January 2015


Posting day before yesterday’s tale got me thinking about that CRX.

It was the only “sports car” i’ve ever owned, and even though i did not get the fuel-injected version, it would still accelerate briskly since the body was mostly plastic and the vast majority of the weight of the whole thing was the little engine.

And oh, did it ever corner like a cat.  Great at highway speed, too, as evidenced by an occasion when i was headed to work in Hayward particularly early, before six in the morning.  In those days, eastbound traffic over the San Mateo Bridge was real light in the mornings, particularly at that hour, and i was antsy to get to work and was zipping along at near 90 up the bridge grade when i passed a red car.

Well, he thought, i can do that, and he tromped it, rapidly overtaking me and shooting past in the left lane at over a hundred.  Alas, he couldn’t drive, or his car didn’t handle well at that speed, so when he cut back into my lane he lost control, spun out, slammed into the guardrail for the right lane, and bounced back into the middle lane facing me.

No problem when you’re in a CRX.  One quick twitch and i was around him.  Slowed down and watched in my rear view mirror as he turned around and moved over into the right lane.  I stayed at more or less the speed limit, but he didn’t pass me again as he seemed to be moving at very low speed.

Yeah, the CRX could handle.

Actually, the only down side, other than it lasting less than 90,000 miles, was that for the first time in my life, i got speeding tickets.  Repeatedly.  I’d get one, endure the torture of traffic school to get the ticket expunged, and have to be real cautious for a whole year so i could go to traffic school again if (ummm, when) i got another ticket.

I once complained, in a jocular tone of course, to a CHP officer on CA92 that i didn’t used to get traffic tickets.  She wondered, “Did you ever have a sports car before?”

The defense rested.

That was before the California speed limit on the freeways was raised back to 65 from the 55 imposed in the early seventies.  And the very next day, all those commuters like me who were so frustrated at 55 that our speed routinely crept up to 75 or so simultaneously realized that, OK, we could live with 65 and stopped speeding…and stopped getting tickets.

Virtually all of us.  All at once.  Yes, the citizenry understand the difference between reasonable and unreasonable laws, and it takes a continual government propaganda effort to get people to accept unreasonable laws…like the draconian security restrictions supposedly required by our War on Terror as we swirl down into an Orwellian police state.

Sorry there’s no photo of my CRX, but we all know what a blue ’86 looks like.  Here’s some Castro Street steps instead.

Castro Street steps

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Geo’s Dog

Geo, my software guru, dropped by yesterday and in three or four quick clicks fixed a display issue on my new TV/monitor.  So wonderful to have young techie friends for whom all this stuff is intuitive.

And then he raced off because he needed to exercise his dog, which got me to thinking about that wretched dog, trapped in a relationship with an owner so cruel that he denies the poor dog a bone.  Yes, that’s what i said.

See, a while back i’d made a run down to Gorilla Barbecue in Pacifica for a slab of ribs and had invited Geo and that pig Jeff to help me eat them.  Afterwards i bagged up the bones for Geo to take home to the dog and learned that no, the dog was not permitted to have bones because he might get a splinter or something.

What!!!!  For at least 11,000 years men have been tossing dogs bones, and the dogs have been loving ’em.  Gnawing bones is the very essence of dogs.  It is their nature and to deny them that is cruel.

And then i got to thinking what it must be like to be Geo’s dog.  Oh horror.

How, i ask, would Geo like it if the roles were reversed?

You’d live your days in boredom and hunger waiting for your master to come home from work, and after a brief little show of affection and some token ear scratching, the master would mix himself a drink and consume it at leisure.

And then it’s Exercise Time.  Oh yes, to be taken out into the park and run to exhaustion, over and over.  Ten more laps around the field.  It’s good for your cardiovascular system, and besides, it builds character.

Finally, when he’s tired of exercising you, you get to stagger back home, where he reaches into the double locked cabinet, pulls out an enormous bag of food pellets, shakes a feeble few into a big bowl, makes you perform some demeaning tricks, and then puts the bowl with its pitiful cargo within your reach.

When you’re starving to death, there’s no pride left, so you gobble the food as fast as you can, no matter that it’s cheap low-fat, low-taste, nutritionally balanced swill.  It’s something to eat! and you can’t help yourself even though you know there won’t be any more until the next morning, hours after you’ve been awakened by the hunger pangs that dog your days.

Before then, in the evenings, he’ll reach down and run his hand over your ripped abdominal muscles and compliment your good health while you wish he’d just move his hand up slightly so he could feel your ribs sticking out.

The most you can hope for is that at some point you’ll somehow do something right and he’ll toss you a miniscule morsel that tastes good…or maybe it’s just something edible.

