Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Poem

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Serendipitous Quotation of the Day

"I tell myself there is only one true thing in our world, to satisfy one's heart, to feel and go to the bottom of all one's feelings, to desire and go to the bottom of all one's desires; finally to live one's own life, one's sincere life, outside of all lies and all conventions." --Wallace Stevens

Thursday, December 02, 2004

GRIEF: National Children's Memorial Day

The holidays are hard for bereaved families. Especially if you're grieving for someone who died too young, the holidays can be close to unbearable. One way to handle it is to make a place for the grief. Every year I take part in this, and every year it offers some comfort.

The Worldwide Candle Lighting®

In loving memory of all children who are no longer with us, The Compassionate Friends extends an invitation for you, your family, and friends to join tens of thousands of persons around the globe for the eighth annual Worldwide Candle Lighting.

On Sunday, December 12, 2004, hundreds of community candle lighting ceremonies will be held in parks, churches, and other public places by TCF chapters, allied organizations, and other compassionate groups. Thousands more will be held informally in homes. The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting is held every year on the second Sunday in December at 7 p.m. local time for one hour in each time zone around the globe—a 24-hour remembrance of all children who have died.

A “Remembrance Book” will be available from The Compassionate Friends Website home page, Sunday, December 12, 2004 for all who wish to leave a message in memory of the children gone too soon. Please make plans to post a message that day.

We do this . . . that their light may always shine!

Whether you're grieving a baby who never had a chance to live, a child who didn't get to grow up, or an adult whose life ended in their prime, grieving parents (siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends) can participate.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Signs of Winter

Slanders to the contrary, Silicon Valley does indeed have a change of seasons. Here’s how to tell that winter is coming:

  • Sometimes, now, there are clouds in the sky.

  • We’ve started using the woodstove in the evenings.

  • Gabriel has come back to my bed.

  • The freeway medians are vivid with bittersweet.

  • I’ve changed my cell phone ring to “Ode to Joy” from “Take Me out to the Ball Game.”

  • The hills are turning green.

Sometimes, now, there are clouds in the sky.

Yes, we really go months without seeing a cloud, except the occasional feather-light cirrus floating mindlessly in the empyrean. The towering cumulonimbus clouds, grand and imposing, don’t form here from late March through, say, September. We do sometimes get a morning overcast, known as the marine layer, but it always burns off, leaving skies of a deep, dazzling blue seen back home only in the first weeks of October.

Now, given the legendary cloudiness of my native climate—which is more overcast than Seattle—you can imagine how strange this relentless sunshine is to me. I love it when the clouds return, casting dappled shadows over the hills, melting sometimes into soft watercolor skies.

The rain comes back with the clouds. On September 18, I woke to discover that it was raining—a gentle, brief shower that dissolved into sunshine before long. Then a month passed without rain. By late October, though, rain was coming regularly, omce a week or so: drizzles, downpours, squalls, even a little thunder once.

Along with the clouds and rain, the wind comes back in winter. Summer has light breezes and predictable wind patterns: the evening breeze is consistent. In the winter, cool gusty winds rise, and so do my spirits.

We’ve started using the woodstove in the evenings.

Nights are always cool in Silicon Valley; even in the hottest weather, night-time temperatures fall into the sixties or fifties. But since our house was built without insulation, the only way to keep it cool in summer is an elaborate system devised by Sonja. Huge fans keep the air circulating round the clock. In the daytime, all the windows are closed and covered with curtains, black mesh fabric, and blinds, a system that keeps some of the heat out; nevertheless, on the very hottest days, the upstairs can hit an easy 95 degrees by 5PM. At night, the curtains are fastened back, the windows and skylight are opened, and the cool air pours in. By midnight, the house is cool and comfortable, and by 3AM, I’m pulling up extra covers.

In winter, night-time temperatures drop into the forties, sometimes below, and daytime temperatures range from the fifties to the seventies.

Gabriel has come back to my bed.

All summer long, Gabriel takes advantage of the long days and warm nights to go hunting. It’s like having a teenager; she comes in for meals and demands to go out again almost immediately. She doesn’t want to be petted, either—also like a teenager. She was a feral cat, and although she loves me, she is still at heart a wild animal.

In Jackson’s short, wet summers, there were plenty of days when she stayed in. Not that she dislikes wet or cold weather; she has always loved going out in the rain and snow, and her thick fur keeps her dry no matter what. But even feral cats have an instinct for comfort. Besides, in the rain there is no prey to hunt.

When winter comes, she sleeps on my bed at least part of every night. Every year I wonder if this time she’s ever coming back. So far she always has.

The freeway medians are brilliant with bittersweet.

At least, I’ve always assumed it’s bittersweet. It grows dense and beautiful here, thick vines and shrubs of red-orange berries that last through the winter. However, I suspect that they may be the native toyon—the false holly of Hollywood. Bittersweet is out of its range here.

Edit: No, it's pyracantha and cotoneaster. Neither one is native.

I’ve changed my cell phone ring to “Ode to Joy” from “Take Me out to the Ball Game.”

When the World Series is over, so is the song. Sometime between the first day of spring training and opening day, when the Phillies’ prospects look good, I’ll switch back from the “Ode to Joy” to the “Ode to Frustration,” AKA “Well, at Least This Year They Might Finish Above .500” or “Please, God, Please Don’t Make Us Stay in Last Place.”

The hills are turning green.

This is painfully counterintuitive for the Northeasterner in exile. I’m used to the hills changing color in response to the seasons, but not this change. Back home, summer green (emerald nearby, melting to slate blue in the distance) gives way to the incandescent scarlets and golds of October, thence to the quiet russets and browns of November, then the pencilled landscapes of winter—slate-grey, slate-purple, and blue-white. By April there is a haze of red on the grey hills, and by the end of May it’s all green again.

Of course the deciduous trees turn color here; in fact, this year for some reason they were particularly brilliant. Or perhaps I’m forgetting what fall is really like. (By the freeways of San Jose, there we sat down; there we wept, as we remembered Jackson. . . . If I forget thee, Pennsylvania, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.) But there are very few native deciduous trees in California. Many of the native oaks here are evergreen, and they have strange, narrow, blackish-green leaves like strips of leather.

All summer long, the grassy hills here stay the soft color of a palomino horse. They’re vividly alive, the grass so pale the hills seem to be outlined in light. Every fold and curve is emphasized by the short-growing grass, and the crevices where water collects are dense with brush.

By October, though, a tinge of green shows here and there. Then the hills look like ancient horsehair upholstery faded with sun. As the weeks progress, the folds and crevices of the upholstery begin to show hints of their original green. Now, in the beginning of December, the hills are more green than pale, and every rain makes them a little younger. Here winter is the season of new life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

TECHNONEWS: The Upgrade Cascade

Where have I been lately? Cursing computers and blessing NaNoWriMo, which has once again proved astonishingly helpful in unexpected ways.

Sometime in late September, the Lombard breathed its last. (Bad processor. Not worth fixing.) After trying alternatives for a month, I admitted that a new laptop wasn't a luxury, but a necessity. During the period of waiting, Apple came out with hot new iBooks. My new computer arrived 2 weeks ago, and I love it. G4, 1.2 MHz processor, 768 MB RAM, 30-gig hard drive, running OS X 10.3.3, also known as Panther. Built-in CD-writer and Airport card. Truly lovely.

One reason I put off getting Mac OS X for so many years was my fear of The Upgrade Cascade — the long, tumbling series of changes that must be made whenever you upgrade operating systems. It's expensive, time-consuming, and often frustrating.

It wasn't so bad with the various versions of Mac Classic: I'm still running some software on 9.2.2 that I originally bought or downloaded ten years ago for 7.6. Unfortunately, that tends to be simple game software—UltraDice, Solitaire Antics, Shanghai II. The more complicated software by which I earn my living always seems to demand the latest, most expensive innovations.

