Journal: 2010

Journal 2010

How to start 2010? Let’s take a look in the China Basin area and see what we can find on the new UCSF Medical School campus. Here’s the Community Center building by Legorreta and Legorreta:

UCSF Medical School

A shot of the Community Center from a courtyard in the interior of the block. Is this stuff gorgeous or what?

UCSF Medical School

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Fear Itself

Last Wednesday, our President said, “We will not succumb to a siege mentality.”

All i can say to that is, “But ya have, Blanche” since he said it as he was announcing a panoply of heightened security measures because for the second time since 9/11 a terrorist had attempted…and failed… to bring down an airplane enroute to a U.S. destination.

We are three hundred and eight million strong. We are the most powerful nation on the planet. We have by far the biggest and best military. We could incinerate any nation that attacked us.

And yet, we are currently involved in wars of occupation in two countries on other continents, squandering our patrimony and our youth in nations that have neither a navy nor an air force. They do not have ICBM’s, they cannot touch our shores, much less our heartland. They are incapable of doing anything more harmful to us than encouraging terrorists. (The actual training of the terrorists, such as it is, is by all accounts occurring mostly on the soil of our trusted ally, Pakistan, with minor help from Somalia and Yemen.)

Of all of the approximately 14,000 murders in the U.S. in 2009, only 14 were from allegedly jihadist attacks – 13 at Ft. Hood in November and one at a military recruiting station in Little Rock in June. Yet all three hundred and eight million of us are so terrified of a handful of terrorists that we have become a nation of sheep, cowering in our pens and begging our leaders to lock us up more securely.

No, President Obama, we have long since succumbed to a siege mentality. Two administrations in a row have inculcated this state of mind to further their power, fearful of being outflanked on the right by the opposition.

At some point soon, if the good of the nation is not given precedence over the maintenance of our overseas empire, we will become a dictatorship controlled by the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against. Or at best we’ll be a nation democratic in name only, like contemporary Russia and Iran.

vacuumHere’s a power vacuum on Caledonia Street:

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As some of you may have heard, Congress is currently debating passage of bills that would change the health care system in this country. I’ve decided that i ought to take advantage of the Internet and gather up some information, some hard facts, on the subject.

Before we consider changing the system, let’s see what we’re getting with the system that we have now.

First, here are some charts prepared by the CIA, our CIA, so i presume the data are trustworthy:

The first is a table of infant mortality rates in countries worldwide. Note that 44 countries – including places like Cuba, South Korea, and Taiwan – have infant mortality rates lower than that of the United States. The CIA says that the infant mortality rate is one of the standard measures of good health. The AMA agrees.

Infant Mortality

Here’s a chart showing life expectancy at birth. The CIA and AMA say this is also one of the overall measures of good health. Note that 49 countries – including Puerto Rico, Jordan, and South Korea – have greater life expectancy than the United States.

Life Expectancy

These are the conditions that we have under our current health care system. Some of us find it just fine that although we’re the richest country on earth, we’re somehow number 50 in life expectancy and 45th in infant mortality.

Hardly anyone, though, other than persons in the health industry who are getting rich off of us, thinks it’s a good thing that Americans spend over twice what our closest competitors do for our health care, especially considering our miserable standing in measures of good health.

But now let’s look at some fiscal information. Can we afford improved health care? The first chart is prepared by the CIA and shows relative equality of income distribution. Most sociologists argue that a society with more equitable income distribution is a healthier and more just society with lower crime rates.

Note that 91 countries enjoy more equitable income distribution than the United States:

Income Distribution

Now, about taxes. The following table is from the National Taxpayers’ Union, an ultra-conservative anti-tax group. Take a look at what the tax rate on income above the top tax bracket has been historically and notice that Obama wants to raise the rates back up to what they were under Clinton, which was, except for the Reagan years, the lowest they had been, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, since Hoover!!!!! For the younger generation, Hoover left office in 1933.