This is hell, you realize.  Yes, in Guantánamo you have to put up with the occasional waterboarding, but at least starvation is not part of the torture and they give you enough to eat.

Had to scratch around to come up with a food-oriented pic, but here’s one from downtown:

Carnation Mush

Betcha Geo’s dog would love all three flavors.


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Embarcadero Freeway Drive

Ahh, the late, unlamented Embarcadero Freeway.  Click on that link to get a good history of its short but sordid life, as it was widely reviled from the moment it went up by most folks except North Beach/Chinatown merchants.  What a joy, thanks to God and the San Andreas fault, that it’s gone, a victim of the Loma Prieta earthquake and the determination of the citizenry to not rebuild it.  Once again, we have an unobstructed waterfront, at least until real estate developers find a way to erect a wall of Miami-style high rises along it, their effort thwarted only last year by our glorious Prop B.

But still, nobody to my knowledge has ever reported on the one great joy that freeway provided, so as yet another in my long tradition of public services, i’ll describe that wonderful function.

After you’ve come staggering out of a huge South of Market orgy with your boyfriend Fletcher, tired and spent but completely sober, you get in your car, an early Honda CRX with new Michelin radials and excellent handling.  And you turn up onto 101 northbound headed toward the Bay Bridge and take the left exit onto the Embarcadero Freeway to give Fletcher his reward for being a good boy.

It’s four in the morning, the drunks are off the freeway by now and the cops are taking a well deserved coffee break, so there’s no need to pay attention to the speed limits and you’re doing 70 or so as you plunge into the freeway’s maw.

Well yes, the maw.  It’s a two-lane, elevated, two-level freeway, and the westbound traffic is on the lower level, so the support columns on either side are whipping by fast and heightening the impression of speed even though in such a well engineered, well shod vehicle you’re absolutely safe as you whiz around the gentle curve along the Embarcadero.

Alas, the pleasure of shooting through this tunnel of concrete posts lasts only a minute or so at warp speed, the Ferry Building whips past in a blur, and then you’re approaching a sharper curve to the left at the end of the freeway at Broadway as you downshift to 4th.

You take the 45 degree turn to the left onto Battery Street as you downshift to 3rd.  By now you’re going only about 50, so there’s no need to slow down as you reach the end of the block and turn right onto Pacific, it being two lanes one way and you having a flashing yellow light.  And at the end of the block there’s another flashing yellow light that you can blast through as you turn right onto the two lanes of Sansome and head back up the grade to Broadway.

At Broadway, you have a flashing red light that traditionally means you should stop, but luckily you also have an unobstructed view to the left for half a block down Broadway, and at 4:10 AM there’s almost never anyone coming to have to slow down for, so you can keep your speed as you turn right onto the freeway on ramp and accelerate briskly for the return trip on the upper level.

The views are so spectacular that you almost feel like slowing down to prolong them, but that would degrade the experience.

As you shoot back through the maze onto 101 southbound and slow down to roughly legal speeds, Fletcher speaks, for the first time since the journey started:  “You sure do like to drive.”

Well, he worked my nerves sometimes, too.

Since we’re down by the Embarcadero, here’s a recent shot of Pier 26.

Pier 26


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Banksy visited San Francisco about five years ago and left a few works on various walls, all but two gone now, so i figured i’d better go out and get shots of those while they lasted.

Actually, the one that was on the wall of the Red Victorian on Haight Street has been removed and preserved.  Some folks carefully pried the siding off the wall and reassembled/restored it in the 836M gallery, where you can view it in the front window, not that it’s possible to get a good photo of it through the glass, and you can’t see it from inside the gallery, so you’ll have to click on the above link.  Sigh.  836M sounds like an exciting place, but as best i can tell does not keep regular hours and was closed when i went by.

The other remaining Banksy is just three blocks away at the corner of Broadway and Columbus but is difficult to photograph if you didn’t arrive by helicopter.  I really do have to get myself a drone with a remote controlled camera for occasions like this.  Still, here it is from in front of the Condor.

Banksy at Broadway and Columbus

Banksy has come up with some other memorable lines, e.g., “You Are an Acceptable Level of Threat and If You Were Not You Would Know About It”.


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Pier 24

Let’s hear it for Andy Pilara – the saintly reformed capitalist, photography collector, and philanthropist who created Pier 24 to display his collection and keeps it open to the public at no charge, with new shows about every year and a half.

Yes, it’s tightly structured, and to get in you have to make a reservation through the site above.  Best be on time because you get exactly thirty minutes to see the current show and are then chased out before the next group enters.  The groups are quite small, i’m guessing about 25 people, which works out to about one person per room, so there’s never anyone standing in front of something you want to look closely at, the most relaxed and pleasant museum experience i’ve ever had.

