. Talk about calm authority! "I guess I better put this away" lead lout proffered submissively. "I have a better idea," lead cop barked. "Since you held up this train, why don't we get off and discuss this on the platform. For a moment I feared he might think I was part of them, but of course I had an open book as opposed to an open can, and they paid no never-mind to me.

So that was my trip to Berkeley. Long may it reign.

Photos of the Cal campus by Arod, taken with my new Lumix FZ5 with its Leica lens and 10x optical zoom. Sweet. More photos here. Top photo is a frieze on the Life Sciences Building; second photo is the ceiling of the lobby of the Hearst Memorial Mining Building; third photo is from a mosaic on the Old Art Gallery behind Sproul Hall; bottom photo is the Golden Bear on Lower Sproul. The little Drupal logo is, of course, not my photo.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Project Runway

It's late ... but there was a real nasty job on Project Runway. They ditched Jerrell. I think it stinks. ProjectRunGay predicted it. What a rip. KenLee should have been ditched last week, but they wanted her bitch thing ... and they wanted to ditch the gay guy. I am so pissed.

Swallow the Rabbit Whole V

The one word that struck me in the great debate 2 last night was "cynicism." Obama empathized with a woman for her "cynicism" towards government. The word made me cringe, and I thought it was a huge error until McCain repeated it in his response. I figure that his handlers let out a huge sigh when he repeated the word because with that utterance, a whole slew of negative ads went out the window.

But the word itself does not deserve to be forgotten. Cynicism is the result that 'publicans crave when they invented the Reagan revolution. They created the notion that government is always bad. In power, they created government that bankrupted itself and projected its power as the biggest bully in the world. But to the truck-lovers and sports-moms whom they invented, they decried every annoyance that comes from living in a society onto government. When things started to stink, they blamed it on "big-government" liberals.

It's not about big or small government. As the present financial crisis demonstrates, government is necessarily big in the current world. It's about good or bad government. It's about choosing what government should do and how it should do it.

The use of the word "cynicism" shows the degree to which the reactionaries have dominated the American political conversation for decades. They set the terms. They define government as bad and then use it to the advantage of their cronies; they send us to war ... cynically ... and then defy anyone to oppose them lest they be set up as opposed to the very soldiers they have sent to their doom.

In other words, it is the present conservatism that is cynical. When Cindy McCain, a "rich bitch" if ever there was one, does her slime-balling as she did today, accusing Obama of causing chills because he of a Senate vote not dissimilar to a vote by her hubbie, she demonstrates the precise meaning of cynicism. Bu it is some miscellaneous undeclared woman in the accidental audience at the silly town-hall-format debate who has to bear that label. Cynicism is not disappointment. It is not passive. Cynicism is that active obfuscation of understanding through deliberate confusion and feigned emotion.

Conservatism is built on cynicism. When cynicism becomes a code word for disappointment, it is victory for the enemies of democracy.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Swallow the Rabbit Whole IV

When the world caves in on John Sidney McCain III, he throws a world-class asshole purple-complected fit ... Rolling Stone has the goods on him. I couldn't put the article down.

Liberals have come to loathe the man. It's not actually his unblemished history of reactionary politics, but the obvious character-less and unprincipled thirst for power. So far from a straight-talker ... and that is all an act and always was ... he'll say pretty much anything to get what he wants. Now you had to feel ever so slight a chill of sympathy for the wizened old creep that he was forced to smile ... and does anyone have such a forced smile as McCain the third ... as he cozied up to dubya. But beyond that, most liberals have to look at why we once kind-of liked him. In 2000, he seemed like a "genuine" conservative, a mensch who was smiled by the reptilian forces of evil. We did buy it, you know. I remember various of us pointing out that he was a reactionary. But he was the okay reactionary.

Turns out that was never true, and it should be a lesson to all of us that a reactionary is a reactionary, even if they put a pile up a bunch of makeup on their scales.

I'm impressed that the Obama campaign is prepared for the late-game slimeballing approach that they had to know was coming. Kerry seemed stunned by the vicious of the swift-boaters, and he retreated behind the concrete contours of his high-cheeked visage. Obama is ready, and today released a 13-minute documentary on McCain's should-be-infamous pandering to the criminal savings-and-loan thief Charles Keating. They have preempted McCain's mudslinging with on-air commercials and web ads ... can't find the links, but I will try later.

And before we move on, read this if you want to be really paranoid and think aloud what we all lay awake fearing.

And before we move on, redux, wasn't it ghoulishly gratifying to read William Kristol today debasing himself in a completely transparent genuflection to Mrs. Lipstick in the New York Times today. I mean, piffle like this, the starting and ending lines of the column: "I spoke on the phone Sunday with Sarah Palin ... And maybe I’d add, Hockey Mom knows best." The "contract statement" makes hay of the fact that one or the other of them knows how to "dial" a phone, and the conclusion is that someone whose children play hockey is naturally suited to lead the most powerful country in the world as the very struts of the empire are revealed as rusting.

Between Kristol and David Brooks, there is a putrid river of insincerity, but there they are stuck out on a twig trying, trying to make a case for the most ludicrous VP candidate ever. Nauseating. Truly disgusting. There is not now, if there ever was, a genuine neocon intellect. It is all stance, a peacock-proud announcement of correctness in the face of evidence, where perky smiles and winks and nods and ditto-heads replace thought and analysis. How ashamed they must be. (If you choose to follow my links to these poseurs, may I suggest a quick jaunt to the bathroom for a Gravol ... this is stomach-heaving piffle.)

