Saturday, December 27, 2008

Great Questions

At a Children's Science Workshop in San Francisco, a teacher asked 3rd and 4th grade students to write down things they wonder about.  The questions are terrific.  The answers?  Well, see how you'd do.

--  How can the plug get electricity from the plug hole?

--  I wonder about where the toilet water, pee and poo goes to.

--  I wonder how a bullet is strong enough to kill someone.

--  Why are we going to die?

--  I wonder how cell phones could communicate with other cell phones by having an antenna.

--  I wonder how airplanes don't fall on the ground even though there is still gravity.

--  Who was the first person alive?

--  I wonder why girls and boys act different.

--  How do you make an iPod?

--  Who made up words?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Differences Between Christmas and Chanukah

On Xmas Eve Sandra's family has a traditional get-together that includes a Program.  Sandra has come to rely on me for our contribution, and I've come to rely on Google to help me find something that will fit my perverse nature.  I look for something non-traditional as a counterpoint to all the predictable songs, poems, etc.  This is what I turned up this year.  I don't know who wrote it:

Christmas is one day, same day every year.  December 25.  Jews love Dec. 25th.  It's another day off with pay.  We go to movies and out for Chinese food.  Chanukah is 8 days long. It starts the evening of the 24th of Kislev, whenever that is.  No one is ever sure.  Jews never know until a non-Jewish friend asks when Chanukah starts, forcing us to consult a calendar so we don't look like idiots.  We all have the same calendar, provided free by the kosher butcher.

Christmas is a major holiday.  Chanukah is a minor holiday with the same theme as most Jewish holidays.  They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat.

Christians get wonderful presents such as jewelry, perfume, stereos . . . Jews get practical presents such as underwear, socks or the collected works of Maimonedes, which looks impressive on the bookshelf.

There is only one way to spell Christmas.  No one can decide how to spell Chanukah, Chanuka, Chanukkah, Hanukah, Hannuka, Hannukah.

Christmas is a time of great pressure for husbands and boyfriends.  Their partners expect special gifts.  Jewish men are relieved of that burden.  No one expects a diamond ring on Chanukah.

Christmas brings enormous electric bills.  Candles are used for Chanukah.  Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.

Christmas carols are beautiful.  Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful . . .Chanukah songs are about dreydels made from clay or having a party and dancing the horah.  Of course, we are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful carols were composed and written by our people. And don't Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond sing them beautifully?

A home preparing for Christmas smells wonderful.  The sweet smell of cookies and cakes baking.  Happy people are gathered around in festive moods.  A home preparing for Chanukah smells of oil, potatoes and onions.  The home, as always, is full of loud people all talking at once.

Women have fun baking Christmas cookies.  Women burn their eyes and cut their hands grating potatoes and onions for latkes on Chanukah.  Another reminder of our suffering through the ages.

The players in the Christmas story have easy to pronounce names such as Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  The players in the Chanukah story are Antiochus, Judah Maccabee, and Matta whatever. No one can spell it or pronounce it.  On the plus side, we can tell our friends anything, and they believe we are wonderfully versed in our history.

Many Christians believe in the virgin birth.  Jews think, Joseph, please . . . snap out of it.  Your woman is pregnant, you didn't sleep with her, and now she wants to blame God!?  Here's the number of my psychiatrist.

In recent years, Christmas has become more and more commercialized.  The same holds true for Chanukah, even though it is a minor holiday.  It makes sense.  How could we market a major holiday such as Yom Kippur?  Forget about celebrating.  Think suffering.  Come to the synagogue all day, starve yourself for 27 hours, become one with your dehydrated soul, beat your chest, confess your sins, a guaranteed good time for you and your family.  Tickets a mere $200 per person.

Better stick with Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Scandal Mongers

The media is all atwitter.  Did you hear, there are tapes of Rahm Emmanuel talking to someone about Obama's Senate seat?  Did you hear?

The assumption is there must be something bad afoot.  Will it taint the President-Elect?  Did he know about it and when did he know it?

What bullshit!  I'm willing to admit that there is always the possibility that someone has done something wrong.  But for these scandal mongering journalists to start panting and drooling at the prospect is disgusting.

I am not surprised that the anti-Obama right wing is in a frenzy.  They're like a group of Great White Sharks feeding on chum.  That's to be expected.  If the situation were reversed, the anti-Republican left would be after the same chum.

