Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quest for the Golden Root

At one of the Buddhist joints I regularly meditate with a group at, someone had left a recipe for a master cleanse tonic that alleged to even fight or cure the plague (!) in addition to "gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria," inflammation, viruses, and other maladies.

As you can see, it's a pretty intense recipe using household/supermarket hot items, vinegar, and two weeks' worth of fermentation, or -- more accurately, perhaps -- marination before use. I kinda screwed up the ratios and the recipe (I've never been one for recipes or following instructions in general) -- I used both ginger root and rehydrated (with the vinegar) dry ginger, so the recipe's a little ginger-heavy. I ripped up the habanero peppers (2) with my bare hands for some odd reason and later on found I had gotten habanero on my schmeckel. (Ouch.) AND I couldn't find horseradish root to save my life, which began the Quest for the Golden (Horseradish) Root. 

Above is a picture of the mash mixture, with a distinctive yellow color from turmeric (I used powder rather than root). The instructions are to siphon off the liquid and drink, then cook something spicy with the dry ingredients left over (I'm thinking an Indian dish or a Filipino adobo). I left some room for the horseradish.

Since I work in San Francisco, I set off for Chinatown, reasoning that a Chinese grocer would probably carry horseradish root. However, all I found was souvenir shops, restaurants, and traditional medicine herb shops, but no grocery. I thought about asking at a herb store, and even translated the English to Chinese, but I try not to support Chinese traditional medicine, as I think it's largely based in pseudoscience and superstition, and is having a devastating impact on many endangered species (such as rhinos). Plus, I was beginning to get depressed in Chinatown -- the sad-looking, overpriced food that'd been sitting out all day, the cheap touristy crap, the fact that China was once a great Buddhism-embracing country but is now an environmentally-ravaged (and human rights-ravaged) second world country that has sadly gone capitalist (or what Zizek calls "Asian capitalism"). I got out of there and headed to the Italian-American part of SF (North Beach) with its bright, gaudy strip clubs and cool stores like City Lights Books, the Beat Museum, and the Zoetrope Cafe.

My gf suggested I go to Whole (ugh) Foods for the root, and she was right -- fount it there. Horseradish is interesting -- before you cut it, it smells almost like jicama or nothing at all, but gets that distinctive horseradish bite and heat when the root is injured, which is a defense mechanism it has in the wild.

I've been sick on and off for going on two months with every single virus that goes around (and I take public transit and work with homeless people), so I'm hoping this tincture will live up to its almost snake oil-esque hype and claims. I like that it's all-natural and root-based for the most part. I don't like raw onion, but hopefully it'll be tempered by the marination process. All the ingredients have known and scientifically-verified health benefits to the body, so maybe the thinking is that putting it all together with vinegar creates a supertonic. Here's hoping! Plague be gone! Stay tuned for results.....

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

photo in Adbusters

I have a full-page photo in the latest Adbusters magazine (issue #123, Manifesto for World Revolution Part 6). I took it in the 2nd crappiest part of San Francisco, and I'd love to know who did the collage I photographed, and give them credit. See if you can find the photo in the magazine; it's toward the back. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Does the Center Hold?

I've been thinking lately about what the central focus is of people, families, even entire cultures. For example, as is sadly the case today, incarceration and its effects has, unfortunately, become central for far too many Black families.* In other words, much of daily life, even life over years and decades, gets defined and directed by incarceration. What about other ethnicities? This is such a sweeping question as to almost be meaningless, but I would tend to think that work is the central focus of other ethnicities, and here I am thinking specifically of American cultural groups. Since the standard definition of full-time employment is the 40-hour workweek, that means that the majority of the average working individual's day is spent in some kind of workplace, thus making work central to life. Since the days of an individual earner's income being able to support an entire family are largely gone, women, for example, are increasingly found in the workplace, as are, sadly, older workers (senior citizens) whose retirement, savings, and Social Security cannot keep up with the cost of living. So across age and gender, with a current 6% unemployment rate (which I suspect is not accurate), a lot of people are working in the US, and therefore work is central to millions of people's lives.

In the recent, second Republican presidential candidate debate, there was a funny moment when multiple candidates scoffed at the "French work week," ie working less than the 40-hour US standard. Besides work, especially the notion of hard work, being a perhaps quintessential part of the American character, my suspicion is that politicians in general of all stripes fear an underemployed populace, because then people would have more time for activism, rebellion, and imagination. While work is to some degree unavoidable and a necessary part of surviving/making a living, there is also an element of work that provides people with an identity, serves as a means of social control, sometimes leads to workaholism, and keeps people too busy or distracted to engage in activism, rebellion, and imagining alternatives to how society is currently structured and run. Thus it has been said that work is the cornerstone of capitalism, and critiques have been leveled at work specifically as part of more overarching attacks on capitalism itself. See the writings of Bob Black (author of The Abolition of Work, Anarchy After Leftism, and Debunking Democracy) or Work by the Crimethinc folks.

If work is not central to people, often times people will say that their family, creative passion, or activist work is central to them, which is admirable. In a potentially meaningless universe filled with a seemingly infinite amount, and permutations of, suffering, people need something to live for, a focus, drive, passion. So: what is your center? What is central to your life?

* This tends to impact lesser-educated, poorer, lower socio-economic Black families, of course; I am fully aware of middle-class Black families, the black intelligentsia, etc, whose central focus may not be incarceration. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Taking Lives: an Unconventional Reading of Horror Film 'The Taking of Deborah Logan'

During October, we watch a lot of horror movies in an attempt to scare my almost unscareable gf, Claire. (We succeeded recently by watching Creep.) She isn't scared by supernatural stuff (nor really am I), exorcisms (although she hasn't seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose), or paranormal ghost stuff. We laughed at Paranormal Activity. We watched The Taking of Deborah Logan recently, which is about an old woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease who may have something more sinister going on. (I'll try not to spoil it too much.)

One interesting thing I noticed about Deborah Logan is that, rather unintentionally I believe, it illustrates very plainly the state of race relations in the U.S. In the film, the old white woman (a rather remarkable, physical performance by Jill Larson) gets progressively worse in her disease (or whatever is going on), becoming a danger to herself and others around her. She becomes quite violent and bizarre in her affect. Yes: it's an interesting premise, that someone deteriorating from a disease could be at risk of some kind of possession, or at least be ambiguous in why they are acting the way they are (is it the Alzheimer's or something else?). The film combines two tried-and-true devices: the found footage approach, and having someone we don't normally think of as threatening/scary -- a thin, frail old lady -- be the monster. (This latter approach has been used with everything from leprechauns to Santa Claus to the Easter Bunny.) The film is creepy, fairly original, and despite some minor flaws and camera logic issues, succeeds, I think, in being spooky, thought-provoking, and worthwhile. It does suffer from a classic ailment affecting horror films, which is to slow burn and build up the creepiness for 3/4 of the movie, then get over the top/heavy-handed at the end. I think it would have been a little better if Mrs. Logan's behavior was never fully understood, kind of like the ultimate ambiguity about Emily Rose's behavior that makes The Exorcism of Emily Rose so good (and scary). But Deborah Logan has lots of WTF images and moments that make it effective, right up until the end. 

