You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.

Thanks to Heraldo for finding it.

It looks intriguing to me.  Yes, I know birds will be killed.  As noted previously, there is a formidable coalition of environmentalists and conservative NIMBY’s in opposition.

Addendum:  Here is an op-ed piece at the Times Standard in support of the proposal.

Addendum:  Somebody else sent me this video.  I have no idea what it’s about.

And another friend sent me this.

Weird when you sit down to watch a cartoon from your childhood and notice what you either didn’t see or filtered out as a child.  But does it make sense that Santa would promise Professor Hinkle a gift in his stocking after Hinkle tried to murder Frosty?  After having watched and commented on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer some time ago, I’m afraid to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas!


Earlier in the week I was in SF as my kids saw the Nutcracker (see my prior obnoxious adult-cynical snark on that magical production as well) with the grandparents.  Jana and I took one of our rare opportunities for a romantic dinner.  I had seen an ad for the Firefly Restaurant in Zyzzyva (SF’s best literary magazine).  The ad is minimalist in form, with the simple slogan “food people eat,” which intrigued me.  It’s located in Noe Valley on 24th Street, near Diamond, which is one of that last businesses on the climb towards Twin Peaks.  Nice atmosphere, warm service, yummy food, and a decor which wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of an esoteric literary mag like Zyzzyva.  It was packed, so definitely call for a reservation.


On the subject of food, my family and I enjoyed a great cioppino tonight, made by the steady culinary hands of yours truly.  I think I’ve settled on my favorite recipe, with a few tweaks.  Start with this recipe I found at the L.A. Times.

The problem I have with many restaurant cioppino’s is that they just don’t get that it’s supposed to be kind of a tomato-based bouillabaisse.  They cook up a nice tomato stew and for some reason decide to cook the seafood separately and throw it in without any sea food base for the body of the broth – completely defeating the concept.  Okay, unless you want to cook the crab live in your stew (which just seems nasty somehow), you have to precook it.  But everything else should go in uncooked.  I honestly don’t understand the recipes to the contrary.  The stew was developed by the wives of SF North Beach fishermen, with pretty much everything coming out of the water thrown into the broth.  It’s about the seafood, not your sauce.

So this recipe does the right thing, but I found that it still lacked body, so I throw in a small bottle of clam juice at the wine – cook down phase, which does the trick.

And don’t make my first mistake and use a Chianti for the wine.  When they say “fruity,” you need something with body.  Preferably a Merlot, but at minimum in body a Cabernet.  The sharp wine flavor tends to linger if it’s a Chianti.

The only tweaks I suggest besides the clam juice are the addition of a little bit of fresh basil at the end.  I also double the onions, as I often do with stew or sauce recipes, and I throw in a little extra garlic.  And I suggest that instead of a pound of clams or mussels, a pound of each.  Again, it’s about the seafood.

The photo comes from the LA Times recipe page.


This morning, while my wife and son were on other errands, my daughter and I walked the Eureka Waterfront.  It was a beautiful morning with an extremely high tide bearing lots of animal life in the Bay.  The economic carnage is apparent in Old Town, with Hurricane Kate’s, Greystone Jewelers, the discount clothing place up on H and 4th, and even the candy store on the waterfront closing down.  But walking hand-in-hand with my daughter was a welcome distraction, as were the festivities in Old Town as some businesses seem to be weathering the storm for the time being and drawing in some last minute Christmas business.

We walked into Ramone’s where I could buy Lilith a cup of chocolate.  After placing the order I could see the woman busy behind the steamer and she was pouring out syrups.  I just assumed that she was working on an Italian soda order which had preceded ours, but what came out was a gorgeous presentation of green and red syrups over the whipped cream, and topped off with a candy cane.  The delighted look on Lilith’s face will be one of the more pleasant Christmas memories I carry until I’m ready for the grave, and perhaps even beyond.

As we headed to the table the music coming over the speakers brought me back.  It took me a few minutes, but I realized it was a piece which I haven’t heard since I was a teenager.  It was a simple electronic sans lyrics song off of one of Brian Eno’s old albums, either Here Come the Warm Jets or Taking Tiger Mountain.  Can’t remember the name, but it triggered some old coming-of-age feeling I had as I was moving from Pink Floyd and Tom Petty to what I considered to be the more esoteric musical offerings.  My daughter finished her hot chocolate and walked around the room looking at the artwork on the wall.  She feels things very deeply, my daughter, which means she’ll feel more pain than most, but she’ll also get more out of her life.  And I wonder if the song, when she hears it again in 30 years, will trigger a memory in her.

It was a moment.


All the usual hand-wringing about how commercial Christmas has “become” seems like just part of the tradition now, as it predates my birth.  Miracle on 34th Street.  The Twilight Zone episode about Santa Clause.

