Saturday, May 12, 2007


The following images are courtesy of one of my periodic stops on the Web -- . He lovingly documents the uncomfortable English translations that populate both modern-day China, as well as Chinatown. Enjoy these for what they are -- a temporary blip in the transition to a truly globalized economy.

(Hint: If you are an English-speaker and need work, head east, young (wo)man.) In the meantime, please give a visit...


The day in pictures

Castles were built to keep enemies out. What we all need is to let friends in.

The boys wore black arm bands today in memory of Jimmy, the father of one of their teammates, who died Tuesday just before dawn.

The darkest hour is just before dawn.

If you can't sleep, and you're worrying about things like money, the last bit of night seems darker than it really is.

I've been there.

If you hang on long enough for the first light of dawn to warm you, your emotions might just execute a turnaround.

My buddy Howard's dad, The Last Farmer , used to say the same thing in farming dialect. "After the rain, the sun will shine."

But, sometimes, the dark is more than you can handle, and you just can't see your way through to morning light.

At times like that, you gotta reach out, find someone to talk to. Otherwise, the darkness, which has its own sweet seductiveness, will take you out.

We lost a special one this week, on Tuesday just before dawn. The boys wore black arm bands in his honor. We watched them play today with silent tears in our eyes and with heavy hearts.

One man's voice, a wonderful voice, has been silenced. A man of incredible creativity, passion, excitement, enthusiasm, inventiveness, but also with demons only he knew has been lost.

His memory lives on in the beauty of children; in the ranges of colors available to us; in the new growth that greets us in spring; and in the hope that strives to push through each new challenge in our often difficult lives.

Hold on to your hope. The light will soon return.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Modern Love Story

Have you ever felt so filled up with stories to tell that you're like a water balloon, ready to burst? That's how it is for me, this mild evening in lovely San Francisco, a city filled with oddballs, geniuses, misfits, hackers, artists, lovers, and those of us just trying to get by.

It's a city of writers and stories waiting to be told. For the one year I was editor of 7x7 magazine, I gathered as many of these tales as time and space would permit. In many ways, that was the perfect job for the older me, a writer/editor who has lived here since the fall of 1971, and who's worked in or with just about every media and educational organization native to the Bay Area, not to mention a ton of non-profit and community orgs, networks, and schools.

One of our greatest natural storytellers, IMHO, was Frank Norris.

(Why do I sense a non-plussed, widespread raising of the eyebrows?) Is it possible that most people today do not know who this writer was? That's okay. Please follow this link: Frank_Norris's bio.

If you come to San Francisco, and you visit the Tenderloin, there will be no better way to understand this neighborhood than reading the great novel McTeague, published sometime back in the late 19th century.

Having read this wonderful book before I arrived here in '71, I felt a chill run up and down my spine as I walked through the Tenderloin for the first time. Could it be that certain city sections persist for a century or longer?

Later, as the neighborhood newspaper, The Tenderloin Times, emerged to chronicle this vital, if downtrodden district of our city, the aftermath of the U.S. losing the Vietnam War transformed a slum of blacks and whites, drunks, dealers, and prostitutes into a place where families were living -- Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian immigrants, fleeing the cataclysm of a U.S. foreign policy disaster only exceeded (in my lifetime) by the unspeakably looming horror
of the U.S. defeat in Iraq.

As that inevitably comes to be, the empire will have lost three straight wars -- the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. We will become a dangerously injured empire, armed with WMDs of unimaginably destructive magnitude. I shudder at the prospect of what comes next for us, here truly in the Belly of the Beast.


I don't usually give investing advice, but if you are wondering about which stocks to keep an eye on you might check out Apple. Last year, my oldest daughter bought one share of Apple stock for her fiancé; I think it was in the $60s. Tonight, Apple closed at $107+ per share. I suspect it is about due for a stock split.

If that should happen, the price for purchasing a share of the company stock will be half of what it is tonight -- i.e., in the mid-$50s. Given the quality of the company's products, including some not yet released, it appears headed for an extended period of growth.

Now, understand, I am not a stock analyst, just your ordinary small investor. That said, Apple has been good to me since I purchased it at ~$20/share. Stay tuned, because this is one of the best investment stories in 2007, should it keep going the way it is going...


As indicated by the photo at the top of this blog, I've continued to experiment with the colors that my growing collection of sake bottles can be made to display. I love color so much it is almost a physical issue for me. I feel sorry for men who are color-blind. Few sights can bring me more immediate pleasure than the range of colors displayed in a rainbow.

Although I do not yet have my vessels properly arranged, I am creating a rainbow in my back window, with smoky bottles, water, and food dyes.


Remember that stoop and the pretty girl smoking? Wouldn't you know it, one day goes by and the whole scene changes. Workers have constructed a new stoop right next to hers -- couple loud guys laughing and pounding and erecting a new structure into our viewfinder.

Meanwhile, our young angel has disappeared, to be replaced by the old woman who slowly hangs and later recalls her laundry, and who stares endlessly at her cats. I don't think she can see as far as my yard, because her gaze is vacant whenever she lifts her head and navigates her eyes in my general direction.