Another quirk is that the works are not labeled.  To know what you’re looking at you have to consult the catalog you’re loaned upon entry and figure out which room you’re in and where the photo is in it.  Not sure this is a plus, and every time i leave i swear that for the next show i’ll be sure to bring a pen and paper to write down the names of the photographers and works, but so far i’ve yet to do so.

In previous shows there have been photographs by artists i knew, but this time they were all new to me and of course i didn’t remember a single name.  Sigh.  Damn well should have, as there were some fascinating works.

Like this series of heavily embroidered photographs.


And this room, half full of prints, into which you were encouraged by the docent at the door to enter, step on the prints near the door, and even pick some up for closer examination.  The docent and i agreed that it would be in poor taste to take a flying leap into those stacked in the back of the room as if you were a kid jumping into a pile of autumn leaves.


I’m not sure what it is about that show, but every time i come out of it i’m compelled to start snapping photos right and left.  I have a feeling that i’m hardly unique in this and that hundreds of people have taken this shot just outside the door.

Outside Pier 24

And then maybe this one next door.

Pier 26


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Size Matters

My new apartment is now fully accessorized.  I bought one of those flat screen LCD television sets.  A 40-inch Samsung since size matters.

See, the tromp tromp tromp of the marching boots of science finally came to my attention, and i discovered that these marvelous modern TV sets can be plugged into your computer and serve as a huge monitor.  Oh and occasionally i might even tune in one of the TV stations like PBS that i can get with the antenna.

Furthermore, advances in commerce have been so great that i paid less for this TV than i did for my dinky little two-foot monitor ten years ago back when money was still worth something.  And yes, the TV was made in Mexico, but at least it wasn’t China.  Not to be politically incorrect, but we don’t share a border with China.

And for once i have a fully appropriate photo for this post, Command Central at Mattegray.net.

Command Central at Mattegray.net



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Stupid and Dangerous

In a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Bill Maher said, “There are no great religions — they’re all stupid and dangerous.”

Ummm, well.  I still know a few Christians, and none that i know seem dangerous.  For that matter, i’d assess several of them as smarter than i am.   And yes, a great deal of good has come from Christians who focused on the kindness taught by Christ even though the Christian church has certainly perpetrated a great deal of evil in its history.

But Christianity has not been all that dangerous for several centuries now since political control was torn from its grasp and it no longer has the power to jail, torture, and kill those who offend it.

And that’s the real problem with religions.  If they are allowed to have political control, they create nightmarish theocracies with a fine degree of control over your actions great and small right down to governing your sex life as well as the clothing you must and must not wear.

Actually, they’re quite like capitalism in that respect since unbridled capitalism exercises similar controls while creating appalling working conditions with savage exploitation of the workers.  Remember those photos of little children laboring in the mills before the advent of child labor laws?  Or for that matter the more recent exposes of working conditions for mostly immigrant labor in our meat processing plants?  Ummm, not of course that it was the Catholic priests who were working as slave laborers in the Latin American gold and silver mines.

No wonder capitalism is sometimes called a religion with adherents in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.  So yeah, all religions, including capitalism, need to be kept under close control to protect the rest of us.

But back to Charlie Hebdo.  Is this really a problem of religion or is it one of religious extremism?

In the few days since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, countless Muslims have come forth and argued that the perps were not good Muslims and that their actions were contrary to Islam.  And certainly the practicing Muslims i know are decent and tolerant people not given to bombing their neighbors and assassinating journalists, folks who insist that the acts of terrorism are those of a tiny minority of extremists just as the bombing of abortion clinics and the assassination of abortion doctors are the work of a tiny handful of fanatical Christians.

So let’s look at religious extremism, starting at home.

Is there a history of Christian religious extremism?  Of course, but we can let go of the Crusades and the Inquisition and all that stuff back when the Christian church had real power.  What about today?  Well, there are still parts of this country dominated by fundamentalist protestants in which it is impossible for anyone, not just themselves, to legally buy a bottle of beer, and in my youth it was impossible to buy contraceptives in the parts of the country dominated by Roman Catholics.  Again, not just for the Catholics but for everyone.

And look at fundamentalist Christian opposition to HPV vaccination on the grounds that even though a safe vaccine would prevent tens of thousands of HPV-related cancers every year in the US, it could also promote extra-marital sex and promiscuity.  The same argument is used against emergency contraceptives, so they insist that a seventeen-year-old girl raped by her stepfather needs his consent to buy Plan B.  Also consider the hideous civil penalties currently levied against gays in the Christian nations of Africa.

