Saturday, June 02, 2007

Soft skin, rough hands

If you know anything about pistons, you know that their job is to go down and then back up, as they help your car engine push you down the highway. Tonight, my hometown's basketball team, the Detroit Pistons, are down (two games to three) to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and playing for their lives. It seems to be pretty much assumed that the Pistons are now too far down to come back up. The game is in Cleveland, the crowd is loud, and the home team has the greatest player in the NBA: Lebron James, a kid plucked out of high school and pressed into service in an entertainment service that is half-sport, half-theatre.

Still, an old sports fan can't help but watch, and hope, that somehow the basketball team can perform as their namesakes do, over and over, under the hood of your car. Stay tuned, later in this post, I'll let you know what happens.


Being a Saturday, for a good chunk of each fall and spring, we have kids’ soccer games around here. Today it was my 12-year-old's chance to play in a championship game. They lost, so the season ends with his team as second best. It's been a tough season for our team and our families, losing Jimmy. Somehow, losing the championship game seemed the appropriate outcome on this gray, chilly day -- suicide weather, as we call it here in San Francisco.

Lest you think today was only about sports, the rest of this post will be devoted to our family "art." We make no claims, except that we hold nothing back. The results are for you, the viewer, to evaluate, if you wish.

It's Saturday night, I am alone, and I have no wisdom of any kind to share. But I do have this: The Wizard of the Upper Amazon. If you haven't read it, please do.

And I have this: "Highway Patrolman," by Johnny Cash. The only version I've found on YouTube is sung by Bruce Springsteen, but that (while good) cannot compare with Cash's.

Well, as I publish this, the Pistons-Cavs game is still in the second quarter, due to a technical problem that has turned off the "Jumbotron." So, in this electronic era, the coaches and players don't know what the score is. How interesting. The game devolves to basics.

Me, I'm betting on Motown in this situation...


Friday, June 01, 2007

What color is your dir·i·gi·ble?

Early Night Window

Bowl of Fruit I painted this for a wife many years ago.

Small sweet peppers and fresh guacamole

Remember yesterday's animal reports? These pieces I made for my father as a child. I assume one is a strange turtle and the other an ashtray. My Dad was a big smoker.

At least I do not have to rely on my memory. Turn these items over and the signature of the "artist" is clearly visible.

Bougainvillea nearby.

Color, color, color. I remain obsessed with color. My unprofessional photos, my poorly executed watercolors, my dreams all occur in color.

Lately, I've been experiencing vivid dreams, many of them sexual. Don't ask me why, but it may be related to a certain aspect mostly lacking in my life circa 2007. My potential lovers appear not in black and white but in color. And they are naked. Woo Hoo! Waking up from them is never much fun.

I remember various girls I've been attracted to. One said, as I was lamely trying to seduce her, "I'm all yellow and black." (I didn't succeed, naturally, but I appreciated her self-knowledge.)

One of the common writing lessons I've used in various classes is to choose a color, and then ask students to write whatever comes to their minds, quickly. It's a ten-minute exercise.

Females of most cultures tend to write about passionate love, romance, deep emotional connections...Most males, by contrast also react by writing about passion, but it can tend to involve violence, blood, and danger.

Please forgive this old writing teacher for my gross generalizations. My sample size (several hundred students aged late teens to early 90s) is definitely not large enough to be statistically valid.

Pronounce other colors and you get different responses: Think about it.










I could go on, but you get the idea. All of us conjure many latent associations that immediately come to mind when you speak those color-words.

There are many other trigger exercises when you teach writing, but I've not found any set of terms that rivals colors for the depth of response exhibited by my students.

One other thing -- I've never administered this "test" without getting a surprise. My Chinese students, for example, react to red in a way that seems unique to their cultural background.


I have been lucky enough to have spent a fair amount of time grazing through European museums over the years, and that is where I discovered my love of a certain shade of black. Not any artist's black -- Rembrandt’s black. Funny, when I got the chance to research his life, that his blackest period, if I may put it that way, appears to have been when he was young. Later paintings moved subtlety away from black, as far as I could see.

Two of my favorites, republished below, are from his "early period" -- "Philosopher in Meditation" (1632), and "A Scholar" (1631), both gloriously dependent on blackness.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

How wide is your wingspan?

As the first cells divide in the process that eventually yields one of us, with our quirky uniquenesses and personal imprints, I wonder how many of our characteristics have been pre-determined there in that microscopic blob of DNA already?