In any event, she doesn't see me.

Maybe the pretty girl is an apparition, a figment of my fantasy world, in other words, my imagination, which admittedly, often spins wildly out of control. Wishful thinking.


I have not even scraped the surface of all the stories I wanted to tell tonight. I am still waiting to eulogize the man whose life ended precipitously and shockingly Tuesday morning. I, and all of us in his extended community of friends, remain in shock. I want to write about him, but his family remains silent, so I will too.


If you scroll back through my recent posts, you will notice a number of intelligent comments from Mesmacat . I want to republish some of his comments in this space and respond to them properly -- he is Australian, and shares a sensibility with what I have been trying to do here, as a writer, as a witness.

Bear with me, Mesmacet, I will do this soon, I promise.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Roses in the City

The heat has yielded to a chillier air, but the flowers are blooming, and babies are out in the sun. Today, outside my office a covey of baby Canadian Geese were grazing with their parents.

I stood outside with my coffee for a few minutes, as the adult geese eyed me suspiciously. A pretty woman with dark hair and dark eyes was just arriving at our office; she joined me to watch the fuzzy goose family.

Meanwhile, young James is getting out with his parents in sunny Oregon, and he's adopting a cool new look in his shades.

Living in cities is stimulating, sure, but it also requires a constant state of imagination to fully appreciate its possibilities. Imagine a backyard stoop, deep in the inner city.

You've seen it for years, but it is so unremarkable as to be one set of angles in a massive matrix of the urban landscape around you. You know that an Asian family lives there, that an old woman hangs her wash on the clothesline out back, that some of the neighboorhood cats consider that stoop home.

Then, one day, something is different. You sense it before you see anything specific. You're just wandering around your yard like always when you sense new eyes on you. You look up and into the gaze of a lovely young Asian woman, sitting on the top step, smoking.

You smile and nod, she does the same.

It's odd how a little touch of beauty can transform a somewhat dingy stretch of real estate into a world of art and mystery. Over the months after first glimpsing this angel, your eyes can't help but return to this stoop whenever you are out in the yard. Now and again, she appears again, always sitting silently, smoking, gazing off in the distance.

Sometimes she is dressed; other times she wears a robe and slippers. It's impolite to stare, especially a man at a woman, so you don't, but you do glance, hopefully, every single time.

It's an odd example of an urban relationship. You've never met this woman, nor are you likely to. You can't know anything substantive about her, other than she is young, pretty, a smoker, and apparently living with her parents (or grandparents?)

Maybe these types of stories end best just like that -- without any resolution. After all, unlike the happy endings and sad endings so familiar from movies, a story without resolution is a story where hope remains.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Terrible Sound of Silence

There are no photos to post tonight. Even words will have to be carefully chosen, because, whenever we lose someone in our world, it seems to me that the planet shudders. Today, here in San Francisco, we lost a special man, but beyond that there is little I can write at this hour. His family is in shock, the rest of us are in shock, and out of respect for their privacy, there is nothing else I can say, for now.

Once I heard the sad news, I immediately recalled coming out of the church in East Lansing after my own mother's memorial service in October 2002. Above me, the tree branches seemed restless, their leaves fluttered sadly. I pointed my camera upwards and shot that scene -- a photo I treasure. Every time I look at it, I revisit the sweet sadness of knowing I had to let my mother go. That tree seemed to reflect her departing spirit.

Tonight, a fog descended over the peninsula that contains San Francisco. We've lost a valuable soul. It is still hot here, but cooler than last night, when this special man was still among us, the living...

Tonight, he is not. And we are all the poorer for having lost him.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Warm Nights, Open Windows

Tonight presents an embarrassment of riches for an old sports fan like me. But before I get to that, because I'm sure many of you could not care less, there are other, more significant news stories moving at this hour.

One, in particular, really interests me and that is how Sen. Barack Obama is gathering support not only from Democrats, African-Americans, but (get this) conservatives, including some of those who played a key role in helping George W. Bush to the White House.

You can read this story from The Times of London at MyWire .

According to Sarah Baxter, Washington correspondent for The Times,"Disillusioned supporters of President George W Bush are defecting to Barack Obama, the Democratic senator for Illinois, as the White House candidate with the best chance of uniting a divided nation.

Tom Bernstein went to Yale University with Bush and co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team with him. In 2004 he donated the maximum $2,000 to the president’s reelection campaign and gave $50,000 to the Republican National Committee. This year he is switching his support to Obama. He is one of many former Bush admirers who find the Democrat newcomer appealing.

Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief campaign strategist in 2004, announced last month that he was disillusioned with the war in Iraq and the president’s “my way or the highway” style of leadership – the first member of Bush’s inner circle to denounce the leader’s performance in office.

Although Dowd has yet to endorse a candidate, he said the only one he liked was Obama. “I think we should design campaigns that appeal, not to 51% of the people, but bring the country together as a whole,” Dowd said..."

On of the great things about MyWire is its global reach -- thus, you can read stories such as this one or others from papers in China, Japan, Korea, India, and the alternative U.S. press.


All right. May I set up the evening before me, even if you are not a sports fan?

