January 2011


OK, i confess.  I’ve been fiddling while the world burned.  Don’t know what else to do, actually, since i’m not smart enough, young enough, or eloquent enough to make any difference, so figure i might as well try to give folks some entertainment to take their minds off what’s happening.

But there’s a tiny shred of leftover ethics in me that makes me feel somehow dirty for not at least making a try at calling some attention to what’s going on now all over the world…and is being studiously ignored by most Americans.   I read my friend CK’s Some Assembly Required blog six days a week, and i credit him with being my largest single source of national and international news that somehow doesn’t get printed in the mainstream media.

So if you want only entertainment, just skip this one.

And no, i’m not about to go into some kind of peak oil rant.  Anyone who wants to look seriously can find plenty of data indicating that planetary oil production has basically plateaued since December, 2005 even though there are deniers shouting that we’re finding more reserves every day and that the blunt fact that we’re not producing more now means nothing, nothing at all.  Still, only a lunatic fringe expects anything other than increasing fuel prices in the future.  And any serious person can readily understand that life will be very different when we no longer have the cheap oil that made possible the quadrupling of the world’s population over the last century.

Nor am i going to make a case for global warming.  Skeptics might want to look at Glacier National Park while it still has some glaciers, since the remaining few are melting so fast that at the current rate none will remain in twenty years.  It is a matter of easily demonstrable fact that the planet is in a warming period, and the vast majority of the world’s climatologists agree that this warming is caused by the tremendous increase in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere during the last century by the burning of fossil fuels.  Unfortunately, it’s clear that even with far more draconian reductions in planetary CO2 output than would be politically possible, we have already reached a tipping point that will produce dramatic weather changes all over the globe.

Yes, ocean levels will continue to rise, and at an accelerating rate, but long before our coastal areas are flooded, global warming will cause more and more severe droughts and floods like the ones we are already experiencing.  These are having an immediate impact on global food supply, and this effect will be worsened by the increased cost of fuel to run our agricultural industry.

So what we’re facing, really, is not only peak oil but also peak food and the resultant deterioration in quality of life.  And we’re starting to face it now.  In the last week, the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt have revolted against their governments, and the press is attributing this to public outrage over political oppression and the corruption of their leaders.  However, the specific event that seems to have sparked the crisis in Tunisia was the self immolation of an impoverished vegetable vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who was busted by the police because he didn’t have a permit and who despaired of feeding his family.  His act resonated because inequalities such as those he faced have made life increasingly difficult for the masses.

I find it instructive to consult a favorite chart of mine, compiled and periodically updated by our CIA and displaying income distribution around the globe.   The chart is organized from worst to best, with the country having the least equitable income distribution (Namibia) listed as number 1 and the most equitable country (Sweden) at number 134).  Curious as to how Tunisia and Egypt rated, i scrolled down until i found Tunisia at position number 62.  Egypt was considerably better at position 90.

The United States?  We’re at position 42, which means that Sweden and 91 other countries, including Egypt and Tunisia, are more equitable.  But don’t worry, Mexico is worse than us.

The fabulously wealthy folks like the Koch brothers who are financing the Tea Party have so far been very effective at convincing the members to direct their anger down at the poor and at the government for helping the poor.  And besides, we’re so much richer than Tunisia or Egypt that actual hunger isn’t common yet.

Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Zhang HuanWell, except this heathen idol by Zhang Huan which landed last fall in front of City Hall and, having successfully sown some seeds of socialism,  will be taking off shortly:

And dammit all, after i wrote the above rant i discovered that somebody else had written it better two days earlier.  On the other hand, two days after i wrote that, i was delighted to discover that the Telegraph had jumped on my bandwagon.  And folks, i promise you the International Monetary Fund is anything but some pack of liberals.  Here’s a direct link to the IMF study in a pdf file.

Now, owing to popular demand, back to the circuses.

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The other day i observed that i was having to adjust to the lack of an opposable thumb.  Didn’t mean that as some kind of shrill complaint, as there certainly are compensations.  Looking back on it now, i can’t imagine how i got along all those years without inch and a quarter long retractable claws and the ability to sprint 500 yards at 40 MPH.

Still, there are definitely adjustments.  I went down yesterday to my dentist to get him acquainted with the new dentition.  Probably should have mentioned the change in my appearance to his receptionist on the phone beforehand, but she’s ok now.  We talked her down….well, he did.  I hung back.

