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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Blog for the Pentagon

I answered an add on Craigslist for a writing job. It was vague and I couldn't find a web site connected to email address - two strikes, but what the hell. I got a reply within a couple of hours asking if I had a problem writing about government agencies. I replied not if the story is true.

Next day I got an email asking if I could come in for an interview anytime that day. No web site as I'd asked for. We then spoke by phone. Call me naive, but I never knew this "word of mouth" marketing existed on such a grand scale as what he told me about.

He's doing a startup after working for a "Word of Mouth" company called Newgate that was purchased by iCrossing. His first big customer is the Pentagon. They want stories about all the great things the army is accomplishing in Iraq. It sounded like these stories would appear on clearly identified government sites. But it sounded like we writers would not be identified as Pentagon subcontractors.

His previous work included customers like Motorola, Microsoft, and Oracle. He said they will have people saying positive things about his commercial clients' products, posting the comments in public forums and onto blogs. He said when even two people talk up a product on a forum, it starts to influence others. He said the writers do not identify themselves. He said there is some subterfuge involved but nothing illegal. However, he mentioned that the FTC is trying to force publicly traded companies to disclose their contracts with "word of mouth" marketers.

According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Assciation, the code of ethics is very clear about identifying yourself when posting this kind of praise-for-hire. I wonder how many do. Guess I won't be putting too much stock into the reviews I see on public forums anymore.
I took a pass on the job.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Robert Scheer, journalist with a history

Palo Alto's Peace and Justice Center sponsored a talk by journalist Robert Scheer. Many are familiar with the famous Jimmy Carter line admitting to "lust in his heart" from an interview with Scheer. I last heard him thirty two years ago when I would attend his weekly talks in Berkeley with my then-housemate Charlie. The other night, he was still wearing jeans and a "workshirt" but as though someone had hit the fast forward button, he is now a hard-to-believe 70 years old.

Scheer, the former editor of Ramparts Magazine and longtime columnist for the LA Times, is as mesmorizing, entertaining, and information-laden as ever. He runs an online newspaper-blog with his sons, called Truthdig. He spoke about Presidents since his last book is about the five he has interviewed and studied as well as Bush II who he hasn't interviewed. He recounted presidential lies in every administration, but also found some good to report in nearly every case. He reminds us that Nixon was "pink" relative to the current batch of Republicans, what with the wage and price controls he implemented and his trip to China, opening diplomatic relations. (Cheney and Rumsfeld were around then and opposed the visit to China.) Thanks to Gorbachev's proposal, it was Reagan who destroyed a chunk of our nuclear weapons after their summit in Reykovik, Iceland. Carter's experience as Governor of Georgia, with a legislature that only met 60 days a year, wasn't much preparation for president and it really showed. Instead, he became a great ex-president. There just wasn't anything good to say about George II.

Scheer wrote a column in May, 2001 (five months before 9/11) blasting the administration for sending $43 million to the tyrannical, rabidly anti-American Taliban government in Afghanistan. Apparently, because they had outlawed farming opium, they deserved to be propped up with our dollars.

There was some Q & A, but I held my tongue since mostly I wanted to know how he stayed so trim and could retain so many historical facts in his memory.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pekin "Chinks"

I was pleased and surprised that the "Not In Our Town" conference (community responses to hate crimes) was held in Bloomington, Illinois. I grew up 40 miles away in Peoria, Illinois. I don't think of that area as a leader in the realm of diversity awareness. The town next to Peoria is Pekin, named originally after Peking, China. The high school moniker was the "Pekin Chinks!" I remember one year in the late 60's when Pekin High went all the way to the state basketball finals. I imagine newspapers all over the state carried a headline about the "Chinks Victory" without thinking anything about it. At least as a kid, I never thought about it. There was also an ice skating rink in Pekin. You guessed it..... "Chink Rink." They had a local TV commercial that portrayed a simple line drawing of an old Chinese man on ice skates, mixed with their voiceover and maybe some music. "Institutional racism" is the boring term for when racism is so pervasive it is invisible or like wallpaper. I'm sure it wasn't like wallpaper to any Chinese folks who lived around there, but I didn't know any.

I went to Wikipedia and found that there was an attempt to change the high school moniker around 1974, but it didn't actually get changed until 1980. (My family moved around 1969.) Now they are called the Pekin Dragons.

