Wednesday, March 30, 2005

We Are the Robots ... and We Want to Take Your Temperature

Consulting with a patient via robot.
Photo courtesy of InTouch Health.

Okay so check it out—the future as sung in part by Kraftwerk is here. Actually it's in the Motor City (my old stomping grounds), where the Detroit Medical Center just became the first hospital system in the world to hire a fleet of robots. Equal Opportunity Employment has been updated for the noughties. Ten friendly robots "that can see, hear, talk, scoot around... will be deployed in emergency departments, intensive care units and for making rounds on hospital floors," according to an article in the Detroit Free Press. The robots will also spend time recruiting—humans, not other robots.

The aluminum and steel bodied armless electronic helpers are somewhere between 5'0" and 5'7" depending on the citing source. Each features a 15-inch, two-way video screen "head" (with real-time video camera eyes) on which patients see and hear their human physician and vice versa. Thanks to wireless, broadband and the Internet, the screen can also be used for doing things like displaying a patient's medical record. Cruising along at a brisk 2 mph as reported by the Lansing State Journal, these 200 lb. Drs. Roboto "allow doctors to communicate directly with patients, nurses and other doctors from a distance, helping them diagnose, assess or hold conferences from outside the unit." Though each robot is controlled by a joystick, 24 infrared sensors prevent any significant bumper car action.

Who comes up with these things? Yulun Wang, the same good fella whobrought us the prostate surgery performing robots—not quite as many served as McDonalds but well on the way, I'm sure. The mechanical aides have even been a hit with patients, many of whom apparently prefer intacting with them than with their human counterparts. Given some of the robot-like interactions I've had with doctors over the years, I don't doubt it. Who can tell the difference sometimes? Inquiring minds click here.

So far it seems like the robots are a win-win-win proposition for healthcare workers, patients, and of course the inventor, who was quoted in the Freep article:

Think of a hospital as a manufacturing facility, Wang said, with sick patients coming and in and well patients going out. "If an emergency room case requires a consult with a specialist but the specialist can't get there for four or five hours—versus 30 minutes if the robot and remote link—the patient sits there, occupying space in the ER which then backlogs the whole system."

"Care management," [Wang] said, "is optimized, both from a safety and from an economic point of view, if you can put the physician by the patient's bedside at the right time. If you can decouple the need to be physically at the patient's bedside in order to advance care, then you've greatly relieved and improved the efficiency of the system."

Great! I can't wait for house calls, especially if I can get one to come over and call in sick for me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rocked the Casbah: The Battle of Algiers

Tonight I finished watching Gillo Pontecorvo's riveting 1965 film about the Algerian struggle for independence. In a word or two: rent it. For me, it was nothing short of amazing. I'm too tired to write a proper review, as it were, but it's a film about which much has been said. I would point those interested to the review published last year (maybe two years ago?) in New York Magazine when the film was released on DVD.

Some quick facts:

  • based on a book by Saadi Yacef, the real life rebel leader of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) who plays a fictional version of himself in the film, which he produced after approaching the director
  • used as a training film by the Black Panthers
  • screened by the Pentagon prior to the Iraqi occupation
  • amazing realism; hard to believe none of it is documentary footage and that all but one of the actors are non-actors; shot in B&W
  • Ennio Morricone film score
  • French w/ English subtitles
  • nominated for Best Director, Best Foreign Film, Best Screenplay by the Academy Awards and received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival
  • features a few torture scenes that really put the Abu Ghareb atrocities in focus; yet, they're not the prolonged, gruesome scenes that typify today's films
  • sympathetic (perhaps rightly so) to the Algerian point of view

While there are loads of differences between the French/Algerian engagement and the U.S/Iraqi occupation, this is a timeless film that shows exactly how violence and terrorism can escalate on both sides until the only damage being perpetrated is collateral.

Some of the best dialogue comes during a press conference with one of captured rebel leaders, Ben M'Hidi, who stands up to the media in the most composed and dignified manner. His suit is wrinkled yet immaculate, and he wears his glasses poised just so, while the military commander stands nearby, ready to end the show at a moment's notice. One reporter respectfully asks, "Isn't it cowardly to use your women's baskets to carry bombs which have taken so many innocent lives?" M'Hidi replies coolly, "Isn't it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousands of times more? Obviously planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, sir, and you can have our baskets." When asked if he thinks the liberation movement has any chance of succeeding, he states that the liberation movement "has more of a chance of defeating the French Army than the French have of changing the course of history."

In another telling scene, M'Hidi has a rooftop conversation with Ali LaPointe, an uneducated laborer who has risen through the ranks after being radicalized during a prison stint. Ali has come to embrace fully the "by any means necessary" school of thought and trusts only violence to get the job done. M'Hidi, cast as the intellectual style revolutionary tells Ali that "Acts of violence don't win war. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But then the people themselves must act. That's the rationale behind [civil disobedience].... It's hard enough to start a revolution, even harder to sustain it, and hardest of all to win it. But it's only afterwards, once we've won, that the real difficulties begin."

The third leader is Jaffar, the character based on the real life personage of Yacef. He is the strategist. Yet to pigeonhole these people is to do a disservice to the film, which depicts the merchant class side by the side with the laboring class and women and children mobilized as well. The women, in particular, are shown as full participants, supporting the movement in ways that the men cannot. While certain protagonists get more attention than others, the film seems quite balanced. The streets of the Casbah serve as a protagonist as well. With the full depiction of the city of Algiers, including the European Quarter, I felt like those events of 1957, were of this century, not the last.

I've stayed up much later than I intended and had more to say than I thought I had energy for, but I am just that taken with the film. It's a stunning, mesmerizing, and well paced movie that I easily give my highest recommendation, especially if you're into political thrillers or are history buff. Please check it out if you have the chance.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Scorned Pennies: The Root of All Evil

One of my most recent favorite pieces of unsolicited email was delivered to my inbox over the weekend. Delivered with the subject heading "Eliminate financial burdens the Christian way," I couldn't resist. The fishers of men caught me on a giant cross-shaped hook. (CDT) promises to help you live a happier life by getting you back on the “chosen path.” Kinda reminds me of the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Instead, the site quotes Proverbs 22:7, which says “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” I like the prayer better, but here’s the thing: CDT doesn’t present prayer as the sole means of coping. Afterall, the Christian God helps those who help themselves.

Wait—but that’s not all. There’s a history lesson, too:

Debt has been part of society since biblical times. In earlier civilizations, if a person was indebted to someone - they and their family became property of that lender until the debt was paid in full.

…Today it is still possible to be thrown in jail for failing to meet one's debt bligations. Debts of fraud, child-support, alimony, or release finds can not only result in a jail sentence but they can also prevent one's release if they are already incarcerated. These types of moral and financial decisions are not based on the principles of God’s Word.

…A major reason for the decay of our society is that a majority of churches are struggling financially. This is because church members are struggling financially.
To combat the situation, CDT clients are counseled by credentialed professionals who advise on debt solutions, including bankruptcy, consumer credit counseling, and debt consolidation. A “no-obligation debt consultation based on Christian financial values” is provided once prospective clients fill out the online form. However, the ultimate solution presented by CDT is to learn to trust God.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
—Romans 13:8
While I’m somewhat amused by the whole thing, I say more power to ‘em. Debt is crippling; I’m all for whatever it takes to get out from under it. I've used some of these debt management strategies myself. I just marvel that it has to be coupled with Christianity for some. Then again, would I would I scoff so much if it was a debt management program just for women or geared towards Latinos? Probably not.

I'm predispositioned to rag on religous folks, I guess because I lose my own so frequently. It's like a bad penny. I think that expression came up because when most of us see a penny, we turn our noses up at it. Who needs a penny? But when you need one, you really really need one, and you end up ruing the days of scorned pennies.

I also wonder about the reference to low tithing levels and how that eventually plays out in this whole Christian support system. The concept of Christian financial planning (which isn't new) is probably welcoming to some, but what sort of indoctrination, if any, goes with it? Then again, likely clients are probably already part of the flock nso maybe it doesn't matter. But somehow it does. Who's the ultimate beneficiary is what I want to know.

