Saturday, January 05, 2008

What if?

...we all could be free as a bird?

What follows includes some symbolic elements (mainly the Confederate flag and its negative connotations) that I deeply disagree with. Yet, having spent so much time in the South from the late '60s onward, I also understand the other meanings of that flag. Although I would never accept the racism implicit in the Old South, I would easily embrace the rebellion of people who through music continue to yearn for a better world, a world where we all might fly like birds, above all of of the ugliness below.

In any event, this is the best current version of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd (live) that I have yet located:

Please watch and enjoy, all my fellow free birds.


"Yes we can"

Watching the four leading Democrats debate tonight in New Hampshire, my impression is that John Edwards is forcibly making his strongest possible case, perhaps out of a sense of desperation that if he cannot win the next primary, his campaign will fail.

If I could shut out the past 30 years of American political reality, he would be the perfect candidate for the 1970's -- rhetorically anti-corporate. But somehow, the fact that he bases his ideology on his personal history as an attorney who made a fortune suing corporations undercuts his left-wing credentials. I've always felt such attorneys should waive their fees when they represent "classes" of people who have most definitely been screwed, not take 30% or whatever.

The court jester in the debate, Bill Richardson, is just plain funny, and provided much-needed comic relief.

Hillary Clinton is, as always, articulate, informed, yet somehow smug. Her best line was, in answer to a question about her lack of "likability," was that it "hurt my feelings."

Barack Obama still seems to be reaching in his answers to prove that he actually has enough experience to be President. Yet, that is not his strongest suit. Almost by accident, he threw out the only line tonight that I believe may resonate beyond the next primary:

"Yes we can."

This candidate's belief in the American people's ability to overcome the disastrous position our government has imposed on us in the world is his most impressive asset. Again, I repeat my prediction that Obama will be our next President.



Photos by Dylan and Aidan

The sun rose over a soggy city this morning, and residents had a chance to get out and survey the damage before the rains returned.

A rare blast of thunder rumbled across our skies, and the drenching continued.

These images are from Bernal Hill. The kids got back after midnight. Like most air travelers, their flight into San Francisco was late; in their case, four hours late.

The resilience of children amazes me. Most of today, they've not acted like they just endured a 22-hour trip ending early this morning. Mostly, they are as active and happy as always.

Today Little James is one year old. That's a new way to track time: the ages of our grandchildren. Happy Birthday, Little 'Tig!


Friday, January 04, 2008

More storm stories

The weather reporters say the worst is past, here. It's been an odd day. I tried to help guide my friends, the Heleries, as they wended their way south from Mendocino along a crowded, oft-flooded Highway 101.

From Internet, radio, and TV sources, I could tell them via cellphone that there were problems in Marin, including highway closures, but I couldn't find solutions.

As the day wore on, they called that they'd made the Golden Gate Bridge.


Meanwhile, I drove my green-leaf-encrusted car across the city to Russian Hill for a dental appointment to repair a tooth that recently broke. Yuck.

I saw downed trees all over town.


The other issue worrying me all day today is the travel of my youngest kids all the way from Florida to here via Philadelphia. The average flight has been delayed 2:15 hours all day. Their connector is already scheduled to be two hours late arriving here, and the most recent news from my kids on cellphone is they are boarding but will sit for at least an hour on the runway before taking off.

They are not due here now until after 1 a.m. -- over 20 hours after their Friday began. So, their Dad just sits here and waits for word they've gotten home safely. It's sundown; there are sirens all over the city as a hazy grey light settles over a soaked city by the bay.

p.s. at night, walking around, I found more branches down on the streets of my neighborhood.


Storm, Continued

Fighting cabin fever, I ventured out for a 20-minute walk early this afternoon. It seemed calm for a few moments; then a gust swept away my hat and dumped it into one of the many leaf-clogged streams that used to be street gutters.

Tree branches cracked. Some trees fell.

One tree rested on a car. A new wire was down, shutting down busy Bryant Street.

A trucker begged with a traffic cop to let him drive over the downed wire and deliver his Budweiser to a corner store.

A homeless man huddled inside a laundromat, keeping a wary eye on his Safeway grocery cart outside, filled with bottles to recycle, anchored with a strong blue tarp. Other homeless guys squatted in doorways or under trees.

Few other pedestrians were out, and traffic was minimal. But drivers had to weave their way around downed branches and sealed off streets with fallen wires, finding irregular routes to wherever they were headed.

Back home, I was soaked to the skin.


Weather Chaos

The first of three monster storm systems blew into San Francisco overnight, and I awoke to howling winds and driving rain. Around 7 a.m., I heard an explosion, and my building lost all power. My flat was cold, dark, and I couldn't brew coffee. Here alone, I wrapped up in blankets and waited in the silent dark.

An hour later, the power came back on, and I fired up the wall heaters and ate some warm, salty edamame, and drank a coffee. The winds started to gust even higher, and The Weather Channel calls them "hurricane force," 80 mph and up.

Every now and again, the storm seems to pause; then it ramps up again.

Lately, another power line sliced down at the corner, and a big PG&E unit showed up to pin it back up.

