The Triumph of Light

San Francisco is a city that rewards looking closely, under the surface, behind the closed curtains and doors. It’s so closely associated with its shroud of fog for a reason. This is a mysterious city that defies easy characterization, much less caricature. San Francisco provides the only possible setting for America’s preeminent mystery book, The Maltese Falcon. And the city is mysterious in other ways as well: there are things here that are inexplicably quirky or bizarre, are not obvious, not easy to spot, hidden from view if you don’t know exactly where to look, or here one minute and gone the next.

Witness, if you will, The Triumph of Light, a story almost too good to be believed.

In the late 1880s, during the days when such monuments were erected, Adolph Sutro, a silver baron, philanthropist and former mayor who owned the hill at the precise geographic center of the city, decided to commission Belgian artist Atoine Wiertz to build an allegorical piece depicting the victory of liberty, depicted as a torch-carrying lady, over despotism, a cowering muscled hulk. And so it was completed, installed and dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. At the dedication ceremony, Sutro said: “May the light shine from the torch of the Goddess of Liberty to inspire our citizens to good and noble deeds for the benefit of mankind.”

So, the statue stood, looking over the people of San Francisco, possibly guiding them toward good and noble deeds. And in many other places, that might have been the end of the story but, hey, this is San Francisco and we don’t roll that way.

Years passed, and people stopped thinking in the ways Sutro and others thought they ought. Monuments to liberty and other civic virtues were no longer objects of public affection and care. Ugly apartment blocks and condominiums were built around this statue’s site, blocking its commanding view and removing the piece from public view and consciousness. Fewer and fewer San Franciscans, as time passed, even knew of the monument’s existence.

There were natural forces at play too. As it turns out, statues need love and care. Their materials decay and degrade over time. The Triumph of Light was no exception. The San Francisco Arts Commission reported that the statue was in danger and there was serious talk about replacing it with a Bufano sculpture the city had in storage.

That was the near-final public record of the statue. And then, sometime in the 1950s, poof, The Triumph of Light simply disappeared. No one, not neighbors, not the city government, knows where. What’s left now is the base and the pedestal. Its inscription is worn down to virtually nothing.

Another San Francisco mystery.

Traveling With Kids

Nothing looks familiar, so the right stop comes as a surprise. Hadn’t you been watching? Did you read the map wrong, again? Not now. Pay attention.

Let’ go, for God’s sake.

There’s so much baggage to get together. Their snacks are spread out all over the place. This is stuck to the seat now. Where’s his shoe? The other one.

Do you have the tickets? No, you didn’t give them to me. Well, I sure don’t have them.

I don’t care if he doesn’t want to leave. This is our stop. If we miss it, we’ll miss our transfer, then we’ll be to the other end before we can get off and change back.

Pulling the little one by the arm, baggage tucked tightly under the other one. It’s falling out – everything’s falling out all over the place. Why in hell did we pack so many t-shirts? Well, there’s his shoe, at least.

The little one is squirming to get out, to be free. To do what? Stay on the train? Run faster out the open door than I can? Bending over to scoop the floor for the last time, then, a quick look over the shoulder at the rest of the brood and out we go at a dead run.

Running. Sweat running down my back and the smells of a tightly closed-up gym.

But then, suddenly and as if by magic, we escape into the bright light of day in a new place. The unfamiliar becomes alive. Buildings I’ve never seen before pushing upward into the sky. Sounds in a language I don’t understand. Smells of food, as yet to be discovered.

And my little one is smiling, pointing downward, toward the sidewalk, noticing something only he would: a flowering weed that has managed to squeeze its yellow-orange self into this glorious scene.

I hug him and kiss my little one on the cheek.

Plain As The Nose On Their Faces

Not many people know it, but I have a super power. I can see through words to see the intent behind them, in political speeches, campaign advertisements, OP/EDs.

Well, to be honest, it isn’t all that super. It comes from about 25 years of writing speeches and coaching people. But still, it’s pretty cool.

Today, The New York Times published an “obtained” copy of a storyboard for an anti-Obama TV ad produced by Strategic Perception, a political public relations firm founded by Republican ad man Fred Davis, and funded by Chicago Cubs owner and long-time conservative cause bankroller Joe Ricketts. The link to it is here.

Looking it over gave me a clear “ah-ha” moment. I know how the Romney campaign is going to work, what buttons they’ll try to push and to whom.