Link to a blog with more detail.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Liz Halbert, Hero

Another post about the Not In Our Town gathering in Bloomington, October 2006: Nobody knew how emotional it would be to hear the stories in a room together over two early Autumn days. The stories had already been told in the "Not In Our Town" documentary series, but many were dabbing their eyes and standing to applaud spontaneously as they met in the flesh, exchanged hugs, and listened to the re-tellings. Though it took place in a rather institutional, unadorned hotel meeting room, it breathed with the quality of a tribal campfire where great stories are repeated and passed down and beyond to the next tellers.

These were ordinary folks from several dozen communities who had done extraordinary things to confront acts of hate and intolerance. Unfortunately, the biggest local hero of all could only be seen on a videotape. She died in December 2005 from a rapid viral attack at age 26. As a 15 year old, Liz Halbert had been one of the founders of the Not In Our Town chapter in Bloomington. She exuded the passion and clarity that are often more clearly expressed by a teen-ager. She’d been a panelist at the President’s Conference on Hate Crimes. When she got to college at Eastern Illinois University, she experienced an ugly, all-too-common incident. A group of white men yelled out “Nigger” at her from a passing car. She called her parents to invite them to a forum she’d organized after the incident. They said they expected to see about 25 people there and wanted to support their daughter. They should have known there would be hundreds including the mayor and the chief of police. An African-American senior stood up at the forum and declared that Liz’s incident wasn’t all that uncommon, but it was shocking that it took a freshman to show the community that it needed to deal with it.

We watched Elizabeth, a beautiful, Miss Illinois contestant, explain on tape that, “we’re all ignorant. There’s just so many cultures we can’t fully know. But we can control our ignorance rather than let it control us.”

Friday, November 24, 2006

MLK Jr. Day in Greenville

Lottie Gibson, James Hennigen, and Sandy Lechner came from Greenville, South Carolina to the "Not In Our Town" gathering in Bloomington. This year was the very first time that their county officially celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. day with a day off for county workers. It took a bitter NINETEEN year struggle to win that recognition for MLK Jr. It was so much more than a battle for a day off. Even the largest march ever held in the county – 10,000 mostly black citizens in 2003 – had no effect on the 8 right wing commissioners who did not want to recognize the man they publicly labeled a Communist and a womanizer. The MLK Jr. Day activists needed three more votes on the commission. Greenville is an extremely Republican county and the activists decided they should focus their efforts on a Republican primary to elect moderates. The hard-fought Republican primary produced three victories against right wing commissioners, but the right wingers did not give up easily. They contested the closest race and a recount confirmed the victory. The right wingers then appealed to the party leaders and a new election was ordered for that district. A warning went out that arrests would be made if any Democrats (read Blacks) voted in the primary. That warning backfired on the right wingers. Many African Americans who risked their lives a generation earlier to gain the right to vote, saw the warning as a mean-spirited (illegal) challenge. When they found out that only Democrats who had voted in the Democratic primary were forbidden to vote in the Republican primary, they came out in force. (When a county is so overwhelmingly Republican, not many vote in a Democratic primary.) The right wing commissioner was beaten more soundly than in the previous election and recount. The new commission voted for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and Greenville County has joined the rest of the U.S. in honoring the civil rights leader.

“It was a racist war, Lottie delared. “We had a war!”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Not In Our Town

Last month (October 6-8), I attended the first national Not In Our Town gathering in Bloomington, Illinois, as a member of the video crew. Many of the 100 who gathered were characters from the same documentary, meeting each other for the first time. Their stories had been woven together in a series of three documentaries about local heroes and communities who stood their ground against hate crimes and bias.