If you monitor scientific journals, as I do in my work as an editor at, you know that scientists are drilling closer to answering question like that one, almost on a daily basis. This week, the story of a study of animal behavior made headlines.

The study's authors presented a case that the range of personalities and behavior types exhibited by various animals all point to the universal search for an evolutionary advantage, species by species. Sort of like Nature couldn't tell what might work best: quiet or loud, aggressive or shy, strong or compact, fast or deliberate, selfish or altruistic, violent or peaceful, hypersexual or asexual, and on and on.

Maybe that explains some of the otherwise incomprehensible characters I have met in my lifetime -- they are part of a grand evolutionary experiment, tempered by culture, language, location, and all sorts of other random environmental factors.

And then, of course, by Nurture.

As I've noted before, while it's natural we should take pride in our children's accomplishments, should they have any, a typical parental comment ("she gets that from her dad") seems unsupportable to me. Reproduce enough times, as I have, and you get such a random distribution of qualities as to reduce even a narcissist to tears in trying to explain how his child seems to be good at that, and not at this.

It was animal report day today in second grade. My daughter's project revolved around the lifecycle of the Siberian Tiger.

Her friend Samara's focused on the Newt.

I rarely do this, but I just had to lift this photo from our sister blogsite, Sidewalk Images. Click on it to enlarge it, and consider the man's expression. He seems genuinely perplexed that he's ended up in the gutter.

After all, wasn't he "his father's son?" Dad never sank this low...


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lost & Found

It was going to come to this: I'm looking at Google Maps, with its customary grid and satellite views. Now, there's a new feature called "street view."

There is my house, as clear as it gets here on the clearest of days. And, out front, is that...? Yes, that is my car, parked in front. I showed this to the kids, and Julia (8) was shocked.

"Wait, Dad, if I run out front will we be able to see me?"

Not quite yet, but as this technology unfolds, it's easy to imagine a future time when we will be able to zoom in anywhere, in real time, and see anything, or anybody.

This, of course, is beyond spooky -- a word carefully chosen, for until recently only spooks had access to this kind of imagery. Slowly but surely, however, technologies developed by U.S. military intelligence agencies (like the super-secret NRO), are migrating into the commercial sphere.

What we get, of course (and pardon my gross reference here) is only "sloppy seconds." We can be assured that if I can access a mapping software program and drill down to look at a particular building on a certain street and see what car is parked there, that the spooks are so far ahead of us that this stuff is now considered child's play.

What do I think U.S. surveillance technology is capable of today? It's just a hunch, but with advanced Infrared imaging, GPS, listening technologies, interlinked databases, face recognition, voice recognition, and global mapping technologies, among many others, I strongly suspect there are rooms where analysts watch anybody "of interest" in real time, day after day, and night after night.

Until the order comes to take them out.

I assume that the caves of Tora Bora, for example, can be constantly monitored, night and day, in order to determine who comes and who goes. It's already trivial to monitor any cell phone conversation anywhere in the world. It won't be long before a "person of interest" will not be able to move without triggering an electronic signal to those who want to track his/her actions.

I'm hardly an expert in surveillance technology, although ~28 years ago, with John Markoff and Michael Singer, I co-wrote a long series about the coming age of electronic snooping. I remember the demos that proud entrepreneurs in that era's Silicon Valley showed us -- of tiny microphones that could pick up conversations through glass windows, for example -- and wondering how much longer our traditional (American) sense of privacy could possibly survive.

You might think, as an investigative reporter, that I would have welcomed the opportunity to snoop on the bad guys we were following. But quite honestly, this aspect of the technological revolution sickened me. I grew up in a time and a place where I could run off through the cornfields and the woods and do whatever I wanted to do, without fear that anyone would catch me at it.

Not that I was doing anything all that scandalous, mind you, mainly inventing a world of interconnected trails and circles in the corn, and a world of tracking rabbits in the wood. Maybe I placed a penny or two on the train tracks in the hope that the daily train might yield me a mangled souvenir; and quite possibly I practiced shooting bottles perched on rocks with my trusty 16-gauge shotgun.

Once or twice I might have smoked a cigarette (yuck, hated it) or sucked on my own corncob pipe. Maybe, if I wandered to where they was a waterhole, I might have gone skinny-dipping. It's conceivable, when I was a bit older, that I smoked some dope or made love to my girlfriend, somewhere there, out in the open, someplace far away, long ago, but I really don't remember now.

