Thursday, January 29, 2009

'publicans in the era Obama

crazy Republican screams at student on his way to a lecture by Bill Ayers
'60s radical Ayers cheered, booed at St. Mary's
Sherry Perussina of Danville (right) and St. Mary's student Moises Gonzalez argue about whether Bill Ayers should be speaking on campus. (Brant Ward / The Chronicle)

The photo says it all. The 'publicans can't give up because they know nothing else.

So Obama, notwithstanding all the bipartisan stuff and the meetings and the têtes-à-tête with McCain, managed to get exactly zero votes form the 'publicans in the House for the stimulus package. And after he screwed the entire thing with all those tax cuts. If this is the era of responsibility, he should look Americans in the eye and say, "Look, buddy, ya got a job. Be happy.We'll get you some tax cuts once we fix this thing. In the meanwhile, we're spending our money on infrastructure."

The stimulus package is not, alas, an indication of a new politics. It is a whole bunch more of the same. Some infrastructure, not enough. Nothing earth shattering. Where is the complete reconfiguration of the nation's approach to water? What about the new information highway? It's not there. But perhaps the package is an indication of a new spirit of working together, the lion and the lamb, old dogs and wee kittens gamboling in the streets.

Well, that would be a no. Because the 'publicans in the House believe that the biggest threat they face is from a right wing extremist in a primary. After all, these are the ones who resisted the Obama surge. So they swallowed their cud and started creaming, "Nooooooooo" as only extremists know how.

And this nincompoop, Mrs. Perussina, displays the technique that worked so well for them for 28 years. Scream at everything until you are blue in the face ... or red in the face. And then scream some more. Don't, for chrissake, allow even a moment for reflection.

Screw 'em, Obama. You won. They lost. Time for the revolution you promised, the new way of thinking and acting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


There are turning points.

Read that sentence four ways, emphasizing in each attempt a different word. The funny thing is that no matter which word you emphasize, the sentence points to the ephemeral nature of the pivotal moment. It arrives after long build-up, and it is gone before you know it. But pivots do happen. There are moments in history where everything that was before is changed.

Is this such a moment?

I think it is. The gathering clouds portend answers or barbarism. Either is a pivot. It is remarkable that "at this moment" a figure has appeared who has all the appearances of transcendence, who appears to understand that it is not an adjustment or a correction that is needed, but a reorientation. That the rules have changed, and that the ground under our feet has adjusted.

And it is striking that this figure seized the stage and took power against odds and expectations and a vast gorge of conventional wisdom. And that he did it by changing the rules.

The rules have changed and he changed the rules in response. He comes to the office invented from whole cloth, his own man, with fewer debts to pay than any President in memory. He projects assurance, and he has consistently stated that he expects change. His oration was sure and soaring. He proposes to mobilize a nation, and a new generation. He enlists artists and creators. His people sure know how to put on an event.

So now this moment evanesces and we are left with the pivot. Did we pivot? I think we did.

A few notes: I spent 10 hours with my friend Tim watching every moment, including the actual ceremony twice. We were joined at various times by Adam and Lorin. Some observations ...

The Rick Warren invocation actually held out numerous hooks upon which we can hang our case. If he wishes to pose himself as a new kind of evangelical, and if Obama says he fiercely supports us, the what do we say to his invocation of God:

It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story.

Don't we come from him? Don't we belong to him? Isn't our history part of his story?

I could ramble on. I thought it was an eloquent invocation ... got a little jeezussy at the end ... but all evangelicals continually evade their hatred for us. We are here, we are now, we are part of this. That's what we have to say, and we reject the comfortable compromise that says we get whatever we can grab but we do not get into the party. I still believe that this invitation was a slap to us. We know that. We still want in ... all the way in.

O Aretha, how I worship you. The voice is aged but still sublime, and the spirit soars. I just love her.

The quartet was sublime. It was a pause, unexpected, that gave us inner silence amid pensive and demanding music to model in our minds the character of this pivotal moment.

Curses to John Roberts for botching the oath ... I figure he was supposed to say Barack H. and instead he said Barack Hussein, and that threw it all off ... and after that he botched it up again further. One day, he votes for gay marriage. You read it here first.

Nothing to add about the inaugural address other than to say it was the best speech so far ... imagine a President who is a truly gifted orator.

The poet ... good lord, that was ridiculous. Terrible.

But Joseph Lowery ... now there's a poet!! He walked from the earliest days with Martin Luther King, Jr. and now he is here. His words were sweet music ... don't think I'm getting soft. Religious language can be sublime; I still don't trust it, but I can enjoy it.

