Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Post Thanksgiving Blog

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, thank you. We dined with our friends, the gals from Fantasy Bedtime Hour, a local (San Francisco) cable outlet show that shows two women in bed discussing LORD FOUL'S BANE, a fantasy trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson. You can't see it from where you are, but believe me it is highly amusing.

Anyway, Jen, who is kind of the producer/director of the show, has a chihuahua. Because of this, she was baby-sitting another chihuahua. Because of that, one of the guests decided to bring HER chihuahua to the gathering.

The table was set for 22, all of whom brought pies. There were many pies, and many chihuahuas. What more do you want from Thanksgiving?

In other news....
Late this November, for reasons known only to him and his advisers, President Bush decided to share his administration’s Iraq strategy with the rest of us. Better late than never, I guess. I found it on line. It’s a brief document, roughly 32 pages or so, which kind of disappointed me. I was hoping for a thick, meaty document, full of flow charts, and references to swift responses, laser-like precision, pincer-like attacks, with arrows, and massive troop movements, and quotes from Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, , and Leo Strauss,.

Instead, well, the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq is a Power Point demonstration, really, without the Power Point part. Bullet points. Buttons. It contains phrases like “Failure is not an option.” There’s a phrase I’ve never really understood. I mean, of course, failure isn’t an option. Failure is what happens when you run out of options. Believe me, I’ve been there. Though not on a global scale.

The document also contains this phrase: “This Strategy is Integrated and its Elements are Mutually Reinforcing.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it does seem like a phrase more appropriate to selling soft drinks than overcoming an enemy that straps bombs to itself and blows itself up in public places, along with dozens of others.

Then there are these subheds, “The Political Track (Isolate, Engage, Build)” The Economic Track (Restore, Reform, Build). What is with this building block bullshit? What do these people think they’re dealing with? Do they think they’re playing Monopoly? Risk?

The document is crammed with weaselly faux concepts and words like “core assumptions,” “benchmarks,” “tracks,” and “robust.” It concludes with an examination of the “8 strategic pillars.” What is this, a 12-step program?

That our nation’s leaders seem like chipper and insane public relations directors is a little disturbing to me, frankly. And even as the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq was being prepared for our consumption - a document that employs the word “insurgent” numerous times- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thanksgiving weekend met with reporters, urging them to stop using the word “insurgents.”

“That gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,” he said, according to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. Instead he proposed the catchy “Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government.” You say “tomato,” I say “tomahto.”

Earlier in the week at a press conference with Joint Chef of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace, Rumsfeld was asked about torture by Iraqi authorities. Rumsfeld said that the “United States does not have a responsibility.” General Pace demurred, saying it was the responsibility of United States authorities “…to intervene, to stop it.”

Rumsfeld said, “I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.”

And there’s our strategy in a nutshell, near as I can tell. Make a report. Put it in a drawer. And then declare, as Rumsfeld did, “The strategy is working, and we should stick to it.”

Who are these people? They can’t even talk to each other. What makes us believe they can talk to us?

Friday, November 18, 2005

San Francisco in Danger BLog

What’s up with me?
It’s been a busy week here in the bunker.

The Wee Wife made her debut as an actual opera singer this week (as opposed to member of the chorus), in a new work being workshopped by O-Lan Jones (music) and Kathleen Cramer (libretto), called THE WOMAN IN THE WALL. It’s about a medieval nun who is walled up, as a kind of extreme form of eremitism. The Wee Wife plays a Peasant Woman, who urges village children to leave the Woman in the Wall alone, and get back to work.

I missed this event, however, because I was performing at what is becoming a San Francisco tradition, PORCHLIGHT. This is an event produced and hosted by Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte, in which participants tell a ten minute story (without notes) that adheres to a theme. The theme this time it was “Politics.” I talked about serving condiments to Republicans in high school, campaigning for Gene McCarthy, and attending an 80’s benefit for Nicaraguan children. And I was done in under six minutes! Woo!