It all started in 1995 when veteran documentary-makers Patrice O’Neill and Ryan Miller went to Billings Montana to record a story of a community that stood in unison against hate after a brick was thrown through the bedroom window of a Jewish child where Hannukah candles flickered in the night. Since 1993, hate activities by white supremacists in Billings had been alarming folks in the community, but also triggering collective responses of unity and compassion. KKK fliers were distributed, the Jewish cemetery was desecrated, the home of a Native American family was painted with swastikas, and threatening skinheads started standing in the back of a small African American church during its services . Thirty painters from the painters' union came after their workday to paint over the grafitti at Dawn Fast Horse's family home. People from other denominations and races came to stand at the Methodist Episcopal Wayman Chapel until the Skinheads moved on. After the brick was hurled through the Jewish child's window, the Billings Gazette ran a full page rendition of a Hannukah menorah and encouraged people to tape them to their windows. Some who taped the Menorahs in their windows received threatening calls or had their cars vandalized. This only multiplied the number who displayed the menorahs, until there were an estimated 10,000 homes with the newspaper art. From the earliest signs of hate grafitti, Police Chief Wayne Inman warned skeptical community officials to take it very seriously and mobilize community awareness. Now retired, he was one of those at the Bloomington gathering, retelling the Billings story.

Perhaps this time he was preaching to the choir, but his words scattered a new generation of seeds that will blossom into continued resolve and solidarity in communities across the country when hate rears its threatening face.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In a loose fitting tuxedo, I attended a dinner event at San Jose's Tech Museum and heard Bill Gates speak Wednesday night. If you closed your eyes, you could forget you were listening to the world's leading capitalist, and many might even come away thinking that capitalism does in fact seed the best innovations that in turn uplift all people. He was that good. The event was the sixth annual awards night for Tech Museum Laureates - those innovators who have employed technology to bring positive results - often in impovershed places. One of the winners created a simple filtering mechanism that can purify water and enable women's cooperatives throughout India to sell bottled, purified water. Another winner created a portable device that uses a digital camera-voice recognition computer in a way that helps visually impaired persons know what all the signs they encounter outside are telling them. Bill Gates talked about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate diseases that are curable yet still ravage millions in developing countries every year. He said that if we somehow lived in neighborhoods that randomly mixed rich and poor, you would notice this child is starving and that family is ravaged with malaria, and we would immediately do something about it. He was passionate and genuine. If every successful capitalist turned a significant portion of their profits to seeding social solutions, maybe it would make a big difference, but that just doesn't happen. Many of the awards presenters such as execs from Intel and Agilent have laid off thousands in recent years that far outweighs the $50,000 they gave out to the winner in their category.

I got invited to the black tie event that very afternoon because the Foothill College table had one opening. I've been working with a wonderful Sociology professor there to conduct debates on state propositions before the past two elections. She knew from some small talk that I had a "hand-me-down" tuxedo. Unfortunately, I forgot to put on the suspenders and had to hold my pants up whenever I walked.

There really ought to be museums that are organized year around on the theme of innovations for social good such as these 25 annual award winners. How different the world would be if schools were organized around solution building projects as well where students developed appropriate technologies and education materials to make a difference in the health of the planet and its people.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Solidarity Action in the wake of a Possible Hate Crime

A few weeks ago, Alia Ansari, a Muslim woman, wearing a hijab (headscarf), was shot in the head as she walked to a nearby school with her three year old to pick up some of her other six kids. The killer got back into a car and drove off quickly though witnesses got the license plate # and police have been holding a Hispanic suspect. Unclear if he was in that car. Unclear if it was a hate crime.

One thing that is clear is that Muslims are frightened and insecure in Fremont, CA where it happened and where the largest concentration of Afghani emigres have settled. ("The Kite Runner" - bestselling novel - is, in part, about that community.)

There was a public forum with the chief of police. No information about whether it looked like a hate crime was given out. A Muslim organization came up with a "Wear the Hijab or Turban Day" as a way that people in the Fremont community could show their support for the safety of their Muslim neighbors. Given that we are just across the bay in Palo Alto, I wrote an email to a number of people connected to our schools and various agencies to encourage our own participation, as a demonstration of neighborly support and a way for us to stay proactively sensitive about acts of intolerance. I got back some feedback that wearing a hijab would be uncomfortable given that some Muslim regimes force women to wear them. The ACLU Chapter Board (of which I'm a member) declined to endorse the Fremont event. I wrote a second email suggesting we wear armbands or pin a card with Alia's name on it to our shirt and that we join in a moment of silence at noon with those in Fremont, and send them emails. Tomorrow is the day. I believe there will be about six small groups of folks doing this in various places in the community, including students at Palo Alto High School and members from a couple of churches, as well as some individuals. I'll be meeting some folks at the Media Center.

You have to have a thick skin to publicly suggest a community action.