The last time I had an Upgrade Cascade was back in the fall of 1996, when I bought the Okidata 810e printer, a workhouse laser printer that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately, PageMaker 4.0 (the backbone of my business) wouldn't recognize the printer. Upgrade to PageMaker 6.5. PageMaker 6.5 wouldn't work with the older operating system. Upgrade to OS 8.1. My old version of Word (2.0, I believe) wouldn't work with OS 8.1. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. I spent a solid two weeks and a fair bit of money installing, updating, re-saving documents in new format, and learning the new software.

Life has been fairly eventful since then, so I did everything I could to freeze the computing world at 1999 or so. The desktop is a beige G3 running System 8.6 with 2 whole gigs of hard drive and 128MB of RAM, and with one USB 1.1 port. My lovely Lombard laptop ran 9.2.2. The printer worked with the desktop. Files from the desktop could be saved to Zip disk and copied to the laptop, and vice versa.

Like all sneakernet systems, it had its limitations. The laptop had Internet access, but the desktop does not, so I couldn't directly email myself files. The desktop would write to floppies, but the laptop had no floppy drive. I had to copy the files to a Windows machine and email them to myself. But for a few years I had a system that functioned.

Now, of course, I'm dealing with an OS that is not backward compatible at all. Moreover, hardware protocols have changed completely. Gone are the 9-pin printer cables, the ADB keyboard connectors, the SCSI ports. The new laptop has USB 2.0 and Firewire ports.

When the Lombard died, I had the tech guy transplant the hard drive into a USB enclosure. It worked fine with the G3 loaner laptop I had for NaNoWriMo (and which was donated to the laptop library by Karen Toensfeldt, a friend of mine from the South Bay NaNoWriters). Alas, the iBook couldn’t even see the drive; a techie friend fixed that by plugging both USB connectors of the Y-shaped cable into the laptop. I thought my troubles were over. (I also thought I was an idiot, but never mind that.)

Then I would start to transfer files, and after two or three, the laptop would crash. Apparently, the notoriously chipset-sensitive Panther OS doesn’t care for this particular USB manufacturer. Finally I realized I could transfer the files to the loaner laptop, hook it to the iBook with a firewire cable, and start it in target mode. This worked. Sunday night Alan Bostick came over with a firewire cable. You should have heard me crowing as the megabytes sped into the new iBook. My brain was coming back!

The process isn’t over. I need to install 9.2.2 on the iBook so I can run some of the older software in Classic mode. Also, I have ten years worth of backups on Zip disks, which apparently commit suicide when they see OS X. So I’m going to upgrade the desktop to 9.2.2, which will allow the desktop to see the hard drive. I’m going to copy all those damned Zip disks onto the hard drive and run them through the loaner laptop. Can’t link the iBook directly with the beige G3—no firewire port. Then I am going to burn every bit of essential data to CDs, see if I can trade the USB case for a combined USB/firewire enclosure, and use the 10-gigabyte hard drive as extra memory for the desktop.

And then I’m going to take a nap.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Quote of the Day

"You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty." Jessica Mitford (1917-1996)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Thoughts from a Soldier on the Front Lines

I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defense and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.

I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

Siegfried L. Sassoon...July 1917

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Hunter Thompson, Updated for Today

This may be is the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it -- that we are really just a nation of 220 290 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, John Kerry, for all his imprecise talk about new politics and "honesty in government," is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon George W. Bush.

McGovern made some stupid mistakes Kerry espouses some wrong-headed opinions, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon George W. Bush does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.

Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to become President?

Friday, October 29, 2004

When you’re advertising your laptop for sale. . .

Please list more than the model and price. PowerBooks and iBooks come in a variety of sizes and configurations. If I can't guess from your ad whether you're selling a battered Wallstreet or a brand-new 17" PowerBook with a gig of RAM, I'm much less likely to email you about it and ultimately to hand you my hard-earned cash. Same goes for Windows laptops.

Some ads are short enough to count as haiku, though most ads omit the obligatory reference to the season. This is Craigslist, not a newspaper. You are not being charged by the word for your ad. Go, tell me alllll about it. It’s easier than answering 17 emails or telling the same information to a dozen callers.

Here's a basic list of specific features to put in your ad:

  • Processor speed: 333 MHz? 1.33 GHz? Is your laptop a tortoise or a hare?

  • RAM: 128MB? 1 GB? RAM’s a lot cheaper than it used to be, but today’s computers gobble memory like potato chips. I need to know what I’ll have available and whether I can run Quark, Word, Excel, and a chat window simultaneously.

  • Hard drive capacity: 235 MB or 80 GB, this is one place where size does matter. When I got my Lombard, I wondered how anyone could ever fill up a 10-gig hard drive. I learned.

  • Communications capabilities. Modem? Ethernet? Wifi? If I have to find a freaking phone jack whenever I want to check email, I need to know -- and you need to adjust the price accordingly.

  • Screen size, type, and condition. The 17” monsters have some allure, but there are good things to be said for a more compact, lighter laptop. There’s also a difference between passive matrix, active matrix, and TFT. Are there any dead pixels? Any strange red vertical lines? Does the image waver?

  • CD drive details. Can I burn CDs? Watch DVDs? Burn DVDs?

  • Any extra drives. Got a Zip drive? A floppy? Tell me about it.

  • Operating system. If you’re still running System 7.1, I would like to know about it.

  • Non-standard configuration. Tell me about anything else you’ve added to the machine -- upgrades, replaced parts, what have you. If you’ve overclocked it and done a killer case mod, brag about your achievement.

  • What else is included. Installation disks? Commercial software? If so, what? Cables? Speakers? Packaging? The vague promise of "extras" does not count as actual information. Does that mean it comes with one hyper-violent game installed? or a full licensed version of Adobe Creative Suite, a wireless keyboard and mouse, a 22" flat-panel display, and an address book with useful blackmail material on seventeen prominent hiring managers?

  • Case condition. Scratches? Dents? NaNoWriMo stickers?

  • Anything that doesn’t work. If half the keys stick, I will not buy it, and you can save us both a lot of time and trouble if you come right out and tell me.

I want to buy your laptop. I crave that big, full hard drive. I yearn for a speedy processor. I ache for the millions of colors on your screen. I want to pay a fair price, get a machine in good condition, and leave us both feeling happier. But you’ve got to cooperate. You’ve got to communicate.

Cross-posted to Craigslist.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

All-American Baseball Values

Tonight, under the first total lunar eclipse ever seen during a World Series game, the Red Sox may well break the curse that has kept them from championship since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

Ordinarily I’m a National League loyalist; I blame the American League and its designated hitters (along with Astroturf) for drugs, violence, high real estate prices, bad movies, the rise of illiteracy, and the decline of moral values in this country. I may not believe in their responsibility, but it makes a good rant.

However, I have powerful inducements to cheer the Red Sox. For more than a decade, I’ve been a fan of Curt Schilling’s elegant ferocity on the mound. This post-season he’s been playing with a ligament stitched up before each game -- and with his white leggings gradually turning scarlet as the wound reopened. And of course both he and Red Sox manager Terry Francona used to work for the Phillies. I also have a sentimental feeling for the Red Sox, based on my family’s historic links to the Bay State and the large numbers of dear friends who are Bostonians.

Then there’s the curse. I have a sense of solidarity with those who feel themselves profoundly, unjustly unlucky. So their status as perennial losers also argues that I should keep cheering the Red Sox.

Yet are not greater issues at stake here? If the Red Sox win, are we doomed to four more years of mad-cowboy disease with the former owner of the Texas Rangers in the White House?

Election Fun Fact: Presidential Candidates and the World Series

Is there any correlation between who wins the World Series and which political party wins the White House every four years?

Since 1908 (the World Series was not played in 1904), when the National League team won the World Series during a presidential election year, the Democratic candidate won five times and the Republican three times.

When the American League team took the World Series, Republicans grabbed the White House eight times and Democrats seven times.

So a slight edge goes to the Democrats when a National League team wins, and a tiny edge to Republicans with an American League victor. That may be fitting given that Republican George W. Bush once ran the American League Texas Rangers.

Now, this article was published four years ago, before the Yankees beat the Mets in five tight games -- with at least one bat thrown. The outcome then confirmed the trend: the Republicans and the American League win together.