Hold it a second, guys.  It's the world of politics were talking about here.  If Obama's people were not interested in who will take the empty seat they wouldn't be doing their jobs.  And that includes making suggestions about people to consider.  Get a life.  Go back to looking for smut about Britney and Paris Hilton and stop wasting my time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anything Surprising About These Pictures?

In Mexico, a kidnap negotiator has been kidnapped.

Pirates off the coast of Somalia are outfoxing sophisticated warships sent to stop piracy.

Sophisticated money manager Bernard Madoff bilks sophisticated investors out of $50 billion.

Arrogant lawyer Marc Dreier bilks arrogant hedge fund managers out of $100 million.

Tiger Woods' caddie Stevie Williams disses Phil Mickelson.  Woods says Stevie is a bad boy.

Colonoscopies said not to be as good as we thought they were.

Asthma drugs said not to be as good as we thought they were.

California legislators can't agree on how to balance the budget.

Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Roberts align on recent Court decisions.

There's a security flaw in Internet Explorer that hasn't been fixed.

Republicans say Caroline Kennedy too inexperienced to be a senator.

Oprah has gained weight.

Bush bobs and weaves as Iraqi shoes sail past his head.  Defends right to protest.

Tom Friedman flogs new book.  Is insufferably right one more time.

That's enough to get you started.  Find some of your own.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow in San Francisco

I've lived here for more than 30 years.  I've seen it get cold, even though some visitors will tell you it never gets warm.  Once I even recall seeing a thin layer of ice on a small puddle of water.

But snow?  No way.  When the thought has occurred to me I've thought of the hills that are everywhere and how impossible it would be to navigate on snow or ice.

All this changed this morning.  Shortly after I got up I heard what I thought was heavy rain bombarding our skylights.  That couldn't be rain, I thought, too much noise.  Must be hail.  It was still dark outside but when I looked out I confirmed that it was in fact hail.

Or so I thought.  When it had stopped I looked out again.  Now we were closer to dawn, so I could see.  My street, Green Street, was covered in white.  If this was hail it was sticking.  It wasn't thick, but it was thick enough so that tire tracks stood out clearly.

I looked at the roof on the house next door.  A lot of white.  This was more than four hours ago and some of it is still there.

Amazing.  Snow in San Francisco.  Must be because of global warming.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I make charitable contributions to organizations or causes I support once a year - in December. Rarely do I respond to the special, urgent, one-time, emergency requests that come in the mail or on the phone.  Actually, I usually hang up on the phone calls.  I hate getting them.

I like the process of deciding what I'm going to do.  It gives me a chance to see what calls to me. I notice I have been consistent over the years and therefore have supported some groups for a very long time.  I did make some significant changes last year.  Aside from local institutions I was contributing to more than 20 organizations.  I decided to drop about half of them and double my contribution to the others.  I'm staying with the same approach this year.

When I look at what I'm contributing to I think it says something about me and my priorities. Here's my 2008 list.  See what you think.

American Himalayan Foundation
Ashoka (Supporting Social Entrepreneurs Around the World)
San Francisco Asian Art Museum
California Academy of Sciences
Doctors Without Borders
San Francisco Fine Arts Museums
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Himalayan Cataract Project
KCSM (Public Jazz Station)
KQED (Public Television)
Obama Campaign
Pachamama Alliance (Indigenous People in Ecuador)
San Francisco Museum & Historical Society
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco Parks Trust
Search for Common Ground (Brokering People-to-People Relationships)
Yosemite Fund

When I analyze this list I see I'm committed to:

International Development, especially in South Asia
Local Art Institutions
Local Open Space Organizations
A few single purpose causes

That sounds about right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


As you probably know, I'm passionate about football - world football, not the US brand.  To love it is to love, or at least tolerate, the nuttiness that accompanies the beautiful game.  And nowhere is the nuttiness nuttier than in the world of on-field management.

In England's Premier League the season hasn't yet reached its midpoint and 5 of the 20 managers who were in place when the season began in August have either been fired or have resigned.

Juande Ramos is a case in point.  In the last 15 years he has managed 12 different teams.  He came to England last year to replace Martin Jol at Tottenham.  Jol, a Dutchman, in my view had done a great job at Tottenham.  But they were off to a bad start in 2007, so Ramos was brought in.  He had done very well in his last job with Sevilla in his native Spain.

