Journal: 2008


A favorite meter over on Castro:


I am celebrating the New Year by playing for the first time a recent acquisition – the final volume of Gilbert Rowland’s recordings of the complete harpsichord sonatas of Antonio Soler.

Over and over.

In one of those undeserved turns of luck with which my life has been stricken, I read a glowing review of Mr. Rowland’s first volume when it was released in 1996. I ordered it, was enchanted, and began a twelve-year pilgrimage.

It was not an easy journey, as since the albums were released with maddening irregularity, I never knew when to expect the next, and there was an agonizing drought during 2004-5 when I feared that the collection might not be completed.

But now I have it all: 137 sonatas, sixteen glorious hours on thirteen disks.

Prancing in the footsteps of the late Fernando Valenti, Rowland is one of the modern generation of harpsichordists who can somehow force that fussy little beast into dynamic expression undreamt of by pioneers like Landowska, bless her heart, and Kirkpatrick, for all his scholarly contributions, neither of whom I can imagine laughing after their brief childhoods.

And Soler? Soler’s debt to Scarlatti is obvious, but Soler stands on Scarlatti’s shoulders, and his output, both in quantity and quality, is astonishing considering that he was a monk with a demanding religious routine to follow, not to mention his numerous secular duties at the Escorial like training and leading the choir and performing for the royal family during their extended residences. To think that the harpsichord sonatas represent less than a third of his works!

Rowland tells us that an anonymous obituary was written by a fellow monk the day Soler died and that “mention is … made of his religious devotion, compassionate nature, scholarly interests, and excessive candor.”

I’m going for all of that. Well, except for being fiercely secular.

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Here’s some beauty, which i didn’t learn until 2010 was by the artist Rigo 23  Here’s the background behind this work. See the following for a brief disquisition on truth:

Truth by Rigo 23

For the past several days, Merck has had a two-full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle. Below, I quote exactly from the text, with my interleaved comments:

“Are you taking Zetia® … or Vytorin®…?

“If so, you may be worried about recent news stories questioning the benefit of these medicines…[ellipsis theirs] on the basis of a single study that has generated a lot of confusion.”

[oh yes, the ‘confusion’!!!!! In the first place, the study was theirs, and its conclusions were quite clear, as numerous news articles have demonstrated. For example, here’s one from yesterday’s New York Times.

‘Confusion’ is what Merck is trying with this clever ad to create in order to keep the profit pipeline open. They made untold millions by stalling for two years publication of their negative study, and the last thing they want anybody to do is be ‘worried’ enough not to buy Zetia.]

“In fact, ZETIA and VYTORIN have been proven to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol along with diet in multiple clinical studies involving thousands of patients. Both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association agree that lowering bad cholesterol is important.”

[Both sentences are 100% true even though neither of them addresses the issue. See the NYT  link above. They are pure smoke screen and misdirection.]

“All of us at Merck and Schering-Plough proudly stand behind the established efficacy and safety profiles of ZETIA and VYTORIN.

[and we’re hoping you’ll be safe and join us and your neighbors on our bandwagon.]

“If you have high cholesterol, follow your doctor’s recommendations on eating right, staying active, and taking your prescribed medicines.”

[No argument here, except this time they left out the part about asking your doctor whether you might benefit from Zetia. That’s in a different ad campaign. Wouldn’t want to ‘confuse’ the public by putting it in here. The above is followed by two columns of the standard sort of disclaimer, buried in the middle of which is the following sentence: ]

“ZETIA has not been shown to prevent heart disease or heart attacks.”

[Oh. Well, you ask, then why in the world would anyone want to take it? And then you realize that by burying this tidbit down in the middle of the blather in the lower part of the page, they can defend themselves against lawsuits by claiming that they warned users that the drug was useless. Meanwhile, they tout the drug in the top half, beyond which few readers will venture.]

The levels of greed and mendacity displayed by Merck are egregious. Merck made millions while hundreds, thousands? ten of thousands? of people died while taking a drug that was useless. The executives of this company are mass murders. They should be hanged on the White House lawn, live on prime-time television.

As it is, they will remain fat, smug, and obscenely wealthy…laughing at all us fools for letting them get away with it.