Anyway, add it to the list of areas in which Christians are doing it for themselves. Athiests and Agnostics better get on the ball; Buddhists and Jews we don't have to worry about, and mum's the word about Muslims 'cause I don't know if debts are covered in Sharia law or not, and I won't venture a guess. I do know, however, that in many religious languages, money is the root of all evil. That's why I aspire to being a true nondenomenational villain: rich and immaculate. It's not the first thing on my list, though.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Birth of a Nation Reborn

The 2004-05 Season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco has proven to be an intriguing one. The center has featured programs supporting outsider art and street culture, Chicano/Latino art, form and architecture and art and politics. This past Friday, my friend Vani graciously offered me the opportunity to attend DJ Spooky’s "Rebirth of a Nation," which was originally commissioned by The Lincoln Center Festival and has been performed in Paris and Vienna in addition to various performances in the U.S. NPR did a piece on "Rebirth" last October.

Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, is a NY-based musician, conceptual artist, and writer. As a musician, Miller has collaborated with diverse and reknowned musicians and composers, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Chuck D.,Yoko Ono, Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon, the Wu-Tang’s Killa Priest, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. As a media artist, Miller’s work as appeared at the Whitney Biennial, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany to name a few. Miller’s well received first collection of essays was published a year ago. In other words, Miller has a pedigree.

I mention it as a backdrop to the sound and image blitzkrieg that is "Rebirth of a Nation," a multimedia piece in which the artist has manipulated the racial and political images of D. W. Griffith’s silent film The Birth of a Nation, turning it into a reflection of the United States in the early 21st Century. Contrasted against the United States of 1912, when Birth of a Nation was made, it isn’t unsurprising that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Miller addressed the audience briefly before unleashing his work on us, and his comments helped fill some of the gaps that emerged during the performance. When Miller began cutting and splicing Griffith’s film, the news of today "dominated by broken treaties, ethnic oppression, raw power grabs, and security threats," was on his mind. In the program notes he writes, “What Griffith did with cinema was create a context of mythic propositions—of a nation occupied by foreign troops, of laws imposed without concern for the populace, of exploitation and political corruption…. I invoke a parallel world where Griffith’s film acts like a crucible for a vision of a different America…. The past is prologue.”

While the Griffith's film is acknowledged as a groundbreaking classic of cinematic technique, the movie’s themes and message have been the subject of consternation and debate for the ninety years since it was first viewed. In a synopsis and analysis of Griffith's film, notes:

"New controversy [arose] when [Birth of a Nation] was voted into the National Film Registry in 1993, and when it was voted one of the 'Top 100 American Films' (at # 44) by the American Film Institute in 1998. Film scholars agree, however, that it is the single most important and key film of all time in American movie history - it contains many new cinematic innovations and refinements, technical effects and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end. It had a formative influence on future films and has had a recognized impact on film history and the development of film as art. However, it still provokes conflicting views about its message[s], including the suppression of the black threat to white society by the glorious Ku Klux Klan."
Miller has taken fragments of “time, code, and (all puns intended) memory and flesh” to create what in the program notes he calls “prosthetic realism.” He goes further to say that “whenever you look at an image, there’s a ruthless logic of selection that you have to go through to simply create a sense of order.” Using three video screens and dj mixing equipment, that sense of order was blown to smithereens.

Miller performed his music “live” from a set up on the corner of the stage. Meanwhile one large screen was flanked by two smaller screens, one on each side. The middle screen was probably the size of a screen at a small movie theatre; the smaller screens were about two-thirds the size of the bigger one. Sside by side, all three screens took up most of the length of the stage.

Once the lights dimmed, we were bombarded with a stunning, full color visual montage consisting of various nation state flags and universal symbols such as dollar signs; the visual was accompanied by the dizzying electronica sound barrage that is “The Rebirth Suite.” This intro eventually gave way to footage from the Griffith film, supplemented by video material from “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land” and “And the Maiden,” two dance performances choreographed by Bill T. Jones.

"Rebirth of a Nation" is a very difficult piece to describe. At first I was completely overwhelmed by all the stimuli in the flag montage. Once the film began, I wasn’t sure where to focus. Situated front and center, Vani and I had the best seats in the house. We were close enough to watch Miller’s antics at his mixing table and yet the emphasis of the show was what was unfolding on screen. I noticed quickly that the scenes unfolding on the main screen were deployed to the smaller screens with a delay of a few seconds. In other words, the images to the left and right of the main screen were in sync with one another and purposely lagging behind what appeared on the main screen. The main screen was also the stage for digital manipulations that didn’t occur on the smaller screens. At first I was swivel-headed, as if at a tennis match. I couldn’t figure out which vantage was the most advantageous, but my mind began taking a back seat as I let the audio/visual input wash over me. I also stopped reading the silent film captions, given that the narrative form, while present, had been too subverted for my mind to find useful. In fact, midway I no longer really knew what was going on, but it didn’t matter. That sentiment was echoed by others whom I spoke to afterwards.

This sort of work is not something that would be for everyone's liking, but it’s worth seeing if you’ve the desire. It’s trippy, it’s inventive, it’s relevant, and Miller continues to tour with it globally. You can catch a clip at, but keep in mind that the clip is small potatoes compared to sitting in a venue with a slammin’ sound system and multiple points of focus. My advise is catch it if you can.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Overheard at the Water Cooler

(accompanied by respectfully raucous laughter)

"God, did you see the Pope on tv?"
"Christ! What'd they do, wheel him up to the window and move his chair side to side to make it look like he was waving?"
"Like a marionette!"
"I know! Jesus, let the guy die already. Maybe he did. Maybe that surgery was really taxidermy!"
"My God, let a fella rest in peace! He's earned it!"
"Well, they can't! They haven't figured out who's going to succeed him yet."
"Yah, well how much you wanna make a bet that once they do, he croaks within two weeks?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Live and Let Die: Terry Shiavo and Sadistic Society

Many years before my mom died, when it still seemed like something that could never happen, she made me promise to pull the plug should the occasion ever arise. Our discussion went even beyond that, but suffice it to say that promises were made. Dr. Kevorkian was constantly in the headlines at the time. Both Doris and I agreed that he was in the right. Later, I came to believe that Kevorkian is a bit deranged, but that didn't change my overall belief that we should allow one another the right to die with dignity, whether via assisted suicide or when we're simply unable to make decisions for ourselves.

Every several years or so, another high profile case takes the stage. Now it's all about Terry Shiavo. To be honest, I haven't been following the story all that closely, and the little I do know makes me sad and sick at the same time. I can sympathize with the husband, and I can sympathize with the parents. However, if I had to choose, I'd side with the husband. 15 years is a bloody long time. In discussing it earlier today, a coworker said "but the parents have a point. She's their baby, and they feel like she can recognize them."

As I let that sink in, I thought about how much people love their pets. I could be wrong, but I think non-pet owners are probably in the minority in San Francisco. I have seen friends take on untold financial and emotional burdens in efforts to save their pets. People here even refer to themselves as the "parents" of these creatures, and I believe the bond of love is real and perhaps stronger in a way than connections between humans. That said, I can't imagine that many people would prefer to have Fluffy or Fido on life support for 15 years rather than letting them go. I dunno. Just a thought.

Another one: I opined to someone today that these kind of questions wouldn't even arise in most indigenous or "Third World" countries. Her response was "well, of course—because they don't have the technology," but I shook my head. Even if they did, they wouldn't use it the way we do because they have a greater respect for and spiritual understanding of the process of death and what happens to the being inside the body. Someone else countered, "But you're not talking about Christians." Can of many worms there—but my singular response was that if you're Christian, and you believe in the existence of "heaven" why would you want to keep someone you love from it? Won't she end up in "a better place" and won't we say "at least he's not suffering anymore." We are sadists to keep people trapped here, whether or not there's an afterlife.

In such a selfish, emotionally stunted, and denial-oriented culture, it's hard to tell whether abundance and technological progress has made us so or whether it's culturally innate. I think it was courageous of Shiavo's husband ask why Congress has taken up this mantle rather than worrying about health insurance or other domestic issues.

I feel for the parents but in my opinion, but hoping for rehabilitation after a decade and a half is a bit mental if you ask me. Keeping her alive could through technology could even be conceived as abusive if you believe technology is cold and cruel. Unless she's disabled rather than being in a vegetative state.

Regardless, let's say they pull the feeding tube that's keeping Shiavo alive. Then her body will engage itself in a slow and what is known to be a painful process of deterioration until she finally dies, despite the painstaking methods we contrive to dispatch of convicted felons as quickly and painlessly as possible. Humanely. So if Shiavo had been incarcerted by the criminal justice system instead of by her nervous system, and she'd spent 15 years on Death Row, we'd at least attempt to make the experience as benign as possible.

