April 2015

It Has Come To This

Sometimes we run across thousand-word photos.  Like this one.  I’d like to credit the photographer, but it’s gone so viral that i can’t find the original:


Embedded image permalink

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A Final Solution

Emanuel Ax canceled his plan to form a trio with Yo-Yo Ma and Anne-Sophie Mutter when he realized that folks would inevitably call it the Lizzie Borden Trio.

  There’s a lot of news on the religion front recently, starting with the firestorm over Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s signing a “religious freedom” bill that many felt was a thinly veiled attack on gay rights, and not just because they’d learned that the Governor had signed the bill in a private ceremony to which the press and public were barred and the invitees consisted entirely of members of rabidly anti-gay groups like the American Family Association, Roman Catholic clergy, and Orthodox Jewish rabbis.  I’m almost surprised he didn’t throw in some Mormon elders, Westboro Baptist Church members, and a couple of Wahhabi imans to cover the bases.

The firestorm led to some backpedaling in order to clarify that no no, the bill was purely intended to bolster religious freedom rather than to discriminate in any way against gays because of course we just love our gays, which showed that Indiana, like the Roman Catholic Church, is perfectly capable of that divine schizophrenia with which it is possible to totally love someone while burning him at the stake.

In San Francisco, the big religious news is that a hundred major local Catholic figures nailed a bundle of theses to the cathedral door by signing a full page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle asking the Pope to recall our foam-spewing troglodytical archbishop on the grounds that his brand of aggressive ultra-orthodoxy was incompatible with the City of Love, not to mention the 21st century.

All of which gladdened my little black heart and spurred me to an intellectual breakthrough whereby i offer yet another of my selfless modest proposals for the betterment of mankind – a solution to the religion problem.

Let every religion administer whatever penalties it wishes, including stoning and burning at the stake, for violation of its tenents, but it gets to inflict these penalties only on its own members.  Oh, and to keep everything fair, someone condemned to death for heresy would not be allowed to leave his religion after he’d been arrested by the religious police and put on trial.  Oh no.  If you want to be a member of a religion, you gotta have some skin in the game.

Stoning for adultery?  You betcha, but only for Muslims.  Ten years in the Church’s gold mines for contraception? Fine, but only for Catholics.  Shunned by the temple for eating a shrimp?  Great for the Jews.  Death by firing squad for saying the American Indians are not descendants of Jews who migrated to this continent around the sixth century BCE?  OK, but only for Mormons.  Death by drowning for baptism without total immersion?  Excellent, but only for Baptists.

As soon as i take control of the country and implement these policies, i’ll require all citizens to go to city hall and fill out a Declaration of Religion, stating their religious choice, with children registering on their 18th birthdays.  You’ll have a chance to change your religious preference every year on your birthday.  All religious preference information will be forwarded to the appropriate religious authorities so they can keep track of their flocks and dispense justice as required.

One of your choices will of course be Atheist, for which there are no religious authorities, so Atheists will be liable only to secular laws.

No big rush to make your choice, though, as i won’t be inaugurated until January, 2017, after the write-in victory of me and my slate of Congress members in the 2016 election.  I figure after our landslide victory, most of the members of Congress who were not up for election will see the light and change their party affiliation to Mattite, so the spring of 2017 will see massive changes in the way this country is run.

Meanwhile, here’s a narrow way with strait gates.

strait gates on Salesforce tower

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Still Here

I’ve had so much good news recently that the GMO cornfield of my life has turned into an organic kitchen garden.


Well, and that said, the gap between this and my previous post is the longest i’ve had in years. So all i’m doing now is reassuring readers that i’m still here and have just been making a very slow recovery from a cold. Nothing serious.

Meanwhile, here’s a couple of kangaroo paws on Market Street. That’s Anigozanthos flavidus to you.

Anigozanthos flavidus
Anigozanthos flavidus

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A Spreading Epidemic

“If it was true that lower taxes for the rich and more wealth for the wealthy led to job creation, today we would be drowning in jobs.” – U.S. billionaire Nick Hanauer


I was going to advocate the resuscitation of the semicolon, which is nearing death in America; however, an even more important cause came to my attention yesterday.

