Archive for September, 2014

SFMuni Bus #48

September 29, 2014

Yesterday I took the #48 SFMuni bus ride from the Mission district over Diamond Heights to the West Portal.

I ambled around a bit, wandered lonely as a cloud through a corner of Golden Gate Park, then strolled straight up Haight, past Ashbury to Masonic, then northward through the Panhandle to Fulton and by n by took a long jaunt back  to mid-town and the San Francisco Opera house.

This morning, Pat and I hopped on the #48 and rode out to West Portal. Now we are kickin’ around, having taken a trolley(modern version) over to catch a view of the Pacific, which we had seen earlier this year, but that was down the coast a bit, in Costa Rica.

I like the #48 bus. I was surprised to see it depicted in this mural, which we were viewing yesterday afternoon on Balmy alley in the Mission:

ProtestMural

At the present moment, early Monday afternoon Sept. 29, 2014, I am sitting at a Starbucks preparing to send you this little digital communicado. You may see the skullish fellow in the painting. He is is typing away on a laptop, as I am at this moment, and probably hoping to connect  cyber-cytizens of the world to some idea or story that will lead them to hell or heaven or somewhere in between. I hope the artist did not have this old white guy (me) in mind in that detail.

That cannot be me in the pic anyway, because I am not wearing a black robe. I’m wearing a Carolina blue shirt.

As for the excellent painting jpg’d here, I recommend you study it closely. It is very well done. But somehow I feel not entirely empathetic to its angstish message. On the other hand I can tell you that the painting itself is evidence that not all is well in this present arrangement of things: this truth I acknowledge.

As for the worldy injustice that is alluded to herein, I could write a book (yet to come.) It would be a long book, the fourth I have written, a labor of love, an opus, although others have probably done it better than I.

Nevertheless, If I may offer one brief advisement with which to leave you, it would be: read Matthew 5, 6,7. The message there is, I believe, even more powerful than, say, Marx, Mao or Che. And even more revolutionary than this painting, but not as colorful.

Glass Chimera

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the prim and the propr

September 28, 2014

Here we have the primitive and the proprietary:

Little fence

Somebody’s busy hands wove this low fence along the sidewalk bordering Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

I like it. The little fence is primitive; the massive building and campus looming in the background is UCSF Medical Center, which is definitely not primitive, but it is proprietary. That is to say, it is property which is owned by somebody, presumably the people of California.

The UCSF Med Center is a large institution; the little primitive fence is not.

You might think that a fence so near that major institutional presence would be be impressive, expensive and engineered to provide big work for a local contractor or landscaper.

Not so. I like this little primitive fence. Here are my thoughts about  the person(s) who so skillfully wove it:

little fence, little fence, standing low

by the sidewalk just for show

what skillful hand or eye

hath woven thy primi asymet-try?

Glass Chimera

In the Park at sunset

September 28, 2014

Late afternoon Washington Square september

people on green grass lolling recline laughing

hold hands layback chill.

Here come Deep basso fellow dark and confident

singing with no inhibition he

serenade folk in the park

makin rounds group to little group.

We on park bench in late gold sun,

black basso man he come our way with singing

on his mind.

Meanwhile ole sourpuss geezer on bench he wear

no sunshine but he say:

“He juz want some goddam money. He come ev day,

every dam day!”

And yet here come deep basso man wit white shirt bow tie vest

lookn sharp and ready

so I say:

“You know Ole Man River?”

“I only know the Paul Robeson version.”

“The one you know– tha’s the one I want.”

And so the wise man sing and he fill the ev’n air wi strong

song and he modulate into Irving classic version Ole Man Riva,

and he finish by sliding into Louie’s What a wonderful world

with great vocal fortitude n excellence.

And by the sound of it the world be a betta place than was before, so I

lay the five spot in his hat.

Then ole geezer on bench he don say nothin, no beta than he was before.

Now I know there be two kinds men in world: them that do

and them that won’t.

An life go on in Washington Square an I guess sun when down

juz after we left.

Glass half-Full

The Slithering Slitter

September 21, 2014

Fierce, I tell you, be the sacrilege of this evil,

and immense in its fear upheaval.

His murderous blade slits shock across our necked world,

under flitting black flag of blood unfurled,

on video violence broadcasting;

it proclaimeth fear everlasting.

Yea I say unto thee this be

raw sorcery if

ever there was one, you see.

So fair and foul a day we have not seen,

and it aint just no bad dream:

this hurly-burly that’s been done–

it slitteth slicker than a gun.

But as that masked weirdo he judgment proclaim

upon our foul and decadent game,

he discerneth not the stink of his own slit,

he smelleth not his own foul shit!