Nothing is clear cut about these issues. It's easy to hopscotch among the different viewpoints, and piggybacking on what I said yesterday, it's easy to proclaim what I would do if I were involved directly. It was even easier than I thought it'd be to make those promises to my mother, though whether I could really have followed through will remain unknown. Given the difficulty of sifting through the values, obligations, and impacts that feed into moral decision-making for one person, one family—how do we decide for a nation?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Character of the Universe

Last night I went to the Marsh Theater, which I'd sworn off just a month ago after an obnoxious encounter at the door. Usually I stick to my guns, but my "fitness guy" was doing a one-man, one-act show. I've known for a while that he does stand-up/improv, but I'd never seen him perform. He's a nice guy, personable and friendly even when forcing you to do things to your body that are probably forbidden by the Geneva Conventions (case in point, my calves and ass hurt today; I can take one or the other but both at the same time is true injustice). Mike also has a great sense of humor, but easy-going as he is, I've never seen him as the instigator of humor. Well, last night he was hilarious. He did great characterizations; his delivery, facial expressions and body language, and the things he said were really funny. I would never in a million years have pictured him as the schlep he pretended convincingly to be on stage.

* * *

Today one of the associates at my firm took me out for lunch, her mildly expensive treat. While I appreciated the gesture, as I put on my jacket, I found myself wondering what in the hell we'd have to talk about for an hour. She's the kind of person who would make a great soda; she's always bubbly, never flat. She's such a happy camper that it's hard to tell if it's for real. Nobody can be that happy all the time—or can they?

Well, our lunch conversation didn't provide any definitive answer, but like Mike's performance, it did open my eyes to a whole "new" side of someone who I only know in one context. For one thing, she loves spicy food. If I'd had to guess, I would never have picked her for a fire-eater. The next surprise was hobbies: among other things, she's been quietly at work on a documentary about a former prisoner-of-conscience. Given my experience of a few nights ago, I now take these quiet filmmakers more seriously. I asked her about her previous work experiences, and across the board they've been much more eclectic and interesting than the work lives of most people I've known. And we share a common layperson's interest in things like alternative medicine, spirituality, etc. Oh, and she likes jazz. But what surprised me the most was her candidness regarding the decision to live in San Francisco.

Most of us who live here know that our choice to do so is not without a cost. Many of us will never own a house, and most of us will never get ahead. Sure we have beautiful surroundings, easy access to nature and cultural events, and open-minded neighbors that we eventually come to take for granted. But at what cost? She told me that if she had to do it again, she would have left ten years ago, but once you land one of those coveted rent-controlled apartments it's easy to get complacent. The topic came up because I'm tired enough of the constant struggle that I routinely revisit the "should I really be here" question, but like everyone else I know who is plagued by the question, I can't come up with an attractive alternative. So we give up certain things and from time to time feel wistful, which is what I wasn't expecting from my lunch partner. Wistfulness.

* * *

During an argument with a recent friend one issue that came up was the notion of knowing one another. She said, "You don't know me," and I thought, "who gives a shit?" Nobody really knows anybody; it's all circumstantial. Even the people who think they know you best, only know the parts of you they can see. The rest they either surmise or don't and never would in a million years.

My own personal belief is that we don't even truly know ourselves. Even when you say, "if ___ were to happen, this is how I'd react," the truth is that you don't really know for 100 percent certain what you'd do. Or maybe I'm wrong, but I know of myself that when I frame those kind of suppositions to myself, I'm making as educated a guess as I can. Often I'm 99.9999999 percent sure of my hypothetical reaction(s). But you know what? Just as I can be surprised by other people, I can surprise myself, too, and that surprise often becomes the center of growth.

When you grow, you expand, and when you expand the world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. I don't know about anybody else, but that's what drives me to live—to keep on keeping on. 'Cause you know what? A lot of life stinks. It's unfair, it's uncouth, and it often fails to be charming. But then there are moments, in fact, enough of them, that subconsciously propel you forward to the next one. Moments in which you forget all the wretched things, moments in which someone else perfoms for you and makes you laugh or you find out you have something in common with someone unexpected, or moments in which you remember what it was like before you learned what you know now, and not only are you glad that you're not where you once where, but you're excited about what's around the corner. Those kind of moments.

Moments in which you witness the character of the universe.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Walk This Way: Walker Friendly Cities

I love walking. I think it's great. Workin' that shoe leather. Pounding the soles of one's feet. Smiling at fellow passers by. Window shopping, people watching. Gettin' somewhere. That's what walking's all about, so I'm stoked to be living in ... drum roll please ... one of the "Top Ten Best U.S. Walking Cities" as determined by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). I know, there's a list or quiz for everything under the sun, but if nothing else, these things amuse so bear with me.

The AMPA says that "walking is one of the nation’s favorite ways to exercise," which I happen to believe is a lie. I love to walk, but I used to live in a place where walking isn't as feasible, which is why it's called The Motor City. People don't really walk there for lots of good reasons as well as some not so good ones. Now I live in a pretty walkable city, and I would have to say that a lot of people have just as many good excuses not to get somewhere on foot. I know people here who will drive up the hill to walk the pooch or will wait upwards of twenty-minutes to catch a bus or train that will take them two or three blocks. I'm not casting aspersions. I've opted for the bus for short distances on a few occasions, and I've chosen to go without supper rather than walk a couple hilly blocks to the store. But by and large, I would say it's a stretch to call walking a favorite activity of most people I know. It's more like sometimes it's the default way of getting from A to Z, and that's okay, I guess. More room on the sidewalk for me. Gotta be careful, though; the APMA claims that "every minute of walking can extend your life by about two minutes." There'll be no living to triple digits here. If I calculate that I'm walking too much I'll take up smoking or do whatever I have to not to be an overachiever in the age category.

200 of the largest U.S. incorporated cities were compared in three categories: healthy lifestyles, modes of transportation to and from work, and involvement in fitness and sport activities with the following results:

1. Arlington, VA: On the cusp of the nation’s capital, it may come as no surprise that 23 percent of the city’s workers use public transportation to get around. Keeping on their feet may be a way of life, since 35 percent of Arlingtonians walk for exercise.

2. San Francisco, CA: Getting to work by foot is not uncommon for this city by the bay with nine percent of residents walking and two percent biking. The walking-conducive city touts 32 percent of its residents walk for exercise and 35 percent buy some type of athletic shoes.

3. Seattle, WA: It’s not too far-fetched to expect a healthy lifestyle from residents living in Seattle. A whopping 35 percent walk for exercise and 36 percent buy some type of athletic shoes.

4. Portland, OR: Residents of this Northwestern city spend a good deal of time on their feet walking their dogs. Close to 22 percent are dog owners.

5. Boston, MA: For many Bostonians, walking to work or using public transportation is a way of life with 45 percent of the population doing one or the other.

6. Washington, DC: Getting around the nation’s capital by subway or bus is preferred by 35 percent of the district’s residents. And when they are not working, 11 percent are playing sports or walking for fitness.

7. New York City, NY: Getting around the Big Apple is easy for New Yorkers with 51 percent of residents using public transportation and 12 percent walking to work.

8. Eugene, OR: Walking is a way of life for 32 percent of residents living in this Oregon city. Whether it’s walking the dog or pushing a stroller, twenty-two percent are dog owners and eight percent own baby strollers.

9. Jersey City, NJ: Public transportation or walking is how 47 percent of the people who work in this gritty town get around. And when they are not working, 12 percent of the residents play sports or exercise once a week.

10. Denver, CO: This versatile city lends itself to those in search of an active lifestyle. Eleven percent of residents walk for fitness or exercise and 12 percent play sports or exercise once a week.

It's kind of a weird list if you ask me. I doubt I would have guessed Jersey City or Arlington for that matter. SF, Denver, and Portland came as no suprise to me. Seeing Seattle on the list made me laugh since I actually got a ticket for jaywalking there. Some of the comments, such as "35 percent buy some type of athletic shoes," are stupid and rather meaningless. Doesn't pretty much everyone own at least one pair of athletic shoes? I also can't imagine any city that has more dogs than San Francisco, but I could be wrong about that. But regardless, I feel blessed to live in a city where I don't have to have a car. And while people complain about the public transportation here, it's really pretty good overall.

That said, it's no exaggeration to say that at least once a day I almost get hit or see another pedestrian nearly get mowed down. It's a big enough problem that were it taken into account, there'd probably be a reshuffling of the list. But as it stands, I'm proud of SF for being number two on the list. It's kinda cool, even if it's bloody dangerous out there.

