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Monday
Dec172018

Coyote on Divisadero

Of world mammals 96% of the world's biomass is now human and livestock, which means that just 4% is wild.

And there are now more dogs in San Francisco than children.

A friend of mine said he saw a coyote run across Divisadero Street the other day. For those of you not familiar with Divisadero Street, it is a what I would consider a major urban traffic artery that runs north to south in the city. The stretch of Divisidero where my friend saw the coyote is particularly urban, with restaurants, bars, clubs and at least one marijuana dispensary.

I happened to be walking along Divisadero the other day, not looking for the coyote but thinking for some reason about pop culture and my relatively new loathing of it. I used to be quite a consumer of pop culture, literally and figuratively pop culture played a major part in my life. Andy Warhol was my favorite painter then, and James Rosenquist my second favorite. The writing of Barry Yourgrau was important to me, and before Barry Yourgrau, Richard Brautigan. These artists and writers are all quite wonderful in their way, but ultimately none of them led me to anything I hadn't already seen or heard, which is as good a definition of pop culture as I can now come up with, even though I suppose I could make a case that it was High pop culture that appealed to me rather than Low pop; pop culture's really all the same in the way that a dog is a dog whether the dog's a Great Dane or an Irish Setter.

Walking along Divisadero I started counting the people who were using their 'devices' while walking: 7 of 10, or thereabouts, were on their iPhones or Androids or whatever they're called. It occured to me that had the coyote appeared along Divisadero at the time these people on their devices were walking along the street they might not have seen the coyote. These people were seeking different information, and who was I to question what they were seeking? Besides, others have written much better than I could ever hope to write about the distractions of technology and the new-fangled distribution methods of mass media...still it seemed kind of sad to me that so many people were consulting their devices while out in the urban wild.

Walking, I patted the front right pocket of my jeans to make sure my iPhone was there--it was, so I continued walking along Divisadero. As I walked I adjusted my thinking, from negative to positive: the iPhone is the summum bonum of pop culture, there simply couldn't be a greater achievement, the iPhone and its many competing manifestations have managed to encapsulate and express both the spirit and substance of pop culture to the degree that pop culture no longer needs expression; and the people using the these devices are hunter-gatherers in their own right.

I can't begin to describe to you how good it felt to have this feeling! I was able to see the world in a whole new light. That it's ok to live in the Anthropocene Age, the world shaped almost exclusively by human beings, and that I could even be proud of where I was, released into the new wilderness beyond Pop culture where not even Post-modernism could harm me.

Friday
Dec142018

Doing Nothing: guest blog by Thomas D. Raher

Doing nothing is nearly oxymoronic, because it implies the absence of action. Herein lies the conundrum: there is a great deal of activity, mostly mental, involved in doing nothing.

And don't you love the sound of doing nothing? It's quite melodious. Actually the sound of the words themselves, doing nothing, is the first of many thoughtful diversions in the art of doing nothing. Just imagine the time spent comfortably applying musical references, sounds, songs, rhymes, even visualizing dance routines, to the fluid "ing" "ing" of doing nothing. I think you're getting the gist, or at least this simple example may set the tone for my explanation.

I've had just cause to try, however ineptly, to define doing nothing. The notion began harmlessly after I retired from regular, daily employment, Friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers on the street, would ask, somewhat bewildered, "what do you do now?" What do I do now? Well my first reaction, being of a slightly confrontational nature, was to reply, "whatever I damn well please, thank you very much!" But I realized those good folks asking were generally curious, as most were of my age: retirement loomed and they were confused. I'd observed over time, work colleagues, as well as the average Joe, whether a bank executive or a lineman for the county, all stigmatized themselves by the belief that what they did for a living defined them. Their self-induced identity was job-related, hence their consciousness, their sense of self, was chained unrealistically to their professional status.

I first and foremost realized separation from the mental identity of the working me was crucial in the transition to a new and better me, where anxiety plays a lesser role. But I also found that people's habits aren't easily changed or discarded: this realization is a critical phase in the passage from doing something to doing nothing. All I can say at this juncture is the more nothing you do, the easier it becomes. Doing nothing can take all day if you don't try to hard.

There's another rather pertinent aspect to doing nothing, which is linked to the work related identity crisis identified above, and that is guilt. Our Judeo-Christian culture is steeped in guilt. There's guilt for most everything we do, guilt for not coming to a complete stop, guilt for not saying "I love you," guilt for calling in sick, guilt for oogling that beautiful woman, and the guilt goes on. And guilt, perhaps the greatest guilt, is feeling guilty for doing nothing, for not producing. But why?

I truly believe people wake up in the morning and think to themselves, if I don't do something my day is wasted. They feel guilty. Here's what I differ. In my long and happy journey to acheive nothing, or at least to do nothing, I've eliminated guilt. Some days it takes a good long while disassociating guilt with anything I'm not doing. I began to make doing nothing into an art form: my days not wasted because what I do or don't do is guilt free. This concept allows a certain freedom--a freedom to open my mind and absorb, of letting the world in through silence, solitude, through the act of doing nothing! My senses became more alive. The "ings" of living, seeing, listenind, feeling, yes loving--these action are the essence of doing nothing. My point of course is that doing nothing is full of action. The key then is learning, acknowledging, accepeting the reality of the moment, the doing it, being it, enjoying it.

