Monday, March 31, 2008

Post Script

I went to the open discussion on the so-called "art" exhibit at San Francisco Art Institute. I wore Real Shoes and not some of my 47 1/2 pairs of sneakers because everyone knows that Real Shoes bestow more authority. I even found parking right in front of the campus, which is beautiful, but I only made it as far as the gate to the courtyard before several bouncers turned me back.

The forum was canceled. I asked why and was given a press release which states that there were threats by animal-rights extremists against the art institute. I must say that I don't agree with their tactics as violence was the whole point of the protest, but thankfully the controversial exhibit has been permanently closed.

I do take umbrage at the statement issued by President Chris Bratton of SFAI, who persists in referring to Adel Abdessemed as an "artist."

"Though we've decided to take this action," he said, "SFAI stands behind the exhibition as an instance of a long-standing and serious commitment, on SFAI's part, to reflection on, and free and open discussion of, contemporary global art and culture. As an institution, we take seriously our responsibility, to encourage, and promote, such dialogue."

Clearly the guy suffers from commarhea.

He goes on defending his appallingly bad judgment in running the exhibit in the first place, which is just so much blah blah blah blah Ginger to me.

Unfortunately, threats of violence against the institute weaken the valid case against this exhibit and their decision to legitimize it as artwork.

San Francisco Art Institute was founded in 1871 and you would think they'd know enough about art by now to recognize it -- and its shady imitators.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What Art is Not

The San Francisco Art Institute mounted an exhibit which was to run through May 31st entitled "Don't Trust Me." It comprised video images of six different animals, a doe, a goat, a horse, an ox, a pig, and a sheep being bludgeoned to death with a large sledgehammer by Adel Abdessemed of Paris, who calls himself an "artist."

This sick exhibit is nothing more than a disgusting attempt to pass off the brutal abuse and killing of animals as legitimate art. It is not art by any definition, but butchery.

What such "artists" and their patrons choose to overlook is that animals are living beings who feel and suffer. We are no more justified in taking their lives than in killing another person. Such abuse of animals may elicit horror and disgust in viewers, but that does not qualify it as art. In fact, it represents the very worst impulses of the human imagination.

It takes no artistic talent to kill animals, and Abdessemed should not have been given a venue for his sickening "work." To its great discredit, SFAI agreed to sponsor this exhibit, lending it an air of credibility, but equally offensive are the obscene rationalizations offered in defense of the snuff films.

These include claims that such killings "regularly take the real world, on a regular basis," and that the installation "makes typical moral and cultural constraints seem beside the point."

Moral constraints are never beside the point. When we become so numb that such brutality does not affect us, we have lost our humanity.

While the exhibit may raise people's consciousness about the daily cruelties committed against animals, it also encourages them to accept such abuse as a way of gaining attention and notoriety.

What is more, to call someone who murders animals an "artist" is an insult to every real artist who declines to rely on violence and shallow, sensationalistic gimmicks to express his or her vision.

What's next -- murdering children?

Amid protests from an organization called In Defense of Animals, the exhibit has been temporarily suspended. The San Francisco Art Institute is holding an open forum tomorrow which will determine whether they reinstate it. I will be there, along with many others, to speak for the animals.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I went to the Federal Office building in San Francisco to pick up tax forms from the IRS as I decided to do our taxes myself for the first time in years.

The outing required two buses each way as there is no parking downtown. I know because I tried to get there the other day in my car. It couldn't be done.

At one bus stop, the wind was whipping at my wet hair as I huddled against the plastic wind shield, holding the collar of my light jacket over my throat. A half hour later, an elderly couple joined me, speaking a Slavic language I didn't understand.

The man beckoned to me. I thought he needed directions so I walked to the other side of the shelter where he took me firmly by the shoulders. I backed away. He reached out without speaking and tightened his grip. He seemed to be pressing me against him. I pulled away again but suddenly realized that he was placing me behind the wind barrier that he deemed more effective. Then he rejoined his wife on the collapsible seats and we all waited for the bus.

As I entered the huge, grandiose Federal building, two guards ran to my side so fast they nearly tripped themselves.

"How nice," I thought. "So helpful."

Uh, no. They thought that I might be a terrorist and were eager to relieve me of my purse and a small camera I was carrying. My purse was passed through an airport-type X-ray machine and I had to leave my camera with a large bouncer-like man who gave me a check stub.

They did not, I am pleased to report, require a check of my body cavities. They did not draw blood. But they wouldn't have thought twice about doing so, especially the really big guy.