It was moving to watch the big queen in the grey jacket leading the Gay Marching. He was having a ball and it showed.

Last note ... how come virtually everyone split from the Presidential viewing platform by the end of the parade except the first family? You get an invite like that, you stick around.

We got an invite, and we better stick around.

Photos by Arod. The line graphic is from a fence near Hayes and Octavia; the party shot is from a party store on Church Street near Valley. I took the party photo today on the way to the party.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Obama Concert at Lincoln Memorial

Blogging the concert at the Lincoln Memorial as it is replayed on HBO. Thanks to my Facebook pal Ted Gideonse for "statusing" this.

I flip to HBO and there are two of my favorites, Bettye LaVette and John Bon Jovi, singing an unlikely duet. Wow. I am just tingling with this moment. She got the soul, they both got the chops, and he is still a stud.

Tom Hanks always seems a little Canadian to me ... but performing in front of Lincoln, and speaking about Lincoln, and quoting Lincoln from 1862:

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

And then from 1858, the last debate with Stephen Douglas:
It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

And then:
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

And at Gettysburg, finally:
It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

That is the America the 'publicans have eschewed. We are the patriots, liberals are the ones who are faithful to the principles upon which the republic was founded.

But wait, it is Marissa Tome, quoting Reagan. This will be the part of Obama that will be a little annoying. Gotta do it .. gotta do the bipartisan thing, I guess. And he is very smooth about it. Look at all the news about him and McCain. But really, they had their shot. Reagan is the the start of the madness, the moronic anti-government philosophy that has led us to these terrible straits. remember it was in his first inaugural that he said that government is the problem. That was the start of the madness, the "one party, no government" theory that has led us to these dangerous straits. So long as paeans to Reagan are just stagecraft, we can hold our noses and carry on. But no substance there.

James Taylor appears ... an old hippie quavers. We have come back ... what goes around, comes around. There is a time and a season. I actually do not know who John Legend is, but a fine voice. Same with Jennifer Nettles.

Shower the people with love.

Joe Biden takes the stage and leads with family, faith, and work. Fair chance. Work, dignity, respect. Looking your child in the eye. Honey, it's going to be alright.

Next thing, he'll start singing the Ballad of Joe Hill.

I wish his voice was half an octave lower. Moving enough, but graciously short. His speech, that is.

Now, John Mellencamp ... Ain't that America. We've been listening to this rock ballad for years, and now he plays it as red carpet to the recovery of the White House from the forces of darkness. Who could have imagined this? Yes, I am still tingling.

I want to think it's corny ... but it is spine tingling.

Queen Latifah speaks about Marion Anderson and her 1939 concert at the same place, in front of Lincoln. My Country 'tis of Thee. And Josh Groban sings it again in the same place ... with Heather Hedley .. and the Gay Men's Chorus. My gawd. I am crying.

Let Freedom Ring.

Alas, there is no acknowledgment that it is the Gay Men's Chorus. What can I say.

Oh wow. Herbie Hancock and Sheryl Crow and a male vocalist whose name I missed. I have followed Herbie Hancock since forever. They sing One Love.

Oneness is the underlying philosophical conundrum that has bedeviled civilization since Constantine's lamentable feint to the Chi Rho in 812 ... everybody is for oneness, and it is a curiosity that even in celebration of diversity, oneness still resonates. Oneness feels good, it feels simple, it dissolves the persistent diversity into a bath of warm fuzziness.

Yeah, let's get together and feel alright.

And now, Tiger Woods. A stiff speech about his military family. Heartfelt, but I am not sure that he knows how to feel heart in public. He is Obama's cypher in a strange way. Biracial, he burst an equally segregated club ... professional gold ... by reason both of his consummate skill and his shattering clam in the face of crisis.

Renee Fleming shows us what a big voice really means. A little slow ... these classical singers are always a little slow ... but man, do they blow the lid of a big note.

You'll never walk alone.
Touching photos of military families. Soaring music.

Jack Black! Remember the crazy vid he did, after the fact, against Prop 8. He channels Lincoln also with reference to Yosemite Valley and the origins of conservationism. Alas, I am not sure of the name of the women who is channeling Teddy Roosevelt.

Leave it as it is. You cannot improve it. Man can only mar it.

Wow ... country boy Garth Brooks, looking a little grey, singing Bye Bye Miss America Pie, salutes environmentalism with nods to gawd and rock n roll.

Jeez, these Obama folks know pageant and presentation!