* The Detroit Red Wings, my father's team, and therefore mine, leads the San Jose Sharks, 2-0, early in the second (of three) quarters. If Detroit wins, the Sharks are eliminated and the Red Wings advance to their conference finals.

* The Detroit Pistons are leading the Chicago Bulls, 83-66, in the fourth (of four) quarters in game two. If the Pistons win, they'll be up 2 games to 0, and well on their way to the NBA conference championship series.

* The Golden State Warriors, this year's Cinderella team, will face Utah later tonight in the first game of the second round.

* The San Francisco Giants and their new ace pitcher, Barry Zito, face the New York Mets here in the city by the bay tonight.


UPDATES: The Pistons easily dispatched the Bulls. And only one period is left in the Sharks's season. Assuming the Red Wings hold on, my family roots will have been satisfied.

Now, we turn to my adopted home. Can the Giants and the Warriors both win? It's way too early, no patterns are apparent yet.


The Wariors trail the Jazz by two after the first quarter. The Giants trail the Mets, 1-0 in the fifth inning. So my Bay Area favorites are losing even as my two Detroit teams won. The Wings just polished off San Jose, 2-0.

Could my four favorite teams actually all win on the same night? The odds are way against this, but right now, we are 2-0 and in two close games here on the west coast.


The Ginats and Warriors have just surged into the lead. The Giants lead, 6-1. The Warriors are in a more competitive game, but are maintaining a slight lead.


The Warriors are up by 5 after three quarters with 12 minutes to go. The Giants have an impressivelead late in their game. Maybe my fantasy of a 4-0 night is not so unrealistic, after all?


Finals: Giants win, Warriors lose. Oh well, 3-1 is pretty good. I'll take a .750 winning percentage anytime.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

In the Heat of the Night

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might. Have the wish I wish tonight.

October 2003 -- three and a half years ago in one of these chairs late at night, when a flight was delayed and a taxi stopped here, unexpectedly. Only two people know about that night, which was the last night of its kind. A warm night, like tonight.

It was 89 degrees here (at least) this afternoon, and was still well over 80 after 5 p.m. The big deals in San Francisco today included Cinco de Mayo celebrations plus tonight's nationally televised debut of rookie pitching sensation Tim Lincecum for the Giants.

Artifacts continue to jump off my shelves and out of my closets, now we're entering more sultry weather. Today, it was this piggy bank my older kids gave me many years ago. I remember deciding to fill it with quarters minted in their birth years (1976, 1979, and 1981).

I wonder how many quarters are in there? According to The Wisdom of Crowds, if I could attract a high enough number of people to help me guess that figure, we, as a crowd, would probably come very close to the right answer.

But since I lack a crowd at the moment, I'm going to put my stake in the ground and say I think there are around 280 coins in the pig's belly, or $70. If you have a guess, please let me know.

When we have hot weather on this slender peninsular city, which is only 49 miles square in size, the old-timers call it "earthquake weather." It's great people-watching weather. The girls wear skimpy clothes, and after all, we still get some breezes.

So, I may be excused for distractions as I drove across town to Noe Valley, and back, with a new ergonomic office chair that two friends of mine gave me. My other office chair came from my first girlfriend after my marriage broke up, a lovely Chinese intellectual with a sense of humor that could crack up people across cultures. I have not seen her since that night in my backyard so long ago now...

This new chair may help with my back and neck pains, and I am grateful to Valerie and Helen for giving it to me. I'll keep my ex-girlfriend's chair as well, as an artifact in case some day she comes back to see me, though I doubt she ever will.

Last night was warm, as well. My lovely dinner companion had a new hairdo -- her blond hair was cut short in what I'm going to call a "bee-bop-bob," and she was dressed in a very cool, flashy outfit that took me back to my parents' era --the Speakeasies, the Big Band era, the age of romance.

She took me to dinner at The Slanted Door, which has relocated from the Mission to the Ferry Building. We shared green papaya salad, asparagus, salmon, rice and crème brule. The meal was perfect.

There's a revealing poll out tonight about what baseball fans nationwide think about Barry Bonds' quest to break the all-time career home-run record this season. Hank Aaron owns the record at 755. Bonds has hit 10 so far in this young season, and now has 744, so he's only 11 away.

The poll reveals that most African-Americans support Bonds in his pursuit of what has been called sports' most hallowed number. By contrast, most whites do not support him. If you were viewing these numbers from space, without an agenda of your own, or an ethnic identity, you would probably see this for what it is.

Let me be very clear on this heavy summer's night. Young Lincecum didn't do so well, and the Giants lost the game. The greatest hitter of this era never got into the game. The game he breaks Aaron's record, I, for one, will be cheering wholeheartedly for Barry Bonds.

My prediction? Somewhere a little over a month from now. Mid-June. And he'll do it here, in the park by the Bay, where loyalty to a local hero transcends the shameful racism of the national media, led by the shameless sports columnists of The New York Times.

Turn back the clock and their predecessors were dissing Henry Aaron as he obliterated Babe Ruth's record. Fuck The New York Times and their racism. Bonds is the greatest of all time and soon everybody will have to accept that.