Note that during our lifetimes the tax rate on income over the top bracket was over 50% until the late 1980’s.

So when you hear folks squealing about how we’re being taxed to death by Obama, look at what the rates were under those crypto-socialists Ford, Nixon, and Eisenhower.

Here’s the chart:

Income Tax Rates

After all the screaming and name-calling and downright deliberate misstatements we’ve been bombarded with by the propaganda machine financed by folks who have a direct monetary interest in thwarting any health care reform, the above are verifiable facts from reliable sources.

The facts ought to speak more loudly than raving demagogues. Unfortunately, the raving demagogues are in the pay of the health and pharmaceutical industries, as are most politicians of all parties. Then, too, there’s the willful blindness to reality as evidenced by grey-haired protestors yelling, “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare.”

But the real reason Medicare will never be expanded is that the majority of Americans already have health insurance, and even though they know that they’re paying twice as much for their health care as citizens anywhere else on the planet, they would rather keep enriching the health care and insurance companies and pay more for their own health care than run the risk of having to pay a single dime in taxes for someone else’s. It’s the American way.

San Francisco’s houseboatsOK, beauty break. Here’s a winter view of San Francisco’s houseboats (on Mission Creek):

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Except for the Queers

OK, i said i’d shut up for a while about the persecution of gays by the world’s religions. And i did. For a whole damn year after my disappointment over the November 2008 passage of Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to prohibit the marriage of same-sex couples, a right which had been granted by a court order the previous spring. Here’s a little history on Prop 8 that details how a coalition of Catholics, Mormons, and evangelicals led by His Evil Excellency George Niederauer, Archbishop of San Francisco and Persecuter of the Perverts, raised tens of millions of dollars nationwide in their campaign to show the world how profoundly their Jesus hates fags and to deny us marriage, not in their rotten, gold-encrusted God-emporia, but rather in secular ceremonies at City Hall.

But there’s a trial going on right now in San Francisco’s 9th U.S. District Court under Judge Vaughn Walker that has had ramifications requiring some brief comments. It’s Perry vs. Schwarzenegger and pits four gay plaintiffs against the State of California, drawing on the 1967 decision in Loving vs. Virginia that invalidated laws forbidding interracial marriage and arguing that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional on a federal level because marriage is a fundamental human right that cannot be denied any group in society, even if a bare majority of California voters happen to be vicious, hate-filled bigots inflamed by a mendacious hate campaign financed by the Mormons and Catholics as their expression of Christ’s abiding love.

Taking into consideration the wide public interest in the trial, Judge Walker initially ruled that the trial could be recorded and retransmitted live into selected federal courtrooms in his district, but the defenders of Prop 8 immediately protested on the grounds that witnesses from their side might fear harassment from gays if their names and faces were revealed to the public. People like myself who have been persecuted all our lives by the Christian bigots who had had us expelled from our universities, fired from our jobs, dishonorably discharged from the military, etc. etc. were bitterly amused that the Christians now would be claiming that they feared harassment by a bunch of sissies, but unfortunately the Supreme Court (led by Scalia who in earlier decisions had been in favor of court cameras before he realized that televising this trial might help the fags) jumped in and agreed that while the Sixth Amendment to our Constitution still gives normal people the right to confront their accusers, an exception should be made in this case by adding the phrase, “except for the queers.”

Next, i expect the court to add this exception to the remaining amendments in the Bill of Rights. After all, what need does a filthy fucking faggot have for freedom of speech or, God forbid, the right to bear arms to protect himself from his oppressors?

kayakAnd now, to lower my blood pressure, a beauty break – the kayak shed on Mission Creek:

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Back around Christmas i discovered this little lump in the middle of my chest between the ribs and then grew increasingly concerned when i noticed that it seemed to be getting more and more tender to the touch and seemed larger every time i felt for it again. So i decided i’d go ahead and mention it to my internist during my quarterly appointment this morning.

