Friday, January 30, 2009

The Two Wolves

Perhaps everyone heard the "parable" a woman minister presented in the church the Obamas attended on the morning of the Inauguration:


An elder cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."

The children thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old cherokee simply replied,"The one you feed."

The January 30, 2009, Bill Moyers Journal had a great exchange about U.S. bombing of Pakistan and Afghanistan:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My New Walking Stick

Thank you, friend Carrie, for the wonderful walking staff.

Walking home from BART, I passed the new cathedral in Oakland and decided to go in to see if there was some other photograph I would like to take there. As often happens, something I wanted to photograph -- the bottom part of a stained glass window -- was so low that I had get down on one knee (not to pray!) And, as happens lately, getting up again was quite a challenge -- so it was heaven to have that beautiful, serpentine staff to lean on and pull myself up again. Did I say, "Thank you, Carrie?"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Bush/Obama Transition Sonnet

The time was dark, the mood was blue.
Did Worry grumble in your head? – that fool,
I know, is hard to shake – the darker me and you.
Our careless hours were shackled by the rule,

so long, of men whose arrogance offended.
(While we felt lost, they just don’t feel.)
For our shame and anguish, they pretended
we need only pray, join the Army, steal.

Our godless night is coffin cold, but safe.
No phantoms of regret or hope to rock
our feelings up and down. Just relief.
Here no ranting priest warns us of the shock
of a hot hell, or disdains our childish fright.
Embrace nothing. Love someone. Shine bright.

Remember Them

I hope everyone had a chance to see the PBS documentary narrated by Peter Coyote, “Torturing Democracy,” a good follow-up to Academy Award winning “Taxi to the Dark Side.” As Joe Klein column said in his column in TIME, 19 January 2009, if there is to be a Bush Memorial in Washington it should feature “a statue of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner in cruciform stress position – the real Bush legacy. … On Feb. 7, 2002, [George W. Bush] signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention – the one regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners taken in wartime – did not apply to members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. That signature led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It was his single most callous and despicable act. It stands at the heart of the national embarrassment that was his presidency.“

Many will avoid seeing film of the tortures or reading accounts of them, but I hope that no-one will forgot those who made it possible – because in the years to come, these people will show up again, all white-washed, and many will forget who they are, as they have with past villains. They will grow rich, of course, with memoirs and delivering lectures, etc., and will look like perfectly respectable human beings. But remember their names.

Remember that the August 2002 Justice Department “torture memo,” requested by the then White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, was written by John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer, and Jay Bybee. The memo argued that as commander in chief, the president could order torture without fear of criminal liability, and that in any event the torture statute did not prohibit threats of death, as long as the threatened death was not imminent….” Involved all along were Douglas Feith, “a leading neoconservative and undersecretary of defense for policy;" William Haynes, Dept. of Defense General Counsel; David Addington (Dick Cheney’s legal counsel at the time); and Donald Rumsfeld.

As reported in David Cole’s “What to Do About the Torturers?” The New York Review of Books, 15 January 2009, “The tactics used by the CIA in its interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other ‘high-level’ detainess, including waterboarding, were specifically approved in the White House situation room by Vice President Dick Cheney, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ashcroft is reported to have remarked that ‘history will not judge us kindly,’ …”

Remember the names of these villains, as later they will be presented as innocents.

As described in the Joe Klein article and in the documentary, “Torturing Democracy,” the program “called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), in which various forms of torture are simulated to prepare U.S. special-ops personnel for the sorts of treatment they might receive if they’re taken prisoner” was instead used as instruction on how to torture. “The Bush Administration decided to have SERE trainees instruct its interrogation teams on how to torture prisoners. … Prisoners held by the U.S. were tortured – first at Guantanamo Bay and later in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Armed Services Committee reported details of the techniques used on one prisoner”: Over fifty-four days, beginning in late 2002, Mohammed al-Qahtani [al-Khatani] was interrogated for eighteen to twenty hours each day, denied anything more than four hours sleep per night, threatened by military dogs, stripped naked, hooded, forced to wear women’s underwear on his head, humiliated sexually by female interrogators, made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks, subjected to extreme heat and cold and loud music and loud noises, doused with cold water, and injected with intravenous fluid and not allowed to go the bathroom so that he urinated on himself. And yet this does not convey the nature of the tortures nearly so well as the images shown in “Torturing Democracy.”

Let any make amends in any way they can, but do not forget the history of these citizens (Please add in a Comment the names of any I may have neglected to list):

George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Douglas Feith, William Haynes, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, John Ashcroft, Condolezza Rice, Colin Powell. They will all show up on your television as if reputable people – you know, like the villains of the Nixon and Reagan regimes.