But the interesting thing is how much the police, who become involved about halfway through the movie when Mrs. Logan really goes off the deep end and stay a presence to the film's end, are hesitant to just put her down or shoot to wound her, even after she demonstrates time and again that she's highly dangerous. They try to reason with her, they try to handcuff her, they draw their gun but don't aim it at her. It made me think: the times we live in are partially defined by the highly questionable deaths of young Black males at the hands of cops -- it's estimated it's averaging one every 28 hours (!), an issue that stirs fiery debate, emotions, and divisive views. But Deborah Logan, although fiction, illustrates something very real going on: there are different Americas depending on what your socio-economic status is, and the police tend to suffer from the same biases -- known and unconscious -- as anyone. In the film, they seem to do everything possible before -- only as a last resort -- shooting an old white lady from the Southern gentry (the film takes place in Virginia), yet our news is filled with cops who, apparently, far too easily make decisions to use lethal force against (often young) Black people. I just couldn't help noticing this watching the film, and I commented about it on twitter, to which the film's director replied simply, "touche." So I think that some of the film's unexpected valuableness comes from its very vividly and entertainingly showing this double standard that exists, which is often called in academia and liberal-progressive circles "white privilege" or "white bias." You can be a batshit crazy violent white lady and almost get away with murder, but being a Black male you need to be careful reaching for your Skittles. The reasons why things have gotten to be like this are of course complex and didn't come out of nowhere, but with such life-and-death power as the police can (and do) wield, it's a sad state of affairs that one's skin color will largely determine one's treatment in American society and even one's safety and mortality.

One can go even deeper and examine how whether slavery was really abolished in the U.S. or just repackaged (as the Prison Industrial Complex), and historical reasons why such an achievement and standard of living gap exists between races today, but it would be a first step if people who deny police bias or white privilege would watch The Taking of Deborah Logan. If it was intentional on the filmmakers' part to make a subtle commentary on double standards in policing, it's rather brilliant, and if it was unintentional, it's still enlightening.


BART is having issues with overcrowding on its train cars. It's good of course that so many people are taking public transit, which keeps cars off the roads and carbon out of the atmosphere. But it makes for a pretty unpleasant riding experience sometimes, even though however crammed and uncomfortable it is, it's only temporary until people eventually get off at their respective stops.
Today I was crammed next to a woman I found incredible annoying on a crowded Monday morning train. She was a drab white lady in her fifties, no makeup, gray straight hair, with that unfortunate attire of a business casual dress, top, and...running shoes. I'm not a fashionista and am often accused of personal sartorial neglect or apathy, but I find that look of the urban female office worker, with the utter mismatch of running shoes to office attire, just really ugly. But it was what she talked about, in a nasally midwestern accent, that really grated on me. She kept talking about her husband, Bob, who works for Chevron, is retiring soon, has a great team, is working out his retirement health plan, but oh -- and this is where she dropped her voice to conspiratorial whispering to the woman she was talking to (at) -- Bab drank too much recently, and it was really surprising and ugly. The dinner party was only 11 people, but the bill -- from all the wine ordered -- was $1,600! Can you believe that?! She just kept going on and on about Bab. Ah, white Baby Boomers, such an interesting lot. I had to remind myself to do deep cleansing breaths. This drab woman had seemingly infinite energy to talk about the most mind-numbingly quotidian and maddeningly conventional stuff: people, of course, people, people, people. This person is pursuing an ambitious nursing degree. This person blah blah blah. This person woo woo woo. Bab. Bab's daughter in rehab. Bab. It was a reminder of the best thing Sartre probably ever said: Hell is other people. It's also a good reminder to do some metta meditation next time I meditate.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How Jean-Paul Sartre Got Me a (Non-Philosophy) Job

I had an interview at a nonprofit that focuses on helping people affected by incarceration. It was for a case manager position: helping people get jobs, giving them support, helping fund them to get further education and training, etc. Nothing very academic or philosophical -- even though, academically at least, my background is in philosophy and humanities. (Vocationally, I have mainly spent my career so far at nonprofits and in academia; more of the former than the latter.) I interviewed with a very tall, dark Black man, and a spunky white woman. The man would be the supervisor and the woman a colleague/coworker.

The interview was pretty prosaic until Gerald, the man, dispensed with the formality and replied to one of my interview answers, "That's a FUCKING good answer." Things loosened up a bit and Gerald continued, "You're not some kinda nutty professor, are you?" I assured him I wasn't. Gerald scanned my resume. After a pause, he said, "Name your favorite existential philosopher." I was a bit thrown by this. As I found out later, Gerald thought I was thrown by this because, as he describes himself, he is "not your average Negro." But it wasn't so much that, as I don't think as much about western philosophy on a daily basis as I used to, so the question was intriguing. (I think more about Buddhism these days, with a little western philosophy sprinkled in.) I answered "Jean-Paul Sartre," but stated I had some reservations about existentialism that was too Republican/bootstrappy/cold/Darwinian. I rambled a bit about Martha Nussbaum's reaction to existentialism. The interview wrapped up.

I got a phone call shortly after and got the job. Gerald was still talking excitedly about Sartre and especially a book about dying by Sartre's open-relationship ladyfriend, Simone de Beauvoir. See, Gerald, like many of the people at the nonprofit, had been through the criminal justice system at one point (natch), and had spent his time reading up on the great philosophers. He was (is) also proud that, though he spent some of his life going down the wrong path with drugs and incarceration, he is not your average Negro (his words). (As I settled into the job, I noticed Gerald wearing Gil Scott Heron t shirts and using words like "detente." He would hum Pet Shop Boys songs and sardonically express support for Donald Trump: "I am a BLACK TRUMPSTER.")

At one point in my life I did have an academic job using my degree: I spent five years as part of a philosophy department (later merged with humanities and interdisciplinary studies) as a reader/tutor. They were great but financially lean times. I like helping people, thus the nonprofit jobs, and I like academia, but I never thought that the two would come together like they did in the job interview I described above. So, thanks, JP. And thanks, too, Gerald. I owe you guys one.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Sentence Unseen

If you're in the Bay Area, consider checking out The Sentence Unseen, an arts project that focuses on how incarceration of people affects far more people than just those who get locked up. Incarceration, however justified and in some cases necessary, has a collateral damage kind of wave effect that is worth examining.
You can register for it (it's free) here. This exhibition started, aptly enough, on former prison island Alcatraz, and is now going to be shown at the African-American Museum & Library in Oakland.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pet Peeve: Grammar

Much unnecessary capitalizing in an official sign at Kaiser Pharmacy, Oakland, Ca, 9/28/15

One thing that bothers me about American society is that we teach children the rules of English grammar in school, and then we don't reinforce it out in the world. Some of the main things adults seem to struggle with in English are: apostrophes, quotation marks and quoting, and capitalization. Despite my efforts to remind people that apostrophes, though tricky, really aren't as complicated as people make them, people seem to return to their own conceptions of what the grammar rules are. They also do this with capitalization and quotes, and it's an interesting phenomenon that you can remind someone of the right way to do something, and they'll get it in the moment, but then return to their erroneous, habitual ways after awhile. Why is this? 