But those are the mainstream conservative Christians.  What about the truly crazy cults in their compounds all over the nation?  Like the Westboro Baptist Church, or if you want to get truly bizarre, the Mormons, whose holy scriptures teach that some wandering Jews managed to sail from Africa to Central America about 2500 years ago, where they multiplied like rabbits, became the Indians, built great cities, and about a thousand years ago had a huge war among themselves with iron weapons and horse drawn chariots even though not one shred of physical evidence of this has ever been found.

Thankfully, the US government recognized the danger the Mormons presented and, threatening Brigham Young with an invasion, forced him to back down in his efforts to extract Utah from US control.  And then we stopped all that polygamy although not in time to prevent Mitt Romney from having a couple dozen great-grandmothers and half a dozen grandmothers.

And to be fair, the idiocy is not confined to the Christians.  For goodness sake, look at the ultra-Orthodox Jews.  They’d be hilarious if they weren’t so hideous, with the women doing all the work at home and laboring outside the house to support the family while the men sit on their asses studying the Torah.

Which brings us to the radical Islamists, clearly the worst of the worst.

They practice the ludicrous dietary laws of the Orthodox Jews and treat their women even more horribly.

They practice the polygamy of the Mormons and have a theology just as ridiculous.

They practice the hideous violence of the early Christians as exemplified by the massacre of the Cathars by Roman Catholic crusaders under the command of Arnauld Almaric, who decreed, when soldiers wondered how to tell innocent Catholics from the heretical Cathars, “Kill them all.  God will know his own.”

And they further the repression of gays for which the Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and the vast majority of protestant sects are well known.

So yes, je suis Charlie.

And since i don’t have a photo of Charlie or of a blasphemous anti-Muslim cartoon, here’s a pic of my Gasteria batesiana shamelessly displaying its sexual parts, some of ’em still sticky.


G. baylissiana showing off its sexual parts






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Scoma’s Rules

When i moved into my new place a month and a half ago, i immediately discovered that if you set the lock on the door handle and just let the door close, the bolt doesn’t catch, but if you push the door from the inside or pull the handle from the outside you get a satisfying kerchunk, the sound of a prison-grade bolt slamming solidly to.  Ahh, safety.

But yesterday i returned home and inadvertently pushed on the door as i went to unlock it, and the door swung open.  What?  So i did some tests, and yes, something is clicking loudly in there when you pull the door closed, but even though the handle won’t move, the door can be just pushed open.

For the last six weeks.

To get the door to actually lock, you have to slam it hard.  So what i learned from this is that nobody in the building is going around testing doors.  Well, either that or they took a quick look and saw there was nothing worth taking.

But that’s not why i’m writing, since the plan here is to provide some culinary updates.

First, some bad news:  that nicely decorated new Krua Thai place on 16th Street is handsome and has a fascinating menu, but unfortunately the food lacks excitement and is not even close to the fine fare at either of Basil’s locations on Folsom Street.  That said, the menu is so beguiling that i feel like i ought to give it a second chance, but not until i’ve worked my way through all four menus at Basil.

More bad news is that i finally got around to eating for the first time in decades at that wonderfully funky old diner across the street, It’s Tops.  It isn’t.  Well, at least the hamburger isn’t and i cannot imagine how anyone with taste buds could have voted it Best Burger.  The one at Burgermeister, on Church across the street from Safeway, is not only cheaper, bigger, and much better but also comes without the french fries, which were not all that good at It’s Tops although of course i ate every damn one, being so starved for potatoes. Still, i’ll try the breakfast at It’s Tops, as i recall that being pretty good many years ago.  Hold the hash browns.

The good news is that Scoma’s, on Pier 47 at the foot of Taylor Street, remains as good as ever even though i didn’t know anyone who’d eaten there in the last thirty years.  After the Ai Weiwei show my friend Stephen suggested that we eat there, and to be a good sport i damned it with faint praise and went along.

To my surprise, the food was delicious.  And yes, it’s a little pricey, but the portions are enormous, so you get two meals for the price of one.  Also, you do not need to order an appetizer since the entrees are so large.  For that matter, the fried calamari appetizer, very tender and tasty although not crisp, was large enough to be a meal in itself.

I tried Stephen’s cioppino and found the broth very good although not quite as fine as the divine version at Anchor Oyster Bar.   For my dinner i ordered a lobster, shrimp, and scallop linguini in a cream sauce that was so delicious i could have killed myself by trying to eat it all, a dish so fine that it makes me want to go back there just to try some of the other offerings although i know very well i’ll order that dish on my next visit.

Go.  Soon.  It’s better than you remembered.