There's definitely a difference in walking culture from city to city. For example, in Detroit, people will simply walk in front of moving vehicles, and the drivers will swear and mutter, but they'll stop. The pedestrians do it because they know that no driver in his or her right mind is gonna hit them because that would be bad. A hassle, you know? But in San Francisco, drivers will often speed up if a pedestrian is in the roadway because they know the pedestrian is not gonna let herself or himself get hit if it's avoidable. There's the other type of SF driver though—the too-nice driver who will come to a dead stop and wave the pedestrian on as if stopping for baby ducks. Nine times out of ten, it's a really bad thing to do because odds are the angry type of driver will be behind the nice driver, and there's no knowing when the angry driver will snap and decide to zip around the nice driver—just when the pedestrian is in the middle of the road. That's real bad. But sometimes the pedestrians are the culprits. In Chicago, and I've seen it here as well, when there are enough people on foot, there's no mercy for vehicular traffic trying to cross an intersection.

I guess there's never any love lost between people trying to get from place to place. We're not like birds or any other creatures I can think of. It's really strange. Maybe ants. I never had an ant farm so I dunno, but I can see them getting in each other's way like we do. Now I'm just spinning my wheels so I'll leave it at that.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Punk Rock in the Holy Land!

"Within people there is always hope, why else would they sing?"
—Ian MacKaye commenting on the message of Jericho's Echo

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching the debut screening of a new documentary by up-and-coming Bay Area filmmaker Liz Nord. Her feature-length film, Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land, turns the spotlight on the small but fierce punk scene in Israel. When most of us think of Israel, we think of war, Palestine, Jews and the Jewish faith—and that’s about it. If you’re a little more savvy or in the know you might add hummus and tabouli to the list, Ariel Sharon, and maybe the words kosher and kibbutz. But how often, if ever, do you think of the youth culture, particularly the alienated youth?

Well that’s the territory in which Nord stakes her filmic claim. I know her from boot camp, and when she mentioned once that she was working on film, I didn’t think much of it. Everybody in San Francisco is working on a film.

Two years later, i.e. last month, I received an Evite to the premiere screening, and I was still rather nonplussed. Everybody in San Francisco who works on a film eventually has a screening, often in someone’s garage. But the invite was to a real live theatre, so I started to take the whole thing a little more seriously. I even rounded up my Israeli friend, The Ron, and off we went, though I had to bribe him with a soft ice cream from McDonald’s. Once we got there, the slew of hipsters in front had the effect of a force field, repelling him back towards home, but I grabbed hold of him, and we found some seats. I was glad to see a full house, and even more glad to feast my eyes and ears on Jericho’s Echo. What a great film!

Here’s the thing. You think about a movie about punk music, and the expectation is that you’ll see a lot of mohawks and bodies hurling themselves around in a ring; you’ll see some spitting, some broken glass, maybe some blood, and if the music is loud enough your own ears will bleed. Instead, I felt like I got a taste of Israel in a way that made me want to go grab my guitar, shred my jeans, and book a flight.

The kids with whom Nord spoke were very articulate in defining how the politically charged atmosphere in which they’ve been raised—mandatory military service from the ages of 18 to 21, on-going conflict with a neighboring country that began before they were even born, suicide bombings, and religious-cultural-ethnic identity that is a blessing and source of pride to some and a burden to others—has informed who they are as young adults. These kids have a lot to say whether with feedback, pounding drums, and scathing, to-the-point lyrics or during the interview moments, gathered in their gathering places with their friends and band mates.

The diversity of viewpoints held in these small scene, a minority within a minority culture, was pretty wide. There were those who hold tight to their Jewish heritage and those who acknowledge their Jewish background as a cultural identity but shun religion; those who willingly conform to their military duty, and those who escaped conscription by faking mental illness, willing to suffer the consequences of being branded crazy for the rest of their lives (one person says that in the eyes of their society, the simple fact that you wouldn’t want to join the military proves you’re crazy); and those who sympathize with the Palestinians but were born on the land being fought over and so are indigenous too. Poignant scenes include meeting between one young rocker and his religous brother, who comes to a show but becomes offended by the lyrics.

Despite the different beliefs espoused by the bands, common threads emerged. All of them lamented the losses of loved ones as the decades old conflict wages onward, and all of them complained of a lack of homegrown Israeli culture and arts. Many commented on the strangeness of the absence of a 18- to 21-year olds on the streets during the week; weekends they get to go home.

Even with such deep topics, Jericho’s Echo came cross as a serious yet lighthearted movie-going experience. Mixing verite, performance footage, and well-crafted interviews, the audience was immediately hooked. The Ron wasn’t the only person nodding knowingly in moments when the speakers strugged to translate their thoughts and momentarily slipped into Hebrew. During one interview, a member of one band ernestly asks, “How do you say … Punkache in English?” “Pancake,” comes his bandmate’s reply.

Bands featured in the film include Useless I.D., Nikmat Olalim, Chaos Rabak and more. Though I’m not a huge fan of the genre, I have an appreciation for some of it. (Ian MacKaye of Fugazi served as one of the film advisors; I still have my copy of Repeater somewhere….) I thought the bands were pretty talented as far as musicianship goes; however, unless you consider Green Day punk, I don’t know that I would categorize some of what I heard as punk, but that was nice, too. In addition to the pop punk, the music ranges from surf punk to ska-influenced discord. Regardless of the style, the punk attitude was more than abundant, even amongst the clean-cut and well-groomed. But the obligatory visual punks were in evidence, too. There was even a girl-band, Va'adat Kishut. Their song “Titties”—“sounds like a disease”—brought some appreciative cheers from the movie-goers.

I didn’t stay for the filmmaker Q&A, nor did I make it to the after-party at the Elbo Room, but I do want to publicly congratulate Liz on her effort, which was superb. I can’t wait for the soundtrack—and the next film from a talented director and storyteller.

Bravo, Liz!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

And They're Off. . .

The candidates are starting to out themselves. I can already tell I'm gonna love it. Check out the pre-season warm up as reported in today's SF Chronicle:

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer and state Treasurer Phil Angelides became the first Democrats to say they will challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should the popular Republican governor run for re-election next year.

Angelides became the first official Democratic challenger to the governor, kicking off his campaign Tuesday by charging Schwarzenegger has broken campaign promises and endorsed "Bush-Cheney policies of debt, division and diminished opportunity."

But Lockyer's comments, coming during a lunch with California reporters in Washington, D.C., caused the greater stir.

First, the attorney general said he plans to run for governor next year, adding "it's not a formal announcement, but that's what I'm working on."

Then, he criticized Schwarzenegger's leadership style, saying "I don't like to dwell on this. But it has a little bit of the sort of the odor of Austrian politics. There's a sort of arrogance of power that bothers me. You know, Arnold is still an Austrian citizen."

Asked pointedly if he were referring to Nazi-era Austria, the attorney general replied, "I'm just talking about the culture,'' he said, adding that there was a "long history from the Austria-Hungarian empire on, of sort of a more autocracy... it's a more elite system."

Karen Hanretty, spokeswoman for the California Republican Party, quickly responded, calling Lockyer's statements appalling and outrageous. She sought to tie Lockyer and Angelides together as out of the mainstream with state voters.

"We have two spokesmen for the California Democratic Party today, one of them promoting tax increases, and the other comparing the governor to the Nazis," she said.

With 15 months until the 2006 election for governor, and a full year before the Democratic primary, the efforts by Angelides and Lockyer signaled the start of an expensive and combative campaign to unseat the governor.

Lockyer said Tuesday he has already banked $11 million for his next race, and Angelides, formerly a wealthy developer, has $12 million ready.

"We have a governor who thinks it's fine to cut assistance to children, to the poor—that somehow, if we just shower more fortune on the fortunate, the crumbs will reach the rest, like the leftovers of a Hollywood dinner party," Angelides told cheering supporters in Sacramento, one of 19 stops he plans to make during his five-day campaign rollout.

"Unlike Gov. Schwarzenegger, I don't believe in a Charles Darwin fiscal policy, and I don't believe in a Marie Antoinette tax policy," he said. "I don't believe a great state's economy should be a race to the bottom."

Angelides has already racked up a hefty list of endorsements from leading Democrats—including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. He has criticized Schwarzenegger for months, positioned himself to pick up support from many of the party's major backers, including labor unions and teachers, Democrats said.