But, whatever I may or may not have done, here, there, or anywhere, I'm quite sure I felt safe that no one could see me doing it or not doing it, comprende?.

Now think about our brave new world. If I am right, and invasive technologies have reached the point they logically should have, an intelligent agent could conceivably look right through your walls, purportedly to make sure you were not indulging in some sort of nefarious activity deemed to be against the interests of the Empire; oops, sorry, the nation.

The land of the free and the home of the brave. The place that celebrates the rugged individualist, unless of course, he turns out to be gay. (Reference: Brokeback Mountain.)

I believe we may be entering an era where most violent crimes may be able to be solved. It seems odd, in fact, that in high-murder areas like Newark or Oakland, the police still do not have videos of most of the street killings that occur, after all, outside, often in full daylight, on the same corners again and again.

Hell, maybe if I mastered Google Maps, I could solve these endless killings! Google's corporate philosophy is to do no harm. How about doing some good? That's my plea to Google. You guys are taking over the technology world you operate in. It's time you started asking how you might turn your power to good.

Believe me, those of us stuck out here in the physical reality of crime, poverty, violence and despair need you!


My own love-hate relationship with technology could probably not be better captured than in the joy I feel when introducing my children to seemingly miraculous developments of a positive nature. Thus, tonight, celebrating their oldest sister's birthday, my youngest children had their first experience on Skype.

In case this service has somehow eluded you, listen up. You can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish, for free. Simply download Skype and start talking.

I sound like an advertisement. But at this point I don't even have any long-distance telephone service, and my cell phone provider seems to find new ways to screw me whenever I talk to somebody in a distant place on that unit.

But, with Skype, my three youngest and I talked to my oldest in Chile (and briefly, to my second oldest, in Portland, via conference calling) for a long time and it cost absolutely nothing.


The photo at the top of this post is an enigma. It is an earring, and it looks to have been lost some time ago. Despite my weak photographic skills, this item looks better in my photo than in reality.

For some reason I love this photo. Maybe because I want to know its story. Who lost this earring here and when and why? Sharp-eyed Julia found it on our property on Memorial Day. I've asked some of the usual suspects, but so far its owner remains mysterious.

I would love to reconnect it with its rightful owner.

After all, I have the photograph, and in this new digital world of ours, that never need be lost, no matter what. That's where the art resides. What is lacking is the backstory...


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Baby

Somewhere, in storage, there is a slide of my little girl painting this rainbow when she was in nursey school. The print hangs in my kitchen; I look at it every day, and think of that young artist.
Here she is, with Loic. They will be married here, in San Francisco on July 21st (my niece Cara's birthday), and also, in Nice, on August 4th (on what would have been my mother's 92nd birthday). Our family can claim many dates for such joyful events.
When it comes to big sisters, there cannot possibly ever have been a better one. Although bossy, she always has had a huge heart, a generosity of spirit that I wish we all could possess, and a protectiveness that meant no one could mess with her younger siblings.What can I say? She was a wild, emotional child who scared us hallf to death with her intensity.
With her friend Prentice, there on Ashbury Street where they both grew up, we had many sweet photo ops.
Me and my first born.
With her little brother, Peter.

With her Mom.

First, Laila, Sarah, and Peter in their teens. Second, My oldest child and me.
My Michigan Mafia buddy Frank Viviano's brother, Sam, sketched this rendition of the young Laila in La Victoria.

Happy Birthday, Laila!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Boys v. Girls

Julia's new sandals, secured after our hard-fought shopping trip. Notice the toe ring.


Some days, the logistical aspect of single parenting bewilders me. Other days, my growing absent-mindedness disturbs me.

Today, both combined to expose the sad truth that I am over-extended. Nevertheless, despite one major failure, it is a good day and a nice night, despite the huge, unwanted (by me) plastic machine gun that now sits in my flat.

Losing your Internet access can be quasi-traumatic these days; and for me, the past few days have been just that: quasi-traumatic. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, thanks to a free Internet cafe Progressive Grounds nearby.

Actually, that link takes you to the original coffee house of the same name, on Bernal Heights, but a second one, less well-known, sits at the corner of 21st Street and Bryant, just around the corner from me.

Today was a holiday in the U.S. -- Memorial Day, when we honor the many who have died wearing our military uniforms all over the world. Did you happen to see Doonesbury yesterday. Gary Trudeau devoted the entire strip to the names of our recently dead young soldiers, men and women, thanks to the Bush Administration's ill-conceived war in Iraq.