Driven by the wind, 20-foot waves are smashing the coast; we have ongoing flash flood and mudslide warnings. In The Mission, the water courses through the streets driven south to north, sort of like an airborne flood.

On the bridges in the Bay Area, big rigs have turned over, and traffic has stopped. Delays at the airport have exceeded two hours all morning.

In the Sierra, the roads are closing, and up to three to five feet of snow is falling. Winds at the highest peaks may reach 150 mph tonight...


Thursday, January 03, 2008


It turns out we were right, Obama and Huckabee prevailed in Iowa tonight. So now, here are two more predictions: Obama will win the Democratic nomination but Huckabee will not win the GOP nomination. Honestly, I cannot yet figure out who will be the Republican nominee -- McCain? Giulani? Someone but certainly not Huckabee. Maybe Bloomberg?

But, from what I can divine from the Iowa vote, it really does not matter who the Republican candidate is. I predict that the next President of the United States will be Barack Obama.

And that is a good thing.


Iowa Caucuses: Obama & Huckabee?

The political blogs I watch are alive with speculation and some purported early exit poll results from today's Presidential primary caucuses in Iowa. A little over an hour from now, the first results may become public.

As usual on election days, I've been sifting data, for the heck of it, and now have my predictions set:

Obama will win narrowly for the Democrats. Edwards and Clinton in a virtual tie for second. No one else registers enough to be taken seriously.

Huckabee will win for Republicans. Romney takes the hit. Paul almost beats him.

Neither of these outcomes will be as important for the next stage of the campaigns as the winners may hope, or the losers may fear. New Hampshire is up next, where different winners are expected. A month from now, a large number of state primaries will clarify the electoral picture. Clinton still seems to be ahead nationally; but Romney may be fading for the GOP. Huckabee is unlikely so Giulani and McCain, neither of which have mounted credible campaigns yet, may duke it out.

All predictions subject to revision!


RePost: Twelve that need help

Nov. '05 East Biloxi

I only got to mention these worthy grassroots groups on the Mississippi Gulf Coast briefly before the holiday. Now, we are into the new year, please consider helping one or more of them if you can. In such a poor area, gifts as small as $20 go a long way! Although there has been some progress toward rebuilding casinos and homes for the rich post-Katrina, these groups represent the many people left out -- the working poor, disabled, ill, and those virtually without hope.

Claywork by Julia

1. Mercy Housing and Human Development Utilizing integrated strategies to provide housing, community and economic development for low-income families of Mississippi.

2. North Gulfport Community Land Trust Dedicated to providing permanently affordable homeownership to residents in North Gulfport.

3. The Steps Coalition The mission of the Steps Coalition is to promote an equitable recovery and healthy, just, and sustainable communities in South Mississippi.

4. Back Bay Mission Founded in 1922, the mission has always kept the impoverished and marginalized at the center of its concern.

5. Mississippi Center for Justice An organization dedicated to advancing racial and economic justice.

6. NAACP Biloxi Branch

7. Living Independence for Everyone (LIFE) The Southeast's Regional disability resource center offers a wide range of resources, education, and advocacy to the community to help level the playing field for people with disabilities.

8. Moore Community House MCH works with the east Biloxi community assisting low-income neighbors with quality child care, family services & local economic development.

9. Sierra Club Mississippi My informant tells me: "All environmental orgs are really struggling down here, kind of hung out to dry. With oil and chemical companies making the people down here die of cancer, confused by intractable poverty/need for "job creation" and the good ol' boys' billfolds, local George Bush-style denial, it's a hard case to make.

10. St. Rose Outreach and Recovery Operates under the premise that no family can recover from Katrina until it has a safe and secure home in which to live.

11. Gulf Restoration Network Works on a variety of issues in keeping with its mission of protecting and restoring the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

12. Visions of Hope This traveling exhibit is an interactive and educational display that travels around the country to provide visitors, including breast cancer survivors and their families, with the most up-to-date information on breast cancer, detection, and treatment options.

Love, and may peace be with you.



Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Long Live Michael Moore!

As a journalist who prides himself on our traditional values, most importantly getting the story, whatever it is, right, I have not exactly been a fan of the populist documentary maker's work. But finally this week I watched "Sicko!" Like many people, I heard about the various errors and mis-statements in this expose of the broken nature of our health care and insurance system here in the U.S. Others praised the movie, though not so much as journalism as an act of passion that nailed the basic story as few have done.

Upon reflection, I count myself among the latter. I suppose my tipping point was a ridiculous, virtually unintelligible set of "statements" from Blue Shield of California, purportedly a leading health insurer, and the recipient every month of a hefty family policy payment by me under the COBRA regulations that prevent Blus Shield from doing what they would do otherwise, which is drop me the minute I became unemployed.

Kafka would smile at this absurd set of forms, which attempt to break what was a straight forward medical visit to an emergency room (the only one Blue Shield would have honored at all, as I know from (vast) previous experience).

Kids fall and cut their heads. Every kid does it; it's what being a kid is all about. Some kids do it multiple times. So I've been to ERs, what, 10 times or so with my children over the past 30 years. The most recent occurred on November 23rd; I probably mentioned it in this blog.

