July 2014

Local Customs

People everywhere have local customs, and some of those from my youth in the oil camps in west Texas i’ve never seen elsewhere.

One of them was burning your lawn in the winter.  It was pretty much universal in those oil camps in the late forties and early fifties, and i’ve found references to it online, but i’m not sure it was all that widespread elsewhere.  The grass used for lawns out there was Bermuda, and it spread mainly by  runners at and below the surface of the ground.  It also died at the first frost, and since the west Texas winters were dry, it was very easy to set alight.   Since it had been mowed short until the frost killed it, the flames remained quite small and were thus easy to control in case they threatened a structure.

The downside, of course, was that your lawn was black instead of brown.  More importantly, if Something Happened and the fire spread to a patch of grass that had been left uncut, it could set something else on fire.  Like your house.

The stated reason for burning the lawn was that it was good for the lawn, that it provided nutrients and reduced the thatch so the grass would get green earlier in the spring.  And yes, to a very minor degree it had those benefits.

In my old age now, though, i realize that the main reason for burning the lawn was that guys like fires, which is why it was always the men who took care of this chore.  Besides that, kids love fires, and the winter lawn burning was a Major Event eagerly anticipated by the children.

Here’s a modern San Francisco “custom”.  On some major bicycle routes, the traffic signals are set to a bicycle-friendly rate.

San Francisco bike route timing


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OR7 Update

There’s good news and bad news about California’s favorite wolf.

The bad news is that after wandering for a year over hundreds of miles of northern California in a futile search for a mate, OR7 gave up and returned to southern Oregon.

The good news is that he’s now a father.  Yep, he finally found the right gal, and he now has three little bundles of joy.

Oh, and in case they move south, i spotted this playmate for them while i was up at Saratoga Springs a couple of weeks ago.

Young deer at Saratoga Springs


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Feeding Visitors

One of my favorite activities is feeding visitors, and i just had a nearly perfect one, my friend Tommy from South Carolina.  And yeah, yeah, we know all about South Carolina, but Tommy’s different.  In the first place, he’s a great visitor in that he can take care of himself.  Just show him his bedroom and where the towels and toilet paper are and he’s fine.  More importantly, he can go out adventuring on his own while i take naps in the daytime and sleep at night with my bedroom door closed so that he doesn’t wake me when he comes blundering home in the wee hours.

But more that all that, he’s a discriminating gourmand who likes almost everything and loves being introduced to new restaurants.  Wonderful.  So what did we do?

His first night here was non-negotiable.  I took him to Company and he loved it, which was no surprise.  We had that spectacular corn soup and the confit chicken wings.  He had the swordfish and i had a half order of the capellini since i’d been dying to try one of Karen’s pasta dishes.  Both were superb, and Tommy was blown away by the swordfish.  For dessert he had the peach crumble and i succumbed to the chocolate brownie with vanilla bean ice cream.  What a fine start for his visit.

For lunch the next day we went to the Anchor Oyster Bar, where he loved the crab cakes and i wallowed in the cioppino, both of which being routinely rated as the best in San Francisco.  And hey, i just discovered an online recipe that attempts to duplicate the Anchor’s cioppino, and i very well may have to try it myself, especially since Roseann keeps jacking the prices up so that the place is slipping out of my grasp.

Here’s the cioppino at the Anchor Oyster Bar.

cioppino at the Anchor Oyster Bar



That night neither of us was really hungry, so i just fed him stuff i had in the house, mainly a slice of that whole wheat bolani from East West Foods at the Castro Farmers’ Market.  To amp it up, i topped it with slices of aged Gouda and black sesame seeds and stuck it in the toaster oven.  Served it with a couple of fine yellow nectarines from Rodin’s.