And cut to Obama, groovin to the music ... and you know he gets it. He's singing along, and all the words are right on his lips.

What if this really is a moment, and the terms change. Obama is saying that is the deal ... he is saying it
You know you want to make me want to shout ... everybody now ... I want you to know ... yeah yeah yeah ... a little bit louder now ...

And then ...
We Shall be free ... walk proud.

He shouts

God bless America, God bless the world, love one another.

A country singer. Keep that in mind.

Ashley Judd and Forest Whittaker. Loses me ... I guess I do not keep up with all the constantly evolving celebrity, but I do not precisely know who these people are.

This is about art and artists ... courage, honor, hope, pride, compassion, pity, sacrifice. The poet's voice. The pillar to help us prevail.

Omigawd. Stevie Wonder ... and Usher. But Stevie Wonder. And Shakira. But Stevie Wonder.

People ... till I reached the highest ground.

We reached the highest ground. Can you imagine the depth of Stevie Wonder at this moment. How long his journey, how dark the night, how bright the moment. This has to be one of the greatest moments in his career.

Till I reach the highest ground, till my last breath.

This is the highest ground.

Samuel L. Jackson in a beret talking about foot soldiers in the quest for freedom. Talking about Rosa Parks. Talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. A bit of a hackneyed speech. But this from Rosa Parks:
I did not get on the bus to get arrested. I got on the bus to go home.

O lord, U2 and Bono ... Let Freedom Ring.

Now Bono no longer has not to cooperate with conservatives ... he can work with the real progressives.
In the name of love ... One man ... not just an American dream, also an Irish Dream, African dream, Israeli dream, Palestinian dream.

Let freedom ring. Every village, every hamlet, every city. Let freedom ring.

O you look so beautiful tonight. In the city of blinding lights.

And now Obama simply walks to the podium and gives his short address, not an afterthought, but underplayed.
Just what it is we love about America ... this celebration of American renewal.

But here is where we have to part ... even in this moment, they managed to slight us, to give short shrift to gay people. Gene Robinson's invocation was not broadcast, nor was it mentioned in any article I could find, not in the New York Times. And the Gay Men's Chorus that brought a tear to my eye above ... it was not identified.

So, in the midst of this stirring moment, remember that we are still the silenced ones. We will not be silent any more. That said, I am stirred in my soul more than I have been for a very long time.

Omigawd ... Pete Seeger ... as I went walking that ribbon of highway!!
This land was made for you and me.

Obama, we want in ... all the way in.

Beyonce closes with an America the Beautiful that would stir even the dead.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Photos by Arod from around town over the last months.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


(I significantly rewrote the latter part of this ... if you saw it without pix, then this is new to you.)

So I gotta canoodle a little ... canoodle in the wheedle sense ... when you ruminate more than poop, you get indigestion. And when a writer fulminates over long dog walks and rewrites unwritten pieces in his head, this is the definition of dithering. I have been dithering. So watching American Idol for the second night running, time to poop or get off the pot. Apologies for the vulgarity, but it has the effect of embarrassing me out of inaction.

So she stands before us, porcelain and pharaonic, her smile fixed but not unnatural. I replied to my table mate, who asked who the speaker was as we ate our bagels ... reduced from the former full breakfast proffered before Lehman Brothers announced the end of the Dubya delusion ... that it did not matter. But it turned out that, for once, it did matter. This seemingly fragile prof changed my mind.

I was at the monthly staff meeting of my unit where around a hundred of my colleagues are ennobled by the words of others. In this case, it was the words of Carol Dweck who presented her research on mindset.

So ... aside number one ... the careful reader will google Professor Dweck and figure quickly where I work which I still call MRU (major research university) in the unlikely service of the notion that no one can search the university's name and find my tendentious scribblings. And ... aside number two ... I have been working for and around and under professors in one capacity or another for almost 25 years. They are a curious lot ... I almost joined them, but the vagaries of luck and determination and strategy left me a step short. I am not angry about that because I understand it and I enjoy being who I am. But few professors, I think, fully understand that interaction of luck, determination, and strategy that leads them to their heights. Yes, heights. For professors, in time, elevate and dilate. How they deal with this metaphorical inflation is what predicts how the ambient and ethereal staff, of whom I am one, experience them. Of course, their work alone predicts their impact. But I experience them as these figures who have lost contact with the ground even as they enthuse into the air. No judgment here. There are many routes from yonder to wherever one is heading.

So we are watching this deliberate and rarefied presentation by a women so tightly presented that I was disconcerted by the off-center pin on her lapel.