But then, when we went in and i sat in his chair and opened wide, there was this long pause, and then he said, “Look, Matte, you’ve been a good customer for over twenty years, and i really appreciate all the jellies, but i’m sorry, i just don’t have it in me to stick my hand in there.”

And hey, i could understand that and i bear him no ill will although i’ll admit to being taken aback and yes, a little hurt when he offered to refer me to his veterinarian.

Just had an idea.  The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in San Francisco, and i would get great personal satisfaction from performing some service to help the city.  For example, i’m thinking i could help enforce the leash laws in our parks.  The only expense to the city would be putting up signs “Off-Leash Dogs Will Be Eaten”.

And speaking of that sort of thing, my grocery bills are already plunging.  I’ve discovered that if i amble over to Buena Vista Park in the middle of the night, it’s like a smorgasbord – mostly fat, slow, stupid, and never had to run for its life….easy pickings, tender and well marbled.  This is another way in which i can give back to my beloved city because, let’s face it, the ones i’m picking really shouldn’t be breeding.  I see myself as doing my part to advance natural selection.  The Claws of Darwin…or, for the religious, the Jaws of God.

My culinary preferences sure have changed:  potatoes are just tasteless, i don’t like anything sweet, and chocolate is disgusting.  On the other hand, any meat is better than ever, but venison!  Oh, my goodness, it’s by far my favorite now, especially when it’s freshly chased and has that delicious adrenaline flavor.

And speaking of venison, my friend Kurt is a bow hunter, and i’m trying to talk him into taking me along with him, arguing that we’d make a good team.  I mean, i’d let him take his shot, and then if he missed, i’d take a crack at chasing it down for us.

We could share the meat, and besides, a big plus for both of us is that we are almost complete opposites in the parts we think of as best.  To me, nothing is finer than the raw heart and liver while they’re still warm, but i can’t even talk him into tasting them.

But back to volunteering.  A wonderful idea for a place to volunteer just struck me:  our petting zoo.  I could give the little kids rides on my back.  Ohhhh, i just love that delighted squealing.  No no, don’t worry.  Please let me reassure everyone:  I am eager to improve our image, not get us all tarred as pouncing pedophages.

Ginkgo bilobaAnd sorry to change the subject, but taking pics is harder than it used to be, so here’s a row of old ginkgos on 22nd Street west of Valencia that i took before the reassignment.

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I ended the 2010 Journal with a Christmas Letter explaining my planned reassignment surgery. The letter got a heartwarming response, and if you haven’t read it, please click on the link and do so now; otherwise, the rest of this won’t make sense. (I promise you, dammit, you MUST click on that link before you read another word, or you won’t be able to understand the rest of this post.)

There is good news. Since i banged myself up so badly during the above Great Adventure, i checked around and discovered that i could go ahead and have the reassignment surgery early. I did so, and it was completely successful. The incision is healing and i’m becoming acclimatized to my new body. My doctors had warned me that while i would have conscious control of my body immediately, i would need to learn to deal with automatic and instinctive responses that are ingrained by a hundred thousand of years of evolution.

The first time this surgery was performed, there was an unfortunate incident in the Recovery Room when a meaty intern heard a Code called on the intercom and went rushing to respond. Without thinking, the patient leaped off the gurney and caught him before he made it to the door. Even in our finest hospitals, there’s not much that can be done when all the cervical vertebrae have been crushed.

Since then, the hospital staff have worked with patients on these instincts from the moment they regain consciousness, and by now i’m pretty much acclimatized and barely twitch at all over creatures running away from me, mostly just my ears lie back flat. Frankly, a more difficult adjustment is to no longer having an opposable thumb. Well, and to human speech. It’s pretty clear that i’ll always have a feline accent, but i’m understandable. After all, we Californians got accustomed to listening to our Governator, didn’t we?

So how am i looking? Well, they had to shave my entire head for the incision, and i’m kinda vain about my hair, so for now we’ll have to make do with this facial shot:

Photo by Victor Zhang

Photo by Victor Zhang


I’m working on a more bashful look, as Vic was acting kinda nervous during the shoot, but that may have been because i’d eaten a Jack Russell Terrier for breakfast, and you know how those things give you dog breath.