Use of the definite article before highway numbers is steadily spreading across the country from the original source of infection in Los Angeles, perhaps carried by fleas but most probably by that more noxious vector, television.  I am sad to report that i have recently diagnosed a case of it in England, as the translator of Geert Mak’s splendid In America uses it throughout the book.  On page 403, there is a quotation from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that reads, speaking of Route 66, “All of these people are in flight, and they come to the 66 from the tributary side roads…”  I utterly refused to believe Steinbeck wrote “the 66”, partly because i don’t think that usage existed in the 1930’s and also because Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas and lived in Los Angeles only very briefly.

I looked for the quotation by first searching on the string “they come to the 66” and got nothing.  Then i searched on “all of these people are in flight”.  Sure enough, the very first hit was to that line in Google Bookswhich gave me Steinbeck’s actual wording, “they come into 66”.  Ha!  Q.E.D., a neologism retrofitted by a Brit translator into The Grapes of Wrath.  An outrage.  Furthermore, that translator takes it to a level to which i doubt even Los Angeleans stoop – “The Interstate 40”.

Gag me with a spoon.  Is nothing sacred?  We must quarantine the British Isles before this plague crosses the Channel to the continent.

Ahhh, but wait, upon a bit of epidemiological research i discovered this hideous usage was already well established in England, they routinely referring to “the A6”.  Sigh.  So now i’m speculating that patient zero was in England and the plague leaped from there to Los Angeles.

Clearly it’s too late to save England, but i’m hoping that barriers can be put into place to prevent the spread of this epidemic from Southern California to the rest of this country.  Certainly we here in San Francisco are doing our best, and i recently made a donation to the UCSF Medical School to fund research into a vaccine.

Meanwhile, a photo of the lower 25 floors of the Millennium Tower, etc.  Reflected on the tower is 100 First Plaza.

Millennium tower, etc.


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Market Street Prototyping

During the past half century Americans have developed the ability to ignore reality and see ourselves as victims.


Last Friday i rode down Market Street for the Market Street Prototyping Festival, an event organized by the San Francisco Planning Department to display the results of a series of charettes for Market Street amenities.

I did not linger at many, but quite a few were impressive and worthy of consideration for a long term display.

Like this ping-pong table.

Market Street Prototyping


And Timber Valley.  Everywhere you see one of those vertical posts, the horizontal members can be articulated entertainingly.

Market Street Prototyping -Timber Valley


The Peep Show.  The inside is mirrored at various angles, so it’s trippy in there.

Market Street Prototyping - Peep Show


And the Book Mark.

Market Street Prototyping - Book Mark


The Fog Plane.  If you walk between the sheer panels, you get a sensation that is supposed to be like walking in heavy fog.  Ummmm, vaguely.

Market Street Prototyping - Fog Plane


This one is called Tree Sitting.  The photo does not do justice to the thrill of walking though all those “fronds” hanging down.

Market Street Prototyping - Tree Sitting

Market Street Prototyping - Tree Sitting


This cute little thing is Peak Experience.

Market Street Prototyping - Peak Experience


It’s News To Me mimics Herb Caen’s old Royal typewriter.  When you sit on one of the “keys”, hidden speakers play a recorded quote from his work.

Market Street Prototyping - It's News To Me


The Data Lantern is connected to neighboring transportation systems and informs pedestrians about the arrival and departure of buses, trains, and ferries.

Market Street Prototype - Data Lantern


For sheer whimsy, the Bench-Go-Round is my favorite.

Market Street Prototype - Bench-Go-Round


Wanna see the person on the other side through a distorting lens?  Use Smaller and Upside Down.

Market Street Prototype - Smaller and Upside Down


Active Rest – a handsome wooden sculpture for sitting, standing, and leaning.

Market Street Prototype - Active Rest


Lots of other good ones, but that’s enough.  Well, except for this, not part of the official festival, that i spotted on the way home.

Cell Phones Dead

Oh, and candor dictates that the Market Street Prototyping website taught me a new word, charette.  I shall start working that into conversations.


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“You can’t spell Dianne Feinstein without NSA” – Daily Kos


Yes, it’s that time again.  The Patriot Act, which has been keeping us completely safe from terrorism since 2001 although at the minor cost of turning us into a surveillance state, is up for renewal on June 1st.  Well, at least the most egregious part of it, Section 215, which has been used to justify the NSA’s mass collection of data on all US citizens.

Sigh.  I sit here marveling that now, two years after Edward Snowden’s release of top secret NSA files revealed that all American citizens were the subject of continual NSA surveillance, nothing has happened!  I can understand that a certain subset of Americans can believe that the citizens should have no right of privacy in the face of government monitoring to protect them from the Forces of Evil, against which there can be no other protection than 24/7 surveillance of all our activities, if anything even more intrusive than Orwell’s telescreens.