They inspected my shoes. Pumas. Plum kitten brown & powder blue with asymmetrical lacing system. Size 6 1/2.

It seemed more than a little unfair to go through all that without boarding a plane for someplace exotic, or even just different.

I took several forms, reclaimed my camera and walked across the street to the California State Office Building where I had been told I could obtain the state forms. There was another long Customs line to go through, at the end of which I was informed that "they moved out 6 or 7 years ago."

La-La Land. No kidding.

It will require another bus ride to get to the area where allegedly the State now has its tax office. They have no parking either.

I am so close to just sending everything to our CPA in Los Angeles, as we have for the last several years. His fee is unjustified by the amount of return we can expect, if any. Last year we paid him $275 and got a refund of $40, which is why I decided to do it myself. His rate has probably gone up and our return has likely gone down.

But they don't make it easy. For the legwork alone, as it turns out, I am willing to pay someone.

As long as I was downtown, I decided to walk around with my camera. There was a rally for Tibet in front of City Hall. People with megaphones were chanting, "Olympics in China, Murder in Tibet, Olympics in China, Murder in Tibet."

Like a drum.

Two teenagers jived to the beat as they passed the protesters in Tibetan clothing carrying flags.

On April 9th, the Olympic torch will come to San Francisco, its only North American stop. The protesters want the city to refuse to support "the egregious and ongoing human rights abuses in China and occupied Tibet." Team Tibet, comprised of Bay Area Tibetans and their supporters, is not anti-Chinese but pro-freedom and justice for all.

They are calling on our Mayor and all Americans to revoke the welcome of China's propaganda torch and take a stand for freedom and human rights.

After nearly 50 years of Chinese rule, the Tibetans are sending out a global cry for change. Violence is spreading across Tibet and neighboring regions, and the Chinese regime must now choose between increasing brutality or dialog that could determine the future of Tibet and China.

We can affect this historic choice. China cares about its international reputation and is eager to make the Olympics in Beijing this summer a celebration of a new China that is a respected world power. Its economy is totally dependent on "Made in China" exports that we all buy.

President Hu needs to hear that 'Brand China' and the Olympics can succeed only if he makes the right choice. It will take an avalanche of concerned and vocal people around the globe to get his attention.

Click below to sign a petition to President Hu calling for restraint in Tibet and dialog with the Dalai Lama, and please tell everyone you know.

The petition was organized by Avaaz, and it is urgent that one million signatures be delivered directly to Chinese officials.

(Avaaz is a not-for-profit organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.)

Thank you for helping with this important campaign.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Name That Blogger

What's in a name? Everything!

I've often wondered how popular the Ford Mustang would have been if they had called it the Gelding.

I once looked up Susan in a baby name book. It said that "Susans are little and cute and bake cookies."


I am small by most standards and was always placed front row, center, in grade school class pictures, holding the sign, but I consider myself a tall person traveling incognito. And cute is a cop-out. Either call me beautiful or (gasp) ugly, but cute has no teeth. Pug puppies are cute. And koala bears. Calling a woman cute trivializes her.

I thought maybe my despised middle name would offer a decent fall-back, but again, no. What were my parents thinking? Were they thinking at all?

"Roberta moans a lot. At first you can't believe your luck but then you begin to wonder if she does this with everybody."

They should have stuck with the original plan and named me Stephen. My brother had worked out so well that they were hoping for another boy. My father knew enough about science to understand that the onus rested on him so he must have felt utterly betrayed when all his efforts produced -- me.

I remember my parents having an animated discussion about biology at the dinner table. My aunt's husband had commanded her to give birth to a boy as they already had a girl. If she disobeyed him, he had threatened to take their first child, my cousin Carla, aka "Princess" long before anyone had ever heard of Jewish American Princesses, and my aunt could take “it,” the new baby, and go somewhere else.

My father proclaimed that Uncle Al was an idiot. “The father determines the sex of the child,” he exulted, bursting with this indisputable evidence of male superiority of which Uncle Al was nonetheless ignorant.

The idea that men could actually decide if they wanted a boy or a girl and their wives had to obey them didn’t surprise me at all. My father had been God all my life.

Aunt Doris in an act of unthinkable rebellion gave birth to a second daughter. They named her Billie because she was supposed to be a boy.

My mother, who was apparently the more adaptable of my parents, tantalized herself with the delusion that I could be her in-house Shirley Temple, minus all the expensive singing and dancing lessons as my father didn't believe he owed me anything extra if I was going to be so perverse as to be a girl at all.