Actually, their behavior is even worse than I’ve had space to discuss. Here’s that link again:  New York Times

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Some steps on Castro:


On the evening of Saturday the 5th of January, I rode the Segway over to a dinner party a few blocks away since parking at night is impossible, and I can’t walk well enough now to do it on foot. Alas, I was ignoring Mother’s admonition to look where I’m going and consequently discovered an unseen obstacle and took a hard fall – hurting my right hand, scraping my left leg, and utterly destroying my favorite pair of Dockers.

But of course it was unthinkable not to pick myself up and press on to dinner, where the hosts taped up my leg and I discovered that my hand wouldn’t operate a fork well enough to cut lasagna.

The hand changed color, swelled up, and was pretty much useless for the next several days, so I broke down and phoned my doctor’s office on Thursday. Since I insisted on seeing her rather than her colleague, I had to wait the following Monday morning. And then after she sent me for an x-ray, there was a delay until Wednesday evening in getting word back to me that I had sustained an oblique fracture of the second metacarpal in my right hand with moderate displacement, and, to get less technical, sprained the devil outta my thumb. The good news is that the orthopedist worked me in on Thursday.

As I was shuffling across Stockton street on the way to the orthopedist, I saw that I was running out of time in the crosswalk and broke into a trot. Now, I don’t know why I was thinking I could run when I can barely walk, but after the first couple of strides my legs failed, and as the lights turned, I fell in the crosswalk…in front of the cars.

They were generous.

Luckily, I had landed mainly on my left arm/hand and right knee…the previously undamaged and thus fresh extremities. Scraped the knee, but luckily, the hand was only bruised and the Calvins were unharmed, No no, the blue denim trousers.

The orthopedist and I decided that my hand might heal well enough just in a cast to get me through my remaining golden years without surgery to correct the displacement. He also gave me a cortisone shot in the thumb which was completely painless owing to my briefly blacking out when he whipped out this syringe with a three-inch needle on it that you could see down the barrel of, and I’m thinking, omigod! he’s gonna run it in from the tip of my thumb!

Sybil, very good at pointed questions after sixty years of managing Merrill and the kids, delicately asked whether my delay in getting treatment had caused problems. I told her not much – other than a week or so of extra pain, an eleven-day delay in the beginning of the healing process, and some possible additional displacement in the fracture. Hmmmm, should maybe think about this.

By highly ironic coincidence, my Dutch friend Rina, who’s coming to visit me in March, broke her hand the day before I broke mine. Of course being a woman, she sought medical help immediately and is by now halfway through her sentence in the cast. How boring! Or is there something to learn here?

Naw, my friends mutter, he’ll never learn, but to them I say, nonsense! I am now very clear that during unanticipated dismounts, I must immediately let go of the handlebars.

The old model Segways like mine are steered by twisting the left handle grip, which frees up the right hand for carrying things like large packages or small casts. The abrasion and bruising from yesterday morning’s pratfall on Stockton Street are not bad enough to ground me, so I zipped down to the barber this morning, brandishing my cast at the nay-sayers.

My friend Bob heaved a great sigh, “At least you’re consistent.”

“Well then,” I responded, “you may address me as Your Consistency.”

Since then, friends have suggested alternative forms: Your Obstinacy, Your Recalcitrance, and Your Incorrigibility…among others less kind.

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Ahhh, the suffering:


There was a Great Moment in Tennis this morning in the men’s finals at the Australian Open.

Djokovic’s mother grabbed a medallion hanging at her throat, brought it to her lips, and in a brazen appeal to the Chair Umpire in the Sky, closed her eyes tightly and kissed it.

That one was answered.  He won.

Pity she hadn’t prayed instead for an end to hunger and suffering.

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The Avastin Chronicles

Another entry in a series explaining the extent of my love for drug companies, unlike my discussion of Merck’s Zetia and Vytorin above, a case in which I am personally involved since I woke up one morning last December with macular edema secondary to retinal vein occlusion in my left eye. Which meant i was going blind.

Luckily, I was referred to Dr. Anne E. Fung, who attempted to get me into a clinical trial for a new wonder drug, and who then, when I was rejected by the sponsoring drug company because I was HIV+, treated me with Bevacizumab (Avastin), which Genentech had developed as a cancer drug.

Intraocular treatment with Bevacizumab means that they strap you down, jab a syringe into your eyeball, and squirt in a couple of milligrams of puréed mouse.

OK, I exaggerate slightly. You’re not strapped down. They deaden your eyeball and you just hold still. Very still. Trying not to imagine what would happen if you twitched. And it’s not really ground-up mouse but rather a mouse antibody that Genentech has brewed in their labs.