I’d like a split decision: the Red Sox to win, George W. Bush to lose decisively. And if it comes down to choosing one or the other, I’d rather see Curt Schilling hobble home with a scarred ankle and no World Series ring than see four more years of the most corrupt and incompetent administration since Warren G. Harding.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

October 12, 1998

Six years ago today, Matthew Shepard was murdered for being homosexual.

What will you do to end the silence?

Click here to post this on your own page or weblog

Saturday, October 09, 2004

TRANSITIONS: "the epigraph and breathless sarcophagus of my discourse"

Jacques Derrida has passed into the past tense.

Some quotations:

Monsters cannot be announced.
One cannot say: "Here are our monsters,"
without immediately turning the monsters into pets.

The only attitude (the only politics--judicial, medical, pedagogical and so forth) I would absolutely condemn is one which, directly or indirectly, cuts off the possibility of an essentially interminable questioning, that is, an effective and thus transforming questioning.

To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend.

That is what deconstruction is made of: not the mixture but the tension between memory, fidelity, the preservation of something that has been given to us, and, at the same time, heterogeneity, something absolutely new, and a break.

This is the stricture of media: though they always lag, their speed is still increasing. And as the speed increases, it becomes less and less and less evident which to believe: because there is no time to react, filter, assess, analyse. Can you believe your eyes?

Deconstruction is not a memory which simply recalls what is already there. The memory work is also an unforeseeable event, an event that demands a responsibility and gestures, deeds. This act is caught, however, in a double bind: the more you remember, the more you are in danger of effacing, and vice versa. Deconstruction cannot step out of this aporia, of this double-bind, without diffidence.

At any rate one never reads immediately. I know very well that one always reads from within certain schemes and mediations, so I do not demand that one read me - as if before my texts you could put yourselves into some kind of intuitive exstasy - but I demand that one be careful with the mediations, more critical regarding the translations and the detours through contexts that very often are quite far away from mine.

Perhaps given the time and the forces, I might say more, but I am not so sure about that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Only Emperor Is the Emperor of San Francisco

Philadelphia has Ben Franklin -- wit, statesman, inventor, and civic innovator, who brought us the Library Company, the fire department, street lights, and bifocals. In return, we have immortalized his countenance on the $100 bill.

San Francisco has the illustrious Joshua Norton (1819-1880). A friend of Mark Twain’s (who once wrote a eulogy for Norton’s dog), Norton was a respected and beloved figure in Victorian San Francisco. He directed that Sacramento, the state capitol, should clean up its muddy streets and add gas lighting. He deplored the strife between the Democratic and Republican parties and did his best to end it. Queen Victoria was one of his correspondents.

Norton did his best to make San Francisco a good place to live. He paid close personal attention to such matters as unobstructed sidewalks and a respectful police force. He once stopped an anti-Chinese riot by standing between the rioters and their intended victims, while he softly recited the Lord's Prayer.

He sensibly proclaimed, "Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word 'Frisco,' which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor." The fine was $25.

His plans for a bridge from Oakland to San Francisco via Goat Island were well ahead of their time. When the Bay Bridge was finally built -- 60 years after he issued orders for it -- a plaque honored his vision for the spanning of San Francisco Bay.

When he died, the city shut down in mourning, and his funeral was attended by 20,000 people. Later his remains were reburied at Colma, with full military honors and a crowd of 60,000 attendees.

So who was Joshua Norton? Governor of California, like Leland Stanford? Mayor of San Francisco, like Willie Brown? No. He was a businessman who came to the city with $40,000 (a fortune in his day) and lost it all trying to corner the rice market. He then went insane and proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He even issued his own scrip money.

But he was a beloved madman, highly respected by the people. Policemen saluted him; gentlemen tipped their hats. When an overzealous cop arrested him and tried to have him involuntarily committed, the uproar was so great that he was released within days. On the US Census and in the city directory, his profession was listed as Emperor. He was even permitted to tax his subjects.

The Emperor Norton exemplifies all that is best about the Bay Area: its genial loopiness, its visionary quality, its racial and ethnic tolerance, and its sense of humor. Now the Bay Bridge is being rebuilt, and there is a campaign to rename it for him.

Show your support for our Emperor. Let's honor the wise and kind ruler who is still the patron saint of our city.
The Plague of Hurricanes

With four hurricanes within weeks of each other -- one of which turned around and came back for seconds -- clearly God is sending a message to Florida. This battleground state is one of the most important for the 2004 elections, as it was in 2000.

When Hurricane Charley slammed into Florida in mid-August 2004, battering the state with up to 100 mph winds that knocked over signs, uprooted trees, and left thousands of homes destroyed or uninhabitable, one billboard on Sand Lake Road in Orlando survived the onslaught relatively unscathed. The storm peeled off the most recent advertising message displayed on the board, however, revealing in its place an ad from an earlier campaign.


Now, if this message is for Governor Jeb Bush, or Katherine Harris, or Glenda Hood, the new chief elections officer, who seems to be a clone of Harris, I bet I know what the Lord wants to say.


Monday, September 13, 2004

BASEBALL: The Numbers Game

Today (oops, yesterday, given what time I am posting this) Barry Bonds hit home run number 699. Fifteen more, and he’ll tie Babe Ruth. In another season or so, if he anyone is willing to pitch to him, he could even tie or beat Hank Aaron, whose life total is 755. If they don’t pitch to him, at least he can keep up his record of walks, which stands this season at an astonishing 203. That’s just this season. He still managed to hit 41 homers.

One of my cherished early baseball memories is of Hank Aaron tying Babe Ruth’s home run record -- and then beating it. No, I wasn’t there, any more than I was on the moon when Neil Armstrong stepped off that ladder, memorably blowing his line. I saw them happen on TV.

In the game where Bonds reached #699, the Giants won handily, 5-2. The loss meant the Diamondbacks reached a milestone: triple digits in the loss column. With 19 games left on their schedule, they could match the Detroit Tigers’ impressive record of 119 lost in a season, highest in the American League. Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks are a National League team, which means they face much stiffer competition. They can’t match the fabled 1962 Mets, who lost 120 games, or the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, whose 134-20 record remains a shining example to the National League. The Snakes are 40.5 games back from the division lead, and their .301 winning percentage would be a respectable batting average.

Yes, I am gloating. I am a Phillies fan, dammit, and I have to take my Schadenfreude where I find it. Why? Because I am devoted to what many experts consider the most futile professional sports franchise extant. In their first 120 years (1883-2003), my boys lost 9,749 games -- an average of more than 81 games per season.

But losing isn’t the whole story. The Phillies have won at times. For example, they won a single World Series. One. Just one. The last of the original major-league franchises to do so. As a fourth-generation Phillies fan, I was pleased to see that my great-grandmother (who was born in 1890 and lived until the late 1980s), my grandfather, my mother, and I were all alive to rejoice in the 1980 victory. I’m now a great-aunt. Maybe by the time Jessica (age 3) is a grandma, we’ll have another World Series-winning team.

My West Coast team, the Oakland A’s (formerly of Philadelphia), is playing well enough this year to lead their division. Still, when you search for the AL team with the most losses, guess who shows up. In the 102 years of their existence, they have lost a respectable 8,187 games, which averages out to just over 80 games lost per season.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

POLITICS: A Walk in the Park

Read this and ask yourself what the United States will look like if we have four more years of Bush.

In an opinion article whose primary author was credited as Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York lauded himself on the results of "18 months of careful planning":

As the host of the Republican National Convention, New York City can take great pride in how it performed…. Most of the security aspects of the RNC played out the way we anticipated.

So nice to know it all went the way you'd planned.

From the conservative Washington Times, dateline August 27:

After the convention starts, those who misbehave could end up at Chelsea Pier 57 on the Hudson River, which has been converted into a temporary jail in case mayhem ensues.

So they had plenty of time to plan for multiple arrests, choose a safe venue, get in extra personnel to handle processing. And of course, this was all just in case of mayhem. Right?