You know,

amongst the high, beneath the low,

we all be sinners on this bus,

while innocent children wail amidst the fuss;

This bus trundles along our streets of rage,

while he slithers through the terror of our age.

but Jesus savin’ Christ! stop the bus!

Is there no way out for us?

Glass half-Full

Them Russians are so misunderstood

September 21, 2014

I don’t understand Russia. Churchill called the country a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Many of us Americans and Europeans who grew up during the Cold War agree with his assessment. Winston was, you know, right about a lot of things.

Russia is a complicated place; it’s probably as complex as it is big. One fact that is, however, very simple about Russia: it is very cold there, dangerously cold.

Recently, I read Helen Dunmore’s excellent novel The Siege,

http://www.amazon.com/The-Siege-Novel-Helen-Dunmore/dp/0802139582, which is a story about the gruesome ordeal suffered by the the people of St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad, Petrograd) during the winter of 1941.  Hitler had broken his pact with Stalin and then sent the army of the Third Reich to surround the city and starve its residents to death.

It was terrible time, tragically fatal for thousands of people. I would not want to wish such misery and hunger as Helen’s story describes, on anyone. To have survived such a winter as that one in Russia is beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand how the Russians who did survive did survive. I don’t even understand why human beings would  live so far up north.

As I was saying, I don’t understand Russia.

In 1917, right in the middle of a damned world war (the first one), the Russian Bolsheviks deposed the czar, instituted a revolutionary communist government and began the long, torturous process of trying to restructure, from the ground up, the government and administration of the largest country in the world.

Although their program of godless communism was fundamentally flawed because it was too idealistic, they might have made a go of it if it hadn’t been for one very cruel, heartless dictator, Josef Stalin.

Later on, in 1956, after both world wars, and after Stalin had died, Nikita Khrushchev initiated the process of thawing Russia out of its brutal gulag-ridden Stalinist icepack straightjacket. Khrushchev skittishly let it leak out in 1956 that yes, indeed, Stalin and his secret police and party goons had been inflicting terrible crimes against the people of Russia for the last twenty years or more. And Khrushchev seemed to be signaling that they should to do something to eliminate, or at least correct, the systemic horrible abuse that Russian leaders were inflicting on their own people, not to mention the Ukrainians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians, Moldovans, Kamchatkans and God-knows-who else, and  oh yeah, the East Germans.

Speaking of the East Germans, during that time, the 1950s and 1960s, the Russians, under their hyped-up mantle called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were throwing their newfound weight around there in the eastern (Soviet-occupied after WWII) part of Germny. The Soviets were trying to run the place after The Allies had divvied up the territories formerly terrorized by those contentious Third Reichers.

A few years went by and our President Kennedy visited Berlin and told the citizens there “Ich bin ein Berliner!” which meant, figuratively speaking, that all the world was watching you swarthy Ruskies since you went and built this obscene wall around Berlin (long story) and we did not like it (paraphrasing) one damned bit!

By n by, after another twenty or so years went by, US President Reagan came along, visited Berlin  and updated the saga of the Berlin Wall by publicly demanding that “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Then after a few more years, in 1989, the wall did come down. Praise God! And also a thank you to Mr. Reagan, for his bold challenge, although we do understand it wasn’t entirely his doing that the Russians decided to take his advice. It was a great line though: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” We could use some of that spunk these days, like Mr. ISIS, tear down your . . . caliphate!

After that, the Russians did undertake the sticky business of tearing down their “evil empire.”

Now if we ever dismantle our own abusive reprobations maybe we can have some real peace and freedom. Good luck with that.

Now fast forward to 2014. We’ve got new mystery Russian, Vladimir Putin. Now there’s an enigmatic guy. You betcha. What the hell is he up to?

I certainly don’t know. (I do not understand Russia.) But I do seem to remember this: the Russians have had a naval base at Sevastopol since. . . forever? There’s no way in hell that NATO should presume to abscond it. As far as this American is concerned, they can have the place, if that’s what a majority of the Crimeans choose. As for the Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, whadya say we just convince all parties concerned to have another referendum about the East Ukraine situation, this time internationally supervised.

Now I want to end this thing on a positive note. Although I do not understand Russia, I do understand music. I feel it.

To fully grok this, let’s  harken back to the year 1909; that’s when the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his amazing Piano Concerto No. 3.

I do understand how a man could create such an intricately woven musical opus. Yes, I understand it about as well as I can understand Russia. This piece of music boggles my mind.

The pianist is Olga Kern, 2001 winner of the Van Cliburn prize (among her many triumphs.) Watch her lively treatment at the Steinway while conductor James Conlon propels his skilled musicians through Rachmaninoff’s delicate blending of strings, horns,  and of course piano,  evoking lush orchestral harmonies that modulate back and forth between soft and strong on a colorful tapestry of raw, though exquisitely channeled, Russian passion.