But Lockyer's comments signal an energetic primary fight.

A recent Field Poll showed that film director Rob Reiner is the lead choice among Democrats to challenge the governor, followed by Lockyer, Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly.

Angelides acknowledged Tuesday that he was "a relatively unknown public servant looking to take on a global action hero, an international celebrity."

"But I believe the governor is taking us in the wrong direction ... and one of the reasons I'm announcing early is that I believe that each and every day, he is damaging California's economic competitiveness, and dividing our state," he said. "He's gone from being a supposed healer to someone attacking nurses and teachers and working men and women."

For his part, Lockyer—addressing a question sure to dog him throughout a primary campaign—again acknowledged he voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003. But he insisted he has been disappointed by the governor's emphasis on fund raising.

"I expected reform," he said. "I expected more serious problem solving. I expected
less time on fund raising."
P.S. Rob Reiner vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Honestly, who comes up with this stuff?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Politics of Acting

San Francisco's Matier & Ross reported on a little spat brewing between Warren Beatty and Gov. Arnold:

Warren Beatty took a few shots at the Gubernator this past weekend, warning fellow actor Arnold Schwarzenegger that if he keeps sucking up to corporate interests, some "stooge" or "girlie man" might "pop up out of nowhere and eat you for lunch."

The ever-liberal Beatty delivered the warning shot at the annual Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights dinner down in Los Angeles, where he received the Phillip Burton Public Service Award.

(From his biggest fan, John Burton, naturally.)

After thanking the assembled politicos, Beatty fired the arrows. First, on Arnold's politics:

"A Schwarzenegger Republican is a Bush Republican who calls himself a "Schwarzenegger Republican."

On Arnold's no-tax pledge:

"The only taxes the governor has suggested raising are called fees and tuitions."

On Arnold's fund raising:

"If you're looking for something to terminate ... terminate your dinners with the brokers of Wall Street.... Terminate your dinners with the lobbyists of K Street.... Terminate collecting out-of-state right-wing money." Do the right thing, because after dining out at all of those rich and powerful fund-raising dinners, who knows—some 'stooge' or 'girlie man' or 'loser' may just pop up out of nowhere and eat you for lunch."

Asked Monday about Beatty's broadside by MSNBC'S Chris Matthews, Schwarzenegger quipped, "If he promises menot to give me advice in politics, I
promise him not to give him advice on acting."

By the way, despite rumors to the contrary, Beatty made it clear he won't be the one to eat Arnold for lunch.

"Make no mistake," Beatty said. "I don't want to run for governor. I'm not nearly as generous with my time as Arnold is."

No, but he is more generous with his thoughts.

These actors crack me up. Sure they're entitled to their opinions and maybe they actually do us a favor by vocalizing their views on the off chance it gets their little fans interested in governance, too. It's just so silly, though. Beatty might be on the other side of the fence, but linguistically he doesn't sound any different that Schwarzenegger. I'm always offended whenever lines from tv and the movies enter the debat. I usually like clever little double entendres and doublespeak, but I'm so sick of references to The Terminator and "girlie man" and all that crap.

I also find Beatty's actions ironic in light of his role in Bulworth, which I long resisted seeing but ended up liking a lot. Beatty wrote, directed, and starred in the 1996 political satire about a burned-out, incumbent Senator up for re-election who just wants to be done with it. All of it. At the start of the film he has a very real death wish, but he accidently decides he wants to live after accidently discovering that the way to America's heart is to speak one's mind, especially about ugly racial matters. It's damn funny in an absurdist sort of way. Like this banter between two actors, one of whom holds the highest office in the country's biggest state.

Beatty says he doesn't wanna run for governor, but I'm not sure I believe him, and believe me, without even having set an agenda, I'd vote for Beatty before Arnold. And remember how early in the last presidential race, people got all excited about a potential Martin "West Wing" Sheen candidacy? Talk about life imitating the movies. Reality is hard enough to handle sometimes without everything bleeding into everything else.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What Day Is It?

I flat out missed St. Patrick's Day. Not that I care. But it's kinda bizarre—a whole holiday went by and I didn't even know. Not that I ever understood that one. Me, I don't like green beer and the one and only time I had a "shamrock" shake I barfed. I remember it quite vividly because Mickey D's was pushing it like crack; I think I musta been about 7 or 8, and I begged for one 'cause the commercials made it look so damn good. I wanted it so bad, then I ended up puking in the back of the station wagon. Since then there's no love lost between me and St. Nick. Oh, that's the other guy, and I really have a beef with him. But I'll save that until xmas in July. Can't say I'd stay in a room with Ronald McDonald either.

I almost missed another one. Today was the Ides of March. Now what the hell is that, you may be wondering. I had to look it up myself but Hijink, who should really just get a blog of her own insisted I say something about it, particularly given the political climate. (Have you been following the ballyhoo about the draft among other things?) I'm gonna do a hatchet job, but basically every month in the old Roman calender had a day called the Ides. It was either the 13th or the 15th of the month, depending on the month (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months) , but you don't usually hear the expression the Ides of November or June. The expression "Ides of March" gets bandied around though thanks to Shakespeare's ode to political assassination. "Beware the ides of March" is uttered by a gibberish man in Julius Caesar (I, ii, 33).

A Soothsayer emerges from the crowd and speaks this prophecy to Julius Caesar, who asks him to come closer and repeat what he has just said. He studies the man's face, listens to the warning again, but decides, "He is a dreamer; let us leave him." There is irony here, because the audience knows (from history) that Caesar will be killed on the ides (the 15th) of March, and that he is exercising poor judgement in dismissing this prophecy. Later, when he meets the Soothsayer again on the way to the Senate, he confidently says to him, "The ides of March have come." But the Soothsayer reminds him, "Ay, Caesar, but not gone." There will be other warnings to Caesar from different people, which he will ignore, and go off to meet his death.

By all accounts Caesar was a smart guy, so wha' happen, mon? Well one theory, aside from the fact that he didn't buy the warning at all is that he actually did heed—but he mixed up the dates. Like me, he may have been averse to important dates and thought that the Ides of March was on the 13th, been wrong, and paid for it with his life. Do you think St. Pat's gonna come and get me? Is there anything I could do to ward off his wrath? How 'bout green eggs and ham? I trust Dr. Seuss more than any of these guys, you know what I'm sayin'? What I'm sayin' is learn your history and your dates. Don't be like me; make something of yourself.

Like Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. He was a pretty shnifty (shifty + nifty) guy. Besides his dietary recommendations, he was a political cartoonist for a coupla years during the Great War. Dr. Suess Goes to War is worth checking out, but only after you've read all the other forgotten classics. Everybody knows The Cat in the Hat, but until you've read Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, and some of his other less known works, you don't know your Seuss. Which is plain wrong.

Oh, now I'm on the phone with Nappy who is insisting that St. Paddy's day has yet to come. Guess what? I don't care.

What's affecting me more than either of the aforementioned days are Mecury Retrograde, Tax Time, and Mosquitos, listed here in reverse order of peskiness.

3. Mercury Retrograde. Don't scoff. Mercury is the ruler of communication. Three or four times a year Mercury appears to travel in reverse. What actually happens is that it slows relative to its actual average speed. It's sort of like when you were a kid laying down in the back of the station wagon and sometimes the traffic in the next lane looked like it was going backwards rather than you going forward but really it was an optical illusion. All the planets have retrograde periods but the one you most need to know about is Mercury 'cause of what it's all about. Pop quiz: what's it all about? COMMUNICATION.

When Mercury goes into retrograde things can go afoul: the check is in the mail is meant literally. Computers crash. The tiny print should actually be read. Phone networks can get tied up. Accidents happen—not necessarily fatal ones but little things like red wine spilling on your brand new white shirt. Warnings, like the Ides of March, should be taken seriously. Some of you skeptics will ask aren't these things always the case? Of course, but the likelihood is greater during Mercury Retrograde.

It's true. Six has had not one but two Macs fry—not crash—but actually fry with smoke coming out of them during Mercury Retrogrades. I remember one last year when I tried to make an urgent phone call from my cell phone, and the circuits were busy for hours. At one point my phone rang and it was a friend who was convinced she'd dialed someone else's number. She said she'd been having trouble with the phones all night. When I was finally able to place my call the voicemail message didn't make it to the recipient for two days.