When I make coffee in the morning I recognize it's only the beginning of my doing nothing. I have the good fortune, knock on wood, to live on a corner, with floor to ceiling windows. This particular environment is invaluable to doing nothing. I can spend an entire morning, and afternoon if I so choose, staring at a moveable feast, to use another author's fine line, out the window. Watching the parents walking their children to school, staring at the regular dog walkers, and making sure their dogs don't poop on my stretch of sidewalk, checking out the senior ladies marching back and forth on their exercise walk, or, and most befuddling, watching the car-parkers trying to squeeze again and again into a space too small. Often after a good long sampling of these endeavors, my mind searches the vault of memory for corresponding experiences. I relive walking to school, the proverbial mile in the snow. I can remember the wild Weimaraner we had, who strew the neighbors garbage all over the alley, I relive parallel parking with ease, to the astonishment of the officer monitoring the driving exam, all this through doing nothing. I say, time well spent.

If guilt-free thinking still seems less than adequate for doing nothing, there's the act of walking, which I consider to be doing nothing in motion. I will meander to the bank, well not really for there's no need to anymore, to the deli, or to the post office. I always carry my iPhone which is, I admit, addicting. I especially use the camera to record and share interesting and unique visuals of our beautiful city. These meanderings can zig and zag leading me nowhere in particular, but when I return home I'm full of wonder--the wonder of doing nothing. And as the day wanes like the winter moon, I'm aware I haven't even read the next chapter of the more than a few novels I have at arm's length, or tuned into the intriguing detective series I love on cable tv. You see, there is more of nothing that I can save for tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. Doing nothing is time consuming and endless if only you embrace it.

I've found as I age and my world shrinks, doing nothing can actually expand the world, the world that matters most to me, the world in my head, my mind.

Living

learn-ing

stand-ing

stare-ing

listen-ing

laugh-ing

sing-ing

touch-ing

love-ing

think-ing

walk-ing

feel-ing deeply

You get the picture, doing nothing is not doing nothing!

As Sam Wainwright said, "See ya in the funny papers!"

 

The Autobiography of Thomas D. Raher:

I'm a life-long union worker and an Army Veteran. When I stand up I lean to the left. Most importantly, humor floats our family boat. I'm retired, old, and struggle with the unconditional joy of being a grandfather. Old and Lucky! Hmmmm!

Mr. Raher lives in San Francisco. His book, "Letters from a Working Stiff," is available from Lulu. Lulu.com

Tuesday
Dec112018

A place with good food

The Yellow Vests in France: what I could have said here yesterday is that they represent what leaders of every democracy now fear: that a potent blend of progressive and populist forces, motivated by both ambition and rejection, would come together in some form of virulent political opposition to the corporate state. We just might see be seeing in France that epochal moment when the bourgeoisie join the proletariat to create a situation where anything might happen.

Leadership doesn't know what to do, how could it? Everything Marx predicted appears to be coming true: capitalism is exhausted, so hungry it's eating its own tail, though I can't imagine anyone in service to political and social justice now who would be willing to have their head cut off or their throat slit, as they might have been in the salad days of democracy, can you?

Monday
Dec102018

Little dialog, with photo

The Yellow Vests in France, god bless them. And what if they, the French, have once more inspired us to behave democratically?

Waking after a good night's sleep, and yet without the clarity to read the morning newspaper: is this a problem I'm having with my eyes or with the world as it is?

My wife's kind enough to read passages to me from the morning paper: 14 associates of our president had consequential contact with Russians during the 2016 election.

"Please stop there," I say, "that's enough."Exterior, le Corbusier's Unite d'habitation, Marseille, France, 2016. Photo by author.

Friday
Dec072018

Note to The Empire: don't drop the casket

As we now know, former US President George H.W. Bush, not to be confused with George W. Bush, is dead and finally buried.

The whole spectacle, the death beginning in Texas and subsequently flown to Washington D.C. for a State Funeral as it's called in the nation's capitol; the death then lying "in state" in the Capitol Rotunda, a privilege last accorded the death of televangelist Billy Graham, which should tell us something about the empire; the State Funeral itself a spectacle (See video of Trump taking off his overcoat and handing it to his page, sitting down in his front row seat like he's about to watch a heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas, and the cold curiosity he's aroused in former Presidents, including former ex-officio President Dick Cheney sitting in the second row); the death then being flown back to Texas on Air Force One for a slightly smaller downhome spectacle starting at an Episcopal Church in Houston with a glorious endorsement from the pulpit and a mighty swelling of love from angelic choirs; progressing from there to a 70-mile train trip on a blue and gray locomotive commissioned in honor of the dead 41st president and, finally, to permanent internment of death beside his already dead wife and daughter.

Cost to American taxpayers? An estimated half-billion dollars.

Following tradition for presidential funerals, the federal government shut down on Wednesday. That paid holiday alone cost upwards of $450 million in holiday pay and labor. For the record, President Ronald Reagan's death and subsequent funeral in 2004 cost $423 million, a figure that, if adjusted for inflation, would be $566 million today. 

The presidential plane, Air Force One, carrying the dead Bush to Washington D.C. then back to Texas, as authorized by Trump, which includes former President George W. Bush and other Bush relatives, carries a $200,000 per hour price tag, adding at least $2 million in travel expenses. A 21-plane military flyover, honoring the dead president's service during World War II, tacked on another $126,000. Increased security, hard-to-track costs such as lost labor time etc., and incidentals will certainly boost the cost. Couldn't that money and those resources, that money, have been spent more productively?

The spectacle Debord identified fits perfectly here: "The spectacle is the acme of ideology, for in its full flower it exposes and manifests the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, enslavement, and negation of real life." Any illusion that this country is not an empire subsisting on spectacle is shattered when one witnesses the lengths to which the empire goes to create the spectacle, and weighs the cost of its creation in terms of other, real, pressing needs--education, a cleaner environment, less poverty. It this weren't an empire, if there was no such thing as an imperial presidency, a president's death would cost no more or less than the death of a common citizen, if there is such a thing.

Watching this particular spectacle the other night on C-Span, having once met George H. W. Bush, a very nice man, I thought: now, in a way it's never seemed before, the new world order is death.