By the way, what many people believe to be the “original” version of Miracle on 34th Street?  Not so.  It was actually the first remake.  Here’s a clip from the original – all about the early version of the “link economy.”  The voices are out of sync, but it’s still fun.

(I have been duly informed and have confirmed that the Natalie Wood version is indeed the original.  This clip is from a 1950s made-for-television remake.  Only and hour long and no drunken Santa.

And on a legal technical note, the Judge could have dismissed the case against Kris Kringle, without political repercussions, when the prosecution rested.  While they had established that he believed he was Santa Claus, they forgot to establish that he was a danger to himself or others.

Is Gimbel’s still in business?


Well, it’s past midnight, and all the animals are talking in English.

Merry Christmas.

Off death row.  But his supporters aren’t celebrating.  Yes, I realize he’s still in jail, but I suspect that very few on any side of the issue really believed he would be executed.

I’m against the death penalty anyway, but I’ve always considered his trial a sham.  That is not to say that I am convinced of his innocence.

Somebody reviewing one of Michael Moore’s movies once commented that while Moore’s ability to drive entire audiences to a standing ovation is a notable feat, a film maker who is a true artist ought to prefer that his/her film has audiences arguing in the aisles as the credits roll.  I thought it was a good point, but I was hard-pressed to come up with a documentary film which could accomplish just that.  And then, recently the recommendations robot at Netflix directed me to a documentary film entitled Arguing the World.  In terms of stimulating thought and argument about the larger political issues, I can think of no more effective documentary film.

The film focuses on four dynamic figures of a group which became known as the New York Intellectuals, characterized primarily by Jewish ethnicity, radicalism in youth tempered by anti-Stalinism, cultural critique in middle age, and anywhere but anywhere in old age.  The four are Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and Daniel Bell.  They were all raised in poverty in Jewish ghettos in New York City.  They met at City College of New York during the 1930s.  City College became known as the “Jewish Harvard,” because of the prominence of working class children of Jewish immigrants who would ditch poverty as adult career intellectuals. As legend has it, the professors themselves were mediocre, but the students would read and learn through arguing with each other.  The dining hall contained various horseshoe shaped alcoves, and each one was claimed by some sort of clique (jocks, Catholics, etc.).  As it happens Alcove One was perennially occupied by anti-Stalinist socialists, either Trotskyist or Second International variety (the SWP and SP actually merged for awhile, weird as that sounds to modern students of sectarian politics), while Alcove Two was occupied by the Communist Party activists and their fellow travelers.  Often there were arguments and even altercations between the two, but more often each group kept to itself.  The Alcove One denizens infused literature readings into their politics, lacing their Marxist analysis with smatterings of Dostoevsky, Proust, T.S. Lewis, the Bronte sisters, etc., and moved beyond even the Frankfurt School of Marxism in the blending of cultural criticism with politics.  The subculture was also characterized by intense arguments, sometimes stimulated by alcohol consumption (a darker aspect of the old left which is known to the families but not often discussed even in the narrative histories).

These four began as Trotskyists, which leads me to my favorite quote in the film (I’m not quite remembering who said it):  “We didn’t know he [Trotsky] was right. We only knew he was interesting. And in the Village then, to be interesting was to be right. Certainly to be uninteresting was to be wrong. And I’m not sure I don’t still hold to that.” I have to admit that I probably hold to that as well, as I frequently find my self disagreeing even when I agree.  And Trotsky was a more interesting figure than Stalin, or even Lenin, and certainly more interesting than Norman Thomas (you get to see a rare clip of a Thomas speech in the film), though maybe not quite as interesting as Debs or Shachtman.

As they got older and left CCNY, the four, and others, pooled resources and joined as writers a magazine entitled Partisan Review – intending to be a literary magazine with a political philosophy emphasis.  Now the film doesn’t get into the history so much, but Partisan Review actually has roots in the Greenwich Village intellectual milieu, which included John Reed, Max Eastman, and the Masses Crowd, and it may overemphasize a bit the divide between Alcoves One and Two in the broader sense, but perhaps not as it applies to these four individuals.

They were integral to the formation and development of Commentary Magazine, which began as an attempt to integrate Jewish radicalism into American democratic culture with complex cultural criticism, but the magazine ultimately slid into a more straight-jacketed ideological neo-conservatism, and exists now as a shadow of its more intellectually challenging past.  But by the time the four were writing for Commentary, all of them, including Howe, had abandoned their CCNY-era radicalism and embraced a more skeptical and pragmatic liberal outlook, which sent them into different directions.  The film examines the directions they took and attempts to find answers to the question of why like experiences could leave Irving Howe in the socialist fold (even if most self-proclaimed socialists regarded him as neo-conservative) while pushing Irving Kristol into the the Reagan camp.