During Mercury Retrograde you don't wanna do irrevocable things like sign contracts, make big purchases, DO YOUR TAXES, etc. because you might screw up. But Mercury Retrograde shouldn't be about fear so much as it's just a reminder—a long ass, three-week reminder—to dot your i's and cross your t's, to make careful, well planned decisions, and to keep your eyes open. It's like a full moon in a way. Crazy shit is more likely to happen during a full moon. So to with Mercury Retrograde. Postpone what you can, research or make plans for the things you can do later, save your shekels and buy stuff afterward, etc.

The degree to which you, as an individual, will be affected depends on which sign the retrograde is passing through. This time around it's Aries, lucky you! And Libra (being the opposite sign). If you're really interested in the whyfores and wherefores, see Mercury Retrograde: Strap in for Upheaval! Great title ain't it. Be sure to check out the poem at the end of the page; it's hilarious but true. And quite Seussian, speaking of which. No wait, I'll put it here 'cause I know you want me to:

by Linda Anderson Copyright 2000 Linda Anderson All Rights Reserved

When the telephone rings, but nobody's there,
It's Mercury Retrograde in the air!
When you're stuck at the airport, your flight's been delayed,
You're waiting with Mercury Retrograde!
When you can't communicate, everyone's in a trance,
That's Mercury Retrograde doing its dance!
When you can't get on-line to talk or to trade,
You're dealing with Mercury Retrograde!
When the folks you work with can't get along,
That's Mercury Retrograde singing its song!
When the TV's on and the screen starts to fade,
Just remember it's Mercury Retrograde!

But, when you're late for a meeting, you don't need to fret,
With Mercury Retrograde, no one's there yet!
When the mail doesn't come, there's no bills to be paid,
Shout hooray for Mercury Retrograde!
When the car keys get lost, you can't go anywhere,
Just stay home and read in your plush easy chair.
Eat lots of cookies, and drink lemonade,
And toast your friend Mercury Retrograde!
There's no point in striving to keep up the pace
When Mercury Retrograde gets in the race.
Take time to relax, and your nerves won't be frayed
These three weeks when Mercury goes Retrograde!

2. Tax Time. Enough said. If you haven't done 'em by the 19th, when Mercury goes (Pop quiz: Answer: RETROGRADE), then you might want to wait 'til it's over. 'Cept it isn't over until April 12, which is pushing it. By the way, did you know you can file online for free this year? Details at

1. Mosquitos. SF is ripe with them this year, and I'm gettin' ready to declare war. Tonight I was embroiled in battle as soon as I got home. Just me and a loner but a tenacious one. I've been going at it with the nearest thing I could grab, which turned out to be an empty pillowcase. My shots have been off, but after the third time I told it "I may have missed again, but now you know I'm serious. I will kill you before I go to bed." I got out my bug vac and have been holding it like a homesteader defending her hearth, but that was hours ago and my chin keeps dropping down to my chest. It's currently 3:29 a.m. I might have to concede defeat. Is it Wednesday now?

Monday, March 14, 2005

If You Want a Ball & Chain, You Can Have One

A coup not only for activists and happy twosomes but also for Gavin Newsom. Be interesting to see how his political stock fares in light of this. Will this be the turning point for a social movement that's been in need of a boost?

**Breaking News ... Judge finds California's marriage law unconstitutional

SAN FRANCISCO - A judge ruled Monday that California can no longer justify limiting marriage to a man and a woman, a legal milestone that if upheld on appeal would pave the way for the nation's most populous state to follow Massachusetts in allowing same-sex couples to wed.

In an opinion that had been awaited because of San Francisco's historical role as a gay rights battleground, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer said that withholding marriage licenses from gays and lesbians is unconstitutional.

"It appears that no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners," Kramer wrote.

—Associated Press article by Lisa Leff

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Healing Power of Ritual: Gifts from Indigenous Africa

Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by the healer and academic Malidoma Somé. I thought my whole m.o. was about being in limbo, but this guy wins the prize. He's emeshed in several worlds, including having earned doctorates at the Sorbonne in Paris and Boston's Brandies, (i.e. the modern world) and being a fully initiated Shaman of Dagara Tribe of West Central Africa (the indigenous worlds of Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso, himself being from the latter). As a Shaman, he's also a bridge between this world and the spirit world from whence we all came and shall return, as is his belief system. The lecture was held at the Temple Sherith Israel, sponsored by the California Pacific Medical Center's Institute for Health and Healing.

Though he didn't get into his background much, the "official version" runs something like this:

Somé, who was born in the mid-1950s in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), was kidnapped at the age of four by a French Jesuit missionary and raised in a seminary. For 15 years, his native language and tribal traditions were "systematically suppressed" from him until he escaped at age 20. When he got back to his village he was considered damaged goods, stained with the taint of white knowledge. His shaman grandfather arranged a compromise of sorts. Somé submitted to an intense six-week shamanic initiation and was restablished as a tribal member. However, the process and the decree of his elders revealed Somé's destiny: to return to the "modern" world in order to save his tribe from inculturation.

Tonight, in discussing healing as a realignment with one's purpose and sense of community, Somé emphasized the essentiality of ritual and ceremony in the quest for wholeness. He believes that without rituals we lose track of our true selves, noting that many of the physical and mental illnesses of Western or "modern" culture stem from disconnection from ritual and community.

Rituals require space, specifically sacred space. To sanctify a space one needs to invoke one's own ancestors, asking for guidance and inspiration. Out of respect for us, they await our invitation and won't otherwise be active in our lives. It's therefore, extremely important to be clear about our intentions and to challenge the other world, i.e. get emotional. Somé said that if you're meek or indifferent you'll not receive as much as if you rattle the cage. Be adamant about your needs, especially because the other world is in our bones and consciousness. We need only to be reminded, to tune into the same vibrational mode. For example, he pointed out how the young and old—say grandchildren and grandparents—often bond uniquely because the former have so recently left the spirit world and the latter are soon to return. At either of those points, the utility of this world is diminished for those particular individuals.

Although he had plenty of them, Somé is less impressed with stories than with actual spirit-driven transformation—the kind that only happens in times of sustained crises. These authentic ordeals crack open the psyche, letting it fill with "medicine." Embracing one's purpose is the equivalent of embracing one's medicine. In the absence of these rites of passage, we create the absence of a holistic environment in which fire, water, earth, mineral, and nature are allowed to nourish us. If we ritualistically engage with each one and allow the light within us to occupy a bigger space in our lives, we'll receive the message and respond.

Somé used the example of water ritual, stating that our culture doesn't grieve enough if at all. Many of us are filled with buckets of tears that really belong to the person who triggers them. Say someone close to you passes away. As you cry over your loss of that person, you're really giving them the water they need to cleanse their impurities from this life so that they can sail onward. By "donating" your water, you are empowered and made healthier by giving what has been requested.

Somé described those we call "mentally ill" as people who can't withstand the power of the message being received and the disabled as living altars, reminding us of the need to maintain sacredness within the community. He made clear that healers have to be creative and imaginative because each case is unique; healing is custom-made and can't be standardized. Those who go into it thinking they know exactly what to do will screw up; the best healers approach all situations with a blank slate each and every time. Healers occupy both worlds and must accept themselves in that position. All of us have an indiginous, ancestral light within—a gift of healing that needs to be delivered. We moderns doubt it because we struggle to be in the modern world without debasing ourselves, which is impossible.

Somé spoke of the difficulty of translating into English the deep, ancient memories and circumstances of the spirit of self that didn't happen in English, but I think everyone in the room understood him loud and clear. I literally felt energy emanating from my hands for the first half hour that he spoke, until I got tired. (As fascinating and wonderful a speaker as he was, it was difficult to sit for two hours after a full day of work). He played drums for us, he shared his great sense of humor, and at the end he led all 200+ of us in a prayerful song that I haven't stopped humming all night. I took the bus home and was definitely tuned in.

Even before I'd left, several crazy things unfolded all around as I hummed my new song. In fact, when he asked if we wanted to particpate in a ritual with him (i.e. the song) the woman sitting beside me chirped, "YES!" at the exact same moment that I flipped the pad of paper I'd borrowed from work, only to find that some one had scrawled YES! on the top part. Maybe you think that's a coincidence, but I don't really believe in coincidences and that was also just part of a string of minor synchronicities that popped up around me all night.