I was trying to put on a brave face when with elaborate casualness i brought it up, but she could tell i was pretty worried. When i took my shirt off and she felt around where i indicated, it was so sore that there was no question about exactly when she put her finger on it.

Well, she said, it looks like an acute case.

Of what??? i squealed.

Discovery of the Xiphoid Process, she replied. The soreness will resolve when you stop mashing around on it.

And OK, in full disclosure, the described events occurred although my internist didn’t call it “Discovery”. I stole that concept from James Thurber. I coulda got away with it, too, since most people old enough to have read Thurber are no longer capable of remembering anything he wrote.

binAnd while i’m doing all these pics from down in the China Basin area, here’s one that may confirm my friend Dick’s fear that talking to me about the abundance of beauty was a great mistake:

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Agent Gray

At the beginning of this week i was fingerprinted and sworn in and badged and am now in the service of a government entity that calls itself “the most effective data-collection agency in the world” although i think the NKVD also makes that claim.

My first night, i discovered that that badge will make a nasty wound when pinned to your tee shirt if you roll over on it in your sleep.

Back in my misspent youth i was an agent in a different data-collection agency (The Army Security Agency), but there have been some changes. For example, forty-five years ago the penalties for screwing up were described in paragraphs ending with “forfeiture of all pay and allowances and twenty years at hard labor”. Nowadays it’s only five years with no mention of hard labor. Then again, in keeping with our more mercenary focus, there’s now a fine of up to $250,000.

Had a week of training that ended with an exam this afternoon. Despair swept me when i looked at the exam, and i damn near just grabbed my coat and walked. See, it was a timed, open-book exam, and i was sitting there in the middle of a foot-high pile of manuals and dozens of loose abstruse forms. You look at the question, but of course it doesn’t tell you which manual the answer is in, so you’re throwing them all around and pawing through that stack of forms while the clock ticks.

The exam was printed in the last few pages of one of the thinner manuals, and somehow amid all the pawing around that manual fell shut. And then i forgot that the exam was inside a manual, so i wasted something like half of the allotted exam time frantically digging through all my stuff for a couple of pieces of paper that looked like the exam. Just as i finally remembered it was inside a damn manual, the instructor called the five minute warning, so i gobbled through the rest of it just answering questions off the top of my head, and one i had to leave blank. Then i was in such a panic that i didn’t put my name on the exam when i handed it in.

At that point, not wanting our instructor to give me this look of grave disappointment – kinda thought you’d do better, Gray – i nearly walked out again.

And then they handed the exams back and mine was nearly the last one returned, i figured i was at the bottom and they’d just let me go quietly after class. To my astonishment, when i opened it up, i’d missed only the question i skipped and part credit on another one. Couldn’t believe it. Not that this means i really know the material.

After all that, riding home in the rain on the Segway and getting soaked enroute was almost a pleasure.

So now i’m gonna hole up all weekend with fifty pounds of manuals and make some flow diagrams to help me understand this crap because very very soon i’m gonna have to teach my crew this stuff.

Oh, i didn’t mention that? The damn fools made me a team leader.

But at least they’ve now given me a bunch of forms and maps that show the area my team will be responsible for. Which i’ll study Sunday. And then Monday i meet with my supervisor, who is this absolutely cool dude who was the teacher and who i’m gonna love working for even though he is the most efficient person i’ve ever met and i’ll never be able to get up to his standard, what with a previously abused, second-hand mind and a failing body.

But tonight, for the first time in many years, i walked in my door, headed straight for the kitchen, and mixed myself an alcoholic beverage – a Richard pastis with water and ice. So good i may have another. “Un Richard, sinon rien”.

doloresShot of the day, Dolores Park in winter:

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The following dialog actually came close to happening this afternoon:

“What were you doing immediately before the crash?”

