January 2010

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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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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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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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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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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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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