Then we took a break for a few days while Tommy went off to a retreat, and when he returned we started right back up with a lunch at Holy Kitchen, this new Indian place on 24th Street that’s open for lunch and dinner.  Well, i wanted to take Tommy to Aslam’s Rasoi where i knew the food was delicious, but it’s not open for lunch.  I wanted to like Holy Kitchen, and i have to admit that it’s a very pleasant space with quietly austere decor and a charming waitress.  I had the tandoori chicken, saag paneer, naan, and chai.  The chai was excellent, but the rest was merely good and alas, that’s not good enough for me.

For Tommy’s last night we went to the Mission Beach Cafe for their excellent rabbit gumbo and their ineffable truffle oil Parmesan fries…and split that fabulous chocolate cream pie for dessert.  And for lunch on the day of his departure, it was Yank Sing.  Whew.

So yes, Tommy tucked right in for some fabulous dining.  I’d said before that he was nearly perfect, but now i’ll tell on him.  He has one flaw.  That night i was feeding him delicacies out of my refrigerator i offered him something extra special i’d prepared the week before, some fresh baby squid i’d lovingly pickled.

He turned his nose up at it.  Hell, he wouldn’t even taste the tentacles, the best part.


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The latest development on the NSA is that a number of people have recently written about yet another hideous NSA overreach – its out-Hoovering Hoover’s FBI in the gathering of embarrassing material on the peccadilloes (especially sexual) of Americans so that they might be blackmailed into toeing the NSA line.  Here’s a recent paragraph from Some Assembly Required with some juicy links:

Bill Of Particulars: The NSA spies on politicians, generals, judges, lawyers, citizens and nearly everyone else. For example, they began collecting information on Barak Obama when he first ran for public office and continued to do so through his run for the Presidency. And there is no reason to suspect they have stopped. It is also naïve to believe that this is merely harmless collection, that those who hold the information do not use it for their benefit. And the NSA passes data on American citizens, including members of Congress to Israel. It seems likely that the NSA is blackmailing its putative Washington overseers. There is no record in history when such surveillance was not used to control the people, but there is always a first time.

To that i’ll stress that the writer of that blog is being excruciatingly ironic when he says there might be a first time when a government failed to use such intelligence to control the population.  Maybe when the NSA freezes over.


Meanwhile, another hot new NSA issue was sparked by the recent flap over Verizon spying on Germany that led to their ouster of our CIA chief there.  Seems that more and more Germans are calling on their government to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, he being clearly a closer friend of Germany than the US government.  There was talk of this back at the beginning of the year when Snowden revealed that we’d been tapping Angela Merkel’s private cell phone, but l’affaire Verizon may be tipping the scale.

Of course, i’d offer Snowden asylum in my San Francisco flat, but even though the citizens here would warmly welcome him there’d be a couple of problems.  First, getting him here would be impossible because there are no nonstop flights between SFO and Moscow and he’d be hauled outta the plane during its stop.  And if there were nonstop flights, a heavily armed delegation would be waiting for him upon his arrival at SFO.  And even if he could be teleported here, my flat offers no security, so his expected stay would be measured in minutes before the doors were smashed in.  So no, he’d be better off in Germany, to which he could be whisked from Moscow in a German military plane and be housed in accommodations protected by German law…and guns.

Here’s an NSA surveillance device cunningly disguised as a lizard at Saratoga Springs last weekend.  I’m guessing a Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis).  Those beady little eyes can see a lot.


lizard at Saratoga Springs

You lookin’ at me?

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Uniformed Thugs

It all started with 9/11 when Osama Bin Laden was successful beyond his wildest dreams.  Not only did three out of the four hijacked planes hit their targets and kill 3,000 people in the most dramatic terrorist strike in history, but more importantly he threw this country into such a state of terror that its population willingly “gave up essential freedom to purchase a little temporary safety” and allowed themselves to be turned into vassals of a police state.