One can't separate grammar in a notoriously tricky language such as English from social justice: I'm empathetic to the fact that America is an immigrant country, and many people who are ESL struggle with English grammar in its written form. Spanish doesn't use apostrophes, so I understand it's an alien concept. People have different levels of education. I get that. But there's a disconnect between the emphasis we place on the importance of grammar all through American school -- hell, students are graded on it, after all -- and how these rules fall apart out in the marketplace of capitalistic society. 

Take the example above: "patient confidentiality" doesn't need capitalization. Nor does "please" and "receptionist." Health Plan Card is ok since it's a specific proper noun about a specific thing at Kaiser. "Photo" in "Photo ID" needn't be capitalized. Whoever wrote the sign -- and approved it! -- didn't understand how proper nouns work. 

Grammar is important. How we write is an expression of our education, our participation in a social contract, and what's going on in our minds. Grammar is agreed-upon by a culture and is taught uniformly. I'm fine with people breaking the rules -- such as in surrealistic writing, experimental poetry, etc -- but one has to know the rules, first. It's time to align the world outside school with what goes on within its walls. Or at least study why people pass tests as children to know this stuff, and then forget it over time. One good example of this is -- people who make cakes at supermarkets seem to be some of the worst offenders.

Worthwhile Reading

The latest Atlantic has some great articles: "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration" by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a sobering and bleak in-depth article; and Alison Gopnik's article on skeptical British philosopher David Hume and the Buddha is an interesting read. Check both these out.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Geeking Out By Going Within

Longtime meditator and Buddhist author Michael Taft, whom I've had nothing but the pleasure of meditating with and studying under for a number of months now, has a new book out called The Mindful Geek. It's brand spanking new, so I haven't read it yet, but I just ordered it from Amazon. Michael has written previous books about nondualism (subject/object, mind/body, etc) and ego. He's a fantastic meditation leader who has given me a lot of meditation and life skills, based on a kind of American Zen approach rooted in the teachings of Shinzen Young. I think Michael is on the cutting edge of things with this new book, because the newest crop of hybrid Buddhists are the computer/tech geeks who meditate. They make us Dharma Punx look old! But it is so interesting to watch the 2,500-year old tradition of Buddhism and meditation evolve into new and exciting forms. Check Michael's new book out. He's an insightful and beautiful person whom I hold in high regard for the down to earth and helpful ways he's helped me learn to work with my own mind a little more skillfully, compassionately, and richly. (It's also a fire under my tookus to dust off and try and get my own geek-themed manuscript, The World According to Geek (about a fictional carnie geek), published!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Green Inferno

I'm excited about Eli Roth's upcoming Green Inferno. I like the premise that a group of well-intentioned do-gooders trying to help an indigenous tribe.... get eaten by the tribe. Very Grizzly Man-esque. The title of the film comes from the film-within-the-film in the classic movie Cannibal Holocaust, which I've very mixed feelings about. I liked that that movie pushed boundaries and went for broke, but I felt sad about the animals killed in it. We'll see how Roth's vision holds up in the ol' cannibal film canon (one of my favorite genres).

Thursday, September 10, 2015


New Slayer out 9/11/15. Pretty clever packaging it comes in! The video for "Repentless" was filmed in an L.A. prison, which I think is cool, if only that it draws attention to the momentum to reform the prison industrial complex....


One Direction is most decidedly not punk rock, but I have to say: Harry correcting that sign IS PUNKROCK. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mad Max costumes and what they reveal about the films

Found a cool website that focuses on the costuming in all the Mad Max films that actually really helps one go deeper into the films by understanding the various character factions in each movie. For example, Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior's characters, since it's a fast-moving action movie, at first seem like a confusing jumble of post-apocalyptic crazies, but the website really breaks it down nicely. For instance, do you know the difference between a Gayboy Berserker and a Smegma Crazy in MM2/TRW? As many times as I've seen the film, I didn't, either. It's like a complicated piece of music that one can break down into component parts and see how the magic was made.

Some Smegma Crazies from the second Mad Max film (my favorite, along with Fury Road)

3 things

1. Twizzlers Caramel Apple twists are delicious.

2. Critics panned it pretty hard, but I liked Sinister 2. Shannyn Sossamon is easy on the eyes, I liked the rural setting, and I thought the film delivered some jolts and genuine creepiness at times. It also reminded me what an awesome soundtrack Sinister has, which I went back and rediscovered.

3. Some new songs up on Soundcloud to check out

Monday, August 24, 2015

eXistenZ, radicals, earth machines, and bad brains

Jennifer Jason Leigh in eXistenZ
(This is a great one-sentence way to describe anarchism, by the way.)

I watched eXistenZ again for the umpteenth time at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Hardcore Cronenberg film fest, and dang, what a great movie. Reminded me what it's all about. Like, life itself. I also caught something I'd missed before, that what they do in the film's storyline -- go into other states of reality via an organic virtual reality game -- as one character sez, "is just like meditation." Great to see eXistenZ on a large screen with a warm, detailed, colorful analog projection. The film got a round of applause at the end. Hooray for dissociation from reality and complete confusion about what reality is! And the day before at the YBCA, I'd taken in what I think will end up being the definitive Bad Brains documentary, Bad Brains: A Band in DC. Amazing, funny, well-done documentary about the mighty Brains.

Also checked out the Radical Presence exhibit and Earth Machines exhibit at YBCA, both very cool in different ways. The former was composed completely of Black performance artists (Zachary Fabri's spooky, confrontational guerrilla street art in Iceland being my favorite), and the latter was artists reflecting on how our high tech world impacts the environment. The YBCA: what a cool place!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keeping the Guillotined Sharp and Well-Oiled

Related to the previous post on the excellent article in the Atlantic about the coddled Millennial Generation hitting college and their fragility around how people use language, I was reminded of a fun and excellent little book good ol' AK Press published called Guillotined. Guillotined, by Alexander Cockburn and other contributors, looks at popular English phrases being thrown around these days all too casually, and condemns them to death/extinction. I am a naturally highly-observant person, and this includes what I hear. As far as being interested in philosophy, I've always been interested in philosophy of language, and I notice the way people talk (and write). Often, I get disappointed in how people use language, especially when their vocabulary is pretty underdeveloped (but there's no reason it couldn't be more expansive)* or their writing is poor (anyone who knows me knows I cringe at apostrophe errors, unnecessary capitalizations, and general bad grammar).

Here are some words I'd nominate for the chopping block that are currently all the rage:

blessed: I ask people how they are doing, and they say, "Blessed." It seems to carry a covert Xtian undertone, and I've heard this uttered by people who I know are having pretty shitty lives (at least currently).

rockstar: While I understand it's only meant as a positive compliment, it's become overused (job descriptions describe "seeking an x rockstar"), and it's cheesy. Come on. Rock stars exist in this world -- Rush, Lemmy of Motorhead, Joan Jett, whoever -- so let's not let the word include people who aren't literally rock stars. Find some other way to praise someone.

trigger warning: See the Atlantic article mentioned. Trigger warnings do more harm than good by allowing fragile people to avoid what causes them discomfort rather than allowing them to bravely, calmly, and with critical thinking, face what upsets them. Trigger warnings are psychologically ill-advised (compassionate, gradual exposure therapy tends to work best), and also totally unpredictable: as A Clockwork Orange showed, the old man in the wheelchair was "triggered"** by a totally innocent, happy-go-lucky song ("Singin' in the Rain") that was sung when he was initially assaulted. Should we thus ban the song because one person has a bad association with it? Of course not. Everything under the sun could potentially carry a trigger warning, based on what traumatized people have associations with.

microaggression(s): Look, I am not calling for a word's extinction because I believe the concept labeled by the word has no merit. As a white male sensitive to and aware of non-privileged people's experiences, I believe microaggressions occur. But I don't like when these word-concepts become buzzwords. Also, as Lily Tomlin said, "Time wounds all heels." Life is aggressive and traumatizing to everyone, even people living regular, everyday lives. As Iris Murdoch noted in the chapter "Void" in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, even the very privileged, wealthy, insulated class can suffer greatly and deeply. I think the concept behind the word "microaggressions" is valid (even sound), but, like a spice, this word should be used sparingly when really appropriate, not just tossed out casually. Life is harming and aggressive; if we are truly opposed to harm and (micro or macro)aggression, we should adopt, perhaps, an anti-natalist stance.

There are tons more. Buzzwords end up not really saying anything. Bitmoji expressions are cutesy-cutesy but are no substitute for communicating authentically -- and originally. Language is public and agreed-upon, so we necessarily have to speak in a way that others can understand, and language is indeed a virus. But we need to think, and talk, for ourselves.

UPDATE: Here's a pro-trigger warning argument made by a prof of philosophy who is also, incidentally and interesting, a Millennial Generation person. I find it weak and unconvincing. The idea of people calming themselves/dealing with their own issues via a trigger warning, in order to think more clearly, is an intriguing one, but at what cost? People should be thinking clearly anyway, because we all have issues and traumas.

* or as Jay-Z said, "Step up yo vocabularly, ya ignorant motherfucker." (In "Big Pimpin'")
** The word-concept "trigger/triggering" didn't exist when A Clockwork Orange (the film) came out, so this is a bit of an anachronism. But the concept of shell-shock or PTSD (as it's called now) did exist.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Millennials: a Coddled, Curdled Generation

Very disturbing yet well-written and well-reasoned cover story in the latest Atlantic magazine about higher education, hypersensitivity, the new PCness, and how society has changed radically since the days of free range children. A must-read. It really lays out a lot of things that have been bothering me about contemporary American life, helicopter parenting, the Millennial Generation, trigger warnings, and political polarization. Again, thank goodness I was a free range kid and grew up when I did (70s and 80s), before things got really absurd and surreal. My gf just informed me that a pro athlete just returned trophies given to his children for their "participation," saying they hadn't earned those trophies. So there is hope.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wounded Kitten Music

I may look and act relatively normal -- following the rules of society, saying the expected things, going with the flow as much as is bearable -- but inside me is a one man black metal band. (Sounds like a slogan for a T shirt or bumper sticker.)

I realized this when I watched Vice magazine's 3-part documentary on one man metal bands, which I found pretty fascinating. "OMMers have issues, man," my friend Sara writes, "-- they're really just wounded kittens." I had* a one-man band for awhile, and it wasn't for (necessarily) misanthropic reasons, although I do wrestle with misanthropy sometimes. (I didn't have a one man metal band.) OMM bands are interesting to me: I like the embracing of lo-finess as many OMMs do; I like the pain and anguish they openly acknowledge feeling; I like some of their theatrics with face paint, and their fascination with nature, olden times, Norse mythology, death, isolation, winter, etc. Pretty fascinating subculture. For a report on some local (non-1-man) black metal bands, click here.  

* actually, still have

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

For National Night Out 2015, I Met My Devil-Worshipping Black Metal Neighbors from Hayward: Lovely People

Xenotaph, Golden Bull, Oakland, Ca, 8/4/15

Had a great time recently at the ol' Golden Bull in Oakland, who have been booking some very excellent entertainment lately. It also happened to be National Night Out, so while others were at block parties, BBQs, and jumping around jumpy houses, I got to know some black metal bands from the bay area and beyond.
First up was Xenotaph, who had a five foot tall black upside down cross at the foot of their stage, animal bones scattered around, and stood in front of said cross before playing, passing a golden goblet and each taking a sip (of what, I dunno, and was kinda scared to ask). Some kind of pre-show warmup ritual. They had on Scandinavian-style black metal face makeup, and before they played there was some lovely ambient music with someone incanting something backwards. Music: very dark, heavy, and, of course, satanic. They were very good: fast, tight, with pretty, quiet moments in the songs with only a lonely guitar melody that reminded me of a bleak Icelandic winter. 

Kinda hard to see, but this is Xenotaph's impressive upside down cross. I tried to recently make a 2 foot bath tray/desk for my gf who loves to take Lush baths, and gave up since the glue I used was crappy. But here this band had an awesome wooden cross. They outdid me. 
Overall, Xenotaph were great. Solid music and the visual/presentation side of things was top notch. They even did a Gorgoroth (sp?) cover. Check them out.

Next up was XOTH, who played a very loud, very impressive set of what I would best call "triumphant technical thrash." Their logo looks suspiciously similar to the defunct band Jedi Scum's logo, but it's a cool logo. Xoth reminded me of Voivod but taken far less seriously. There were a crazy amount of notes these guys played, and their musicianship was first rate. The only thing that bugged me was the singer and bassist wanted more energy and responsiveness from the crowd, but I think they needed to remember most folks were experiencing Xoth for the first time, and it was a Tuesday night to boot. Really good band though: the bassist in particular was this crazy hybrid of Flea and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. 

Back to Xenotaph: as they played, this funny text convo was going on 'tween my buddy and me. I don't know what the "M & Ms" were in the scapula/clavicle bone -- probably seeds of evil or something, but they looked like M & Ms and I thought it'd be funny if a black metal band had M & Ms in one of their random animal bones onstage. 

Next up was a band whose name I can't pronounce or remember: symphonic black metal from the pacific northwest. They were good, but with two guitars, bass, drums (with double kick drum, of course), vocals, AND keyboards, it was kinda cacophonous at times. They reminded me of Godflesh Deformed. I did like how there was a girl in the band, who headbanged as she tickled the keys of the keyboard. 

 Plague Phalanx

There's no other way to describe Plague Phalanx live than: they're creeeeeeepy. They don black executioner hoods and play the music of hell. The guitarist had cut himself up on his chest and was openly bleeding. While it may sound gimmicky, they are actually quite good.
All in all, a great night at the ol' Bull, all for only $7. Pickle juice backs are only $1. 
And guess who is appearing on August 7th? This dingus: 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Dirty Rotten Buddhists

I was walking home from meditation at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society in San Francisco (more succinctly, the Dharma Punx) one day and this image, above, popped in my head. I raced home and sketched it as quick as I could before forgetting. I don't know if I've seen it somewhere first, or I came up with it, but I felt proud of it. It combines a Buddhist image -- the wheel of samsara (the cyclical existence we get trapped in) -- with the thrash guy from D.R.I. For the observant viewer, you'll notice the wheel is borrowed from krishnacore band Shelter. This is apropos because Buddhism originally grew out of Indian cosmology. I don't own the copyright of Thrash Guy or the Shelter wheel, and I don't know if the wheel of samsara is even copywritable (as long as lawyers exist, I'm sure it is), but my juxtaposition of these images is unique (see above). Pretty clever, eh? (By the way, I admire Shelter musically and have listened to them over the years -- I think combining hardcore punk music with Krishna-worshipping philosophy/devotion is interesting -- but I don't necessarily subscribe to their beliefs. Nor do I swallow everything that's associated with Dharma Punx! With Buddhism, I tend to zone out with the notion of reincarnation and some of the downright wacky, superstitious rituals that Tibetan Buddhism* comes up with**, but I think overall Buddhism is a very beautiful, honest, helpful psychology-religion-philosophy-spirituality.)  