I weep bitter tears over learning that Rand Paul, in virtually all other areas of thought a foam-spewing lunatic, is the only American politician likely to be running for President next year who has any reservations about the NSA’s surveillance.  Alas, Babylon!

For an interesting take on surveillance for those who want their information in audiovisual form, here’s a YouTube clip of a John Oliver program.  The first half is a pretty good summary of NSA’s efforts, and the last half is a splendid interview with Edward Snowden that i highly recommend.

The latest news in the surveillance area, though, is not from NSA files released by Snowden’s proxies.  Oh no. Turns out that last January USA Today broke a story about how back in 1992 under the first President Bush the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) began a secret program of bulk surveillance of American telephone calls to over a hundred foreign countries that continued under Presidents Clinton, Bush II, and Obama until 2013 when, in a panic over Snowden’s revelations of NSA bulk collections, Attorney General Holder secretly ended the secret program, about which a very high level of collective amnesia is now prevailing inside the DEA. The total number of countries to which American calls were monitored is unclear except that it was over a hundred, and there are vague recollections that Canada, Mexico, and all of Central and South America were involved, as well as scores of other countries too numerous to mention. Oh, and it turns out that the DEA turned over information it gathered to a wide variety of other agencies. Here’s a Guardian article that outlines the sordid story.

Why do i keep harping on all this surveillance?  The obvious answer is that i hope to spur more citizens to be concerned enough about it to start squealing to our politicians, even those like Big Sister Feinstein who want all their constituents continually monitored and are doing everything they can to bolster the NSA’s activities.

Alas, now that American confidence in its government has plunged to all-time lows, too many of us apparently feel it’s hopeless to even try to stop this spiral down into a police state. I hope i’m wrong.

Meanwhile, I suspect that Obama has not got around to closing Guantánamo because his advisers have argued that when i become an annoyance of sufficient magnitude, they’ll need a place to put me.


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Terrible Swift Sword

Were our nuke negotiations with Iran successful? A good sign is that conservatives in both countries are saying their side gave away too much.


It’s gratifying to discover how much power i have when i wield my terrible swift sword in restaurant reviews.

The other day i wrote about giving the Orbit Room’s pizza a try and finding it insufficiently tasty.  Took only a few days before i read in the Chronicle of the establishment’s closure.

Feed Matte well or you die.

Of course, i’m surrounded by friends who feed me well out of generosity rather than fear, a case in point being my friend Steven who recently gave me some fruit from his calamondin, an offering even more generous considering that the plant is little more than a bush growing in a pot and produces few fruit.  Here’s one.  They’re about an inch in diameter and have a distinctive taste that’s a delicious combination of sweet and sour.


Crush one into a glass, add a shot of gin, four shots of diet tonic water, and three ice cubes.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, just what the doctor ordered.


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Ruth Bancroft Garden

Sign for the back door of a restaurant: “Trespassers will be spatchcocked”


Last week my friends David and Sandy treated me to a delicious lunch at Va de Vi  in Walnut Creek, a favorite restaurant that’s a jewel in Walnut Creek’s crown.  Fabulous food in a sylvan setting. A destination restaurant, in fact.

Afterwards, David took me to the Ruth Bancroft Garden, another of Walnut Creek’s jewels.  We’d hoped to catch the cactii at their max bloom, but we aren’t the Sonoran desert here, so the bloom schedule seems to be non-traditional and not a single cactus was in bloom although we just missed some of ’em, like this Ferocactus.



Not that the visit was a disappointment, as many of the shrubs were in bloom.



As was this Yucca treculeana.

Yucca treculeana

Not blooming yet, but doing a great job with its inflorescence is this Agave asparagusii.  Well, if that’s not its name, it should be.

Agave asparagusii

And speaking of agaves, i’m not sure whether this is one, but whatever it is, it’s spectacular.



Finally, just to show that you don’t have to be blooming to be gorgeous, check out this Beaucarnia recurvata!  It’s only about six feet high, but that bulb must be two feet across.  Never saw one that large.

Beaucarnia recurvata

And this wonderful creature, whatever it is.


If i had to indulge in one tiny quibble with the Ruth Bancroft Garden, it would be a plea for more of those little stakes identifying the plants.  Then again, i doubt most visitors are as curious about the botanical names as i am.

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