Plenty has been written about Somé, who has published books and been interviewed extensively. There is a redundancy in his speech, even amongt his book titles—ritual, water, spirit, healing, community, nature, ceremony, etc. These subjects come up repeatedly but as he hammers home his point, it all makes sense.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Whither Wander

Drifting, nowhere to land
Thought this was home
but turns out it's just a place
Where I keep all the stuff
I don't need and need none
of the stuff I have access to
Helluva quandry ain't it

Welcome to my world. But just when you're about to give up, out comes yet another Top... Ten... list. If you're rootless, restless, or simply feeling rustic these days, Progressive Farmer says these are the ten best places to consider when you're ready to get rural:

1. Fauquier County, Virginia

"Rural, proud of it and trying to stay that way" could be the unofficial motto of this county lying 45 minutes west of Washington, D.C.
2. Oconee County, Georgia

A transitional county that retains its rural flavor, Oconee has been discovered as a great place to live by people just across the river at Athens, home of the University of Georgia.
3. McPherson County, Kansas

First things first—pronounce it correctly. It's mac-FUR-son, and any resident will tell you: "There's no FEAR in McPherson."
4. Callaway County, Missouri

Located almost in the middle of the U.S., Callaway County is a special place, as any Callawegian (that's what a native calls himself) will tell you.
5. Grafton County, New Hampshire

Though geographically large (it's twice the size, for instance, of Callaway County, Mo.), Grafton County is dominated by the White Mountain National Forest.
6. Gillespie County, Texas

Scenic granite hills to the north and fertile pastures to the south, all dotted with oak and cedar, give nearly anyone with a rural bent something to love.
7. Sauk County, Wisconsin

A surprise waits around every bend in the road and over every crest of the hill in this lovely county.
8. Wilson County, Tennessee

The eastern neighbor of sprawling Davidson County (Nashville), Wilson County retains much of its good farmland but with subdivisions and small farms playing a more prominent role now.
9. Eagle County, Colorado

Rocky Mountain peaks, ski resorts including Vail and secluded scenic valleys have made Eagle more of a playground for the rich and famous than an ag stronghold.
10. Rankin County, Mississippi

Rankin County, which lies just across the Pearl River from state capital Jackson, is growing quickly. Still, it manages to maintain its rural flavor.

They all sound wonderful don't they? And there's no way in hell, I could live in any of them. I'll have to find something else to do with this spring fever. For those interested, the other 90 places are equally riveting, and despite my earlier comment, I mean that quite seriously.

The editors note that "More than ever before, people are choosing the country lifestyle over the bustle of the city. The reasons are numerous: better quality of life; a great place to raise a family; a return to the simple things. Progressive Farmer understands this trend, and for the first time ever, we've compiled a list of the best rural counties in America. We looked at the many things we all desire. Quality schools. Low crime. Good health care. Clean air and water. We also looked for counties that have access to large cities for culture and shopping, but are still rural with plenty of elbow room." They go into greater depth regarding the methodology used in putting together the first of its kind Best Places to Live in Rural America, as well as offering an enticing mini movie of some the places and articles, stat sheets, and gorgeous photo galleries of all of them. They even breakdown Regional Top 20s for the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, West, and Northeast.

Goddamn, so much of this country is truly beautiful. I wish I could do it, but I'm a city slicker. I could not even imagine unless I had the right person(s) to do it with—and, no by invoking the plural, I'm not talkin' polyamory. That's for the birds, baby, and I'm sure there's plenty enough of those out in the country.

Progessive Farmer is a great magazine and web site by the way. I can't honestly say that country living is my thing, but it's well written and conceived, and I always find myself more than a little intrigued by all there is to know about livestock, homes & gardens, tools & equipment, outdoor sportsmanship, etc. Just another pipe dream. Heh.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Bacterial or viral conjunctivitus. Don't be surprised if it spreads to the other eyes. Don't resume using contracts until your eye has been clear for several days. Ugghhhh, banished to ugly ducklinghood in my stupid glasses. Damn. Anti-bacterial eye drops: Sulfacetamide Sodium Ophthalmic Solution. May cause stinging, rash, itching, redness, swelling or discharge (including the eye or ear area), trouble breathing. Great. It's gonna be a long week.

My first trip through Kaiser was interesting though. Took all day to get through to someone and try to get an appt., which was frustrating, after which I ended up going to Urgent Care. However, once I got in it was a breeze. No waiting. Was treated well. $5 copay for the visit and $5 for the prescription. Painless. Can't beat that, just can't beat it.

But oh this eye... it's just not pretty.

Cirrhosis - of the Eye

Forgive me. I know what's starting back at you is repulsive, but how do you think I felt after peeling the crust away from my eye this morning? I've been stricken with the chuckles over the discovery of something new to fear—PINK EYE. I know I've had it before—the last time probably being years ago—but it's never been as funny as now. Of all the things American adults are trained to fear—anthrax, mad cow's disease, tax time—Pink Eye isn't on the list. But it should be because this is some serious shit. I mean look at that picture. At least I won't have to worry about finding a seat on the BART today.

By the way, it's conjunctivitus not cirrhosis. The latter is a reference to a lyric by Dr. Octagon, the "incompetent, time-traveling, possibly extraterrestrial surgeon" alter-ego of rapper Kool Keith. I like to digress, but if I am to keep you informed and get to work on time, I must stay on point so here's the dilly:

Pink eye comes in four flavors:

excerpted from

Viral conjunctivitis usually affects only one eye and causes excessive eye watering and a light discharge.

Bacterial conjunctivitis affects both eyes and causes a heavy discharge, sometimes greenish.

Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and causes itching and redness in the eyes and sometimes the nose, as well as excessive tearing.

Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) usually affects both eyes and causes contact lens intolerance, itching, a heavy discharge, tearing and red bumps on the underside of the eyelids.

In other words, any way you slice it (if you haven't seen Un Chien Andalou, now's a good time), it ain't pretty. Right now probably only Jesus thinks I'm pretty (saw that on a t-shirt yesterday).

So whatdya do once you realize you've awoken a monstrosity? Well that depends:

Doctors don't normally prescribe medication for viral conjunctivitis because it usually clears up on its own within a few days. Antibiotic eyedrops will alleviate bacterial conjunctivitis, whereas antihistamine allergy pills or eyedrops will help control allergic conjunctivitis symptoms. For giant papillary conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe eyedrops to reduce inflammation and itching.

It's pretty contagious so one thing you might wanna do is stay away from me, although my allergies have been raging since the middle of last week, so I don't know if I've got the allergic kind or if I did a sloppy job of washing my hands after touching god knows what yesterday.

Now I remember that I forgot to buy toilet paper, which means the morning routine is totally thrown off. Welcome to Monday morning. I'd wink, but it feels like sandpaper.

Oh, but can I say that the weather yesterday was divine? Low 70s even in SF proper. The Ron and I did a little bike extravagenza around the Potrero / Bernal way and then Six and I basked at Dolores for a spell before strolling The Mission with our new friend Vicki, a delightful Greek nymph who is in the U.S. to study acting. It was truly a day to be outdoors. This week is supposed bring more of the same, which is grand. Who cares about disease and infection, when sweet sweet spring is right around the bend. Now if I could just get someone to play minature golf with me.

One more thing. I'm having some trouble with the comments functionality but three earlier posts sparked quite the debate at Once I get things resolved, I'm going to cross-post the comments generated there to here, but in the meantime, if you're interested check out the versions of What God Are You On, Part I; What God Are You On, Part II; and When "Gone Phishing" Spells Trouble as posted on that site (just click on the links). You're welcome to add your two cents there if you wish. I also got a lot of nice comments about my Doris post, which I hope to be able to add here, too.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Me and Doris, S. Africa, December 2003

My mother passed away a year ago today, and even though she was far away, I knew it in my heart. When my dad called to say that she had been taken to the hospital, I was shaken with a cold, cold fear that blanketed everything. I left work, and Six drove me out to the beach where we sat in the car and watched the ripple of the waves. To me they seemed peaceful and shimmering and somehow it made it all the more certain though my dad hadn't made it seem final. It was only the fact that he even called that made me know something vital was about to happen. When my brother and I conference called later that evening, we were prepared to make the long journey back, but my dad said, "Kids, I don't know how to tell you this . . . but she's gone. Your mama is gone." And that's all it took. I didn't have a mama anymore.