* Tibetan Buddhism is a combination of traditional Buddhism with Tibet's indigenous Bon religion***.
** such as Lama Zopa, bless his helpful heart, positing that earthquakes are caused by karma. 

image copyright Matthew Snope 2015 (c)  

*** The word Bon (pronounced "bone") gave me an image of a "Bon Jovi" band -- Tibetan Buddhists playing Bon Jovi songs but with lyrics about Buddhism and Bon. 
Lordy, now I am making cheesy jokes in footnotes like that Brad Warner guy....

UPDATE: I realized my title might be a little befuddling for those not in the know. D.R.I. stands for Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, thus my blog post title. I don't think Buddhists are dirty and rotten (though some no doubt are) -- in fact they're some of my favorite people in the world!


I was reading a zine I follow, Dreams with Donuts #17, and read an interesting interview with a guy who walked from Reno, NV to Seattle, WA. That's fuckin' far. I always like stories of people walking long crazy distances and the transformative/transcendental experience of walking. Not dumb Forrest Gump-type shit, but folks like Werner Herzog (Germany to France, in winter) or Jim, who walk for interesting reasons (Herzog to visit a dying friend; Jim to battle his ongoing depression). Quest for Fire-type stuff.

Amoukar and Gaw walking around the Earth 80,000 years ago in search of meat and fire

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blah Night in the Meat Asylum

You know, 90s alt-rock isn't aging too well.
I recently saw the Meat Puppets and Soul Asylum in San Francisco, and it was underwhelming. I'd first seen the Meat Puppets when the Brothers Kirkwood, clad in ladies' summer dresses, were banging two bass guitars together and making a mighty racket, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in like 1990 or so. I then saw them at McCabe's guitar shoppe in Los Angeles, and they were great -- this was the core lineup of the Kirkwood Bros. and drummer Derrick Bostrom, around the time Forbidden Places was released. They played lotsa good stuff, old and new (at the time). They had come out to L.A. from Arizona in two VW microbuses. (The Meat Puppets have been called by Dean Ween "the Grateful Dead of our generation" -- yuck! -- but I've always liked how they were hard to pin down and categorize. They can be super-mellow, super-punky, and usually-melodic; but one Grateful Dead is bad enough (and there was a small squadron of hippies at the SF show helping to ruin things), so let's not make it worse, Deaner.)

There were definitely more people at the show for the MPs than SA; this incarnation of the MPs featured the Bros. Kirkwood and Curt's son, Elmo. Elmo was a solid rhythm guitarist, but he did a bit too much hair-flipping and rock star moves for me. I was reminded of Ozzy Osbourne's pudgy, spoiled son Jack, another son of rock royalty. The Puppets played all their hits -- "Lake of Fire," "Plateau," "Oh, Me," "Sam," "Up on the Sun," and "Backwater" -- and lots of strange covers (Beach Boys; country songs), and lots of long, jam-bandy instrumentals (ugh). Given the prolificness of their career, and the fact that some of their strongest output has been the period in the 2000s and beyond once Cris returned to the band after his heroin and prison hiatus in the late 90s, I was disappointed in the set list. There are so many awesome, melodic, catchy songs from Rise to Your Knees, Lollipop, Rat Farm, and Sewn Together that they could've played, but chose not to. But MPs were the stronger band that night, and it's always good to see them. As the gf said, they have a more timeless sound than SA. There was no interaction between MPs and SA, like a shared song or something, which made me wonder how the two bands were getting along or not. SA had a big fancy tour bus outside and multiple assistants/techs; the MPs had a van and hung out after they played outside on the sidewalk, keeping to that punk rock accessibility that I admire. No assistants on stage -- they just got on stage and played. Curt did kinda fuck up "Lake of Fire," though, so I'm wondering if the Puppets are getting on a bit in years and their rock n roll lifestyle has caught up to them.... 

A really good Soul Asylum album just before they jumped the shark. (OK, Soul Asylum and the Horse They Rode In On is pretty good, too.)

I used to think Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum had some supernatural gift for songwriting and insight into the human condition (which, especially on SA's earlier output, he does), but he just seems kinda rock star douchey now. He did some canned, cheesy talking interaction with his 600-lb Black drummer (who looked about to die of cardiac arrest at any moment), played a bad guitar solo, and just seemed like a caricature of his former self. Plus, he is the only original SA member, and as my friend Brian said, "It's not Soul Asylum without Dan Murphy." I'm used to seeing SA as original drummer Grant Young, bassist Karl Mueller (RIP), Murphy, and Pirner. Pirner did say a nice thing about Mueller before playing "Without a Trace," so that was cool. But the set list was heavily Grave Dancers Union and later, and there's just so much good stuff pre-GDU. I didn't end up staying for the whole set, and it appeared others had the same idea. Plus, there were people in the audience doing coke in front of us, which just created a real cheesy, bad vibe. 

Overall, pretty disappointing show, or maybe an off night. Or maybe these bands have sailed past their heyday. Still, there are some great records to enjoy -- pretty much the Puppets' whole canon, and early SA.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Cotton Candy Guy and the Beauty of Loops

So I stumbled upon a .gif -- and reverse .gif -- of a guy "excitedly eating cotton candy" (as one source put it) that is pretty mesmerizing. Below is a clever Mission: Impossible tv show intro that someone hacked the Cotton Candy Guy into. Try to find the original forward and backwards .gifs if you can, as people have been speeding up the real-timeness of this classic clip.

Monday, July 13, 2015

It Must Be Summer: the Big Dumb Blockbuster Movies Are Out

It's amazing what $150 million can produce: the awesome, memorable, unique Mad Max: Fury Road, or the silly, forgettable, played-out Terminator Genisys. I saw the latter recently, because once you've seen all four preceding it, you are kind of locked into it. 

Terminator Genisys isn't all bad. Sure: it's a big, dumb, special effects-laden, nonsensical, one-liner summer movie. It evidently has an actress from Game of Thrones in it, a show I've never seen (I played Settlers of Cataan for the first time this weekend, so I'm kind of maxed out on dork stuff right now.) There's lots of eye candy, and a few ideas in it to stimulate the neurons of even the dumbest viewer. I did like the idea that, rather than linear time travel (past, present, future), the events of a previous film (TG focuses on the first and second Terminator films, largely ignoring the 3rd and 4th, wisely) could be altered by alternate events along different, potential timelines. This is actually in accordance with Schrodinger's Cat and its heady idea that, in the thought experiment, a cat could be both alive and dead. At the subatomic level, the most fundamental particles of existence appear to occupy two locations at once, or be jumping between two states at the same time. This could mean that there are different potential realities -- timelines -- occurring all the time. 

But let's not give TG too much credit: for time-travel movies, it's far more The Time Machine, that colossal stinker feat. Guy Pearce, than it is the better-made and scientifically-sounder Primer or Timecrimes. One aspect of TG I liked was how it recreated scenes from the first Terminator film -- as there's little worse than movies that feature flashbacks to previous films in the franchise, like Rocky or Friday the 13th -- but there were slight differences. The L.A. observatory punks* from Terminator are slightly different, and even things like the length of the black garbage collector's cigar are noticeable (more of a stub in the original film). This reminded me of philosopher Stanley Cavell and his book about film, The World Viewed. Interestingly, Cavell wrote about movies, but not in an authoritative, excruciatingly-researched way -- he wrote about movies he saw as he remembered them, not as they necessarily factually are. In the original Term film, Bill Paxton plays a punk with spiky hair and makeup on his face simulating a tire tread (awesome!), but in TG, the "Bill Paxton" punk has a mohawk. Do these little details/differences make a difference? Maybe yes, maybe no, but they do play on memory and how we as individuals tend to remember things differently and remember things in accordance with one another.

Also -- and this is the curse of my hyper-observantness -- there was something in a background scene of the recreated 1984 of the first film I found interesting: a blue pyramid with a yellow X through it. Probably meaningless, but since the whole Terminator idea is that machines/technology/hardware/software becomes self-aware, united, and homicidal against humans -- a kind of nightmare Singularity scenario -- one could almost read in this pyramid a simple symbol for current San Francisco (where the latter half of the film takes place!), where tech is the top of the social pyramid, as an anti-tech symbol. In the Terminator world, who's responsible for tech getting out of control? Well, of course, the humans who developed and harnessed tech, like the Miles Dyson character of T2. Anyone who reads this blog knows I frequently reference the Crimethinc "capitalism is a pyramid scheme" social pyramid image, and if you think about it, the symbol in TG is pretty clear: since tech is the near the top of the social pyramid right now, and tech causes the robot/machine uprising in the films' narratives, then the whole social pyramid with tech toward the top is questionable and should be revamped. Was it a little symbol snuck in? Does it have meaning or is it random? I dunno, but I noticed it, perhaps because I think the pyramid is a great way to represent modern civilizations such as ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and American society, and this is how I read that particular part of the movie.

But these are deep thoughts I'm bringing to an un-deep, muddled, comic book movie that we can only hope is the last in the Terminator franchise. iO9 has the best take on it I've seen yet, nailing the confusion and problems with the film in a funny way. My gf refuses to support anything Ahnoldt does, because of how he "terminated" Stan "Tookie" Williams at San Quentin when he was Governor. I admire this about her -- I feel the same way about Dianne Shitstain, er, Dianne Feinstein, who mistreated punks when she was Mayor of San Francisco in the early 80s.

Anyway, I'm pretty tired of apocalyptic movies that feature some kind of pivotal action on the Golden Gate Bridge. And while the first two Terminator movies were compelling (and relatively cohesive), the franchise falls apart after that. Time to terminate the Terminator. This latest film was good for a few half-assed ideas and gag lines (Ahnoldt's good Terminator T800 is named "Pops"), but that's about it. It certainly wasn't worth the price of admission. Hasta la vista, bay-bee. (But maybe since it didn't feature child-star-gone-wrong Edward Furlong, flipping his hair and going through puberty onscreen, it's a masterpiece.)

* Whether it's TG or the original film, I won't go into the representation of punks, which is negative in both, and unfortunate. 

Friday, July 10, 2015


For some reason this candy bar from the 70s came up in conversation today. I remember eating these things at the public pool in the summer. 25 cents, so I could afford them with my meager child allowance, and they were tasty as fuck.

Very meta: Reggie Jackson beholds a candy bar of his own namesake. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A walk through San Francisco's Tenderloin and tech enclaves

I don't know if I'm just noticing it because I work in a compact city that has a mind-blowing division between extreme affluence and extreme poverty and deprivation, but yesterday I was in the notorious (and relatively unchanging) Tenderloin part of San Francisco, then found myself in a wealthy white enclave of upscale shops on Hayes Street off of Van Ness (Hayes Valley). The two worlds could not be more different, and I haven't seen that kind of juxtaposition since seeing how only a big culvert divides Tijuana from the United States. In San Francisco, I definitely noticed the ol' capitalistic pyramid in action.

The Tenderloin is like the street-level existence depicted at almost the very bottom of the pyramid; Hayes Valley -- and I also went to the market underneath Twitter -- is definitely toward the pyramid's upper reaches. The Tenderloin smelled like a port-o-potty; hypodermic needle caps abounded; I saw human shit on the sidewalk; all kinds of broken-down people milled about (disproportionately people of color); I watched a man eat a microwave burrito in a daze with the plastic wrapper on his foot. It's a place of dirtiness, vice, and disease, captured well in William T. Vollmann's book Whores for Gloria

The market underneath Twitter is completely overpriced, selling the finest, best foods to a largely white tech elite. It's uber-clean, fancy, erudite, exclusive. The amazing thing is that these neighborhoods are almost walking distance from each other (if you're an ambitious walker) or easily accessible via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Tech is interesting in SF: it seems like the purpose of tech enclaves such as the Twitter market or other areas where tech dominates is to keep its type of people 1) pampered, 2) isolated from the harsher realities of the real world outside the tech bubble. Like the New Order Republic album image above, it amazes me the physical environments, priorities, languages, ambiences, and worldviews of each subculture, and how diametrically opposed they are -- yet how geographically close!* Even if you're the most hardcore existentialist and/or Social Darwinist, I'd challenge you to experience both these neighborhoods in one day and not find something wrong with the picture**. One group has too much, and the other group has too little. One lives in pampered isolation, and the other in disturbing poverty. Has this not been the case in great civilizations that have ultimately fallen hard, such as ancient Rome and Egypt, this stark division in wealth? 

* There has been a strong backlash in the Bay Area against tech companies busing their employees around in private buses. One of the reasons for this is that privately transporting a tech elite keeps them from having to commute with the rest of us, in public arenas like BART, which is a great equalizer of people. We may live and work and play in silos, our own little worlds, but we intermix when we travel the same routes -- especially on public transportation, where we can't stay in our own little world in our car. On a crowded BART train, we have to interact -- we can't not notice one another. We have to see, smell, hear one another. This is one of the reasons I use BART in the first place. I think it's very important for people to move fluidly between the silos we tend to stay comfortably isolated in, so that we stay shaken up, tolerant, awake, and aware. 

** There is of course the Buddhist perspective that nothing is wrong with the picture; we can accept reality as it is, if we choose. We don't necessarily agree or disagree with said reality, but we accept it.

UPDATE: I learned that the original drummer of the Dead Kennedys, Bruce Slesinger, is now an architect who designed The Market underneath Twitter. Talk about going from one world to a whole other. It's especially ironic since SF's then-mayor Feinstein was so notoriously shitty toward punks, and now Bruce is apparently part of the upper crust that is reshaping the city and making it a playground for the wealthy elite, while the lesser-fortunate get displaced and gentrified. Apparently, back in the day, Bruce left the DKs to pursue architecture, which allowed D.H. Peligro to fill the drummer slot. (I've always thought of the classic DK lineup as Jello, East Bay Ray, Klaus Fluoride, and D.H., but that's probably 'cause I got into the DKs in haphazard fashion, first hearing their final album, Bedtime for Democracy. Bruce -- as "Ted" -- drummed on the first, classic DK album.) I wanna say "Shame, Bruce -- not very punk rock, being involved with The Market (that name is so pretentious!)", I wanna cry "sellout" -- but, hell, if you're happy, Bruce, that's what matters, I hear.... 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Failure's 'Heart' is Kinda Cold, Missing Something: a Review

In 1993, I saw a trio open for Ween at the Whiskey in Los Angeles. It was good stuff: heavy, dark, melodic, compelling, with vulnerable vocals, unique guitar work, powerful bass and drumming. It was Failure, who had just released their first effort, Comfort. I began listening to and following the band, seeing them on the much-delayed support tour for their magnum opus, Fantastic Planet. I remember that show was $7, and the first show of the tour. Look at the prices of their merchandise now, and boy have things changed. 

After their demise after FP, I checked out Ken Andrews' and Greg Edwards' post-Failure material: it was good, but suffered from that ol' math equation in music that their solo stuff (or Autolux in Edwards' case) was only a fraction as good as Failure was. So it was exciting to see them -- again, the first show of their Tree of Stars Tour, rebooting their career -- and also to know that new material was on the way. The Tree of Stars show was great, with a film homage visual presentation instead of opening bands, Failure sounding great, and a good smorgasbord of material from their first three albums. 

I'm somewhat disappointed by The Heart is a Monster. The album's title takes its name from a line in the song "Petting the Carpet," which hearkens all the way back to Comfort (it was an outtake), and which is found, reworked, on Heart. Failure are trying to start where they left off with the magnificent Fantastic Planet, with lots of "Segue" songs, but the new batch of material sounds less like Failure and more like Ken Andrews meets Autolux. The recording is distracting and painful to my ears: it's so loud, cold, and digital as to be distracting (are they fighting in the loudness wars?). One reviewer noted the recording's "cleaner digital sound," but Failure have always put a lot of emphasis on impeccable production -- the difference is, a warmth from recording with a certain amount of analog back in their heyday is completely absent from the new album. The snare drum especially is clicky and harsh. The album is, like the Pixies or Nine Inch Nails, loud-quiet-loud, but the loud moments are especially harsh. Keep your finger on the volume dial.

Song-wise, I think Andrews/Edwards have to accept that their peak was Fantastic Planet (and even the first two albums, which I think have stood the test of time and are incredible). There are some nice moments on Heart, and I think the strongest song by far is "Counterfeit Sky" (which would've fit nicely in anywhere on their first three albums), and it's certainly nice they're playing again and being more understood musically than they were back in the day, but Heart shows that it's hard to make a comeback. 

I've also noticed a curious thing about Andrews: that, despite his reputation for having a good ear for production, he makes quite a few mistakes when playing live. At the Tree of Stars show I mentioned, he screwed up one of the Magnified "Segue"s; at their first, sold-out reunion show that started the comeback, he screwed up "Smoking Umbrellas;" and when I recently watched them perform (via YouTube) at like a Harley Davidson bbq in Wisconsin or something, he messed up "Saturday Saviour." 

Things got so cold and digital recording the new album that Ken Andrews had to don gloves.

I feel a little bad being so honest and harsh about their new album, because I have a Failure tattoo (an image from their first album) and have been a fan a long time, pretty much since the beginning. I still think they are immensely talented and unique, with an intellectualism not often found in rock music (or space rock or alt-rock or whatever we're calling it). But something is missing: they're just not as edgy and dark as they once were, and I'd much rather listen to four-track versions of their songs (see the excellent Golden) than this new slick, digital slaw they're concocted. This new stuff feels more stylish than substance-based, with abstract lyrics that just aren't as catchy or memorable. Heart feels cobbled together, a strange blend of the old ("Petting the Carpet," "I Can See Houses") and brand new, held together with not-as-good Segues, which sound more like farting-around-in-the-studio than the brilliant Segues that made Magnified and FP a continuous, holistic listening experience. 

Another band I like is the Meat Puppets, and I was just reading about their album Sewn Together. I like Brother Kirkwood's (Curt) approach: "In the 80s, we used to just crap this [music] out. Those SST records cost, like, five grand apiece, if that much, and those are the records [Meat Puppets I, II, Up on the Sun, etc] that made people like us. Now, if I can get away with it, I'll make a record as cheap as I can and put as little work as I can into it, which is what we did with [Sewn Together]. I don't like putting a lot of time into it. We cut a track, and if we've played it halfway right, we're done with it." (, 3/27/09) This is the polar opposite of Failure, who labor over their music in the studio and get it radio-friendly and highly produced and polished. But music needs heart as well as polish. Andrews is a digital technician. He's made a post-Failure career being an engineer, mixer, producer, etc. But at one time, he and Edwards were like a postmodern, dark Lennon-McCartney, creating indelible melodies that were well-recorded and had a lot of grit, warmth, and heart. The new Failure has all the Failure hallmarks: Andrews' vulnerable, sometimes ragged voice, spacey, chunky guitars, driving drums, prominent bass, etc, but it just sounds like Failure trying too hard. Something fundamental has changed. Andrews has often spoke negatively of working with Steve Albini, but I think a band like Failure need an outside ear, which Albini provided. Andrews can't simultaneously be in Failure and hear it from the outside, can he?

Failure: I won't give up on you, and I know I can't pine for the good ol' days forever, but I long for some warmth in the new material that's there in the old. The new album's cover is a good indication of the music within: blue, cold, sterile. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Conquistador Herzog

Started reading this and it's fabulous. Crazy, crazy shit in this book. Even though I've seen Fitzcarraldo and Les Blank's Burden of Dreams, so know what's gonna happen, it's still a fascinating read. Herzog is a damn good writer and for some reason wrote this book by hand in microscopic print in a tiny journal (but don't worry, it was translated from the German into English and printed in normal font size). His observations are incredible. It's like a more compassionate version of Cannibal Holocaust.