Unfortunately for her, I turned out to be the kind of girl who climbed trees and liked to get dirty rather than posing vacuously like Carla in her party dresses and perfect corkscrew curls. Besides, I didn't have any party dresses and I especially and conspicuously did not have patent leather maryjanes. I owned a wardrobe of my brother's outgrown t-shirts and fly-front pants, so what did they expect?

I did everything I could to console them but grow a penis, which was clearly beyond my control.

My mother told me often that in ancient China, people killed girl babies because nobody wanted them. I was given the idea that I was supposed to be grateful to my parents because they had let me live. Not knowing the statute of limitations on this amazing reprieve made me uneasy, but since I had no other frame of reference I assumed it was normal.

It never occurred to me that we were not Chinese.

At six, my friend Mary Ann and I changed our names to Dorothy and Patricia, such beautiful names, far more exotic and fancy than our own. She became Patricia and I told my mother that henceforth I would answer only to Dorothy. She discovered that I was quite serious when she called me home to dinner.

“Susan,” she yelled. “Su-san! Come in now.”

Nothing happened.

“S-U-S-A-N !” she screamed. “It’s din-ner time.”

“I’m Dorothy,” I screamed back from the top of the magnolia tree which could barely hold my weight.

My mother was mortified because all the neighbors knew that her daughter was named Susan. Since she obsessed about things like that, she couldn't very well call me Dorothy; they’d think she’d gone off her rocker.

She upped the decibel level. “SUSAN ROBERTA CAHN!” she shouted in her overdrive voice.

I stayed in my tree.

This went on for weeks. I would like to say that I got to miss a lot of lousy dinners but my parents were really big on eating. Every night I was dragged inside and plunked down, unrepentant, at table.

Eventually I got tired of this and told them my name was Patricia.

My best friend Lynda lived down the street. She used to be Linda, but her parents let her change it to the fancier spelling with a “y”, which was not lost on me.

Lynda was one day older than I. She had a brother named John, a Cocker Spaniel named Jingles, and a mother who looked like the broomstick witch in The Wizard of Oz and was just as mean.

One day, I rang their bell to call for Lynda and her mother sprang out at me, grabbed my little paw and bit my index finger hard.

“That’s for biting Lynda,” she said. “Now you know what it feels like.”

I was shocked that she would bite a child as I really thought we were safe from that kind of thing. And I never bit Lynda or anyone else. I didn't tell my parents because I was sure they'd think I did and punish me.

I will state here unequivocally that to this day, I have never bitten anyone. Even my brother. But more importantly, my parents are dead and I am free to change my name without offending them.

While I have made an accommodation to Susan, which is not loathsome like Roberta, merely bland and lacking even a smidgen of the exotic, I have decided that I need a new label for the duration of my time on this earthly coil.

During many years spent in the Native American world, I was given a childhood name, Follows a Dream, and an adult name, Crazy Heart. (Crazy does not mean wacko in Native America, but mystical.) The medicine elders who bestowed these names on me are walking the spirit trail and I'm ready for an elder name myself now.

I am accepting suggestions and will consider all names that can be performed in public with the exception of feminized masculine names like Roberta.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Just Another Manic Sunday

You can't re-set your cat. We moved the clocks ahead, but her hours have not changed.

Truffle began her daily torture ritual at 5:00 this morning, stomping back and forth in my hair near the roots for maximum pain. I covered my head with a pillow, leaving a small opening to breathe and she jumped over me a few times, working up momentum to bite my nose. We engaged in hand-to-paw combat for about an hour until I gave up and fed her. I always do eventually. She knows this. Her tactics have never failed and she could teach those amateurs at Guantanamo a thing or two.

I went back to bed but the cat came back, just like the song says. She gave me the pleasure of her company by resettling in my hair so I could enjoy her hot tuna breath while whipping my face with her tail. Truffle is good at multitasking.

I know where that tail has been, and I know that she either loves or hates me; I'm just not sure which.

There was no chance of going back to sleep. There never is, so I made coffee, played at my computer for a few hours and went for a walk.

Spring brings out the songbirds and the push-up bras, the twin strollers and topiary poodles.

As two girls strutted by, one made air quotes and announced, "I'm having a Britney day."

A 1960 muffler-free white Thunderbird convertible with the top down patrolled the main thoroughfare. A voluntary blond standing on the seat lifted her tank top and screamed, "It's SUNDAY!!"

People at sidewalk cafes cheered. It's amazing what bare boobs can do.