Back to the Kafkaesque billing papers some bureaucrat at Blue Shield bestowed on me. I guess I'll just list the numbers: $260, $51, $187, $3,518. In case your calculator isn't handy, that is a total of $4,016 in charges for one two-hour visit, the great majority of which was spent in the waiting room, holding my groggy kid and trying to minimize the bleeding after his accident.

The insurance giant congratulates itself of disallowing $1,190 of these clearly inflated charges (Blue Shield proudly calls these "network savings,") to which I say "TMI" -- TOO MUCH INFORMATION -- or something a pithier commenter would label for what it is, B.S.

The bottom line, after the hospital and the insurer have had their way with one another, is $2,826 in "billable costs." And the actual bottom line, for me, is $974.20. So, after a deluge of unnecessary detail that only succeeds in convincing your truly that he indeed the one getting screwed here, I am being told that this brief visit, where an apparently non-indicated technology was employed (a CatScan), cost almost three thousand smackers, and that I should therefore feel grateful to only have to come up with a thousand of them.

Why is it, instead of comfort, I feel as if I am the one getting smacked here?

So, I say, keep it up, Michael Moore. We the people have precious few leaders willing to take on the Medical-Insurance Complex and attempt to foment change. We rarely go into the streets protesting, but that's just because each of us sits slumped in his or her chair, staring in disbelief at papers like those staring back coldly at me on this cold, cold afternoon, wondering where the hell the money's supposed to come from.


Grass Power

(No, not that kind, Doobie Brothers.)

Regular old grass turns out to be the toughest species on earth, according to the excellent BBC series Planet Earth, one of young environmentalist Dylan's favorites, which we watched with him recently.

The grasses of Africa sustain the largest and most varied herds of animals on earth, but grass grows everywhere, even in the polar icecap. In his book, The World Without Us, Alan Weisman details how grasses and other plants would quickly reclaim our cities, towns, highways, and farms once human beings became extinct.

I was reminded of both during today's walk through the Mission District, when I saw blades of grass spurting up through the cracks in sidewalks, courtesy of our recent winter rains. Winter here is our greenest season, almost the diametric opposite of life in Michigan, where I grew up...

Speaking of Michigan, and long ago times, an old friend, Tom Miller, who has commented on my blogs from time to time, sent this precious example of the way we looked then. This particular photo includes Tom and my sister Kathy. I don't think any of us recall the occasion, or who the photographer was...


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

I was thinking of my father today, and my mother. The last time we were together on January 1st was the last time we ever would be all alive together. Our tradition was to watch the Michigan football team's bowl games together, and that is exactly what we did on January 1, 1999. nine years ago. Dad died a couple nights later. But Michigan won that day, a come-from-behind victory over Arkansas.

Today, five years after my Mom died, I watched Michigan play in a bowl game alone. It was perhaps the most exciting game I've ever watched. Michigan came from behind to beat Florida, 41-35. Florida's Heisman-Trophy winning quarterback couldn't compete with Michigan's Chad Henne, who passed for 373 yards.

Michigan's offense generated well over 500 yards and held Florida to more than 100 less. It was a pretty sight.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Underlying Visions

For the first time in a while, I got to show a visitor my city Sunday afternoon. Accompanied by not one, but two, lovely Japanese citizens, I drove through the city's neighborhoods, from the financial district downtown, past Chinatown and through North Beach, the wharf to Fort Mason.

After lunch at Greens, our tour continued through the Marina Green, Chrissy Field, and down to ancient Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

This is one of favorite spots in San Francisco, where the sounds and smells of the Bay surrounded us on a cold, sunny day. It is easy to imagine the life of the Civil War soldiers stationed here among these drafty old brick walls, with arches and stairways and lookout towers and cannons awaiting enemies who never arrived.

All the military bases in the immediate Bay Area have been returned to the cities and state of California governments, and they've been transformed into national parks, universities, or centers for NGOs.

Eventually, we made our way through the Presidio, and over to the Pacific Coast just by sundown, past Baker Beach, Seal Rock, Land's End, and the Cliff House, overlooking the wide expanse of ocean beach. Hundreds of people were still walking the beach at sunset.

Then, back through Presidio and Pacific Heights and Lincoln Park to the Richmond, along Clement Street with its Cantonese markets with signs in kanji script, which both my companions can discern meanings.

We then proceeded over to the Haight, and the Castro, Noe Valley, Dolores Park, 24th Street, the Mission, and the Valencia corridor, which its many used bookshops, restaurants, and salons.

Finally, down through the outer Mission and lower Potrero to China Basin, where a flurry of building activity harkens the arrival of UCSF's biotechnology complex spreading all the way from 16th Street on the bayfill to the Third Street Canal, and the Giants' stadium.

Through Mulimedia Gulch and South Park, past the former offices of Rolling Stone and the once-and-present office of Wired, we re-entered downtown at the financial district and drove our friend up to her boutique hotel near Union Square.

It was a nice way to survey the city on the last Sunday of the year. Meanwhile, as I write this, it is the last Monday of the year and in fact the last day of any kind for 2007.

With that in mind, may I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, joyous, sexy, funny, sustainable 2008! Happy New Year!