From the not notably liberal Christian Science Monitor:

But many of those arrested are upset about the length of their detention in what they called a "grimy garage," as well as the number of innocent bystanders caught up in the police dragnet. "There were Chinese food delivery men, German tourists, people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," says Mike Epstein, an amateur photographer who was held for almost 30 hours before being charged with disorderly conduct.

Critics point out that police need probable cause to make an arrest. Some also think authorities should have obtained a warrant before using a net to subdue crowds. "If you're a peaceful protester holding up a sign that says the Republicans or the Democrats are leading us down the wrong path, you have a right to do that without being swept up," says Mr. Dershowitz. "There's something unseemly about using a net."

A friend of mine, a pre-med student, was in Manhattan during the convention. He wasn't a protester, but he reports that the cops were counting groups of people walking along. If there were 20 or more in a clump, the cops arrested them all, regardless of what they were doing or whether they were really together or simply in proximity. Given the usual density of people on the New York City sidewalks, it doesn't surprise me at all that a lot of innocent people were arrested. The size of a "crowd," however, does. Twenty people might pass for a crowd in my hometown, a rural crossroads. But in Manhattan, 20 people walking near one another is business as usual.

A Vietnam vet who was swept up in an arrest net says:
"Something happened here I thought would never happen," Arrington says. "You expect it in the former Soviet Union, or Saudi Arabia maybe. But New York City? It's like they took the Bill of Rights and threw it in the trash can. To be arrested for standing on a sidewalk for disorderly conduct? It's beyond ridiculous. It violates people's rights. I'd have never believed it if you told me this would happen in the middle of New York City."

Who actually was responsible for Pier 57?

My 21-year old daughter disappeared from NYC last Tuesday afternoon when walking with friends through a park where no protest was being held -- and was held prisoner -- without being charged -- by the NYPD for three days. The first day and night she spent in an unsafe and inhumane facility at Pier 57 ("Little Guantanamo") provided by the Republican Party.

Yes, it was managed by the Republican National Committee. It was leased by the RNC to hold political dissenters who disagreed with the Bush administration. The second two days, my daughter was in a city jail in Manhattan, where her treatment improved.

The notorious Pier 57 (owned by the Hudson River Trust--a city/state consortium) was dubbed "Little Guantanamo" by reporters who also got caught up in police sweeps and who said it looked like the Guantanamo Bay prison built by the USA to hold the Al Qaeda terrorist political prisoners in Cuba. Pier 57 was leased by the RNC before their convention. They arranged for the NYPD to put up the chain link holding pens with razor wire on top in the old Pier 57 warehouse that had oil, gas and asbestos dust on the floor from a previous fire. . . .

Warning signs that reporters saw posted around Pier 57 said not to enter without protective clothing and mask. My exhausted daughter, with hundreds of others, tried to sleep that first night ...on the chemical-covered oily, cold cement floor of these pens, without food or water, without being read her rights, without being offered a chance to post bail, without seeing a judge although the National Lawyers Guild offered to represent them pro bono, without being charged or told why she was arrested and handcuffed and taken there, without being allowed to make a call to a lawyer or friend or parent or anyone -- all cell phones were confiscated as "terrorist weapons." Her purse was taken. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. Meanwhile...ordinary criminals arrested that same day in NYC for burglary, rape and heinous crimes were processed by the courts in less than 10 hours. My daughter, who had committed no crime, was incarcerated for three days incommunicado. . . .

I recall that when the Democrats held their convention to nominate Senator John Kerry as their candidate for President, there were only 6 people arrested, if I remember correctly. At the Republican National Convention to elect Bush as their candidate, there were thousands arrested. I suspect that Republicans might say this was a good thing. Being tough. This group-roundup tactic is called by the Republican party "preventative detention" (like the "pre-emptive war" in Iraq). It is used to terrorize those who might protest Bush's agenda when he is in town. America, wake up. Hitler told the German people that they would have to "give up a few of your rights that we can fight the enemy." That's what Ashcroft said, about the misnamed PATRIOT ACT. Wake up, America. The American flag that proudly waves by MY front gate and is on the back window of MY car...doesn't seem to be the same American flag that the Republican Party is waving."

Emphasis added.

From the NY Daily News:
The City Council got ready yesterday to turn a spotlight on controversial police tactics used to corral protesters during last week's Republican convention. . . . "From the health point of view, it's very questionable any court would have allowed use of a bus garage, even in an emergency," said City Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Governmental Operations Committee.

Well, it wasn't an emergency. Everything was carefully planned.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Because No Grown Woman Should Be Forced to Wear Pink

Having breast cancer is bad enough. Being inundated with a lot of tacky Mary Kay-tinted ribbons is adding insult to injury.

Some of us look better in terra cotta.

In honor of my friend Christa's mother, who was recently diagnosed. And for my mother and grandmother, and for Michele's wonderfully feisty mother -- all of whom are doing fine now.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Germ Theory of Government

In Plagues and Peoples, William H. McNeill demonstrates that societies suffer from (and learn to tolerate) both macro- and micro-parasites. The syphilis spirochete is a micro-parasite. Dick Cheney is a macro-parasite.

The government, elected or hereditary (or both, as in the Bush dynasty), is supposed to loot and pillage only in a polite and restrained manner, just enough to maintain the resources needed to fight off the impolite and unrestrained incursions of barbarian hordes, drought years, crop failures, and the other hazards of life.

In other words, they're supposed to be insurance. And what happens when your annual premiums cost more than the car is worth? You call Geico. Or you storm the Bastille, dismember the Princess de Lamballe, and guillotine the aristobastards

At crisis points, the parasites are doing more harm than good, or some external factor upsets a previously tolerable balance. This is also true of the various micro-parasites. Germs that rapidly kill their hosts are not successful in the long run

The Bush administration is using the well-worn historical tactic of creating or exploiting panic over an epidemic parasite (terrorists) in order to justify their far more destructive endemic parasitism. Moreover, they are increasing their parasitic demands while decreasing the protections and services offered to the host population. Universal health care, for example, is a highly desirable protection for the body politic. We'll never get that under the Bush administration.

A la lanterne Lysol!

Six times as many people die every year from lack of health insurance as died on September 11.

Some useful statistics:
Currently 43,000,000 Americans are uninsured, and lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths each year in the U.S. Eighty percent of the uninsured are members of working families -- but a quarter of U.S. workers are not offered health insurance at all, and few Americans can afford to buy the expensive individual policies.

On January 14 the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a Congressionally chartered but independent organization created in 1970 "to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health," released a report and fact sheets asking the president and Congress to act so that everyone living in the U.S. has health insurance by 2010.

Uninsured children and adults are sicker and die more often, as cancer and other diseases are diagnosed too late. Uninsured persons injured in an automobile accident get less services in hospitals and have a 37% higher death rate than those with health coverage. Lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the U.S. Currently, 43,000,000 Americans are uninsured.

The cost of the employee's share of health insurance increased 350% (in constant dollars) from 1977 to 1998, while the median income only increased 17%.

Four out of five uninsured Americans are members of working families. A quarter of U.S. workers are not offered health insurance at all by their employer. If they buy their own policy it usually costs much more than the same insurance purchased by a group, especially if they have a chronic health condition. If they do not have insurance and get sick, they usually have to pay much more for the same medical services, since insurance companies can negotiate discounts with doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and others.

Four out of five without health insurance in the U.S. are U.S. citizens -- although immigrants are more likely than others to be uninsured.

Of the 7.8 million uninsured children in the U.S. today, half are actually eligible for insurance under SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) or Medicaid. Often they are kept out by complex enrollment or re-enrollment procedures.

It would almost certainly cost less to provide insurance to everyone than to continue the current system. The cost of covering all the uninsured has been estimated as between 3% and 5.6% of total U.S. healthcare cost.

The U.S. spends more per person on health care than any other nation -- 14% of gross its domestic product -- but is 25th in male life expectancy and 19th in female life expectancy among 29 developed countries.