Israel - Palestine through a Lerner's Eyes

Palo Alto's First Presbyterian Church hosted a weekend with Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor/founder of the progressive magazine, Tikkun, and a co-founder with Cornel West of a movement of Spiritual Progressives. Deborah and I went on Friday night and this morning (Sunday) to hear him speak for the first time.

It was great for me to hear someone voice the feelings/opinions I hold about Israel-Palestine, but rarely articulate. In my immediate family with its divide between ultra-religious Zionists and non-observant, culturally proud Jews the easiest course has been to avoid any discussion on the issue, not get deeply involved in any movements, and just not respond to my father's mailings of pro-Israel, pro-Orthodoxy articles. I have a friend who is a progressive Cuban American whose extended family is divided between rabid anti-Castro folks (mostly in Miami) and pro-Cuba folks. He reports a similar dynamic where he just keeps quiet to avoid the deep family rift that would otherwise occur.

As a spiritual progressive, Lerner says we must start with the "I-Thou" perspective rather than the "Evil Other" perspective of those with whom we are at odds.

He talked about the need for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to model a real "intention" for peace and generosity and seeing the humanity and goodness in "the other side." When the Oslo Peace Accords were signed he encouraged Israeli President Rabin to use it as an opportunity to travel to Palestine, initiate new bonds between the two peoples, express sorrow for all the killing Israel has done, etc. Instead Rabin went back to Israel and proclaimed he signed the agreement but doesn't trust the Palestinians and would take each step very slowly and cautiously. When Lerner subsequently asked him about it, Rabin said that first he had to build trust among his own people and after re-election he could move forward with more initiatives for real and lasting peace. Instead he was murdered by Israeli right-wingers before serving another term. Be careful because "the mask becomes the face," Lerner said.

It also felt good to hear him say to those who would promote total divestment from Israel that there is a big difference between selective divestment from companies that fuel the occupation such as Caterpillar Tractors and total divestment. He said that when the left would promote divestment from at least 15 human rights violators including the U.S., then he would be fine with adding Israel to that list and joining the cause. Too often it feels to me that people on the left demonize Israel on an emotional level that goes beyond the attention they give and express about places where torture, repression, and ethnic cleansing are practiced at least as vigorously. That gets very uncomfortable.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

"Hey Chad, how's it hanging?"

After seeing Dorothy Fadiman's new documentary, Stealing America Vote by Vote , I've been geared up for another round of suspicious voting machine behaviors and overt dirty tricks to keep Democrats out of the process. Maybe with those stories finally getting some traction in our country, we won't have another Election 2004 or 2000.

I was glad to see how my touchscreen provided a printout for me to review, though I read accounts on the Common Cause blog of people who reviewed their printout and found that a number of votes got mistakenly recorded for Republicans - just like what happened in 2004.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gang Violence hits home

My 23 year old son was pretty badly beaten last night in San Diego as he was eating a burrito at an outdoor taco stand. A witness told police that the assailants were members of a local gang. The five alleged gang members were insulted when a drunk young man at the same taco stand, unknown by my son and his two friends, threw salsa out at cars passing by. My son has no memory of the beating, but was told at the hospital that he'd been hit hard in his face, fallen to the ground, and then stomped repeatedly on his head. He'd been walking around the parking lot in a bloody daze and was unable to answer simple questions. He only remembers when he came to in a hospital ER, restrained to a gurney to keep his head immobile, with police around the bed and no doctors available. Eventually he was let go to be driven home by his friends (also beaten) with no instructions about how to deal with the aftermath of a concussion. Fortunately or unfortunately he has had several of those before from snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc. and had his girlfriend keep him awake and observe him. The paramedics had cleaned the blood from his scalp and face.

I'm sure the assailants had no thoughts about this young man's inner beauty as they beat on his head; the way he makes so many of us laugh; his tireless sense of play, his abiding friendships, ready smile and affection, his poignant, early steps into post-college adulthood; least of all that he might have parents and a twin brother who would lay sleepless with concern in their respective homes miles away after hearing about it.

I'm sure they just saw a young white guy who may have been connected to the "salsa-insult" on their car. He remembers their car pulling into the taco stand lot and was naive enough to think he had nothing to worry about since he had nothing to do with the guy on the other side of the lot who had tossed salsa.

I remember that sense of empathy-free righteousness that allowed me, as a high school student already filled with rage, to hit others who I thought were the "bad guys" in one situation or another. I see that same inappropriate, unevolved mentality in the foreign policies of our White House leaders. That's all so abstract compared to the image I can't get out of my head in the wee morning hours..... of a heavy shoe coming down on my son's unconscious, precious head.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Watch Out For Terrorists

No matter where we've grown up we've probably heard and read about "terrorists" that we must defend against. The irony is that whatever group was labeled "terrorist" doesn't see themselves that way and very likely labels their oppponents as terrorists whenever violence is inflicted on their people.

Terrorism is a function of the “enemy” - "the other" – the fear they instill in us regarding violence they might unleash on us.

Reminds me of the play/movie "A Delicate Balance” when the old couple comes to the other couple’s house with their suitcases in tow. They say that the "terror" has come to their house and they had to leave. In their case it was death knocking and their fear of that end.

8-Track Cable TV

(My opening remarks at the recent Alliance for Community Media Western Region Conference in San Jose)

I begin with a newspaper quote that will ring familiar to all practitioners of public access media.

“My interest is very intense around my family, my community and my friends. Obviously, traditional journalistic institutions don’t scale down to the level of my kid’s soccer game. And yet, there is a reporting function that still needs to be done. Is that journalism? I don’t know what it is, but I do know that...individuals are …. doing it. “

I SAID THAT – so many times I lost count. But that was a quote from an interview conducted by the San Francisco Chronicle in the Sunday, October 15th edition with Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired Magazine. He’s talking about how the internet is changing our lives. And I got the last line a bit wrong. It was “increasingly, individuals are GOING TO BE doing it.”

What’s wrong with this picture?…… I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. If, instead ….. if someone could have handed me a time machine in 1984 when I took my first job as a public access manager and if I could have taken my same skills and interests and become a manager at YouTube, I’d be incredibly RICH today…. And my kids wouldn’t have ever said, “oh, my dad works in TV, but he runs the BORING channel. They’d have thought I was ALL GRAVY - THE BOMB!

The other thing is that Chris Anderson doesn’t seem to know that we’ve been presenting this type of “hyperlocal” content since he was writing for his school newspaper. Why doesn’t he know it?

At a regional conference we had in Palo Alto in 1995, the late, great Dirk Koning was our keynote speaker. He said he was surprised to be chosen for that role. He told us that he was the guy who went to the electronics store in the 70’s and said, “8-track? cassette? 8-track? cassette? Hmmmmmmm……..8-TRACK!" And made his purchase.

So today........"Cable TV Channels? Internet?...Hmmmmmmm.............

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Race Wars

A few nights ago Sally and I watched the movie, "Earth", the 2nd in Deepa Mehta's trilogy about India. The whole trilogy is amazing and disturbing. But this film belongs to another family of art that delves into societies, communities, and psyches that start in a state of coexistence if not harmony and descend into hatred and horrific "us vs. them" violence . I'm thinking of the novel "Stones from the River" by Ursula Hegi that takes place in a village in Germany as the Nazis come to power. Also the film "No Man's Land" where two Bosnians and a Serb are trapped in a foxhole together. I'm thinking of the documentary, "Hebron" that documents life before and during a local massacre in a town that has become synonymous with sectarian violence. Those works draw me like a moth to a candle, yet still so much escapes me. I feel as if I need to keep rewinding and playing parts back in slo-mo to understand the moment of transition.

"Earth" is about a group of friends - Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu young men who are split apart as India gains its independence from Britain and Muslim leaders demand their own land. It is the rare person who refuses to buy into the emotions of mistrust and vengeance that accompany escalating acts of violence.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

President Bush's Blood Brother

One of my sons had lunch with President Bush a few weeks ago and understands him less than ever now. Zac, my 23 year old son, works for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. President Bush decided to come to New Orleans on the first anniversary of Katrina. They set up a tent for lunch near the Habitat project Zac works on - building 81 homes for displaced musicians. There are about 20 Habitat Staff and 40 volunteers who were joined by Bush and some other important people. Zac sat with Chief of Staff, Andrew Card and two female staffers. At some point, somebody noticed that President Bush had some blood on his finger and asked him if he would like to have the Habitat medic clean it up and put on a bandage. Bush smiled and said he'd be fine. Then he wiped his bloody finger off on the astonished volunteer medic's shirt. The medic turned to Zac who was standing next to him and said, "what the fuck did he just do?" Wherever he goes, whatever he does and says, President Bush just keeps leaving people with that same question on their lips.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

When Is a Candidate Down for the Count?

Many community access media centers tape candidate statements before an election. A sister station in Northern California reported a strange story regarding their candidate statements. They have taped statements for both candidates in a runoff election for county district attorney. One of the candidates died last week. His campaign has sent the station an email saying they want the video statement to be played posthumously. They consider the dead man to be "a viable candidate" who should have the same rights as his opponent. Apparently, if he manages to win, the county supes would possibly appoint a DA more to their liking than his opponent. Talk about false advertising.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is Anybody Going to Vote In East Palo Alto?

For many years I have helped to organize and televise candidate forums and debates on community cable TV. This year, our agency received a grant to collaborate on a number of forums with several nearby League of Women Voter branches. In addition to televising the forums, the past few years we've been putting them online, indexing them into different segments to make them very user-friendly for the busy voters looking for some resources deeper than the tsunami of slick one-sided ads and mailers they get hit with.

Last week we had two of our forums. The first was for city council candidates of Menlo Park, CA, held at the Menlo Park City Council Chamber. Over 100 audience members attended the 90 minute forum in the upscale town. On Saturday we had a doubleheader forum in East Palo Alto, a neighboring town in demographic and economic transition. First were the elementary school district candidates followed by the city council candidates. At 10 AM when it was time to begin, there was one person in the audience and only one out of six of the candidates present. All but one of the candidates dribbled in, but not as many audience members showed up. By the time we got to the City Council Candidate forum there were about a dozen in the audience.

East Palo Alto is now majority Hispanic. This year we hired Spanish translators to provide real time translation into Spanish that could be heard via headphones. We sent a letter in Spanish to 133 households that had requested a ballot in Spanish, encouraging them to attend. Not a single headset was needed. I don't mean to single out one particular demographic as not a single one you could name was well represented unless folding chairs count as a group.

I'll report back what kind of traffic the online versions get before Election Day. There will be an English version and a Spanish version.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Waking Up

There is a one-sentence hebrew prayer that can be said when one wakes up. It thanks god for returning one's soul for a new day. It is one of the handful of rituals I still do sometimes. But it provokes a question that everyone asks when they are young and then forgets about most of the time. In which time period am I truly awake? In which state am I dreaming more?

Maybe I should add a few lines. Thanks for another day where my sight will be skewed and limited, but where I'll have opportunities to transcend and take in a much more infinite picture in which I am a sparkly bouncing speck.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Not-So-Grand Juries

Josh Wolf is a 24 year old activist vlogger, who was jailed for not providing video footage he shot at a demonstration (where a San Francisco police car was burned) to a federal grand jury investigating the case. He recently lost his appeal. How many people are acquainted with the sweeping powers of grand juries vs. the public judicial system? I'm not, but it sounds like some kind of parallel Bush-style tribunal system. Are we going to see subpoenas on anyone who had a camcorder or a picture-taking cell phone in the vicinity of any crime? Apparently a state grand jury would have been limited in demanding Wolf's footage if he was found to be a reporter protecting his sources (a federal grand jury does not have to observe these "shield laws") but the appeals judge said that Wolf is not a journalist. As Wolf points out, there is no license for journalists and a vlogger who is self publishing their footage on the web is every bit as much a journalists as the Bush-Cheney apologists on Fox. (I won't go any further with the Wolf-Fox contrast.)

SF Chronicle Article 9/12/06

At this point, Wolf, who says he has no footage of the police car burning and was willing to show the footage to the Appeals judge, may have to go back to jail until the "grand jury" finishes its term in July.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Tourists and benches

Today I went to the Starbucks on University Ave, our main downtown street. All of the tables were taken so I went out to two curbside, public benches. Each bench was occupied by one homeless man, but there was plenty of room for me with my newspaper and coffee. A homeless woman sat on a planter box, next to where I had parked my bike. In an agitated voice she kept repeating something I couldn't understand. I thought she included the word, "hungry," but that could have been "profiling" on my part. She would not make eye contact even when she took the dollar I handed her. On the public benches where I sat, one man muttered to himself. A third raggedy, elderly man approached with what I've heard called, the "thorazine-shuffle." He too was saying something incoherent as he laboriously removed a cigarrette from a package. I felt like a visitor on their ward, an incongruous part of their scene. If I'd sat at one of the Starbucks tables inside, they'd have all been like wallpaper to me, making about the same neutral impact as a statistic in the newspaper correlating homelessness and mental illness.