It's fascinating that a mere list of names can be a political statement. Though I have not yet checked, I would not be surprised if some newspapers refused to print the strip, but then again, why? What exactly does such a list mean, politically?


The cable-modem guy came by today, replaced two ancient splitters (one outside, one in) and my Internet connectivity seems to be back at a better level than I've had for a long, long time. My oldest son also came by today, and helped me hook up the printer to my computer and secure my wireless modem with a new password.

Peter has been helping me with technology since he was about eight. Unlike me, he has a perfectly logical mind, plus a lot more, allowing him to think through and trouble-shoot software solutions that elude me. By contrast with my boy, I am impetuous, impatient, illogical, and given to bouts of extreme helplessness. For years, I have relied on his visits to help me get my systems back in order.

He always comes through.

Arriving as he did this afternoon, taking a break, in fact, from the very same Progressive Grounds plugged earlier, Peter found himself challenged to a basketball game by two of the fiercest little competitors you'd ever wish to face: Julia and Marisol.

It was boys against girls. Two six-footers, one extremely athletic, one previously athletic, against two four-footers who talk constantly and employ an unusual defensive strategy -- they grab on and don't let go.

Despite this smothering defense, the "boys" made a credible showing, probably more or less playing to an even score, though no one was keeping it.


My sweet housemate returned from her three-week vacation in Mexico and remembered my one request -- that she bring me a piece of seaglass. Turns out there wasn't much there, but she grabbed the one she saw and brought it to me. She looks so tanned and relaxed and pretty; it reminds me how wonderful vacations in the tropics can be.

It's been a while.


As part of today's logistical challenges, I found myself waiting outside the Glen Park Bart station for 20 minutes this evening. With no book to read, I finally cracked the owner's manual for my car. This vehicle is three-and-a-half years old, and has over 55,000 miles on it, and except for one Burning Man expedition, they've been pretty much all put on by me.

But tonight, May 28th, for the first time since I got it, my car's dashboard displays the proper time! It's always been roughly two hours off and I could not figure out how to fix that. Thanks to having to wait at a strange locale with nothing else to do, I discovered my car has some sort of technology called DMS, which allows me to align my car clock with some of the universal resources out there, courtesy, I suppose of GPS.

Yesterday, at Carnaval, my 12-year-old son, Aidan, put on a show at the NBA basketball exhibit. He's the best basketball player in our extended family since my cousin, Ed Ross, who was all-state at Royal Oak Dondero in the early '60e. I'll never forget one game I saw, where Eddie has 17 by halftime and went on to score 27, leading his team to a rout.

Aidan's got a ways to go to get to that level, but he's got the pure talent, IMHO, if he wants to go there.


I have no idea why I took this picture, except that it is what Julia and I had for breakfast, way back there this morning, now so long ago...


Carnaval, Part Two

Yesterday, in pictures.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I have a ton of photos from today's street party but I've lost my Internet connection, and am online only courtesy of a hack that I surprised myself by being able to accomplish. I'll have to keep this brief, and just post some representative photos for now, because I may lose this tenuous connection at any minute.

It was cloudy all day in the Mission. Carnaval is a lot of things, but one of its signature aspects, much like beaches in Tahiti, are lots of semi-naked women. There also are lots of photographers with zoom lens on their cameras. Funny, but they all seemed to be men.

In San Francisco, exhibitionism is not limited to any one gender. The Gay Pride parade next month will have more semi-naked men than women, if past parades are any guide. There are also a lot of photographers there, and funny, almost all of them seem to be men.

This post, then, is about voyeurism, which seems to be mainly a male predilection. True to form, and loyal to my gender, I seem to always spot an attractive woman in any crowd; when it's a party like today's, such shots are all too easy.

I stand guilty as charged.


However, I've got another 20 photos I will upload when I am confident in my bandwidth. Many of these tell other stories -- the cultural diversity of those who have immigrated to this neighborhood. This festival combines the sensuality of Brazil with the colors of Guatemala and the long-term dominance in this area of Mexico. Many other ethnicities and races also were represented. It was striking, for instance, how many African-Americans participated, here in the city with such a small black population, perhaps six percent.

There also were the corporate "sponsors"-- Advil, and the NBA, among others.

And then there was the crowd, many of who dressed up for the occasion. By late afternoon, the air was redolent with marijuana and cerveza, so I exited the scene.

Tonight, my face feels hot. Oh yeah, cloudy skies don't block UV radiation, so I got a bit of sunburn out there today.

More photos to follow, when I can get them up...