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.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

There's a Zucker born every minute

I just don't get it. If you know anything about Facebook, you know how dang downright evil they can be. From user data leaks, to FB founder Mark Zuckerberg's infamous quip that people are stupid enough to give their info away for free, to how Facebook has contributed to the tech invasion in San Francisco and its attendant horrors (evictions, gentrification), it just seems like there's some massive disconnect between people knowing what a shady business FB is, but being apparently unable to disconnect and divest themselves from the service. Even Fight for the Future, an otherwise awesome agency working for a better, more just world, admitted the irony and absurdity of doing an online petition against Facebook, but asking their supporters to share it....on Facebook.

As someone who lives in the Bay Area, I see daily reminders of how the tech influx has created suffering, displacement, and thrown the economy way out of whack. But even if you live in Kief, North Dakota, and you're online, you can pretty easily deduce that Facebook is a questionable thing. As an old philosophy department colleague of mine put it, Facebook "is a distraction at best, and a liability at worst." I would argue that it's even worse than a liability. Yet people just aren't able to divest from it, which is an interesting phenomenon. Now, I don't wanna oversimplify and demonize Facebook, as it has some good qualities: connecting and reuniting people, clicktivism, rapid info-sharing, forming a sense of community, etc. But it's amazing how ubiquitous it's become and how dependent people are on it, as if it were water service, or indoor plumbing, or some other municipal utility people need (or think they need). Again, I think people need to understand the high cost of social media, as Jaron Lanier lays out brilliantly in Who Owns the Future? Even the first link above, about Facebook discriminating against people who use alternate names on their site, shows how people can't even protest against Facebook without using Facebook. Help me understand, readers; why is Facebook so hard to unplug from? 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sunset the PATRIOT Act

Thankfully, the US seems to have some sense by sunsetting the ol' PATRIOT Act, which feels like it's been around forever. Let's keep the momentum going to get rid of, and stay rid of, this legislation that's synonymous with "police state"!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Badass Betsy; Black Pepper

So Betsy Palmer has passed, the iconic grief-crazed-mother-turned-systematic-teenager-slayer of the first Friday the 13th film. What a cold-blooded gangsta, that old lady. I mused a bit on FT13th here.

What's up with the Black Pepper Cheeseburger at Jack in the Box? I'm sure it's tasty, it's just funny that such a household, ubiquitous ingredient/spice, black pepper, is being touted as something special. So it's a cheeseburger with black pepper mayo? Capitalism is funny -- it has to repackage/spin the ordinary in order to capture consumer attention and stay relevant.