Performed by an American orchestra! The Fort Worth orchestra. Who’d have thought a bunch of Texans could so tenderly interpret a Russian’s music! Watch the musicians’ faces. To witness their polished performance is to behold a work of visual art in progress. I think these people do understand Russia! Or at least that one particular Ruskie, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AapjpeqmviM

If you’ve got 43 minutes to listen or watch the Rach 3, you will be amazed as I was. When you see/hear Olga pounding out the last four minutes of the piece, you will understand what the Romantic movement in music was all about. (It’s much more potent when viewed from the musicians’ perspective than what you see in the movies.)

Smoke

This World

September 13, 2014

There’s something wrong with this world. Can’t you feel it?

Something a little out of whack.

We detect that something is a little out of kilter, maybe a little rotten in Denmark, and Detroit, in Darjeeling, something amiss in Mississippi, Malaysia and Malawi, out of sync in Singapore, Sevastopol, and Sao Paulo, and probably in our own back yard.

Everywhere we look in the world we notice folks, including me and you, who are playing the game without a full deck, making mistakes, screwing up; we see them building cities and societies using resources that are one brick shy of a load, with a screw loose somewhere and trying to put things on the straight and narrow with instruments that are about half a bubble off level.

What’s up with that?

Many moons ago, when men were crawling out of the caves and bushes, when women were roasting critters over fire and worshipping the sun and stars and rocks and trees and bulls and bitches, back in the mists of antiquity when humans hung together in packs and tribes, then in camps, cities and even empires– along came a fellow who marched to a different drummer.

He managed to do–not that he was trying to do so– what a lot of celebs these days spend their whole lives attempting–he made a name for himself. You’ve probably heard of him:

Abraham.

Scads of people throughout history claim kinship or faith with him. Why? What was it he did that was so important?  Well, how about this–history, oral and written, records that he believed God.

Abraham had noticed that, as I mentioned above, something was wrong in this world. So he asked God if there was something he could do about it. God urged him to leave the old world that he had been born into, and emigrate to a new place. So Abraham accepted God’s counsel; he picked up stakes and moved.

Since that time, a lot of people of have, you know, done something like that.

Abraham was an immigrant. He was hoping, I suppose, that he would not be turned back at some border somewhere.

He did manage, thank God, to get settled into a new place, and a lot of things happened after that. His young’uns came along–Isaac, Ismail, and so forth and so on.

By n’ by, a certain strain of his descendant family tree got themselves stuck in a slavery situation.

Then another fellow, Moses, came along and sought God’s counsel. He got the people organized and led them out of slavery. While his people were wandering around in the middle east trying to get it together, Moses inquired further of God, and so God gave him a revelation of what was to be done about the situation.

That situation being this world, which is about half screwed up, and what could the people do about it. They needed some laws and principles to get themselves straightened out and going in the right direction, so God gave them some instructions. Nowadays some folks call it Torah, others call it Pentateuch, or Bible. Some call it myth. I call it part of the Bible.

The short-term outcome of all that was, in the ensuing centuries, Moses’ people founded a kingdom and ran it for a few hundred years; it was supposed to be based on righteousness and justice. But, over time, things did not work as planned, and the kingdom was overcome by others and it all fell apart.

A few centuries after that, but in the same place, Jesus came along.

Now the main deal with Jesus is his Resurrection, and our resurrection, which accompanies his if we are willing to go with him. Either you believe it, or you don’t. As for me and my house, I do believe that he was was raised from being dead after being crucified to atone for all the bad stuff that makes this world, including me, wrong.

But of course that’s not the end of it all.

A few more centuries rolled by. Mohammed came along and noticed the same thing that I alluded to above–there’s something wrong with the world. He claimed to have a revelation from God of what’s to be done to get this crooked ole world straightened out.

Now the thing about Mohammed is: although he was a genius in religion, politics, and military strategy, he was a mere human like you and me. And so all the carefully-crafted constructs of his legacy later degenerated into more of the same-old same-old dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest manipulations of selfish lecherous ego-driven men , like everything else in this damned world.

There is no fixing this world. The Jews have been trying to fix life for thousands of years. Now the Muslims are taking their shot at it. Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, Shintos, God bless ’em all for trying, but  none of it works for getting this earth and its people corrected. The world just continues to get worse and worse, and the stakes higher and higher, like carbon emitted and rising to entrap the atmosphere, while human compulsions descend lower and lower, like carbon emitted and accumulating in the tombs of our ancestors and ultimately in our own graves.

But each one of us faces death alone; the wicked world that hath confounded me, stumbled you, for lo these many years– it does not die with us. It just keeps going on and on and on in all its incendiary dysfunction.