All gone, like when you get to the bottom a jar of goodies, and you turn it upside down, shake it . . . and nothing comes out. You can lick your finger, swirl it around in the container, but when it's gone, it's gone. If it's something rare and valuable, there's no way to replace it, so there's no use trying. It's not like spilled milk that you can sop up and squeeze back into the jar. It's light as air. It is air, so you must breathe deep. It's like the springtime scent of jasmine, ephemeral, fleeting yet lingering. The only way to hold on to it is not to try, just breathe and remember what life was like with a mama. You can remember when you were five, and she tried to teach you jacks but you never really caught on, that type of hand-eye coordination being beyond you to this day. You can remember . . . oh, you can remember a lot of things. Maybe they're too personal to share, and that's okay too.

Just close your eyes and remember. . . . Doing so, you'll realize I lied. Doris isn't really gone, at least not completely. Besides the fact that she lives on in so many memories beside my own, I do also believe in spirit, and my mother's is alive and kicking—in me, my brother, and in the spirit realm, whatever that truly is. I know because I can feel her presence sometimes, usually in my dreams, which is when I like it best because there I don't have any doubts that it's real. One of life's stranger ironies is that it's on the plane of waking reality that things are more likely to feel strangely unreal. The most clear cut indications of her presence were just a few days after she died, when a drooling, gibbering man pointed to the sky and told me that my mother was looking out for me. The second was on my birthday when she came to tell me that she's proud of me. I won't explain the details of either of these experiences, and you're welcome to disbelieve, but that's okay. Perhaps it's just between my mother and me.

My pops is in South Africa. If he were closer, I'd "go home" today, but for me, home truly has to be where my heart is. I'll get together with my brother hopefully later in the month. My good friends who knew my mom are scattered across the country—Colorado, Michigan, Virginia. Of my good friends here who didn't know her but have been wonderful props during this long, cold year, most are at work or otherwise occupied. (Today is Lala's birthday; Happy Birthday, friend!) I've no other significant others, so it truly will be a day for me and my mom alone.

The question is, what do I with myself for the next 12 hours, for I must to bed by 10pm so I can jump back into the larger, day-to-day part of my life—working, playing, and revolving. I have a few ideas on how to spend the day. I'll let you know how it goes when it's done. In the meantime, I'd like to thank you all for your love and support. Please know that I am well, having resurfaced a few weeks ago from a tiresome bout of the blahs. It's been a long winter, but I'm back to my bullish, impish self, already having a storehouse of escapades that I'll be sure to share with my mom today. Hopefully, she can give me some good advice on how to cobble certain parts of my life back together, what to excise (work I've already begun), and how to live more gracefully without succumbing to certain follies.

The one lesson from my mom that I'm still working to internalize is how to make the most of one's life, despite outward circumstances. Though she slowly lost the ability to do even the smallest things that gave her pleasure, she always managed to dig up a smile. Only once did she sound defeated, and it was during a phone conversation shortly before she died. I called, and she said she was glad to hear my voice because she'd been sitting there feeling sorry for herself. I'm sure she did more times than I knew of, but she knew how to be a trooper, which I've never been good at. I sometimes take the twists and turns of fate too personally, when really, in the end, it probably comes out even in the wash. I have too much of the expectation that if you're nice to people, they'll be nice back, and that if you live your life with a conscious effort not to damage the world that you won't get damaged. But it happens, and when it does I have to review all my notes, make all the requisite behavior modifications, and muster the desire to get back on the saddle—all of which takes a hell of a lot of energy. My mother would just cut to the chase: life may suck at times, people may suck at times, let's get on with it. For example, one of my favorite Doris quips was about how women always carry on about what a beautiful experience childbirth is. More than once she said, "Aaaach, anybody that tells you that is lying. It's painful, it's scary—but I'm glad you're here." I miss you, mommy!!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

'Tis the Season

Jasmine. No, not my very neglected guitar, silly—the trees. Or are they shrubs? The thing I love about San Francisco this time of year is the scent of Jasmine, ephemeral, fleeting yet lingering, the bearer of the good news that spring is on its way . . . soon. Though we're sick of the rain and gloomy skies, one whif is all that's needed to remind you of all the good things in your life, even if you don't think you need reminding.

Winging It

Baw, shucks. I was hoping to be able to report back about Paul Rusesabanga, the man upon whom the fantastic film Hotel Rwanda is based (I saw it over the weekend; it was mind numbing and heart wrenching; do check out United Artist's web site by clicking on the previous link) He was making his only Bay Area appearance at the Oakland Museum of California. Six and I made the trek last night only to find the line wrapped around the block. It was actually a thrill to see so many people there for the event, but it unfortunately meant that we didn’t get in. Apparently, the auditorium only holds about 200 people, and I’d say there were easily 500 waiting to get in. All the disabled folks got to enter first, which is actually pretty awesome, but I guess there were a lot of them, and I found myself wishing I could borrow someone's crutches.

We whiled away the time talking fish stories with the couple in front of us. Six is reading a book called Trawler, written by a travel writer who decided to go deep sea fishing during a hurricane. The gentleman in front of us likes to fish for salmon. Me and his companion are landlubbers, though I was able to join the conversation by mentioning the 321-lb. halibut that was recently caught off the coast of Norway. The head alone weighed 43 lbs. It was so big that they couldn’t haul it into the boat for fear of sinking it, so I they had to tow it to land. For some reason I pictured Shaquille O’Neal on the end of a fishing rod—an uncooperative Shaq at that. I wonder how much his head weighs. Hmmm.

Six was that she was disappointed by the low black turnout; I actually thought there was a pretty decent sized black crowd, though the crowd was predominantly white. We discussed that phenomenon for a moment, making the comparison to jazz shows, which are also frequently white-dominated, although, the jazz festival in Detroit draws a huge black crowd, so I don’t know what’s up with that.

Anyway, we decided to make the best of it and spent part of the night wandering around deserted parts of downtown Oakland wondering if we should be wandering around deserted parts of downtown Oakland at night. We allowed an Asian woman on the street to direct us to a Chinese restaurant, where Six bodaciously asked the waitress to bring us her own personal, favorite dishes—which flattered the hell out of her. We ended up with bok choy w/ roasted garlic and a plate of American broccoli with stir fried squid, scallops, and prawns. Both were divine, healthy, and cheap.

We were joined by our friend Professor Brooks who lives near Lake Merritt. I told both of them about some of the morning’s escapades during my running group. The runners were all wound up about the Oscars, which I stopped watching years ago when I realized it’s just a three-hour commercial for Hollywood. Anyway, they started talking about the host, Chris Rock. One of my runningmates—a white woman—turned to the other black woman in our group and started with those words we Negros just can’t get enough of: “Can I ask you a question about black people?” She wanted to know why Mr. Rock tells so many black jokes. I was laughing so hard that I didn’t hear the response, though other people quipped that fat comedians tell fat jokes and Asian comedians tell Asian jokes, etc. Then, I swear, five minutes later she turns to me and says, “What’s your opinion?” I said, “Hey don’t look at me.” Pointing to the other sistuh, I explained, “She’s the token, not me.” Everyone busted up at that. About 20 minutes later we were running single file up the trail to Corona Heights when the enquiring mind yelped, “Oh, there’s a branch” to which I called out, “Careful! Black people used to swing from those.” Our single file temporarily broke rank at that. Moments later I heard the usual suspect say to my Nubian cohort, “Wow, I can’t believe you remember that,” while they were in the midst of a personal conversation. I couldn’t help myself and chimed in, “You know what they say, black people and elephants.” Golly, the professor who is also ebony loved the story as did Six, my good friend and Jew. Did I mention she surfs too?

Meanwhile the professor took us back to her apartment where she showed us a lot of her artifacts and and regaled us with tales of her rum cake, which unfortunately we didn’t get to sample. She shared some very funny tales about her current undercover experience working at Blockbuster. Apparently two guys had come in just that day and ripped off a couple videos by concealing them under their jackets. Though another customer called attention to it, the professor wisely decided, "Nuh-uh, honey. I ain't takin' a bullet for Blockbusta." Turns out crime doesn’t pay anyway; the bozos were caught speeding about a block from the store and videos spilled out the car by dozens, all to be returned by the arresting officers.

Professor Brooks also told a rib cracker (I just wanted to say “cracker”) about being “written up” for clocking in one minute earlier than the end of her ten-minute break. By doing so, the company has to pay her for an extra hour (for disallowing her a full ten-minute break), so the professor, in trying to go out and help her fellow floor clerks who were swamped and had been robbed earlier in the day (I gave the harrowing details above), ended up costing the company $13. Can you believe that? No wonder people hate hiring blacks. Then she dropped us off at BART, and we called it a night. Black and white together.

How’s that for a charming love story? ; )