[The sight of people wearing signboards, or costumes -- living advertisements -- is so reminiscent of the Great Depression, and looks like "slavery continued." But as this man said, "I need to help my children."]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Grand Lake Marquee, Post-Inauguration

Inauguration Day 2009

At 6:30 a.m. I was at friend Victor's place so that we could watch the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama. Then we took a walk around the Mission District. We stopped in at Carlo's Bar. Later, we sat in the playground across the street from Victor. A mother tried to pacify her child who was intent on getting ice cream from the ice cream cart that had already passed. We watched a young Palestinian-American from the neighborhood as he lovingly played with his little sister. (Watch this way, or 'VIEW ALL IMAGES.")

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009


"Sen. Barack Obama is surrounded by supporters' hands...."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On the marquee of the local theater

Around Lake Merritt This Time of Year

To stroll around the bird sanctuary that is Lake Merritt is to enjoy the contorted movements of birds. But I did not realize until informed by Jacqueline Marie, a friend in the neighborhood, that our White American Pelican is not going to disappear. Jacqueline has let me know that he cannot fly, and was himself flown down from the Northwest to live in this refuge:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Matinee at the Symphony

11 January 2009

It is January in Oakland, and, for this native American, that signifies the Moon of the Dancing Gulls. As I walk along the edge of Lake Merritt on the way to BART, I see the seagulls dancing on the grass as they do at this time each year; they stamp with one leg, then the other, on the rain-wet earth, to make the worms lift their heads from the earth and be eaten.

Sunday Matinee at the Symphony.
The audience for a matinee, and especially for the lecture before the concert, has a uniform look that is elderly. Most decorative are the white-haired women: the curly white swansdown of the well-coiffeured; sometimes white clouds of hair; sometimes molded meringue. On the other extreme are heads where thin grey hairs look like old mopheads long in service. There are the pebbled stretches of men completely bald. Others have a yamulka of bare skin at the back of their heads (why yamulkas came to be, I suppose) where the hair is still black or brown; others, mostly bald, have a laurel wreath of hair. Here is a head where the hair is the straight, grey wing of a graceless, aging crow, indifferent to appearance. Some grey hair is short as a clipped poodle’s; with others, the short hair is so soft that it looks like matted cobwebs. While all the clothing on the elderly (I am one of that crowd) is dark, there in their midst is a bright red coat – a younger woman, yet her hairdo has the indifference of some of the elderly – long and brown, but pulled straight up to a drab brown clip; it looks like an imported palm tree with the branches still tied up.

Michal Tilson Thomas begins the concert with Copland’s “Music from the film OUR TOWN (1940).” I had never heard the music of Copland when I experienced certain feelings in a Hoosier village of 300 and then a small town of 5,000, but precisely those feelings were there again with me as the Copland piece unfolded – one of the mysteries of Copland’s art: It is uncanny how Copland captures the essence of small towns and out of the way places. It may have something to do with what MTT had to say between that piece and the Berg “Three Pieces for Orchestra (1915/1929)” that followed – that the Copland "sounds like familiar melodies.”
Oddly, while it is music that evokes it, what the Copland hedges for me with the music are the familiar silences of small towns and obscure places. He does not include the wail of a train going through town in the middle of the night, but something is there of the silence before and after that wail. Something too about coming to a break in the canopy of trees where you see the long, long way to a star, and in your head, you hear a note like the high A minor that passing train made, a tone that connects you to that star with a silver thread. It also evokes walking through empty Sunday morning streets, all the Christians gathered into the many chuches, and hearing from a distance the organ playing or the trance-like singing of soporific hymns, , while the maple leaves applaud silently above, nature celebrating that it is not in a church where the atmosphere is funereal. The music partakes of the silence of the view down long, empty tree-lined streets, where the music is all inside the heart experiencing the loneliness and obscurity of individual life in such a place, or just on the earth in general. But I think it is mostly the nesting of the wind in tree after tree high above the houses and over the lives of the people in a small town, like the spirit of sweet obscurity hovering over Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.” The breeze is the music, or the music is the breeze that moves high up in the trees that, in their motion, comprise the green river that flows over the small town lives of the happily concealed.

Although a sharp contrast, I felt equally at home with the Berg pieces, but they describe an internal landscape, the modern mind. It carried you down a thousand strange streets just as we subjected to an endless variety of experiences in our own lives and in the lives we witness on the earth. At one point, the music lead me into a strange and ominous fantasy, but that kind of music is at home in most of us, and we do not fear it. It felt as strange as dream logic, and yet we are familiar with dream logic, so much so that one nearby member of the audience (we looked at each with amusement as we heard) was soon snoring softly. I understood what dream he was having. While MTT tried to prepare people for Berg's wild and “demanding” music, such music, in its daring, is also constantly surprising, and not foreign to this mind.

I was surprised that I had not noticed before how the woodwinds are like the conversationalists of the orchestra; located dead center on stage, they personalize the music with their individual voices, while other parts of the orchestra tend to be their chorus, the rest of the community adding to their comments. (This is a generalization that will not always apply!)