I was joined by Fiona Ma, my district’s city supervisor, Steven Elliott, a political writer (and frequent contributor to THE BELIEVER), Jack Boulware, local man about town, Lynn Ruth Miller, Mary Spicer (former digerata), and another woman whose name I forget, who told a rather harrowing story of almost dying in a hospital, and how that formed her decision to get into politics.

Free Campari was served. I don't know why.

And then...
On Wednesday, Bill Allard (of Duck’s Breath) and I organized what I believe may be a first – Conference Call Theatre. For an audio project I’m working on, we assembled fifteen or so actors and had them literally phone in their parts, which were recorded on a conference call line. That was fun, and I’m always happy to be your innovator.

In other news….
What’s up with Chalabi? Isn’t he the guy that gave us the bad information that got us into Iraq in the first place? So why is he being given the keys to the city in Washington, DC? Instead of being lauded, shouldn’t he be – I dunno - shot, or something? Whatever.

Back home…
Bill O’Reilly has generated a lot of heat here in San Francisco for his intemperate remarks (intemperate? Bill?). I missed his show, but apparently he disapproved of the way we recently voted regarding military recruitment in schools. Because San Francisco doesn’t approve of the military trying to recruit high schoolers, O’ Reilly reasoned, if San Francisco is ever attacked by terrorists, the military should just let us die.

Nancy Pelosi called his remarks “outrageous.” (I would think that would go without saying, but again, whatever.)

Anyway, here’s what he said on Nov. 8, "You know, if I'm the president of the United States, I walk right into Union Square, I set up my little presidential podium and I say, 'Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds.' "

I’ll assume that O’Reilly’s outrage is genuine. (Ha!)

First of all, what is the likelihood that President Bush will ever come within fifty miles of San Francisco, much less that hotbed of liberal activism Union Square? (Well, actually, it's across the street from Macy's, and it's mainly full of low-level white collar workers eating bag lunches.)

Second of all, he’s angry at San Francisco for voting? Isn’t that the most American thing you can do? (Besides bloviating, of course.) You can’t threaten people if they don’t vote the way you want. (Oh wait… I guess you can.)

What about those people, like me, who voted against the ban on military recruitment in schools? Will we be airlifted out in the event of a terrorist attack?

O’Reilly continued: "Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead.”

Want to be our own country? Huh? What would be the point of voting on our country’s issues, if we wanted to be our own country?

“And if al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, 'Look, every other place in America is off limits to you except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.' "

So President Bush can cut deals with al Qaeda as to which cities he can blow up and which he can’t? That's not right!

And it’s just Coit Tower by the way. You don’t need the “the.”

Coit Tower, by the way, was built by Lillie Coit as a monument to San Francisco firefighters, with whom she may or may not have had an unhealthy relationship. At any rate, many San Francisco firefighters went to New York in the wake of 9/11 (and can we retire the phrase “in the wake of 9/11” now?). Understandably, many of these firefighters are kind of pissed at Bill O’Reilly.

John Hanley, president of the San Francisco Firefighter's Union Local 798, said on SF’s KRON 4 news, "Coit Tower is a monument to the bravery of the men and women of the San Francisco Fire Department. When Bill O'Reilly makes an attack on Coit Tower, he's attacking us and our bravery. Mr. O'Reilly, maybe we should bring you into some of our burning buildings and see how brave you are."

Related news
Legendary loon Pat Robertson, when the citizens of Dover PA regained their senses and voted out the school board members who wanted to introduce creative design into the science curriculum, told the 700 Club, " If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. And don't wonder why he hasn't helped you when problems begin. If they begin, I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that is the case, don't ask for his help because he might not be here."

And thus spoke God’s own extortionist.

Personally, I’d like to see Pat Robertson, on the day the Rapture comes, take a little side trip on his way to heaven and steer himself into Bill O’Reilly, in flames.

In the meantime, if either of them ever need a sneering comment from a San Franciscan, don’t come to me. You just voted Merle out of your city. Don’t ask for my help. I might not be there.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Orff Blog

Carmina Burana
The tiny wife made her debut at the San Francisco Symphony this week, as part of the Symphony Chorus, singing in that grand and gaudy warhorse, CARMINA BURANA. 250+ people singing full-throttle! Oo-wee.