The report recommends five key principles for evaluating health insurance -- that it be universal, continuous, affordable to individuals and families, affordable and sustainable for society, and should "enhance health and well-being by promoting access to high-quality care that is effective, efficient, safe, timely, patient-centered, and equitable." It does not recommend a particular reform strategy, but evaluates four of them, including single payer, on how well they meet these recommendations.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Note on the Republican National Convention

Family values in action--and a genuine measure of the GOP's respect for marriage:
"We have our special little wife section," said Jackie Tancredo, the outspoken spouse of
the outspoken Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). "It's called, unimportant people get to sit at the top."

Another Fabulous 404

I bet you thought I'd forgotten my collection of interesting "Page Not Found" notices.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Most Dangerous Thing in the World

A man in New York tells us,

This morning, they're doing bag searches again to get on the ferry. And the guy doing the searches pulls me aside and says, "Sir, I feel that I need to confiscate this book."

I pause and say, in that tone of voice that most people would recognize as meaning, "have you lost your grip completely, chuckles?": "You need to confiscate... a book."

"Yes. I feel it's inappropriate for the other people on the ferry to be exposed to it."

Now, I had the book IN MY BAG. It was not open. And while the Maiden of the Mirthless Smile is displayed as improbably proportioned, well, this is not, as far as I know, illegal to have. I mean, there was a guy carrying a copy of Maxim, and some of the women in THAT are improbably proportion. (All right, I admit: they're not wielding a huge sword and dressed in a bustier studded with human finger bones. But really.)

My response: "Well, let me call the ACLU and have them come down here, and see what they think about your attempt to confiscate a book that was not in the plain sight of others due to your feeling it's not appropriate." And I pull out my cell and start scrolling down the list - ACLU-NJ is at the top, actually, before 'Amanda' and 'ardaniel' since it sorts alphabetically.

He gets all pissy at me and says, "Don't you understand this is for your safety?"

"Confiscating someone's gun or bomb is for my safety. PErhaps confiscating someone's pocketknife or nailfile may be for my safety. What's so damn dangerous about my book?"


"That's NOT YOUR DECISION! I could be carrying a copy of Hustler in here, and it's STILL not your decision! You're looking for bombs and knifes and guns and things that hurt people, and a book that is IN MY BAG is not going to leap out of its own damn accord and HIT SOMEONE!"

The book in question. Does it look dangerous to you? I am not familiar with the book, but it's clearly some kind of sword and sorcery. Are we going to start confiscating all books that include violence? There goes the Bible, the entire bestseller list, and Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop. (Which is a bad example to kids -- they are disrespectfully hopping on Pop, and they don't even get sent to Guantanamo Bay.)

Now, I don't care if it's The Anarchist Cookbook. This is the United States of America. Books are legal here. SF/F is even legal here.

Books are sacred. They don't have to be well-written books or books that I agree with. Just -- books. They contain ideas and feelings and stories. They are the only kind of time machine that really works, whereby a woman who has been dead and dust for two hundred years can still tell me snarky little jokes, or a man who lived three thousand years ago can lift his voice in song.

Are all books sacred? Yes. I don't care if it's Mein Kampf, Paul Samuelson's textbook on economics, the complete works of Shakespeare, or the kind of smut that romantically links a buxom milkmaid and a series of farm animals. The content may squick me -- several items on that list are things I find personally revolting. But the banning of books is far more dangerous than even books filled with lies or filth.

If I were in New York, I'd organize a protest. Let a hundred people, or a thousand, get on the ferry with dangerous books. Books that advocate revolution (Tom Paine, Angela Davis, Franz Fanon). Books that talk about the current government in unflattering terms (anybody read House of Bush, House of Saud?) Books that have been banned (Huckleberry Finn, Ulysses, Heather Has Two Mommies). Books that show little girls becoming strong women (Little Women, Jane Eyre). Books that tell scary and heartbreaking truths. Books that have changed people's lives.

I was in New York State for September 11. I wasn't sure when and if I could get home to California. The last thing I did before flying out of Ithaca, three days after the towers fell, was stop at a used book store to buy another copy of The Little Drummer Girl. This John LeCarre novel -- possibly the best book ever written on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- is about terrorist bombings, and it presents the terrorist (as well as the terrorized) as a sympathetic human being. I knew I might get stopped. I was willing to take that risk, because LeCarre's long, passionate, complex novel expressed something I needed to re-experience on that frightening day.

Remember our freedom. Even if you're not in New York, or somewhere that you get searched, read a dangerous book. Read something challenging. Something you don't agree with, something that shows you a different side of the world, something that takes risks. In far too many countries, writers are locked up or executed for telling their truths. Don't let the United States become one of those countries.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Quotation of the Day

The way of love is not a subtle argument. The door there is
devastation. Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they
learn it? They fall, and falling, they're given wings.

~ Rumi

Friday, July 16, 2004

A Thousand Days

Three years ago today, I left Binghamton with a suitcase, a laptop, and Gabriel, who protested bitterly for the entire 3,000 mile trip.

Now I'm a Californian. I live and vote here. (And the voting is weird; I've used paper-punch ballots and touch-screen computer ballots.) I've been through layoffs and buyouts and the thrill of working 36-hour days to debug the new software release. I can give people directions and tell them about cool places to buy used books or fresh herbs.

I know the precise California definitions of highways, expressways, and freeways. I've learned to expect drivers to brake when they see a pedestrian -- I'll probably get killed next week when I go back East, where the proper relationship of a pedestrian and a car is that of matador and bull.

I've found work, friends, love, a great writers' group. I have a community here; I'm likely to run into friends at the grocery store or on the street in certain neighborhoods. I have a church where they know who I am and who I love, and I am welcomed. I'm even reading one of the Lessons this Sunday.

Alan Bostick accidentally defined home for me one day -- a place where you can be your true self in safety and security. The Bay Area is my home. I can hold my lover's hand on the street here and not be afraid. I can talk about my life and my writing with no fear of judgement.

Yes, Gabriel likes it too. She loved living up among the redwoods; she had her own private highway into my room window, and she would come home with her fur aromatic of the forest itself. Down here in the Valley, she has the pleasure of a well-constructed cat highway atop the eight-foot wooden fence around our yard. She has lots of sunny days and clear nights for hunting, and plenty of small critters to go after.

After a lifetime of dreaming about Pennsylvania, I now have dreams set here, too. And realities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Quotation of the Day

to be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best to make you everyone else is to fight the hardest battle anyone can fight.--e.e.cummings

Saturday, July 10, 2004

REVIEW: The Triplets of Belleville

I approached this film with an open mind. Well, all right, with near-total ignorance, which is not always the same thing. What I knew was this:
  • It was a quirky cartoon.
  • Several friends had mentioned in passing that I would enjoy it.
  • One song had been nominated for an Oscar.
And that song -- as restaged in live action for the Oscar show -- was enough to make me want to see it. Great song, obviously an offbeat movie, definitely worth renting.

So last night, when some friends came over for dinner and a movie, I suggested The Triplets of Belleville. Nobody had seen it. Everybody was up for it, or possibly too polite to demur.

It was delightful. Funny, strange, haunting, sad, and deeply emotional. The story could have been intolerably saccharine: indomitable little grandmother doing her best to raise an orphaned little boy, brave doggie, great ambitions. It's saved from sentiment by its highly individual vision and by the very great skill of its construction.

The stunning, varied visual style is a hand-drawn riposte to the glossy ripeness of Pixar and Disney. Each character is delineated by a unique look; they could all be in different cartoons. The settings are likewise richly visualized. I won't forget Grandmama's sad, wise eyes magnified by her glasses; the grossly fat Statue of Liberty clutching a hamburger; the haunting beauty of Belleville's skyline and the wretchedness of its back alleys. I'm sure it would repay watching again and again; we did notice the mathematical formula inscribed under the stage at the beginning, but I bet there are hundreds of similar hidden jokes.

The soundtrack is likewise memorable -- jazzy and vivid. It carries a fair bit of the film's storyline, as it has to -- with no dialogue and surreal visuals that sometimes melt from dream to reality.

The Triplets of Belleville was not predictable, either in details or in overall structure. Yet the shape of the film as a whole was deeply satisfying. The story is flawlessly told (and all with virtually no dialogue), every joke and plot point is expertly constructed, and there are enough jarring images to maintain the suspense. I never doubted the Nemo would be found, for all that I enjoyed the movie. I did worry about Grandmamma, Champion, and the dog. Not to mention the singing triplets and their amazing frogsicles.