Finally, Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 was a familiar and comfortable pleasure, of course. What is most remarkable to me about Brahms is that he, more than any other, I think, writes music that makes the orchestra “breathe.” More than going for any special effect or startling impression, the orchestra, with his music, seems an organic being breathing on the stage, a special quiet miracle.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The " 'Immature' Black Crowned Night Heron"

"Immature" Black Crowned Night Heron -- and one mature Black Crowned Night Heron. "VIEW ALL IMAGES":

B E A U T Y ? ?

On Mission Street. You may want to click 'VIEW ALL IMAGES."

The Death of Bob Wilkins

I had read recently that Bob Wilkins, Oakland KTVU host of late-night horror films, "Creature Features," in the 1970s was living in Reno now and suffering the effects of Alzheimer's. In 10 January 2009 editions of the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle are accounts of his death. At my age, 72, the people I would like to advise about Bob's death are either dead themselves, or I have lost contact with them. The blog Scott Moon has maintained on Wilkins has a good slide show of the "look" of Bob Wilkins. I sent Moon these thoughts:

For my last two years at Indiana University, Bob and I were constant companions, most frequently having a beer in one Bloomington, Indiana, bar or another (sometimes in a wonderful stonecutters' bar where the music was great and the night usually ended with a drunken brawl -- where everyone was too drunk to land a real punch). I had the delight of hearing Bob's humorous take on the general population passing by wherever we were, as well as hearing about his dreams for being a professional comedian. He gave me an assortment of short stories (and I mean "short," of paragraph length) -- beautifully absurd pieces, and I sent them to him many years ago in case he had not kept copies. I hope he did further writing in that vein after he left TV, while continuing before and after as a very successful advertising man, his talents there described in the obituary articles.

It is fun, on the slide show on his website, to see Bob at the age when I knew him. Barely surviving when I first came to San Francisco, then in the Army for two years, then back to the low-paying jobs a poet takes, I did not have a television set until around age 33, so I was unaware that Bob Wilkins was in the Bay Area, and hosting horror films on TV, but I was with a group of people one night who were describing the TV host for late night horror films, and from the way they described him, fascinated with him, I said, "Is his name Bob Wilkins?!" And they were talking about Bob.

When I realized that Bob was in the Bay Area, I saw that it was unlikely that an impoverished gay poet could renew the friendship with Bob, especially as Bob never seemed to understand non-success. (In college it was the classic Lit Major/Business Major friendship -- a friendly banter). Bob knew how to make money and he was taking care of business like any grown-up, especially as he had become a family man. I recall in college how he told me that while in a sanitarium, recovering from TB, he started following the stock page, then investing in stocks, and he left the sanitarium with enough money to buy his folks a house and to put himself through college. Bob described the tedium of having to lie still for months and how that led him to the small physical exertion of watching stocks rise and fall. He told me how a man in the next room received visitors one day who brought him two or three oranges that he placed on his window sill. Perhaps my memory dramatizes when I recall Bob saying that he heard the man fall in the next room. In any case, within hours after the man's visitors left, the man was dead. Bob, himself feeling the shadow of his own possible death, said how strange it felt to see those oranges, so vibrant, almost seeming to glow in the sunlight on the man's window sill, while the man lay dead.
For me, of course, the memory is of something about Bob that I can only describe as "silky" -- the apparently thread-like texture of his blond hair, the thin hands that he moved with a sort of surgeon-like delicacy, and his thin pursed lips that delivered his incisive observations. I am not sure that I missed the accuracy of his wit as I watched him skewer people with a description -- but that is the way of a lot of comedians, I believe, almost their duty to puncture illusions.

I suppose that somewhere in my old cardboard boxes I may have accounts of times with Bob Wilkins, but I think I could not find them in time for them to be of any importance to his family. I certainly remember many incidents and moments. I wish Bob could have fulfilled his original wish to be a sort of buttoned down Bob Newhart kind of comedian -- He certainly had the talent, and people would have taken to him, I thought, as I know I found him delightful. I notice that the Oakland obituary by Pat Craig mentions Bob's "fairly jaundiced view" of his horror film presentations. Bob's view was fairly jaundiced about everything when I knew him! I will never forget our first encounter when mutual friends thought we should meet. Bob was speaking in favor of some African-American celebrity -- Nancy Wilson, I think -- I don't remember the particulars but he seemed to feel such a particular passion about the subject that I asked, "Why is this so important to you?" Without a second's hesitation, pale white Bob said, "Because I'm Black."

Although our friendship was at the end of the 1950s, I remember Bob with genuine love; he was very important in my life during my last two years in college, and I hope that he had years of happiness and that his final years were not too difficult. Peace and love to his family.

Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer, "Bob Wilkins -- host of KTVU's 'Creature Features'"

Pat Craig, "Former late-night TV host dead at age 76"

Outgoing S.F. Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman and Gaza

Outgoing Poet Laureate, Jewish-American radical, Jack Hirschman delivers his angry verse about Gaza in the Civic Center, San Francisco; then downtown; then the Castro District.... Hit VIEW ALL IMAGES: