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Archive for November, 2007

Progress is inevitable. We must all live in the present or perish.

That’s why, after several months of absolute agony, I’ve decided…dare I say it…to setup a Facebook page. This is hypocritical on my part because I’ve ridiculed some Facebook’ers as vacuous pinheads. But now, just as Mitt Romney said forcefully in the Republican presidential debate recently, “I was wrong,” when asked why he supported abortion in the old days, I now aver just as strongly, “I was wrong.”

Not all Facebook’ers are vacuous.

My final decision was really tough. Experts are always warning us about the perils of publicly exposing information about ourselves that could lead to identity theft. We’ve heard the horror stories.

That’s why I initially setup a page with nothing on it, no picture, no nothing, and just looked over the landscape.

In one sense, Facebook is excellent. You can get a sense of what the Facebook generation is thinking about in terms of politics, which is my primary interest. In another sense, I am still a wee bit wary. In the past, nutcases have sent threatening letters to my home and made ominous phone calls.

The solution for me is a page without the information an identity thief could use to steal my meager assets but still permit me to maintain a presence in the 21st Century from which I might be able to assess trends nationwide and engage in some stimulating discussions on politics and culture.

Just based on a cursory look, I’ve recognized several names. I won’t say who they are or ever, under any circumstances, reveal anything to anyone about a Facebook’er. I am not in the gossip purveying business. If I have engaged in that sort of low-life activity, my information has come from news accounts already well reported.

I operate under a peculiar set of ethical principles. Facebook pages may be open to public scrutiny, but revealing personal information from those pages isn’t the way I operate.

A couple of things I’ve noticed in my short tenure on Facebook. I am easily distracted, and almost every woman with a posted picture is ultra-beautiful. Then, everyone seems to have a multitude of Facebook friends.

I want Facebook friends, but by nature, I am a mega-supercalifragiisticexpialidocius-ly shy person who hesitates to force myself out there (that’s how I used to get girls in high school, you football heroes). Put that together with an obsessive fear of rejection, and the possibility that I will chance refusal by asking someone to be my friend is kind of like asking a coward who fears agonizing pain to stick his/her hand in a meat grinder.

On the other hand, when others proffer friendship, I’m happy to grin and say, “You betcha.” And there are a bunch of people I’d like to be Facenook friends with. We’ll see how the friendship thing turns out. In the meantime, I may join some groups to get a handle on current thinking about a variety of issues in different parts of the country.

A last word: if you happen to check my page, you’ll see one photo of us busily engaged in preparing the next comment. A Minus-5 feels enough embarrassment without compounding it and I can’t afford a total makeover. My job ain’t displaying my physical wares (of which I have none anyway) but observing trends.

Okay, think I’ll log in and see what’s happening.

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Keep this thought in mind for a minute:

Rationality is merely a word we use to hide our gut feelings.

Last evening, a buddy called and as usual we talked idly for a few minutes and then the subject turned to politics. But before I launch into my personal opinion on municipal identification cards and/or driver’s licenses for anyone who flashes a napkin with a name scrawled on it as proof that they are in fact somebody, let me tell you about my friend. A little background as we used to say in the bullshit business.

This guy is a transplanted New Zealander who loves San Francisco and the whole environment of the city and the Bay Area. He is a highly educated legal alien who has taught for San Fran State University, USF, and Berkeley. Please don’t think I’m using this guy’s Mensa status as a subtle hint of my own intelligence like, you know, “I’m really, really smart because I hang around with really, really smart and urbane people.” I’m the token 80 on the Otis Quick Scoring Mental Abilities Test in a group of Mensas. I just happened to know this guy through an acquaintance and we hit it off because my major strength as a human is listening earnestly to people who use big words and nodding as if I understand and agree with them. So, my purpose here is to let you know how smart my friend is.

Okay, anyway, he has taught at some top universities. His specialization is cultural geography. Thus, he spends a lot of time encouraging his students to understand other cultures. If anyone is more sensitive than my friend to the plight of Third World inhabitants coping with the aftereffects of European colonization, I have never met one.

He’s one of the best damned writers I have run across bar none, with a sense of imagery in his writing that I’ve struggled to achieve but never mastered. His linguistic skills are something to marvel at and he has written some pieces for local publications. One of his articles about “humanity,” whatever that means, was published in a British philosophical journal. I read the piece and was struck by his logic, reason, and steady rationality.

Okay, rapidly moving on and fast approaching the present day. This guy is also a certified liberal. I mean, to the nth degree. If there’s a soul on Earth who best represents the commonly-accepted image of a liberal, it is my friend. That’s why I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when this guy launched into a tirade against San Francisco’s municipal identification card and more broadly, against any other kind of official identification card for illegal aliens.

At first I didn’t quite know how to respond, but as he talked, a tiny little thought began to form in my own brain. Individuals who have jumped through the hoops and received a Green Card legally, may well deeply resent the influx of aliens who expend no more effort than it takes to walk across the border and suddenly receive the treatment of conquering heroes.

There was little if any logic in his words. He seemed consumed by a sort of gut-level emotion. This was a side of him that I hadn’t seen before and although he was clearly burning, I had to admit that at least one of his thoughts made sense.

The United States cannot be the sanctuary country of the world. The number of illegal aliens in the U.S. has reached the point of saturation and we need to put a lid on it. Most middle-class Americans are already convinced of their own irrelevance in a country that they believe values corporate profits over average Americans. Now, as corporations cater to those who are willing to work for a fraction of the wages middle-class Americans need to maintain the very standard of living the corporate media have presented as “The American dream,” they deeply resent others illegally partaking of their hard-earned slice of the pie.

Many Americans of my acquaintance are firmly convinced that the power structure has already placed them in the expendable category. As proof, they cite the increasing tendency of politicians such as Newsom and more than a few Democrats and Republicans who aspire to the presidency to further legitimate the presence of criminals by failing to enforce laws or ignoring them entirely.

Of course this is anecdotal evidence. As far as I know, there has been no nation-wide data collection to see how widespread the issuance of ID cards is or the number of elected officials who openly ignore federal and state laws. But sometimes, it doesn’t take a valid statistical study to get a feel for the mood in a country. My own sense, based on almost daily contacts with people throughout the country, is of a deep discontent running through virtually all segments of society from the West Coast to the East, from North to South.

One wonders how long this disaffection will continue and what the outcome may be. In the approaching presidential election, the Iraq war will be an important issue, but immigration will be the number one cutpoint. As far as average Americans go, the Democrats are on the wrong side of this issue. Be prepared for another right-winger in the Oval Office.

Okay, after my friend’s rant ended, he steadied down and we finished our talk with the usual adult equanimity. Rationality returned, but still, way down deep in the depth of my bean-sized brain, a worrisome thought reverberated.

Gut feelings rule. Rationality is just a word.

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…there was a Republican (?)debate(?) yesterday and I fell asleep…almost. Here’s what I recall between naps…

The Republican contenders for the Office of President were, if anything, predictable. Shifty as all get out when asked almost anything. I’d be willing to wager if any one of these guys had been asked their full name, the answer would have been 30 seconds of hemming and hawing followed by someone else accusing the answerer of indecision.

Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney were masters of the art of evasion. Huckabee believes every word in the Bible is the literal truth but when asked “the death penalty: what would Jesus do?” he hawed and finally answered, “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office.” His zinger drew laughs and nods of approval from the rest of the bible-belters on stage and in the audience. Even Giuliani laughed in appreciation. Here’s a link to the YouTube clip courtesy of YouTube and the Orlando Sentinel.

But Huckabee’s evasion, regardless of its humorous effect, pointed out a deeper truth: these staunch believers in Jesus also believe in capital punishment and a total ban on abortion, both under the mantra Right to Life. Life is sacred in one instance but not in another. I believe Jesus would view human life as sacrosanct under all circumstances, although he may have trouble with the conservative principle of “life begins at the moment of conception.”

Huckabee’s failure to come out with a straight “yes, Jesus would approve of the death penalty” or “no, Jesus would not approve of the death penalty” is proof positive that he is angling for votes rather than seeking admiration for sticking to his principles.

Romney had similar troubles addressing abortion and water boarding. Earlier in his career, he had supported a woman’s right to an abortion. Yet in the debate yesterday, he stated rather firmly, “I was wrong.” Odd, isn’t it? He favored a woman’s right when he spoke in front of a receptive audience and opposed it when appealing for conservative votes.

Romney also had trouble with gays in the military. This time, rather than (dis)express his personal opinion, he deferred to the generals. That’s the same as a clear “no.” The genera’s aren’t about to endorse gays in the military.

Overall, how do the candidates stack up? Yawn. I’m about to fall asleep again, but here’s my take as near as I can remember:

  • Rudy Giuliani. Does the U.S. want a president who says “idear” instead of “idea?” Maybe. John Kennedy blockaded “Cuber” once.
  • Ron Paul. Only guy on the stage who opposed the war in Iraq. Nice guy but badly out of sync with conservatives.
  • John McCain. He opposes torture but believes strongly in the hawkish Brush war policies.
  • Fred Thomson. He gives old age a bad name.
  • Mitt Romney. He oozes insincerity.
  • Mike Huckabee. He’s learned to fake sincerity. A sure winner another time, maybe.
  • Duncan Hunter. Who?
  • Tom Tancredo. What say?

Just a few side observations.

  • The taller candidate usually wins. Get some platform shoes, Rudy.
  • Talking heads gave Huckabee a winning score in this “debate.”
  • Debate moderator Anderson Cooper was professional, probing, and persistent. I’d vote for him.
  • A totally bland field of candidates. Yawn and double yawn. Wake me when it’s over.

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Benefit Magazine’s on-line version is up and running.

If you remember, Benefit was widely regarded as Gavin Newsom stash spot for ex-paramours. However, a search of the mag’s contents turned up no hits for Newsom, Tim Gaskin, or the other names we know so well.

The magazine has been off-line for several months, beginning a couple of months before the election. I theorized then that Benefit’s reputation and certain racy-sounding names on its staff roster could be embarrassments to the Newsom re-election campaign. Hence, it’s sudden and unexpected disappearance.

The election is over now and, voila!, Benefit reappears, albeit in a completely different format and in a more subdued tone. It’s easier to navigate than the old version, but at this moment it seems to have limited content. Maybe the new owners and management team will flesh it out as time passes.

For Bloggers, the mag has an RSS feature which means, I suppose, you can receive automatic updates with a feed reader. I haven’t tried this feature yet but I intend to and report on my success or failure.

I see patterns in events around me, and I have long believed that the election would mark a turning point for Newsom. He can relax now and indulge himself, run the hedonistic mile anytime he wants as long as he keeps it within the boundaries of good taste as defined in San Francisco. However, if he plans on a shot at governor or senator, he may wish to curb his natural rambunctiousness.

And now, we may soon learn more about “The Book.” You know the one I’m talking about. If I were advising the author, I’d say, “Forget it. It ain’t worth the heartburn no matter how much you ache to get your story out. There are easier and better ways to move on and make money at the same time. With your charisma, you could easily guide young people down the right path. E-mail me and I’ll give you some more hints.”

Ha, ha, ha. The part about the e-mail is a joke. Ain’t gonna happen. No way, Hoe-say.

By the way, what the hell is charisma? I see it used but never bothered to check it out. Standing alone, the word sounds like some kind of teenage ailment.

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…’cept me ’cause it’s so funny…

Has justice been served, or what?

Mark Everson, Red Cross president, was recently forced out of his lucrative position for having a “personal relationship” with an unidentified female subordinate of the Red Cross.

Mark, an appointee of President Bush, was the former commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service who took over as Red Cross chief after the organization’s dismal performance during Hurricane Katrina.

The Red Cross Board of Governors asked for and received Everson’s immediate resignation because “the situation reflected poor judgment on Mr. Everson’s part and diminished his ability to lead the organization in the future.”

Everson is married with two children, which puts him in the company of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villagairosa. If you recall, the married Antonio had his own single inamorata, and following his affair, his popularity plummeted.

Here’s some advice for Everson. Move to San Francisco. Have five encounters with assembly line blondes and win a free weekend on the beach at a Maui resort.

Go figure.

Postscript to the preceding: I’ve always loved the word “subordinate” because it so adequately describes the position of women in several arenas, not the least of which are politics and sex.

…But don’t go away yet…

The blogosphere is abuzz with rumors about the sudden resignation of Trent Lott, the very powerful Republican Senator from Mississippi. Larry Flynt, purveyor of juicy tidbits and publisher of Hustler Magazine, admits that he has been investigating Lott’s sex life.

All of this may be a tempest in a teapot, but in the meantime, the so-far unproven allegations that Lott engaged in a relationship with a male escort will continue to make the rounds. Nothing sells like Republican sex.

Anyway. Check SFist and Beyond Chron for local takes.

p.p.s. Friends have accused me of being genitalia-centric. Nothing could be further from the truth. My primary interests lie in watching supra-moralistic Republicans caught in their own zippers. The problem, dying laughing is a fatal disease.

Criminee, this stuff never stops rolling in. Now Mayor Rudy is engaged in a flap for billing obscure NYC government agencues for trips to the Hamptons to see his inamorata.

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For some reason that has nothing to do with rationality, I’ve become fascinated with an ABC Monday night television show called October Road.

I watched its 2006-season offerings and thought it had been cancelled, but then it popped up on Soapnet, the soap opera rerun channel, a couple of days ago with an announcement that it’s 2007 season would begin Monday, November 26.

The story revolves around a group of high school friends ten years later. The locale is set in mythical Knight’s Ridge, Massachusetts, but in usual Hollywood fashion, it was filmed in Georgia (Hello, Sweet Melissa).

The first episode set the tone with the return of the main character Nick, who had left town ten years ago and achieved fame as an author with an unflattering book about his old friends.

One day, Nick shows up to teach at a local college and the fun starts as he tries to become a part of the group again and, of course, pick up a high school romance with Hannah, played by supra-gorgeous Laura Prepon.

Hannah has a ten year old son who Nick believes is his. She denies it, however, and as things roll merrily along, we learn that she has slept with at least four of the old group. Shades of Maury. Get out the DNA kit.

Let’s see, in no particular order, there’s Nick, his best friend Eddie (sound familiar?), a rich guy Hannah claims is the father of her child Sam, and a local construction guy who hates Nick’s guts. Beginning to get the drift? A blue-collar Young and the Restless in a small New England town.

Then, as a side plot, it turns out that Ikey is sleeping with his best friend Owen’s wife , Allison. Hey-soos Key-rees-toe. I guess the gene pool is as sparse in those small towns as it is in City Hall.

That’s not all, though. Turns out Nick’s dad is banging the provost of the local college, which accounts for Nick’s fortuitous teaching job.

What about the two main characters? Well, of course, Nick and Hannah still love one another. Nick is up front about it, but Hannah hems and haws and looks pained, like she’s straining for some kind of physical relief that may or may not be associated with the ultimate act of pleasure.

Oh, almost forgot, as soon as Nick hits the classroom to teach creative writing, a student develops a crush on him and…well, you know how those student-teacher relationships go.

Stuff continues to evolve in the 2007 season opener, as Hannah in the opening scene tells Nick no way can they pick up the old life and ends with Hannah displaying an engagement ring from Big Cat Cataldo while looking with pain and longing over Big Cat’s shoulder at Nick.