Rent this. Buy it. Watch it. A lovely, moving, affectionate film.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Word at the Center of the Soul

"Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's they whole art and joy of words." A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
--C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Roadkill, Redemption, and Fine Furniture

When I moved out here, I sold off most of my furniture. Almost all of it had started as roadkill: furniture abandoned in the trash, sold at yard sales, neglected for decades before I spotted it. (Yes, to be fair: I was almost always the one who spotted the furniture. Billy and I refinished it together, with him doing the heavy carpentry.) My antiques had been painfully found, refinished, cherished into beauty. Redeemed. That has always been much more satisfying for me than going to a furniture store and buying something brand-new.

When we were living outside Philadelphia, a neighbor of ours bought an old farmhouse table in terrible condition. She decided it was unfixable and threw the pieces of it away. I spotted it from my office window (oh, I see that room, the forest-green curtains I made, the old rolltop, the library table) and went outside to drag it to safety. I got the last piece just before the trash truck came.

Billy and I worked on it for a day. I hand-sanded the lathe-turned legs for hours, while he dealt with the top, which was warped. Then a few coats of polyurethane, and we had a stunning table. Solid cherry.

That's what we did with the other furniture, too. The Hoosier cabinet, the mahogany glass-fronted bookcase (bought before I met Billy), the tiger-oak buffet, the Victorian dresser I spotted in a Long Island trash heap. All refinished, all turned into objects of worth and beauty, all sold when I moved. The rocker and the rolltop desk that had belonged to my great-grandfather. The Victorian oak library catalogs. All gone now.

I love them because I lived with them, because they carry emotional weight -- not for impressing others, nor for assessed value. I love them because I redeemed them. Redeemed furniture is a promise that I, who am a ruin in so many ways, can also become beautiful, admirable, loved. That there is something of intrinsic worth even in the broken and discarded and scorned.

(Do I anthropomorphize my possessions? Of course. I pour out on my people and on environment -- landscape, home, possessions -- the love and care and appreciation I needed and didn't get, and that I still need and cannot always give myself.)

These things were broken and abandoned when I found them, and the men who came to buy them treated them with studied contempt -- trying to keep the prices down. So it took almost three years for me to recognize that they haven't been thrown away. Someone went into the Binghamton antique store and found the rolltop. Someone is eating their meals off the cherry table and admiring the deep glow of the finish. I haven't abandoned them. I've passed them along to someone who wanted and needed them.

That makes all the difference.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Teach Your Children Well

Here's a letter from S. Bear Bergman, an award-winning performance artist, writer, and activist who travels around the country teaching about GLBTQ issues. (That's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer.) I respect Bear's work very highly, and this work is essential education for both straight and GLBTQ youth. It can help promote healing and self-acceptance and even prevent violence against those of us who are not exactly Ozzie and Harriet.

Bear says:

Often, the colleges and universities that don't allocate money for GLBTQ programming are those that need it the most. When queer and trans education or programs aren't a priority of the institution, it is a good indicator of a less-than-safe environment for queer and trans students. I had to decline seventeen requests last year from schools which had /no/ money to bring me in. I am happy to donate my time and do stuff for free, but I couldn't afford to travel at my own expense.

Here's where you come in.

I know you don't have wads of cash laying around, just waiting for something to do with it. But I am hoping that many of you have a little bit - in this case? $5 a month. That's all. My sponsoring non-profit** will let you set up, online, a donation which will automatically charge you five bucks, once a month, without you even having to think about it.

That money will then be available for me to travel to some of those underfunded schools and do queer and trans education on the ground, which I think will benefit *all* of us in the long run, even if it happens in Iowa, or North Dakota. I'm asking you to join me in an initiative to make this world a safer place for all of us, whatever our gender or sexual orientation. To send me places where I can help queer and trans youth feel less alone, and less afraid. To help make less hate, and more understanding.

Want to? Here's how:

Step 1: Go to my profile page.

Step 2: Click on the button that says "Support This Artist's Work"

Step 3: Click on the yellow "Donate Now!" button.

Step 4: Fill in the form. They key parts are:
- type in $5 (or more, if you like) for Donation Amount,
- click the button for monthly,
- and you *MUST* earmark it for me, by typing 'Bear' in the earmark box, or the money goes to the general fund.

And you're done. No muss, no fuss, no nasty aftertaste, just piping-hot queer and tranny educational goodness at a low, low price!

Got questions? Email me, and ask.

Want to forward this to people you think will help out? Go nuts.

Seriously? Thanks. If you're reading this, it means you're part of, or an ally to, my community. Even if you don't give a nickel in financial contribution, I'm really glad you exist.

Best regards-

* I tour around the country, performing (this) and lecturing about queer and trans issues. I talk to students, staff, and faculty all over the country - visiting classes, holding workshops, and giving performances - to help them understand queer and trans folks a little better, and make their schools safer for us. I really do believe that knowledge is the antidote to hate, and that has largely proved correct - the students at the schools I have visited overwhelmingly reported feeling safer, and better understood, after I went.

**I have just been granted artist support by the Fund For Women Artists, a national organization which sponsors artists whose work they feel has particular merit and will make a substantive contribution toward feminist causes, including anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia work.
Recent Reading

Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins by Elizabeth Stone. All about family stories and their effect on individuals. Definitely worth reading -- and discussing with your family. I'd figured when I picked it up at the Salvation Army that it focused on the roles played and stories told about the current generation, but I was pleased to discover that it had a much broader scope.

God knows the family stories told about my third-great-grandmother, M.L.T. Hartman, were a great help to me in finding my way. Not only was she a farmer who reared eight children, she was also a teacher, a historian, and a recognized poet in her day. She wrote books and once drove a team of horses through a tornado; she wanted to get to camp meeting, and she did. M.L.T. was a formidable-looking woman with the high cheekbones, stocky build, and downward slanted eyes so characteristic of my mother's family -- all of which I inherited. She died at age 79, doing chores in the barn. Bear in mind that M.L.T. lived her entire life in the nineteenth century; her grandfather was a local hero of the Revolutionary War. (I have stayed in the house he built, which is now a bed-and-breakfast.) Her example helped me reconcile my need to write with the need to stay connected with my maternal family history.

A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly. A compulsively readable murder mystery written in haunting prose. Benjamin January, the title character, is a dark-skinned man of mixed race in 1833 New Orleans. Trained as a surgeon and as a musician, he is caught in many painful transitions and polarities: the old French culture and the new American attitudes; the slave society into which he was born and the very different world of the gens libre du couleur bought by his mother's status as a white man's mistress; and the Paris world he has just left for the New Orleans where he was raised.

It's an astonishingly powerful book, complex and humane, and never letting twentieth-century racial or political attitudes override the realities of the nineteenth-century slaveholding world. It's painful to read the scenes where Benjamin January has to swallow insults and violence to save his life, or play stupid (we would call it shucking and jiving) as white society demands, while concealing his ferocious intelligence and pride.

I am so glad this is the first in a series. I will be reading them all.

Oddly enough, I've also been reading Lalita Tademy's Cane River, which begins in 1834 and explores the same society. Very fine -- but I think Barbara Hambly is a better writer.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Saints and Skiers

Michele recently found this quotation by Leonard Cohen, poet and lyricist.

What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

- Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1966)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Walt Whitman Summarizes This Blog

Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth,
And what was expected of heaven or feared of hell

from "I Sing the Body Electric"

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Today is the centenary of the events in Joyce's Ulysses.

There are plenty of authentically Joycean ways to celebrate Bloomsday, most requiring a partner and/or beer. A friend of mine suggests, "Read a little Joyce. Hoist a pint or two. Say "yes" to someone you love."

I plan to celebrate by performing the dangerous act for which James Joyce is most notorious. Yes, I know it has landed plenty of people in jail, although some people only start doing it when they're imprisoned. Not a few people have been killed for doing it.