On flags

Signs and symbols -- or in fancy parlance, semiotics -- is pretty fascinating stuff. If you think about it, a sign or symbol has no inherent meaning: it's what the perceiver brings to an image in the way of meaning that's important. Take, for example, a human hand raised: it could mean "hello," "stop," "I have an answer," "goodbye," and more.
I bring this up because of the recent racist killings in South Carolina and the subsequent momentum to phase out the Confederate Flag. To some, the Confederate Flag is as charged and disturbing a symbol as a swastika, because it, to some, represents slavery and racism. To others, it represents that the American South is a unique place, part of the US but distinctively different. These are two different interpretations of the same symbol. Someone could feel very proud of the CF yet have no racist leanings or belief in subjugating other human beings into inferiority or slavery.
I've noticed that in human life, often after a traumatic event, people look for healing, blame, and some type of action to try and heal the wound that's occurred. (And, granted, the Confederate Flag has long been a controversial symbol.) I understand something like the tragic SC massacre as a catalyst that is the hair that breaks the camel's back. But I also have to admit I'd find it a little bit sad if it went away completely or was outlawed, because there are two things I admire about the Confederate Flag:
  • racism and slavery notwithstanding, it represents a part of the US I have a special fondness for. It symbolizes a unique culture, including music, food, language, customs, literature, etc. There are unique parts of the US -- New England, Texas, midwest, etc -- and each state's flag tends to fit with the overall American flag while capturing some of that uniqueness.
  • I admire that, regardless of the reasons for doing so, a huge portion of the US actually had the huevos to secede from the federal government's jurisdiction based on philosophical differences. California talks about it, Texas talks about it, but the American South actually did, and at a tremendous price. There were other reasons for the Civil War besides slavery, but slavery was the main catalyst. It's just such a wacky setup that the US has this federal authority and yet states' rights at the same time. It seems like a system just asking for conflict. 
This second point makes anarchists and Confederates strange bedfellows. I think it's important for the federal government to be reminded, through symbols, that they are not so all-powerful that people won't challenge them, violently even, if it comes down to it. Again: one has to sort of overlook the South's reasons for seceding (slavery), but I think the fact that they challenged the feds shows tremendous bravery and grit.

The street-level reality is that the CF is too-often embraced by racist rednecky types. It always amazed me, when I lived in wine country (Sonoma County, CA), that there were wine country rednecks who wore and flew the flag. (My girlfriend, who's from Georgia, has pointed out that these people are essentially posers.) There are only six states holding out with the CF in their state flag. In a way, I feel for them, because I'm intrinsically wired to root for underdogs of any stripe. I tend away from uniformity, conformity, and giving in. Yet at the same time I know that the CF is a painful thing to behold, depending on who you are and how you view it.This same girlfriend, who too often experienced CF pride being associated by white racist-y types where she grew up, thinks it's time for the CF to be retired. Hell, the South did lose the war, and usually the losing side has its flag retired. It's a tough one because I can understand the issue from different sides.

As Adam Carolla has pointed out, we live in a society that tends to make policy for everyone based on a relatively small minority who don't fit with something in the majority -- people with peanut allergies (so peanuts get banned completely from, say, a school), for example. The CF is a particularly painful symbol to Black people (consistently about 12% of the US population) and, hell, just about anyone. Maybe it is time to retire it. I would understand doing so, yet would also feel a little twinge of sadness based on my two premises above. I half-joked around with the girlfriend that Southern states with the CF flag in their flag should also include a Black Power symbol. That would really mess with some heads.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


You know the world's a crazy place when Buddhist monks start stabbing each other. I would say the stabber either has a lot to learn about Buddhism, or is onto some next level shit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Duck Duck Go-odbye, Google

I'm switchin' over to Duck Duck Go as a search engine. I've nothing to hide, but I don't like being tracked and spied on (who does?). I've toured the Google campus in Mountain View and met some perfectly nice Googlers (as they call it), I meditate with a guy who trains meditation trainers at Google, and I agree that the issue of displacement, gentrification, and techie vs. rest of world issue is a sticky, complex one. And one Google tool (toolgle?) I've used a lot with great joy and consistency is the virtual Moog keyboard they made for Bob Moog's birthday. Very fun, cool little thing. But Google has grown a little large and scary for my likings (yes, I know, this blog is powered by Google) as far as search-engining, so I'm goin' duck. Quack.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Injustice abounds

Well-written piece in the SF Weekly about SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who not only does his job but is taking on the whole questionable SF justice system. Note the experience Jeff had watching a judge sentence a White embezzler of almost $1 mil (from a state college system) to just probation, while sentencing a 19-year old Black male to 3 years in prison for $20 worth of crack. Also note how Adachi made a documentary film about how Asians are portrayed in film called The Slanted Screen. I bet I can predict some of the films in it (Sixteen Candles, anyone?).

Also, I started reading this:

So far, so good. A refreshing breeze of truth in this dystopic world.

Monday, June 15, 2015

SF punk; Babe: Pig in China

Two interesting bits of news: a well-written article about late 70s/early 80s punk in San Francisco -- and a good reminder of how crappy Dianne Feinstein (the "witch" of the article's title) was toward punks -- and, from the "What the hell is up with China?" files, an article about an enterprising group of folks passing off rat meat as mutton. Oh, and 16,000 dead, floating pigs are involved. China is a really interesting place -- pretty much the world's first sci-fi dystopia, with its problems caused by overpopulation. Maybe Mad Max Fury Road mastermind George Miller can combine his Babe and Mad Max film series into one and film it in China.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Flag Day

So Flag Day is Sunday, June 14, eh? Here's my flag: the red and black of anarchism.

Monday, June 8, 2015


I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and was around a lot of cigarette smoking. My mother and stepfather smoked, I remember smoking and non-smoking sections of airplanes and restaurants, and there was even a smokers' lounge in the middle school I attended for teachers who smoked. Like, inside the building. I never really smoked; I found it repugnant and gross (and still do).

One thing we find with people is that we sometimes have a hard time separating our personal beliefs from the power we have in society to impose those beliefs on others. For example, certain powerful politicians are able to keep the two respectfully separate -- like Joe Biden, who is personally against abortion, but would not use his political power to impose that belief on others in a legislative/policy way. So he remains politically pro-choice. Other politicians are not so great at this, and often try to extend their sometimes absurd, extreme personal/political stances on everyone.

Joe "Paulie Walnuts" Biden: keeping some of his personal beliefs from being policies for all

While I have appreciated the general move in society toward less smoking -- laws created (for those who need laws in lieu of common sense) to keep smoking outdoors, away from playgrounds and entrances to buildings, etc, and despite my personal discomfort with smoking, I believe people hold the right to smoke if they want. When you have a society that allows for freedom, you have to give people the freedom to be stupid, make bad decisions, and perceive life in wildly differing ways than what you're comfortable with or used to. This is easier said than done, and the point at which tolerance plays a big role.

So the anti-vaping movement (AVM) really annoys me. I understand that vaping could be manipulated by Big Tobacco to appear safer or more hip to impressionable young minds, when it's still nicotine-addiction, just repackaged. I get it. But I have to say: I see vaping as progress. I'd much rather be exposed to a big cloud of vape smoke than traditional cigarette smoke. And I don't like the straight-up scare tactics that the AVM uses in their "who knows what's in that mysterious vape smoke?" campaigns. I do know this: while I think that most oral fixations people have are gross (gum-chewing, smoking), vaping is a more evolved way for smokers to exercise their rights while also being considerate of those around them. And that's the bottom line. We're not realistically going to wipe out people's addictions to nicotine and oral fixation, so why not allow them to do it in a smarter way? Vaping removes a lot of the nasty stuff in tobacco (additives) that makes cigarette smoking so repellent to non-smokers (and ex-smokers, once they quit). It's a step in the right direction. If traditional smoking is primitive, vaping is Star Trek: the Next Generation. We don't need to treat vapers like they're Darth Vaper. While I think society is in many overall ways moving in a bad direction (helicopter parenting; a soft police state; environmental mismanagement and crises; resource depletion; a diehard refusal of people to abandon capitalism; etc etc), I do think vaping is surprisingly progressive. So, AVM: chill out.