When it gets right down to it, each man, each woman, must decide what is to be done about his/her own life, and what role he/she will attempt within the revolving restrictions of the great mandala. As for me–I’m going with the one Creator who, allowing himself to be crucified at the hands of this world’s dysfunction, has already conquered and surpassed the death that awaits us all.

my song about it

Smoke

Time for Jihad?

September 7, 2014

Jihad is not one of the five pillars upon which the faith of Islam is founded.

If we, the Christians of this world, are to morally oppose Muslim terrorists, we should not do it on a platform of condemning Islam as a whole. Such a judgment upon Mohammed’s people would be downright impracticable and unworkable. We may classify them as heretics; some of us may identify Mohammed as a false prophet.

But hey, the Muslims of the world are not going to go away on the basis of our opposing their extremist elements. In the last fourteen centuries millions of the Islamic faithful have followed the teachings of Mohammed, and millions of them still are following him through the Quran and hadith traditions.

And that is worth something, because it is reality. Islam represents a long-lived institutional presence in our world. Such longevity has earned the people of the Quran an historical legitimacy.

Mohammed founded his worldwide religion based on five religious disciplines, or “pillars,” as the Muslims call them: belief in one God, prayer five times a day, giving to the poor, fasting and spiritual discipline during Ramadan, and the hajj journey to Mecca.

Jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islamic faith.

World history proves that Islam is no fly-by-night cult; the opinions of mankind render it a legitimate force to be reckoned with.

On one hand, the “force” characteristic of Islamic expansion is the problem, and we need to deal with it. If Islam is a religion of the sword, which depends on forced conversion of people with whom it crosses paths , we do have a large fundamental problem with it.

On the other hand, if the coercion we presently see from ISIS and other murderous groups is not rooted in authentic Islam itself but rather in extremists’ distortion of that faith, we cannot reasonably classify all Muslims as jihadists.

So which is it? Which “hand” is it? I believe we need to give mainstream Muslims the benefit of the doubt, because we inhabit the same world they do. Blessed are the peacemakers. But the ISIS murderers–they are a different animal. They are the Nazis of our age.

We will soon have to deal with them in the same way our grandparents had to deal with the Nazis three quarters of a century ago. Because the world did not effectively oppose the rise of Hitler and his Nazi criminals in a timely way, their Third Reich thuggery corrupted the entire machinery of Germany’s government and military. Then it took the greatest generation of our Western civilization to put a stop to their fiercely organized bloodletting. But it was not easy. Millions gave their lives in the process of ridding the world of the Nazi pestilence.

This cannot be allowed to happen to the Islamic countries in our day and time. We must make peace with Islam, if that is possible. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Accordingly, we must insist that Muslim leaders clean house, and rid their ranks of those murderers who execute innocent men/women without rule of law and without justice.

This dire situation is nothing new. About ninety years ago, Adolf Hitler named his contention with the world “Mein Kamph,” which means “my struggle.” He spent the rest of his destructively misguided life trying to convince the German people that “his” struggle was the same as their struggle to become a great people. It wasn’t. As it later turned out, the German people had better things to do than fight the feuhrer’s maniacal battles for him. What a price the Germans and the world at large had to pay in time and precious lives, to learn that hard lesson.

Likewise, the Muslim faithful of our present world have better things to do–like governing their own people–than fighting the bloody battles laid out for them by ISIS, Al Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah and others of their ilk.

Fourteen hundred years ago, Mohammed established his legacy among the Arabs by accepting the role of spiritual prophet. But he went further than that. He also took on political and military roles. Perhaps his taking on such forceful responsibilities, and their subsequent precedents after his death, is why the coercive power of the sword has become an oft-used weapon of Muslim hegemony.

This swordish attribute of Islamic power is not a religious tactic to which Christians readily acknowledge legitimacy. Except that: our own history of violence, forced persecution and war are, like it or not, an undeniable stain on the Christian heritage.

Even so, that was not Jesus’ precedent. All the subsequent killing, maiming, forced converting in the name of God under Christendom was what we did, not Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate purpose was to atone for those sins that infect every one of us, and to affirm his salvatory work through resurrection after crucifixion. There is no historical evidence that Jesus took up the sword.

As for Mohammed, he affirmed his work through writing the Quran, but also by taking up the sword in the interests of redistributing wealth and establishing justice among his Arab people. He did take up the lethal weapon of military power in order to accomplish that. The principles of Islam governance are human principles.

The principles of Christian resurrection, however, are advocated by a people who hope to transcend this world, and possibly transform it in the process. Because this world is at war with itself, always will be . . . until Christ returns.

You think me naive to write such a thing? Two thousand years of Christianity attest that I am not alone in this belief. As for you followers of Mohammed, may Allah be with you. We’ll see how far that gets you on judgment day.

Smoke