I'm going to write.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Headline of the Week

Missing Black Holes Found

I bet they were under the couch.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

From Silence

I haven't posted much (if anything) of substance this week. Not even much of no substance.

Some events, some images, demand more than I can give at first. The tortures in Abu Ghraib prison, the decapitation of Nicholas Berg, these have left me stunned and silent. I still don't have my own words to speak of them.

But I have found some words that convey the horror, pain, and determination I feel. They are all from Elie Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz.

I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.

I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I've been closer to him for that reason.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.

Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.

No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.

Not to transmit an experience is to betray it.

Some stories are true that never happened.

The act of writing is for me often nothing more than the secret or conscious desire to carve words on a tombstone: to the memory of a town forever vanished, to the memory of a childhood in exile, to the memory of all those I loved and who, before I could tell them I loved them, went away.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.

We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.

But where shall I start? The world is so fast, I shall start with the country I know best, my own. But my country is so very large, I had better start with my town. But my town, too, is large. I had best start with my street. No, my home. No, my family. Never mind, I shall start with myself.

"I love silence," Katriel continued. "But beware; not all silences are pure, or creative. Some are sterile, malignant. My father can distinguish between them with ease; I only with difficulty. There is the silence which preceded creation; and the one which accompanied the revelation on Mount Sinai. The first contains chaos and solitude, the second suggests presence, fervor, plentitude. I like the second. I like silence to have a history and be transmitted by it. My father and I ... my wife and I ... we can sit together whole evenings without exchanging a word, and yet, when we get up, we know we have told each other all there is to tell. If I have not succeeded with you, it's my own fault. I accept the blame and beg your forgiveness."

Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.

The third rope was still moving: being so light, the child was still alive...For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me, the same man asking: "Where is God now?" And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging here on this gallows."

A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.

Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

There's a Place in the World for a Gambler

At least for poker players, right now that place is Las Vegas. (Ordinarily it wouldn't be; there are more and better cardrooms in Los Angeles.) The World Series of Poker has started. Preliminary bracelet events and satellite games started April 21. The final event runs from Saturday, May 22, through Friday, May 28.

My friend Alan Bostick is keeping a diary of his experiences at WSOP. He's a very good poker player and a superb writer. The diary offers an honest, funny, suspenseful record of what it's like to play poker with the big boys and girls.

Take a look. It's kept me on the edge of my seat.

Friday, April 30, 2004

I Am Sickened, But I Am Not Surprised

Scientific data is supposed to be non-partisan, although God knows it has been used over and over for distinctly political ends. Nevertheless, I am impressed by the Bush Administration's blatant violation of even the pretense of scientific objectivity.

"U.S. Deletes, Alters Gender Issue Web Data -Report"

Why not just say "Bush Castrates the Truth"?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Lions of Shadow Mountain

The three of them were thin, hungry, and just six months old -- too young to be foraging the mountains on their own. Maybe there would be easier pickings in town. It was their bad luck that they strayed into a yard next to the school run by Shadow Mountain Baptist Church.

I was listening to KCBS, the local all-news radio, during the siege. The children had all been herded inside, out of harm's way. The police and game wardens came. One cub was tranquilized and later released in the hills. Another was shot dead. The third, maddened by fright, bolted over a fence and was hit by a car.

I?m sure the police used their best judgment in dealing with the animals. Mountain lions can kill human beings; a bicyclist died down in Orange County just a few months ago, and this week another Orange County park was closed when a cougar was apparently stalking mule riders. Just yesterday, a horse was attacked near Stanford University.

Although the schoolchildren were safe inside, imagine the consequences if some errant fifth grader, rushing to class, had cut through the yard where the lion cubs were hiding.

As long as the white settlers have been here, the mountain lions have been feared. (The hunting stopped about thirty years ago.) The local newspaper reminded readers,
One of the more colorful stories from Morgan Hill's history tells of Isola Kennedy, who saved three boys from a mountain lion attack by fighting off the animal with an eight-inch hair pin. Miss Kennedy died from her wounds two months after her heroics in the foothills east of Morgan Hill.

No date was given for the story, though that hair pin (hat pin?) sounds Victorian.

And yet. And yet. I think of those poor creatures, hungry and terrified. I look at their pictures, one caged, one dead, in the Morgan Hill newspaper. What a sordid, sorry ending to the wildcats' brief lives. When it comes to a showdown between young cougars and young humans, I know the humans have to take precedence. But I have to wonder if there isn't a better way to handle the intersection of human and wildlife.

Boulder, Colorado, offers some interesting statistics on mountain lion attacks, as well as advice for safer confrontations with bears and cougars. California's state animal is, of course, the grizzly bear, long extinct even in the wildest mountains. But the state fossil is the sabre-tooth cat (Smilodon californicus). It's easier to be proud of a fierce and beautiful creature when there is no chance of meeting one on your way to work.

That seems to be the case in Los Gatos, a particularly rich and beautiful mountain town. Though there are varying stories of how the town was named, all involve the mountain lions. In one tale, they snatched and devoured a baby, whose distraught mother drowned herself in Los Gatos Creek. In another, their caterwauling kept a mission priest awake all night. I prefer the third story, in which the noise of fighting wildcats -- and a little knowledge of the ways of mountain lions -- led the mission priests to find the water they desperately needed.

Naturally, the Los Gatos high school sports teams are named the Wildcats.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Finding the Words

I haven’t written in a week. And I’ve spent the night trying to find the thread of writing again. Imagine me making my way through a blank-walled maze (twisty little canyons all alike), keeping an eye out for Ariadne’s clue.

The maze in my mind is nothing like the cross-stitched labyrinths I make for those I love. The shifting colors of overdyed silk gleam; this labyrinth is of grayish tile and reminds me of the underground corridors linking the train stations and subways of Philadelphia.

(Am I ever going to stop seeing the world in terms of that city?)

And, like those corridors, this is a transitional space.

I am actually happy, writing these words, facing this struggle. Yes, I would have loved to spend the night pouring forth words, but I am somehow pleased to find that I can stick with it even in a dry spell. That I know how to wait. Not like a bus passenger; more like a hunter.

No. Like a gardener. Doing the work even when the seeds seem dead in the ground. Weeding, hoeing, watering, holding the blissful image of the seed catalog in mind through the weeks of winter.

I did a few exercises -- the kind of descriptive writing that usually urges me toward composition. I listened to music. (The headphones, laptop, and iTunes make it possible for me to listen to whatever I want, whenever I want.) Wandered the Web, looking for inspiration, email, something. Played a lot of solitaire.

Around 2:30 I paused for some supper and reread half of Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Her California is weirdly familiar, but not because it resembles the place I live now. No, it is familiar because I grew up in the 1960s, and in Didion’s prose I smell the acrid cigarette smoke and the secret despair of that giddy decade.

One of the things I’m trying to be aware of is why I stopped writing, when I’d been doing a steady 25 pages a week (minimum) for three weeks. I hit a bad patch of insomnia, coupled with life stress, and I stopped being able to think. Or feel, or face things.

(And, on a practical level, I was doing a lot of non-writing work -- going to Redwood City three times in three days, for example; dealing with the EDD; doing a convention program at the last minute. And dealing, all the way through, with the stress and frustration of looking for work.)

Now, I’ve worked out what was causing the insomnia (the usual Allegra buildup), I’ve taken steps to resolve some of the stress, and I’m feeling -- more alive? More courageous.

So. This isn’t fiction. But it’s writing. It is testimony that I stuck it out and did the work.

I am feeling much steadier now. This doesn’t mean it’s all going to be jolly. I don’t expect it to be. But I am feeling a certain pride in enduring, and I want to hold onto that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Silence, Censorship, Art

Today is the Day of Silence. Students protest the mistreatment and silencing of LGBT youth in schools by not speaking for eight hours. "Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?"

In San Francisco, a vandal vented his hatred of the LGBT community by mutilating more than 600 library books. "Without explanation, he carved up covers and pages and left small typewritten slips of paper advertising a Bible radio station tucked inside the damaged works."

Yes, he was caught. Now the ruined books have been turned into objects of art.
From the Quotations File
'Do you fall in love often?'