You can flip through all the pages of the storyboard, but I’d like you to pay special attention to the photographs of the actors/models who stand in for “real” Americans. See the character types they represent. Notice their ages, ethnicities, apparent walks of life. Notice, too, who’s missing.

Get it? Isn’t it perfectly obvious? Do you see now how these political consultants conceive their candidate’s path to victory in the election?

I see you there, Fred, hanging out with your dark-suited, white-shirted pals. You’re not so clever. I know just what you’re thinking.

‘Tooth Fairy’ Economics

Of the fictions that exist in our daily lives, there are several categories: childhood (e.g., Santa Claus), harmlessly supportive (e.g., you don’t look fat in that jacket), ignorant (e.g., natural selection and evolution are theories), and downright dangerous (e.g., Europe can hold together a single, viable financial system).

Threats and ultimatums aside, the Eurozone cannot be saved as it currently exists. All honest and clear-eyed observers agree. People in the continent’s most troubled economies no longer support it; that much is clearly evident. The real street-level individual human sacrifices necessary to right the currency are politically unthinkable in those countries. That is the message of recent elections in Greece and France.

Looking back, it was pure fantasy to begin with, sold to people by leaders who were either corrupt and self-motivated, ignorant, or selectively attentive. The Eurozone economies were fundamentally very different animals, not merely in terms of composition, but also of basic approach, social infrastructure, aims and purposes. In flush times, these differences were minimized by robust growth and super-normal returns to capital. Now? Not so much.

Turns out that when push comes to shove, Greeks don’t particularly want to change who they are, how their economy and society behave, or how their jobs, pensions and social security schemes operate. The French either, it now seems. Other members are teetering close to the same place.

So, let’s not pretend about this anymore, alright?

The Eurozone will either change radically (i.e., lose members) or die outright. Forcing the execution of existing agreements will cause real pain to real people, for little good in return. Let’s stick to harmless fictions.

That jacket doesn’t make you look fat.

A Shame On Missouri

Americans are rightly proud of how openly our various governments operate. Not relative to some communitarian utopia, of course, but relative to other actual, real governments around the world. We generally accept the principle of openness as a condition of appropriately conducting the people’s business. There are a great many so-called sunshine laws at the federal, state and local level, which require meetings, of legislatures, for example, to be generally open to the public unless there’s a damn good reason to close them.

Therefore, when the government’s work happens in private, Americans tend to be suspicious; and our history has taught us that our suspicions are often well-founded. Some of these closed-door events have included matters legitimately requiring secrecy, such as the conduct of war and national security operations. Fair enough, we’d all likely agree. But frequently, when government business is done in some dark backroom, it is purposefully done so to achieve certain inappropriate political aims, or simply to save face.

Case in point: Yesterday, the Missouri legislature decided to honor conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, adding his name and bust to the Hall of Famous Missourians, alongside legitimate luminaries who actually contributed to our national life; people such as Walter Cronkite, Harry S. Truman, Scott Joplin, John Pershing, among others. And because the legislature knew this honor would polarize the electorate and draw the ire of certain political actors, they did so in a private ceremony from which the public was explicitly barred.

That the Missouri state legislature chose to honor this man next to true giants of politics, art and culture, who “comically” discusses the joys of rape, refers to women on his national radio program as “sluts,” and holds himself as a self-righteously judgmental expert on traditional marriage (Well, he has been married 4 times so, in some sense, he can be considered expert in at least the wedding part of marriage.), is bad enough. Doing so away from the people’s eyes is beneath the dignity of our democracy and the trust Missourians have placed in their elected representatives.

Shame on you.


I was amused no end by the latest news about Michele Bachmann; she has, apparently, held dual American-Swiss citizenship since her marriage in 1978. For anti-intellectual Tea Partiers (i.e., Bachmann’s political base), a presidential candidate with dual citizenship, even Swiss citizenship, was anathema. It meant divided loyalties. And the disclosure was blood in the water.

It’s funny enough, of course, that self-conceived uber-patriot Bachmann, who is a singularly hilarious combination of willful ignorance and inspired lunacy, found herself coming under the same right-wing fire she had lately trained on her competitors.

But, for me, the real joy came in understanding why this story came to light at this particular moment.