I had comps for Friday night, but they got lost for some reason, and the show was sold out, so I couldn’t get in. (I did overhear a homeless guy in a wheelchair, however, complaining to a coffee shop owner: “My bones are sticking out of my feet, and you’re griping about a little fucking blood on the floor?”)

Luckily, the child bride actually works for the Symphony, so I managed to obtain one of the final tickets to the sold-out run last night. It was most excellent. The guest conductor, David Robertson (now head of the St. Louis Symphony), whipped through that sucker. He had a great talent for switching tones on a dime.

And the evening opened with LA NOCHE DE LOS MAYAS, a goofy and thrilling work by Mexican composer, Silvestre Revueltas. It was originally composed for a film of the same name back in the 1930’s, but did not become an orchestral work until 1960, when an admirer of Revueltas’ work arranged and edited the score to create a four-movement suite. Fifteen percussionists! Drum solos!

The director of the movie, LA NOCHE DE LAS MAYAS, Chano Urueta, later went on to make Mexican horror movies, including THE BLUE DEMON VS. THE INFERNAL BRAIN and THE BRAINIAC - which the Fearsome Spouse and I own. As an actor, he portrayed Don Jose, the village patriarch, in THE WILD BUNCH, as well as the one-armed bartender in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Thanks for asking!

Thursday, November 10, 2005


The marvels of the free market, cont’d
From The Smoking Gun: “[A] Los Angeles couple is seeking to market a wine called "Jesus Juice" that bears a label showing a Michael Jackson-like figure appearing to be crucified.”

It’s a merlot. By the way.

And the whole cow on the dorm roof thing? When will scientists take a look at that?
From The Times (UK): “Margo Lillie, a doctor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, and her student Tracy Boechler have conducted a study on the physics of cow-tipping.

“Ms Boechler, now a trainee forensics analyst for the Royal Canadian Mounted Corps, concluded in her initial report that a cow standing with its legs straight would require five people to exert the required force to bowl it over.

“A cow of 1.45 metres in height pushed at an angle of 23.4 degrees relative to the ground would require 2,910 Newtons of force, equivalent to 4.43 people, she wrote.

“Dr Lillie, Ms Boechler’s supervisor, revised the calculations so that two people could exert the required amount of force to tip a static cow, but only if it did not react.

“’The static physics of the issue say . . . two people might be able to tip a cow,’ she said. ‘But the cow would have to be tipped quickly — the cow’s centre of mass would have to be pushed over its hoof before the cow could react.’”

No elk for oil!
From the Independent (UK): “Plans to drill for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge have been knocked off course after the measure was forced out of a crucial budget bill on Capitol Hill. A plan that would have allowed individual states to lift a ban on drilling for oil on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was also dropped.”

Folks have been trying to get oil from under those poor caribou for years now. Even if they succeed, studies indicate that the oil obtained would be consumed in (approximately) ten minutes. Why not convert to a caribou-based energy system? Put caribou in big cages – like hamster cages, only really really big – hook them up to generators, and watch the output roll in!
What fresh hell is this?
This is from an Amazon review of FAB: THE COMING REVOLUTION ON YOUR DESKTOP--FROM PERSONAL COMPUTERS TO PERSONAL FABRICATION, by Neil Gershenfeld: “A programmable PF [i.e. Personal Fabricator], predicts Gershenfeld, will make it possible for users to design and create their own objects, instead of shopping for existing products. Interest in such cybercrafting became evident in 1998, Gershenfeld says, when an overwhelming number of students took MIT's How to Make (Almost) Anything course, aimed at ‘fulfilling individual desires rather than merely meeting mass-market needs.’”

How is this a convenience? Say I want a pair of shoes. Isn’t it so much easier to go the shoe store and buy a pair than to design and manufacture a pair myself? Wasn’t that the point of the Industrial Revolution? I don’t want to make my own trousers, thank you. And I’ll get my beer over the counter, rather than brew it in the basement.

Certainly, many people like to make their own objects. These people are called “hobbyists.” I hate hobbies.

What fresher hell is this?
From eMoto (text is sic), which provides “enhancements of mobile phone text messages to convey emotional expressivity through 'cues of familarity'. the application extends on both the input & output channels when sending text messages between mobile phones. users use affective gestures to convey the emotional content of their messages which are then translated & communicated in colors, shapes & animations. the graphical expressions are non-symbolic & constructed from what is known about the effects of colors, shapes & animations.”

Affective gestures, my ass. In other words, if you’re sending a sad message, you can change the background of your text message to blue. If you’re angry, it can be red. And you can add little squiggly things, if you want. Why would anybody pay money for this? That’s why we have emoticons, isn’t it? They’re stupid enough, but at least they’re free. :)

What freshest hell is this?
Amp'd Mobile, which makes something or other, is employing as its slogan: "Try not to die. Amp'd Mobile is coming."

Even briefly entertaining the idea that anticipating a product or service as a reason to live - well, it’s so repulsive that it makes me consider suicide as an alternative to shopping. That some company apparently believes that there’s a demographic for which new gadgets are the only obstacle to self-slaughter – well, it makes me long for a stray asteroid to wipe us all out.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Post-Boo Blue Blog

One man’s mead…
WIRED informs me that Ted Breaux, a New Orleans researcher, has managed to reverse-engineer absinthe. He claims that the so-called “Green Menace,” illegal near-globally since World War I, is no more harmful than any other strong spirit. Look for it soon in a liquor store near you! Ten per cent off if you tell the clerk, “Verlaine sent me.”

Heckuva suit, Brownie.
New e-mails have emerged from former FEMA buffoon, Michael Brown. As Katrina was approaching New Orleans, he was merrily chatting up his personal appearance: “I am a fashion god.” Later, on September 6, he informed his public relations guy what to get at Sonic: "Order a #2, tater tots, large diet cherry limeade."

Did you know…?
Drug dealers have their own patron saint. His name is Jesus Malverde. Often depicted on statues and prayer cards, he has a dapper moustache and a white suit. He is also featured on incense, prayer candles, and soap. Though he may or not be mythical, and may or may not have been a Mexican thief, he is definitely not part of the official Catholic canon of saints.

More Amazing Nature Facts
A slow news day at Reuters revealed: “Quicksand is not the bottomless pit portrayed in Hollywood films that sucks in unsuspecting victims and swallows them whole.”

Leave it to Reuters to take all the fun out of Tarzan movies.

Just don’t do it.
New Life Ministries has created a five-book kit, to be sent to soldiers, urging them to abstain from porn, adultery, sex outside marriage, and masturbation. The authors write, "Your goal is sexual purity. You are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything but your wife."

Is adultery a big problem for our guys and gals in Iraq?

Boo: Just say no.
The major of Rankweil, a small town in Austria, urged its citizens to boycott Hallowe’en: "It's an American custom that's got nothing to do with our culture." Mayors of eight neighboring villages, according to the Associate Press, also supported the boycott, as did local police, who (like police everywhere) do not like vandalism and mischief.

Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, also urged its citizens to reject the holiday. In a speech he said, "Families go and begin to disguise their children as witches. That is contrary to our ways." He also hinted that Halloween was part of the United States’ “culture of terror.” And candy corn.

No mo boos
In Newton, Massachusetts, a school principal decided to cancel this year’s Halloween celebration, after complaints from some parents; he told the Boston Globe: “…I felt the goal was really important to make it a respectful and open and welcoming place for all members of our community." Except ghosts, I guess.

Speaking of Halloween….
I understand the impulse of 13 and 14 year olds to have one last shot at trick or treating. They are on the threshold of terrifying adulthood, after all, and I don’t blame them for wanting to get something for nothing, which is such a precious part of pre-adolescence. But kids, you must really pay lip service, at the very least, to a costume. I had three teens show up at my door with not even a semblance of an outfit. If you’re going to go out, young people, go out in a blaze of glory. Full regalia fairy princess, or Spiderman, or Spongebob. Believe me, it will go a long way towards offsetting the resentment and rage adult candy dispensers often feel when dropping 3 Musketeers nuggets into the plastic bag of a sullen youth.