And OK, totally off topic, but a design feature at Alcatraz that i found fascinating was all the spiral staircases, inside and out.  See, i grew up in an environment in which there were very few buildings over one story tall, and nothing had a basement, so i was starved for stairs and went into a rapture the first time i saw a spiral staircase.

spiral staircase at Alcatraz


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Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz

I’m such a dilettante that my introduction to Ai Weiwei occurred only a few years ago in an exhibition at SFMOMA that featured a number of his sculptures, some of which were so savagely satirical that i burst into laughter, attracting the attention of a dour docent who expressed the opinion that the most demonstrative permissible expression of Art appreciation was a discreet smile displaying only a moderate number of teeth.

After seeing that exhibition it was clear that if i were in charge of China, Mr. Ai would be getting some re-education while hanging on a dungeon wall, ideally with that extradited docent alongside him.

So when i learned that a major exhibition featuring Ai’s work had been mounted at Alcatraz, i arranged to get myself invited to join three art lovers in a visit.

Oh wow.  Go.  And don’t fiddle around to make your reservation until the last minute the way i did with the last Pier 24 show and then, like me, discover that everyone else has done this and it’s already booked solid until the end, leaving you standing there whimpering at the closed door.

There was no savagely satirical sculpture this time but rather, spread out over several buildings, a series of quietly moving segments about political prisoners/dissenters, some parts visual, others auditory, and one participatory in that you can write a postcard of encouragement/support to some of the 176 people memorialized in the Trace segment. You can’t write them all, of course, as some, like Martin Luther King, are dead and others, like Edward Snowden, have not left a forwarding address.

You can read detailed descriptions of the various parts in this splendid link, so i won’t try to duplicate them here but rather just say they ranged from the spectacularly gorgeous to the profoundly saddening.

I’m going to book another visit soon and go over on the Segway since more of the island is open to the public for this exhibition than is usual, and i want to take my biggest camera and lots of photos, both of the show and of the prison and its grounds, in hopes that one or two will turn out good enough to post here.

Meanwhile, i was blasting away like mad on this visit but didn’t get anything worth showing, but just to give you an idea, here’s the dragon:

Ai Weiwei dragon at Alcatraz


And finally, the only halfway decent pic of this batch. “Not In Use”, a sculpture not by Ai Weiwei but rather from the island’s permanent collection.

Sculputure from the permanent collection on Alcatraz



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New Year’s Insights

To get the year going, some recent insights.

First, i’ve noticed yet another example of the exceptionally high level of public politeness enjoyed here in San Francisco.  When local automobile drivers feel a need to double park because they can’t be bothered to hunt for a legal parking place, they invariably pull over into the bike lane so as not to block a vehicle lane and inconvenience fellow motorists.  How kind of them although one got rather annoyed at me the other day as i swerved into the vehicle lane around his car and nearly hit him when he went running out in front of me to get back into it.

And second, it has occurred to me that in three years my birth date will be closer to the Civil War than to the current date.  Well, math was never my forte, so check me on this, but when i subtract 1865 from 1941 i get 76.  And 2018 minus 1941 equals 77.  Is that scary or what?

Finally, what’s going on with the Roman Catholic Church?  They now have a new Pope who’s dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century by daring to suggest that the Church might extend a little more kindness to gays rather than fight tooth and nail against them like San Francisco’s archbishop, who argued at length last year in two official letters to the Senate against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with the logic that ending employment discrimination against them would just encourage the beastlie sodomites.  A Pope who’s declared that there is something wrong with runaway capitalism that impoverishes the many while enriching the few, getting himself branded a “Marxist” by the American right.  A Pope who suggests that global warming poses a real threat to the world, most particularly the millions who live in low lying coastal areas, and thus evoking howls of outrage from conservatives.

What a refreshing change!

Especially for those of us who remember the first half of the last century, when the Church eagerly accommodated fascist regimes like those of Franco and Mussolini and Hitler as epitomized by the Reichskonkordat, drawn up between the German government and the Vatican in 1933, in which the Church threw its support behind the Nazi party in return for Nazi guarantees of Church autonomy.  The Reichskonkordat was then used by the Nazis to get the votes of faithful Catholics in the election later that year, thus ensuring Hitler’s rise to power.

Here’s a sample poster from the Nazis’ political campaign.  Yes, a little hard to read owing to the old Fraktur typeface, but the first sentence asks, “Why must the Catholics vote for Adolf Hitler’s parliamentary list?”  The rest of the poster explains the guarantees provided by the Reichskonkordat.  The Volksabstimmung (referendum) at the bottom was about whether Germany should leave the League of Nations.  It passed.






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