When McCarthyism came into full swing, these intellectuals found themselves in a tight spot.  They had become anti-communist to the point that they were slamming not only the C.P. itself for its ties and loyalty to the Soviet Union, but also the liberals who downplayed the American communist’s complicity with the mass killings carried out by their more “successful” Soviet counterparts.  None of the intellectuals’ was particularly enamored with McCarthy as a matter of style, but while Kristol protests that he referred to McCarthy as a “vulgar demagogue” while implicitly supporting the carnage McCarthyism was wreaking on innocent people and the culture at large, he and other Commentary writers did not object to the underlying witch hunt process which ruined the lives of people who had been guilty of nothing more than attending socialist meetings while in college.  At this point, Irving Howe broke away from many of his friends; and while slamming communism and even to some extent defending American culture, he attacked McCarthyism on civil liberties grounds- a frame that the others were unable or unwilling to adopt.  Their defensiveness as exhibited in the interviews of the film is remarkable.  On the one hand they protest that they did in fact “question” methods being used, but on the other felt that some sort of process was necessary.

Howe and other anti-Stalin socialists started the independent socialist quarterly Dissent (there is a recurring theme in the film that when Intellectuals don’t know what else to do, they start a magazine).  The idea was to revisit socialism as a goal or a hope in a non-ideological manner, and outside of the auspices of any particular organization or program, while maintaining critical independence of thought and analysis.  Kristol dismissed it as ideologically anachronistic and irrelevant, but by the time he was asked to comment he had already turned to the dark side and it’s unclear whether he was at that point unable to segregate his personal opinions from his political agenda.  But the debate raged and an indication of the prominence of the debate in the NY Jewish subculture came a couple of decades later when Woody Allen, either unaware or uncaring that the reference was somewhat obscure on the national level, dropped a line into his acclaimed movie Annie Hall referencing a peace reached between Commentary and Dissent so that they merged to form the magazine Dysentery.  Of the millions who have watched the Academy Award winning film over the decades since, probably only a fraction of them understand the reference.  But that it made it into the movie is an indication of how strong the debate was in NY Jewish subculture.

The documentary then moves into the 1960s and the contentious relationship between the NY Intellectuals and the New Left.  It doesn’t go into the initial discussions where Howe’s protege Michael Harrington attended the Port Huron conference and left with some frustration.  The episode is described in some detail in Maurice Isserman’s If I had a Hammer, which is a brilliant summary of the history of the American Left.  The film covers mostly the summit talks between Dissent and SDS.  Howe and Glazer describe their interactions with upstart activist Tom Hayden, whom they regarded as a potential totalitarian – romantic utopian politics within a good looking guy completely into himself.  The Intellectuals were paternalistic and condescending.  The New Lefties were charged and emotional.  It didn’t go well.  There are interviews with New Leftists including Hayden and Todd Gitlin, and you can tell that it’s still a sore point.

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When I recently posted that my son made it to 10 years of age without having heard the word “nigger,” somebody suggested that by raising him in Sohum that I was keeping him in a “bubble.”  Well, according to some out-of-town football players and coaches, the word has been thrown around at some games (and now a complaint has been filed with the California Interscholastic Federation).

The comments section attached to the Time Standard article has been pretty heated.  But this morning I found this comment.

you can say that because you have not had to deal with racism. for the record, for some of us it is very important. p.s. i’ m humboldt born and raised so i know the reality of how disrespectful people can be in ferndale, fortuna, eureka, mckinleyville, arcata and especially southern humboldt.

Apparently not everybody experiences a bubble in Sohum.  Again, I’m grateful for my childrens’ experiences.  But I would like to know what this woman is talking about.


Was he sick?  Weird.

Anyway, I may have more to say later.  Despite his hawkish turn of late, I’ve always enjoyed his writing.  I’ll miss his columns.

A nice video with some striking visuals and the musical score by Zoe Keating.

Keating plays the cello by the way.

Heraldo reports.

I haven’t really seen Marian Brady speak before, but I’m certain this isn’t one of her best moments.  Okay, she likes billboards and motorcycles.  Was it necessary to slam another’s cultural milieu while crying for diversity?

I wouldn’t be quite offended but for my seven-year-old daughter’s passion for the instrument.  I guess it’s probably okay since she’s a girl, as long as she gets over it at some point.

Lost Coast Outpost reports with a video.

Addendum:  Use a cello, go to jail.

Second addendum:  Okay, since Hank didn’t like the nude woman with the cello photo, I’m replacing it with a photo of my daughter.  Wholesome family values and all – my little elitist in training.


December 2011