Yes, often. With a view, with a book, with a dog, a cat, with numbers, with friends, with complete strangers, with nothing at all. There are children who grow up as I did, with the love clamped down on them, who cannot afterwards love at all. There are others who make fools of themselves, loving widely, indiscreetly, forgetting it is themselves they are trying to love back to a better place.

Jeanette Winterson, Gut Symmetries

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Top Ten Reasons the CIA Didn't Tell Dubya about 9/11 Clue

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the CIA never informed a vacationing President Bush in August 2001 that a suspected Islamic extremist had been detected taking flight lessons, the panel investigating the Sept. 11 jetliner attacks on New York and Washington heard on Wednesday.

10. I tried to call, but he couldn't hear me over the baseball game.
9. Rumsfeld and Rice said not to bother them until I knew the attack coordinates.
8. I'd run out of cell-phone minutes.
7. I was in a meeting with Ken Lay.
6. Only the FBI is allowed near Waco.
5. John Ashcroft said it was OK as long as they weren't reading porn on the plane.
4. I thought they were planning to bomb Baghdad.
3. Have you tried explaining anything to that idiot?
2. Dick Cheney told me Halliburton would take care of it.
1. Well, hell, Al Qaeda was on the payroll.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I Believe. . . .

The vestments were black and blood-red. No banners hung behind the altar, no flowers stood before it, and a circle of thorns crowned the cross. The great pipe organ was stilled, and the choir sang haunting Gregorian chants throughout the noon Good Friday service.

We all read the story of the Crucifixion from Gospel of John, members of the congregation taking the parts of Pilate, Peter, Caiaphas, the narrator, and Jesus. When the crowd cried "Crucify him!" we all spoke -- and what could be more wrenching, more painful, than to call for the execution of my Savior.

We had Communion (made possible by reserving consecrated Hosts and wine from the Maundy Thursday service), and then we went in silent procession to the church's meditation garden. There the remaining consecrated Hosts and wine were buried. We all silently, slowly straggled away, feeling an echo of the lost loneliness the disciples must have felt. Only after Diane's death did I really grasp the full desolation of personal grief that gripped them.

Sunday morning -- oh, the difference! Bells, music, brilliantly colored vestments, vases of lilies, the Great Thanksgiving, and alleluias like rain on the desert.

(Most of which I missed, since I'm allergic to Easter lilies.)

It's been 25 years since I left the Baptist church, but I'm still a fairly orthodox Christian. No longer a fundamentalist, since I think the Bible is far too complex and significant to be read literally, but I'm very much a believer in the basic tenets of Christianity: the divinity of Jesus Christ, His atoning death and resurrection, and the afterlife.

For the past three or four years I've found a home in the Episcopal church, where the love of Christ is expressed through practical goodness (feeding the hungry) as well as the glories of liturgy. (Which is mainly drawn from the Bible; in fact, a faithful Episcopalian or Roman Catholic is exposed to a great deal of the Bible in the course of the liturgical year. And no, the Book of Common Prayer is not "vain repetitions.") The combination works for me, and it's oddly similar to the two decades I spent as a Quaker, a practice I still love. Instead of silent worship, we have music and the Eucharist, but both are deeply mystical experiences grounded in solid, loving stewardship.

We can know God through the Scripture, but also through Creation. As my friend Alan says, "My own spirituality is inspired by the world and the wonders in it; to turn away from this feels to me like betraying something important." I count my own direct experience of faith as a part of Creation.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden posted her personal creed. It's remarkably similar to mine, though I've never met her. She's someone I know through words alone; I've been reading her blog on and off for a year or more. (In the small-world category, she does know Alan in 3D. Yes, I have hopes of an introduction.)

There's something to be said here that links faith in the incarnate Word with getting to know someone just through their writing. I'm not sure I can say it, though. The heart and soul of a writer can burn straight through the words on the page, like sunlight through a magnifying glass, and set a reader on fire.

But some people need to be present in the flesh to get their personalities across or to feel a link with someone else. For some of us, the road to Damascus lies through fields of ordinary life.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

So That Explains the Taste of Their Chai

My local Starbucks is built on a Superfund site.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Tight Race in the National League East

















NY Mets








Friday, April 02, 2004


Yes, friends: nuts for your truck! I nearly drove off the road when I first saw these in action. The eight-inch, gold-plated ones are for the terminally insecure.


I've got "My Back Pages" (the Joan Osborne and Jackson Browne live version) playing on repeat.


My laptop has been broken for six or seven weeks. But now, via the magic of eBay, I have a new power/sound card. Via the magic of having unemployed techie friends, I also have someone who is fixing the laptop for a price I can afford. I am very grateful to Bob, who is also an accomplished artist.


OK, time to switch to Ringo Starr singing "It Don't Come Easy."


Unfortunately, everybody in Silicon Valley has dozens of unemployed techie friends. Here are some cheering statistics from a regional economist:

  • 18% of all Silicon Valley jobs have been lost since 2000

  • Tech jobs are down 25% from peak

  • Per capita income dropped 7.4% in one year

  • Job growth was flat in the fourth quarter of 2003 (still down 3.8% for year); tech jobs are still dropping

Most estimates show that 200,000 jobs evaporated between 2001 and 2003. The Silicon Valley workforce is 1.5 million people. Do the math, friends.

Beyond the scary numbers there are some hopeful indicators. Traffic congestion is getting worse, always a sign that more people are working. Some friends who have been out of work for years are finding jobs. I had an encouraging interview at a San Francisco publishing company. I'm also doing some freelance work.


In totally unrelated but very good news, Sonja is getting spectacular grades in college. It's not just the A's that make us all glow with pride -- it's the ferociously researched, elegantly structured papers she has been writing, the new information she has been sharing with us. And just think what a joy she must be for her professors. When I was teaching, nothing thrilled me more than a student thirsty for knowledge. I'd love to see her go to law school -- she has exactly that sort of logical mind. One of the very few advantages of unemployment is that I get to spend more time with her, since we're both home in the daytime.

Also, Michele's contract has been extended through the end of September, and Paul is very happy with his job, which allows him to use his chemistry background. Now if I can just find work. . . .


I'm writing again. Not just putting words on paper in dribs and drabs, but working hard on a novel. (Dreaming about it, even. This is a good thing.) I can only hope this is the final chunk of the long writer's block that started in November 1997. At first I couldn't even sign my own name. Then I was able to write on assignment for work (though that took sweat and suffering, too). Then I was able to keep this blog. NaNoWriMo 2002 freed me -- I finished 50,000 words in a month. But I still hadn't (and haven't) finished that novel, nor the one I did for NaNoWriMo 2003. Something has been keeping me from the final steps of finishing, rereading, and submitting the work.

Now I am substantially reworking the 2003 Nano book, writing 5 pages a day of fresh material, as well as editing and reshaping what's there. I hate writing rough drafts, which is what Nano forces; when I'm all the way back, I suspect I'll return to my usual habits.

I've also been reading a lot of new books -- running through the Collected Works of John M. Ford, author extraordinaire, plus picking up various other goodies along the way. And rereading, after 30 years,Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. My God. They are good -- far better than I remembered, cleaner prose and no condescension in the tone. But, as someone said, a novel is a mirror -- if an ass looks in the mirror, you can't expect an angel to look out.


My Eczema Beast arrived -- a small stuffed animal with a nasty scowl and crinkled red fur. It's free from a drug company, promoting their new ointment for moderate to severe eczema.


I've also been wrestling with a few lions. One was Gabriel, Spawn of Satan. The other day I put on elbow-length leather gauntlets and held the beast while Sonja tried out a new device to comb through the knotted fur on her belly. Gabriel was not pleased, but neither of us ended up with scars, and we did comb out a kitten-sized heap of loose fur. It's a start. If she just wouldn't bother to grow a four-inch-thick double coat for these California winters, we'd all be happier. Back home she didn't knot up like this -- the cold weather kept her natural oil glands flowing. Maybe I need to give her kitty fur-conditioning treatments.


Our strawberry plants are in bloom.