This is merely a random observation, but all of the women are beautiful and the men, well, one wonders if in real life the disparity between a 10 and a 5 engaged in hot romance holds true. Sure as hell didn’t when I was in high school.

Okay, so far, this is it, but I’m sure as the 2007 season progresses, we’ll learn that the script girls must have a hell of a job keeping track of who does what to whom. Expect one thing, though, Hannah and Nick will only reunite when the show has run it’s course. Otherwise, no suspense.

But it isn’t the extra-curricular activities that draw me. The title October Road says a lot. Fall season, leaves turning all colors, red, yellow, orange, the streets and lawns covered with leaves, the whole autumn ball of wax.

October Road is a memory trip. When you’re away from your old hometown, you find yourself mentally wandering around the streets on a nippy evening, steam puffing out with every breath, walking along Main Street until you reach the bowling alley and meet your friends.

It’s also a reminder of small town life. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone knows the town’s secrets. Nothing is private. Scandals may only be whispered about, but the knowledge is there and will remain until every single soul with a personal or fourth-generation connection to it dies.

Last Notes: As hokey as the plot may sound, October Road is heads above the Women’s Murder Club, supposedly set in San Francisco but filmed almost in its entirety in Los Angeles except for a few stock shots of SF’s keystone sights, like the Golden Gate Bridge and little cable cars reaching halfway to the stars.

Was Bullitt the last film to show the natural flow of San Francisco’s real beauty, it’s neighborhoods and hills and valleys?

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Project Censored “is a media research group out of Sonoma State University’s Sociology Department. The group compiles an annual list of “25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country’s major national news media.”

Here are nine of my favorites from the group’s latest annual publication Censored 2008.

  • #1 No Habeas Corpus for “Any Person.”
  • #2 Bush Moves Toward Martial Law.
  • #5 Human Traffic Builds US Embassy in Iraq.
  • #7 Behind Blackwater Inc.
  • # 9 Privatization of America’s Infrastructure.
  • #13 Immigrant Roundups to Gain Cheap Labor for US Corporations.
  • #14 Impunity for US War Criminals.
  • #22 North Invades Mexico
  • #23 Feinstein’s Conflict of Interest in Iraq.

Some of these may seem farfetched based on their titles alone, but the well-researched details place them in context and build compelling cases.

For example, Number 22, North Invades Mexico, suggests a uniformed army of well-armed military personnel pouring across the border from the US to Mexico.

The image contrasts sharply with the belief of most Americans that any invasion is from Mexico to the US.

A look at the stats, however, shows that the number of Americans living in Mexico has grown from 200,000 to 1,000,000 in the past ten years. Most of these are moderate-means retired Americans but increasing numbers of the well-off are also heading south when they retire.

Sure, this number is far below the estimated 10 to 20 million illegal aliens in the US. But the point of Censored 2008’s article, I believe, is to encourage balance in news coverage and among the American public.

Project Censored’s People

Student researchers under the guidance of a faculty evaluator are the heart of the operation. More than 200 Sonoma State students and faculty along with community members review between 700 and 1000 stories proposed by journalists, scholars, librarians, and concerned citizens and select 25 stories for submission to a distinguished panel of national judges who rank them in order of importance.

Some national judges past and present: Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Mike Wallace, and Howard Zinn.

Parenti is author of Democracy for the Few and several other classics. Zinn has produced A People’s History of the United States, another classic compilation of historically ignored facts.

Does Project Censored consist of individuals on the outer fringes of West Coast looney ultra-liberalism? Absolutely not. But many of the group’s members have incurred the displeasure of powerful media, politicians, and ideologues.

And the students themselves are young, inquisitive, idealistic, and determined to do their part in bringing civility and balance back to the American political process.

If a desire for civility and balance is ultra-liberalism, count me in. And if you want to nominate a story, check Project Censored’s specs on its webpage.

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