There was an adorable five year old, for instance, who came to my door. His costume, while elaborate, was ambiguous. I asked him if he was a frog. He fixed me with a look of disdain. “Dinosaur,” he sneered.

Young teens of America, such a moment could still be yours. Next Halloween, seize it.

And what fresh hell is this then?
From the Washington Post:
“A new vaccine that protects against cervical cancer has set up a clash between health advocates who want to use the shots aggressively to prevent thousands of malignancies and social conservatives who say immunizing teenagers could encourage sexual activity.”

Reginald Finger, a physician who has been a medical analyst for Focus on the Family, told the Post: "There are people who sense that it could cause people to feel like sexual behaviors are safer if they are vaccinated and may lead to more sexual behavior because they feel safe."

So dead virgins trump live sluts? I love morality!

This just in:
George Takei is gei.

Smurf down!
From the Associated Press, I have learned that UNICEF’s effort to back fund-raising for former child soldiers in Africa, is using Smurfs as part of its advertising campaign:

“Smurfette is left for dead. Baby Smurf is left crying and orphaned as the Smurf's village is carpet bombed by warplanes — a horrific scene and imagery not normally associated with the lovable blue-skinned cartoon characters.”

UNICEF spokesman Philippe Henon told the AP: "It's working. We are getting a lot of reactions and people are logging on to our Web site."

This is a good cause. In our ever-creepier world, there is nothing creepier, in my opinion, than forcing children to massacre other children. That said, the very IDEA of seeing the Smurf’s village carpet-bombed gives me enormous pleasure. Please don’t hate me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tooth n Claw Blog

From Slate:
“As an audience, we grapple with not just the intricate clockwork of a complex and interwoven narrative, but, in postmodern fashion, with the fundamental mechanics of storytelling itself.”

This guy was writing about how we look at STAR WARS. STAR WARS!

I don’t know about you, but when I think about STAR WARS (not often, I grant you), I don’t conjure a “complex and interwoven narrative,” I conjure little teddy bear thingies getting blown up in Redwood trees. But that’s just me.

Same with THE MATRIX TRILOGY. That had a complex and interwoven narrative, all right, but every time the trilogy returned to it, I found myself shouting at the screen, “Stop talking! Stop! Just stop talking!”

From National Geographic:
“Scientists have known for decades that male mice vocalize when they encounter females or female urine pheromones.”

And I’m so glad that science is on top of rodent vocalizations. But now, scientists have learned that “… male rodents sing ultrasonic songs that are inaudible to humans—but quite possibly sweet music to the opposite sex.”

And that’s why they’re called “Nature’s Little Sinatras.”

But what’s up his butt?
From AP: “A curious Argentine newspaper reporter who interviewed President George W. Bush Tuesday asked what he carries. Bush stood up, fished around in his pockets and came up with a single hankie. Said Bush to the Spanish-speaking reporter: ‘No dinero, no mas, no wallet.’

The president doesn't carry any cash, doesn't need a cell phone and doesn't lug around any keys, since all his needs are carefully catered to, including people who open doors everywhere he goes.

When the reporter asked if the president had a watch, Bush proudly thrust out his wrist and said, ‘Si, Timex.’”

More product placement from the Bush administration!
I learned today that Tamiflu, “the influenza remedy that's now the most-sought after drug in the world,” according to Fortune, and which will probably be purchased in bulk by the United States, in anticipation of a proposed avian flu pandemic, is made by Gildead Sciences.

Donald Rumsfeld was its chairman from 1997, until he joined the Bush cabal in 2001. He still holds a stake valued between $5 and $25 million. He has been advised that it’s okay to hang on to that stock, as long as he recuses himself from… whatever. From protecting the nation from avian flu, I guess.

Back to nature!
From National Geographic:
“[B]ees can solve complex color puzzles.”