My friend David just wrote that he and Chris were planning a trip to California in April and would love to stay with me if they’d be safe. I assured him that they could take advantage of innate behavioral traits and be confident in their compete safety, as it is simply impossible for me to think of any creature as food after it has scratched behind my ears.

Both ears.

And if i growl when you stop, that means don’t stop.

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A General Adventure

Yesterday was full of adventure of the highest order. I started out by introducing Sybil to StarStream, and she was as impressed as i expected when we split orders of the Pork Conserva sandwich and the Schiacciata pizza. Afterwards, i escorted her over to Trader Joe’s where we both picked up a few grocery items.

This?” you ask, “is what Matte calls an adventure of the highest order?”

OK, that was just the background. The adventure didn’t start until i dumped the Trader Joe’s purchases at home and then whirred off to Whole Foods for some of their Comice pears and Grind-it-yourself peanut butter. I was carrying this stuff home when suddenly, with no transition at all, i woke up in a strange room surrounded by people i didn’t know. Wow! What the hell is going on? Didn’t know i’d gone to sleep. Looking around, trying to assess the situation, i noticed that my clothes had been replaced with this flimsy gown thing. Did they touch my junk? i wondered, and then remembered that once you reach seventy, your junk is safe.

And then i realized that i had apparently been beaten up, as i hurt all over and everywhere i looked could see abrasions. Hmmm, i thought, hope i told ’em everything they wanted so they won’t have to do that again. Then it hit me: “This looks like a hospital,” saying it audibly.  I was applauded for my perspicuity by this young woman standing over me.

“What happened?” i asked her, since the last thing i could remember was riding down 24th Street with my pears, headed home. All she could tell me was that i’d had an accident on my Segway, which had been brought with me in the ambulance and was in the hospital property room. What ambulance? i wondered. Then she identified herself as a neurologist and asked me a bunch of questions to see whether i was thinking clearly. Luckily she didn’t ask my readers, so i passed. I let her talk me into spending the night under observation since they’d taken the liberty of doing a CAT scan on me while i was unconscious (what CAT scan? i wondered) and had found some blood on my brain, which they got all excited about.

While waiting in the hall on the gurney to be taken to a room, i got to witness an entertaining mini-drama. Three cops came in to talk to an injured perp in the next room, and the sight of them had a dramatic impact on this guy on the gurney just outside the door.

Betraying no sense of rush, but studiously keeping his back to the cops visible through the open doorway, he retrieved his belongings from under his gurney, sat on it, and efficiently put his clothes back on. He stood, but alas, just as he was taking his first step toward the blue sky and sunlit green lawn outside the open ER entryway down the hall, three more cops came walking in. Taking this development in stride, he sat back on his gurney and lay on his side with his back to the hallway and his face in his arms. Shy, but very quick witted.

I caught the eye of this other dude on a gurney across from me who’d also been enjoying the drama, and we bonded. I got wheeled away before the next act began, but i did keep listening for shouts and gunfire.

I’d end this tale now except that i need to give some credits. I’ve been hospitalized twice in private hospitals and undergone several same day procedures in them, and maybe i just got lucky during my first stay at San Francisco General Hospital, but i have never had nicer nurses than the ones i encountered here.

And while i’m at it, i don’t recall ever feeling a better rapport with a pack of doctors than i did the ones who saw me during their rounds the next morning. I convinced ’em that since i would refuse brain surgery even to save my life, another CAT scan would be a waste of resources, so they released me on my own recalcitrance. In private hospitals, your comfort and your recovery are purely secondary to their primary objective, which is to make sure you have no possible grounds on which to sue them.  At SF General, they listen to you.

Another breakthrough on this hospital visit is that nobody knew i was in the hospital until i told ’em after i got out. A much better approach except that there was nobody to smuggle diet Dr Pepper in.

Bloody but unbowed – photo by Richard

Oh yes, when they brought my belongings back, i was not terribly surprised to find that my glasses and helmet were broken, and both pants and shirt ripped, but i was greatly relieved to see that i had been wearing clean underwear, and not too stylish, either.

Update: Left the house on the afternoon of the 7th for the first time since i got home from the hospital. First went to Noe Valley Cyclery and bought a new helmet since the dude agreed that i’d sure got my money’s worth outta the previous one, it having sacrificed its life to save mine. Stopped at Whole Foods to get some replacement Comice pears, and on the way home spotted what i am near 100% certain was the cause of my fall.