The President and Congress acted swiftly: First, to create the Department of Homeland Security, a national police force with virtually unlimited powers, and second, to more or less clandestinely expand the mission of the National Security Agency to include, for the first time since its charter sixty years earlier, monitoring of the electronic communications of American citizens at home and abroad.  Be still, o foolish hearts in the Gestapo, the Stasi, and the KGB.

Since then, both have continued to expand their roles, as has been tirelessly documented by bloggers like myself, the indefatigable Some Assembly Required, and most recently, The Intercept, not to mention even fairly often now by the national media, so i’ll add nothing now.

My objective today is to call to mind some trickle down from the national policing organizations to our state and local law enforcement authorities, all of which have been escalating both in acquisition of armaments like tanks and assault weapons traditionally reserved for the national military forces and also in the level of violence against civilians.

I do not pretend that the American populace is given over to nonviolence nor that it is unarmed, and i certainly recognize that our police need to be armed to protect themselves, but what we’re seeing more and more nowadays is outrageous police violence against unarmed civilians.

Worse yet, much of this violence is directed against women and children who cannot possibly present a threat to the police.  We’ve all seen news accounts, a recent egregious one being that LA case in which an unarmed, mentally disturbed great-grandmother walking along a freeway margin was thrown to the ground and repeatedly punched in the face by a policeman.

Or the case in Santa Rosa (north of San Francisco) in which the local district attorney has declined to file charges against a sheriff’s deputy who last fall plugged seven rounds into a 5’2″, 13-year-old schoolboy who was carrying a BB gun the cop thought was an assault rifle.  The distance from the deputy to the boy was 67 feet, and the last few bullets struck the boy as he was lying on the ground.  Well, you gotta make sure.

Especially interesting about this latter case is that the deputy had a history of overreaction that has been extensively detailed but which is summarized here.  Late update:  Turns out that the only independent expert hired by the Santa Rosa DA to investigate the shooting makes a living exonerating police in such cases.

What have we come to?  I’m just wondering if the Santa Rosa DA might possibly have filed charges against the deputy if he’d gunned down a 13 year old girl.  OK, a ten year old girl?

Naw, doesn’t matter.  They’re all dangerous.

Speaking of weaponry, here’s a patent oyster shucker Gloria gave me.  Better not carry it outta the house, as it might look dangerous enough to get me shot.

patent oyster shucker


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Another wonderful encounter on the streets of San Francisco.

Last Wednesday i was with my friend Andrew Segwaying through the Castro Farmers’ Market to buy the blackberries and rocket for the Arugula, Blackberry, and Gorgonzola salad i’d be taking to a Fourth of July garden party and had just discovered that my vendors had entered into a conspiracy and had agreed that none of them would bring rocket or wall rocket to the market that day.  Grrrrr.

So i decided i’d just fall back on my ever popular potato salad, my secret being to substitute boiled egg for about half of the potatoes, which reduces the carbohydrate count while improving the taste.  Win win.

And then i was accosted by a pretty young woman who exclaimed, “Matte!”  Of course i didn’t know her name, so she gave me a clue, “I really just recognized you by the Segway since i’d never seen you without blood all over your face.”

OK, that narrowed it down.

But before i could go through the process of elimination – i mean, relatively few women have seen me on the streets of San Francisco with blood all over my face – she identified herself as Charity.  Oh, of course.  And no wonder i failed to recognize her since i was, after all, rather smashed up the only time i’d seen her when she’d staunched the blood flow and escorted me to the ER at Davies last December.

And thank goodness i had a jar of Nectarine Jam with Yellow Thai Chiles with me that i could give her, she and Ben having resisted my earlier attempts to meet them to hand over a reward.

Dontcha just love symmetry!

And speaking of symmetry, here’s my A. tabuliforme with its inflorescence fully formed and the blossoms about to open.


Aeonium tabuliforme


Here’s what it looked like a month earlier when i first noticed that it was sprouting an inflorescence.  I don’t have  a photo of it from a few days earlier when it was still flat as a table.

Aeonium tabuliforme

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