As the careful reader of my scribblings will know, my native interests go to history, and I have a recurring fascination with Central Asia. I am now in the middle of the first read of the history of the Safavids (1501-1722) of Iran, after a re-read of a the Ottomans and a first read of the Moghuls. In the premodern era, when a monarch died, people were afraid because all bets were off. All hell could break loose. What if the new king was a madman, what if he started killing people, what if the party which which you were associated fell out of favor? What if he were weak, and the ineluctable enemies surrounding moved in?

We live in a microcosm where the 50s notion of happiness and security in the family-owned home blinds people to the brutality of history. So when I am in my blackest mood, I realize that President Palin would be a familiar threat to the inhabitants of kingdoms up and down the eons of history. Things actually do go bad, and the familiar turns into hell. People can be really stupid, they drink their own koolaid. I mean, sensible people buy Chevy Suburbans ... why shouldn't Sarah Christian be a gawd-anointed President.

Still, I drink the polls every day like a parched man in the desert. We really are up right now. It might work out. Watch talkingpointsmemo and dailykos. Don't let your guard down, but enjoy the nervous optimism of the next few months. Still, we might actually win this one.

Photos by Arod of street art on hoardings. Tonight's drinks: a pair of Manhattans ... the old standby, the perfect end to a Monday.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

On Excellence

Project Runway, the Bravo "reality" show that features young fashion designers competing for the right to feature their designs at Fashion Week, threw us a curve.

I can't really say why I enjoy the show. I don't really care about women's clothing design. I mean it's nice and all, but it doesn't hold a candle to understanding military strategy in 16th-century Anatolia, the subject of my present reading. I definitely like all the gay guys ... and the one straight guy this year was really annoying. But this year there are three compelling women with very different viewpoints. The one remaining gay guy is a wiry stud who flashes a lot of skin. I like his stuff because it is edgy, but he never seems to get it all done.

So what's the curve ... they couldn't decide who to let go, so they asked the four remaining competitors to prepare lines for Fashion Week, and they will kick one of them out just before the show begins.

Now, before Project Runway, I had never heard of Fashion Week ... I admit it. Still seems like a silly title. But there it is. A bunch of overpaid types look at a bunch of stuff that nobody ever seems to wear. But what do I know.

The curve they threw us made me think of the slender tolerances that separate the vast amount of good from the tiny bit of great. I think about this a lot in terms of baseball, but that is easy ... as they say, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is one hit a week ... and a couple of million a year.

But I don't have a set of tools to judge fashion, so I fall back on impressions. And I couldn't pick either. I rooted for Korto, the woman of Nigerian extraction whose fashion have the scent of Africa without the overwhelming and overly specific taste of those fabulous fabrics from West Africa. And I couldn't stand the pushy personality of Kenlee and her formulaic if not predictable designs. But I really could not pick which should go.

And neither could they. I think they were admitting that the tolerances between good and great are so infinitesimal that they did not want to make the call ... they punted. And they made some good TV, because I really gotta watch next week.

(I have to crash ... two posts in one night, both on elections, if you will. I'll try to find a photo for this tomorrow. BTW, I managed to kill my "belt camera", the compact Canon Elph that I wear on my belt wherever I go. I am thinking of a 50% larger model, a Lumix with a 10x zoom, but I am conflicted. I'll let you know what happens.)

Swallow the Rabbit Whole III

... or through the kooking glass ...

Where does one start with the madness? I follow the election sites obsessively ... especially TalkingPointsMemo and DailyKos. I keep my politely bemused colleagues up-to-the-minute on state-by-state polls. I am cautiously ... aren't we all cautiously ... optimistic that we are going to pull this damned rabbit out of the hat whole.

But why is it even a debate? Bill Maher on the Daily Show points out that we are two countries ... old news ... one a rationalist European country that wants to live like Europeans and that is held back by this bizarre other country where people actually believe that Noah, two-by-two, loaded a pair of each species onto a wooden boat. So there is no end to that horror from which we cannot turn our eyes away that is Sarah Palin. TalkingPointsMemo reports that their YouTube vids of this dimwit are the most visited in their history ... if you haven't watched her, you must, you just must.

But I am not saying anything you don't know. It's hard to think of something to say that you don't know already. John McCain is a rageoholic asshole whose reputation for "straight_talk" is a cow pie in the sky. Everybody knows that ... even the wingnuts who pretend otherwise. And this is the fact of the 'publican House rejection of the bailout ... the conservative 'publicans had a chance to stick it to McCain and they did. They tried to blame Pelosi, but that was a joke. Did you catch barnie Frank ridiculing them? Sweet ... but this was a stick-it-to-the-asshole, and I think it was pretty naked.

So I'll say this about the big debate tomorrow ... can somebody get to Joe Biden and tell him this ... just answer the questions slowly, calmly, intelligently. And when she speaks, listen attentively. When she is done, pause, count to five or ten. Let it sink in. Then answer like an adult. I think that we have to have confidence that she truly is a total moron with less depth than ... is it possible ... dubya his-self.

In my "native" Canada at the very same moment as the Palin woman will be diddling with the English language, they will stage a five-party debate leading to the October 14 election. Wish I could catch it, and I suppose I will catch up with it on the web at some point. But given a choice between a pile of unseasoned arugula and dead cattle that has fallen off the grill ... most of go for the road kill. I figure I'm pretty sophisticated ... I am a San Francisco liberal, after all ... but I gotta watch the road kill, the train wreck, the increasingly faint possibility that the most powerful empire in the history of humankind might be ruled by some lipstick, an overamped Idaho accent, and a brain that is no match for my dog.

Dinner's on. Tonight's cocktails were a Vince Guaraldi (gold Barbados Rum, lemon juice, Pernod, Grenadine, and a lemon twist) followed by a Rum Sidecar (rum, lime, CuraƧao rather than Cointreau). Pleasantly soused, ready to eat and then sleep and then back to the grind. All photos by Arod from some ramble South of Market.