But she sold me.

She presents a distinction between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Fine. But the mind blow is that the fixed mindset confronted by defeat retreats because it assumes a fixed quantity of the quality at issue. So students who have been praised all their life because they are smart, do more poorly when confronted with failure than students who have been praised for working hard.

Of course, at first blush, one quickly finds ways to apply the distinction to oneself with self-satisfying effect. That can be complex. When I find myself to be of a fixed mindset, I challenge myself and find that my fixed mindset was actually a foil for my underlying growth mindset.

I do not want to be totally cynical here. I bought her book and got a signature, and I told her, totally genuinely, that hers was that first cogent and fully articulated exposition of an educational point of view that opposed the ludicrous self-esteem movement that made so many skeptics, myself included, ill. I did not use the words "ludicrous" or "ill". I said that I had always been intellectually repulsed by the idea of self-esteem. I'll return to her response below.

The point of global theories that, objectively, come and go, is their utility, even when that utility is ephemeral. Dweck is a professor of psychology, and there is a competition of ideas in a field like psychology that responds simultaneously and dialectically both to the ideas to which it is counterposed and to the pressures of the society which is that professoriate. For part of the elevation and dilation is the intensely involuted world of a department or a field. But in considering ideas, we have to leave behind the sordid immediacy of human society.

That is how she won me over.

I am not generally impressed by psychological ideas (sorry, Matt) but this was an idea of utility which also crystallized a recognizable contradiction in what we observe in ourselves and those around us. And the presentation had the effect of mirroring in its form the idea its ought to propagate. The rhetorician in me like that. Yes it did.

The notion that academics are doomed to inadequacy because the milieu from which they emerge is human and mediated and not free resigns itself to a fixed mindset in which there is only absolute and failed, and nothing in between. Neither the world nor thought works that way. The key thing here is the conversation, no matter how attenuated and bizarre it may appear from the outside. She made one comment that showed that ... "in the worst days of the self-esteem movement." So underlying much of this work was the opposition to a movement that swept American educational scholarship ... an idea that always made me unsettled because its simplicity defied the complexity that is human experience. If we just feel good about ourselves, then everything will be fine ... perhaps 8 years of the presidency of a man who clearly feels good about himself and is filled to the brim with self esteem knocked the stuffing out of that nonsense.

Many of us have been dismayed at the way in which "theory" swamped the "content" of so many disciplines, especially literary ones. But that movement appears to be waning. Certainly, after all the theory wars, the scholarly history being written and researched today is shaking the world. The bizarre a priori nonsense that passed as feminist scholarship in the 80s and 90s is in full retreat, and nobody seems to care about it any more except for the few diehards who made their careers there. Linguistics appears to be stuck in the theory maze ... but what will blow up that miasma? Abstention or involvement ... independence or engagement?

There is no single answer here, and I will try to return to this predicament in the future. But what impressed me about Dweck was that, notwithstanding the rarified element, has made a career of undermining a misleading discourse, and in the event provided some evidence of how minds confront learning.

I guess I am shadow boxing here.

So professor Dweck convinced me that she had an idea, well researched and sufficiently credentialed. And that was pleasurable.

After the talk, I bought the book and asked her for an autograph ... no autograph hound here, but handing the book to the author is so gratifying for her that how can I deny it to her. I introduced myself to her and told her that I produced the course catalog. I paraphrase, but she said, "Ah, but the one I want to meet is the room scheduler. I have a ten minute walk from my office to my classroom." I wanted to say, but did not, "O, woman, you have a ten minute walk across a beautiful campus, and when you arrive a bunch of spectacular youth hang on your every word. What torture it must be for you."

I decided not to allow that little moment of professorial self-pity undermine my excursus into happy psycho-thought.

That's going to have to be it ... American Idol is over ... and this is whatever it is. A number of half-expressed ideas, but the true joy of a blog is the commitment to one's own self that publishing the half-expressed implies. Whatever is half unexpressed will compel me tomorrow to fill in the blanks.

Photos by Arod. The top from Castro Street, I think; the middle from some street art within a block or two of Market and Van Ness; the bottom from one of a series of me in reflection. All are in some klutzy way illustrative of mindset.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Nice piece by Stanley Fish on Roland Burris and St. Augustine. I like Stanley Fish, and I abjectly apologize to anyone offended by that. This piece starts with how Augustine saved the church for sinners by defeating the party who thought that compromisers with repression should never be bishops. This mirrors the efforts of Jerome against the Pelagians: the latter were a free-will sect that denied original sin. The essence of both these fights was whether Christianity would be for everyone ... i.e., sinners, or in Fish's argument, the tainted ... or for the elect ... i.e., saints.