“I was trying to dig my helmet out of my pack and put it on without stopping the Segway.”

red roofWell, see, i had got off the train in the West Portal station and pushed the Segway through the crowd out into the sunshine, and it was such a gorgeous moment that somehow i found myself atop the Segway with my helmet still in my pack where i’d stuffed it for the duration of the Muni ride. But then, as i rolled along at top speed, picturing myself having to provide the above answer to that question caused me to stop while i got the helmet out, so i survived to catch this red roof shot on 24th Street:

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A Perfect Solution

This afternoon as my Segway and i were laboring up the hill home into the teeth of an icy rain, my chilled brain cells went into overdrive and i thought of the perfect solution for President Obama’s problems: war. No no, not the ones he inherited and seems to be perpetuating against all the hopes of those who voted for him, but rather a fresh new war that he starts himself to show those who didn’t vote for him he’s not some conciliatory wimp but rather a closet neocon with real cojones.

But who should we invade? I asked myself. I mean, we wouldn’t want to just jump blindly into something without thinking it through, now would we?

So after due consideration of the problems we face in our current wars, and wishing to avoid some of the ummm, complications we’ve encountered over there, i am proposing, as a true American patriot concerned only with the good of my country, that we invade and occupy Iceland.

When i consider all the advantages, i’m surprised nobody has suggested this before. Think about it: Iceland is conveniently located, just a hop and a skip beyond the southern coast of Greenland rather than way the hell off somewhere in the Middle East or Asia with all the long supply-line issues that causes. And strategically situated? It doesn’t take a Clausewitz to understand that he who controls Iceland, controls sea routes to northern Europe, especially in a few years when the Northwest Passage will be ice-free year round. Also, since they’re an island, we won’t have to worry about porous borders over which terrorists can infiltrate.

Furthermore, Iceland has no army, navy, or air force, and we are already responsible for their defense, so invading them ought to be a snap without even having to reduce Reykjavik to rubble. Their population is only 300,000, so occupying them would be easier since we wouldn’t have to deal with millions upon millions of ’em like we do in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them speak English as a second language, which will make it easier to give orders and conduct interrogations. And finally, we wouldn’t have to be bringing them the benefits of democracy since they already have a democratic form of government although we would of course need to make a few adjustments like replacing their socialist health care system with a free enterprise program so the more deserving citizens can purchase better health care than the masses.

The more i think about this, the more excited i get. A win-win situation if i ever saw one, but i’ll flesh out a few more details before i send it to Barack and volunteer as Provincial Governor until control can be restored to the native population. They can address me as Matte the Just (Matte Heiðarlegur), at least until i’ve mastered Icelandic, which i ought to be able to do in ten years or so, well before the transition. As a beginning, i’ve installed the Icelandic keyboard on my PC so i can type their names since they are still clinging to letters like æ, ð, and þ that English hasn’t used for a millennium and which i regret, as i quite like them.

I’ve made preliminary arrangements with a private security company named Graywater to be a Praetorian guard for me and my staff and to perform certain functions too sensitive to be left to the uniformed military. (Surely you didn’t think i’d hire Erik Prince’s crew, whatever he’s calling ’em now, especially since Graywater is owned by a group of my friends who will naturally be grateful that i’ve steered a contract with seven zeroes to them.)

I’ve saved the best reason for invasion until last. I have it on reliable authority that clandestine geological surveys under the guise of helping the Icelanders find more sources of geothermal energy have discovered evidence that the entire northern half of the island is sitting on vast deposits of the highest grade unobtanium, so pure it hardly even needs refining. Who knows what would happen if the Icelanders, or worse yet, the Faeroese, got their hands on this stuff, and we dare not risk finding out. (Imagine, if you will, the utter horror of an entire planet under the cruel dominion of the Faeroese! Compulsory fish livers and mutton, to start with.) In the interests of world peace, we must harvest the unobtanium ourselves and protect it, once again vaulting into the forefront of nations and saving the planet for Jesus.