What happened?  Tottenham got off to a bad start this year and Ramos was sacked.  He was replaced by Harry Redknapp.  Redknapp had been at Portsmouth, where he went from Southampton, where he went from Portsmouth.  I think you're beginning to get the picture.

So what happened to Ramos?  He's been hired to manage one of the biggest clubs in the world, Real Madrid.  A job opened up at Real because they too got off to a bad start this year and their manager, a German named Bernd Schuster, even though he led Real Madrid to the Spanish title last season, was shit canned.

Schuster had gone to Real in 2007, replacing Italian Fabio Capello, who was fired even though he led Real to the La Liga title the previous year.  This was Capello's second stint as manager of Real Madrid.  They won the title when he was there the first time in 1997.  And where did Capello end up after leaving Madrid?  He's now the manager of England's national team.

The nonsense never ends.  There are many more stories I could give you.  And each would be more ridiculous than the other and you would be left scratching your head - as I do.

I'll conclude by letting you know what Big Phil said the other day.  Big Phil is Luiz Felipe Scolari, now manager of Chelsea.  He has managed 20 clubs in the past 26 years.  He came to Chelsea to replace an Israeli, Avram Grant, who was there for one year after replacing Portuguese Jose Mourinho, who was at Chelsea three years and won two championships (Chelsea's first in 50 years.)  Why did Mourinho leave?  Don't ask.  He's now at Inter in Milan.

Back to Big Phil.  Before a Champion's League game that Chelsea needed to win to assure a place in the next round of this year's European championship, Scolari was asked if he was feeling the pressure.  He looked at the questioner with disdain.  Big Phil had coached Brazil and won the World Cup in 2002.  Brazilians fully expect that they will win the World Cup every time it's played, and often they do.  To not be victorious is a national disgrace.

Coaching Brazil, Phil said, that's pressure.  Nothing else even begins to compare with what Brazil's manager faces every day.  He dismissed the question with a gesture and a sneer.  For the record, Chelsea won the game and is still in the running for the Champion's League title.

Like I said, nuttiness. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I remember Keith Olbermann from years ago when his TV schtick was sports only.  He was fun to listen to - outspoken, outrageous, smart.  Then I lost track of him, although I was dimly aware he moved over to the news side somewhere.

Then about a year ago I saw "Countdown," his daily show on MSNBC.  I enjoyed it for all the same reasons I enjoyed Olbermann in his sports incarnation PLUS his political views and disgust with everything George Bush and his cronies have done fit perfectly with my point of view.  So of course "Countdown" would appeal to me.

I set up my DVR to record him every day during the election campaign.  I usually wasn't interested in his cutesy segments - Best Persons, Worst Persons, Oddball, etc.  And it quickly became apparent that while "Countdown" covered juicy political news, it wasn't the show to watch for other news from around the world.  However, the political stuff made it worth the time. 

I've continued to watch since the election, but I notice that I have less and less patience with Olbermann's style, ego and vendettas.  We're still pretty much in sync re our political attitudes, but when he turns into a mouthpiece for an extreme view (in his case on the left side) I am turned off.  I've got a button on extremism, irrespective of the issue or which end of the ideological spectrum is in play.

Since I don't watch "Countdown" live, it is easy to fast forward through segments that annoy me or are of no interest.  These days I find myself fast forwarding more and more.  For now I'll continue to check it out regularly, but I wouldn't be surprised if some day soon I relegate it to my "used to watch" list. 

Monday, December 08, 2008


The bad news is that it is getting darker every day.  In the morning and in the evening it is darker every day.

The good news is that in less than two weeks we'll reach the Winter Solstice.  After that it will get lighter every day.  In the morning and in the evening it will get lighter every day.

I think there's an allegory hiding somewhere in the dark.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Twitter Generation

There is no doubt.  I'm from a different universe than the Twitter Generation.

My first clue should have been when I began to hear references to Twittering.  I didn't know what they were talking about.  I figured a Twitter was some sort of text message that was the fad du jour. Maybe a way to sell more iPhones or Ipods or I-something or other. 

Full disclosure: I've never sent a text message.  I'm computer literate and I have a cell phone. But I use the computer mostly for email, surfing the Internet and writing documents.  I don't use it for regular online chats or instant messaging my favored friends.  And I use my cell phone when I'm in the car and need to talk to someone.  I have the most primitive type of cell phone. It doesn't take pictures.  It isn't a wireless device that connects to the Internet.  It doesn't play music or deliver babies.  It's just a phone.