The good news is that one injection of it, along with some other treatment, has restored much of the vision I had lost. The bad news is that Genentech is actively fighting intraocular use of Avastin since they make fifteen times as much from another drug of theirs called Ranibizumab (Lucentis), derived from the same parent molecule by the same scientist.

Last fall they stopped sales of Avastin to compounding pharmacies, which effectively prevents retinologists from using it when they have exhausted their supply. Dr. Fung was foresighted enough to lay in a stash, and she is spacing out treatments for patients like me who respond well. This will prolong her ability to help patients whose insurance will not cover Lucentis, but her supply is running out.

Well, yes, let’s confine the luxury of vision to the folks who can afford it.

While you can still see, take a look at this place around the corner on 21st Street.


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Kenyan Clothing

The following was written in response to the posting of photos of Barack Obama wearing a dashiki and suggesting that this somehow made him Moslem.

Recently, our Campaign Headquarters has received reports that the Opposition is planning to disseminate photographs of me wearing Kenyan clothing in an attempt to associate me with Islamic terrorist activity in that country.

To preempt them, I am releasing this photo myself.

Kenyan dashiki

Yes, a couple of years ago I was on a visit (although not to Kenya). Yes, I was given native garb. Yes, as a courtesy to the givers, I donned it and was photographed. However, I want to unequivocally state that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Kenyan, a Moslem, or even a terrorist.

My greatest regret, though, is that the photo was not taken before the ceremonial dinner.

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Rina Alert

Here’s Vesma’s Acacia.  I’m a little iffy about which of the 1300 species it is:


The enormity is sinking in. Rina arrives tomorrow and it’s now 8:00 at night and I’m sitting here paralyzed over what I must do next to prepare for her visit. Instead of snapping into action, I’m writing this.


When Charmazel was due in December, I not only dug out from under a significant percentage of the piles of ‘stuff’ stacked around, but I also re-organized the whole damn flat so there’d be a nice, private bedroom with a real door and an openable window onto Anne’s garden with a view of Twin Peaks. And the window even has blinds.

Now Rina’s coming for two weeks, and I look around and realize that the State of Decoration has not progressed a single step since Charmazel was here.

Sigh. I mean, in most ways it’s just as well that I got a defective copy of the gay gene and have no love for torch singers or flair for flower arrangement, but it wouldn’t have hurt me to have got a basic grasp of interior design and some need to neaten my nest.

I remember fifteen years ago when I was still trying to find a replacement for Allen, and I dated this guy a few times until I figured out that I would never be as important to him as his dog, and I wasn’t even asking him to follow me around with a plastic bag.

But before I’d reached that conclusion, we were sitting in my kitchen for probably the fifth time and he looked around and said, “You know, your place is comfortable.” I thanked him graciously for the compliment, I think convincingly ignoring the glaring subtext “…in spite of how it looks.”

I told that story to my friend David last fall, and he didn’t even have to look up before saying, “Well, it’s not overdone.”

OK, I now have forty-six minutes before bedtime. The pile of boxes in the corner of the dining room is gonna have to just stay there, and there are some stacks of papers at strategic points in the office that will also be remaining. What I will do in the morning is put out my fluffiest towels for her in the bathroom and make up her bed with the good sheets and the duvet, which I hung off the balconette all afternoon in the sun and breeze.

The excellent news from earlier this evening is that I achieved a major breakthrough in design: on two walls I have hung old Mexican blankets from the picture rails, thus getting some color and a little texture into the place. One of those walls is even in the guest room.

Besides, we’re not gonna be in here except to sleep, she never having been to California. Hell, after reading about her in my tales since 2001, everybody wants to meet her. She’s a little nervous about this, but I tried to reassure her when we Skyped this morning that all she has to do is speak perfect English, out-bicycle Lance Armstrong, and fillet a mackerel in three chops.

Oh, good grief: flowers! Yesyesyes. I’ll run down to the Castro in the morning and get a gay florist to sell me some flowers appropriate for a Dutch lady’s bedroom.


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Culture Clash

I was showing Rina around town and finally got a pic of Bernard Maybeck’s Palace of Fine Arts. Maybeck definitely knew what part he liked best:

Palace of Fine Arts, detail

Stay tuned for some shoe-on-the-other-foot cross-cultural tales occasioned by Rina’s visit.

Like just a few minutes ago I burst into laughter in the bathroom upon seeing something Rina had brought with her.