It’s clear to me that Bachmann was being seriously considered as a vice presidential running mate by the Romney campaign, that the fact of her dual citizenship was uncovered during the process, that someone in the campaign didn’t want her to proceed in the process, and then had to find a reason to dump her that didn’t get the GOP’s right-wing enraged at their presumptive nominee.

Et, voila. So are leaks to the press born.

The real question is whether it is more disturbing that Romney’s campaign was considering Bachmann as his running mate or that there is a well-placed leaker on the inside who might hurt the campaign next time.

Call the plumbers, Mitt.

Weed for Granny

For those fighting cancer, let alone other diseases for the moment, here are some of the documented potential benefits of medical marijuana: reduction of nausea related to treatment (especially chemotherapy); slowing of tumor growth in the lungs, breasts and brain; alleviation of anxiety; reduction of pain, especially in the abdomen; increased appetite; alleviation of muscle pain and spasms.

Now think of the numerous other diseases and chronic conditions for which medical marijuana could potentially be useful: glaucoma, arthritis, migraine headaches, effects of Alzheimer’s, ADD & ADHD, conditions which cause seizures, multiple sclerosis.

Are there negatives to the use of marijuana? Of course, as there are with the use of any drug. These can be dealt with, exactly as they are with every other drug.

Given that, will someone, please, answer these questions for me:

  • Why is medical marijuana such an issue for some?
  • Why isn’t it as readily available as, say, my blood pressure medicine?
  • Why does our government treat medical marijuana dispensaries like streetcorner drug dealers (e.g., armed raids, etc.)?

A personal disclosure here: my dad died after fighting cancer for almost three years. It was a hard fight he fought bravely, but over the course of which, make no mistake, he suffered. Watching him go through the precipitous weight loss, the lack of appetite and the pain was itself horrible. Every so often, I would offer to get my dad marijuana but he wouldn’t hear of it, because marijuana was illegal. My dad suffered because he was the type of person, like many of his generation, who preferred suffering to breaking the law. And it kills me to this day that he suffered so needlessly.

We need to remove legal barriers; we have the means to alleviate suffering and it is downright immoral that we aren’t using it.

Sophia. Prosxomen. [Wisdom. Let us attend.]

“France, and the whole of Europe have a great culture and an amazing history. Most important thing though is that people there know how to live! In America they’ve forgotten all about it. I’m afraid that the American culture is a disaster.” – Johnny Depp

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” – Lao-Tze

“My goal is to always come from a place of love…but sometimes you just have to break it down for a motherfucker.” – RuPaul

“Just the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” – Carl Sagan
 “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
“Don’t let your mouth write a check that your tail can’t cash.” – Bo Diddley

As Good a Place As Any

Tomorrow after school, I’m going to take 8 thirteen-year-old boys to see ‘The Avengers’ in 3-D and pray that I don’t puke. I don’t know whether it’s my advancing age or advances in film technology but movies in 3-D are starting to make me dizzy and bother my stomach; ‘Green Lantern’ came closest so far to making me hurl.

I could, of course, just drop the kids off at the theater but, to be honest (and I do try to be honest with you), I really want to see it. I confess that I used to read ‘The Avengers’ comic books as a kid and learned a lot about life in those pages.

About the sympathy of physicians…

About the joys of marriage…

About respect for democracy and elected representatives…

I don’t know what lasting life lessons these 8 kids are going to get from this picture, but I’m going to be taking notes.

Why Marriage?

There are many purposes served by marriage, the public declaration of the permanence of love between two people: social stability, the encouragement of certain sets of behaviors, provision of loving and positive infrastructure for children and families, financial and legal benefits, among them.

Why should one class of Americans be allowed to avail themselves of these benefits and not others? Specifically, why should only heterosexuals be allowed to marry?  Further, why should our society as a whole be deprived of the strength and goodness arising from same-sex marriages?

Here are my thoughts in defense of marriage, posted previously on this blog. Briefly, based on my personal experience and observation, I believe couples of all types seeking to be married should be fully supported in that goal. And now, it seems, our president does too.

Let certain states express bigotry, fear and loathing, if they feel so compelled. There is no defensible justification, there is no positive social purpose served by denying the right to marry to anyone – not on the basis of any single religious philosophy, not on the basis of race, not on the basis of gender, not on the basis of sexual orientation or preference.

If marriage is to exist at all, it must exist for all who desire it.