Back to the Twitter.  I read an article the other day and it told me everything I'd want to know about Twittering: how to do it, who to do it with, why to Twitter, the whole nine yards.  Finally, I was informed, up-to-date, and could resume my life as a regular person, not an old fogey.  I can even Twitter if I want.

I don't want.  Why would I want my friends and/or the world to know what I'm doing or thinking every minute of the day?  And why would I want to know they're on the way to the dentist, or going to sit down on the toilet because they took a laxative last night, or the nasty way that ugly lady on the street looked at them?  Ridiculous.  Not interested.  A total waste of time.

Can I understand that others, especially young people, would think I'm beyond hope?  Yes.  But I don't have a couple of hundred friends, classmates, co-workers, buddies, family members, etc. with whom I'm in touch on a regular basis.  For me, about a dozen in all categories.  That's it. And I'm happy with that.  We don't need to Twitter to feel connected. 

Like I said, I'm from a different universe than the Twitter Generation.  And proud of it!  

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bailing Out

Should we bail out the U.S. auto industry?  Everyone's got an opinion, including me.

In fact, my opinion has changed.  I've gone from 'conflicted' to 'against it.'  I was conflicted because of the many people who would suffer if something isn't done to save their jobs.  I was never conflicted because I thought the companies deserved to be saved, or because they are important to the American economy.

The geniuses who gave us SUV's and Hummers and refused to change their ways even when the evidence was overwhelming that they were on the wrong track don't deserved to be saved.  Nor do the people who invested in GM and the rest.  I can cut a little more slack for the workers, but not their union.  And I can cut a little more slack for the ancillary businesses that depend on US car production for their survival. 

But in the end, all these considerations were outweighed by simply not wanting to prop up incompetent businesses.  After all, we're still capitalists, no?

Now I hear the argument that we bailed out financial institutions, and continue to do so, and we bailed out AIG, and continue to do so, so why shouldn't we give the auto industry the same deal?  Call it bailout fatigue.  Call it having second thoughts.  Call it exercising common sense for a change.  Whether we should or should not have bailed out the others doesn't justify what is fundamentally a bad decision.

I don't buy the argument that letting them go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy would be a disaster. Face it, that's what's going to happen anyway, so why delay the inevitable?  As the man said, "Unlike good wine, bad news doesn't improve with age." 

It appears that some kind of deal is being concocted and will be put to a vote next week.  I hope it doesn't happen, and if it does I hope the vote fails.  Regrettably, what I want to happen probably won't happen, and we'll continue to bless bad leadership, bad business practices, and a head-in-the-sand attitude with misplaced sympathy.  

We'll bless them and sympathize - and later we'll need to pay their bills.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Congrats to the Journal

I often wonder why I read the Wall St. Journal.  Doesn’t a combination of the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times provide enough news for me?  Maybe I read the Journal as a way to get my adrenalin flowing in the morning.  Reactionary editorials.  Conservative columnists.  Guaranteed to piss me off.

On top of the disagreeable substance, until recently the presentation was as dull and uninspiring as the writing.  No color.  No pictures.  Very retro.

All this began to change before Murdoch bought the paper, but since he took over the difference has been dramatic.  Not so much on the editorial side.  Most of their opinions and op-ed pieces are as repugnant as ever.  But there is more and more news and their presentation has leapt into the 21st century.

As I became aware over the last six months or so of all these changes I began to ask myself a question: when would I start reading the Journal for news?  As the third paper I read in the morning I figured I already knew enough about the subjects that interested me, so there was no point.

Until this past week.  Even though others covered the carnage in Mumbai, my keen interest in all things Indian led me to pay attention to everything I came across.  So I read the Journal’s coverage, all of it.  It was outstanding.  Far better than the Times, the usual gold standard for foreign news.  More interesting.  More news that wasn’t repeated elsewhere.  Details about the chronology that enabled me to understand what had actually happened.  Powerful photographs.  Maps I could follow.  The works.

So as the British would say, I broke my duck insofar as news from the Journal is concerned.  It won’t likely become my newspaper of choice for news or anything else in the near future, but I will no longer just assume there’s no point in checking it out.

Congratulations to the Journal!