You know, when you’re going to a strange land where the natives do not enjoy all the benefits of civilization, you quite naturally bring your toothbrush, anticipating that they’d just use twigs for their dental hygiene.

Well, maybe the toothbrush isn’t a good analogy because we all tend to carry our own toothbrushes around.

What I spotted in the bathroom was Rina’s washandje (that little Dutch bathcloth sack thingy that they use instead of a bathcloth). It’s made out of terrycloth like a bathcloth but instead of being a flat square, it’s a smaller rectangle that’s folded once and then sewn on two sides so that it forms a sort of mitten that you can slip your hand into.

I own a couple of these that Dutch friends have given me because they knew I’d be fascinated by the novelty. What I didn’t know is that apparently they feel it’s utterly barbarous to bathe without using one and that you must carry your own to darkest America.

Hmm. Perhaps the folks who gave them to me were subtly trying to civilize me and expected me to actually use them.


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Backing up a little bit, I should mention that Rina was a bit nervous about getting through customs upon arrival. Well, see, Europeans have heard those stories about travelers who disappear without a trace and then, after a year in the Weight Loss Program of an Egyptian prison, are repatriated once it is determined that they are not the Person of Interest that the CIA had thought.

I had tried to reassure her that since she looks exactly like what she is, a secular Dutch grandmother (albeit young-looking), she was unlikely to fit any terrorist profile. Still, she was much relieved to make it through the questioning without even a threat of waterboarding or rendition. Actually, she said the most interesting part was not the questions they asked her about herself, but rather the ones they asked about me!

Well, hell, they already know it all since under Bush’s new rules they’re monitoring our library use, listening to our phone conversations, and reading our email.

That’s why I’m confessing everything in advance right here: the crime-thought, the secular humanism, the listening to NPR, the ACLU membership, the Prius-driving, the recycling … all of it.

Even taking this pic of some fence art over near Casa Guadalupe although I have deleted it from my hard drive:


Now that that’s taken care of, more highlights from Rina’s visit. Like how we’re riding down the street and I spot a mailbox. She offers to jump out and mail the letter, so I hand it over. But when she gets out, she walks all the way around the mailbox before cautiously reaching in and pulling the tray open.

But of course. She’d never seen one, and there aren’t any instructions on an American mailbox. You see your mother reaching in there and opening the tray. And then closing it and opening it again to make sure the letter slid down inside properly.

Or when I take her to In-N-Out Burger for her first real American hamburger and she perplexes the young clerk by asking for mayonnaise. Poor little thing had never seen a Dutch or Flemish person eat French fries.

Or when we go next door for Angela’s baby shower.  Rina brought from the Netherlands the muisjes for the traditional celebratory dish Beschuit met Muisjes, literally “Rusk with Baby Mice” although it sounds tastier in Dutch. OK, the little mice are sugar sprinkles colored pink or blue, as appropriate. Yep, we got that tradition from them.

Or whenever it comes time to pay at restaurants and the issue of American tipping arises. Intellectually, Europeans understand that our waiters here are not paid a living wage and are utterly dependent on tips since no service charge is added as it typically is in European countries. That’s intellectually. But emotionally, it is excruciating for her to have to see all that extra money on the table.

Then again, there is no clash at all for Rina when we go to the cosmetics department at Nordstrom’s and I discover that women at cosmetics counters speak an international language that I can only partially understand.

Rina loves boats, so we rode the ferry over to picturesque Tiburon, where I took this pic:


Surely you didn’t expect a shot of sailboats in the marina.

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First, some blue stairs:

blue stairs

From: Area S Blackout Warden

To: Area S Citizens

Date: 29 March 2008

Subj: Compliance Report

Pursuant to my duties as described in People’s Republik Green Regulation 5301.433, on the evening of 29 March between 2000 and 2100 hours I conducted surveillance excursions throughout Area S to determine compliance with the Earth Day Blackout.

A full report will be issued upon completion of the statistical analyses in approximately one week.

A summary report can be issued immediately: Dreadful. A bare majority participated.

At least at the neighborhood level. Compliance at the city level was little better. Although your warden could see that quite a few downtown highrises were less bright, the Bay Bridge tower lights were off, and vehicular traffic in the neighborhood was reduced.

So it’s a start.

Of course I imagine that as a counter-protest against this godless Californication the citizens of Odessa left their full-size SUVs idling in their driveways for the hour.

With the lights on.

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