To prevent motorists from backing into and destroying the planters, tables, and chairs in our new minipark on 24th a few doors east of Noe, the city has put in low asphalt barriers about three feet on either side of the planters. Unfortunately, it extends into the street a full foot more than the planters. Bicyclists and Segwayers routinely hug the curb when possible to stay out of the way of cars, and i must have hugged a little prematurely, catching the barrier with my right wheel and doing a left side face plant, the results of which you see pictured above.

Well, some of the results. Turns out i’ve also broken the 3rd metacarpal in the right hand and the right radius, (note the swollen hand above) but Dr. Diao, my wonderful orthopedic surgeon, has splinted everything back together since the above pic was taken.

Damn. I’m considering upping the Caution Level to Orange. Here’s the kind of stuff i’ll be watching out for…the black thing with the yellow trapezoid on it sticking out into the street immediately before the bus stop:

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Mission Chinese Food

OK, let’s start out by crediting the folks who turned me on to this place. Mark reviewed it early last fall on Mus E Yum, but somehow i didn’t get around to going until my friends Richard and Flynn had also raved about it. Everybody’s right. The food’s excellent. I had the Slow Cooked Char Siu Pork Belly with soy cured egg, ginger scallion noodles, and cucumber, and it was the closest thing i’ve had to the Babi Pangang that i wrote repeatedly about eating in Amsterdam. Speaking of bellies, i got a belly laugh when i read Jonathan Kauffman’s review in SFWeekly in which he criticized this dish for being “fatty”. Folks, if you can’t stand the fat, stay out of the pork belly.

The chef, Danny Bowein, is ethnically Korean but was adopted as a baby by an Oklahoma couple, a friendly, delightful guy with an attitude toward food that combines down home good eating with haute cuisine. There’s not a pretentious bone in his body and he doesn’t act like the upcoming celebrity chef that he actually is. Check out this video of him talking with his business partner about Popeye’s fried chicken. I was lucky to be seated beside a work station where he stopped to make some dumplings, and while he worked we talked about regional foods. He explained that the reason he delivers everything on the menu is that he understands that sometimes you’re just too tired to go out but still want some good food.

As all the reviews explain, Bowein is sharing the kitchen in an existing Chinese storefront restaurant called Lung Shan at 2234 Mission Street (between 18th and 19th). The ambience is classic Chinese storefront until you look a little more closely and notice that a 50+ foot long red dragon is coiled along the ceiling.

The food, though, is nothing at all like your typical little Chinese place. Stealth fine dining. Here’s the menu.

winter sunriseAnd here’s the dragon.

My second visit was delayed by the General Adventure described in the entry below, but at the chef’s recommendation i had the porridge, more commonly called congee in San Francisco or jook in places where there are more Mandarin speakers. It was just plain meaty with shredded crab and was by far the best congee i ever ate.

Third visit i went in with Sybil and we had a pork festival: the Pork Belly and the Thrice Cooked Bacon. The bacon had in it what were called “rice cakes”, which were flat ovals about an inch wide with a texture rather like pasta…the dish was delicious, and it was the first dish i’ve had there that was marked with the pepper symbol. I found the pepper level to be just right so long as i ate only the jalapeño slices and avoided the dried red peppers. The bottom line: Sybil validated my love for this place.

Fourth visit: The pork dumpling soup, all the tastier for getting to watch from my favorite table beside his workstation while Danny made and cooked the dumplings.

Fifth visit: The Ma Po Tofu, marked with two pepper symbols, and he damn sure meant them both. Delicious and thank God for that steamed rice. Gasp.

Sixth visit: The eggplant. This is that Szechuan eggplant dish i’ve been eating with gusto for thirty years. Never had it better anywhere else.

Seventh visit: the Tingly Lamb Noodle Soup, with lamb breast, fresh Shanghai noodles, bok choi, and “numbing lamb broth.” Like everything else here, it was delicious. I’ve been using hua jiao 花椒 for decades to season pork roasts, but i’d never eaten enough at a sitting to experience its notorious numbing effect.

I have now.
And it’s more fun than the dentist.

And i’m not big on landscape shots, but this winter sunrise caught my eye:

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