Later, I happened upon an Easter Parade on a street with craft and food stalls, fire engines, cable car rides, a petting zoo and antique cars whose passengers brandished Easter bonnets evocative of Chiquita Banana and the Jolly Green Giant doing weird stuff to each other. Cranky Shetland ponies plodded miserably around a small ring with kicking children on their backs.

There was more disco music than I've heard since the 70's, sounding as bad as ever.

If someone from another planet had chanced upon this event and seen children of every ethnicity screaming in unison, the extraterrestrial would have thought that this was a happy, joyful planet where everyone got along magnificently.

So what's wrong with this picture?

I regret missing the Easter celebration in the famous Castro District which featured a Hunky Jesus contest run by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

In a shocking new development, I didn't win the Lottery. Again. This is getting old.

I am the kind of person who used to be genuinely surprised when I didn't win the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes. I bought magazines to ensure it.

Then I discovered bigger game, the California Super Lotto Plus.

It's my new religion.

When I give them $1.00, I expect them to give me millions of dollars in exchange. Don't they understand that?

In my dark nights of the soul, I have suspicions that nobody really wins these things. After all, does anyone actually know somebody who won a lottery? I think not.

Flip has suggested that I simply throw my dollar in the street where it might do somebody some good.

He says my attitude is wrong, that I shouldn't think of it as a reciprocal deal when I buy my tickets. I always buy them at the corner liquor store from real people with faces because when I win, they will also benefit nicely. I don't believe that anyone has ever won a lottery with a ticket purchased at the supermarket. Besides, Safeway doesn't need my dollar. They are already into me for vastly overpriced bananas, toilet paper and daffodils.

Safeway is the thug of supermarkets with a monopoly in several neighborhoods. They not only price gauge with impunity, their registers are set to add a few dollars to random transactions. They are counting on the fact that most people don't add up their receipts when they get home or if they do notice a discrepancy, won't confront them.

I only check my receipts when they seem horrifically out of line even for Safeway, but they are wrong often enough to make me suspicious. The error is never in my favor.

Still, life gives us consolations.

The wondrous Claudia at On a Limb with Claudia has given me the Blogging Mentor Award, which is funny because I always thought it was the other way around. Claudia is witty, compassionate, curious about everything and extremely supportive of other bloggers, so receiving this particular award from her is deeply meaningful.

She also gave me the Friendly Site Award and the Spreading the Love Award, which I am happy to share with all who visit her extremely friendly site, Everyday Kindness.

Thank you for so much glorious loot attention, Claudia! Your confidence in me gives me much to live up to.

I showed Flip my new awards but he was not impressed. He said he would rather I'd won the '60 T-Bird. So how about it, Claudia?

I am not going to single out anyone for these awards because your sites are all friendly or I wouldn't visit them. I learn from each of you, so you are all my mentors. Therefore, please consider yourselves awarded any or all of these honors, and add them to your sidebars.

I would like to call your attention to a new blog I've just discovered, Gefilte Fish Blues. If Philip Roth met David Sedaris, their love-child might be Jonah K. Haslap. He is a gorgeous writer whose talent is so impressive that I would be wildly envious if he didn't make me laugh so hard. Laughing trumps brooding any day, so please check him out and remember -- I told you so!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Girl, Argumentative

Peter at The Buddha Diaries remarks in his post "My Friends, Day One..." that he is trying to like Hillary Clinton better than he does.

"It's not Hillary I dislike, I tell myself, it's the tactics she has recently deployed in her determination to win the Democratic nomination at all costs. "

Peter, you say it isn't Hillary you dislike, it's her win-at-all-costs tactics.

What comes to mind here is a line from Yeats: "How can you tell the dancer from the dance?"

We are as we do. Our actions define us. We jail people who kill other people regardless of how "nice" they might be under other circumstances.

How is anyone to know us except by our deeds? Good works performed with good intentions make us good people, but when we succumb to underhanded acts for personal gain, we become less good. Behaviors that cause others to suffer are not good no matter how much they benefit us. We can dress them up all we like as necessity, but the truth is that we can always find a way to help ourselves that doesn't hurt others. Sadly, not everyone cares to do this.

I think it most telling that Obama has not stooped to the level of backstabbing his opponent, which has cost him votes. His innate decency in resisting such actions makes him many cuts above one who not only fails to resist such temptations but who trades in them.

Dirty tricks never seem to go out of style in political campaigns. In fact, campaigns tend to bring out the worst in most of us.

I am dismayed by recent outcomes in the process of choosing the Democratic candidate. The more I witness, the less I believe that Clinton stands for anything but election, and I truly hope that this time we'll elect a leader who by his own example brings out the best in us.