The father of one of my best friends enjoyed exploring new cities after his wife died. He was in his 70's at the time. He flew out to San Francisco for a few days from his home in St. Louis where he was a rabbi. He went for a walk downtown and was amazed to see all the homeless people. He purposely seated himself next to some homeless guys to eavesdrop on their conversation that turned out to be about purchasing wine. I can't imagine that there is more than one homeless person in San Francisco at any given time that sits on a curb reading a Yiddish newspaper, but the Rabbi, guided by his open heart, came across him. They spoke to each other in Yiddish and found out that they had each managed to escape the Nazis in Poland and make it to America. One became a tailor, the other a Rabbi. One became homeless; the other a traveler. The homeless man also suffered mental illness. When the Rabbi asked if he could get him a sandwich from McDonald's the homeless tailor yelled that he doesn't eat "traife," meaning unkosher food. When the Rabbi said he could make sandwiches with the kosher cold cuts he had in his hotel room and return in 15 minutes the homeless man said he couldn't trust the sandwich would be kosher enough. Though they didn't share a sandwich, I believe they each shared some moments that neither soon forgot.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


ODE Magazine, July-August edition, has an article about the lightning-rapid urbanization in China entitled,
The Biggest City You've Never Heard Of.

Read the following excerpt about mental health. What's wrong with this picture??

"People have to make a big adjustment because the pace of life, work and study are all accelerating. It puts extra stress on people, but so far our reseaarch suggests they can adjust.' It is not easy, though. She says cases of depression anxiety, insomnia and mood swings have doubled in the past 20 years. Between 10 and 25% of Chongqing's people suffer from mental and emotional problems.

Her mental-health department was established onlin in 1998; before that, psychological problems were either ignored or associated with Western decadence. Now, Kuang says, there is recognition of the strains imposed by city life....psychological disorders are 'a sign of improved quality of life. People did not have time to worry about themselves so much 10 years ago."

Sounds like remarkable progress. They've learned so much from us.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Love In The Time of Cholera

Just finished the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It explores aging and love in a graphic, quirky, ambling story. I loved this quote among many others that I forgot to bookmark:

"She could not conceive of a husband better than hers had been, and yet when she recalled their life she found more difficulties than pleasures, too many mutual misunderstandings, useless arguments, unresolved angers. Suddenly she sighed: 'It is incredible how one can be happy for so many years in the midst of so many squabbles, so many problems, damn it, and not really know if it was love or not.'"

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Last night I had some bing cherries - my favorite fruit - while Sally and I watched TV. Chased it with a big scoop of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food frozen yoghurt. A taste of heaven.

About a year and a half ago I started getting stomach aches starting around 3 AM and continuing until 10 AM. I started keeping track of what I ate on the stomach-ache-nights. The biggest culprits were late night chocolate ice cream, fruit, Dr Pepper, and movie popcorn (as opposed to microwaved). When I asked the doctor why after 50+ years I'd get stomach aches from my favorite foods, he just skipped ahead to what pills I could now start taking. Later, I realized that the answer is just age. The acids sloshing around my stomach are like early warning lights on my body's dashboard announcing that my body isn't going to always do what it's always done.

Maybe by taking the pills, I'm acting the same way our country does when it pursues oil by any means, rather than conserve, or do with less, or develop alternatives. Denial and convenience trump. But I sure do love those bing cherries and Phish Food before I hit the sack.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ant Farm

Yesterday, I looked up from the elliptical machine at the YMCA and noticed the title on one of the TV monitors across the room. It said something like: "GUESS WHO IS 50 YEARS OLD TODAY?"

After the commercial interruption, it turned out that the Ant Farm toy is now a 50 year old. How can that be? Those things look older than dirt. I'd assume they were around when bicycles had those enormous front wheels and the tiny back wheel, or when kids ran down dusty, unpaved streets hitting a metal rim with a stick to keep it rolling.

The point is that I'm 53. I'm even older than the Ant Farm.