Ahhhh, back into the service of my country. It’s a good feeling.

aloeWe can celebrate with a pic of a little gem i picked up cheap at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market last year. It seems to be some sort of Gasteria genus from the 3 cm. flowers, but mad scientists are now crossbreeding these little cuties crosseyed to get handsome blossoms, so i’m not sure what it is other than a beautiful member of the Aloaceae family. Is Spring here or what?

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I’ve had a couple of days off from work, which is wonderful because i was getting totally exhausted. Now i’m going to ask them for a demotion and for part time work, which would fit my energy level better. I simply can’t maintain the pace.

But there’s good news:

This morning i cut cleanly through and found a fabulous bargain on new tires for my Segway, which i had been shamed into shopping for after this really handsome young motorcyclist pulled up beside me at a traffic light yesterday and jocularly observed that i was riding on slicks. Luckily, i thought quickly enough to laugh and shoot back that i might have already got my money’s worth outta ’em. Still, i was mortified because he was absolutely right and besides, they were so old that both had slow leaks and had to be pumped up every few days.

Anyhow, after some shopping online and being horrified at the prices of replacement tires (not even looking at the price of official Segway tires), i called the Segway dealer in Oakland and discovered that since i’m riding an obsolete model that nobody wants because the new version has so many improvements and also because everybody is wanting the way cool gnarly knobby off-road tires, there are lots of the old very slightly used street tires around going begging. I got a pair for sixty bucks, and he threw in the wheels because it was so much easier for him to just give ’em to me than to change the tires. Since my old wheels were pretty beat up from all the falls and airline trauma, getting newer ones was a big plus.

When i got home i celebrated by riding down the hill to my gymette and doing 1.18 miles on the elliptical trainer (which because it uses somewhat different muscles i can actually get my heart rate up on, which i can’t do walking) and then waved a few weights around.

Then i continued the celebration by riding down 14th street to the Mission Beach Cafe and making a lunch of their wild mushroom Benedict Florentine with a truffled mornay sauce instead of béarnaise. And since i was already in there, a slice of their divine chocolate cream pie, about which i dream, it being the very essence of what a chocolate cream pie should be.

On the way home i picked up a sourdough baguette and a gallon of low-fat milk, but i haven’t eaten them yet.

And OK, in the interests of full disclosure, not long after the encounter with the motorcyclist i was riding around in Dolores Park scoping out possible places where the homeless might gather on the night we’ll be enumerating them and encountered what appeared to be a grassy slope but was really a mud slide held in place and camouflaged by the grass. The Segway immediately went out from under me, and i landed with a squish on my back. The Segway preceded me down the hill until we came to rest, thoroughly muddied, at the bottom. It was on the way home that i decided that some tires with a little tread on them might be a good investment.

bikeMeanwhile, since we’re talking about vehicles, take a look at this Bicycle Built for Two by the Rock the Bike folks:

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Note: This essay marks the transition of my writing from my landlord’s NoeHill site to my own Matte Gray in SF site. Shoulda done it years ago.

I am sitting here with a snot-soaked handkerchief in my pocket, which is not all that unusual except that the handkerchief is over half a century old.

It was a high school graduation present fifty-one years ago and has been sitting in various drawers all these decades because it was too nice to use, being Irish linen and monogrammed.

Realizing that i didn’t want to be outlived by a handkerchief, i pressed it into service this morning.

And then on Saturday when i went to the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market, i whipped it out and showed it to Liz, pointing out that it’s older than she is.

What is it about my generation and the too-nice-to-use syndrome? Or eating your least favorite jam first so as to save the best ’til last? Years ago my friend Jim pointed out that you should eat the good stuff first, and then, when you were out and it was a choice between the second rate and none, the second rate would taste considerably better.

Hard to put that into practice, but i’m trying.

one treeAnd OK, i’m the ten millionth person to take this pic, but i gotta do it before the last paint peels off and the new trees grow so high that they conceal everything. The artist Rigo 23 did it in 1996, and i find it a delicious irony that the little trees that have been planted since then will obscure the mural as its paint peels. Thanks to my friend Mark for cluing me in to Rigo:

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