But the truth is a little more complex. Augustine's universalism was repressive in the sense that he created the ideology that required sinners to find redemption in the church, and then averred that those who found redemption had been chosen by god, and those that did not had been rejected by god, all in advance of the fact of course. The Pelagians argued that god gave us the ability to save ourselves and then waited to see what we would do. Of course, that would have been a god who did not know in advance, and that was the core of the heresy. And this is the core problem in monotheism ... the muslims had the same problem which they solved by slaughtering the free-will thinkers, the Mu'tazili.

The Donatist heresy was just a little too pure for practical purposes. If those who cooperated with Roman repression by denying their earlier Christianity were banned from returning to their earlier positions in the church, it would mean that the church would be dominated by purists little prone to practicality. But the church is always worldly ... the essence of understanding religious history is always to remember the relationship of the church to the state. (I have a brewing post on this again ... and this post is a sort of placeholder while I try to rouse my energies to the 6 hours it will take me to choke it out ... given that I have three things to write for work and two big emails to friends that are slated for a Sunday which I would prefer to spend in solitude and rambling, well it does not look good ... but there is always procrastination to hope for.)

All the assorted religious movements in christianity are prefigured in the heresies of the early centuries. The Donatists are a little like Fred Phelps ... one taste of hell and you burn forever.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Who cares who wins the Bowl Championship Series especially when it is between Florida and Oklahoma? But I picked OK, and I think I am going to lose.

When I don't care, I tend to pick the cuter QB ... and for me that is Sam Bradford. Face like a horse, but what legs! Tim Tebow, of Florida fame, is your classic brick shithouse, and more annoyingly, he is some kind of big-time christian. Hanging out in leper colonies, fer chrissake ... and they got to rambling on about what a good guy he is. The cynic looks for a bridge under which to hide.

Sometimes I pick teams based on who their state voted for in the last Presidential election. That ought to mean Florida. But something sticks in the craw. Florida has it too good ... beaches, sun, rum, Cubans ... something has to stink, and at least that could be sports. But, nooooo!

Sports is like religion ... it makes no sense, and it has no meaning other than what you assign to it. This was a crappy game ... made the worse by way of the annoying announcing of whosits ... can't think of his name. But I end up caring. Kind of like a wandering Jew looking for a synagogue and finding ten morons. Oh well, he gasps, at least it's a minyan.

Does that make sense?

No. Nor does sports. But at least I am a sports fan and not some kind of religious maniac.

BTW, Florida won ... and they deserved to win because they rose at all the key moments. But I'm bummed, and I still think Bradford is hot. Time to feed my fish. Will I remember this in the morning? I hope not.

(Rech! Tebow has "John 3:16" written on the black under his eyes as he thanks Jesus Christ in the post game interview. As if Jesus would care when he has the apparently now even bigger black hole at the center of the Milky Way to think about. I need another martini.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Anne of Green Gables

I just cannot get a "write" on. Back to work this week after three weeks off, and the mind reels from idea to idea.

Just watched 15 minutes of an episode of Anne of Green Gables and even sort of enjoyed it. Right now, the boob tube has some local show of a fat, happy guy from Monterey who is in France with some truffle hunters. What is wrong with me?

Reading Peter Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom ... a most rounded explanation of the period from 200 - 1000.

I tried to write something about New Year's Day and resolutions ... but it was tawdry and pointless. I promise to be a nicer person, to accept demographic change with more grace (i.e.m reduce my grousing about yuppie scum in the neighborhood by 50%), and to try to take a night off from drinking alcohol once a week. Or maybe not.

I am looking forward to Obama's inauguration. I still cannot let go of the Rick Warren betrayal. But I like the Panetta and Gupta appointments. I don't believe Richardson, even though I don't really think he is corrupt.

I think Thomas Friedman forgets roughly 1200 years of Arab history when he writes "The struggle for hegemony over the modern Arab world is as old as Nasser’s Egypt. But what is new today is that non-Arab Iran is now making a bid for primacy — challenging Egypt and Saudi Arabia." Otherwise, I pretty much agree with today's column.

The Warriors are losing to the Lakers. Yawn. I hope the Giants do not sign Manny.

This is what ennui feels like ... and I have no reason whatsoever in gawd's green earth to feel ennui. Except that Christmas is over and reality is back. I promise to get over myself shortly. Really.